First the noise, then the wheel swerved, when they had high-fived each other in eye-shutting delight at the joke on radio. The roaring car, leaping at the sun all morning in a fool’s chase, seemed to catch one of those city-ripping gusts typhoons unleash, and briefly rose on its back and front wheels like something hinged, like a spectral door opening unto the grave.
As the windows went in a spin, the girls inside, not yet eighteen, saw the world as every catfish must see it on the chopping block—unforgiving, bitterly cruel, short and final.The girl who was driving fumbled her grip on the steering wheel, snapping her nails in the worn leather cover, screaming at all the breaking glass. Her companion in the other seat protected her face, hurled hands everywhere, trying for purchase on air, the seatbelt, anything, skirling her fright at the screeching, the thumping, the speeded up, altogether percussion of furious metal parts. The Toyota was in full, relentless, side-over-side somersault, blown along effortlessly like rolled up newspaper in a storm, or a die flashing sides in a lazy flick. There was a vicious energy in its tumble—teasing, deceptive, dream-like; the car seemed to be possessed by something alive—its impulses like an evil spirit’s; the torn front fender waved about like a bit of rag.
This prescient thing whipped the car round and round, maliciously, always to the right, and then in the path of a coming bus. Inebriated by speed the bus dizzied towards impact, a wingtip away when it managed, by gritty almost-wasn’t luck, to weave into the tall dusty grass that gave life to scenery along the road, escaping collision, before lurching back on firmer ground. Seeing that it had missed ramming the bus, the possessed car veered left with its human sacrifice, making reverse semi-circles, searching for another plinth to quench its fury, finally finding the motorway median and smashing its nose against the narrow waist-high concrete, sated.
Samaritans leapt from the lucky bus, which had stopped several yards in front by the safe shoulder, blinking hazard lights. Other passengers, twisting in their seats, in a fever of thanks to God and Jesus, watched the still Toyota through dust-washed windows.
Then, as everybody watched, disbelievingly, a light-skinned thigh flashed through the half open window of the battered car on the passenger side; a frantic face appeared, the limb lengthened (or maybe the limb lengthened before the face and the body appeared), and the nervous, wriggling girl forced her body—knee first—through the gap in the window like something pursued, hopped to the ground and raced for the median with quick skipping steps, bare soles flashing, as if landing on hot coals—with never a backward glance at the other person who might have been a sister or an affectionate friend—to nurse what remained of her life. She leaned her buttocks on the narrow ledge of the median, wrapping quivering arms around her tight shrimp-red blouse messed with yellow buttons, while she rocked—a mute tribute to the tenacity of our race.
Passing cars would not let bringers of help—people from the bus—cross the asphalt. Another bus, newer, slowed and stopped in front of the first one, but most vehicles slowed merely to gape, ghouls, and then went on their way. A beefy woman in a black SUV stopped on the side of the motorway that speared traffic back at Lagos. She opened her door as the Toyota’s driver freed herself from the seatbelt.
The slight girl staggered from the car with dazed eyes, disoriented. Her hair looked mutinous, as if she had snagged it in a turning fan. Bowing her head as though hurting under a shoulder-load, she treaded shoeless steps to the median, on the side of the car away from her window climbing neighbour, and leaned on the concrete, the pleats of her short flowered skirt bunched in the grip of her thighs. Both girls stood that way—their mutual world torn into separate maps—for what seemed several minutes but must have been no more than ten or fifteen seconds. Then the one who was driving saw that a rip in her scalp leaked blood into her dress breast and she began a furious shake, as in a cold or fever. She pressed the flat of one trembling palm into her bleeding head and, by weary degrees, folded her body to a squat, sobbing, realising now how close to flowing back to the Universal Whole she had come.
The Samaritans crossed at last, swollen with volunteers from the second bus. The men, attacked by the angry smell of burnt rubber, whistled at the state of the small car. The car looked mangled, crushed and twisted in places, the body riddled with huge boils, as if a horde of panel beaters in a marijuana haze went at it inside with crazy ballpeen hammers; the car looked to be shrinking too. The tires looked purposely ripped, the way a shirt or dress looks if it has been in a nasty fight. The front screen was dashed to fine crystals on the driver’s side—gaping now like the angry target of a wild mob, glistening cubes streaked a bright red powdered the section around the wheel. Under the seat, a brown shoe lay on its side so that the word aerosoft across its face was touched with shadows. Part of the screen protecting the passenger though split into myriad fractures had held back in its plastic skin, curling forward, as if in afterthought—fate in chrysalis.
The men were fussing over the girls now in gestures of first aid: checking for fractures and scratches, staunching cuts, peeking down breasts. Somebody was asking their names, the burly woman in the SUV, who had crossed over, was on the phone calling for a tow van. A man in a Chelsea jersey had collected the driver’s phone to inform her people. She could hear him saying in a rough voice, Hello, hello, is this Tolu, yes, your sister, your sister has been in an accident…at Odogbolu…O-DO-GBOLU…
The wounded girl buried herself under this warm gabble that came to her like wavering
voices on radio, thinking repeatedly to herself, out of a world with snapped circuits: We
were laughing when the tyre burst, we were laughing when the tyreburst, we were laughing whenthetyreburst, we werelaughingwhenthetyreburst…
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