Is there something about a near-death situation that always makes you want to experience it again? The fact that you are not in control is so unsettling and the times your life flashed before your eyes, you couldn’t believe there was nothing you could do. You wanted to turn back to them, to have a say in the decision. So, when that container fell just inches from you at Jibowu Underbridge, you deftly side-stepped and kept on walking like nothing happened even though people kept screaming “e kuro n bi!!”. Or that one time you were chased by marauding cultist students, long strides and strained lungs as you leaped over gutters and bushes to outrun your pursuer, to finally hide behind a thicket of elephant grass. You took off your shirt to blend with the darkness, knowing that if your attacker came out this time, you’d be ready for him. You would be in control. Or when you pushed a cotton swab too deep into your ear, your father panicked, went on a tirade about the dangers of an ear infection, brain abscesses, meningitis, but you knew it was nothing a pair of tweezers couldn’t solve.
You lived near a police station, in a noisy Mushin neighborhood in the Lagos mainland. The EndSARS protests were such a wake-up moment for you. You had made a tweet that had almost eleven thousand likes; you’d become something of a mini activist, a fledgling online personality, and the next time you would walk in the face of death, you did not recognize it. That particular day of the protests, streaming along with the mass of chanting people, geared by something that always said “Dare!” you walked to the first policeman you saw and shouted “End SARS!” in his face. He didn’t flinch, and at that point you recognized him, he regularly patrolled your area. He recognized you too and his eyes trailed you as you walked away swallowing nervously.
Months later, the euphoria of being a rebel against the government dies down, thumbed down a few notches. You are back to your regular life; the agnostic, cool-guy personality with a coating of faux intellect. Your brief popularity gave you the benefit of everything that comes with internet notoriety; acceptance into coveted circles, admiration for your quick-witted comebacks, your long unsolicited thoughtful threads, and occasional sex with the “You’re-so-funny-dfkm/I-think-you’re-cool” women.
One night, you would be coming back from one of your hangouts with said circles, just a night out, nothing too serious; someone had even tweeted “@despicable is so fine in person omg” and you’d smiled, and as you imagine her in your bed, your Uber would be stopped by the police. You would sigh in frustration as they slowly approach the windows of the vehicle, like lions approaching their prey. They would tell you to step down, and you’d start thinking about the outrage this would spark on social media, the Nigerian police assaulting you. The engagement it would create, the sympathies and outbursts. #FreeDemola would carry on for days. They’d search the car, and then proceed to search you. You would refuse and protest your rights and they would hesitate, the EndSARS protests weren’t so long ago. Then someone among them would say “Hol am fess!” and when he steps into the light, you would recognize him as the policeman you chanted in his face because na you protest pass, the one from the station in your neighborhood. Your face would falter and you’d swallow empty air because you have seen retribution in flesh and blood. You assume a scowl as he urges his colleagues to search you again. This time, someone makes for your fanny pack and you end up in a tug with him. The pack’s strap snaps. The pack is thrown on the floor, and a lighter clatters out of it. “Fuck”, you mutter. They stand and stare at the pack and lighter for a moment, like a bewildered farmer staring at his goat that just birthed a tortoise.
Your mind races. Cigarettes aren’t illegal so you’d use that line. You remembered taking the lighter from Sayo at the hangout because she was high as a kite already but wanted to light another joint. No rationalizing can save you. These men have all the cause to arrest you now.
“You dey smoke igbo abi?!! You be drug trafficker! Ati mu yin l’ale yi. Enter motor!!”
They grab at the waistline of your well-tailored ashewo shorts that revealed your legs in all their splendor. You struggle with them, and one hits you with the butt of his rifle. You can feel the blood slowly trickle down your cheek. You’re sandwiched between them as they drive you away, resuming their patrol, vultures navigating Lagos roads for carrion.
They go through your phone and see the 278,000 naira you were saving for your rent. They make threats of how they’ll waste you and nothing will happen, while you brew inside, angry at everything and nothing. Yourself, Sayo, the pale-green lighter.
The van stops suddenly and 4 of the policemen jump down, cornering an okada man and his two passengers. One passenger jumps off the bike and takes off running. One of the policemen takes aim and fires. A shot rings out as the passenger falls and crumples like a motionless heap. They toss a homemade revolver on his limp body and your mind starts to race. Is this one of the moments where you make a run for it? Play a part in the hand of death? Take control?
The cold muzzle of a rifle’s barrel touches your neck and at that moment you sigh. You sigh because you’re trying to calm your erratic breathing. You sigh because this time, you are scared.
Image: Pixabay Andy Faeth / Mohamed Hassan remixed