He woke up to the nauseating smell of a Nigerian hospital ward, the smorgasbord of anti-septics, drugs, blood, vomit and hints of excreta.
His legs were fixed in thick cast and a bandage ran across his chest to hold his left shoulder in place, his head felt like a tuber. He couldn’t remember how he got to this place or anything else for that matter, his mind was bare. Hard as he tried to put thoughts together he couldn’t seem capable of remembering, frustration then disorientation forced an animal wail from his battered body before he fell back into the darkness.
When his eyes fluttered open again, his free hand was manacled and a police man in dirty black fatigues drooled by his side.
His foggy mind strained at the cuffs and why they had him chained to the bed, he continued the battle to recall. He struggled to focus his mind; it was there, all his memories, his life but he had no access. It was as if white paint had been lavished on the Sistine Chapel by an idiot.
The doctor came to him, his white overalls glistening unusually to his dazed mind. He was examined all over, the doctor mumbled questions at him which elicited no response whatsoever from his injured mind; the words sounded like the recitation of Latin by a bored priest.
“It is as I feared, the trauma to his hippocampus has resulted in severe, if not irreversible amnesia.” The doctor said to no one in particular then left.
He recovered quickly and got stronger with each passing day. He had detested been fed that tasteless custard everyday by the aged nurse or the rude snorty nosed one. The other nurses had been bearable but they all treated him like an invalid.
He could sit up now and eat by himself, the bandage across his chest had been taken off a week earlier. He felt particularly happy that morning; happiness! An emotion he hadn’t felt since he woke up at this hospital, he felt grateful that the amnesia hadn’t taken that away as well.
Then he heard the voice of his police orderly as he had come to see him. Perhaps he was somebody important he had convinced himself.
“The man body don strong o, he’s ready to be transferred for interrogation.” His voiced boomed with an embarrassing lisp.
The proceedings in court were a whirr. The police had charged him to a magistrate court after 2 weeks in their custody. The police cell had been hell, on any given night he shared the 8 by 10 room with 20 or more other inmates who would be traded out the next morning after their families paid whatever arbitrary sum the crooked police system dictated to them.
It was a slave racket and he waited and gave up after the third day when no one came to get him. Despair came with the beatings, the semi-illiterate police men didn’t seem to grasp the concept of amnesia.
“You no remember abi? By the time we finish with you, you go confess winch wey you no be. Oya get up!”
The torture was crude, they tied him up to a suspended iron beam and flogged him with peppered whips. They threatened to shoot him, they cajoled and told him the other members of his gang had already confessed which only served to further confuse him. “What gang?”
He was lost.
The magistrate did him a huge Favor by committing him to prison pending trial at a High Court with the requisite jurisdiction. At least the tortures subsided and the cells were cleaner.
The proceedings had been farcical to him. The door behind the bench, were the judge was to sit banged thrice startling him and apparently the lawyers who all snapped to their feet. He wanted to join them but he had been cuffed to another foul smelling suspect who sat on languidly, oblivious of what was happening around him.
A pot bellied, scraggly bearded fellow waddled through the door to the wooden elevation cradling the bench and sat on a creaky chair. The court room was small and the furniture aged.
He was led into the dock.
A thin court clerk as aged as the furniture called the charge number and read the charge to him.
“Are you guilty or not guilty?”
“Not guilty” he muttered imperceptibly.
The Judge wrote this down and looked up.
“From the information offered to me, you claim to not know anything about the robbery that occurred on the 4th day of April 2002. I’m not inclined to believe this because you were caught and salvaged from the burning getaway vehicle after a shoot out with men of the Nigerian Army but alas your medical report says that due to trauma on your left temporal lobe from this accident you now suffer retrogade amnesia and cannot remember details of your life before that night.” The judge looked him over.
“You should be sent to jail as I’m convinced even without a trial that you’re a robber but your condition qualifies to be grouped under the procedure guiding insanity and as such I rule as follows – you’re to be committed to the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital No. 18 Harley Street, Yaba at the pleasure of the Governor of Lagos State. Maybe you will remember yourself there.”
“As the court pleases!!” The lawyers chorused.
General Zagir had forgotten about the sole surviving robber even though the robbery itself was still fresh in his mind. He had been outraged by the thought of anyone daring to rob his family and to hurt his beloved second wife Farida.
He had told the police through the Lagos State police commissioner to make sure the scoundrel was convicted and executed and had left it at that; rest assured that his command carried enough weight to ensure obedience from the police.
Then a clean shaven doctor paid him a visit. Apparently the doctor had resuscitated the dying robber and had been following the case keenly.
“He doesn’t remember a thing.” He said after he introduced himself and they exchanged pleasantries.
The General looked emptily back at him.
“The robbery suspect sir.” The doctor continued nervously.
“Ah that one, I want him prosecuted and dealth with, so that others like him would run when they see me or any other soldier.”
The doctor squirmed.
The General had not blinked since he realized the doctor had come in respect of the robbery suspect.
“The suspect developed amnesia as a result of trauma to his head from the crash after they tried to escape from your men…so now he doesn’t know his own name or anything about himself prior to the night of the robbery sir.”
The General still had his eyes still fixed on him.
“They could not prosecute him and they have now sent him to a psychiatric home.”
“You don’t mean it!” The General said taken aback, finally blinking. “Those police people are incompetent, if my boys had handled that criminal this amnesia thing you’re telling me about would have jumped out of his ears.”
The doctor had hoped to convince the general being the nominal complainant in the states’ case against the suspect, he had enough clout to possibly use his influence to secure the suspects release to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital. The suspects condition was unique and would make an interesting case study. Subjects like this were very rare in this continent and in his twenty odd years as a neurologist this was his first case of irreversible retrogade amnesia and it would be a complete waste to have him rot in Yaba left.
“I have reason to believe that this suspect will not recover from his amnesia. His mind is a wiped slate sir. I want him for further analysis, I don’t know if you can help me secure his release so that I can work with him to understand his condition.”
The look on the General’s face made the doctor cringe lower into his seat. “You are not serious.” was his short answer.
“He can be useful to you sir.” The doctor whined.
The General laughed.
A very throaty laugh for such a stony face the doctor thought.
“I think you should be careful oga doctor. I’m beginning to wonder if those robbers have not threatened you to come and tell me this rubbish story or if you yourself is not conspiring with them.”
“Nooo sir, I came here, came here for the science o.” The doctor said, shocked into a stammer.
“How in the name of Allah could a demented robber be of use to me?”
“Like I said sir, the man has nothing on his mind except motor skills. As he is now, he can be made into anything…”