It was 6:45 p.m. that Friday. The pale red-yellow hue of the setting sun and the bluish-grey colours of the white sky formed a mosaic -a little less like a rainbow- which I captured on the camera of my Samsung phone.
I sent the image to my wife, a midwife on night duty at the General hospital, and slumped into the cane chair. Since she left for work about an hour ago, I have been sitting at the balcony admiring the beautiful sunset, listening to my favorite reggae songs on radio and reminiscing on life in the nineties.
My dog stirred from his slumber and came to squat very close to the foot of my chair and I rubbed his fur. He looked up at me with his bright eyes and I chuckled. It reminded me of my first contact with a dog. That was many years ago.
I had gone to visit my uncle and met his dog (an angry pit bull) at the gate. I screamed and took off on my heels and it followed in hot pursuit, although from a safe distance. After encircling the compound thrice, I stopped to catch my breath and the dog, still maintaining its distance, stopped too. Out of curiosity, I staggered towards it and rubbed its head with my shaky fingers but it did not bite. That singular act endeared me to dogs and I have owned dogs till this day.
Nothing extraordinary happened this particular evening except that the gmelina trees suddenly stopped dancing to the tune of the wind and I choked on smoke fumes, almost struggling to see. I searched the pockets of my jacket for my inhaler but my hands came out empty.
I started coughing and calling for help. I could feel the veins on my forehead bulging out and my eyes burning. My cellphone began to buzz but I was blinded by the smoke to see where I had kept it. It must be my wife calling.
The cough intensified and my chest tightened. Every breath was shallower than the last and my life flashed before me. My screams got weaker and weaker as I struggled to breathe and slumped onto the floor. In that instant, I heard a loud bang on the entrance door and hurried footsteps on the staircase, towards the balcony where I lay half-dead.
Perhaps, my neighbours called the fire service. I felt strong hands lift me on a stretcher and cover my face with a gas mask. I knew that there was no way out. It was either I died there or on my way to the hospital. I had inhaled too much smoke -enough to fully damage my lungs.
I mumbled my last prayers and finally shut my eyes. Since my confinement to the wheelchair, I rarely made any plans for the future. My wife was doing her best to keep the family going but there was only so much she could do. I loathed seeing myself in that state of helplessness. I took the fire incident as a sign that my time was up.
A friendly squeeze on my arm brought me back to life. A quick glance at the room reminded me of my first time there. A private bedroom at the hospital where my wife worked. It was there she delivered our only daughter, Helen. Through the window of my eyes, I could see her beautiful face smiling down at me, my little Princess.
Although she was now a mother of three, she remained my ‘little’ bundle of joy. Her mother, my wife, stood beside her with fear hiding behind her round eyes and a pout on her cracked lips. I blinked repeatedly to fight back my tears but they some how found a way to sail down my cheeks and I let them roll freely.
Helen was the first to speak. She spoke softly like a therapist. She always picked her words and never said a word less or more than she should. She preferred to act rather than speak. She asked how I was feeling and I asked ‘okay’. She nodded and beckoned on her mother to stand closer to my bed.
“They found him,” my wife said, and started wailing immediately.
“Who?” I did not quite understand why this woman was crying more than me. I was the one feeling all the pain.
“Helen’s ex-husband,”came her reply. Oh, Helen got separated from her husband after he repeatedly hit her with a pestle during her last pregnancy and moved out of the city. He had tried to make amends but she told him to stay away from her and her children. But he didn’t relent and proceeded to beg us -her parents.
Being religious, we begged our daughter to take him back but she vehemently refused. She alone knew where the shoe pinched the most, she often said to us. Having lived with him for eight years, she knew he had a bad temper and never felt remorse. In fact, she suspected that his apologies were a ploy to take the children away from her.
The case was reported to the police but they dismissed it as lacking verifiable evidence. Yes, she made a huge mistake by not reporting early and not taking pictures but her life was in danger. Could they not see how she was jittery as she narrated her ordeal? The strain in her voice? Her pale palms?
She did not wait to experience a next time, which she thinks might be more brutal but rented a flat in a city six hours away from his prying eyes. So, he looked for a soft target -me. He knew that I was her hero and biggest moral support, despite my debilitating condition. The one person who meant the world to her. Any harm done to me will send her six-feet below the soil.
“On that day,” my wife narrated, “Helen’s ex-husband overpowered a drunk policeman and drove away with his van. He arrived our home minutes after my wife left for work and slipped in through the back door to eat. He said he hadn’t eaten a proper meal in months.”
I shifted my gaze to Helen and returned it to my wife, who continued speaking, “It would have been nearly impossible to catch him if he hadn’t forgotten his wallet beside the gas cooker where he fried bacons, eggs and ripe plantains.”
“Poor guy, he must have been very hungry,” I said, with sarcasm. But my wife continued to speak, not paying any attention to me or what I had just said, “When the drunk officer came to, he requested for help and his vehicle was tracked immediately to its last location -the burning building.”
“Of course, the police officers who went to recover the stolen car did not expect to meet a three-storey building going up in flames but thankfully, they arrived in time to save you. You were in that building,” she concluded.
While Helen celebrated my survival, she had it at the back of her mind to sue the police officer who ‘let’ her ex-husband commit crime with his van and hopes to make a mess of his career until he is forced to resign. It was his type that hit my car many years ago and confined me to a wheelchair. It is a horrifying moment for the entire family, please say a prayer for us. ❤️