Edwin Okolo: Small deaths [NEW VOICES]

Seventeen was an odd year to die.

But I did. It was the first of many small deaths.

Seventeen had been brilliant. Seven months before, I’d driven through four countries to a Christian youth camp in Ghana into a jeep with Derin, Chris, David and Winifred whose hair grazed the small of her back. Her eyes mesmerized me and I flirted shamelessly, though she was a year older. We’d fallen into the culture there, learned rudimentary Twi, climbed a hill in Kutunse. I won awards for proficiency in computers, danced with Winifred till the sun rose.

I died on a road.

Dying on a road isn’t pretty. The bus was going a hundred miles an hour, maybe more. It had rained that morning and we were coming from yet another church thing, a national convention. Winifred was there too, all long hair and coy smiles, but by then I’d already found out my tastes swung darker than her innocence.

Femi usually drove. He was sixty, just turned sixty three months before. We’d thrown him a huge party, all his children, biological and otherwise. He’d joked that he was tired. But he wasn’t the kind of man to tire. He ran every morning, harvested honey himself, a lumpy dough man in his bee suits. But he was getting older and we were thirteen rowdy teenagers, so he hired a van.

I was the only one awake. I was knitting a hat, a forget-me-not I was secretly making for Winifred, but there it was, following me back home, unfinished. I don’t know what he saw, the driver, maybe a pothole. But he swerved left, hard. Then he swerved back, the tyres screeching against tarmac. In seconds we were airborne. We were lucky I guess, the bus could have somersaulted but it spun on its side instead. Six times, I counted.

Centrifugal force will keep you in place, if the vessel you’re in is spinning fast enough. The whole thing couldn’t have lasted more than 10 seconds but it felt like hours. The world slowed, then stopped. I watched, petrified. Then just as suddenly, the world rushed to meet us and we crashed hard enough that the sudden stop flung people like dolls out of the cabin.

I crawled out of a window, the back one. I was lucky, sandwiched between two people. I didn’t black out, didn’t faint, though my back was a meaty bruise and a gash deep enough to hide a coin split at the back of my head. There were only two of us who could walk. Bags full of honey burst on the bruised bodies and wild bees spawned from miles.

“He isn’t breathing!”

It took a while before I realised I was the one screaming. I knelt beside Femi, put his head in my lap. There was mucus all over his face, the whites of his eyes gleamed. I didn’t know what I was doing but I tried CPR.

Bend the head back, clear the airways, blow.

A car stopped, a red Golf. The back seat was missing, the compartment smelt of the mulch of freshly dug yams. I was woozy but I managed to crawl into the boot with him, gathered him into my lap. He kept twitching, though his chest wasn’t heaving.

I prayed, I begged the driver to drive faster, I hyperventilated as the brush that lined the road began to blur. The nearest hospital was five minutes away. Kagara, that’s what they called it. The nurses were rude, and I found out later, auxillary. They gawked at his body on a stretcher by the floor and waited for the doctor who came minutes too late, with bags under his eyes. He took his pulse, stood and cleaned his hands on his yellowing coat. Turned to leave, stopped and said;

“You should empty his pockets.”

The others started arriving, in the cars of Samaritans. I searched through the casualties looking Derin and her mother, his wife and daughter. They’d taken them to intensive care, fractured collar bone, acute shock. Instead I found Chris. He had waited to make sure everyone got put in a car, salvaged what he could from the bus. He showed me his only injury, torn knuckles from dragging himself out of the cabin. He seemed so strong, so I told him.

“No! You’re lying! Don’t!”

The force of his denial felt like a sucker punch to the jaw. I dug deep, past the shock and the tears that threatened to unravel me, found a false smile.

“He’s fine. They took him to another ward.”

He seemed to collapse into himself, a sagging puddle of relief. It was a hollow lie, one that fell apart the next morning. But it was enough to guillotine my innocence, a small death.

Edwin writes to explore concepts that he seeks to understand but cannot directly experience because of gender and genetics. He used to run the experimental fiction column ‘The Alchemist’s Corner’ and created the YA series Seams at The Naked Convos and serves as a fiction editor at Stories NG. He has written for Thelonelycrowd, Sable Lit Mag,Omenana and the Kalahari Review and was longlisted for the Short Story Day Africa Prize. He is obsessed with children, cats and Paternak, exactly in that order.

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