The withered mahogany grandfather clock placed strategically on the mantelpiece struck two in the morning. Tossing and turning, rumpling the 800 thread count Egyptian sheets; trepidation and a whiff of paralyzing fear had set in. The viscid lump in my esophagus seemed to enlarge each millisecond, as another weighted breath escaped from my lips.
Endless questions swirled around in my overheating brain. How will I survive? How can all my newfound liberation be flushed down the drain in one fell swoop? Lying in my bed in my London-based domicile, I began to wonder. The painstaking efforts to organize and hasten my bathroom routine were going to be a chore and strain me in this humid Lagos environment. The ability to get an Uber Wheelchair Access Vehicle at the click of a button was completely non-existent by the thought of one dreadful notion – I was heading back to the scene of the crime.
Rolling into the kitchen, parking by the island to turn on the marble hob and cobble together a scrumptious pescetarian dish for Sunday brunch was going to be a challenge. Furthermore, the home in Lagos has extremely narrow doorways; squeezing past the old-fashioned gas cooker was not an option.
Solo trips to the fish ‘n’ chip shop or an appointment with the podiatrist would be a thing of the past. Navigating the streets of Lagos with a 24/7 carer by my side, I consider it restrictive. Circumnavigating the wheelchair access toilets and disabled dressing rooms would be a once-fancied option. Rather, I’ll be lifted up into the air like a baby or in the wheelchair pharaoh- style.
My mother relayed the untimely, utterly tragic news – I was to embark the shores of Lagos city. Why was I apprehensive you ask? Three and half years ago, a catastrophic road traffic accident rendered me paralyzed from the waist down. My body essentially betrayed me and I was thrust forcibly into another world. Entering a frightening new world where the hope of walking again was a dream that had been snuffed out by the surgeons’ bleak prognosis. The physicians elucidated in not-so-hushed tones to the parental units – my lower appendages and spinal cord were in a state of disrepair.
Fast forward to the not-so-present, as well as dominating physiotherapy, I decided to tick several items off my imaginary bucket list. Travel. Enrich my tapestry of life with out-of-the-box experiences. Pursue my bliss.
To a spinal cord injury (SCI) newbie like me, visiting the city of Lagos laterally translated to a maddening dependency on a vast support network. The actors in the play that was my nuanced and constrained existence were going to place unnecessary limitations in my day-to-day goings on.
My prime concern was the restraints of the architecture. It is certainly no secret that buildings in the metro- and cosmopolitan Lagos jungle have what I now deem as a redundant number of steps and multi-layered structures. Venturing into a comrade’s humble abode or a more formal setting of a banking hall was virtually impossible. Concrete and granite steps were the order of the day.
This silent monologue in my mind was interrupted by the pilot’s announcement that we had reached our destination. The rumble of the plane’s turbines was white noise as passengers gingerly brought their bags down in an effort to disembark as quickly as possible. The kind old stranger seated across from me at the aisle, shakily stretched out his hand and quietly whispered, “My dear, it will be well in Jesus name”. He rubbed his wedding band nervously as he waited for someone to act as an aid. His cane and hat were the same cerise shade. The less obvious creases in his snow-coloured dashiki could not obscure the quiet dignity in his stride.
Waiting on the ground staff to bring in the aisle chair, I imagined a bumpy ride through Murtala Muhammed Airport. Lo and behold, to my surprise, the journey to the car was pretty much a seamless transition. The air-conditioning was on full blast and the soothing tones of elevator mood music were heard through the speakers. 96.9CoolFM did not disappoint. A rush of emotion brought teardrops of sorrow and regret to my eyes but I wiped them away with the back of my hand. For the time had not come to weep into my satin pillow.
A grin was plastered on my face as the jet-black wrought iron gates opened up; revealing the acquainted bamboo outdoor foyer. In sekere pots, the spear-shaped leaves of the aloe vera plant and Ankara-painted vases of orchids lined the marble steps leading to the oak door.
Everything was the same but different. Ding dong, ding dong – the high-pitched shriek of the bell served as a noisy signal that we had arrived.
Dinner was set on the table but my entire being seemed to be in gargantuan knots. My tummy was unfilled but no food was passing through these lips that bellasima evening.
A heavy sigh and two sixty seconds later, I was staring at the ceiling. The ember rays of the soft light warmed my face. The goose down duvet was heaven on earth as I transferred to my specially made pressure-relief mattress.
My eyelids were heavy as I began to ruminate. I remember distinctly gliding with such ease on the sidewalks in San Diego. Atlanta was a breeze. London was a cake walk. Lagos – my oh my! Instead of using the transfer board to hop on to the different surfaces, I had to be carried baby-style. Definitely not my idea of a good time.
The main differences in locales also include the absence of sidewalks. Instead of rolling down the street in control of the wheelchair on the streets of London, I have to be carried because there are steps literally everywhere in Lagos. The level of dependence jumped exponentially. My shower time in obodo-oyibo involved no one else but my abode in Jibowu required the assistance of a live-in carer.
My mind continued to drift. Prior to my arrival, I got in touch with an old acquaintance who had established a boxing gym. He promised to coach me in the skillful art of jabs, right crosses and uppercuts. All I could focus on was getting rid of the extra belly fat from stuffing my face with Magnum ice-creams on a daily basis.
On the morrow, my lessons would begin. To say, I was frightened would be an understatement. How much cradle-style lifting would occur? Would the untarred rough terrain bust up the wheels of my wheelchair? Hashtag why all the steps though? What if, as we make our way gingerly up the staircase step-by-step, we take a tumble?
The tears streamed down my smooth face and this time, I let them flow. The quiet solitude meant I could properly wallow in self-pity and regret. The last thought before I drifted off to the land of Morpheus was at least my bathroom was designed to my exact specifications. The L-shaped shower bench imported from Amazon US was perfectly placed in the corner of the Chinese-style wet room. The door was widened so the wheelchair could glide through with ease. Chrome grab rails shipped from the UK was going to make poo-time a dream. Instead of a half-length mirror, I insisted on a shaving one so I could adjust how close it is to my face.
Sunlight rays peeked through wooden blinds and my eyelids fluttered open. All the weariness from travelling, engaging in mandatory conversations to explain how things worked, shut down my nervous system as I drew the duvet over my head. The baby blue satin eye mask shifted to my forehead. Drool trickled down to the pillow.
Staring at a crack in the ceiling, I let out a heavy sigh, for I knew that the journey to overcoming paralysis had moved into a new phase.