I remember the 13th of June, 2009. That was when I had the accident that claimed part of my right hand leaving me a nagging memorabilia of its occurrence. The stump from my shoulder to my elbow was by far one of the most grievous sources of pain and sadness in my life. It was worse because I had to bathe it every day, this lifeless piece of flesh and truncated bones that I had no intention of seeing on a daily.
I had to decide carefully what to wear each day and prepare my mind to refuse the stares while the tail end of a long sleeve shirt dangled lifelessly with the wind or not attack when anyone asked about my stump.
My former apartment had been a number 13 too. 13 Bamidele Street.
It was your usual Lagos apartment, a three-story building on Bamidele street in Yaba. I worked in the adjacent cluster town in Surulere, so it was an easy commute to and from work. You would think this would reduce the frustration of working in Lagos drastically but it didn’t. Yaba-Surulere axis, was a terribly busy part on the Lagos mainland.
It was a boisterous and tightly clustered settlement filled with over-priced colonial-type architecture, tons of street stalls and aimless motor park touts. Alayes. That’s what they were called. The air was always laden with the putrid smell of decaying, brackish water that overflowed from the shallow drainage into the filth-littered streets.
The first time I met her, she left me a nagging feeling. She wore a black hooded sweater whose hood was swung over her head in the sweltering heat in Lagos.She was also dressed in black pants and black flats. A black knapsack hung lazily across one shoulder as she sauntered to the gate.
We bumped into each other as I made my way from the gate to my apartment. She muttered an apology, and scurried off. I think now that it may not have been an apology given that her muttering was barely audible.
She reminded me in an instant, of clips from the Twilight, the movie about vampires and their shiny diamond-studded faces when exposed to sunlight. How else could you explain the black hood in midday Lagos heat?
I watched her momentarily as she headed to the gate. Her head had been bowed low the whole time I feared she might bump into a more dangerous object. She didn’t.
We ran into each other a little more than usual over the coming weeks. She looked like she was in her early twenties. She was also painfully thin(I had seen her hands once at the shop in front of the house). This she hid admirably with multiple layers of cloth and black. When she talked, you had to strain to hear her because of how mellow and quiet her voice was.
I didn’t think she lived with anyone in her flat which was unusual given her age (I presumed this was about 23) but what did I know. In Lagos, any and everything was possible.
Sometimes I said “hi” when we passed each other. And as was her norm she would mutter an inaudible response and scurry off. It was surprising therefore, when she knocked on my flat one Saturday morning to ask for something to eat. I thought it odd but I invited her in and began to prepare two packs of noodles for her after she had agreed to sit.
“Do you live alone?”, I asked her.
She nodded in the affirmative.
“Where’s your family?”
She said nothing.
“Do you have a job or something?”
Nothing still. So I stopped and focused on the boiling pot of noodles. She ate very quickly. I couldn’t still make out her face because she wore her black hoodie but when she was done eating, she raised her face fully to me and said a very inaudible “thank you”.
Her eyes hit me. You know what they say about your eyes being a window to the world? Hers spoke volumes on a whole different level and I cannot really find words to explain the things that I saw in them but they were not good.
“I don’t have a family”, she told me. “I have a job. A night job. It’s the only way to pay my rent and feed on some days”.
She didn’t explain to me what her night job entailed. But her voice seemed stronger. Maybe it was the food?
Over the next few months, I checked in on Becca (that was the name she gave me) every other day. I would bring her food and try to coerce some story out of her so I could make sense of her life. She found it inspiring, that I would go out of my way to cook her meals even with my stump. I pretty much could do anything with it. I had the accident at 15 and I had to learn to adjust the remainder of my hand to complement the wholesome one.
She never divulged much and I started asking around to see if I could learn or hear anything that would help me find her family or someone she knew.
In the last week, three months back, I was at her doorstep in the evening of Saturday now banging on the door because I had food for her and Obiora had taught me a trick on how to get someone to open up. Obiora’s my boyfriend by the way.
There was no response. I banged even louder and this began to attract some of the neighbours. Someone suggested we force the door open and I hesitated.
“She might just be deeply asleep”.
I knew Becca wasn’t deeply asleep. She had sleeping problems she had told me. Of what kind, I didn’t know.
We collectively began banging on the door but there was still no response. Mr. Fabian, the landlord, insisted on forcing the door open.
We found Becca in a pool of her blood on the floor. She had slit her right wrist. She looked peaceful and gruesome all the same dressed fully in a black hoodie, pants shoes and her knapsack visible from over her shoulder. Mr. Fabian called an ambulance and the police. I was taken to the station for questioning. An autopsy confirmed it was a suicide so I stopped having to report to the police station every other day speaking with retarded officers and having to pay my way out when it was obvious there was no investigation and they should be looking for her family members instead.
Becca and I shared a strange sort of bond in such a short time that sometimes, I would return home and head to her flat before recollecting on my way, that she was no longer there. That she would never be there any longer. I moved out of 13 Bamidele street three months after.
I wish I had done more, maybe asked Obiora about that opening up thing a little earlier? I wondered why it was her right wrist she slit instead of the left one. I wondered if there was a message in there for me because she hadn’t even left a note. Her body was still in the morgue because no family had looked for her. No one had bothered to find out where she had been. I hurt and I got angry and depressed and sad just wondering why she had taken her own life.
The strength of the emotions in Becca’s eyes the first day I looked into them answered that. She had lost the will to live.
When the agent called to say he had found me a self-contained apartment on the ground floor of “number 13…
“I’m not taking it. Please find me another apartment.”