Written by Jennifer Azubuike
Damilola woke up to the ringtone of his phone. He had forgotten to silence it the night before. Turning on his bed, he cursed but the ringing continued. He rubbed his eyes and strained at the wall clock. It’s 4:30 am.
‘Who the heck would call at this time?’
The ringing stopped momentarily. He rolled over and went back to sleep without checking the caller. Some minutes later, the call resumed. Reluctantly, he reached for his phone. It is Mami. His anger dissipated immediately and he sat up. Since his father passed away, his mother and sister have a special place in his heart. He sees himself as the protector of the household.
Damilola: Mami, good morning. What’s the matter?
Mami: Omo mi, Good morning. I’m sorry to wake you but I had to.
Damilola: Is everything okay?
Mami: I had a terrible dream about you and had to warn you.
Damilola: Okay? What was the dream about?
Mami: I can’t go into details now but please listen to me. Stay away from the streets. In fact, don’t go out at all today. Do you hear me?
Damilola: Yes Mami. But I wish…(the line went dead. Mami has ended the call. Damilola chuckled to himself).
“The way she acts at times, you’d think she has a military background.”
He laid back facing the ceiling and mulled over his mother’s words. His Yoruba culture has ingrained deep respect for elders into him, both in words and actions. Even if he doesn’t understand her request, he’s expected to obey her wishes. He couldn’t go back to sleep immediately so decided to check his social media updates. Soon he lost interest and switched off the phone.
Thirty minutes later, Damilola was snoring again. By the time he’d wake up, it’s already 9 am. He strolled into his bathroom half awake. While he eased himself, his mother’s words to him that morning returned to his thoughts. He has to think up an excuse he’ll make to his friends to avoid going out to protest with them.
He sluggishly walked out of his bathroom into his bedroom when he noticed a figure sitting on his bed and nearly jumped out of his skin. Slowly, the figure turned in his direction.
“Dude, why are staring like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“How did you get in here?”
“Your door was unlocked.”
“Are you serious? Oh no!” Damilola sighed
“Anyway, I came to pick up my charger. I called you but your phone was switched off. I also wanted to make sure you’re not dead.”
“Haha…very funny.” (Damilola said sarcastically while still holding on to his chest which is still beating hard from the earlier shock).
“Seriously, how secure do you feel to leave your main and bedroom door unlocked?”
“I didn’t mean to. The bedroom, yes, but the main door I never leave unlocked.”
Damilola made his way out of the bedroom and down the stairs. Ola followed him. In his living room downstairs, everything seemed to be in place. He heaved a sigh of relief.
“Are you sure you didn’t drink last night?”
“Then this may be a sign you need a woman in your life.”
(Damilola picked up a charger and threw it at Ola showing his distaste for his teasing. Ola laughed and both sat down for a while and talked. Damilola lied that he has something to do for his mother and will not be able to go out that day. Ola sensed his uneasiness and decided not to ask any questions. He rose, exchanged a friendly handshake with Damilola and left).
* * *
“We will be home before you know it.” Tobi said
Fayemi lowered her head and gazed through the half-open window at the face of the familiar young driver, her skinny classmate, Tobi. She checked time on her phone. It was 5:15 pm; she hesitated for a minute but finally entered the car.
Finally settled beside the young driver she asked.
“Where are we going?
“To Lekki toll gate. That is where the largest gathering is.” Kemi, another classmate about her age, replied excitedly from the back seat.
“How far is it?” Fayemi wanted to be sure.
“Not far. Are you scared?” Tobi replied as he started the engine.
Fayemi shook her head. She is afraid to show fear. The other three girls, all her age, seemed excited. Besides, going for the protest is what she has craved for the past one week. She thought about Mami and convinced herself she would be back before Mami noticed she’s gone.
Halfway through their trip, unfortunately, traffic turned dense. However, determined to reach their destination, Tobi managed to pull out of traffic and into the parking lot of a shopping mall and all five passengers decided to go the rest of the way walking. The trip on foot was fine because a throng of people were moving in the same direction as them chanting ‘EndSARS.’ Fayemi looked at the traffic of humans, as far as her eyes could see, and nearly choked with excitement. Nevertheless, she held onto Tobi.
* * *
Damilola spent the rest of the day doing some work over the internet. By 5pm he ordered some food online. His order didn’t come in until 7 pm when his doorbell rang. He answered the door and received the delivery. He returned to his phone to find three missed calls from Mami. Damilola sighed.
“She just had to check if I obeyed her, right?” He dialed her back.
Damilola: Hello Mami
Mami: Omo mi, is Fayemi with you?
Damilola: No ma. Isn’t she at home?
Mami: I can’t find her anywhere.
Damilola: Did you check outside? She may be somewhere within the estate.
Mami: Damilola I have been searching for over an hour.
Damilola: What? How about her number?
Mami: She’s not picking her calls.
Damilola: When was the last time you saw her?
Mami: At about 5 pm when she complained of a slight headache and wanted to go get some drugs from the pharmacy up the street.”
Immediately Mami said those words, Damilola knew what had happened. His sister had pulled a trick on their mother just to leave the house. He remembered their childhood excuse for breaking rules at home. ‘It is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.’
Damilola: Erhmm…Mami. I’ll call someone to go look at her friend’s place (he lied). I’m sure she must be hanging out there and has just lost track of time. I’ll call you back okay?
For a minute after the call ended, Damilola was confused about what to do. Knowing Fayemi has talked much about the protest in the past few days, he wondered if she went out to join. If that is the case, then there’s no hope of finding her. They’ll just have to wait for her to return home. However, he sent her a text.
* * *
At the Lekki toll gate. A large crowd of mostly young people is gathered just in front of the toll pass. Overheard, large screens displayed information on victims of police brutality and EndSARS movement while music played over huge speakers installed around a makeshift stage. Most of the protesters had flags or placards in various sizes. Fayemi, Kemi and Tobi sat side by side on a large plastic piece somewhere in the middle of the crowd; the other two girls had broken away from the group earlier. Soon, the music stopped and a young man discussed the agenda of the evening over a microphone, momentarily rousing the crowd. At one point, a speaker requested everyone sit down and raise the national flag for the anthem. With no chairs provided, many people made themselves comfortable on the bare floor.
Between 6 and 6:30 pm the sun hurried down over the horizon and the night, impatient for the sun to set and as if conniving with an ally to hide something, crept in quickly too. Just before dusk, Fayemi tugged on Tobi’s shirt and tapped her wrist as a signal to him that they should head home soon; Tobi agreed and signaled back that after the anthem, they would.
The national anthem was still on when a lone gunshot banged in a distance. Tobi thought he heard something frightening but because nobody stirred around him, he was going to dismiss it as fireworks when almost immediately, a series of shots followed. Voices screamed from afar and the people around him started to inquire what was happening. Suddenly, the voice of a man bellowed “They are shooting at us.”
“Who? The police?” Another person asked.
“Uniformed men. They are uniformed men.” A female voice shouted.
Chaos followed as people ran in all directions to take cover, tripping over each other as they did. Tobi’s first instinct was to run but wasn’t sure what direction was safer. He sighted a van parked some distance away and thought about dashing towards it for cover when he remembered the ladies with him; Kemi and Fayemi. The day was nearly dark, and the place in a complete confused state. Even the roadside lamps were off.
Tobi crouched to look for his companions but regretted it immediately because something or someone knocked his temple hard. He stood up straight again and held his temple to nurse it but continued to look around. When he couldn’t find either girl among the people crying, shoving or screaming in hysteria, he decided to make a run for it but someone grabbed his shirt making him almost topple over. He took hold of his shirt to yank it free but looked over to find Kemi on her knees with face scratched and bleeding.
“Tobi help!” She cried in an agonizing whisper.
Kemi pointed in her direction. She’s lying unconscious and is still being trampled by people trying to run. Tobi pushed his way towards her. He tried to pull her up but she’s a little too heavy for him. He screamed at the top of his voice for help. A tall man turned towards him and with one sweep lifted Fayemi into his arms and started to run. Tobi pulled Kemi up and followed the man. As they pushed through the traffic of people, the images Tobi saw would be indelibly stamped into his memory. The evidence of raw human compassion was everywhere as people tried to revive the unconscious, manage blood loss from gunshot wounds or shield the weak from bullets with their own bodies. Some even continued singing the anthem in defiance.
* * *
At Mami’s residence one week later, Damilola is sitting on the edge of his mother’s bed and holding the hand of his mother who is sitting propped up on her bed, awake but motionless and in a daze. A man in his mid-forties who appeared to be a doctor is standing by her bedside too. Damilola rubbed his mother’s hand gently and turned to the doctor.
“Will she be okay?”
“I believe so but she is still in shock.”
Damilola bowed his head for a moment. He has asked the same question several times over the last few days. He is so concerned about his mother now that he hasn’t had time to properly mourn the loss of his sister.
“What can I do to help her?”
“Be available to her. Allow her grieve the way she wants to but stay close.”
That moment, a knock rapped lightly on the door and Ola pushed his head through the half open door. He nodded in salute to the doctor and turned his attention to Damilola.
“Dami, it’s ready”.
“Oh! Okay, we’ll be right out. Thank you.”
The doctor gestured to take his leave and Damilola exchanged handshake with him in appreciation before escorting him out. That night, Damilola sat in the living room in his mother’s apartment with Ola and just talked. The Television was on but they barely paid attention to it. Occasionally, Damilola excused himself to check on his mother in her room. At 9 pm, the news came on. They tried to pay some attention to it since it showed issues on the Lekki toll gate massacre.
“The crazy thing is that the government is denying the massacre. Even after overwhelming evidence everywhere showed military men shooting directly into the gathering of unarmed protesters.”
Ola looked agitated as he made those statements but Damilola just bit his lips and said nothing. He looked on, rather in a blank stare, at moving pictures on screen and only blinked when something was said about Amnesty International having verified evidence on their website.
“I could turn off the T.V. if you don’t feel like seeing all these.” Ola said to his friend.
Damilola shook his head, declining Ola’s offer. Rather, he picked up the remote and changed the channel to another station. Moments later, the news also came on on the local channel, and a popular Lagos politician is shown on site of the shooting with his crew looking for ‘evidence’ that the shooting happened. He appeared to find a camera sitting alone on a pavement which he picked up with a handkerchief for investigation.
Suddenly, Damilola started quivering violently. One look at him, Ola could tell that the young man was about to lose his cool. Before Ola could reach him, Damilola had picked up the ceramic flower vase from the center table and hauled it at the television shattering the screen. He gave out a loud shout and rushed towards the broken television but Ola intercepted him. However Ola lost his balance and both crashed to the hard floor while Damilola continued to scream.
“He has the audacity to mock pain! He has the audacity to mock my pain!”
Ola rose and tried in vain to stop him from breaking more stuff.
“They killed my sister! And still have the audacity to mock my pain! They’ll pay! I say you will all pay!”
Ola finally overpowered him and held him down but he continued to struggle. Suddenly, Mami spoke up and only her voice calmed Damilola down. The sound of things breaking had roused her from her daze and she walked into the living room early enough to see some of the dilemma. Mami stretched her arms for her son who ran into her embrace and wept.
Mami consoled him.
“Don’t cry my love. Now, we have a reason to fight, but we cannot fight if we are broken.”
Thank you for sticking with me to the end. Kindly leave a comment below. My appreciation goes to everyone who shared their stories and helped put this piece together.