Written by: Iyanu Adebiyi
When I was much younger, I used to sleep deeply. So deeply that I wouldn’t wake up, even if a market was brought into the bedroom.
However, I was startled out of sleep when a woman’s distressed voice pierced the silence of the night.
“Fire! Fire!! Fire!!! “
I scrambled to my feet and ran outside.
My parents. The neighbours. Everyone was there.
Some were trying to put out the fire, others were bringing out their luggage, hugging their most prized possessions, standing at a distance, just in case the fire couldn’t be put out on time.
The air was thick with smoke, and my young nostrils could hardly stand it. Mother hugged me and I could hear the loud thumping of her chest. When I looked into her eyes, they were wet with fear. I wondered why she was so scared, since the house which was burning was on the last floor of our block of flats and we were living on the ground floor.
Father rushed towards us and asked mother to bring him a packet of detergent from the house. He didn’t wait to get a reply, as he rushed back to join the men who were trying to put off the fire.
Mother held me tightly, and in that moment, I strongly felt love and pain. Those were the two things she was made of. Her palms were rough and hard, like a carpenter’s own, because of constant contact with kitchen fires. What I mean is that, mother never used rags to get down food from the stove. She always used her bare hands.
Quickly, she took me to Aunt Maggi, who was the farthest person from the burning house and asked her to keep an eye on me. Maggi was a corps member, living in our compound. She had her bag lying closely to her feet, and a brown envelope, which contained her credentials, sleeping on her chest.
I watched as mom rushed back into the house to get a sachet of Omo and two buckets of water, emptied the contents of the sachet into the buckets and ran upstairs. Dad could be heard scolding her from there, telling her to give the bucket to a man downstairs, because it was too dangerous, but the only man that was around was Lawyer.
“Do you know who I am? I will sue you and your entire generation.” The spittle from his angry lips baptized mom and her bucket of water in one second.
“How many times will I have to call, before you acknowledge the exigency going on in my abode?” Pause. “I cannot believe your languorous, otiose, dilatory and slack attitude to the lives of the people you ought to serve…” Mom got tired of waiting and took the water upstairs.
After about an hour, the fire was defeated. Everyone sighed in relief, like victorious soldiers. Some went straight back to bed, a few stayed back to gossip about the cause of the fire and how much had been lost.
Many hours later, the fire fighters crawled majestically into the compound and Lawyer was ready for a good oral fight. We were tired and the last thing we needed was to hear him rant. So, we left him there and went to sleep.
The next morning, we were all still sleepy from not having had enough sleep at night, but the sense of togetherness in the compound was very thick. People who had cars were stopping to pick other neighbours who didn’t. Handshakes became hugs. Aunt Maggi brought me some biscuits, before she left for work.
On the way to school, in Daddy’s rickety old Datsun car, as he stopped to pick Mama Ibeji’s twins, I knew that this new found love was as a result of standing up and fighting something together.
Right now, as I sit down to watch the news and hear about how an innocent woman was killed, just for telling a group of men not to do their ablution in front of her shop, father’s words come right back at me.
“If you remain asleep, when your neighbour’s house is burning, you will soon sleep to death, because fire spreads and it is never satisfied until it completely destroys. So, quench it before it consumes you.”
I look around today and wonder what has happened to the community spirit in Nigeria. I admit that we’ve been through a lot, we’ve been beaten down for so long. Yet, silence is no characteristic of Nigerians. I really wish we could arise and fight for the lives and future of our children, because a nation that kills its own people cannot move forward.
Our country is flooded with innocent blood, crying out. Human lives mean nothing anymore. What is the hope of a better Nigeria if we don’t arise now? Let’s not get used to people dying left, right and centre, that we become numb to the loss of human lives.
I know that there are good hearted Muslims out there with hearts that squeeze in anguish at the abominations committed in the name of Islam. Let them stand up too and not just condemn, but implore their religious leaders to do something. Justice must be done.
In our ears, this news should be like that woman’s piercing cry that woke me up over fifteen years ago. I can hear it even more loudly, because the fire is closing in. I do not want to sleep anymore. I want to stand up and fight this fire, because if I don’t, I am dipping my hands into innocent blood. I am further killing a woman who is already dead. I am killing those, who will be dead next. And I could be killing myself too.Image Source – radar.ng