By this time last Sunday, we were running the race of our lives.
The only sound I heard was a rumble on the roof above me.
As the ceiling and parts of the roof directly above me started to crash down, I leapt out of the chair and made to take cover at the end of the room. Then I realized it was the entire ceiling caving in.
Shutting my eyes, I said a quick prayer and waited for the worst (usually a big log of wood or a concrete pillar knocking you into the great beyond).
It happened very quickly.
And I waited calmly for the end.
It never came.
Instead, there were dusts and shards of glass from the shattered windows all over my body.
The thought that we might be having a building collapse on our hands sprung me into action: I raced towards the door, shirtless.
There were frantic shouts from the neighbour next door, “Bring the car key! Bring the car key!”
I wasn’t sure who was bringing the car key because I opened the door to see the neighbour, his wife, and all three kids hurtling down the stairs. I joined, jumping the staircase three at a time. The man living on the first floor, clad in pajamas and clutching his five-month-old baby, was already out, his door ajar, leading the line.
It was an Olympic dash.
Outside, in the near distance, a dark smoke billowed into the air and tongues of fire furiously licked the sky.
Men in shorts and singlets, women in night wears – some cradling crying babies – hurried down the street, past our building. A man, clutching his head as blood ran down his arms and drenched his clothes, angrily inquired from a younger man, ‘Where is my wife?!”
Fire. Fear. Bedlam.
What is going on?
Someone said it was an earthquake. Another said Boko Haram had infiltrated the area and dumped a bomb on the nearby road. A Lord’s Chosen warrior, with the trademark bullet-proof bip draped across his chest, was shouting ‘Armageddon’ as he raced past our building. In truth, in those moments of panic, nobody really cared about the cause of whatever had happened, everybody was sprinting to safety.
After we realised it was not a building collapse, it was time to go back into the building. Me, to get my work tools and a few clothes; my neighbour, to pack some bags and finally retrieve his car key; the caretaker, to get his land documents and, of course, keys to his shop.
We ran back in.
The house I had spent part of the morning to clean had become a mess. The ceilings in all the rooms (except the kitchen, which is concrete) lay splattered on the floor; the windows were shattered; and I could no longer access the back corridor because the vibration had jammed the door.
I took a few stuff, dumped them into the car, drove and parked at a safe distance, and went to work. First, I called the Lagos State emergency fire toll line and reported the incident: Nosa, the LASEMA spokesperson, he asked for directions; and the director of the Federal Fire Service.
And then I did some reporting.
All the houses within metres of the explosion scene lay on the ground. The fire kept raging and the fire trucks were yet to arrive. Some men threw buckets of water mixed with detergents in a futile attempt at dousing the inferno. Moments later, one of them screamed that fuel is moving towards the gutter (it rained heavily the day before and there was water). A stampede ensued.
A man stood in front of a partly collapsed building and screamed for help. Some people had been trapped inside and he could hear their cries for help. Several people raced towards the direction.
A family began to evacuate their television sets and gas cylinders.
A house owner, a heavy bag slung across his shoulder, turned to cast one last look at his house. The resultant vibration had pushed the two-storey building a few decimetres into the ground and rendered in uninhabitable. He spoke to himself, but loud enough to the hearing of passers-by.
“It (the house) has tried. There is nothing else but to bring it down.”
But beneath his anguish lay a streak of gratitude. For the gift of life.
Even in my homelessness, I am also grateful.
Yesterday, we paid a condolence visit to an acquaintance, a woman who lost her only daughter to the explosion. The daughter got married four months ago. She died with her husband (who was also an only son). I pray she pulls through.
God bless the dead. And console the bereaved.
P.S. One of my neighbours ran out of his house, clad in just his boxers, swapped his legs for tyres, and raced away. He has not returned ever since. He only calls on the phone.