by Femi Aribisala
I was born on 12th April, 1952. I died twenty-years ago on 26th December, 1993. I was killed by armed-robbers on the way from Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos.
My wife was coming back from a trip to the United States and I went to the airport with six-year-old Femi-Kevin to meet her. She had two major pieces of luggage. I put one in the boot and the other in the back-seat of our car. It was around seven-thirty in the evening, and we set out for home.
Soon, a car overtook us with some people who were shouting at us for some inexplicable reason. I paid little attention to them. It is commonplace in Lagos for some driver to be upset with you for some reason or the other. But no sooner had they overtaken us than they swerved and blocked the road with their car. Immediately, some men jumped out menacingly.
Dicing with death
From that moment, everything became surreal. Indeed, everything switched to slow-motion. I slammed on the brakes and the car stopped. I switched to reverse-gear and the car moved back. Our assailants were banking on the element of surprise, but my prompt reactions upstaged them. Having reversed the car, I again brought it to a stop. In front of us on the road were four armed men.
I had always foolishly believed in myself. I regarded myself as a problem-solver. True, this was a rather bigger problem than I had had to deal with before. This particular one was a question of life and death. But it was a problem nevertheless. Therefore, I decided to try and address it like any other problem. First; I needed to make a quick decision. I had to decide whether to continue to reverse the car; or go forward or just surrender.
I seemed to have all the time in the world to make this split-second decision. Finally, I decided on a foolhardy course of “no retreat: no surrender.” I made up my mind to go forward at top speed and try to avoid their car, which was biased to the left side of the road. I also resolved that if the man to my extreme right did not get out of the way, I would run him over with my car.
I put the car back into the first gear and went ahead to execute my plan; slamming hard on the accelerator. The man to my extreme right literally had to jump out of the road because I aimed the car directly at him. I managed to avoid their car and made a dash for it. But before I could congratulate myself on turning the tables against our abductors, my plans went disastrously wrong. A lamppost appeared suddenly out of nowhere, and I slammed headlong into it.
I have been back on that road so many times since then and have wondered why I did not see that lamppost. But I did not. Once I hit the lamppost, I was trapped like a caged animal. Once I hit the lamppost, all my brilliantly-executed escape plans turned out to be reckless. Once I hit the lamppost, I knew that I was a dead man. I looked out the window to see the man I nearly ran down now marching towards me. I knew there could only be one thing on his mind: revenge.
But before I could panic, something dramatic happened. I heard a voice. It was not a booming voice. It was a “still small voice.” It was authoritative and calm. It spoke with quiet reassurance. “Femi,” it said, “nothing is going to happen to you here.”
Before I could even think about what that meant, the offended armed-robber drew near. Again, I saw everything in slow motion. Grimacing, he pointed his gun at me and pulled the trigger. I saw a flash of light and the glass at my side of the door came crashing down. The bullet pierced the body of the car, came out on the inside and killed me. It is necessary to put it graphically. The bullet hit me and I bled to death right there on the roadside.
Conversations in the morgue
Thereafter, I was no longer afraid of our assailants. As a matter of fact, I became indifferent to them. I seemed to be abstracted from the entire incident, and to be like someone watching an unfolding drama from the sidelines. And yet I knew that however the matter was resolved, my life would never be the same again.
Don’t ask me why, but I opened the door and decided to come out of the car. Only then did I realise that there was something wrong with my left leg. The bullet came out of the inside of the car and lodged itself in my leg, but I never actually felt it enter my body. As I came out of the car, the aggrieved armed-robber who had shot at me slapped me. “Why were you driving like that?” he demanded. “Please don’t be offended,” I pleaded. “I was only trying to get away from you as best as I could.”
While all this was going on, the young man was rifling through my pockets. He was removing my watch from my wrist. Another man was removing the suitcase from the backseat of the car and loading it into the boot of their car. And then I heard that implausible voice once again, defiantly oblivious to the situation. “Femi,” it repeated, “nothing is going to happen to you here.”
I was not really paying much attention. My whole life suddenly flashed through my mind. So this is how it all ends, I thought. I looked through the window of the car and saw my wife clutching little Femi-Kevin to her breast. It was like seeing the past in the present. So at such an early age this woman became a widow, I thought.
I noticed she was praying. I could see her lips moving silently. I did not believe in prayer and I never prayed. As far as I was concerned, the fact that she was praying meant she was highly distressed. So I leaned through the window to reassure her. But the only reassurance I could give was the ludicrous one I had been given. So I said to her: “Karen, nothing is going to happen to us here.”
Dead and buried
But something seemed to be happening. One of the armed-robbers could not open the boot. Neither could I give him the key because it was jammed in the ignition as a result of my hitting the lamppost with the car. One simple fact completely escaped me. Our abductors also seemed oblivious to it. You could open the boot by pressing a latch on the floor of the driver’s side of the car.
I could tell that, with the frustration of being unable to dislodge the key from the ignition, the temperature of the entire incident was rising. But then, one of them opened the glove compartment and saw some money I had miraculously forgotten there. It so happened that it was a sizeable amount. That discovery brought down the heightened temperature. The man who discovered it was excited. “Look what I found,” he shouted gleefully to his partners-in-crime. Somehow, this discovery was enough to atone for their inability to retrieve the luggage from the boot.
It was time to go. The man who had shot at me re-cocked his gun. It was one of those revolvers that you snap at the top in order to re-load. He pointed it at me and barked: “Lie down with your face to the ground.” I don’t know where I got the courage from, but I refused. I told him calmly: “You can take whatever you want and go, but I am not going to lie down.” The man stared at me. His look spoke eloquently. It said: “Don’t you know that I have the power to shoot you dead right now?”
I was already dead, so I was not moved. For a moment, we stood staring at one another defiantly, with him pointing the gun directly at my face. I knew he would shoot again and could not care less. But then suddenly, he changed his mind and walked away. Then they all jumped into their car and drove off.
There is nothing like death to make a man to yearn for salvation. I was a man falling down a cliff, looking for something to hold on to. Then suddenly a mystery man arrived. But instead of throwing me a rope, he threw me a thread. “Catch this,” he said, “and I will pull you up.” I knew certainly that a thread could not hold my weight. But it was really no time to argue. If I had other options, maybe I might have ignored the thread. But as it was, the thread was the only solution available, even if it was absolutely nonsensical. So I grabbed the thread and unbelievably, the thread; a thread, held my weight.
Once I held on to this slim thread of hope, I was filled with an incredible feeling of peace in the middle of an armed-robbery attack, even with a bullet lodged in my left leg. But once the robbers left, I came back to my senses. The peace lifted and I was filled with fear. Clearly, I needed immediate medical attention. My wife jumped out of the car and ran down the road shouting for help. I looked down and realised that my trouser-leg, my sock and shoe were completely soaked with blood. So I said to myself: “Well, you escaped that one. But now you are going to bleed to death right here in the middle of this road.”
But immediately that thought came into my head, the voice I had heard earlier came back to counter it. It was just as calm and commanding as before. It was no-nonsense and conclusive: “Femi,” it said categorically, “there is nothing wrong with your leg.”
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