All the Things She Could Not Remember| Thea Onyekwuo

 

 

In.

Out.

In.

Out.

In…

I…I can’t breathe.

 

Tatianna was not having a meltdown. She really wasn’t. She was very certain of the fact that she was not the kind of person that had meltdowns. She was a strong-willed individual who did not freak out at every curveball life threw at her. Now, if she could only remember the individual whom she was supposed to be; all would be right with the world. But she couldn’t. She could remember her name, or why a wet substance was trickling down the sides of her face, or why she sprawled out on hot sand; staring up at palm trees, or why everything hurts. So much.

“Ma’am. Ma’am! Can you hear me?”

Or why a grubby looking, middle-aged, albeit fit, man in faded red cargo shorts and a black shirt was crouched above her. Dear Lord, he was reaching for her with those hands. What sort of man didn’t wipe the mud, or was that soot?, before touching someone else. She couldn’t stand dirt too because it was enough motive to pry open lips that felt like they had been superglued together. Her first try was an epic fail and all she could get out was a rasp, but at least the fingers hovered mid-air now. She tried again but no sound came out.

“Shit.” That summed it up pleasantly.

“How about nodding? Can you do that?”

She cheered silently when she managed a tiny nod without pain searing through her body.

“Good. Can you sit?”

Can pigs fly?

She kept the derision out of her face. She wasn’t sure she succeeded though a small frown appeared at the sides of his mouth. Get a grip, no name. It wouldn’t do to anger your savior. Who knew when the next one would appear if he left her here? Where was here anyway? Dear vocal chords, anytime now would be great.

Maybe he was a mind reader too because he suddenly disappeared,

One second.

Two…

Ten…

Fifteen…

And she officially freaked out. There was no other explanation for the panic that set in. Dread and its numerous relatives walked leisurely down her spine, causing sporadic shivers until all she wanted to do was scream.

 

-and then he appeared, a small plastic bottle cradled with long fingers. Relief left her feeling weak and shaky. But then again she was already weak and shaky, so she couldn’t really tell the difference. The light-headedness was new though.

“P…Please don’t leave me,” she struggled to form the words. Her heart still jack-rabbiting in her chest as he squatted next to her, oblivious.

“I’m going to lift your head a bit, ok? So that you can get this down.”

“Tell me if it hurts.” He said as he gently lifted her an inch then two when he got no complaints. Her face was an open, scorn-free, book as she obediently opened her mouth. He wasn’t leaving. He had just gone to get water. She started to gulp greedily as the cool liquid hit the back of her throat and the flow stopped. She opened eyes she didn’t remember shutting to glare at her tormentor who held life at arm’s length.

“W…water.”

“And she speaks.” He smiled. “But you have to drink slowly.”

When she had her fill, he dropped the half-full bottle to the side and sat down next to her.

“The nearest hospital is forty-five minutes away. An ambulance is on the way but they said they are thirty minutes out the last time I spoke…”

And he talked to himself as she was no longer listening; because-

  1. Unless she had stumbled into an alternate universe. This was Nigeria. Translation: Roses are red. Violets are blue. Help is a wish upon a star; and that ambulance is two hours away.
  2. He clearly didn’t own a vehicle. If the two tires she was seeing in her peripheral vision was anything to go by. Who still rides a bicycle in this age?
  3. The scenery was fantastic. It was the kind of thing you died to. Blue sky, bright, yellow orb, a few birds here and there, swaying palm trees, and more blue sky.

Because she was going to die. And the sooner she accepted that without wanting to bawl her eyes out like an infant child denied sweets, the better. If she were to say the worst things right now, it wasn’t the pain. It was more of a comfortable pain now. Everything still hurt badly but the pain and her body have accepted each other. No, the worst thing was that she was going to die without knowing who she was. Wasn’t that how it was supposed to go? You reminisce, your life flashes before your very eyes, you cry mercy, snot-filled tears complete with the sighs and I wish’s; and then…

“Can you hear me?”

She blinked. Translation: Urm, No. No, I did not. Because soliloquy was now a passion.

“I said an ambulance is on the way but they are twenty-five minutes out. I’ll sit here with you until they arrive. Alright, ma’am?”

“My parents didn’t christen me ma’am.”

“Ok,” He snorted “Allow me the pleasure of the knowing the name that you were christened by.”

 

 

She shut her eyes. Maybe if she forced a memory. Maybe something… a taste, a touch. Maybe she’d remember something other than a feeling of what she liked and what she did not.

“Ma’am?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know who I am.” It finally came out in whisper and threatening tears. “I can’t remember. I don’t even know how old I am.”

He sighed, and she felt a slight brush on her temple.

“You were in a car accident. The car went off the highway…” That explained the hot sand. “Right now you are in Abia.”

“Was there… was it just…?”

“Tell me, please. Is there someone else?”

“There is a man in there…” He began reluctantly. “Behind the wheel…”

“Is he… Is… Is?” She was afraid to know.

More silence, then he let out a huge gust of air.

“I’m so sorry.”

She waited for the pain to hit her.

It didn’t.

“I don’t know who he is.” Tatianna’s mouth quivered. Silent tears rolled down her cheeks, mixing with the blood that had caked over. Sitting as he was by her side, she couldn’t exactly see his face; so she addressed the sky through a palm tree. Its silence accused her. “I should though, because he was in the car with me, but I don’t. When I do know, if I ever do, he could be my Father. He could be my partner. He could be my brother. He could be a friend. All I’d remember is that he lay not too far from me and I couldn’t mourn because he was a stranger.”

“Where does it hurt?”

What?

“What?”

“The pain you feel in your body, where does it hurt?”

For a second, she was so disconcerted that the tear flow stopped. Then she was mad. Where was the, ‘You aren’t to blame?’ where was the comfort? The understanding? The frigging stereotypic, ‘It’s not your fault?’ but in the next second, she saw it for the lifeline that it was. This man didn’t owe her pity. He didn’t deserve to become encumbered in her problems. He was just a stranger. A nice, probably handsome-beneath-the-dirt, stranger; who had offered his help and here she was dumping it all on his lap.

“I’m sorry.”

“It is alright to vent. I’d vent if I were in your situation. Mine definitely would have been worse.” That she could still manage to crack a smile, a watery smile nevertheless, was a miracle.

“My… my legs. My back… it feels like something broke in there.”

He shifted into her view and his eyes roamed over her body, they seemed to hesitate on the left side and then continue their cursory inspection.

“Please don’t cry.”

“I can’t help it.” She sniffed once. Then twice, struggling for control. His hands had moved to her hair now. Combing through the straightened strands, Slow and circular motions on her scalp and she couldn’t even bring herself to care about his hands at this point.

“I don’t know your name.”

“Jericho.”

“Jericho.” She formed the name on tear-soaked lips. “No last name?”

“None that I still use.” That sounded like a can of worms.

“Do you believe in God, Jericho?”

He actually laughed at that one. He shifted again and she caught a toothy grin.

“I’m guessing no?”

“I’m guessing you mean the Christian God?”

“Yes.”

“Then no. Not really.”

She was intrigued “Why don’t you?”

“Which one?”

“Which one what?”

“Which god should I believe?” He sighed. “Everyone has to believe in some greater presence, I guess” He stopped there. Ok…

“What do you believe in then?”

“Family. Community. You.”

Me?

“You just met me. You don’t know anything about me. I don’t know anything about me. How can you say that you believe in me?”

“Do you know anything about the God you serve, other than what was written by people you never knew? How can you believe in him?” “Her?” “It?”

Huh.

“You sound like a learned man, Jericho. I can’t help but wonder what you are doing here.”

“You can say village.”

“Ok. Village.” She felt his smile again “I’m trying to distract myself. I don’t mean to pry.”

“I don’t mind. How is the pain? Need more water?”

“The same.” She said. “No water, thank you”

The truth was she felt so damn cold. It had been going on for a few minutes now but focusing on it meant acknowledging and she wasn’t ready just yet. She wasn’t ready to admit that he might be the last human face she was going to see and the last that she’d remember. Forever. “Hey. Do you… do you mind with your shirt? My arms feel exposed in this vest?” She heard him shrugging out of the shirt and then, blessed warmth.

“Thank you.”

She didn’t realize that she had been drifting until a cool hand touched her forehead and she jolted awake.

“You are not fine.” It wasn’t a question. “You are burning up.” She said nothing. What was there to say? “You know, it’s a six-minute walk to the road. Cars aren’t frequent but if there is a chance that I could hail down some help… Riding my bicycle would have been faster but the ground isn’t even… But I don’t know if you should be moved without a professional. Maybe I’d happen upon a car with a doctor.”

And today was December 25th.

“How many minutes more?”

He checked his wrist. “Ten.”

“I hear sirens. Do you hear sirens?” At this point, eyes were better closed than open.

“Ma’am?” He sounded worried. Sweet, worried Jericho.

“No, really, I am fine.” She slurred. “It’s probably the weather making me seem hot. Tell me about your life before.”

He didn’t look convinced, but short of getting her to the hospital on his back by his own blood, sweat and tears, there was nothing he could do.

“I was a banker.”

“Huh. I would have never guessed that. Why did you leave the city?”

“The noise. The air.” This guy was a talker.

“So what? You sold everything. Got rid of everything to come out to nowhere and be what exactly?”

“A farmer.”

Silence

“You disagree.”

“No, I…” Was it just her or had talking become difficult. “I guess I don’t understand. I’m guessing you had a good life. That you’d just… give it up…”

“You should rest.”

Maybe there was understanding in what seemed like madness at first glance. She couldn’t deny though; that it was quiet here. So quiet that one could hear one’s own faltering heartbeat “Do you have kids, Jericho?”

“Jesus. You are shivering.” He tucked the shirt tighter between her body and the ground.

“I thought you don’t believe?”

“Old habits die hard.” He smiled “Help will be here soon. Hold on. Just hold on.”

“I always wanted kids. Rather I feel that I’m the kind of person who would want kids, you know?”

He didn’t know because he was still fretting over her dying body. Sweet Jericho. And why shouldn’t she say it? He was sweet.

“You are sweet, Jericho. Worrying over old me.”

“You’re not.”

“I’m not sweet? I bet I taste like chocolate. I crave me some chocolate right now.” And then she giggled. Giggled.

“You’re not old.” Sounding really worried now. “You look like them girls on television. The models.”

“Aww, I’m blushing.”

“Please stay awake. I hear the sirens now.”

“Jericho?” Why did her voice sound so far away? “Have you ever noticed how green the leaves are? Like so vividly green?” Her teeth were clattering now. “It i…is beautiful. N…nature is s…s…so beautiful.”

“Do you believe in God, ma’am?”

My name is not ma’am and where was this coming from anyway and why? At this dying hour?

“You asked me if I believe in God. We established I don’t. Now, I’m asking you back, do you?”

Everything was so confusing and tiring.

“Do you?” Harder this time.

“It’ll be pretty stupid not to believe since it looks like I’m going to meet him soon.” Who owned that weak, shaky voice?

“Ma’am! Stay with me!”

Why all the shouting? Stop shouting. I just want to close my eyes.

“You believe… so… so… believe in his words. Yes, you guys preach that he saves right? So hold on to that. Hold on to that. The sirens are really close, ma’am, you have to stay awake!”

“Please open your… stay…!”

She must have missed the rest; because the next time she re-surfaced it was to shouting, movement and a loud, piercing noise.

“Ma’am?” Something cool touched her forehead “Ma’am!” There was shaking involved now. But the shaking did not hurt. The not-knowing wasn’t so bad after all.

Here, nothing hurts anymore.

It was peaceful.

 

About the Author

Thea Onyekwuo is a graduate of Maritime Management Technology who lives in Lagos State. When she is not bent over a laptop building fantasy worlds and dropping her characters into hot water, you can find her reading, still reading, definitely still reading, or indulging in her unhealthy addiction to chocolate. She is a member of Route Africa.

 

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