Greetings y’all. I bring you the next installment of the What Could Have Been series. I want to believe that you have enjoyed what you have seen so far and are willing to tumble as far down the rabbit hole as the story can drag you.
So sit back and relax. Let’s go on this ride together.
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WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN
“People pontificate”, Tobe began with a flourish of his right arm which he stretched, after a brief pause, to the decanter of Chateaux Haut-Brion ‘86 that stood on the glass-top table in the two-bedroom apartment that he shared with his best friend Ekene. “They say suicide is a coward’s act. That it is only a man who does not believe in himself that chooses to quit because the going is tough”
He helped himself to, what he knew was, an obscenely large amount of premium wine, enjoying the swirl of red in crystal clear glass; a pleasant aroma of earthy-oaken grapes teased his nostrils as he watched the spinning dark red vortex in his slowly filling wineglass.
“They think that any man who chooses to end his life is not worth the ink with which his story is written… such fools they are”.
He lifted the almost full glass of wine to his lips, taking in the sour piece of heaven that exploded on his tongue, bringing his palette to life.
“Fools?” Ekene asked in shock.
He had known Tobe since their first days in King’s College, Lagos; back when the world was still as small as the news presenters on the TV screen, when an Apple was still a fruit, when Balls were still spherical objects with air trapped within and a Cunning-Linguist was a person who was skilled with the use of languages.
It was before the tyrannical megalomaniac Gen. Sani Abacha “ate the apple” offered to him by the beautiful Indian-Arabian-Egyptian (her nationality changes from tale to tale) spy sent by the C.I.A, and all the adults complained of the hardship they were faced with, yet they still knew how to smile and care for one another. They had it good then; Nigeria was still very much the giant of Africa in every sense of the word. The Naira pulled a staggering ₦22 to the dollar, a litre of fuel still sold for ₦11 and Nigerians were still unfamiliar with terms like militants, terrorist and the most they thought of bombs was a hand grenade.
They really had it good in those days, but they had no idea.
Even in their youth, Ekene was always impressed and slightly envious of Tobe’s command of the spoken word. He had a way of coining independent topics together such that he is able to make a clever argument that would, most times, leave his listeners and fellow interlocutors at a loss for words. He had represented their secondary school in many competitions, claiming top prize with very little effort, or at least, that was what it seemed like to Ekene. Tobe was loved by teachers and students alike and he always had a smile for anyone who acknowledged him. He was a bright and bubbly fellow in those days; all that changed when ‘the darkness’ found him.
Even still, Tobe never lost his power of speech and his ability to turn a phrase; he merely drifted towards darker, weirder and unsavoury topics.
‘The darkness’, as Tobe calls it, stole his smiles and lively disposition, leaving behind a twisted wit and dry sense of humour that was more of an acquired taste than anything else. Ekene, though used to Tobe’s dark wit and odd jokes, was sharp enough to hear his friend’s pain and cry for help beneath all the sarcasm and lofty words; and like any good friend, he always allowed room for Tobe to express himself in the best way he knew how.
“How do you mean?”
“I’m glad you asked, my good man!” Tobe responded with a twisted smile which caused his small deep-set eyes to be further concealed by his long eyelashes.
Ekene took in the twinkle in Tobe’s small eyes; he always thought his deep-set eyes made his face look darker and bigger than they really were. Tobe, at six foot-three inches, was a couple inches taller than Ekene and he was a lot broader in the shoulders. If you take away their difference in height, they looked so alike, they could pass for brothers. Fair skin, ardent followers of the beard gang movement, similar arrow straight noses that flared at the nostrils like only Igbo nostrils can and they were both blessed with good looks and genes that made them quite popular among the ladies.
“Imagine – if you will – that you have been kidnapped, blindfolded and cuffed against a barred window”. He paused, his gesticulating left arm to take another sip from his wineglass, sloppily staining his bearded chin with spilled wine.
Ekene nodded his willingness to follow the train of thought, he knew Tobe would have a reason behind this bizarre conversation; he just wanted to see where his very smart, very misguided and intensely troubled buddy was going with it.
“You find, after some time, that your captors are asleep or not around, and you begin to worry your hands in your cuffs, escaping does not seem like a bad idea, no?” Tobe asked with an upturned left palm and a cocked head to which Ekene nodded his agreement. What man would not find a way out of torment if he finds himself doomed otherwise?
“Of course you would, who wouldn’t?” Tobe gave a small laugh at the Ekene’s honest answer. “Now you are worrying your hand, trying to free it from the cuffs that hold you captive and you realise that the only thing standing in the way of your freedom is… your thumb”
“My… thumb, how so?
“By thumb”, Tobe continued, raising his left hand up to show his thumb which he turned in a clockwise elliptical sphere, “I mean everything from the joint to the fingernail. If you find that to free yourself from the cuffs, you must cut of one thumb from the joint… would you?”
Ekene found he was not sure of his answer. Neither option was really savoury to him; if he chose to stay, he would be at the mercy of the evil persons who took him against his will in the first place, and there was the chance that they kidnapped him to use him for some kind of ritual.
However, if he chose to cut off his thumb; that would mean that he was, willingly, doing away with a part of his body to attempt an escape that he was not even sure would be successful to begin with. Then there was the act of cutting off the thumb, the severing of phalange from the rest of his body, tearing through flesh and muscles and blood vessels to hit the bone.
Just thinking of the degree of pain that he felt from his few injuries in the kitchen or the one or two dislocations he had during the misadventures of his youth, Ekene was sure he did not want anything or anyone cutting his skin to the bone, to speak even less of his being the source of his own pain.
A strong chill ran through him at that moment, if he screamed and wailed through dislocated joints and knife cuts, he could not even begin to wrap his head around his state of mind during said severing of thumb from hand. The heights or depths of the agony was beyond his imagination.
The train of thought, unfortunately, did not stop there. Upon cutting open the skin to touch bone, to then proceed to saw through said bone with extreme prejudice, looking past the spurts of blood from the broken and frayed vessels, ignoring the continuous back and forth of the bone-saw on bone or the repeated hacking of the butcher’s blade – either of which would result in a teeth grinding and jarring pain that would literally shake you to the bone.
When the bone is finally sawed/hacked through, to continue – after all that torturous torment – to cut through the remaining blood vessels and muscles and flesh and finally make it to the other side. All of this soul-cringing pain to be self inflicted and Ekene did not forget that the promise of escape was not written in stone.
What happens if after such self-maiming and he only managed to slip his hand through the tight cuffs, rubbing sore nerve-endings against unyielding steel, stifling his shrill squeal of new and different kind of agony. What if after all that pain and he manages to take five or six steps of freedom only to realise that he was feeling woozy due to blood loss; or he passes out from shock due to the pain; or even worse, what if the bastards cuffed his leg to another window or a an AC vent or a really heavy table and even with his sawed-off thumb, there is still no escape to be had… what then?!
Ekene found himself shaking his head slowly but continuously, dreading the weight of the question and the dark places it was taking him. His brows were coated with sheen of cold sweat, his frozen fingers subconsciously wrapped around his left thumb as he considered his options.
“Well?!” Tobe asked into his almost empty wineglass, appreciating, for what must have been the thousandth time, Ekene’s indulging spirit and his active imagination. There were moments when Tobe believed he started writing because of Ekene; watching him break into tears or laugh or gasp in surprise in the most inappropriate places gave Tobe a sense of accomplishment.
“Well?! Do you think you can?”
“No! If it’s a ransom they want, I would prefer to pay the money!” Ekene’s response was backed with a resolution that screamed his will to fight anything that would bring him unnecessary pain. Why would anyone want to place themselves in harm’s way if they can avoid it?
“Exactly! You have answered honestly and I appreciate that, my good man.” Tobe said in a manner that showed that he was done with the conversation. He emptied his wineglass and almost immediately reached for the decanter to help himself to another glass, Ekene, however, was having none of it. He snatched up the decanter and held it out of Tobe’s reach.
“What do you mean so… gimme the wine joor!”
“I will not cut my finger! What then does that mean?” Ekene asked.
Tobe might be disturbed, misguided and a little too curious and/or fascinated by all things morbid and obscene, but he had not gone all the way to insane just yet. It was very unlike him to start a conversation and not finish it.
“Yeah!” Tobe sighed in defeat, “I was only trying to point out that some, like you, would not even consider hurting themselves to save themselves even when they know they have no other choice. Some would. They would cut off their finger without a moment’s hesitation.” Tobe shrugged as he finished speaking, reaching for the decanter that was still out of his reach, “Gimmme!!!”
“Hurray for them!” Ekene responded drily. “Now what has that got to do with suicide and how are we fools for thinking ill of suicidal people?”
“Ok… put small for me first let me be managing that one…”
“No!!!” Ekene vehemently refused his plea for a top off.
“Hais!!!” Tobe sighed dramatically, dropping the empty wineglass on the glass-top table. “Just like with the cutting of the thumb, most people will prefer to linger in torment and wait for some deliverer, praying for some miracle that may never come. Others would face their problems head on, if they perish, they perish. While others will prefer to go out on their on terms. Why wait for the problem to kill them off when they can do so themselves?… and such and such. Ya dig?”
“I most definitely do not dig!” Ekene replied, keeping the decanter away from his friend who was still reaching for it. “The cutting off of the finger showed bravery and courage mixed with some levels of stupidity, while suicide is just someone giving up, which is cowardice! How are they even the same?”
“A man chose to bite off his tongue than to live the rest of his life paralyzed from the neck down… is he a coward?”
“In India, a girl chose to throw herself through the window of a ten storey apartment complex over being raped by her uncles… is she a coward?”
“An American captain in the Vietnam War; on account of the shrapnel in his gut, chose to stay back and cover for his men to retreat… is he a coward?”
“Hey!!! That last one doesn’t count?” Ekene jumped in. He had no way of responding to the earlier questions as he was rather unsure what he would have done if he were in the same situation. “The captain is a hero!”
“Sure, but he could have been saved. He would have slowed down their retreat, maybe caused the death of one or two of the people who would have stayed back to save him… but he could have survived.”
Ekene ran out of words at this point, he could not think of anything to say to turn the argument in his favour. All the while they were conversing and arguing; a small, worrying thought was playing in his head.
“Why are you talking about suicide, Tobe?”
“Why? Because I met a girl today who would rather hug a moving gwon-gworo (truck) than live through another bone marrow transplant that would turn out to be another failure… just like the three she had done before”.
Tobe found himself laughing at his friend’s slack jawed face, the pain and sympathy and pity he had come to hate and need in Ekene was evident in everything about him. It was present in the way his eyes grew misty all of a sudden, it was obvious in the way he caught his breath, it was palpable even in the way he refilled Tobe’s wineglass.
“Sounds familiar doesn’t it?” Tobe asked with a cocked head. His lopsided grin doing very little to cheer up his friend who merely nodded his response.
“The girl…” Ekene began.
“Jane… she’s coming here tomorrow”.
“What?!” Ekene’s shock was also evident.
“Yea. I took her out to lunch this afternoon”.
Ekene went through several different emotions in less than a second. Relief that Tobe had no extra reason to feel suicidal, anger at the fact that the punk played him like guitar from the beginning to the end of the conversation and sad because he was sure that he would still fall for Tobe’s schemes when next he decided to play him again.
“Gimme that!” Ekene demanded, snatching up the half-full glass of wine in Tobe’s hand.
“Hey!!! Not cool bruh… I was drinking that!”
“For wasting my pity!” With that Ekene raised the wineglass to his lips and drank long and deeply, sighing with great contentment when he emptied the wine in the glass. “This is really good stuff!”
“Screw you dude!!!” Tobe said, pointing a choice finger at his friend.
“I love you too dude… no homo!”
To be continued…