It was 9pm on a Sunday night. The city of Owerri looked adequately dressed up for Christmas. Every part of the city was beautifully lit up, with the twitching lights from Christmas trees standing at almost every corner of the city centre.
Cars queued up at a traffic light, tails flashed headlights threatening at each other. Everyone wanted to go home at the same time. Horns blared warnings at each other in an unspoken verbal fight. Traffic wardens wore tired looks, as they merely leaned on cubicles with stretched palms like blind beggars, demanding tips from drivers.
The usual smile they wore in the mornings had gone; in its place were stiffened looks. Their looks demanded, rather begged for it. It was like the countenance of a creditor while redeeming debts owed him.
Before now such act was inconceivably disgraceful. These days no shame was conceivable in a driver handing tips to traffic wardens or their Civil Defence counterparts in full glare of public view.
In a distance a little girl hawked abacha mmiri with coconut. She had made nine rounds, this was her tenth. She needed to make her mother happy. The previous day, while sitting to wait for a vulcanizer who had bought two wraps of her abacha mmiri to scout for change in the nearby shops, she had slept off. She woke up moments later to find three wraps of her akpụ mmiri missing. There was no one in sight. She only cried home later to complain to an untrusting mother.
So today she went the extra miles to make up for yesterday. “Bịa nwa a bu akpụ, bia hia,” the command came from a tricycle driver. She scuttled towards the man, one hand holding unto the tray atop her head and another clutching her money tied in a black nylon, stuffed between her left arm and armpit.
Suddenly, there was a screeching sound of brakes—that moment of suspension, or rather anticipation, of waiting for a thud or crash that would follow. It seemed like everyone expected it, looked forward to it. A car trying to reverse had hit someone. It hit the victim from behind, crippling her legs. The tray fell off her head and shared it contents generously to the tarred road. There was a pin-drop silence, as though all of mankind had heard the trumpet of rapture sound.
Brakes cried in protest, as cars came to abrupt stops everywhere. The little girl was sprawled on the tarred road, flattened like a sliced bread. The accident sent her into a momentary coma.
She woke up days later in a hospital bed. She couldn’t move a limb nor a finger. She was tied to the bed post, to help hold her down. She had been convulsing from the shock and trauma of the accident. Her ward seemed too quiet as she strained to open her eyes through a small opening of the bandage on her face. She couldn’t. She tried again.
The room was poorly lit. The only lantern that gave light to the room was dim, begging to be put out.
In the ensuing darkness, a hand struck a match, her eyes quickly caught its light. The light was the lone light in that night. It came from her mother, as she said with droopy eyes in more of a whisper than an utterance:
“Ndị nzuzu a enweghi ọkụ, ma latern owu ekweghịkwa ha nzụta. E nwere ebe na-afu gị ufu nwa m? Eh nne m?“