I once read that you could tell when it was your time to die. I think it was Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel.
I read that the angel of death would hover around you on that day. Yet, I had no idea that it would be my time to die. The smiling sun in the horizon held no secrets. It spread its wings and embraced me in a hot hug. The chirping birds as they flew around my balcony told no tales of death. They whispered romantic tunes in my ears, insinuating it would be a lovely day. The steep ground on which I stood wasn’t shaky as I assumed it should be when it was my time to die.
A lovely old lady like me had nothing to live for, aside family. I thought about death on a daily basis, catching glimpses of him occasionally with kisses on my cheeks that told me he wouldn’t take me yet; silent promises, really.
The day I died, it would rain heavily, the heavens would roar, a lion welcoming its cub. The angels would sing. The clouds would grace the day with darkness, the sun would shy away from the earth. The moon, its face ashen would finally come out the moment my ghost left. It would be full and strong but mourning my departure. In its eyes, there would be tears.
But today was sunny and though I had my umbrella, I let the sun caress my skin. My broken smile went to my neighbours as I walked past my tightly sealed apartment. I waved my wrinkled old lady hands at the little ones, inhaling the fresh smell of a vivacious new day. I informed Mama Iyabo that I was leaving to spend the rest of the year with my daughter in her home in Lagos.
I rarely ever went on a trip outside the state capital. My daughters always came to visit with their children. But this time, I thought it’d be nice to go to them. I had bags in hand; bags with gifts for seven of my grandchildren. I imagined it a delightful holiday. I pushed my half-white full hair back, as the harmattan breeze sent strands dancing my face. It danced around the nape of my neck—and the singular act, sent chills down my spine; chills that I quickly disregarded and rushed off to board my bus.
I couldn’t wait to see my grandchildren. I couldn’t wait to pinch their soft chubby cheeks and pat their little bottoms. Though, they dreaded my long brown cane that I carried as a walking aid, and an occasional cane, I knew they loved me, as I did them.
I reached the motor park in no time and quickly took my seat in a half filled bus. I must have been the first to spot her. She looked regular but there was something too regular about her regular. She was trying so hard to fit in; a square peg in a round hole. I was a school teacher. I knew when a child wanted to play a prank and this lady looked like she had a prank itching at her fingertips. She looked like she had just stolen a candy bar from the sacred candy box though she tried desperately to be indifferent. I studied her unattractiveness one moment and moved on to other thoughts.
I had a sack load of pineapples, bananas and pawpaw for my grandchildren. I was going to spoil them silly. It made me happy, to think that I had the opportunity to spoil them. Many people didn’t have that. I was grateful.
The bus was taking a while to get filled up, but as I wasn’t in a hurry to go anywhere, I waited patiently. The other passengers hammered on and on about the delay. I wondered what the rush was.
It was just as the bus driver was about to take off, just as he was about to leave the place where his bus had been idly parked for hours that it happened. I had been wriggling my hands nervously for some reason. I had peered at the full sun, it still bore a smile. Then I heard screams of horror from another bus. The screams pierced my inside. My head shook and vibrated like I was some sort of bubble-head. A headache came through at the same time. Sweat immediately filled my armpits and stained my white shirt. I was suddenly irritated at myself. I wanted to go home, but it was too late. It was a new wave of fear that I had never felt in my life that I felt.
In no time, I heard screams from my bus. The heat of the fire gripped me slowly. It was warmth first, then the heat came slowly. There was no means of escape, so I sat petrified. It came to me, a long time friend and I watched it burn my skin as mild horror, covered my lips. I closed my eyes, trying not to feel it. The screams of the other passengers died slowly with them, but I didn’t want to die. I wanted to spend Christmas with my babies and spoil them silly.
I never once thought I’d be a victim of a suicide bomber—a female one at that. I never thought I’d die today, a few days before Christmas. I finally let myself be taken; a shrill scream escaped my lips as my whole was consumed within seconds. Silently, I wished my family a merry Christmas.
My love and sympathy goes out to everyone that has lost a loved one by unfortunate circumstances as this, this Christmas and this year in general.
It’s Christmas, and even though I don’t want anyone to feel saddened by my story, this is reality, slapping us in the face. As you eat your chicken and have a good day with your loved ones, remember to say a prayer for someone out there who cannot make merry as you are.
This is a short, under researched story of the experience of our fellow Nigerians in Dukku Motor-Park, Gombe, Gombe State, on Monday the 22nd of December 2014. 19 were killed and 40 were injured.
My prayers and sympathy goes out to them and their loved ones.