It was around 1:38 am when I heard that scream.
“Oko mi o!” It was from our neighbour upstairs, “Oti ku o!!”
I didn’t understand the Yoruba Language; I thought it was just the regular noisy midnight prayers Iya Tunde make. But she screeched so hard I could feel my own throat being scrapped with blades of wind from within. My dad rushed out; he threw his off-white singlet over his head until it sank below his chest, slightly grazing the blue wrapper around his waist. My mum ran out with her bra as the only clothing on her chest. As soon as she realized that she was almost naked she dashed back in to steal any top she could lay her hands on. There was confusion floating like dust particles in the wind.
What was happening?
I shouldn’t have been awake by that time of the night; I was chatting with Janet in my class on Facebook — on my mum’s phone.
“Jerry! Are you with my phone?”
“Emm… Yes, mum.”
“Doing what?!” Her voice intensified.
My brain had to cook up a reason for being with her phone — and worse, by that time of the night.
“Torchlight. I want a torch. I was… My homework… I need… I use your phone touch.” I knew my rubbish choice of words would betray my lie.
“Bring that phone here!” she opened her palm. I dropped it gingerly open her palm.
“Look at how my phone is emitting heat that can cook beans.” she inspects the phone carefully, “Ehn. Is it just my phone torchlight that will bring this kind of heat?” she plugged out one of her slippers from her left feet to beat me. “When did you start lying, Jerry?”
“…that can cook bean?” my mum can overestimate things.
“Mummy Jerry!” It was my dad calling, “Come o…”
I was relieved.
Mummy dropped her slippers on the ground so her left feet can dive in. She carefully placed the phone on the wooden centre table and ran out of the house. In seconds, I could hear her slippers sing “wik wok wik wok wik…” as she scampered up the stairs outside.
Now I was scared. I don’t think Iya Tunde was praying; I felt something had happened to her. I stared at the Techno T37 phone laying carelessly on the table. I wanted to at least tell Janet Good night. But I thought of the stress of login in again on Facebook and dialling my password again; the thought was sufficient for me to resist the urge. I hid mum’s phone under the pillow so it can cool down quickly. My elder sister’s flip flops were all I found. I stabbed my feet into them and ran out too. As I left the room, there was a sudden drop in the temperature outside. The wind was cool and pleasant. A sharp contrast to the heat that was killing me inside. I reached upstairs as fast as my eager legs could take me. Tunde was crying outside.
“Tunde what happened?” my question was replied to with silent lips and noisy tears. I ran into his house. I pulled the netted door open and the first thing I noticed was that the heat there was worse than it was in my own house. Nearly every tenants in number 79, Samuel street was upstairs. Some crying; some shaking their heads, arms folded. I thought it could be the death of someone but I shook my head as though it would disperse such ugly thought away.
Maybe I shook my head rather too late — Papa Tunde, on the bare ground, was motionless. He was the centre and reason for the cry. Tunde’s dad, who I always called big daddy, was dead.
So that was the meaning of “Oti ku o…” which Tunde’s mum was screaming. My heart, like a water-soaked piece of bread hanging from a string, dripped to pieces.
“It can’t be possible. No. Noo. Nooo…”
Big daddy can not die. No, he can’t. My teardrops were as real as my teeth. I could feel my heart pumping tears — tears of sorrow.
I looked at the man who gifted me with his #50 change when he asked me to buy a roll of toilet paper for him. I stared at the one who taught me how to ride a motorcycle. He was so young and so unripe to die.
I was angry at death. I wanted nothing more than revenge on it. I squeezed my fist. If Mr. Death was my class teacher, I would not be scared to punch him in the nose. I marched out of that room mad and angry at no one in particular. I saw Tunde again and his weak and broken state infected me. We exchanged wordless talks. It is alright bro, and from his face, I read: how can it be?
At that moment, I wanted nothing. Fighting death seemed impossible especially because it didn’t have physical flesh as anyone who roamed the earth. I mindlessly crept down the stairs. I felt the chill of the night again. Cold as the grip of a creature called Death. Did death want to touch me too? The anger in me gave no room for fear — not even the fear of falling and joining Tunde’s father at that instance.
I wanted to do something. I wanted to put death to the test. When I got back to my own house, I took out my Civic Education notebook — my note hadn’t reached the middle page yet, so I tore it out. Guiding the waist of my dancing biro, I wrote a bucket list: jump from a storey building, skydive, jump into the Indian ocean from a helicopter, stop a rotating fan with my hand, walk half-naked on the ice-cold southern pole…
I stopped writing. These wouldn’t change anything. I know what I would do. I’d change my course from Commercial class to science. I didn’t care about being a businessman again. I wanted to be a doctor. I must. Not because of the vague title that accompanies it, but because I wanted to find the cure or at least a vaccine that slows down death — early death especially. I can’t let another Baba Tunde in my life die while I am still healthy and alive. I didn’t mind if I was in my final year in school; I could start all over again — even if it would mean transferring to another secondary school to do so. This death, I must starve him to a point that he doesn’t get his dinner at a time he expects to get it. That vaccine has become the centre of my existence. And by all means, I would prove that the word impossible is a wrong spelling of I’m possible.
Ebube Ezeadum, a lover of creative writing wrote via email@example.com