THE SIX DAYS OF DYING Modupe: The day my sister killed herself was the day our bird got well. It wasn’t really our bird. My sister had found it just a mere four days ago, with a broken wing, among the many leaves that littered our compound from the tree. She had come out to watch me sweep, which had been unusual. Lately, Catherine, my sister, had been acting strangely. She never came out of her room, rarely ate, and rarely spoke too. I wanted to talk to her, ask her what was wrong, but I was scared. I never talk to people if they don’t talk to me. Maybe that’s why I do not have any friend. That Saturday, the day she died, I had been sweeping the compound, and when I looked up, I saw Catherine at her window, looking closely at the bird. It was hopping all about, and I guessed its wings were all normal now. She came out to the veranda with it covered in her palm, and when she spread her fingers wide, it flew off to one of the branches on our tree. She looked at me. “Dupe,” she called. I ran to her and she hugged me tight. I knew she was sorry, for ignoring me all this while and being a bit different. She didn’t say anything else, but I just knew she was going to be her normal self again. I knew that after I finished my chores, I could go to her room and watch movies on her laptop and hear her complain I was disturbing her but never telling me to get out. So, I took my time in sweeping the compound and packing all the leaves extra carefully. I was about to drag the sack filled with dry leaves to the front of the compound when I heard my mother scream. I stopped. She screamed again. I ran inside the house. I almost slipped on the floor of the living room. It was very wet. I looked around and saw my mother standing in front of our bathroom door. I ran to her. My sister lay on the floor, eyes closed, face white, her arms spread as if she was about to fly, with one of my mother’s kitchen knives stuck in her belly and a pool of blood surrounding her. I started to scream too. Catherine: I chose the knife method because it guaranteed success, just about five minutes of pain, and because it was quick. Before entering the bathroom, I tried to say my goodbyes. I went out and hugged my sister, because I didn’t know how to tell an eight-year-old child, “I’m sorry, but I can’t bear it anymore. I just want my life to end.” I told my best friend Shalewa goodbye at school yesterday, though I know she was thinking it was more of a temporary thing. Then, my parents. Well, I didn’t know how to tell them, which is why I’m currently trying to scribble something down on this piece of paper I brought in with me. I don’t even know what I’m writing, because I’m not looking at it and I’m not thinking of it. I make sure the bathroom door is closed – not locked, because I don’t want them stressing on how to open it before they find my dead body – and bring out the knife. It’s one of my mother’s. She was always keen on sharpening the knives immediately they start getting dull and not a minute after. Well, at least this time it is for my use. I bite my lips really tight, and slowly bring the knife towards my abdomen. If I scream, I’ll be in big trouble. I let the knife in, feeling mounting pain as it pierces my skin, muscles and internal organs. I bite my lip very hard, drawing blood, but I do not scream. I must not. The pain builds up, and I stop pushing. Blood gushes out of my stomach; warm, red blood. I am not aware of falling from the bath tub, but I find myself on the floor, feeling weaker and weaker all the time. I suddenly feel sleepy, but I try my best to keep my eyes open. I want to experience it all. But yet I find myself slipping off. So then, as I fall asleep, this final sleep that would bring me peace, I go down memory lane, starting specifically with what went wrong. My name is Catherine Adesewa Akin-Obembe, and this is my story, in which just six days really count. Monday: When you try to trace back your steps from one catastrophic moment, you get a lot of ‘What if’s. For example, what if I had never lent Shalewa, my childhood best friend, my textbook, that Monday in class? What if I had never had to leave my house by 7pm? What if our teacher had not announced that we had a test on that subject the next day? What would be happening now if I had not spent two hours discussing with Shalewa after getting the textbook, so that, because I was sceptical of how future discussions would further affect my reading, I had to refuse her offer to accompany me home? What if the power had not gone off at that exact moment as I entered the exact road which, on one side, the vagabonds of the street had taken up as their personal residence? If even one of all those had not happened, then what happened to me would never have happened. When the power outage went off, leaving the street as dark as the starless sky above it, I immediately quickened my steps, but it appeared I wasn’t quick enough. “Hess, fine girl,” a voice said from the shadows My heart missed a beat. I did not respond, or even show that I had heard. I kept on walking faster. Our community is very small. All the parents probably knew each other since before we were born. All the children attend the same primary school, and then graduate to the same secondary school, with very few exceptions. Yet my mother had pulled my ear many times when I was young and warned me never ever to walk alone at night, especially in the lion’s den- where I was presently. The first day I got my period, she pulled my ear particularly hard and said, “Now, if you allow anybody to do anyhow with you, you will see the consequences.” The warnings had never seemed lofty to me in the past. It was now. A hand grabbed me from the back. Not totally surprised, I wrenched myself free and started to run. I heard footsteps apart from mine, and all of a sudden, I tripped and fell on the hard, dirty ground. Strong arms and the smell of alcohol mixed with something else surrounded me. Not missing a beat, I started to claw and kick every part of his face I could reach, while screaming at the top of my lungs. But I already knew it was futile. Not only did nobody ever venture out at 9:30 to the street boys’ corner, no houses were situated here, so it was impossible for anyone to hear me. Two blows to the side of my head, which felt to me like they had been given by a heavy weight champion, suddenly silenced me. I could not move, or speak. Blows continued to reign on my immobilized body. Just when I was hoping that this was going to be just that; that I was going to get a beating from a drunkard who was probably going to take my phone before leaving me in peace, I felt his hands tearing away at my jeans. Tuesday: There are no words to describe being raped. Even to myself, I cannot describe what I feel about being violated, not in my house, or in my room, but in myself. I cannot describe what a violation to myself feels like, along with my constant fear of being left alone, and of being left to my own thoughts. I don’t know how to describe how leaving in the darkness feels like, how, even one month after, the stinking feeling of guilt, shame, and horror still sleep and wake up with me. I got tired of crying. I got tired of feeling useless, worthless, of feeling like nothing. I got tired of avoiding both my little sister and my parents. I got tired of failing at school, at being asked what was wrong with me by Shalewa, at first in pleading tones, and later in exasperated ones. I got tired of saying I was fine, when I was everything but. So I Googled on our family computer, “How to move on from being raped.” The articles I saw had words and phrases that I had never seen before jumping out at me like they were universal knowledge. PTSD. Depression. I saw many things on that Tuesday night, some solutions from a website contradicting with that from another; but all websites seemed to agree on one thing; that I needed professional help. Wednesday: Our guidance counsellor’s office at school is dusty and abandoned; the kind of look that comes with being used about once in a year. Immediately I entered, I regretted coming in the first place. But I had to. Last week Wednesday, a day after I realised I needed professional help, I had waylaid our guidance counsellor in front of our class – she’s also conveniently our Christian Religious Studies teacher – and blurted out that I needed to see her. So, ever since then and anytime she saw me, she had been repeatedly asking me, “When are you coming to see me?” and I knew I had to get this over with. As I sat down on the chair, I wondered numbly how many people she had received that term, and if she had been able to help some – or any – of them. I also wondered if anyone of them had been in my shoes; if they had had depression. Because I knew that then. I’d repeated the word a million times since last week, while in the bathroom, while I was eating, in class under my breath, even as I was walking towards the office on that Tuesday. I’d repeated it so many times it almost seemed to me like it was a real illness and not just a random emotion I had always known it was. I was beginning to embrace it. I just wanted the help I needed and to get it over with. The door opened just then and a figure temporarily obscured the doorway. “Catherine, how are you?” Mrs Bello said as she came in, slamming the rickety door behind her. I looked at it, worried about its sturdiness. “I’m fine,” I said, blinking back tears. She smiled and settled herself in front of me. Mrs Bello was the cliché guidance counsellor, with her oversize dresses and her hair always made in wool. But her face was always smiling and jovial, unlike the characteristic frown most counsellors wore. Maybe she could help. “What’s wrong with you?” she asked in a motherly manner, and suddenly I couldn’t stop the tears. The tears probably alarmed her, because she continued in a higher tone, “Is something wrong? Did something happen to you?” Choking back tears, I muttered, “I think I am depressed” “You are depressed?” she asked, sounding confused. “Like, you’re sad?” “No.” I took a deep breath. Did she really not know what I meant? “I mean, I have depression.” She even looked more confused at that. “You have depression? Like how?” I looked at her face. She’s not joking. She really does not know about depression. That on its own felt like a kick in the groin to me. I tried to explain. “Lately… since…” I instantaneously decided to skip the part about the rape, for now, “I’ve been feeling very sad, and ashamed, and guilty…” I continued to ramble on, even though I know that deep down, no adjective in this world would ever explain depression to someone who does not have to live with it. There are just no words to explain the numbness, the pain, the tiredness, the self-hate, and the feeling of just wanting it to all go away somehow. I didn’t think I was doing a good job of explaining it to Mrs Bello, but she kept nodding for as long as I kept on talking. And then, I mentioned the last thing – that I felt like killing myself some of the time – and everything changes. Mrs Bello stopped in mid-nod. She did not talk for a while. And then she asked, with a knowing smile on her face, “Catherine, what do you know about Jesus?” I mumbled a reply straight out of what some of her lectures in class, while wondering what He had to do with anything. Then she started to speak about how my sadness was just deep-rooted in the fact that my soul was yearning for Jesus, and my life felt that it had lost its purpose without Jesus being there anymore. “Maybe you were once a very religious person, and now, that has changed, so your soul is trying to get you to see the light once more, by…” I cut her off so I didn’t have to listen anymore. “It’s not like that.” “Then what is it like?” she sounded impatient. “It’s a mental illness.” I regretted those words the moment they came out of my mouth. Mrs Bello looked vehement. “God forbid!” she screamed very loudly, and banged the table. “You are a daughter of God and no evil spirit has any control over you. How can you even say that? You think God will let that kind of bad thing happen to you? Don’t you even have faith?!” She called my parents to pick me up from school. But before they could do so, she spent about an hour talking to them in her office while I waited outside. When they came out, my father had his lips tightened in that way that meant he was angry. Even my mother did not talk to me the entire ride home. They were annoyed but I did not know why. That evening, my mother came into my room when I’m trying to read with a tray of food and says one singular sentence, “You should have come to us first.” Oh. I was having suicidal thoughts and slowly slipping away, but none of that mattered, because they were more offended I disclosed that to a stranger. Then she left. All is forgiven – and forgotten. Thursday: It’s been two months since I was raped. Nothing has changed. My parents still treat me like they don’t know I’m suicidal, and Mrs Bello now asks me after every class if I read the Bible the previous day. But I’m tired of pretending. I want it all to go away. I can’t spend another second – another millisecond – living in this hell of a life. I just want to leave. I have my plan all figured out. There is a river at the back of my school. I have never been there, because I don’t know how to swim. I will go there after school today, and jump in. They’ll find my body later and assume I just fell in. And I’ll be there by 5pm and not immediately after school, when there isn’t as much of a crowd. Presently, I wade across the green vegetation, looking around. Only two men are present at the river now, and they’re so deep in conversation that they don’t even notice me. I’m at the bank of the river now. I take a deep breath, and jump. Our Biology teacher always says the human body is self-saving. I know what it means that Thursday. It means that, although I want to die, and I definitely do not want to be saved, I find myself screaming for help within thirty seconds, waving my hands and yelling at the top of my lungs. One of the men jump in, but not quick enough for me. After he rescues me, he carries me to the shore and sets me on the stinging grass. “I just fell in,” I mumble in explanation, after coughing up what feels like half of the river. Friday: It has been two weeks since my failed attempt at suicide. This was the day I found the bird. I made a pact to myself then; the day the bird gets well enough to fly, I will make another attempt – which would be successful – to kill myself. I would just use the extra time to plan. Saturday, four days later: This is the day I die. Modupe: It surprises me that Catherine did not realise that it was not feasible to write a suicidal note close to where she would be killing herself if bloodshed was going to be involved. After her body has been removed and my parents have been led to our living room by sympathetic neighbours, it is all I think about. I step towards the bathroom and pick up the bloodstained paper, unnoticed by the adults. I can’t see anything at first, since the words have been totally smudged by blood and water. I squint to read it. It says; Every day is worse than before And it’s not going to get any better Like my bird, I need to get out of this zone that I don’t belong in anymore So give me wings that fly.