Continued from Dec 1, 1998
I’ve been stuck in traffic close to an hour now, and it isn’t even rush hour. Sometimes, I hate Lagos! If the air fumes and the Agberos on the street don’t do the trick, the go-slow would surely do it. I move the car forward, just a little bit. A little boy runs from the other lane and uses his rags to wipe my screen. I roll down my side mirror.
“I beg you to clean my moto for me? Abegi, comot for here,” I say.
“Oya madam, find me small thing nau,” the little rascal says as he continues wiping my windscreen. I hand him 20 naira, the last change I have on me.
“Oya comot for here,” I say.
He looks at the money and back at me and then shakes his head. Walahi, if he says it is too small, I would-. He scurries off to the car behind me. It is a white Lexus. He just might get lucky. Traffic eases up a bit. I am on the bridge. I’m stuck in between cars with the ocean on both sides. The ocean’s breeze reminds me that my window is still down even though the airconditioner is on. I switch it off and roll down the other windows. I close my eyes briefly, imagining myself underneath the water with my eyes closed; it is the only time I ever feel safe and alone, the tiny bubbles showing me just how much I am alive.
A flash of red catches my side eye and I turn to my right to see a woman standing by the rail. She is young, that I know. Her carefully made Brazilian weave and tight designer jeans a testament of her youth. I look around and no one seems to mind her. She leans on the rail, looking at the water beneath her. She turns and bends her head. When she raises her head, our eyes connect. I see in hers what I see in mine every time I look in the mirror. I recognize that look: lost, tired and just going through the motion knowing someday it has to stop, but not sure when. I see in her eyes determination to take the leap.
“Hey!” I yell. I have to keep her attention before she turns again and makes the jump. I unfasten my seatbelt and jump out of the car screaming.
Slowly, she turns away. My heart thumps as I rush to her side, hoping that I am not too late. She grabs the rail tightly. I grab the rail too and lean on it. I have no idea what to do, but I know such connection couldn’t go to waste.
“Don’t do it,” I manage a croaked whisper.
She sniffs and smiles with a tilting her head to her right, as if to size me up. This isn’t going too well.
“My name is Chioma,” I say as I look to the horizon.
“Why are you doing this?” She asks without looking at me. “Most people just go about their businesses. Why did you stop?"
“I have no idea myself. But I've been where you are now and it is a scary place. Honestly, I have no idea what I am doing beside you. But I know this, I can’t let you do this,” I say as I look at her. I turn and look at world. My car is still where I left it, with my driver’s door hanging open. Thank God, I am on the left lane! Cars carefully navigate around my car as they continue on their slow journey. The whole world goes by as if nothing is happening. Eko for show! I turn. I figure that since she hasn’t jumped already then there is still hope. I stand, waiting for her to speak. She doesn’t. She keeps looking at the water.
“I was raped last March. I felt so violated that I went home and searched for my gun, I was ready to march back and pop the guy. It took me a while to realize that I was in school and not home, that there was no gun in my room. I sat down but could hardly sit still, consumed by rage. Furious at myself for not taking my anger out on him and furious at him for taking me for violating me so. I saw red, literarily. I walked to the bathroom to wash him off me first. I scrubbed my skin raw trying to get him out from under my skin, out of every pore. But I didn’t feel clean enough. I filled my tub, got in and went under, stopped breathing and closed my eyes. After a couple of seconds that did feel like minutes, I let my mind go and felt peace. I let go my anger and went over the day’s incident. It was then I realized that killing myself wasn’t an option. He needed to pay for what he had done and my death wasn’t the answer. I resurfaced and went down a few more times, each time exorcising a little more of the demons.” I stop.
“My name is Tomi,” she says as she turns to look at me finally. “I come here every day to stare at the sea and clear my head. It helps me calm my raging spirit.”
This is just freaking great! I jump out like a mad woman on a race to save someone for this? Freaking great, I think to myself.
“Oh,” I mutter as I keep staring at the horizon hoping it would draw closer. “So, you’re not considering suicide?”
“I am, or I do sometimes. Whatever. I come here and look at the sea, wondering if there is a day that I would ever take the leap. The walk calms my pounding head and the sea calms my raging soul. I guess that today isn’t the day,” she smiles ruefully.
“Okay! Are you ready to head back? I can drop you off, only we have to go all the way to make a u-turn,” I say.
“Yeah, I guess so. I work at Sterling Technology, Marina. And thank you." I lead her to my car and I almost get hit by a Taxi. The driver sticks his head out and curses me as he moves forward. I get in, fasten my seatbelt and hear that reassuring click. I start the car, roll up the windows and turn on the AC.
“You didn’t ask me for my story,” she says as I put the car in drive.
“I figured that you would have told me if you wanted too,” I shrug. “It’s fine with me. Besides you don’t really know me.”
She cocks her right eyebrow and says “That didn’t stop you from telling yours.”
“Maybe you needed to hear mine or maybe I needed to say it out loud. I don’t need you to say yours, even though I am curious about it. And, I am currently coming from therapy. If you are not comfortable sharing your story, that’s fine with me,” I say as I keep driving. The traffic has lightened up a lot.
The rest of the ride is in silence. We arrive in front of her office in 20 minutes. She directs me to an empty car slot where I park. She opens the door, unstrapped her seatbelt and climbs out. She hesitates and then sits.
“When I was small, I always knew I was different from the other kids. I was groomed to take over my father’s company. At 10, I was sent to The Westminster School. I couldn’t click with the other girls because I wasn’t girly. But, that was a piece of cake. Two years ago my father died. I took over, only to discover that my father wasn’t the man I thought I knew. My hands have been bloodied over last two years. I call shots, shots that I must though I would rather not and can’t seem to get out of it. Every time, with every decision, I feel like the worst scum. I can’t get out, can’t do nothing about it except smile and tell my mother that everything is fine.” She turns to look at me. I see her doing what I do, her eyeballs wide to prevent the tears from forming.
“This is my life. I don’t accept it but there is nothing I can do about it.” She shrugs and smiles again her lips in a one-sided curl. She makes to go.
“Wait, I have something to give you,” I say as I look in my bag. I pull out Dr. Linda’s card and extend it. “She is great, although annoying. It helps to talk to someone.” I look for a pen and jot down my number. “You can call me when you need to clear your head again. Although, I can’t take the place of a therapist. I have a feeling that you have more things to tell. You need someone better equipped and trained to share your burdens.”She walks off. I drive off. I get home and walk straight to my bathroom. I fill the tub, lose my dress and climb in. Down below, the tiny bubbles tell me a new thing; I am just a tiny bubble in the whole damn water called the world. I think of the time I contemplated suicide and I am glad that I didn’t kill myself. I finally realize that someone in the world has a larger demons that me. More than that, I accept that I am not alone.
( P.S. I tried to tell Chioma’s story as short as possible. But, she says that there is a lot more to tell. So, it seems like this is a series. How long it would take? I have no idea. I would go along with the ride as long as she is willing to tell her tale.)