Fear has a smell. The realization that you’ve lived with it for the bulk of your existence dawns gradually. The familiarity of it. It’s like an old friend you do not like but have to stick with because no one else will be with you.
It was there, hovering just around your nostrils, one of those nights when you had been locked out of the house, again, and you witnessed a murder in your notorious neighborhood. You plastered your body against the wall of your fence, as if to merge with it and prayed not to be seen.
Now you hug the ground of the dense bush overlooking the expressway with a desperation that is reminiscent of that night not so far off. The blades of the grass cut into your palms.
Unlike that night, you do not have the security of darkness to offer invisibility. All you have is the grass, so you burrow deeper into it and hold your breath. With your breath held you still sense it. It is more pungent than ever before.
There is total silence now, but your heart thumping a loud rhythm wouldn’t quiet. You wish you could reach in and silence it with a pat lest the sound attract the ones from whom you flee.
Every time there’s been a story of death you imagine how you will go. Plane crash and drowning were ruled out. You could never afford to be in a plane and the only water body you could ever be close to is the Well. A road accident or Ill health was the most likely. You hoped to go in your old age but you knew not to hope too much. Your hopes never materialized.
Not once did you imagine that the emissary death will send your way will be a dagger wielding foreigner. And of all unlikely places, at the interstate expressway.
When the shooting began you were lost to the sound of Yaw’s voice, blasting pidgin, you didn’t hear a thing until the car swerved, nosedived into a ditch and stopped. Before you could gather yourself to join those jumping out of windows you saw bodies dropping to the ground like flies, just after they flew through the bus. Bullets pinned them to the expressway like the arrows pinning insects down in that Mortein advert. It might have been funny if it wasn’t so real.
Having noticed what was happening, you, together with those left in the bus, tried to force the door open. It opened a little then stopped as it hit against the edge of the gutter.
You could hear the excited voices, speaking in a foreign language, as they advanced. The car bent, with part of it slanting into the gutter, meant the only way to exit was to jump into the gutter and escape from there. Two people jumped. The fat man before you got stuck and you tried to push him through from behind until you heard their voices again, closer now, and then you pushed him back, out of the way, and jumped through. Seconds later his guttural cries and the dull sound of weapons hitting against flesh rent the air.
You remember that sound now just as you want to pray and that discourages you. God wouldn’t listen, not after you left another passenger to his death.
Somehow you had succeeded in escaping, but one had seen you running into the bush and pointing, called the attention of the others. You can see him now, only a few feet from you, looking around. He is so close, you forget your unworthiness and start to pray.
First, you pray to be saved. Then you stop and pray to be forgiven and for your soul to be accepted. Then you pray again to be saved miraculously and promise to give the rest of your life to the service of God if saved. Your prayer is scattered.
The one closest to you breaks the silence with a sharp call that had the others running toward him. You look up into his eyes staring straight at you. His mouth opens into what could pass for both a grin and a sneer. His two front teeth jutting out makes it impossible to tell which it is. Hot tears burn your eyes.
Your life doesn’t flash before your eyes like they say it would when you are about to die. You do not think of the things you’ve done. It is those things you never got to do that occupies your thought.
You think of sex. That’s your biggest regret – leaving this world having never experienced that. Maybe you should have given Lanre a chance. Even though he smells worse than fear, he still has a member that would get the job done.
You think of your uncle. You should have run from his home a long time ago. What use was staying? You were locked out of it more times than you were ever in it. Or maybe you should have stayed and given him what he deserved; Sniper in his evening juice.
You realize you are in no position to be entertaining ungodly thoughts, so you dismiss them and pray intensely to be forgiven. There on that wet patch of grass, you repent genuinely for the first time and brace yourself for the blow that would come.
When after a few seconds it doesn’t come you look up to see his eyes still on you, but his hand holding the dagger is pointing elsewhere. The other three pairs of eyes follow the direction of his hand while his stay on you. They let out a shrill cry and break into a run toward whatever he was pointing at. Relief leaves a cool trail through your skin as you realize then that he has strabismus.
With their footsteps receding, you crawl out from your hiding spot. A sickening cry of anguish, accompanied by several others of triumph in the not-so-far distance spurs you to run the fastest you’ve ever had. You are only aware of your heart hammering against your rib cage and that familiar smell, growing stronger, almost nauseating.
You recognize the stench for what it is. It is fear and It smells like sweaty armpits, badly in need of washing.