The first thing Ade remembered when he woke up on the hospital bed was the fire. Not just the colours – dark devilish red and bright yellows dancing about, conquering and consuming but the heat – deep and blinding. He felt it even now, all over his face and body. Not exactly like the previous night’s but slivers of it. Like the coolness of the droplets on your body after a bath. He heard voices, different ones, from the tearful moans to the screams of new entrants threatening to tear the Intensive Care Unit into bits. He didn’t need to ask where he was, he knew where exactly. He tried to open his eyes but the effort sent fiery hues of reds and yellows dancing into his vision. A nurse nearby heard him moan and rushed to his side. She tapped his shoulder in a slightly brusque manner – almost comfortingly but it brought a level of calm to him. A doctor came too, placing an object for several seconds on his chest and ribs and muttered to himself. He was later moved to a regular ward with patients of similar and varied ailments. They had readjusted the bandages from his eyes earlier so he saw them clearly despite his sore lids – different patients like himself; all male in different positions their ailments made them find comfortable. But where was his mother. He remembered it all clearly now, how it started. He had been reading for his term paper with the yellow light of a thin candle, praying with all his might it wouldn’t go off until he was done with the current chapter he was tearing through. He checked the time, it was a little after 10:00pm, and he continued working out some calculations, making scribbles on the oil stained piece of paper on the worn textbook. The next thing he remembered was waking up to find the desk, his clothes and the world on fire.
The Intensive Care Unit of St. Maria General Hospital was cluttered and red. Doris lay still and confused on the brown mattress of the hastily made hospital bed screened off from the mess. She was alive and somehow, realized she couldn’t move the limbs on the right side of her body. On waking up the night before, she had found her room filled with smoke and the ceiling on fire. This was the room she shared with her husband before he died. How long had she been asleep? Nauseous and breathless she found her way to the door and opened it, opening a portal to hell itself. The whole house was alight but where was her son? She couldn’t enter his room, the door was on fire. It was as if the lid had become the very flames engulfing it. Like the gate way to hade’s palace itself. She had called out to him amidst gasps for air and got his screams for replies. But it was useless. She knew it was. Even in the face of the circumstances, she was a practical person and knew she couldn’t save him. Not by herself. She needed to get help or run away from this place before it came down on her and the only avenue out of the house, was the room adjacent Ade’s, which led into the shed out back where she stored the subject matter of her trade – gasoline. Her heart jumped into her mouth. What if the fire has gotten there? But the door wasn’t on fire yet. On entering the empty room, she raced to the iron door and tried to open it. But with the hiss that happens when flesh meets hot iron, she understood and jumped back in reflex almost falling due to exhaustion. Her consciousness began to escape her like liquid spilling out of an open container. She no longer thought straight. Wrapping a piece of cloth around her hand Doris tried to open it . . . the explosion took the door off its hinges and slammed it into her, tossing her against the opposite wall like a ragged doll while her universe dissolved into hell.
She had woken up later in the morning and noticed the chaos about her – the blur of whites, limping people with slings and noises. They came now and again, shining bright beams into her eyes and poking fingers at her body here and there. Calling her name over and over. But she couldn’t reply even if she wanted to. She heard them repeat certain words – concussion, hemi-plegia over and over or was it concus-p…legia? Doris’ mind kept working in circles until exhaustion turned it off again.
Ade spent whiles at the hospital, waiting for his burns to heal. He endured the smell of the ward; the whiff of antiseptic tinged with the odour of open wounds and vomit, the fiery tongued nurses and the inhumane way they changed the dressing of his burns. He asked them once, when he would see his mother. The nurse with her eyes heavily shadowed, told him to think about clearing the burns on his body first before talking about his mother. It hurt him. These were humans who were supposed to work with care, subtlety and tact, the core ideals of their profession. He didn’t blame them, he blamed the system. He saw patients buy everything that was employed in their care. From the drugs they ingested to the latex gloves worn by their caregivers and the scissors used in cutting up their old dressings. Why couldn’t the government provide some of these things? Why?
He was discharged first, his body still bearing pale yellow tell-tale signs of the inferno. They let her go weeks later, after their bills were settled with the last of her savings from her gasoline trade.
When he slept, he still had fitful dreams of the night. Painful memories streaked with lurid colours stole into his consciousness and tormented him. He still thought about it, never forgiving himself for his foolishness. Just a few minutes of sleep and his world changed into this, this nightmare. It was sadistically funny, the games life played. When you feel it has visited you with something enough, it visits you with something else. He remembers the time his father was alive, their alone moments when he taught him how to play soccer, how he spent time teaching him skills he wasn’t sure he would use later in life but it was fun. He remembered his mother’s face when she got news of his final exit. It comes to him sometimes, the amount of sadness that clothed her face for a very long time and his vow to make sure she remained happy for the rest of her life, even if it was what he died doing. Now, it killed him every day ten times over, to watch his mother limp and struggle to find words and meaning when she spoke. He did his best to help her.
“This is soup and that’s fufu” He guides her left hand to the bowls on the table. “No, not that… this.” He corrects. “here take water… gently, easy…”
He leads her; guiding the part of her body that no longer lives and on cool evenings, he takes her to the ashen veranda in front under the sky hugging its usual spray of stars. He lets her tell him stories like she used to, at her own pace and with the fire that burned in his eyes as he listened, he promised to be there for her, forever. Never to abandon her. Ever.
At seven, Dorothy was a sweet little child; pretty with that sing-song voice that defined innocence. At least that was what everyone thought. What people didn’t know was that she had a long line of calamities in her wake caused by her very hands. She loved experimenting and couldn’t help it. She couldn’t help herself when the urges came, the urge to make ‘unnatural’ things happen. It gave her a sort of astral joy when wondrous things happened in her experiments, like the day she picked a piece of dark chalky matter from her father’s trap bag, and idly dropped it into a bowl of water. Her eyes went wide with surprise and elation when she discovered the reaction that occurred when carbide met water. She went back and added more to the liquid, watching it bubble and boil. She wondered what would happen if anyone drank fluid laced with carbide. Long before her father returned from work, she watched her mother carefully set his dinner on the table with a jar of freshly pressed fruit juice while she pretended to work on an assignment. Few minutes after she was sure her mother was busy in the kitchen, she went to work.
As time went on, she found a new love in setting things on fire. She had watched her widowed mother set fire to the wicks on their stove and understood where the flames drew their strength from – the fuel at the base of the stove. She was quite disappointed when she threw a lit match stick into a can of kerosene and it went out. Her mother on finding out her pastime, scolded her, warning her of the family next-door who sold gasoline in the black-market on retail. She tried to scare her by telling her gasoline was worse than the fuel that warmed their stove. She told her gasoline made things explode instantly and she was never to play with fire around the house or anywhere! Dorothy watched her mother with her bright little eyes while she spoke. She nodded in comprehension, sending smiles into her mother’s face. She understood everything now. While kerosene could aid fire but could stamp it out when the fuel was in excess, gasoline embraced it but you had to experiment from afar else it could kill you. Gasoline surely could cause explosions… but how big?
That night at about eleven o’ clock when her mother and half the town were asleep, little Dorothy picked the match box from their darkened kitchen and after struggling to pry the heavy backdoor open, she sauntered into the night.
– Caleb Nmeribe