Let me tell you exactly what life does to you. Let me tell you what to expect just when you think you’ve got it all figured out and your path is set and you are the star of your own damn story. Life just pulls the rug right beneath your size 40 feet. Life says, ‘nah, she is having too much fun. Time for a spin’. And spin you around it does. Only, you never enjoy the ride, not really, you know you are on the roller coaster and you are screaming your throat out and you are holding on the rail for your dear life and sometimes you want to let go but you still want to live despite the topsy, turvy, because you have hope, even though you shouldn’t. You know you shouldn’t. You know you are on that ride and someone is screaming in glee behind you, enjoying it thoroughly, wholesomely, and you know it is not you.
Everyday, I wake up envisioning how life would have been different if I had just made a single different decision that day. Every day, for a full minute, I imagine I had made a different decision that day. And the things that had happened had not happened, and my life had not taken a turn for the worse in one split second, with one death.
I lay, face up on the thinned out mattress of my steely, springy bed, my eyes closed, my body rod straight, my breath slow and calculated and my mind away from the smell of permanent moisture on concrete permeating the room. And I see how my day would have panned out. How my life would have panned out.
It would have been a blessing to have woken up with a fever that day. I wouldn’t have minded. It would mean I would stay at home, bedridden, cold, dizzy, shivering with a bitch of a headache. But I would have been under warm sheets, a cup of hot pap or tea by my side, my Mama trying to get me to eat or take medicine.
What if I was healthy and not bedridden? But I had decided to be lazy that day. So when I stepped into the kitchen that morning to meet my sister making kosai by the gas cooker, and she asked me as she dropped spoons of the mixture into the hot oil ‘Will you come accompany me to Aisha Tijjani’s son’s naming ceremony later?’ , What if I had said ‘I am not really in the mood for socializing’ instead of ‘Isn’t she the one who married that rich guy and had that big Instagram wedding where you guys ate like 15 different assortments of meals? Of course I’ll go’. My sister had laughed. She knew food was the way to my heart.
When Hausa people say ‘Kwadayi mabudin wahala’.
‘Craving is the key to opening the door of suffering’, I had thought it meant when you are trying to steal meat from a pot that is still on fire and you grab the metal ladle and it is so hot you want to let it go but you want that piece of meat. So you go ahead and pick the meat from the ladle, even though the pain is searing through your fingers. And you juggle the meat while you head to your room, and take a bite, it is still too hot, and right before you reach your room you mom approaches. And you have to close your mouth though you can feel the heat dancing within, emanating from it. Or when you sip from your sister’s too hot tea, the one she told you not to touch and it burns your tongue badly, and it takes days of not tasting meals to heal. I thought that was the suffering. I thought the height of it was people treating you badly because you crave their attention or money or something. But the height of it was about to happen to me. I should have known, because the height of it is why we are on Earth, the forbidden fruit, craving.
It could have been avoided had my Mama said I should stay behind and not follow my sister to Aisha Tijjani’s house because I had to make lunch and I would have pouted in disappointment and I would have grudgingly stayed back moaning all the great food I would miss, but she did not. So I went.
I wish I hadn’t a fondness for children. An earnest fascination of the little beings. So that when my sister and I had arrived at the big, beautiful duplex that was Aisha Tijjani and her influential husband’s house, and I had stayed by the side, just inconspicuous enough to not be really noticed, but not enough to be missed when the food came. And I had consumed the mouth watering basmati chinese rice with prawn chunks, the variety of beef dishes, some minced, some mixed with something, and I had revelled in the lushness of the doughnuts, wondering about how rich Aisha’s husband was and whether my boyfriend, Lawal will ever get that rich, whether I wanted to marry someone who couldn’t give me enough money to impress my uninvited guests at our first son’s naming ceremony. So after all that, I would have stayed back, pressed my phone and not move closer to my sister when my stomach was full. What if I had not peeping into the baby’s face, taking in his rosy skin, lushful lashes and peaceful sleep, and feeling the need to carry it.
I wouldn’t be here, on this bed, lying flat on my back, thinking what could have been, if I had peeped and left. But I extended my hands towards the bundle, and I carried its weighless self close to my chest and I cuddled it against me, feeling the softness of the blanket covering it, knowing it must be luxury to be this soft, wondering how much it must have cost, wondering if, maybe, in the future, Lawal will get enough money to provide our son with such luxury blankets and and luxury baby clothes, and luxury mittens, and luxury, branded pacifiers so that the uninvited guest who came majorly to eat and by extension open her door to suffering could reason about it.
What if I had promptly given the baby back as it was squirming and writhing lazily, it’s tiny, pale arm moving as if it was casting a spell? What if I had given it back to its mother so that whatever was to happen in the next few minutes would be on her. Would she have been made to be in my position? I always wondered. But I hadn’t. I had sat staring at the baby, I was wearing a smile, my last untainted one. I had mumbled a little sorry and moved my leg when a figure brushed past me and almost tripped. A few seconds later was when the baby pitched a sharp yell. A few seconds later was when the baby started squirming. A few seconds later was when foam started coming out of the baby’s mouth. A few seconds later was when the baby went limp, when it died. I screamed when it’s little, full, pretty mouth started emitting white foam. I screamed at my sister to make it stop. I screamed for help. I screamed for it’s mother to see, for the world to see. But they saw me holding the lifeless body of the only son of a man with power. A son he had tried to get for so long and had finally gotten with his third wife. They saw me and they said I was the murderer, the doctors said it was poisoning, it was instant, it had happened when I was holding him, the kliller was therefore me, and the baby was the key to the door of my suffering.
I am haunted. The baby’s scent of rich powder, cologne and fabric conditioner haunts my nose. The broken, disbelieving, accusatory eyes of Aisha Tijjani as I held the corpse of her baby who I had apparently poisoned haunts my vision. The voices of women screaming out prayers or yelling out in horror at the sheer mortification of what had just happened haunts my ears. And the day, the day my life was rugpulled in one second beneath my size 40 feet haunts my entire existence.
Till this day, whenever I get to go outside, the clouds look like white death foam coming out of a baby’s mouth.
I was apprehended, the whole country went berserk, they wanted my head; the parents were a people’s favourite, the baby was an angelic image, I was a heartless bitch of a murderer who had killed the baby because of ritual purposes, so they had said, so everyone had believed. I was tried, I was convicted. My sister, my witness, could not say anything to vindicate me. My lawyers could not prove anything to extricate me. It couldn’t not have been me because someone needed to be blamed, afterall, they had said, afterall, the needle containing the poison that was pushed into the baby’s skin was found near my leg. And the bigger pack was found inside my bag. My bag, located at the far corner near the plush chair where I sat so I could not be really seen, but I could be fed.
I am now at the present. I open my eyes and stare at the bottom of the metal bunk above me. I sit up and lower my legs to the cool concrete floor that is almost always moist. It makes the female prison ward smell like wet earth and something of terrible disposition. I shudder, because I am here. Despite not wanting to believe it possible. Despite wondering every morning if things would have been different had I… Despite being innocent, knowing that it was that figure that had bumped into my leg and almost tripped, knowing I can never prove it, I never saw her face, no one ever saw it happen, knowing someone had to be blamed; Aisha Tijjani and her husband needed someone to pay, Nigeria needed it. Despite it all, I am here. And I wonder what Mama is doing, if Aisha Tijjani can give her husband another son or if he needed a new wife for that, if Lawal can ever be rich enough to afford marrying three wives.
Let me tell you exactly what life does to you. It takes your perfectly stable world, it shakes it like it is an ancient lamp. It awakes the contents of that pandora’s box. You feel your head banging against that box, your life is now up, side, down.