My dad had upset me that morning. I woke up like any other fellow on a saturday morning and looked for what to do to occupy my time. Neither my mother’s shouts nor the housegirl sweeping outside woke me up, not even my sister in her usual manner of waking up and transferring to my bed just for the fun of it. It was the 10th day of August 2010, my sister and I still shared a room.
Roughly a month earlier, my sister, my dad and i had just returned from a holiday in South Africa, whether it was due to my dads busy schedule or he just wanted to get the trip over with i may never know, but we left for our summer trip early July. Who knows, if we had waited or stayed longer, this event might never have occurred.
I have this habit of never sticking to the sad sections in a tale, i always try not to find a balance but to some extent include something to make my readers smile, it might be a parodied jest or a specific feature in my life: I always try and include it. Today, my story is just as sad as last weekend, maybe even sadder but it happened 3 years ago and the pain is gone, the sorry’s have been distributed and the efforts replenished, this is my medium of moving on……not finding closure like i didnt fail to emphasize last week, but moving on. For every cocoon you are trapped in in this life, you’ll certainly come out as a robust butterfly. This was my cocoon and now i’m a proud butterfly.
My dad had upset me that morning. Like clockwork, he came out of his room at 8am to have a sit down outside and bask in the sunshine. I was summoned by the security man, Baba. For anyone that comes to my house Baba always remains in their memory and it felt like Baba knew all my friends by heart, though he sometimes accused some of my male friends of secretly coming to see my sister. ‘Kufre! Why would you let these shrubs grow past their appropriate height, cant you see how it looks? Does it look nice? What do you do all day, why would you wait for someone to tell you something before you do it? Dont you want to improve your environment, its your home and its your responsibility. If you wont do it who will?’ lamented my father. It all happened so fast. I had never used the garden shears on the shrubs before because Baba always took pride in doing that, after all he worked in a garden before joining us in the house. This was my first job of the day and i wasnt liking it. It wasnt the sun raining on my back, it wasnt the fact that i was scolded before i began, none of that. It was the fact that the shears were bloody blunt.
Both my parents didnt waste time in leaving the house that morning leaving just me, my sister and Blessing the Housegirl at home. As usual, my dad had instructed us to write an essay on our experience on that particular trip to South Africa. Sure, i always enjoy traveling with my dad because with him its not just the fancy hotels and lovely restaurants or wild parks and other tourist traps, we go to gardens, museums, art galleries, historical sights, we go to places that made history and you can one day boast that yes, i’ve been there. With that in mind, writing an essay on my experience right from the airport wasnt difficult because not only did it staple the memories in my head, it also helped me build different writing styles. Once they had left the house, i retired to the room i shared with my sister to resume my essay. Dara my sister planned to go visit her friend later that morning which she eventually did, leaving just Blessing the Housegirl and I alone at home.
I grew weary of writing and decided to take a break. I hopped in for a shower and while i was waiting for the water to get hot, i looked through our camera at the everlasting memories. For some reason, i immediately get infatuated with any country i visit, its involuntary. Anyway, after my bath i changed to a ‘Your Papa Go Love Me’ shirt which most people i know know the shirt and shorts. Hot as could be, i left my AC on and went to the living room to watch Disney Channel.
I was midway through the Suite Life of Zack and Cody Saturday omnibus when Blessing the Housegirl ran into the living room saying she saw smoke coming from my bedroom window which was uncomfortably close to the kitchen for various reasons, including of course the smell of fish or onions when the women folk are cooking. I went outside to see what smoke this woman was talking about and it was there, my room was seeping out smoke! Oblivious, i went to my room door to see what could be the cause, maybe the computer overheated or something though i knew clearly it was off. As i walked towards the door, i tried to fill my head with incredible possibilities which i knew to be impossible just to avoid the obvious fact that this room was on fire. I opened my door, the cool door handle gave me a lot of hope but the flames that had occupied what was once the room i shared with my sister when i peered open the door took away all hope. Within 3 seconds i had shut back the door but what went through my mind during that time could have lasted eternity. Was that fire in my room? Was my entire room burning? Were all my worldly possessions, except of course my International Passport burning to ashes? The answer to all these questions was yes. My room was on fire.
Acting on impulse, i looked for the only other adult figure in the house, Baba. Baba was having his bath. I kept banging on the toilet door of this old man but he didnt appear to hear me, i didnt want to open the door because not only was it unethical, but i had seen enough to scar me for life. Eventually, my latter fear came to past, he walked out in the nude asking me what happened. ‘Baba, my room is on fire!’ i screamed. He immediately put on the top of his kaftan and fetched a bucket of water to see if he could make an impact on the fire. I followed like a lame sheep behind him scared to my bits but as he slipped and fell in the hallway leading to the bedroom, an ounce of humour came back to me and i managed a giggle or three. The door was molten shut so we couldnt even open it. 3 failed buckets of water later we ran outside to call for help. Fortunately, we had a retired general as a neighbor who thankfully had Army men in his compound who were of course in a better position to help. The fire had began to gather momentum as well as peering curious eyes of onlookers, most which had nothing to offer. The wife of the general immediately ran barefoot to the estate gate to get their security personnel to help us while the rest of us tried to pour water through the windows. During this period, i had neither called my parents nor my sister to tell them their home was on fire.
With other people doing the work i was too scared to do, i remembered something i had learnt in school from the fire service that came for a fire drill about using detergent and water to curb a fire, also that smoke kills faster than the fire. I ran into the kitchen with my head on the floor and reached for the cabinet where we stored detergent and ran back outside. The smoke had entered every exposed hole i had, i had to go and sit down and cough it out. From nowhere i started crying. I began to remember all my belongings, i began to remember all the new clothes we had bought that may never be put to use, sure they were materialistic thoughts but that was what was on my mind. I began to wonder what clothes i’d use hitherto and how long before we move back in or get a new house, where we would stay in the mean time and how much strain it would be on the family to start again. The tears overtook the thoughts but that didnt make it any easier for me to stop crying. I felt the arms of women on my shoulder as they tried to comfort me claiming that everything was going to be alright. of course i didnt believe them, my mind was clouded with smoke! Someone then asked if i had called my parents. I remembered my phone was charging in the living room so i went to fetch it. As i walked to the front door, seeing Blessing the housegirl drenched in one for extreme corner of the garden with all her belongings brought a smile to my face, at least she was able to save her property.
The entire living room was covered in smoke, black thick smoke but fortunately i remembered exactly where i had kept my phone. Bracing the thick poisonous air, my tears shielding the smoke from entering my eye, i picked up my phone and ran out of that house. I was surprised my mother could comprehend my speech amidst my sobbing but she dished out comforting words, rejoiced with me that no one was hurt and promised to be home soon. The next number i dialed was that of my sister, she didnt even seem surprise at all, as if she had expected it to happen. The first to arrive was my dad, all this while the room was still up in flames taking the house along with it slowly. First thing he did was ensure all the cars were taken out of the compund, we had to be sure who to give the keys before some scum takes advantage and zooms off so my uncle who had also arrived handled it. For the first time in 3 years, i calculated, i hugged my father completely. He had to be strong for me and the rest of the family and i suddenly felt safe in his arms, with a feeling that nothing could go wrong. My mother and sister arrived roughly at the same time as more onlookers gathered to watch the house burn to the ground.
The sirens bellowing in the air came as a relief to me. Two fire trucks arrived, one from NNPC which my father had called and the other was FCT fire service, both rushing to enter the tiny close that barely fits 3 normal sized cars and there lay another problem, who would enter first. While they hassled on which truck should move back and which truck should change its position, the house continued to burn, the hope of reviving some of the lost items continued to drift in the smoked soaked wind. I was secretly hoping a third truck would come as the dealbreaker but they eventually sorted themselves out and NNPC came in first and immediately rushed into action, fortunately both trucks could comfortably fit in the compound. Hoses began to fly, uniformed men began to tackle the dreadful fire. I always watch on TV how young boys want to be firemen when they grow up and how young girls want to date firemen, i guess its this feeling that they are saving you, this feeling that they are the heroes that come to your aid, i didnt take it seriously until that day. I felt like taking the firemen home with me for proper gratitude, if of course i had a home.
Slowly the fire began to die down, the firemen got to the roofs and started flushing it with water to calm the overheated asbestos. I saw my father smiling and thanking the brave gentlemen and i immediately asked my mother as my head lay on her bosom, ‘Our house got burnt, but why is daddy smiling?’ she simply replied ‘He has to smile, he has to be strong because if he isnt strong, who’ll be strong for you….God will make a way’ as she stroked my head. 6 hours i watched my house burn, 6 hours people worked high and low to curb the damage, 6 hours i occupied my thoughts with the question, ‘What next?’ We waited until it was safe enough to review the damage caused, maybe it was just the firemen or the combined efforts of our neighbors and well wishers, but the rain that fell made the most impact that day. yes it soaked the parts of the house that only had the POP burnt, but it was able to ease the fire.
Facebook being the pioneer social network of the day, i was quick to post once the fire had been curbed what had just taken place, i hope to God that people simply thought i was joking because i didnt receive any likes or comments of sympathy which was what i needed at that moment. Eventually, and in nothing less than 5 minutes after the post, Abdulmutallib Shittu called my number to make his enquiries knowing who he is and before i finished narrating the entire experience, he told me he was on his way and cut the line.
I went to what was left of our room and sought to find at least one complete shirt, one complete short that i could change into later that night in wherever we stayed but i didnt get one, all i had on me was my shirt, shorts, my unmentionables and my bathroom slippers, even my watch was consumed. I saw his mother first taking a look round the damage searching for the owners of the house, then his brother came up behind me, we had never met so he kept on walking and right behind him was Shittu. Of course i had to smile because not only was it a relief to see a friend there to help you through the ordeal but i knew with him around, i was going to laugh all the way. I dont think i’ll ever forget the part him and his family played that day and i would forever be truly grateful.
We gathered what we could gather and left the house leaving behind a trail of outrageous losses. We moved into Clintonia, a set of apartments around the area for the night. We prayed and worshipped God for protecting our lives and only getting rid of property because that was the most important thing, life was preserved. The next day, courtsey of NNPC, God bless them, we moved to a 3 bedroom apartment in Rockview Hotel which saved us a lot of money considering the year and a half we spent in the hotel.
My house was a two living room, four bedroom bungalow, one master bedroom, one guestroom that my dad transformed into his study, my mothers room and the room my sister and i shared. Today however, millions of unplanned and unbudgeted Nairas later we completed the house and transformed it. The house was broken down to the ground and we started afresh still maintaining some of the original plans, foundations were added to accommodate another floor which my dad declared his, consisting of a living room, study and master bedroom. My sister and i now have individual rooms, this was incredible for me because who knows for how much longer i would have had to share a room with thunder thighs.
It was only a matter of time before the blame game began.
With every disappointment comes a blessing, when God takes you to the edge of a cliff, he wont let you fall rather, he’ll either catch you if you fall or he’ll show you how to fly. He taught my family and i how to fly, fly amidst all the economic woes because no one is ready for their entire home to get burned to bits, no one. It doesnt have to be fire consuming your home, it could be anything, from horrible grades to a job loss but you will certainly overcome it to discover something brighter, something better. These things happen, it took us a year and a half, it might take you 6 months or 66 years but it would happen without a doubt. We are all cocoons, struggling to break out of the shell to become magnificent butterflies, it happened to me and it could happen to you. I’m a butterfly.