by Victor Fat
Staring at my screen for several minutes as I re-live the moments. My heart is beating fast and I can feel all the fear and shock all over again. It’s difficult to recount in words. It’s difficult finding a start to my September 26, 2016 story. I am not sure what to begin with. I could begin with how I shocked I was at the sudden presence of him or how stunned I was as he walked away like he was the victim. I could begin with how my life hung half-way and I was soaked in my own blood as death gave me a smirk, with some look of confidence. I will begin somewhere.
Today and always I live with a mindset of chance. A mindset of an opportunity, of a second chance at life and I somehow very oddly feel like if I get in another close death experience, I will be stronger and probably care less about not losing it. This is easier said than done. The pain of death approaching goes beyond the physical cut or flow of blood. Nothing in the world hurts more than feeling like you are about to die – unfortunately! This is the story of every victim of an accident or a bloody armed robbery attack. A moment ago you had your life but you are about to ‘un-have’ it. No words to expand this further.
It was a different Monday – the most significant of 2016, and of my life. As if I was having a well-lived last day, I had felt so productive and happy. The weekend leading up to the week had been a fabulous combination of attending a feast at one of Lagos’ top new-age churches and proceeding to the Kings’ College Old Boys’ Association Dinner in response to an invitation from an old student. It was a Monday to be proud of – sticky notes tasks cleared, rolls of compliments on the blazers I wore and I was on my way to my sister’s place around 8.30pm – gravely late if my mum heard about it, but just another long day for me and I had stopped by to make a withdrawal at an ATM on Itire Rd., off Ojuelegba, Surulere. The blue blazers suit was a gift from my brother from Abu Dhabi and it was one of my best dressed days (I dress so casually, ceteris paribus). The GTBank ATM gallery and the entire bank compound looked unusually ‘empty’ and it was awkward but it really didn’t mean much. An earlier transfer made to the account was yet to materialise and so I found the stylish short fence of the bank a cool support as I leant on the pillar that held the gate and composed some emails on my phone. Nollywood would have used a heinous sound at this point or some Tope Alabi that fits to sense danger.
I opted to wait outside based on how deserted the place was and there I stood, upon one of the gate pillars, engrossed with my phone as I gave some detailed instructions here and reviews on submitted designs there with all attention paid. There I was for over ten minutes fully concentrating on my phone’s screen and nothing seemed unusual for that long. “Kindly find attached” was the last line of my mail at 8.47pm as saved by auto-draft. I had not even attached the said file when the phone itself was sn-attached.
The area was relatively deserted but I guess the passing cars made it feel like people were around. I had lost myself to my thought and writing process when a short and yet lanky guy approached me and snatched the phone from my grip. He took it the same way you collect your phone from a kid who has been playing Tempo Run with your 3% battery life. In one second, I recollected an event I had witnessed in Akure where a lady (FUTA student) ‘fought’ with street robbers and was able to save her laptop and possession with all bravery, as we moved towards the scene. I had, all in one second, processed all the needed bravery (as I thought) and how sometimes “these thieves just need some resistance to be ‘’conquered”. To make matters ‘worse’ for me, I saw no evident sign of fear. No knife or gun and he seemed to be the only one. Turns out I was wrong on both assumptions.
I motioned towards my phone as it went further from my body, wrestling with little combat accuracy and armed with a blind yet focused resilience on recovering my phone. What resulted was a brawl. I was suddenly wrestling with a thief who had probably been in this for years. Cut the long story short and I was down, my life being cut short – I don’t know how I got there – in the pool of my own blood flowing like a generous stream from behind my neck. Ever had this one tap that does not stop running? That type that you then station a bowl under to repeatedly run over. Picture it on my neck with the water as some evening time kind of viscous blood of mine. This is not Nollywood. I repeat this is real life.
I knew what it meant for blood to be rushing down my neck. It was fairly warm and slightly viscous, running down with the velocity of soap lather, as it flows when you rinse down a shampoo-soaked hair. The stabbing moment had come upon me like a huge reverberation on my head. I did not feel the sharp piercing of an object or knife. What I felt was like a huge plank of wood, something like the size of an okada (bike) hit so strongly on my head. I pleaded with the first responders to help put off the blazers and in that was the very first aid, helping to cushion the ‘out-flow’ of blood. There I was in half-life, weak and dying, scared of dying and in the guilt of being unfortunate.
Unfortunate oh so unfortunate I felt.
I felt unfortunate that I had struggled with him in the first place. There I was on the road side of Itire Rd, dying ‘just like that’.
I felt unfortunate that there I was certain to die if nobody helped me to a hospital, when I knew so much that my loved ones – family spread across Lagos and beyond, friends including some of them living in the same Surulere area and a number of other people who know me (almost felt like “knew me”) – would gladly give their all to save me even if it involved going naked to ‘soak’ and stop my blood loss with their clothes or to stain their car leather seats just to carry me to the nearest hospital, but there I was begging people with the little faith I could garner to “pls save my life”, asking them “I hope I can survive this. Please, how bad? Can I survive it”, soliciting the few people who came around with all the “eh eh yah” in the world to take action and save my life.
Repeated showers of “eh eh yah” got me more scared. This is Lagos where people are known to come around, pity you, recall how they were standing over there and didn’t even know it was an attack. Some of the women would scream “abiyamo o” and some guys would come and take pictures for Linda, and the victim would lie there, not yet dead but certain to. And he/she would eventually. This is a country where we are all scared of the Police, of the ineffectiveness of law enforcement and the resulting risks of attempting to give a helping hand, especially if he a life is eventually lost. And then just maybe I would die, and people will do a number of Facebook and Instagram posts, talk about only the positive things I did and a couple of RIPs would follow and yes, life will, as it has to, continue.
I don’t know who stopped the Keke Napep. But there was the God-sent young man and the ‘ambulance’ of a tricycle waiting to carry me and a young man who would later recall that I held close to his hands begging to be saved, holding me up into the Keke and sitting by my side, as we drove to the nearest hospital.
With the little life I could still feel, I kept confirming to myself I was still alive. I mutter some words, look at something, think of something – doing every little thing I could to remain ‘here’. Randle General Hospital was close by and by the time we alighted I had no more balance left. I can vividly recall as I staggered on the walkway as Tayo, my “good Samaritan” held me from falling as I “walked” down the shadow of chance – the gangway that led to where the waiting nurses and doctors at Randle were.
Tayo works at Mobil Filling station on Itire Road and was on duty as it all happened just across the road. He had left the fuel pump to check on me alongside other sympathisers and eventually took the necessary risk to save my life. This had even got his supervisor on a bike as he followed Tayo to the hospital with the intention to scold him for leaving his primary assignment but upon arrival also became a key sympathiser and supporter. I had humans around – real humans. Or rather, I had God.
Received with a lot of sympathetic cries and wailing from the nurses and hospital staff, I was put on a chair and there was the immediate attempt to stop the blood from what I, as at that point knew as the only stabbing point. What followed was reassuring, came with so much hope and yet scary as I hoped to stay alive.
“Bring that…”, “Pls bring more light here. I can’t see so well”, “Ha I am not able to get this vein o”, “Hey this thing has broken again” and a lot of that was followed by a Nurse who was so evidently eager to save my life. From agitating upon her requests for this and that, to shutting down fears and warnings raised from the other nurses on her being careful based on the fact that my family was yet to arrive and the absence of the police report, to emphasizing the need to do everything to save a life above all other matters, she worked tirelessly to achieve some progress -at least enough to sustain what eventually became a necessary transfer to LUTH.
They had asked me to recall a family member’s phone (someone who was in Lagos and could come over). Thanks to the fact I knew all my siblings’ phone numbers off-hand. My sister and her husband (I was to spend the night in their place) were on some real “Need for Speed”, arriving at the hospital in no time and watching to their utter dismay, even as they braced and responded to all that was needed, including the process of lifting me carefully into the ambulance that was on its way to LUTH. I can recall the moment I was lifted as a fragile egg into the ambulance, supported by my brother-in-law and some other people around.
I had an initial death scare as I felt cold. It was my first time in an ambulance and probably due to being used to Nigeria, I didn’t think about a working air-conditioning system being available. As I felt cold, I held tightly to Lola (my sister) like a dying old man holds onto his first daughter. “I am feeling cold o”, I muttered in cold fear, recalling in my head how I hear that the body gets cold upon death or at the near point of it.
I can only imagine what went on in the mind of my sister and her husband from the point she received the call to the point she saw me at the hospital. My sister would later mention that she thought I wore a red shirt that was then stained by blood. Well, what I wore was a glossy bright white shirt that had been entirely soaked in my blood. I really loved that shirt but couldn’t care less as it was torn off my body with scissors as I was being prepared for suture at LUTH.
I was very comfortable being entirely naked even while surrounded by a number of young doctors – male and female. Who wouldn’t choose being naked over being dead? I woke up to three plaster points, marking a further realisation of the attack. I had been stabbed thrice with one of the points earlier unknown to me less than an inch to my eyeballs.
The rest is the story of real deep and profound love and care from family – my sister and her husband, as well as my brother and my sister who got on a flight straight down to Lagos the following morning. The rest is the story of recovery, of chilling recall of the moments, of life and of everything. We ensured my mum did not travel down but she hardly slept where she was, despite repeated over-dosage of Princeton and other sleeping drugs.
I am motivated to act for first-response in emergency situations and get more people picking up people in cold blood and saving lives – and I am moved to do this via effective awareness/orientation and working with lawyers and the Police to ensure the security and exoneration of people who take such “risks”. I have thoughts around something like a “first responders” project where we can provide tips and support to encourage people to save lives in usually avoided ‘cold-blood’ situations and work with law enforcement agencies to ensure that we do not pass on the culture of fear of indictment and wrong suspicion that Nollywood and old stories (without denying that some people would truly have got into some trouble in the past in similar situations) continue to fuel. But I think that in 2017 and beyond, technology has armed us further and some of the risks are not as we always took them.
There is the culture of fear that we all naturally pass on based on stories of people who have tried to be kind in the past and taken action to help accident or attack victims and who got in the end, in “real serious trouble”. A popular song by Fuji (a Nigerian music genre) artiste even did a popular “Rora se” song that cautions people who are moved to help and save lives of strangers. The Nigerian situation of poor police investigation and a judiciary that is almost nothing to write home about makes the whole situation worse. The officers are waiting to indict you, threaten you and charge you to court with the alternative of a huge bailout sum of money (read: bribe). But I think that a lot of things have changed and with technology and literacy, the risk-level is not as we perceive it.
With technology, a recorded video of the situation upon arrival and of key points of the situation (which is saved online right away or on live video, where this is an option) would go a long way to verify the claims of account where this becomes necessary. Badly enough, being questioned at all in the first place is a thing people try to avoid and stories of police torture of people whom they assume to be criminals seem to justify this fear. But with the understanding that the real worst scenario is the victim losing his life, we can attempt stronger precautionary steps and ensure to speak up and sometimes an attempt to contact a lawyer when/if police officers attempt to “turn it up”, is all that is necessary. This is about preparing for the worst scenarios – our biggest fears – of losing the victim to death in the process, but really, the alternative is further worse, from a human (properly defined) point of view. We all have to do more and value the lives of others and this culture has to grow. I am optimistic (and hope to do something) about the possibilities that come with having a support organization that people can inform when they get in situations like this, who then follow up all through, provide necessary information and work hand-in-hand with the police and lawyers to ensure the protection of their innocence, if the situations goes the other way round.
Most importantly the system has to improve and emergency contact/access and ambulances need to work so that in certain situations that seem too dangerous to volunteer, calling the ambulance can be a valuable step while providing some support or first aid.
Meanwhile, there’s one truth to face: Your leather car seat is not too neat to be stained by the blood of someone you might just save. I know that for further reasons, this is not as easy as said but I am grateful, and my mum most especially is, that Tayo, and a Keke Napep ‘ambulance’ (we never found out who the driver was) took the risk. Well, ‘how expensive is a Keke Napep?’ you’d probably dismiss.
In the end, we all are strangers to others when we get on the road, on a trip, go to the market and board a vehicle. My so dear sister or brother is right now as I write this, in the midst of strangers as he gets up to his work and life today wherever he/she is – same as your mum, dad or uncle. We all, as well as our loved ones – spend a lot of our time out there and at the ‘risk’ of losing our lives to very avoidable deaths that only needed access to a hospital to avoid. “But police…, but “what if they say I…”.