Of all the scars on my body, the one right above my left knee is one I always pray not to disappear. I am weird and never apply body lotion to the scar; just in case all those commercials are not lying when they say their body creams would make your skin smooth and without blemish. My mom says, ‘You are a woman and your skin must be beautiful.’ But my mother’s words mean nothing to me when I remember how I got the scar.
I was only 11 years old and we had just moved into the new neighborhood because my dad got a new job and could not risk going to work late. After my brothers and I dealt with sleepless loud nights of my mom yelling at my dad about how self-centered he was to be moving the whole family away from Ikeja just because he wanted to get to work earlier. We moved.
When we got to Shasha, I was lost. The neighborhood was way more different from what we had back in Ikeja. For one,young boys could play football on the streets here; and young girls could sit around making sumptuous Amala and Egusi from sand and water while backing their dolls and playing mommy and daddy with the boys during half-time.
I hated every bit of it because I was not used to playing with random kids who were not in my class in school. I hated it even more because my dad had chosen to move us to Shasha during my long holiday Christmas break and so I had free days and long night; alone. My brothers adjusted just fine.
One day, I was on my way back from buying sweets from the mallam down my street when a young boy fell in beside me and started walking with me in silence. I became more petrified when whenever I slowed down, he slowed down as well and whenever I sped-walked, he did the same. I alternated for a while until I legit began to run home, he started laughing as he stood where he was and just shouted, ‘Bye bye! Hope I made you scared!’
Day after day, I tried to avoid him, but he seemed to be stalking me. He did not seem to be up to a year older than me but he was such a gentleman.He would offer to help me with my little nylons and soon enough, he was walking me to my doorstep. We became amazing friends and we used to hang out in front of an abandoned shop on my street everyday. It was amazing. His name was Damilare and he made me consciously love another human being for the first time in my life.
He made me laugh and made me mad. My typical goodbye was, ‘I will never play with you again. Never! I promise you and a promise is a debt’ Apparently, I owed him a lot because he was my playmate with no running mate. He bought me sweets and fake ice cream with his small money and sometimes shared his groundnuts with me. If I close my eyes now, I would remember what he smelled like; it was not a perfume scent, neither was it a bad smell – he just smelled of himself. He used to run errands for my mom, like going to get the pepper and tomatoes grinded and in return, he would get a small piece of fried meat or the leg of a chicken. My mom used to say, ‘If you eat the leg of a chicken, you’ll be able to run errands very well’.
He was just a sweetheart. His parents were not rich; in fact they were poor. But he never showed that he was jealous or angry about my own family’s relative wealth.
He was also quite adventurous. The most fun things I’ve done in my life were with him. One time, he had dragged me to the back pew of a church during an ongoing marriage ceremony and made us recite every word the bride and groom said and so we pronounced ourselves to be husband and wife.
On the day I got the scar, he had called me to the back of the shop where we hung out. He whispered with mischief in his smile, ‘Do you want to get a tattoo?’ I shook my head but smiled with approval as usual. Then he brought out a new blade and said he would draw anything on my skin and once it healed like any normal injury, I’d see a tattoo. He said, I’d do the same for him. I was nervous but I agreed.
I went first. I asked him where he wanted the tatoo and what he wanted and he said, ‘Up my knee here. Do Nike sign for me’. When my heart could finally take it, I drew a quick poorly constructed Nike sign on his thigh. He was struggling in pain with tears in his eyes when he collected the blade from me and did the same.
As we were both trying not to scream, the mechanic down the road passed by and dragged both of us out of hiding. He was slapping us despite the obvious pain we were going through. He rinsed our legs hurriedly as he called his co-worker to take Damilare to his own house. The mechanic took me to my mom who was at home.
That night, as I lay in bed with the plaster on my throbbing thigh and finger marks across my cheeks from my mom, I smiled because we finally achieved our identical tattoos. We were the coolest friends yet.
When I was finally let out of the house two weeks after, I did not see Damilare. I looked for him, asked around, cried up and down, but all I got were concerned and dodgy stares from adults. It took a while for me to figure out that Damilare was dead within those two weeks apart.
What killed him? His vomit. While he was healing, the drugs they gave him made him nauseous and so he had woken up one night and thrown up while lying down and no one could help him because everyone in his house was in the living room watching TV.
I am still not over his death; 22 years after. And sometimes when I feel really overwhelmed with everything, I run my fingers over the scar above my left knee and I smile. I did not get the tattoo there, but he sure gave me a permanent tattoo on and in my heart.