A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

This Is How You Almost Die
By Ibukun Akinnawo

Eko Bridge, Lagos. Via Starconnect Media
You hit the snooze button on your alarm clock and snuggle back under the covers knowing full well that you should be out embracing the harmattan, running. You mumble “Ten more minutes” under your breath and somehow sleep till 9 am. You splash water on your swollen eyelids and sleepy cheeks before scrubbing yesterday away with tea tree scrub, before languidly spreading soap suds everywhere there is dark chocolate skin. Then you spend another hour or so getting clothed, singing awkwardly high notes, preparing your voice for your first songwriting and recording session with your friend. 11.30 am meets you in your university’s music room practising Haydn’s Vivace and David Nevue’s Solitude. 1 pm finds you frustrated because your friend is running late and your fingers are shaky and messing your piano playing up so you head back to your room and force food down a throat that is unwilling while you send another angry text.
Then you finally get to see him, this friend of yours who kept you waiting, sometime around 3:15 pm and accept his explanation and apology because, well, you’re friends and the day is almost gone. There’s not much time left to be angry and not make alternative music. There’s banter, light-hearted jokes, juice and the job of helping to set up this make-shift home studio both of you have to use. He listens to a little of your Brooke Fraser music and you listen to some of his Ryan Leslie music so that somehow you can both find common ground. Common ground is found, danced upon, written about till 7 pm when two hippie voices are tired and his right hand is numb from strumming his guitar. So you pack up and prepare to go home to your parents like you initially planned but are swayed by the thought of karaoke, making new friends and laughing into the wee hours of Christmas Eve morning, so you stay and touch up your bright red lipstick.
You meet your friend’s family for the first time and his younger brother tells you you smell good. You tuck the compliment away in your heart gracefully and respond to his mother’s welcoming hug. You laugh at his cousins’ jokes and attempt small talk with his sister while seven of you load up in the SUV. The first two or three karaoke bars you stop at this Monday night are not open for some strange reason so you all decide to head somewhere farther than you had planned (instead of wasting the night by going back home). It’s not long after you get to the bar that you start laughing till your sides hurt and singing Beyonce’s songs horribly flat. You don’t feel embarrassed because you’re with friends and they’re laughing just as hard as you’re laughing at yourself. It’s a jolly good night. 2 am comes quickly and a bar attendant screams above the music that the bar is closing and you have to leave.
Your hearts are already full so you and your friends pile into the SUV and start what you hope will be a quick drive back home. You’re almost there. You’re on Eko Bridge and closer to home than you were a few minutes ago. You see a lone block of cement smack in the middle of the road and watch your friend avoid it, thinking it is the only one, then the car collides with another. Now your friend is swerving, trying hard to get back on track—to get back to being on the way home—but he’s failing and you’re beside him gripping the arm rests, wide-eyed, shocked into silence and braced for impact. Then the SUV is the wrong way up, spinning, spinning till it’s on the other side of the bridge, gravitating towards the edge. With each spin, you’re closer to being sure that this is the end and 24th December will always be your memorial.
Everything is in fast forward. All your life choices until this…this…deathly dance flash through your mind in quick succession. You’re not screaming hysterically like they do in Nollywood movies or like someone in the back of the car. You offer a silent prayer that death will take you quickly, painlessly. You’re ready for the end. One more violent tumble and you will have fallen off the bridge to your death below. You’re still here, alive, because you can hear someone in the back pleading the blood of Jesus. You cannot tell who because you’re struggling to get out of the new prison that is your belted car seat. You cannot tell because the car is dead on its side and the car door won’t open. You cannot tell because you’re mentally counting down to ten when you’re sure the car will explode and you will burn trapped with wounded screaming behind you and surprising calm beside you, in you. The police arrive shattering glass and help you crawl out, bruised, shaking, and a little bloody, strangely bonded with these six other souls that, a few minutes ago, almost died with you.