I sighted him from the bus window just as the LAGBUS approached my stop on the outer Marina. Before I could see the face I prayed and wished he was just another mad man sleeping on the wide culvert that divided the double lane highway. A needless prayer that turned out because even as I saw the brown liquid seeping under him, I knew he was dead.
At what point can one say they have become immune to the sight of corpses? Is it at the solemn moment when you cradle a loved one in your arms as they take their last breath; usually followed by the customary screams and wailing from those left behind- including you?
Or does one simply become numb from witnessing so many persons- friends, siblings, parents and even lovers detach from an enfeebled, no longer capable-of-life body? Would it be presumptuous to say that one never gets over the shock of seeing a once virile body lying immobile, bloated and smelling on the tarmac?
This is certainly not a pretty sight on a Monday morning; after a sweat filled intercourse with Lagos traffic from before dawn steals upon this part of earth. But one cannot choose what sights they will be accosted with as they traverse these plains.
I found myself thinking; that was someone’s son, brother, friend, lover, and maybe even someone’s father. I have a thick skin and a strong stomach but that sight did things to me that I thought I was incapable of.
As I crossed over, careful to keep my gaze away from the body, I remembered MB, a cleaner who had been assigned to work on my floor last year. Hemp smoke wafting in from the strong currents that accentuated the marina’s peaceful ambience often remind me of him, but this Monday morning as I deliberately decided to walk a street behind where I normally would pass, I could not help remembering how he had been when he lost his head to unsavoury mixtures in the name of finding an acceptable high.
Slow to speak and even slower to anger, I learnt as the months passed that MB had been taking ‘smoke’. There were times he would disappear from sight for as long as four hours and then return with a glassy, distant look in his eyes. After series of complaints to his supervisor he was moved to the bottom floors that housed the car lifts and car parks; the work was meant to be more tedious there and he would have more supervision.
It was on one of those floors that he stood, legs apart and hands clutching the walls of the car lift, defying six hefty men as they tried to lift him away and make way for an occupant who wished to park his vehicle on the next floor. He was strong like one possessed by demons; they said.
I had resumed the next morning, only to be regaled with tales of his misadventures. It turned out I had not missed too much; the sequel was to be sweeter than the prelude.
Stall owners in the neighbouring buildings shooed him away after they realized that the many cans of energy drink he had gulped in the hours before the offices opened for business would not be paid for. Security had to bundle him out of the building when he sauntered in at about eight am barefoot, his shirt and trousers gone on holiday. The poor thing reeked of booze, hemp smoke and other strange smells that seemed to lend weight to his bony form as he moved about in sagging boxers and mismatched slippers. That was when the marina’s cool breeze called out to him again.
The area boys on the Marina said that shortly after dawn he had suddenly risen off the concrete slab by the waterside, where they all congregated in allegiance to the god of weed, and without much ado, he had thrown his clothes into the water. One of the older men said what pained him most was the boots he threw into the water. Just the night before he had tried to buy it off him for a handsome fee, but the stupid ‘Amugbo’ had refused to sell! If not for God, he said, he would have dived first to save the shoes before thinking of saving poor MB.
We sought a male relative to come fetch him and take him away from the allure of the Marina’s depths and the many spirits that converged on her docile banks, but at the mention of going home, his eyes took on the look of a wounded lion and his voice became a guttural assemblage of sounds so strange it made saliva cake on my tongue and brought goose bumps to my skin.
They said he had refused food from the night before, preferring instead to sup on gin and cigarettes all night and morning, yet when his family came for him at the waterside, he nearly pushed two of the area boys into the water. In the twinkling of an eye, a sturdy rope had materialized and he was being tied up for the long commute to his home. Kicking and thrashing wildly, they bounded him up eventually, but not before giving his mouth a cut and splashing some lacerations on his arm and legs. As he stretched in defiance, I feared that his spine would snap from the sheer effort of bending backwards in several attempts to avoid his hands getting tied behind his back.
Four months in a rehabilitation center and I hear MB is still unable to recall how he got to that place.
As I struggle to keep the bloated corpse out of my mind, I hope that MB no longer remembers the attraction of mixed hemp, laced with crushed D-10 and Toluene. Maybe he will remember; but the choice to keep away from them is his. In a hollow place in my heart I say a prayer for the soul that once inhabited the body on the road; what choices he forfeited in his short life we will never know, just as we will never know if it was a mistake or an irresistible propensity that consumed him and left his remains on the roadside.