Thursday, 20 September 2012
How to survive a road accident -the gifted ELNATHAN JOHN
The road home is clear. These twenty kilometres are so familiar it is easy to go into auto-pilot and drift into thoughts only my head can manage. I have had a long day- work, a reading, and dinner with a dear friend.
There is a lot on my mind. On the road I drive through the bends and turns that lead me to the wide Umar Musa Yar'Adua express way. In my head I take the bends and turns that lead me through the maze that is my mind. To painful decisions I must take, long overdue. To thoughts of all the things I planned to do before I turned thirty. To the fact that I turn thirty tomorrow and have done none of them. I try to find my way back to the beginning of things; to discover how I got here, this lonely cold place I cannot recognize.
I am tired. I shake myself awake. My body fights back- it demands rest and it demands it now. Five more minutes, I tell myself, five more minutes until I get home. I reach the express. Some parts are lit, some parts are not. I drift again and in one second it all happens. I run into a curb at one of the points where the road bends suddenly. Instinctively I step on the brakes. It is too late. I lose control of Sylvanus, my old tired car and we are screeching at a 45 degree angle. I hit something else and my head slams into the steering wheel. My head spins and suddenly everything is upside down- my body, Sylvanus and my thoughts. Sylvanus comes to a halt by the side of the road. Upside down, I feel the blood filling up my mouth.
It is fear that actuates my body, makes me ignore the pain and crawl out through the shattered glass. Fear that a fire might break out and I might get trapped in a burning vehicle. I drag myself to the side of the road, my white caftan soaked in blood. I feel open flesh hanging in my mouth. It is 2am. I am cold. Alone. In pain.
Writers who try to describe blood must not have bled like this. Real blood pouring from ones body does not smell metallic. It smells like fear. Like death.
The first car that stops is a green taxi. I am lying on the gravel with my right hand up in the air, calling for help. The taxi reverses, stops and suddenly drives off. I think of crawling back to the car to see if I can find my phone. I am too scared of a fire and too weak. Slowly as I slip in and out of consciousness cars begin to stop and voices begin to multiply.
“Do you know anybody’s number?’ someone asks, from a distance almost as if he is afraid to come close. I shake my head. He is shouting. Everyone seems to be shouting.
“My phone,” I manage to say, “in the car. My phone.”
I am afraid the phone might have flown out of the car during the crash. Someone finds it.
“Your wife, what is her number?” A man assumes I am married. I shake my head. Suggestions fly over my head. My father’s voice, on discovering I was not quite acting like a virgin, plays in my head: “I was not up to your age when I got married.”
A police van stops. They do not come close. They make radio calls that have nothing to do with an ambulance or first aid. I know at this point I must do something or bleed out in front of passers-by arguing about what to do.
“Call Achile,” I say to the man holding my phone, spitting out a glob of blood. I try to get up. They all scream at me to lie back down. They try Achile. He is asleep. They try Al-kasim. He is asleep.
Suddenly I feel like this is it: I am going to die out here alone. My parents are nearly 200kilometers away and the only other relatives who are in this town, are strangers to me.
“Garki hospital!” I call out as the police and others argue. “I have a card in Garki hospital”
Nobody is listening to me and I am fighting to retain consciousness.
After a few minutes, a man who I later will learn is Group Captain Onyike, orders the policemen to stop what they are doing and take me to the Air force Base where he lives and where there is a hospital. I am put at the back of the police van like a ram that has been knocked down by a car. I am handed my phone and they drive off.
I am afraid that I will lose consciousness completely and nobody will know where I am. I manage to send messages to a few people and tweet with the only information I know. That I am at the back of a police truck headed for the Air force hospital near the airport. I pass out.
Group Captain Onyike makes sure I get treatment. I come to and the doctor is able to get a friend, Salisu on the phone.
In the morning, the worst has passed. I am stable. Kasim, Musa and Achile are around and are taking care of things. I open my eyes and I see the dear friend with whom I had dinner last night. I am not sure how she knew or who called her. As much as I did not want her to see me like this, I am grateful that she is here. And I cannot stop my tears from rolling. But for the quick thinking of an air force officer, she might have been the one to tell stories of my last words, my last thoughts, my last feelings.
This is how to survive a road accident in Nigeria: Pray. Pray that someone with quick thinking and hospital contacts runs into you. Do not expect the police to know what to do. Do not expect emergency services. Just pray.
Elnathan John writes here