I stood on the third floor lifelessly, weighing down my body like an ant who didn’t want to be swallowed by bricks.
My toes were the only part of my body that dared to kiss the floor. Still, in my heart, I wished I could grow wings to ensure my safety. My toes didn’t stand strongly enough, to avoid piercing its nails into the bricks that roofed the second floor. I tiptoed gently to making sure my mourning and wailing didn’t seep into the building.
I hurried into our two-room apartment, and gently shut the main door, as if not to inform death of where I passed, and to stop her from making her way into the cubicle. Dad and Mom were quietly mumbling things in the room—things I couldn’t fathom—an effect that strengthened my reasoning.
It wasn’t long before Mom sent me on an errand after we got back from the hospital where I had seen a therapist. The therapist talked with me for a long time. He said Mom and Dad thought I had changed, that I startled unnecessarily, and mumbled prayers about buildings and Lagos, that I tiptoed around the house as if up to mysteries. He assured me that government officials were doing their work, and that everything would be fine. He said buildings only collapsed once in a century. I had disagreed at first, but he won me over, until we got back home.
Unconsciously, I let the heel of my feet rest on the ground, on the wall beside the door. My hands flew up in panic, my left hand on my chest, my right hand on my forehead. Gasping for air, I managed to whisper a prayer to my head, never to bring misfortune to me. “Orími má mà gbàbọ̀dè.”
This is the fear that has lived with me after numerous buildings had collapsed on Lagos Island, because I don’t wish for choirs who will wear black robes in honour of my youthful body wrapped in white sheets, singing songs of condolences in second soprano.
“I’m too young to die, I have a lot of dreams to achieve, Oh Lord! preserve my life and make this building strong… Amin.” I prayed and collapsed on my bedding set in the parlour, while tears rolled from the corner of my eyes, drawing a stream down my jaw.
Rummaging through my thoughts, I fell into a slumber and dreamed again, of March 14th, 2019—the Black Thursday. I dreamt of how my eldest sister had told my mom to allow me help drop her daughter at school in the morning, before I proceeded to mine. It wasn’t the first time I had helped, so, I repudiated at first, calculating how late I could be to school if I helped her, but her incessant come-onsmoved me to accept. My sister is skilled in convincing people into doing things her way, no matter how obstinate they claim to be.
“Morenikeji!” I screamed above my lungs when my little niece tried to cross the busy road to her school.
I rushed to cross after her and scolded her for not waiting for me to guide her. I had to protect her from the vehicles that could mutilate her like a cold beef, I thought in my head, reminding myself of my duties toward her.
“I’m sorry Aunty Tosin, I didn’t mean to annoy you, our teacher taught our class how to cross the roads at school, and I just wanted to try it.” She said, without an ounce of fear.
“Try ko try ni, you better be careful o! A màní rí aburú, May we never see evil” I retorted, faking an angry look.
“Amin”, she replied and opened the school gate to enter the school.
“Aunty Tosin, bye bye”, she said, waving at me. I couldn’t see her face for the last time, as she had already entered. I could only see her pale brown complexioned palm waving at me, and her faint “bye” voiced for the last time, swung its sound into my eardrums blurrily.
I got back in the afternoon to pick her up only to see a crowd of people, and bodies.
I woke up, sweating profusely. I cried, soaking my eyelashes in a stream of tears, and once again, prayed.
“Oh Lord protect the whole buildings of Lagos State.” I said, cupping my face in my palms.
“Amin.” I said slowly, like the manner of pronunciation was what would guarantee that the prayer would be answered.
This is the prayer Lagos taught me after the death of my niece.
Azeezah Olatunde is a creative writer who writes from Lagos. She has published some of her works at Knowislam.com.ng, ISWOT (Islamic World Of Talents and Creative Writers) magazine, The QuillS, Fitrah Review. She was shortlisted for the PoesyWriters contest (2019). When she is not writing, she is reading or listening. Her pseudonym is PenTalks.