Saturday, 14 May 2016

Another Strike Story

        It's been a grueling one-month stay at home after the school had to be shut down on April 11th, 2016. I daresay that in this one month I've gone through all the stages of grief.


        First was the denial phase. On that fateful day, exams were slated to begin. I had no papers that day and so I slept pretty well the previous night. However, my beauty sleep was cut short. I was awoken by a loud noise. The atmosphere was charged and chants that the VC "Lale must go" rent the air. The protest started off peacefully  and unsurprisingly metamorphosed in the blink of an eye. I was confident that everything would be abated in a matter of minutes. The last time a protest , this one violent from the get-go, had tried to be staged, law enforcement officials were called in. Although school activities were suspended for that day, the next day was business as usual. 

       This was my initial thought on the morning of April 11th. I had a rude shock as after an hour, the intensity of the protest only seemed to increase. I and some people recounted stories of how we had once been chased out of our classes with machetes, cutlasses and sticks, yet order was quickly restored. Minutes turned into hours, there was still chaos everywhere.  I started to feel like a Hala Gorani. I attempted to take some pictures and record some videos with my phone. In retrospect, that was not one of my smartest moments. A guy with a stick chased me to make me delete whatever pictures I had taken. I escaped unscathed. 

      Law enforcement officials eventually made their way into school - hours after the students had put all campuses on lock-down by shutting the gates; hours after the protest had resulted in vandalism and flagrant destruction of buildings, and hours after in the name of protests some people had broken into the ICT building and made away with laptops. In the spirit of truth, I can't verify if laptops were actually stolen. 

       One by one, students started to leave school in dramatic fashion. It was a scene straight out of a CNN coverage on refugee camps and people fleeing war-torn regions. People carried heaps of boxes on their heads and arms and walked long distances. Cabs were very rare to come by. At this juncture, I realized it may truly be game over. But I'm an optimist and so I settled into my bed and started to watch a movie. I couldn't accept the stark reality that looked right at me. 

        I knew it was game over when a drama ensued at Choba. It seemed the presence of law enforcement agents only exacerbated the protest. I don't think anyone is quite sure of the events that followed leading up to the death of a student. Only thing that is sure is that it is a truly great tragedy that a life was lost that day. It's what some might term an unnecessary death. 

       I was angry for some time. I was angry at the forced holiday. At times, I was angry at Nigeria. I quickly realized that the statement that "vex no fit fry egg" is very apt. I sunk myself into my favourite past-time, watching movies. Next was my bargaining stage and my depressed stage. I resigned myself to fate. I steeled my heart and prepared for the worst, a six month shut-down like the time of the fabled ASUU strike.

       After all has been said and done, everyone has to step back and evaluate what could have been done better. How do we prevent this kind of occurence from happening again? It is certainly not the time to start laying the blame at anyone's feet. It takes two to tango. I might be in the minority but I was always against the protest. I must still extol the fact that youths could come together for a perceived common grievance. It bodes well for the future of Nigeria. I only wish the protest had been peaceful. The story would have been different. Exams will come and go, we will graduate but we would never forget this period. Just one of the experiences of the Nigerian educational system.

       Finally, I am at the acceptance stage. I have spent slightly over a month out of school with possibly some more weeks to spare. Last last, I have tried. We have all tried. I'm starting to forget that I'm a student.



     Some people fall apart in one fell swoop. Some people fall apart in bits and pieces - a chip everyday, finally a large crack until they fully disintegrate. I learnt this when I was nine or maybe ten. This was about the time mother lost herself. I don't know how it happened. I only know when.


Mother was a very pretty woman, still the prettiest I have seen. I could be biased, but she was pretty in every sense of the word. She was tall, her skin as light as condensed Peak milk and a figure that put many other women to shame. Her picture still adorns the living room. Father wanted to remove it after what happened but I fought and fought and won. I stare at mother's pictures sometimes and admire her. I would never be half as beautiful or graceful as she was. 


I knew something was not quite right. I suspected but I could never put my finger on it. When Grandma Ma- my maternal grandmother died, mother cried and locked herself in her room for 3 days. She didn't eat anything, no matter how much I begged her. She only accepted a cup of water once each day and only from Nonso, my elder brother and only sibling. I was worried but father said to give mother time. Death was a concept I knew but didn't grasp. I couldn't understand her grief - I didn't know if people as old as my mother seemed to me cried.   

When mother came out of her solitary confinement, her hair was unevenly trimmed all around like a barber had left a scissors in her hair to wreak havoc. I hugged her and told her sorry. She just smiled, a manic kind of smile that didn't get to her eyes. I hugged her tighter. 

It was August break, a period after the heavy rains of July ceased for a bit. People sat on their porches swatting housefly after housefly whenever there was no light. My family lived in a face-me-I-face-you apartment and so it was easy to know what everyone else was doing. Curses rang in the air as each house tried to outdo the other in describing their hate for the government. "It won't ever be good for this President and his family."  

I never failed to say Amen to declarations like that because I had heard that in America, there was always electricity. When my best friend's cousin had come back from the US, she went about the whole school prancing about like a princess with her foreign candy. 'NEPA doesn't ever take light in America and they share free chocolate and candies every break time', she'd said. This was when I started to hate the President and his government and make my own declarations that we would have a new president that would make candy free. 

On one of the days as the sun had just begun to set and father like every other person was swatting the flies on our verandah, someone rushed towards our doorstep. My head was buried underneath father's big arms and I could hear the soft rhythmical beat of his heart if I listened closely. I had a clear view of the person advancing towards us. I chuckled at how funny the person ran like one leg was shorter than the other. It was Nonso's friend, Peter. Father stopped swatting away the flies in annoyance. I could tell. 

        "Peter, your friend isn't home. Go and check the playground". It was then that I noticed that Peter's eyes were welling with tears as if his parents had just punished him with a whip. If sympathy was what he wanted, father was the last person to offer that to anyone. 

           "Uncle", Peter stammered. "Nonso is lying on the field. He can't get up."

      "Ehn, what do you mean by he won't get up?"  father questioned, subtly replacing the 'can't' with a sheer force of will. His heart skipped a beat. 

In a string of less than three coherent sentences, Peter explained that Nonso had been hit by a big man in an SUV. The SUV had veered off the road into the field. There were no more questions. 

Father leapt up from the verandah floor so quickly, his speed belying his massive six feet something frame. I stood up even quicker and followed him as he trudged on towards the gate. He gestured that I should stay behind. I didn't listen. 

The sky was blue with a hint of dusky orange. The grass was green and a bit damp. Everything seemed normal except for the way Nonso's teammates seemed to be crowded around a spot that was not the football. Everything seemed normal except for the way Nonso's brains were scattered all over the playing field, his right arm crossed awkwardly over his chest, lightly touching his severely battered left shoulder. I wasn't prepared for this. I doubt father was. I felt violated and angry and confused - all three emotions at once. Peter hadn't told us about this part. He had lied to us brazenly. He told us that Nonso couldn't get up. He didn't say that Nonso would never get up. 

Father held his head solidly from the base like his head suddenly weighed a ton. If I could still hear his heart beat, I knew it would be strong and fast bam-bam-bam like Lagbaja's talking drum.  

Nobody sent me. I left to go call mother, outrightly disobeying father who now insisted I stay by his side. I wove through the crowd of onlookers and passers by as fast as I could. Mother always knew how to fix any problem. She always knew how to make things better. 
This time she didn't. When she came, she only sat down on the grass beside Nonso's body and bawled. She had no magic words or prayer to save the day. I sat down beside her utterly disappointed and the tears gushed out. Fearlessly, with salty tears streaming down my face I rested my head on Nonso's chest. I heard no heartbeat. 


I used to know a quote that said - Madness is like gravity; all it takes is a little push for everything to come crumbling down. 

Mother first took off her wig. She never did that in public. She was almost bald undderneath. Next came her wrapper. She had only one on her waist instead of her customary two. All she had underneath was a flimsy excuse for underwear. This happened in less than a minute. She tried to remove her blouse but father stopped her just in time as she made to unclasp her zip. Mother started to mumble some things. I'd seen her do this a couple of times, but always in the night when she sat on the kitchen floor biting her nails thinking no one would see her.

I knew mother would be the talk of the neighborhood for at least a week. What I didn't expect was for mother's pastor to order me to go on a 5 day fast to break the ancestral spirits of madness that were supposedly my destiny. I did it because that was what mother wanted as well. I did that because maybe then, mother would not bark like a dog in the afternoon while preparing lunch. 

A week passed and mother was still the talk of the little community we lived in. It didn't help that she was always unkempt -wrapper casually slung over her shoulders even when she left the house. It took a while for me to get used to the maniacal laughter and fierce outbursts that followed whenever anyone suggested that Nonso should be buried. In between her fits she smiled at me sometimes and hugged me. I looked forward to those times. 

The prayer sessions for mother seemed to intensify with the passing of each week. Nothing seemed to work and finally mother's pastor's visit became fewer and infrequent. Sometimes I wished there was a drug mother could take but father said there was none and we could only pray away mother's demons. 

Eventually, father got tired and fed up. He removed all of mother's pictures from the living room. I put them back up. It was a cycle until he finally allowed only one of her pictures to occupy the spot almost behind the bookshelf. It was a picture where she was at the peak of her youth and looking her best. 
Mother broke the picture. It was on the same day that mother said father was sleeping with Martha, the maid from next door. 'He thinks I don't know'. She told me in hushed tones like I were her co-conspirator instead her ten year old child. 

She stared at her sole picture and asked, "What does she have that I don't have? Is she even half as pretty as I am?"

I couldn't answer truthfully. Mother's once radiant yellow complexion was sallow. Her cheeks were hollowed out and her eyes looked dead like ghosts inhabited them. But I answered nonetheless. "She is nothing like you ma". That didn't seem good enough. Mother smashed her picture on the mirror, breaking the mirror as well. I had to replace the picture with another one. 

I woke up some days later to utter tranquility which was strange. This was early October, a week after school resumed. Father said mother was nowhere to be found. He said she had packed her things and left in the middle of the night after they had an argument. I asked what it was about. He told me that mother had accused him of cheating on her. Can you imagine? , he reiterated. I could imagine.

That day I didn't go to school. I stayed home all day waiting for mother to come back. At night I dreamt that she came back and lay beside me on the bed, my head resting against her bosom, her heartbeat clear as a clarion's call. My dream never materialized. 

The next week, Martha moved into the house. 




Cadaver Diaries

             I'm no stranger to cadavers. I'm in a room full of cadavers at least once every week. This has gone on for almost two years now. I'm almost used to the pungent smell of formalin that makes the eyes of even the strongest of men(and women) water. I always wear my glasses as a shield to reduce the formalin-induced tears that must drop. It's the harshest of environments that does not give you room to even dry your tears. The dissection must go on.             

            Four months from now, I will be done with the pre-clinical class. (This is where as a Nigerian I have to insert 'by the grace of God'). To me, most importantly, it means that there will be no more 'cadaver rooms'. I am not a fan of Anatomy practicals but I must confess that as I get closer and closer to finishing one half of the six-year race, a certain form of nostalgia envelops me. 
            This brings to my mind the first time we all encountered the cadavers - the look of awe and astonishment that was written over everyone's face. There was a certain revered look as we uncovered the various cadavers. Some people wanted to take pictures of the stiff bodies laying on the dissecting table in the most helpless positions. Arguments ensued and it was unanimously agreed on that it was against all rules of ethics to do that. I agreed, never mind that I had never read any book on ethics. I guess that some things are just common sense. I remember that a few people still took some pictures regardless. They probably thought they were flouting the rules - a daredevil sort of rebellion. I want to ask any of them what they eventually did with the pictures. I won't anyway. I already know the answer. They couldn't have put it on social media and with the pressure from all around, surely they deleted any photos. Also, I'm not sure of the people who may have taken any pictures. 
             That first time, we had already heard of tales of people that threw up once they saw the seemingly myriad of dead bodies. Others couldn't eat well for a while and for those heavily vested in believing that evil spirits roamed the earth at night, they had bouts of sleepless nights. Those were only tales and none of that happened to the best of my knowledge (or maybe they did). 
            The dissection ensued, but not before we took forever to put on our gloves and some asked stupid questions like 'ew are we really going to touch that?' . Identifying the necessary items like the scalpel, dissecting blade and others took some time that initial day. It's a whole different story presently. Our gloves are put on as fast as the speed of light and we all know what each dissecting instrument is for, in addition to the hack saws and drills we may require. Procedures in the lab take place as clinically as possible and certainly no stupid questions are asked. Any possible answer to relevant questions one might need must be in the Cunningham's manual. 


            So far so good, my most memorable dissections are for the brain and anterior chest wall (ermm breast region). The brain struck a chord with me. I'm not sure what expressions to use to capture the different thought processes that occur when one sees an unsullied human brain for the first time. As many times as you may have looked intently at the brain in the atlas(es) and textbook(s), it still doesn't prepare you for the intricacy and the delicate arrangement of structures found once the skull is cracked open. It might sound weird to a non-medical student, but it is a truly beautiful sight. As a class collectively, we must have spent so long 'appreciating' (to use Dr. Mike's popular expression) the cranial structures.
          I've had my last dissection (again by God's grace) and I can say with absolute certainty that I will miss the jokes that accompanied every cut and incision we made on the cadavers. We called ourselves surgeons and at times teased another person by calling them a quack. We bristled with confidence and half-baked knowledge of procedures derived mainly from popular medical series like 'Grey's Anatomy', 'House' and 'Chicago Med'. 
         Nonetheless, as is the normal way of life, everyone is already looking forward to the remaining three more years, ceteris paribus, when we will be in the clinical class. I feel the same way as well. I can't wait for the next phase where I will have to face the 'P- dragons' - Pharmacology and Pathology. I'm almost ready for words like Ciprofloxacin, chloramphenicol and fluoroquinolones. I'm also almost ready for my barely decent writing to get worse. More importantly, I'm ensuring I savour these present twilight moments of the pre-clinical year while fixing my eyes ahead.