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Poster source: Gabriel caught sight of Chinyere. She was lying seemingly lifeless on the other end of the platform, wi...

Poster source:

Gabriel caught sight of Chinyere. She was lying seemingly lifeless on the other end of the platform, with the raging fire between them. The only access to her was right through the fire. Without thinking through his next step, he headed straight for the fire. “Don’t do that mate! Come on, stay away from the fire!” A fireman shouted from a distance. He was galloping down the platform at full speed, intent on tackling Gabriel down. Before he could come any closer, Gabriel jumped straight into the fire. “Noooo!” The fireman shouted. He had to recede to keep from being burned. His colleagues were heading towards them with water hoses as they sought to put out the fire. Gabriel could feel the searing heat eating his skin away as he sped through the fire. He managed to reach the other side where Chinyere was lying. Any moment, she would be completely consumed by the fire. His skin was burning with scorching pain but he paid little attention to himself. I am not leaving here without her, he assured himself. He lifted her up and made another mad dash towards the safe end of the platform. The fire had grown bigger and hotter despite frantic efforts by firemen to douse it.

Wooden components fell off the roof and nails went flying like rockets through the air. Parts of the building structure were creaking under the daunting spell of the fire. Gabriel ran as fast as he could carrying Chinyere in his arms. A part of her dress caught fire and Gabriel saw it but he kept running. If I can get to the other side, I will quench the fire before it hurts her, he thought. He had no inkling as to whether Chinyere was still alive; he simply kept running. The fire had spread rapidly in the last few minutes, leaving him with more fire-consumed ground to cover. It felt as though the fire was savagely slashing his skin off his bones as he raced through. By the time he reached safety, he could hardly breathe. His eyes were aching and a quick look at himself revealed fast growing blisters all over his body. It felt like parts of his skin were falling off and sticking to his clothes. Suddenly, he felt lethargic and slowly, he began to slump to the ground. Before he hit the ground, a fireman caught him mid-air, while another fireman quickly took hold of Chinyere. Hurriedly, they handed them over to paramedics who took them up to ground level. Swiftly, they placed them in an ambulance which sped off to the hospital.

Two Weeks Later: University College Hospital, Euston Road, London

A ray of sunlight peeked through the window. She opened her eyes for the first time in two weeks. The sunlight was almost blinding, forcing her to squint. After a few seconds, she slowly began to adapt to her environment. There was no one in the room. Her eyes quickly scanned around. She knew immediately that she was in the hospital with tubes running through her nostrils and mouth. What happened to me? She wondered. She had no recollection of the bomb blast. She wanted to know what she was doing in this place but her mind had gone completely void. She considered pulling the tubes out of her mouth and nose, but her arms felt like dead wood. She felt nothing whatsoever around her legs either. What happened to me? She posed the same question to herself but answers were not forthcoming. “You are awake!” The nurse shouted. She was clad in an immaculate white overall coat with a folder in her right hand. She dropped the folder and ran outside to fetch Chinyere’s doctor.

She returned shortly with a bespectacled diminutive male doctor. “Can you hear me?” The doctor asked her. “Yes,” she answered. Her voice was barely audible. “Can you move your arm?” “No,” she answered. Fear was visibly scribbled on her face. “And your legs?”  “No. What happened to me?” “You were in an accident. There was a terrorist bomb blast on the London underground in which you were severely wounded.” There was an eerie silence for a moment. “When did this happen to me?” She asked solemnly. “You don’t remember the blast?” “I remember nothing.” The doctor explained to her that she had been in the hospital for two weeks, and that her parents, brother and sister had been in London to look after her. She could not remember who her parents and siblings were. “I have sent for them. They are eager to talk to you. They should be here any moment,” he explained. “My name is Dr. David Gillman,” he added. Chinyere stared blankly at the ceiling. Drops of tear walked slowly along the edges of her eyes. “Will I be able to walk again? Will I be able to use my arms again?” She asked Dr. Gillman. Her voice was laced with sadness and apprehension. “It is hard to say right now. It all depends on a lot of factors which we are yet to determine. We are still running a battery of tests. Hopefully, soon enough, we will be able to tell you. As it stands right now, anything is possible with time.”

“All I can think of is taking my own life,” Gabriel said to his parents. “I can only imagine how you feel my son,” his mother said, barely holding back tears. “But taking your life will only make matters worse. Think about us; about me your mother. I’d probably die of heartbreak if I lost you my son. Please don’t talk like that. We will find a way out. God will make a way” His father, Gabriel senior said nothing. A stabbing pain was zipping through him. “Look at my face! If the doctors cannot find a way to conduct an extensive plastic surgery, my life is over,” Gabriel lamented. He had seen the severity of his wounds the last time the nurses cleaned them up, and they had left him utterly depressed. The hospital authorities had removed all the mirrors form his room to keep him from spending hours staring at his burns. 

Most of his face, back, legs and arms had suffered severe third degree burns. Lying on the bed was an excruciating experience. Every part of him was hurting physically, but the real hurt was psychological. He had not been able to bring himself to think about Chinyere. “She will never want to have anything to do with me again,” he had told his friend Okechukwu some days earlier. “You should focus on getting better for now,” Okechukwu encouraged him. “There is no recovering from this my friend. Even with surgery, I doubt that I would ever look the same again. I am defaced for life.” “Science has advanced tremendously. I am sure the doctors have something up their sleeves.” “Stop trying to make me feel better. It is not working. I am done!” He shouted. He turned and stared at the window. He recalled how beautiful Chinyere had looked that morning, and another wave of tears threatened to breach the barriers of his eyes.

“Chinyere has come out of coma!” Ayo announced as she entered Gabriel’s room. “How is she?” Gabriel asked with anticipation. “Did she ask for me? I am not seeing her in this state you know.” Gabriel replied. His voice was riddled with anxiety and frustration. “She has lost her memory. She remembers nothing. She did not even recognize me. Her legs and arms are paralyzed,” Ayo added somberly. Gabriel was not sure whether to cry for her or for himself. He wondered how something so beautiful could swiftly turn into a gory nightmare. Anger swept through him like a tornado. Why? Why? He thought. God why have you allowed this to befall us? He thought to himself in a fit of anger and helplessness. Sarah Umunna, Gabriel’s mother was drenched in her own tears. His father could no longer fight back tears. Trickles of tear descended his face as he watched his son wallow in ‘agonizing pain.’

“My name is Michael Okonwko, I am your father.” Chinyere looked at him, and then at the collection of pictures spread across her laps. She had been propped up on the bed with pictures lying before her. Michael pointed as he spoke, staring straight into her eyes, begging and praying for some sort of recognition to return to her memory. “That is your mother, Nkechinyere and those are your sister and brother, Ekwutosi and Chinonso. That is your favorite cousin, Ekwunife. She is the same age as yourself. She is so sad that she is not able to be here with us. Those are her parents, your uncle and aunt, Odinaka and Elochukwu.” He paused to take a look at her. He peered intently at her, hoping that something in the picture would strike a chord in her memory. Her blank eyes peered back at him. “I really wish I could remember all these,” she answered. Her frustration was palpable. “I believe you, but I don’t remember anything.” “It is okay sweetheart,” her mother who was standing beside her father said. “It will all come back to you in time.” “Do you remember Gabriel Umunna?” Ayo asked. She had barely left the room all day. She and Chinyere were very close, and she had proven to be a reliable friend since the bomb blast. She was the one that contacted Chinyere’s family and Gabriel’s as soon as she found out they had been severely wounded in the blast. “You told me all about him a few weeks ago when I stopped over in London. I got the feeling that you were in love with him, and he was the one that saved you from the fire that erupted after the bomb went off,” Ekwutosi added. “Yes, you mentioned him to me too over the phone Chiichii,” said Chinonso.

She stared at them as if she had remembered something. Expectantly, they stared back at her. Their hearts were beating faster with sheer anticipation and hope. Before she could utter a word, the news on the television caught their attention. “As Londoners slowly come to terms with the terrorist bomb blast that hit the city weeks ago, a heart-warming, yet gut-wrenching story has come to our notice,” the TV anchor said. “At the height of the inferno following the bomb blast at St. King’s Cross St. Pancras, a young Nigerian student by the name Gabriel Umunna risked his own life to save his friend, Chinyere Okonkwo, a fellow Nigerian student at the University of Westminster, whom he was taking out on a date. We learned that Gabriel had won a bet with Chinyere a year ago, and the consequence was that she would go on date with him. Although Chinyere agreed to go on the date, she held out for one year, and the day they were finally on this epic date, they were caught in the terrible bomb blast.” Chinyere’s curiosity was completely aroused. All eyes in the room were fixated on the television screen. 

“Although Gabriel had been rescued by firemen and paramedics, when he realized that Chinyere was still lying on the platform, he risked his own life to save her. He ran through the raging bomb-induced inferno to save her. Unfortunately, crossing the fire twice in quick succession has left Gabriel with third degree burns that can only be fixed by expensive surgery, if at all they can be fully fixed. It is likely that some of the scars stemming from the burns will remain with Gabriel for the rest of his life. The British government has offered to cover the cost of the surgery, thankfully. It is heart-warming to know that while some people were busy plotting to maim and kill others in their hundreds, some of us were willing to risk their own lives for the ones they love and care about. We wish Gabriel quick recovery. Same goes to Chinyere who suffered serious nervous injuries that have left her paralyzed. As doctors work night and day to save these young lovers who have demonstrated what true love really means to all of us, we enjoin you to pray for them.”

“That was me they were talking about, right?” Chinyere asked with a sad look on her face. “Yes,” Her parents answered. Ayo nodded. She desperately hoped that the news on the TV had juggled her memory. She had taken Gabriel and Chinyere’s story to the press, with the hope that it might bring to light the selflessness that Gabriel exhibited on the day of the bombing. “So, this guy saved my life?” Chinyere inquired. “Yes. I am told you would have been consumed by the fire within minutes if he had not stepped in when he did,” Ayo answered. “Where is he now?” “He is on the second floor.” “In the same hospital?” “Yes.” Zainab, one of their friends from University arrived. She was from Kano state, the daughter of a political bigwig in the state. 

She was studying Biomedical Sciences at the Cavendish Campus of the University. The three girls lived in the same hostel. “Hi Chiichii,” Zainab said in a low, demure tone. “Hi,” she answered staring at her in a desperate search for answers. “It is okay. I am sure it will all come back to you at some point,” Zainab said, having sensed her growing frustration. “That’s what I have been telling her,” Chinyere’s mother interjected. “I want to see this guy who saved my life.” “Right now?” “Yes, right now.”  “Why don’t you wait until you are much better honey,” her father suggested. “By then Gabriel would have recuperated as well,” Chinonso added. “I want to see him now, please,” she insisted. “Okay, we will take you there,” her father acquiesced reluctantly. Ayo quickly whispered something to Zainab who quietly left the room. Ayo and Ekwutosi brought the wheelchair closer to the bed and carefully helped Chinyere onto it. Gently, Ekwutosi wheeled her down the hallway to the lift.

“Hi Gaby,” Zainab said as she walked into the room. Gabriel’s whole face was wrapped up, except for his mouth, eyes and nose. Even his head was heavily covered. “Chinyere wants to see you. In fact, she is on her way down here right now,” Zainab announced. “No, I don’t want her to see me like this. No, not like this. The last time I saw myself in the mirror, I looked like a ghost. Please, it is better she remembers me the way I was before the accident when she regains her memory. I am not seeing her like this. Please don’ let her come in here!” Gabriel was discernibly restless. “Close that door please!” He yelled at his parents, and friends. Okechukwu got up and shut the door. “Don’t open it. You must not open it. Promise me you will not open the door Okey,” Gabriel pleaded. “Calm down Gaby. I will not open it.” “Thanks!” Then, there was a knock on the door. “Who is it?” Okechukwu asked. “It is me Ayo. I am with Chinyere and her family,” Ayo’s voice announced from the other side of the door. “I am sorry Ayo, Gabriel is not in the best frame of mind to see Chinyere yet,” Okechukwu answered. He carefully chose his words. “It is okay, Chinyere just wants to see how he is doing. She is very grateful that Gabriel saved his life,” Michael Okonwko pleaded. He had met with Gabriel’s parents earlier who explained to him that Gabriel did not seem ready to meet Chinyere yet. “When he is ready, I am sure he will be most pleased to see Chinyere,” Okechukwu replied.

Chinyere’s eyes were closed, as she tried desperately to remember Gabriel. Gabriel was apprehensively observing the correspondence between Okechukwu and the entourage on the other side of the door. “I am told you save my life Gabriel,” Chinyere said in her beautiful, melodic voice. “Please let me see you. Let me thank you even if I can’t remember you. It is important to me that I thank you, please.” The last time he heard her voice she was whispering sweetly into his ears. Hearing her again dissolved whatever resistance he had built up since becoming injured. The part of him that wanted to see her again was stronger than his shame over how the accident had left him. “Open the door,” he said quietly to Okechukwu. 

He slowly opened the door and they wheeled Chinyere into the room. He was in tears, with his thoughts travelling between the moment he had her in his arms around her and now, with both of them extremely transformed physically. The two scenarios seemed like centuries apart. “Chiichii,” he said through a deluge of tears. That was the last voice she had heard before a thunderous explosion took over her mind and body. Like a flood, images and words came crashing against the walls of her mind. She could see him holding her on the platform. Shortly before, she had noticed a young man who had placed a back pack on the platform, not far from them before covering his head and part of his face with a hood as he walked away. “Gaby…You said you were giving me your life,” she recalled out loud. “I am not sure you still want this one,” he replied. “It is all burnt skin and bones now.” “Burn skin and bones that saved my life…Burnt skin and bone with an adorably kind and loving heart. I am very grateful,” she replied. She sniffed as she spoke with tears interrupting her thought and speech.

This story was written by:

Victor Chinoo

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