The events of August 18th 2017 remain so vivid to me. I can relive each moment almost accurately. I haven’t been able to bring myself to write about it, even though I have wanted to.
Four years later, I think I can. I will try to. But why bother writing about it? Maybe because I never want to forget, or maybe it’s a way of accepting that it has happened and nothing can change that fact.
I could hear the panic in my mom’s voice over the phone. She wasn’t making complete sentences, but just fumbling with a set of words consistently — “your sister, Laxmi, her eyes are not opening.They said her eyes are fixed. She’s not responding.” I tried to get her to calm down, because her breathing was also ragged and she had had issues with high blood pressure before.
My mind raced through all sorts of scenarios and for some seconds, my heart began to beat rapidly as I entertained the worst fear. But I dismissed it — it couldn’t happen to us, at least not yet. God wouldn’t let that happen to us yet, right?
When I told my husband (who just has a calmness about him that I can never understand even when the roof is on fire), he looked at me and told me that what else could it be? I knew the answer to that, but I couldn’t accept it, didn’t want to accept it.
I also had good reason not to accept it. We were talking about someone who had swallowed a pack of Iron tablets when she was under the age of 5. Mom came into the room and saw her mouth all red and then saw the empty pack of Iron pills. I remember mom making her vomit… but she was fine after that.
Then there was the time when she was just a baby, a few months old, and we were going out with our mom. Our flat was on the first floor and the taxi was already downstairs. I was five years old and my mom had given her to me to carry in my arms. I was waiting outside and I thought I heard my mom shout out that I should head downstairs, and I did.
Next thing I knew was that my sister and I were rolling down the stairs. We survived the fall without a scratch or broken bones or any injury. And, no, my mom said she never told me to go downstairs.
At one year of age, she was standing on the edge of the bed, holding the burglary proof of the window, when she fell into the space between the bed and the wall. I shouted out for help and my dad burst into the room and flung the only TV we had onto the floor in order to get to my sister. She was crying but otherwise, no harm done.
When she was a teenager, she had an accident in the kitchen where hot water poured on her lower torso. The flesh around her navel peeled off and she was left with a scar in that area.
So, having had all these accidents occur, I felt that she’d survive whatever it was.
My husband drove us from our house in Surulere to my parents’ place at Lekki. Immediately I stepped into the compound, I could hear loud voices — it seemed they were praying. I actually thought it was from their neighbours, but as I neared the entrance to their apartment, I realized that it was actually coming from there.
My youngest sister was there already. Her eyes red from crying. Yet, I still refused to accept. She led me into the house. I saw my father first and he said to me, “See your sister o.” That has been my dad’s way of expressing confusion over a matter.
I walked into her room and I saw her lying on the bed, eyes shut. It seemed she was sleeping. I just continued staring, thinking to myself, “So this is death? Really?”. I touched her feet, checking to see if I would feel the familiar cold that is often associated with death. I honestly still believed that she would wake up. Some people were in the room shouting out prayers, I am not sure I could recognize them.
I went to ask my mom what happened. She was the one who found her. My sister was in the bathroom and my mom wondered that it seemed she was taking too long and decided to check on her. She knocked and didn’t get a response, called out to her and still no answer. That was when she opened the door and saw her on the floor of the bathroom with the handheld shower in her hand. But when she tried to pick it up, she was jolted by electric current, so she found a stick and used it to move the shower head away.
It’s hard to say for how long she had been lying there, but after taking her to two hospitals and being told there was nothing to be done but deposit her body at the morgue, my parents weren’t ready to accept that, so they brought her back home. Can’t blame them though. She had just celebrated her birthday the previous night salsaing with friends.
I was quiet all through, watching as different people, pastors came to pray. All the while I was talking to myself in my head, wondering if this is how death happens. I just couldn’t believe it and somehow I still nursed the hope that a miracle would happen. Night came and she was still as she was — unmoving. I occasionally went to check her body and I felt the coldness. Gosh, I think there is something unusual about the cold of death. It’s different from the icy cold caused by freezing.
It’s hard to imagine or understand what my parents were feeling, or what they were going through. Obviously, I had to stay over. But we had to move the body. It wasn’t healthy to leave it there. Later that night, I called the funeral director, but they had all the pickup cars out, so the moment one was available, they would come to collect. Speaking to the funeral director wasn’t a conversation I thought I would find myself having…at least not this soon. In the meantime, he said we should make sure the room where her body was remained cool.
I don’t think my sister and I slept that night. We talked all through about anything and everything. Then along the line, we decided we had to tell our brother. He wasn’t in Nigeria. He was devastated when we told him. I wished I was there to comfort him, at least we all had each other here in Nigeria.
As day broke, the car came to pick her body up. I was hoping they would come while my parents were sleeping. But they were already awake. I watched as they picked up her body and carried it out in some kind of tarp-like material, which they placed in a long rectangular container. The vehicle they used was like a hearse. As they drove off, I watched until they turned the corner and were out of sight.
I went home that night, and in the solitude of the bathroom, I let my tears flow, screaming out loudly at the same time, asking why.
I attended to all the formalities and the required paperwork — death certificate, filled out forms at the funeral home. I think I was on autopilot all this while. Her death certificate stated that the primary cause of death was electrocution.
We arranged a service for her at home the following week. My brother had flown in by then. I held back tears during the service, I just couldn’t, but mom was crying a river and why wouldn’t she.
My sister’s name was Sidonna Laxmi Obuego Adeola Ufeli (interestingly, both of her native names represented wealth); she had a wealth of love and goodness.
She amplified a lot of my tastes so much so that they seemed to become unhealthy obsessions. I used to listen to Backstreet Boyz and Westlife and long after I had moved on from them, she continued. She was an ardent watcher of Days of Our Lives and Bold and Beautiful. It was insane! But it was also a show of her unwavering loyalty to her relationships and all she held dear.
I imagine how many shows we’d have watched together over and over again (The Kissing Booth anyone?). She loved potato chips — she could eat them everyday. And was one of very few people who would cook egusi soup with Western spices!!!! She didn’t eat chicken, but she could season chicken so well, you’d bite your fingers.
She developed a passion for dance, specifically Latin Dance. I only wish I had put in more effort to find out how really good a dancer she was…And she really was.
As I publish this on her death anniversary, I can’t say that I have fully accepted that she is no more here with us. Sometimes, I find myself wondering where she is and what she is doing and maybe she could give me some sign in response…
P.s- I’m still working on learning to not fear death.