T’was a fateful Sunday afternoon in 2002, a Sunday like another. After service; after our regular Sunday rice and chicken; after that Sunday afternoon sleep that used to like to catch everybody. This humble Princess of no kingdom looked death in the face and said Not today.
I was 5 years old. The next day was school so my mom told our nanny to take me to somewhere to make my hair. She was supposed to take me there and bring me back home when it was done. Our nanny’s name was “Mama Chukwuma”. I cannot forget, because she taught me valueable lesson that day; Every man for himself.
Mama Chukwuma took me to a salon near her house (well not salon. All those stalls where a Fulani woman will be shooking your head inside her lady regions) and went to her house to catch some zzzzs. I had to wait my turn because I wasn’t the only little girl going to school tomorrow. I got bored of waiting for my turn to come so I walked to Mama Chukwuma’s face-me-I-face-you apartment to watch tv. I woke her up from sleep and so she decided to make my hair herself.
So about half way through this All-Back she was plaiting on my head, smack in the middle of a scene where Jerry dropped something heavy on Jerry’s tail… the end of the world began with a crashing
The first one was like a joke. I mean, this is Lagos we are talking about. Noise is a constant. But there was something very different about this one. Mama Chukwuma and I went out to investigate.
The first thing we noticed from the corridor of the face-me-I-face-you that also incidentally faced the road was that people were running hysterically. Okay, maybe it’s some sort of daylight robbery.
It came again. Much louder
This time it shook my insides.
Something was wrong. Something was very wrong
Mama Chukwuma began to scream
Eeewoooo, ha bombuala Nigeria oh….ewooooooooo
They have bombed Nigeria
She hurriedly retied her wrapper and carried me. She began to run. Aimless. With the crowd. Nobody knew what was happening. But somehow running seemed like the only solution.
The sky was orange-red, like blood mixed with Nutri C.
How can we possibly run from the sky? Where could we go?
The pressure of the hysterical crowd carried us to my street. Seinde Calisto. Mama Chukwuma ran into our flat. No one was home. Our neighbour Mr Nelson stood at the gate, trying to call his wife (MTN was not anywhere we went that day). He was insanely calm. He just stood there, watching the mob run past him like they were wind. He stood under the red sky like he had painted it there. And for a second, I began to believe all was well.
Not it’s not.
I began to run.
Where’s Mama Chukwuma? Where are my parents? Where is Mr Nelson?
I was alone.
Without direction, lost in this mammoth crowd; utterly alone. Running away from the groaning sky.
I remember the shoes I was wearing that day. They were denim slip-ons it pink floral designs embroidered on them. One moment I was wearing them, the next my feet were light and my sole stung from the tarred road.
Somehow, I found myself running on a bridge. When I realized where I was running, or on what I was running on, my adrenaline shot higher. I was getting closer and closer to the red sky. This was bad.
Other people had that same thought I guess; because I looked ahead of me to my right and saw people sliding down the side of the bridge. At this moment, to me this was the only logical move. I needed to slide down too.
But I didn’t slide, I tumbled. A rock nicked me on my knee on the way down and then I landed on my back. Yet I was undeterred. In my mind I was safe now. Furthest from the sky than I had been all day. And on this level on the ground, there was no pulsating insanity of a crowd to push me to any direction.
I had to stop running. Where was I?
The sky had been quiet for a while now. The orange – red faded into burgundy as night began to fall.
My heart began to quieten to mimic the sky.
Where was I?
Where do I go now?
I must have roamed streets for hours; who knows?
I was barefoot, hungry and scared.
I wondered if my family had made it safely away from the sky. Where were they?
Then I spotted something familiar, a restaurant a relative of mine owned. I went to the gate and sat there. In my mind, I would sleep there till morning, when someone came to open up the place I would ask them to call my uncle who would call my parents.
It was a very cold and starving night. I was wearing a “spaghetti” top wishing I could eat the spaghetti.
I must have slept off there because next thing I know, a man was asking me questions I didn’t have the answers to. What was my name? Where were my parents? How did I get there? Did I know where I was? I couldn’t help it, I began to sob.
He tried to console me. But he kept agitating me with questions, till I reached one I had the answer to.
42, Seinde Callisto Cresent, Mafoluku, Oshodi, Opposite Mr Biggs.
My house address. My mom had made me memorize it along with the home phone number.
That was all I remembered
And that was how my Samaritan took me to his apartment, this part is a bit hazy too me. I remember he didn’t live alone. He had a wife, or a sister. She gave me food; white rice, stew and boiled egg. I have never been so happy to see boiled egg in my life!
The next day he took me on an okada to my house. My parents were not home. They were searching for their daughter’s body in the canal.
Guess who was home though; Mr Nelson the coward.
My Samaritan left the moment he felt I was safe. He told no one his name. He did not stick around to bask in the gratitude of the people.
Till today I believe God sent me an angel.
And that was the day I paraded Lagos with half done all-back.
In memory of all those we lost and all those who lost on 27th January 2002, the day of the Ikeja bomb blast.
The government may not feel those lives are important to have a remembrance day ; but we will never forget.