For the few years that I was privileged to know Ayodele, I had never seen him angry. He always had a smile spread on his handsome face each time I saw him passed our house. We both lived in one of the slums in Jos. No, we didn’t grow up together. I just started noticing him at a point and I guess it was the same time he took notice of the scrawny girl who lived two houses away from where he was staying with his elder sister then.
Dele, as he was fondly called, was in his early 30s, tall—stood over 6ft—dark-skinned, broad-chested, and walked with a confident gait. I usually teased him that he strutted, but knowing how humble he was, one knew it was just the way he walked.
It wasn’t a love at first sight story; you can call it a regular-seeing-breeds-affection kind of love. Maybe because I saw him passed every day, I took a mental note of the time he passed in the morning and evening. I would sit by the window of our sparsely furnished sitting room window, which was very close to the road, and patiently wait for when he left for work in the morning, and when he returned in the late afternoon just to catch a glimpse of him. As fate would have it, he left earlier than I and returned later than I did.
He probably noticed that I watched him over time because he later started to stop and smile in my direction before passing. I wouldn’t know when I started falling in love with Dele, but my heart practically stopped in those split seconds that Dele would flash one of his charming smiles my way.
I decided to wait outside on one of the days, and he was delighted to see me outside our gateless house with the rundown fence which barely covered our miserable-looking house. As it is with most homes in the slums, it was not self-contained, neither was it painted nor was it anything to look at. There was nothing to be ashamed of since our living conditions mirrored each other.
He asked for my number. He didn’t have to ask for the second time before I gleefully gave it to him. That was how we became good friends. We usually spent a lot of time talking on the phone not minding the amount of money he spent on airtime —Dele had the sweetest voice I have ever heard. Most times, I come out to meet him when I sight him returning from work.
We were head over heels in love with each other. For me, the attraction was there, but there was also a sense of companionship and shared dreams. We had beautiful plans for our future together. The top on the list was to work hard—we didn’t want a facile success—leave the slums, and build a future devoid of poverty and any form of financial struggles. We had vowed that our children would grow in affluence and attend the best schools in the county or even leave Nigeria completely.
We indeed had big dreams which in the grand scheme of things would have come to pass because of how hard Dele and I were working at making it in life. But we never got to live any of our dreams as things went awry before one could bat an eyelid.
I saw Dele left for work that morning, and as usual, he stopped by the window to give me his usual smile which has come to be the bright spot of my day. I move through the day with the thought of Dele’s smile every day. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it kept me going. When pushed to the wall at work, Dele’s smiling face popped up in my mind’s eyes and I would smile even amid pressure.
I later left for work and plunged myself into the day’s activities. It was not unusual for Dele not to call me during the day as his work was very demanding and he could spend the entire day at work without touching his phone. You can liken Dele to one who worked as an elephant and earned like an ant.
I was knee-deep in work when I heard the first sound. The earth-shattering sound was unsettling. I was beginning to forget about the sound when the second one followed thirty minutes later. I quickly left what I was doing and ran outside to know what exactly was happening when I saw the ominous-looking smoke making for the sky. A few minutes later, the calls started trickling in. It was a twin bomb blast at the popular Terminus market in Jos, Plateau State.
I tried to call Dele as soon as I heard that the sounds I heard were bomb blasts, but his line didn’t connect. The computerized voice on the other end kept telling me that the line “was not reachable at the moment”. I still did not want to worry since Dele had no business being in Terminus at that time, but this fear kept wrapping its cold hands around my heart with the so many “what ifs” swirling through my mind.
I sat by the window as usual to see my Dele pass, but my waiting was futile since I didn’t get to see him until I couldn’t sit there anymore. I said a prayer for his safety and tucked whatever negative thought that was creeping through at a corner in my mind while I slept with the hope of seeing Dele the next morning.
I woke up with a sense of foreboding, I was afraid of facing the day because I was tired of all the terrible and troubling news I heard before going to bed. The news of how over 100 people got trapped in the market and were blown away by the twin bombs that rocked the market. So many of them were mutilated and body parts were strewn about that they were gathered in sacks and buried with neither a name nor a face.
I knew Dele would never be a part of such an incident. He was too full of life and had too many wonderful dreams to be blown away by a bomb or its impact.
I just could not bring myself to work that day. I kept looking at my phone expecting a call from Dele, to tell me how he had to travel urgently and couldn’t charge his phone and that was why he could not call to tell me since his battery was flat. But the call I got was from Dele’s sister. She broke the saddest news of my life. The call that made my world came crashing down like a pack of badly arranged cards.
Dele didn’t return from work the day before and the sister got to know he went to Terminus to get stationery for the office and never return to the office ever since. His boss thought he was probably injured and had searched for him in all the hospitals where the people who sustained injuries during the blasts were taken for treatment. They also search all the corpses deposited in morgues for relatives to claim.
Dele was never found.
I survive more like an automaton than a human being in the days and weeks that followed. I first wished it was a nightmare that would end as soon as I woke up. Then I prayed fervently for the world to end because I felt there was no need for anyone to live; for life to continue when Dele was missing.
I had to live through the twin burdens of disbelief and denial. I later let a flicker of hope grow in my heart. A hope that gave me the reason to live and to look forward to tomorrow, to the day when Dele would return.
May 20, 2021, made it seven miserable years since Dele vanished and was never seen again. It’s hasn’t been resolved if Dele died during the bomb—as there was no evidence—or he is alive somewhere.
Our plans and dreams with Dele cannot die just like that. I still sit by the window staring into space, craning my neck, and looking closely whenever I see a talk dark-skinned man.
I am patiently waiting for when he will return.
I know he cannot vanish just like that.
Roselyn Sho – Olajide works with an Audit Firm in Jos, Plateau State. She loves reading and writing and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org