A true story. The identity of the narrator has been protected.
I am going to tell you a story.
One that I have not divulged a single other soul, so far.
The worst trauma one can suffer, people say, are cancer and fire-burns. And that’s true. Because besides the horror of being burned alive, you live your life all along, carrying the pain, the wounds, and the scars – the scars, they are a constant reminder.
And mine, these scars? They are my constant reminder.
Let me tell you my story.
I was ten years old. What would a little ten year old have to do with the kitchen, right? But that fateful day, when my mother was asleep, my sister was hungry. I decided to fry plantains for her to eat, because I couldn’t stand the thought of a hungry little girl. And so I went, frying plantains for my little sister – but no sooner had they gotten ready, than my other sister came in and gobbled it all up. My little sister was still hungry, and I hadn’t any plantains.
My heart still felt heavy, I couldn’t stand the thought that she was hungry. So I decided to boil yams for her. I reached out for what I thought was the smallest pot – but fate decided otherwise, and it wasn’t the smallest. It was too huge for the little pieces of yam, and I needed to change the pot immediately, because if mother found out, she would be angry.
There wasn’t a napkin in sight. But I had to do this right, so I used my dress to hold onto the pot.
That was when it happened.
My dress caught fire. I was scared. My heart raced, my mind was numb. I didn’t know what to do. Fear coursed my veins as the flames licked my body roughly. I ran around the house with my sisters running after me. My little cousin ran about, asking me to roll myself on the floor. But I was scared. I was sure I would burn to death. The fire was all over me.
Was I asleep? Was I dead? Was I conscious? What was happening? My body hurt, burned, and felt so tortured. The heat was blazing. My life was going away before my eyes. But suddenly, splashes of water came onto my body.
Mother woke up, finally. The noise shook her awake.
She began ripping my clothes off me. My sisters threw water all over me. I don’t remember anything after that. The flames died down. I remember, I saw my charred body. Fear gripped my heart like an iron-fist. Tears clouded my vision.
My stomach had a third degree gas burn. I was in the hospital, I remember. I don’t know if I thought of anything then – but the pain, it is etched deeply in my memory. So deeply, that I feel it even now as I tell you the story. My palms were burned. My stomach had a terrible burn. The pain, the thought of living life with scars always, the fear – it all made me cry. But as I cried, the wounds on my stomach would bleed. I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t laugh.
Life was bleak.
And then there came another slap. The doctor told my parents that my body was allergic to the cream they were using on me. My parents had to buy something else, they said. Guess what? The nurses stole these drugs from my parents. And they kept using the one that I was allergic to. My body began to swell. The wounds got bad instead of healing.
My mother noticed my wounds and took me out of the hospital. The doctors fought, but mother took me home and cared for me.
I grew up with two huge scars. But I was good at hiding them. I wouldn’t bathe before the other girls at school, and got into trouble because of that. But no one asked if I was alright, or why I did what I did. No one wanted to bother enough to ask if I was alright after the incident, which they had all heard about.
Today, years have passed. But I still carry the wounds, the scars and the fear. I still do not talk about it. I do not undress in front of people. It has been my little secret that only five people know. I know, it is not my fault that I got burned. But somehow I am ashamed of the scars and I do not feel complete. I wish there were help for this in Nigeria. I wish there are counsellors even in primary schools in Nigeria for kids - so that children are talked to when they are behaving unusually. I tell my story today because I want to be free. I am hoping it would bless someone out there and that the person would know she or he is not alone.
By Elsie and Kirthi