Death As Seen by Ten

It’s a sunny day in the City of Ibadan. And today, I see death.

First, as an attendant in the Department of Anatomy, University of Ibadan, where a body has just been rolled in. I’ve worked here for close to a decade now, and I can tell you that I know what death looks like. I saw it just this afternoon when another ambulance drove in. It was in the face of the young man who greeted me “Ekaaro, sa” from the passenger seat; with a forehead wrinkled by years of pondering, and eyes so distant they might as well have not been here. While speaking to his colleague, I heard him say “28th a to de. Ki n tí è fiyén se nkan dí è“. I understood, for I too am a dead man until the 28th – salary day – when I can feel a level of control over my affairs. I’ll talk to him before he leaves.

Second, as a third-year Medical student at the University of Ibadan studying in the Anatomy Reading Room. I see death while studying the Physiology of the Cardiovascular System. Well, trying to study is more like it. Hunger set in entirely a few minutes ago and I don’t think hypoglycemia is going to allow me to study. I was talking about death, right? It is a potential outcome of hypertension; when systolic blood pressure in the heart is elevated above normal. I see death on these pages only. Until I’ve written this test, I’ll see nothing else but these pages. The dead in the morgue beside this room are merely an afterthought.

Third, as Mrs. Esther Oladimeji, a friend to the brother of the deceased. I saw death, briefly, on my way to the hospital this morning. In my hurry to get past the traffic at that Mokola Roundabout, I almost ran into a group of students crossing to the other side of the road. Thank God for His mercies. I just wish His mercy had been enough for Nonso. And I wish his insurance plan had been enough to cover surgeries. Apparently, years of consuming herbal drinks had somehow led to a complication that required him to undergo surgery. But Nonso felt the doctors were only out to get him, and by the time he did listen to reason, he discovered that he couldn’t afford it. His company’s health insurance scheme didn’t cover surgeries. That was what I was thinking of when the accident nearly occurred. Again,  thank God for his mercies. I could have seen death twice this morning.

Fourth, as a sophomore Medical student, also of the same university, walking by the Anatomy Department. We had our introductory class this morning, and I swear, I saw death in the eyes of several of my classmates. To be more specific, I saw the death of the humble and uncompetitive characters they had pretended to be over the last year. The guy beside me had a particularly dark grin on his face that I hadn’t seen in an entire session as Zik Hall floormates. He looked like that clown, Pennywise, the one Khadijat keeps raving about. Oh, Khadijat. Khadijat. How did she become so cute all of a sudden? And who do I have to kill to get close to her? Just kidding, of course. That ambulance in the parking lot looks cool. I wonder if there’s a body inside.

Fifth, as a food delivery lady, lost somewhere on the University campus. I didn’t want to but I saw death again. Can I tell you a secret? I was born with the ability to see death. Before you freak out or laugh at me, allow me explain. And no, I’m not schizophrenic. Whenever someone has just died or is about to die, there’s this grey vapour I see all around them and on whatever surface they’ve touched. It’s like an aura of dullness just surrounds them. Like the woman in the Highlander whom I just delivered food to at UI Hotels. Such a beautiful woman too. You would think that after twenty-five years of seeing unsuspecting people about to die, I’d be better at this, but no. I still get sad. I couldn’t shake her face out of my head and just rode absentmindedly into the rest of the university. Now, I’m lost.

Sixth, as a NAFDAC Official who registers products, for a price. I saw death when my oga called me to the office this morning, the death of my passive income. Oga said he had a premonition that we put our services on hold for a while. He said he was worried we had entertained too many clients in the last quarter and might soon have to explain to superiors in Kano. This man is a coward. We have deals with two organic herbal product companies lined up for this week. Already, I had laid out a plan to fleece the second set of guys for their bullshit Super Body Cleanser drink. I was going to shake them down for as much as half a million since they failed to pass our quality assurance tests. Now, oga, in all his sanctimonious glory, has decided to ruin business for me. It hurts more because no one around me would have drank that stuff, anyway. No one I loved was at risk of death. None. 

Seventh, as a doctor having their first meal since their 48-hour shift began. Death is not a particularly strange concept to me. In fact, with the intensity with which this house job is going, I could very well join my ancestors soon. But there was a death I saw, or rather overheard, this morning, that I couldn’t shake off. A patient was supposedly brought in with a kidney condition and died before he could be attended to. Put that way, it doesn’t seem like much, I know, but the thing is it was insurance-related. That’s what one of the janitors said over the phone as she cleaned the office opposite the break room. Another insurance-related death? Just under a week too. Growing up, these things happened only in Hollywood movies. And then I became a clinical student and realized just how crazy everything was. I hate this place. I hate that even my health is not insured against emergencies. I hate that I could die and nothing would happen. All I can do is compartmentalize. And eat my bread.

Eighth, as, Kelvin, the brother of the deceased. My brother’s eyes were closed this morning. I called his name and he didn’t act like I was there. He didn’t even flinch. Nonso, who I could call at 2 AM for an emergency, who would that instant, drive from Akobo to see me. Nonso did not say anything. I’ve been under a tree since morning, trying to make sense of this. Trying and failing. People keep asking if I’m fine. Esther even came by earlier and offered to take me home. I declined. I don’t think I’ll be ‘home’ anytime soon. Nonso is here.

Ninth, as this writer, staring at my image in the reflective windows of the Umar Ganduje Lecture Theatre. I don’t know who this person in the mirror is.

Tenth. Close your eyes.


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2 thoughts on “Death As Seen by Ten”

  1. Hmm, this is just an essential though sad part of our living. Though I give it to the writer, such a great work beautifully constructed up here. Thank you so much!

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