The eighteen-wheeler looked like it was doomed for an accident. At first glance the first thing to be noticed were the wobbly tyres, stuck in some calisthenic routine, swaying dangerously from side to side like though it moved by intuition —that was way off —rather than direction.
Paul Okojie following behind at a safe distance on the thoroughfare, knew that he didn’t want to be anywhere near the monstrous heap of rust —not before, beside, and definitely not behind. Especially in his tiny Kia Rio that could be hefted by a small person if he tried hard enough.
The decision to overtake the eighteen-wheeler was a good one by Paul’s standards, and as soon as he saw an opening he accelerated, but after a brief moment of hesitation.
If only he hadn’t hesitated. If only he hadn’t even tried to overtake. If only he had continued at a leisurely pace, at a safe distance, just the way he had been doing for the last quarter hour. If only he hadn’t been in such a hurry to an appointment he would never meet up with. If only…
The eighteen-wheeler had broadsided Paul’s Rio so quickly he didn’t know what hit him. He was dead before he would have realised.
Eye witnesses would say that the eighteen-wheeler had careened and skidded and then slammed into the Rio head-on. This was an over-embellishment of course, and had been spurn by a Baba Risi, who was an alcoholic, a pathological liar, and who had heard more than seen the accident. His version spread very quickly amongst interested passers-by and soon became the official witness story.
What happened however was that the driver of the eighteen-wheeler who was never found, had been behind the wheel all night, was bone-tired, and for a fraction of a second was distracted by the memory of his mistress’ body on his, his body in hers. That was all it took to lose control, and end a man’s life: a fraction of a second.
That was all it took for Paul Okojie to die.
Nneka checked her wristwatch, checked the Mr. Biggs complimentary wall clock on the wall for good measure, and then went back to tapping her feet impatiently. The Mr. Biggs fast-food restaurant where she was scheduled to meet with her fiance —or ex-fiance —who true to character was late by at least an hour and a half, was virtually empty but for a couple at a corner of the restaurant who seemed to be having an argument.
She tried to read their lips and when she found that she couldn’t, went back to checking the radium seconds dial of her wristwatch, the cheap imitation Seiko her fiance —or ex-fiance —Paul had gifted her with on her birthday two months ago. Nneka had broken up with him one week after her birthday, and more than once she had wondered if that wristwatch had been part of the reasons why; the thought that he could have afforded something nicer, but instead bought her a bric-a-brac, most likely from all those Mallams that touted fake jewellry in scuffed plastic briefcases. That aside though, Paul was a handful. He was a nag, possessive, narcissistic, and worst of all, he was always late!
Twenty minutes more, she told herself. She’d wait twenty minutes more and if he still didn’t turn up she would leave.
She waited another hour and a half, and finally convincing herself Paul wasn’t going to show up she hefted her handbag —which could pass for a toilet bag considering it’s contents —over one shoulder and made her way out, furious at herself. Angry that she let Paul make a fool out of her again.
Why had she even agreed to meet with him? She had broken up with him over a month now, for all the good that did. That hadn’t stopped him from calling to check in on her everyday, texting her incessantly during the day even when she didn’t text back, or from inviting her to accompany him to social functions during the weekends. And even though she never honoured any of his invitations, it was almost like they never broke up; almost like he didn’t take her seriously and assumed her decision was only a phase that she would come out of, or that she fell and bumped her head and would change her mind once she had another concussion.
He had seemed so earnest on the phone when he had called her yesterday to make amends, to ask for a second chance —for it was out of character for him to beg. And she had accepted to meet him at the restaurant where he met her for the first time, today, three hours ago! And he had disappointed her. Again!
Nneka wondered why she had agreed to meet him without much coercion. She for form small, do small shakara, but no she had agreed almost as soon as he suggested it, like though she had been waiting with bated breath for him to make that suggestion. And she wondered now if it was because she loved him, or if it meant he had an unshakeable hold on her.
At the bus stop now, waiting for a cab —because she thought herself too tush for danfo buses —she thought how nice it would be if a dashing handsome, rich and God-fearing young man, who above all should be single, just happened to pull up in front of her in a Range Rover Evoque and offered her a ride. That was when her phone rang. It was Paul calling.
She thought to ignore the call, but then again she didn’t want him to think she was hurt, and if it so happened that he was already at the eatery she would apologise for not being able to meet up with their appointment and tell him how busy she was.
‘Hello?’ She said in her most off-hand tone.
The male voice at the other end of the line was definitely not Paul’s, shouting incoherently down the line, and MTN network quality as usual wasn’t doing anyone favours.
‘Hello? Can you please slow down. I can’t hear what you’re saying.’
‘The owner of this phone… Was involved in an accident… An accident… Ikeja… I’m at the morgue at Lagos State —Lagos State University Teaching Hospital. Yours was the last dialed number on his cell phone…
‘Hello? Madam, are you there?’
Nneka wasn’t. Shocked beyond disbelief, her mobile phone fell from her grasp, and without thinking, without pausing to consider how tush she was, without consideration that her prince charming might have been around the corner in his Ranger Rover Evoque, she ran down the road, screaming her head off like though she was being chased by a ghost. Or was chasing after one…
Peter Okojie, Paul’s twin brother, had known it when his brother died. Or at least that’s what he said to sympathisers and well-wishers when they called at his three-bedroom bungalow in the Federal Low Cost Housing Estate in Jos; that he had felt some sort of premonition the day his brother had died, and even though they had both been estranged for years, the animosity had done nothing to the connection they had shared from the womb.
Preparations had to be made for the funeral as soon as possible. The twins were orphaned years ago and Peter was all the family his late brother had so it fell to him to make all the necessary arrangement for his brother’s interment.
The funeral was going to be a small affair. Paul had died single, and had no children. In his early-thirties he had died so young too. It was going to be a sombre event, not as much a celebration of a full life as a marker of a life cut short too soon.
Peter’s wife, Adaku, was pregnant with their first child at the time, far gone and ready to pop, which doubled —or perhaps tripled the tasks Peter had to undertake with little to no help.
Adaku, Peter’s wife, had drawn up an expenditure list of what food items, drinks and spices should be bought for the funeral, and though Peter insisted it would be best if they just bought everything in their village in Nteje, Anambara State, his wife disagreed. Food items were a lot cheaper in the North, she argued, and so were spices. She reasoned that they were better off buying a goat in Jos than in Anambara State, and since they would be travelling cross-country in Peter’s car, they could grill the mutton and take it along with them, together with red onions, pepper and other spices, which were a lot cheaper in Jos than they were at Ochanja market in Onitsha.
While his wife’s suggestion had some merit, Peter thought it was unnecessary. And though they could save some money going about things her way, it was also going to be more stressful for him, seeing as he had no sister —or any other sibling for that matter —and he had no female relatives or kinswomen in Jos that he knew of who could help with the grocery shopping. His wife was heavily-pregnant and couldn’t handle any form of stress in her state, and heeding her advice —or directive —which he did eventually, meant that it also fell to him to go to the market, alone, and buy the items on Adaku’s list in preparation for the journey to Anambara state for his twin-brother’s burial.
That was what Peter was doing at Terminus market on the day of the bomb blast, thinking to himself how the experience was all a lesson as he jostled between bodies, dragging along a heavy sac, and resolving within himself to seek out and join the Jos chapter for his village age grade meeting once he returned from his brother’s burial. A man is nothing without his brothers, he was thinking when the bomb went off.
Sadly, Peter neither heard the boom nor witnessed the panic that followed in it’s wake.
He was with his brother.
Nneka didn’t attend Paul’s funeral. Not because she couldn’t, but because she didn’t think she was up to it. Racked by guilt over Paul’s death, she didn’t think she’d be able to live down the memory of Paul’s coffin being lowered into the greedy, gaping mouth of the earth. The imagination of it alone was too haunting.
Nneka hasn’t slept well since the news of Paul’s death, and wouldn’t know sound sleep for some time yet. How could she —staying home alone at night, in the flat where she and Paul had had many arguments, and made love over every square inch of floor in the aftermath of those loud, passionate quarrels?
Nneka, though she never mentioned this to anyone, blamed herself for Paul’s death. If only she hadn’t broken up with him in the first place, he wouldn’t have been rushing to come meet her at their scheduled rendezvous to patch things up; he wouldn’t have been rammed by the eighteen-wheeler; he wouldn’t have rushed to his death. And she blamed herself that he did.
In all her self-derision however, Nneka never once thought of the driver of the eighteen-wheeler who had fled the accident scene, and had never been found.
Adaku went into labour the moment she heard of the twin bomb-blasts at Terminus market. In the throes of labour pains, she screamed to the high heavens that her husband be spared, that he not be a victim of the blast, that he be alive and well, ready to meet his son.
She knew her prayers had gone up too late when after she had put to bed a healthy baby boy weighing 4:8 kg at birth, her husband Peter was still nowhere to be found. She was a widow, and she had just birthed a fatherless son.
The neighbours who had brought her to the hospital tried to make up stories, and tell stupid lies to cover up: that her husband was injured in the bomb-blast but he was going to be fine, and would come check up on her once he was discharged from the hospital where he was being treated. But even though she wanted to believe them, wanted to believe that they couldn’t reasonably raise her hopes in such a manner on the premise of a falsehood, she knew. Peter was dead. She was a widow. Her son had no father.
Peter and his twin brother Paul were buried on the same day. Adaku wasn’t allowed to attend by her siblings and her in-laws who all insisted that it was going to be too heartbreaking for her, like though it was possible that she be more heartbroken than she already was.
She didn’t watch her husband’s shell being interred, didn’t get to look upon his face for the last time; the man with whom she had made a life, her husband… Could she even still call him that? Their vows had been unequivocal: till death do they part. And death had come to claim him, to snatch him away from her.
There was so much they had said they would do that they didn’t. And oh, how he’d looked forward to the birth of his son, someone in whose face he could look and find himself.
Peter never got to look upon his son’s face, if only once, and they were never going to have another chance at the dreams they had together that they hadn’t achieved. That was the unfairness that Adaku just couldn’t wrap her head around, couldn’t shut her heart to, couldn’t stop her mind from revisiting; that was the reason why Adaku just couldn’t stop crying.
People presumptuously assumed that her grief was for her late husband and his twin brother, but the truth is there had been no love lost between Paul and Adaku while he was alive, and she felt no more than a little tinge of sadness at his passing. Paul and her had never seen eye to eye from the get go, and their mutual dislike had been at the root of her late husband’s falling out with his twin brother.
As unreasonable as it sounds, Adaku blamed Paul for her husband’s death, and said as much once to her older sister who didn’t disagree —nor agree with her for that matter. But as far as Adaku was concerned Paul was to blame.
If only Paul hadn’t died when he had. If only he hadn’t been driving recklessly like she was inexplicably sure he was. If only he was a bit more responsible and didn’t live life on the brink as though to prove a point. If only he had been more like her husband…
What Adaku didn’t consider was the possibility that she blamed Paul for her husband’s death only so she wouldn’t blame herself. Hadn’t she been the one who had insisted he did things her way? Hadn’t she been the one who didn’t want him spending a penny more than he should on his idiot brother’s funeral? Hadn’t she been the one who acted like pregnancy was a death sentence, guilt-tripping her husband constantly, and acting like he alone was responsible —or more correctly, to blame —for her morning sickness, bloated ankles and aching knees?
She could have helped him with the preparations, made his burden lighter, but she didn’t. If she had been helpful he probably wouldn’t have been at the scene of the bomb-blast on that day. They could have saved more time between them had she helped. And her husband wouldn’t have died a man under fatigue.
Strangely, Adaku hardly thought about the faceless Boko Haram terrorists who had been behind the bomb-blast that had killed Peter; reducing him, her husband — the man to whom she had said “forever” —to barely-identifiable barbecue, an insignificant unit in the death toll that was rolled around the tongues of news casters like breath mints.
At three months old her son would be ripe for baptism by Catholic standards, and Adaku would choose to name him Peter after his father. However, by some error —the mistake of an old idiotic Cathecist —her son would be wrongly christened Paul instead. Paul Okojie II.