I read somewhere that a coward dies a thousand deaths but a brave person dies only once – or something like that.
When I heard the gunshot, I didn’t remember those words but I remembered every other death I’d died – in reverse chronological order.
Kike also heard the bang, but unlike me she saw the overloaded danfo spinning out of control and spraying shrapnel of black rubber at panicked pedestrians.
But I was looking at a gun, so I heard a gunshot, and I died because that is what you do when you are shot. I guess I would have run if I wasn’t already on the ground.
And when did this all start? When did I become so afraid? I wasn’t always afraid. My mother used to say I had no fear. She would lament to my aunts and uncles and anyone else who cared to listen, how Amaka is the child who has the heart of the sacrifice thief.
I never understood what she meant till the first time I saw a sacrificial pot of food placed at a road intersection. I remember walking past the clay pot and slowing down to look as the other kids quickened their steps and did cross signs across their chests.
But not me; I was fascinated by the mess of food thrown together and doused with a generous helping of red oil. So this is what my mother says I’m brave enough to eat? I could not see myself touching the disgusting thing which had attracted flies from a nearby gutter that was also a sewer, but in my child’s mind it registered that she must think me to be super awesome to be able to eat such rotten food. It never occurred to me then that the braveness she meant was the daring spirit of one who eats food meant for the gods.
She also used to say that my braveness would kill her one day – another aphorism I did not understand, because as a child I reasoned that if I was brave enough to put myself at risk, I was the one who risked dying, not her.
But that was then; now I was a child full of fear, and it all started with that London boy who made me run for my life on a deserted bridge in the middle of the night. Since that day I’d been running. Even my own shadow had gained the power to startle me. He had planted fear deep inside me and it had taken root and grown branches. I was now ruled by fear. Where I once was brave now I’m afraid, where I was strong, now I’m weak. No more. No more.
So consumed I was with coming to terms with my demons that I hardly heard what the man was saying.
I had been brought to his office and made to sit in a chair in front of his desk. They had taken me from a cell I shared only with mosquitoes and the acidic stench of urine etched in concrete. I had spent days in there – how many days I do not know, but light had followed darkness, and they had brought food and they had brought water, but how many times these had happened was not something I’d kept in my mind.
I had not seen Kike or the lady who asked me where I’d kept Johnny. I had not spoken to anyone but someone, or some people, had come to speak to me. I cannot say for sure that I spoke to them.
In the man’s office, siting on a chair and watching his mouth move, I became aware of a face that was different. It was the face of a foreigner, a young foreigner. He was standing beside the man who was talking to me. He was dressed in a grey suit and a white shirt. His arms were folded across his chest and he was looking into my eyes. Did I know him? He looked wrong in this place, but that was not what felt odd about him. I looked at him as he was looking at me. What did I see on his face? Pity? Disgust? Hatred? Love? Why was he here? Who was he? Why did I feel I know him?
Perhaps the man sitting down, the one in a policeman’s uniform, was getting impatient with me. He motioned to someone by my side and when I looked to see who owned the arm that had stretched to shake me by the shoulder, I freaked out.
Now, maybe it takes fear to cure that which fear has caused. The same man who had slapped me as if I stole his money was now standing by my side ready to descend upon me all over again.
Somehow, my mind had chosen not to remember, but seeing his face again brought it all back.
He was not done when he slapped me silly at the Navy Dockyard. I now remembered choking on water and opening my eyes to a sachet of pure water being poured over my face and he was the one holding it. I also remembered what followed. The lady officer and another officer took turns asking me where Johnny was being kept, and in-between that the slapper punched my face, grabbed my neck, and used a black leather belt on me. Then followed more water, and more questions, and more battering till my eyes went dark again.
I also remembered being in the dark, on my back on cold concrete, and feeling his breath on my face, in heavy puffs as he grunted. I don’t know how many times this happened.
He was now here again, shaking me by the shoulder with his right hand that I become so accustomed to. No more.
I grabbed the arm with both my hands and closed my teeth upon his flesh. I felt my head being tossed about but I didn’t let go. The vision in one eye went red but I didn’t let go. I heard my name shouted several times, but I didn’t let go.
Someone said “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” but I didn’t let go. Other arms struggled with me. I heard the bastard screaming and then I let go, but only because I wanted to wrap my arms around his waist. I succeeded.
Against several people pulling at me, I dug my face deep into his groin and repeatedly bit till I felt flesh under clothing. I clamped down hard. He screamed louder.
Again I opened my eyes to water being poured over my face. I was on the ground, the foreigner was over me. Also kneeling by me was the officer who had been talking to me. There were legs all around me and several people talking at the same time.
The officer spoke: “You this girl, you have heart o. We were ready to release you and now you have gone and assaulted an officer. You don’t have fear at all.”
I smiled. Yes, I was no longer afraid. First, the bastard who raped me, then the London boy.
“Oga, I think she has run mad o,” someone said.
The foreigner spoke next: “Are you ok?” he asked.
His voice reminded me of someone. I took a long look at him then it hit me. It was as if I was looking at Johnny, only several years younger.