Dinner was ready rather late and the family was only able to eat at 10:30pm. Mrs Obadeyi closed from work pretty early that evening but had a hard time getting home as the third mainland bridge was accidentally crossed by an empty petrol tanker that went to deliver fuel to a filling station at Ikoyi. The tanker driver had battled with the steering when he realized the brake had failed. It only took seconds before he lost control of the long vehicle as it turned to hit a side of the bridge , crossing the path of other vehicles. A lane was opened at the tail of the vehicle for motorists and other drivers to manage.
Drivers shouted at each other, some vehicles developed unnecessary faults and soon, motorcycles appeared from all over; giving ride to people who were ready to pay twice the normal fare.
When it was evident that the bridge was completely blocked, Mrs Obadeyi knew it was time to take a motorcycle if she wanted to get home that night. Her wristwatch confirmed it was 8:30pm as she hailed down a motorcycle.
Her house was silent when she entered, she walked briskly to her room and got her clothes off in no time. A wrapper tied tightly around her as she hurried to the kitchen. She turned the gas on and lit the stove as well in order to prepare a late night meal.
Dayo was busy reading in his room. There was a test scheduled for 8:00am the next morning. He had various text books scattered on his table. Usually, reading wasn't his hobby but his performances during the first and second term of his fifth year in the Estate Grammar School had put him on the edge. Studying hard was the only of his promotion to the final year. Mrs Obadeyi had cautioned him of his care-free attitude towards academics. Football took most of his time and many assignments ended up undone.
“This term, I will not tolerate nonsense,” his mother had shouted when the school resumed its third term. ” No football, no hanging out with friends, no idle talk, no more guitar rehearsal.”
“But guitar rehearsal is a church thing,” Dayo protested.
“I must not catch you strumming on that guitar. None of it till further notice,” She said with a tone of finalization.
He was struggling with some physics exercises when he heard his mother called. He closed the elementary physics he had on his table and went over to the kitchen.
“I need your assistance here,” Mrs Obadeyi said. Her voice was benign. She handed a bucket half filled with garri to him and concentrated on the pot of soup while he made eba. It was already past 10:00pm and there was no electricity.
Tomiwa and Olayinka were already asleep. They were woken up to eat but sleep had taken control of their being. Mrs Obadeyi tried to feed them. She succeeded in giving them a little portion of the food and allowed them to go back to bed. She was sorry. She knew they would be woken up early the next morning to prepare for school. She ate what was left of their food and left hers untouched. She was more than tired. Yes, she was exhausted. The piles of files on her table, the rush for bus, the blockage on the bridge, all deprived her of her energy. She dumped the dishes in the kitchen and checked into Dayo’s room. Dayo had rushed over his food and returned to his room to continue with the physics exercises.
“Make sure you wash those dishes tonight,”
“Mummy, I have a test tomorrow and I still have a lot to read,” he responded.
“Wash them tonight,” Mrs Obadeyi insisted.
“Ooh!” Dayo said and followed it with a hiss as he stood.
He didn’t realize that she had taken some steps towards him. A sound emerged from his cheek as a slap landed on his face. It threw him off balance and he fell back into his chair.
“Several times have I warned you not to hiss at me again,” she said annoyingly, ” get out and go and wash those dishes right now.
She left him to nurse the lines on his face and went into her room. The slap was hot. A slap in the night where silence reigned. Tears rolled down as he walked to the kitchen. At first, he was annoyed. He washed very fast and flinged half cleaned dishes. When he got tired, he slowed down and washed normally. He fished out the half cleaned ones and washed them again. All dishes were clean and well arranged. The slap exhausted him. He went back to his room and gently locked the door. He looked at his table. He wanted to continue but he was really worn. He made a decision to sleep for a while, wake
up and continue reading. He would be refreshed. With that in mind, he laid on his bed and slept. His decision was quick.
* * * * * * * * *
It was a day in the middle of January and every material was dry and ready for fire. The books on the table caught fire from the candle. They were soon rendered into shreds of papers as it helped the table with some fire. Some burning papers flew about, landing on different flammable materials in the room. Dayo felt nothing as he shifted and rolled to the other side of the bed. His wardrobe was ablaze, the wooden door started burning but the bed was momentarily spared. The fire spread about and the ceiling
began to creak. Burning papers rolled under the bed and the mattress caught fire from beneath. The smoke from the foam was heavy. It entered his nose and he startled out of his sleep with a cough. He sat upright, coughing out strongly as the smoke ran through his head. He could hardly breathe. He couldn’t shout. Fire was everywhere. Part of his bed was seriously on fire.
“M–u–m–m–y,” he managed to say. It was more of a whisper than a shout for help. With smoke all over, he couldn’t see. The burning mattress notified him of its plight as it burnt through where he sat. He jumped off the bed and shouted with a clearer voice.
“Ye—h!” He cried aloud. Fire had caught his trouser. One shout was far below enough to attract help. His room was far from his mothers’. His father’s room was closer to his but behold, father was far from home. He was on a business trip to Abuja. The dropping of the ceiling had begun. All the wooden planks were on fire. The celing fan was nailed to one of them. It dropped without making much noise. Dayo’s
eyes were in discomfort as the smoke tormented them. He was calling out for help weakly. He was still struggling with his trouser when the ceiling fan hit him on the head. He slumped.
* * * * * * * *
The thickness of the smoke hovered on her and made her uncomforable in her sleep. She opened her eyes and saw smoke filled her room. She quickly tried to breathe and rushed out of the room. The living room was not exceptional. Thick smoke as everywhere. The doorway was already burning. It was right about 1:00am. Flames oozed out from Dayo’s room and for a moment, she felt it wasn’t happening then she screamed.
“Ara dugbo, egba mi o, Ina!” She shouted in her local language.
The sofa in the living room was already burning. She wasted no more time. She ran to her kids room and broke the door open, regardless of it being locked or not. Tomiwa and Olayinka were sleeping soundly. Their room was not buring but it was partially filled with smoke. Tomiwa was younger. he was about three years old. She lifted him and yanked Olayinka off the bed and out of the room.
Neighbours started gathering. The burning flames was now evident from outside. Buckets of water were fetched. A big bag of detergent was brought by a woman who ran energetically to her nearby shop. People who occupied the ground floor of the building were evacuated. Ladder proved difficult to get and different persons suggested different methods of reaching into the burning flat upstairs. Some women became impatient, they started screaming and urging the men to do something. A man became apoplectic by their impatience and asked the women to either move back or go away from the scene.
” Are we going to walk into the fire?” he asked angrily.
“Look!” a woman exclaimed as she pointed to Mrs Obadeyi who just emerged to the balcony, carrying Tomiwa. She had forcefully shattered the glass window but the burglary prevented them from escaping through it. She looked up and quickly had another idea. She placed Tomiwa down and climbed up the window and held on to the burglary with one hand. She leaned and reached out to the ceiling with her other hand. She made a fist and tried to break down an opening in the ceiling and it worked. She immediately remembered the dining table. She brushed down the cups, flask and spoons on it. She pulled the table to the spot she needed it. She wanted to carry her two children at once but it was not possible. It would be a child at a time.
“Stay right here,” she said to Olayinka as she lifted Tomiwa up into the roof and followed. Olayinka was rubbing her eyes. She crawled in the roof to a spot where she felt was directly over the balcony of her flat. She held on to a plank and and crushed the ceiling beneath with her leg. The ceiling came down and she carefully jumped down to the balcony. Her idea worked but there was no time for self appraisal. She helped Tomiwa who has started coughing out of the roof. She wanted to put him down and return to fetch Olayinka when she heard the neighbours. Some men ran close to her and asked her to throw the baby down.
” Let go of him, we will catch him,” a man encouraged.
She thought it was risky but perhaps that was the only option. She quickly lowered Tomiwa as the latter started crying and let go of him,”
“You have to jump down too,” the man said.
“My daughter is inside,” she said as she climbed back into the roof. Tomiwa was crying out her name but she didn't look back. Some women quickly took custody of the little baby as the men waited for his mother to re-surface. It was close to thirty minutes since the fire fighters had been called.