It all happened so quick, I had no time to reminisce on the details. When it happened all I felt was the excruciating pain. I can still hear my shrill voice inside my head. The scream was sufficient to break a tumbler. No one knew where it came from but the neighbourhood heard it. My house was one of those quiet homes sitting in the up brow area of the Lagos Metropolis. I lived alone and talked to no one on the street except for the occasional “hello”, “the smile” and “nod of my head” to acknowledge a familiar face in the neighbourhood. I was friendly when I flashed my bright smile yet distant as words always deserted me to start a conversation.
Anyways, no one really minded as our houses were all fenced to keep everyone away from ourselves. We all lived a sheltered life to cover our Achilles from each other. However, the competition was fierce and the unmistaken sign of jealousy was ever present. The wives in the neighbourhood all had that fear that my beauty could ensnare their men.
But on that day, it was a Sunday and going to church was upper most on my mind. Perhaps, if I had stayed home and prayed, it wouldn’t have happened. Maybe, if I had listened to the smelly new Guard, it wouldn’t have happened. Possibly, if I had avoided the malicious eye contact of wives in the neighbourhood, it wouldn’t have happened. Perchance, if I had paid more attention to the bump of my left foot on that stone, I knew it was ill luck- it wouldn’t have happened. Perhaps if I had dressed more warmly, it wouldn’t have happened.
I heard the sirens before I passed out but the sound of the sirens did not make my pain any much easier to bear. I was later told by the Doctor that I suffered severe trauma when I was brought in by my neighbours. I wondered which of the neighbours did, maybe it was the depressed Mrs. Akinwale or the randy Mr. Okon or although I do not think this to be possible, the jealous Mrs. Ifeanyi who is capable of doing no good.
‘Miss Isioma can you tell me how it happened?’ The Doctor said with a smile.
I stared into the space and pretended not to hear him. I felt he should be tending to my burnt skin rather than ask me useless questions. My skin still ached from the burns, it was all so brutal. I could see the inner skin, all red and angry as my previous skin was dried and rough like the bark of a tree. It was darker than the rest of the unburnt skin and I couldn’t bring myself to touch it. It had been dressed every day for a week by the nurses since I was brought in. But there was no sign of improvement or so I thought. The burns looked for closure, perhaps it wanted my heart to heal first.
‘What do you care!’ I screeched.
‘I do care to know what happened, I am a Psychiatrist from Sudan.’ The Doctor said.
I wondered when we Nigerians in this part of the world started enlisting the services of psychiatrists, but I knew better than to air my opinion. The hospital must have thought that I did this to myself. The accident had changed me from a kind hearted woman to an ill tempered one.
I was silent for a while as I studied the burns on my body. It started from my chest and arms down to my waist in a map like method. Not all parts of my arms and chest were burnt. The burns were in patches but my left arm got affected the most. It looked like it would never heal.
‘So YOU are from a war torn country, huh? this is an accident not a war. Do not ask me questions.’ I derided.
‘Like I…. I …. said how did it happen ?’ The Psychiatrist stammered.
There was silence in the ward, he thought I was mad, I could sense it from his attitude. I could hear the drops of liquid pitter-patter from the bed next to mine. I looked down at my hands and I brooded about the accident. On the day of the accident I wore a skimpy sleeveless dress as I did not envisage the heavy downpour. I also made the mistake of not driving as the church was down the street. I had planned on seeing my fiancé after service as it was customary but his absence in church took my mind to one place and one place alone, ‘his safety’ I was worried about him. I had a bad dream that night and it was about an accident which involved him.
I decided to call him after church while I made a cup of milo in my kitchen to fill the cold in me with warmth. In my usual stride of multitasking, I held the phone on my right hand while I simultaneously poured the hot water in the mug when I heard the female voice on the other end of the phone.
‘Hello.’ She said.
‘Who is this? Where is Michael?’ I asked with surprise calm.
‘I am his fiancée, we just got engaged.’ She giggled.
I could tell from her voice that she was ecstatic.
‘Annette, who is it?’ It was Michael’s voice in the background.
At that instant, the phone slipped from my right hand and the kettle fell off from my grasp as I screamed out in pain. The splash of the hot liquid on my skin made me cry out but it was not the hot water, the liquid was oily.
I had no idea where it came from but I saw from the corner of my eyes, the figure of Mrs. Ifeanyi slipping out of my kitchen.
I screamed again and blacked out.
Written by Flora Martins.