I have this recurring premonition of how I will die. I will be hit by a car. Sometimes it changes from a car to a bus, but mostly it is a car. I will lie there, with blood pouring out of my nose. My breathing will be incredibly laboured but I will be alive, hanging on by the skin of my teeth. Speaking of teeth, I imagined some of these would be knocked out and crushed to a white powdery form by other cars who don’t want to stop to see the mess my body would have become. As life slowly dissipates from my body, I will hear the few people who stop to enquire ask the offending driver whether he was drunk. As their voices fade, I will wonder what he will say in response to their question about his inability to see the very tall girl who was crossing the road in luminous running gear.
The driver changes from male to female ever so often, but one thing that remains constant is the fact that the last conscious thing I hear before I depart this earthly vale is a voice that says with intense sadness.
“Would you look at those legs? What a shame… such a beauty!”
How odd is it that the one thing I spent my life trying to deny is the recurring factor in my death premonitions? I don’t know if the things I see are in a dream or in a vision, but I have become familiar with them. I am right there, like a prop on the stage: the constant element of these visions, with the actors and scenery varying with every episode.
From once every other month, they have become monthly episodes. I felt my skin rise at thought, and considered ringing my mother to talk about it. Ah! That would be a complete mistake. I could already hear it: “I am going to ask my pastor to pray about it. God will drive the spirit of death away from me and mine. My God is faithful, you will not die young”
I stopped believing in God a long time ago, but I’d never tell my mother that. Not because I am trying to preserve her from any self-harm. On the contrary, it works better for my sanity if we all leave the issue of the existence of God and my belief or otherwise.
The doorbell broke me out of my reverie. Time to go running. I heard my flat mate mosey around in the hallway and thought about holding still for a few minutes so I wouldn’t have to make small talk. Deciding against it, I downed the now warm dark and creamy drink, grabbed my parker and iPod then headed out.
He came towards me with a package in his hand and a big bright smile.
“Hey,Tara! I haven’t seen you in a while. Loving Swansea and its special weather yet?
If I had a new hair follicle for every time someone asked this question, I wouldn’t have to invest so much money in Organics Temple Balm.
“The weather’s great. Thank goodness the rains have let up now”.
Oyinbo people like talking about the weather. It was a whole issue that needed dissecting and analyzing all the time. For someone who was thinking of a response to quickly help her get rid of Marc, I surely picked the wrong one.
Every time someone asked me how I was enjoying the city, I had a default response. Did I find it markedly different from Lagos? Well, I did but I wasn’t about to launch into an expose on the divergence between the two cities… so I kept it simple.
How was I finding Swansea?
Swansea was great like everywhere I had lived in the UK, There were some things I found intriguing; like the kissing – in public. Everywhere you turned someone was shoving a tongue down another person’s throat. In the cafe, theatre, on the queue at Costa… I mean everywhere. Lips were constantly locked, with a lot of fondling. Nobody cared who was looking.
I tried not to stare all the time but it was hard. It was amazing – truly amazing to see such freedom to exhibit all that wantonness. All the thick wavy hair that was pushed aside to provide access for that super sensitive spot… right there behind her earlobe.
“So do you have any family here?”
My distant yet polite smile had done nothing to shake Marc off. I’m guessing my running clothes were not a proper indication that I was going out and not merely out in the hallway to provide Saturday morning entertainment.
Marc was quite the hottie and for that reason, I figured my running could wait a few minutes. He was a little above 6ft tall because his head of black hair was slightly beneath my line of sight. I’d never asked but his skin tone and accent gave a hint of a mixed heritage -like an espresso with just the right amount of cream for someone who doesn’t like lattes. He had a firm jaw with a nose that stuck out of his face like an angry beak.
“When you say ‘here’ do you mean Swansea?”
“Well, I meant here in the UK. You mentioned that you are from Nigeria”
Oh, damn! He did have incredible set of teeth. I smiled again; this time it was warm and genuine.
“Yes, I am originally from Nigeria. My mother and I moved here when I was 17. Here, being London and later, Manchester.”
“Oh. I was trying to figure out the accent.”
“What accent?” This laughter that escaped from my throat… whose was it?Soft, gentle and true
He laughed too, giving his pale green eyes the sheen of a twinkle.
“Tell me about yourself.” He leaned against the radiator, propping his right hand on the coats’ hook above him. “Do you realize this is the first time we’re actually chatting?”
I like him. He’s bold and doesn’t think I’m aloof. But now is NOT the time to socialize with your housemate, Marco.
“Can we do this some other time? I really need to go for my run now.”
He looked crushed; or maybe I imagined it.
“Catch you later then.”
I walked towards the door, stopping to pick my key from the table by the door. I looked at the mirror – my landlord’s attempt at giving the space a bigger outlook. This girl staring back at me did not look beautiful.
What I saw in the mirror was broken, not beautiful.
It’s the wrong B word.
St. Helen’s road was usually quiet at this time of the day, but I sought solace in the loud beats streaming through my headphones. Walking briskly and through little pockets of water on the road, I settled into my thoughts. Perhaps with the combination of the loud music and thoughts that won’t stay buried, my premonitions would become a reality.
Somehow, they have helped stifling memories I tried for years to suppress. Like an avalanche, they come back to fill any vacant part of my thoughts.
It was a Saturday morning like this one; but instead of heading towards the Swansea University sports centre as I was now doing, my father had gone to Onikan Stadium to play football. The men’s fellowship of The Evangelical Church of Christ had invited its members to partake in a social activity outside of the regular Sunday spiritual meets. Pastor Mike had insisted that it was important for the body of Christ to be united outside of the Word. The womenfolk were also encouraged to attend prayer breakfast; nothing was stronger than the power of a praying wife and mother. Quite the diligent couple, Papa and Mama Omotara were quick to sign up for the Saturday of leisure.
They picked me up from Granny’s just after I finished consuming a large plate of yam pottage. I dragged myself towards the gate, hoping to slouch all the way home. The itis flew out of the window when I saw Mother behind the wheel.
“Your daddy sprained his ankle at the game. Get in let’s go home”
I looked at him to confirm that she wasn’t lying. He smiled and winced at the same time. It was an unusually quiet ride home.
For the next month, Granny became responsible for picking me up from school. Daddy was in the hospital more. Mummy had to stay with him.
Nobody was telling me anything but I knew. I felt it.
“I’m sure it’s nothing serious. Maybe they just need to run some tests.”
“But, Grandma, it was just a sprain wasn’t it? The boys in my class have sprains all the time. They come to school with casts.”
The look on her face should have clued me in at that point. I spent the earliest part of my teenage years wondering if I could have stopped him from going to play that soccer match. Maybe I should have whined and complained of a tummy ache. Maybe he wouldn’t have gotten hurt. In hindsight, if he didn’t get hurt, we would have had no way of knowing how far the cancer was there; or that it had progressed that far.
What began as fun afternoons with Granny after school became the norm; I was sent away as often as they could manage. Mother was constantly whispering on the phone. Daddy hardly ever came out of the room.
“Your father is tired, Tara. Don’t disturb him”
Then the church members started visiting. They would sit for long hours in the living room singing in sorrowfully low pitched tones: “Whose report shall we believe? We shall believe the report of the Lord”.
What was the report and why was there a doubt about its validity?
One day, I waited until mother had seen the Women’s Fellowship out to their cars, I ran into Daddy’s room. I remember the smell that hit me as I let myself into the room that I had been banned from for 2 months. The overpowering smell of Mummy’s Raspberry fragrance filled the room – her attempts at masking the stench of the disease only sucked out all the life.
“Daddy” I whispered, more out of fear that he wouldn’t respond than of fear that my mother would be back and catch me disobeying her strict rules. I had learnt from an early age not to cross my mother and I loved my father fiercely. He was my friend and ally. I waited – 3 seconds feeling like a lifetime.
He did respond. He groaned and gave a tight smile.
“My beautiful baby” He held out his hand but I was afraid. Shivering from fear and the deathly cold that surrounded us, I turned around and fled.
One day, the pastor’s wife visited. She suggested that I was too young to be around Daddy, especially now that the cancer had gone this far. She suggested, in that thick syrupy voice of hers, that I be sent to boarding school.
“God’s will be done”
I whispered ‘Amen’ from where I stood in the kitchen; praying fervently that my happy daddy will be back on his feet.
By the second week in October, the will of God was done. The funeral was on the 23rd of October. It didn’t rain. There was no sign that the being, who took my daddy, realized how much pain I was in. In all of this, his omniscience and omnipotence was drummed into my senses over and over.
“He has gone to a better place. God’s will be done”
Who is God and why is his will so important in the disruption of my life and happiness?
When my mother moved to Salford, her first task was to look for the nearest Redeemed Church. It was important that she found a body of believers – especially in a new place. I wanted her to look at me and know that I was all she needed; instead, she preferred the company of the brethren.
I sought out the company of my peers; mother found solace in the comforting words of her minister.
It felt like she was struggling to put the challenges of the past 5 years behind her. My mother visited me in boarding school every time she got a chance, assuring me that she was not alone.
The church had been very good the first month. But they had their lives to lead, someone else died in church and the women’s fellowship had to visit the newer widow. So, she went back to work. It was important to her that I knew I wouldn’t have to change schools. All I wanted was for her to let me come home. Miserable away, I had an intense longing to be with her and Granny.
“Concentrate on your classes and excel. That will make your Daddy proud”
If my Daddy wanted me to do anything, he should have been there to tell me himself and not sent someone else to do it. Furious with him now more than ever, I secretly hoped that he could indeed see me and I worked twice as hard. I channeled all my energies into studying, especially my math and physics.
I was rewarded with 9As. Taller than the boys; with features I was told were ‘startlingly unique’, I wasn’t really liked. My results didn’t improve the situation of not being liked. I was no longer the girl whose Daddy had died and her Mummy struggled term after term to pay her fees. I was the girl who aced her secondary school certificate exams and was on the list for top 5 graduating students. The pastor’s wife came with mummy for my graduation ceremony. She leaned in for a hug and whispered in my ears “God is truly faithful. His will is truly manifested in your life”.
I held her back at arm’s length and told her that it was my endless hours in prep room and a lot of hours away from the dorm bed that gave rise to my grades.
She didn’t have to say it, but I saw it in the way she refastened her drooping wrapper and head tie. You don’t know what you’re talking about but it’s okay, you’re too young to know any better.
At 15, I had a pretty good idea of where I stood with God; if he existed he was ineffective and he was manipulative. He made people who worshipped and believed in him, jump hoops to be on his good books. Then he rewarded them with His Will – which wasn’t quite consistent. They were not allowed to ask questions and nobody was willing to offer answers.
Terrorism rocked the world, ineptitude was the bane of Nigerian government & sexual abuse permeated the church. It made absolutely no sense.
In my 2nd year at the University, the lecturers went on one of their regular strikes. Between the union and the government, there was no resolving who wanted to be more corrupt. It was immaterial that the students would spend months idling away at home. As long as the union got its day in the Press and the government gave the requisite show of doing something about the situation. A committee to resolve the issues enumerated by the previous committee – just the way it was done in Nigeria all the time.
I had gotten used to life with just Mum and me; but our relationship was strengthened by the fact that I was in the hostel most of the time. The union strike caused a forced co-habitation which meant we argued more than normal. She couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t be more like her. How did I get so rebellious and surly at 17?
During that period, one of the pastors from the London parish came to our church. Having received a vision that the rib to replace his dearly departed one was in Nigeria, he communicated his revelation to the resident pastor; and together they narrowed down what God could have possibly been communicating to him.
When they called my mother into the parish office, they told her that God had specially chosen her to be the helper for this faithful servant in the vineyard of the Lord in London. No, she didn’t need to know how the relationship would work. Yes, he wanted to marry her immediately and take her with him. No, it didn’t matter that she had a teenage daughter. He would care for both of them as it was his calling from God and the time was just ripe for him to take a good woman as his wife – a helpmate worthy of his office.
Uncle Dapo turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Smart and funny, he didn’t try to force God down my throat and he was genuinely kind. Before long, I had new cousins, was in a new school and had a new life. Uncle Dapo didn’t try to be my father; he was a friend and it was easy to talk to him. He had a regular job and didn’t mooch off his congregants. Maybe he could teach his colleagues in Nigeria a thing or two.
I tried to transfer my units from Unilag to University of Warwick, but I couldn’t; something about the poor standards of education in Nigeria. So it was getting the A-levels done and applying into a new school. Engineering at Manchester wasn’t bad, and for a while, I thought… maybe there was a God. A bit sadistic sometimes, but maybe he did exist.
By the time my mother arrived in Salford, she was a widow again. The news report said that teenagers who thought he was their scheming dealer had stabbed him. Uncle Dapo had gone on an evangelism drive in South East London to encourage the teenage boys there that they could get food and vocational training in the church safe house.
Perhaps if someone had gotten him to the emergency room soon enough, he just might have lived, but the boys scampered off when they got closer and found out that they had knifed the wrong guy. One of them confessed that he was there when it happened. Mr. Dapo Fajuyi was well known in the dark alleys for helping them get off the streets. “He was one of the good ones” The boy’s voice had cracked, his thick London accent grating on my ears as I watched the news of the confession.
The pain seared through me: understanding the cruelty of the world with adult eyes without the insulation of childish illusions to protect me. My mother had her entire existence anchored in the church. She was determined that God’s perfect will for her was not one of evil, but of ultimate good. I encouraged her to move closer to Manchester because I had gotten into the Foster Wheeler graduate trainee program and moving to London to be with her was almost impossible
She didn’t want to live with me. “Tara, I’m sure you don’t want your friends thinking you’re a Mummy’s girl. Besides, you will complain about fellowship being held in your flat.”
We agreed on somewhere close enough but with enough space for us to love each other from a healthy distance. Every time I saw her, she soldiered on, keeping her spirits high. She continued paying the mortgage for Uncle Dapo’s house in London and she got tenants. The house bore memories of three years of a good life with a good man. Always one to look on the bright side, my mother recounted those years as a time she was blessed with by God. Her words to me when she arrived have always caused me to think about my stance.
“Must we accept God when he does good and reject him when he doesn’t? He has not said we will never have trials and tribulations? He has said he will be with us through the flames – to bring us forth as pure gold. You, my darling, Tara, are God’s blessing to me. You are the constant thing that shows me that he hasn’t forgotten or neglected me. You are my comfort, through it all.”
In that moment, I knew the reason for which I was alive – irrespective of how tumultuous I felt on the inside.
The memories flooding back left me exhausted and I felt the insane need to ring my mother. I felt for my mobile and remembered I had left it on the bed as I picked up my iPod.
I slowed down my pace as I approached my block thinking about my search for answers. By the time I was about a mile away from my door, I was panting heavily. The unease of why things happened the way they did settled again. I increased the volume of the music, determined to drown out the sound now roaring in my head. Exhausted, I couldn’t wait to get into the shower and feel the post-work out gentle ache. I hustled across the road briskly and with my thoughts whirling away I was completely unaware of the minivan that was coming.
I have no idea what happened but I know it felt nothing like in the premonition. There was no crowd gathered and the minivan was completely outside of the script. Nobody mentioned my legs or commented on how pretty I looked. Instead, I was alive with a banging head. Someone was now helping me stand up straight, asking if I could walk.
“I need to get her to the ER but she looks fine.”
I know that voice, but with the way my head was spinning I couldn’t be sure. I tried to open my eyes, focus on the voice and look in the direction of the sound.
That was another deviation from the visions. I was alive and Marc was trying to put me into his car. I was alive.
“Yes, you are Tara – now lie still while I try to get you to a hospital. You are one hell of a lucky girl missy. Or you’ve got someone in heaven watching out for you.”
If only you knew Marc, if only you knew.
You are such a brilliant writer Atoke,