By Imani Okwuosa
Read as the loud bang coming from outside sparks a dreadful thought at the young hours of the night.
It was Christmas Eve, a few years ago. I had just got out of the shower, about to get ready for bed. It was around 8PM. The quietness that surrounded the apartment that I lived in was mysteriously eerie. Usually, you could hear everything that happened, both inside and out. There were no sounds of cars passing or gatemen talking, just the trees rustling and little crickets chirping. As I put my night-time trousers on, I heard a loud bang come from outside. It was similar to the sound of a gunshot. I still continued to put on my clothes while ignoring the intense panic I felt. I heard the bang once again, and this time, with no hesitation, I ran to my mother’s room, half-dressed to tell her about the noises I heard coming from outside.
As I stormed into her room, she was oblivious to what was happening and was engrossed in a conversation with her brother-in-law on the phone. As soon as she caught the seriousness and fear that was plastered on my face, she immediately hung up to check outside of her window to see my concern. She had seen people leaving their houses and had quickly put on her shoes and signaled me to follow her downstairs. As we both ran down the stairs, trying to hold on to whatever clothes we had on, I couldn’t help but think that we were under attack. This is not a farfetched thought in Nigeria, where attacks happen blatantly and frequently. My mind flew to the times I would see market squares being bombed and body parts filling the streets as a result of terrorist attacks by the militant group Boko Haram on the news. I had already pictured myself on CNN as they would be announcing the victims of the devastating event. Right then and there, at that moment, I could only think it was my turn.
Finally, once we were down, we saw our neighbors who lived on the ground floor staring adoringly at the sky. They could see the fear in both my eyes and my mom’s as we rushed downstairs. One of them said, smiling, “see? fireworks.” I was not surprised, mainly because fireworks are a big part of the holidays in Nigeria, especially Christmas. It was one of those traditions you forget once you get older and is usually performed by the youth to signify the day’s importance. As we both went back upstairs, we knew at the back of our heads that there was a possibility of an attack happening and that our reaction was valid. My mind was trying to accept the reality that was present, while also justifying the one I had created. Though my mom was relieved that it happened to be nothing but a celebration, I still was in shock.
From that moment, the only phrases that filled my mind were what-ifs. “What if the sounds weren’t from fireworks?” “What if it was an attack by Boko Haram?” I did not know how to sleep because my body was overwhelmed with anxiety and the quietness of the night let my mind wander far away. The sounds of cars honking sent shivers down my spine, and I stayed up sweaty and paralyzed. The thought that my imagination could have been accurate was what kept me up at night savoring each moment I could draw breath. I did not feel safe in my home nor my own country.
I believe my whole view of life changed after that event. I was never in a situation where I had to fear for my life apart from that day, but I often thought about all the people who went downstairs after hearing loud sounds and did not see fireworks but chaos and body parts hanging on barbed wires. I asked myself if I was different from any of them, and the answer was no, I was not. I believe what I took from that day was that the world is full of uncertainty, and tomorrow is not guaranteed. It was an experience that brought me out of the illusion that the world is a safe place. With that awareness, I try to live each day, not worrying about what is going to happen but enjoying every moment that I am alive and breathing.
I was inspired to write about this experience mostly because of its significance in changing my perspective on life and its forever-lasting impact.
Imani Okwuosa is a senior in high school. She is from Nigeria and resides in the United States. She is an aspiring actress and her favorite food is pasta. Her hobbies include reading plays, writing in her journal and watching movies.
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