BLINKERED- GRACE OCHIGBO
EPISODE TWENTY EIGHT
Mum went to sleep over at home last night. I am quite sure it’s been so lonely for dad without his darling wife all these days. Sometimes like this I feel extremely bad for coming down with painful crisis over and over again since childhood, so much so that during my early teenage days, when the crisis was even more frequent than now, I had to confront mum with a question that had lingered on my mind for so long. There was no term I would spend anything less than three weeks in the hospital, in fact it got so bad I had to repeat my primary five because I couldn’t resume for a whole term. As if that was not enough, I was denied going to a boarding house for my secondary school. God! I so much love boarding school and I envy my primary school mates then that had no issue with attending one. I love the warm welcome they get when their parents go to pick them up at the end of the term. I would always cry anytime my parents and I went to visit Success during her monthly visiting days at school, she was still at the Government Girls’ secondary school Abaji then.
My life, it is not normal. Never was, never will be. I might be wrong. Some people say ‘there is no such thing as normal’. Normal apparently doesn’t apply to anyone because we are all different in our own ways, but most of us have lots of things in common.
Well, I still consider myself unordinary.
I couldn’t attend a boarding school after all because mum needed to be close by. To dress me up in warm clothes, thick cardigans and long socks, the rare times I ever went out. To make sure I faithfully took the analgesics and immunisations. To make sure I took as much litres of fluids as possible so I don’t dehydrate. I mean, it came to a point I always move around with bottled water in my bag. I couldn’t live like any other kid down our rocky and busy Felele Street in Lokoja. I wasn’t abnormal. I just lived a bit away from the normal. Once, when I got totally fed up with having to live a stereotyped life because some disease has robbed me of virtually everything that gave me pleasure, I stubbornly insisted on attending the Nigerian Navy secondary school. I passed very well. In fact, academic success was not so much of a challenge for me; I can’t remember how many times I resumed back from the hospital to still top my class, to top the students that faithfully and attentively attended all the classes. There is this school of thought about kids with any abnormality at all, especially one sense organ dysfunction doing more excellently in their academics than normal perfect kids but still I was asked to decline my admission after doing ‘physical fitness’ test and medical check-up. The soldiers or naval officers in this case told dad that my body’s immunity level would not cope with the rigor that is expected of me. That was my SS1, so I had to settle for a day school again; meanwhile my original mates were already a class ahead of me. In school, all the staff and school administrators knew about me; my parents told the Principal about my condition who in turn told every member of staff and they all kept exempting me from all stressful fun activities including mountaineering and horseback riding that I admired so much all the times I saw them on TV.
That was why I had to ask mum the question that night. I got home from school frustrated, I practically cried all the way to the house in the car. The girls in my class kept making mockery of me. They came over to where I was reading one evening in school, said it was time for extracurricular activities and I must compulsorily come join the basketball team. Frankly, I wanted to. I wanted to see how the feel of playing basketball was like, I also wanted to ‘feel among’ for the very first time in my life so I eagerly changed into my sportswear and was barely halfway into the pitch when my guardian called my name and ordered me out of the court with immediate allergrity. All the students started a loud trail of laughter in unison. I felt like the ground should open and swallow me but it didn’t do that still as I walked briskly feeling like they were hot coals littered everywhere I stepped a foot on. Though my guardian knelt all the students that laughed down and thrashed them with two strokes of the cane, it didn’t correctly replace the utter shame and embarrassment I felt. I ran into the school toilet and locked myself up till school dismissed that evening. From within, I could hear some girls who came to use the toilet gossiping about how they learnt I was a sickler and how sicklers were ‘ill-fated’ children. I cried my eyes out in there till I couldn’t find tears no more. I also overheard some other group washing their hands at the washing hand basin saying my guardian, the principal and our driver has been looking for ‘the sickler girl’ since the school dismissed over fifteen minutes ago. I was choking but I decided to remain mute in there. The toilet gave more succour than the world of people at that point. I choked so much and the unbearable smelling environment made me let out a loud involuntary cough that I wished I could keep back in. Those students started trying to push my door open and when they all noticed it was locked from within, I overhead them beckoning to the principal and the rest to come over. Everyone begged me to open the door but I refused so much so that the principal called one of the security men to break down the door.
My guardian ran to hold me immediately the door was forced open because I was still crying but I hurriedly wriggled myself off her and ran straight into our car. I didn’t say any word to anyone, not even our driver till I opened the door to my house. I went straight to the study upstairs knowing fully well my both parents would be nowhere else at that time of the evening.
“So the both of you wickedly, selfishly and thoughtlessly connived to bring me into this world, huh? To suffer humiliation, pain and rejection? Are you both happy and satisfied now?” I asked, screaming at the top of my voice and pointing from my dad to my mum as soon as I pushed the door to the study open angrily. Dad and mum stared at me, I am sure they were amazed at how famished I was looking in my maroon and white school uniform. Mum got up and headed towards me but I motioned her to a halt with my hands.
“Did you not know that the both of you were carrying the sickle cell disease trait or not? Didn’t you know you were both AS before you deliberately decided to still get married, damning the obvious consequences?” I screamed again and dad just let his head fall dejectedly on the table while mum slid down from the wall where she laid her back till her buttocks touched the tiled floor
“I am your consequence, can you damn me now? Tell me, can you?” I asked again as oceans of hot tears burned down my young cheeks.
“Definitely No! You can’t damn me but everyone else does, everything else does. Every friend I try to make does. Every game I try to play does. Thanks to you both for bringing me in to such an avoidable pain as this. It’s so pathetic mum and dad. Very big thanks to you again for setting a limit to my potentials by your choices, all in the name of love. Thank you!” I screamed for the last time in a shaky and trembling voice before storming out of the study into my room and bolted the door. I refused to respond to anyone’s voice neither did I come out for two days upon the ceaseless pleas from my parents. It was at that point they had to go bring home Success from her school. They knew that my rapport with my kid sister was quite admirable and that eventually worked the magic. Her pleas made me come out of the room but then I was looking like a chicken beaten under the rain already. She told me not to worry that she has come home to stay with me. I thought that was just to patronize me and get me off the bad mood for a while; I was shocked to see that she didn’t return back to Abaji instead continued in my school. You now see why my kid sister and I are inseparable? I love her so very much and can do anything for her because she already proved how much she loved me as well.
A lot has changed since I was a kid, since I was diagnosed at eighteen months. I have learned from my mistakes, I’m smarter. I now know what’s wrong from right, yet I don’t do the rational thing most of the time. I’ve been extraordinarily elated since last night, since the proposal. I’ve even been stealing glances at the shinning diamond ring on my third finger and Success caught me virtually all the times I attempted. We chatted almost the whole night, saying a bit about everything. She alone knew about my real feelings for Jerry all along and she kept admonishing me to stop running away from it. Inasmuch as I think she knows very little about emotions at her age, I’ve come to accept the fact that love can be so beautiful everyday and it can be so hurtful someday. Yeah! I know my storm will never end and my fate is on the wind but as long as I make my journey through eternity, I’ll show a symbol of my faith in who I am by standing for my dream if I can. This is who I am. That is what I know.
Mum came into the wardroom with Dr Bukky. My second mum, as she would rather I referred to her, looked all gorgeous this morning really. She is unusually teasing the living daylight out of me and my ribs crack from excessive laughter already.
“No way! I spoke with Tosin last night and he said he would have come back to guard me if not for his thesis,” I defended when everyone teased me about Tosin.
“Mummy… “I called Dr Bukky’s attention towards me and she held my hand very strongly.
“I need you to promise me something…”
“Anything for my dazzling baby” she replied as soon as those words were out of my mouth.
I took a deep breath and held it before talking,
“Mum, if you had an idea it was going to be like this, you wouldn’t have entered into it, would you?” I asked. I get confused on the best way to refer to the both of them whenever we were all together like this so I resolved to call Dr Bukky ‘Mummy’ while ‘Mum’ was exclusively for my real mother.
Mum nodded her head from side to side. She had told me some days ago that if she had the opportunity, she would share her parenthood experiences with the whole world and especially all those contemporary young ones that think they could damn any other consequences, including the genotypic risks, so long as a long, deep engulfing love was still available and enough for their wedding. She said she would tell me how much incessant hospital visits can change a blissful romantic home into a regular face in the hospital ward.
I turned back towards Dr Bukky,
“You and my doctor have more than enough opportunities to give as much genetic counselling as available to every wedding intender, please promise me you would do for everyone what you did for Tosin and I. Promise me you would tell the world that thousands of children are born with sickle cell disease every year and that many more would be carriers spreading this disease to their beloved innocent children, bringing to a lifetime episodes of unending pain and a life of struggle without end. Please promise me you would tell them that sickle cell disease also kills thousands each year, that is after they’ve lived a life full of pains and pains like me and the best to eliminate it is by stopping the to-be parents who are carriers of this deadly trait from proceeding with marriage. Promise me ma, that you’d tell these ones to avoid ‘wrong love’ as long as possible…”
Dr Bukky stared straight into my eyes for another one minute without saying anything.
“I’ll… We’ll do it my dear. I knew how hard it was for Tosin to let go but that remains the best decision in life, at least for posterity sake” was the only response she could come up with at last.
“The doctors slated her surgery for tomorrow morning. We are praying in that line…” Mum said so as to ease the tensed atmosphere that was beginning to gather in the room all of a sudden.
I saw Dr Bukky smile broadly while wriggling my cheeks with so much excitement before bending over to hug me. I felt the warmth from her chest as it came in contact with mine over the bed, so much so that the gold pendant necklace I had on entangled my neck by the time she released herself. Mum had asked me to pull off that necklace the very day I was changing into ‘hospital clothes’ for admission but trust me, I declined. It is the only thing, this necklace; this golden necklace is the only thing that reminds me of Tosin. It reminds me of how he coiled it round my neck beside the pool in their compound on New Year eve and even though I haven’t seen him since then, I keep the memory of me and him inside.
“What ring is on your finger Tonia?” Mum asked immediately the shining ring dazzled beams of light on her eyes as I raised my hand to adjust the necklace.
Oh! I didn’t plan to let her see it now. Of course, I would tell her but not when second mum is around. I didn’t know exactly where to start from as I left my hand hanging up in the air like a paused movie.
“Tonia accepted Jerry’s proposal yesterday!” Success screamed from the side of the room where she sat quietly all along and I immediately shut my eyes with my hand in shyness.
Mum and Dr Bukky stared at me, as though one was waiting for the other to first make a comment, as if they were both at loss for words.
Joseph didn’t see Jerry walk in. This room has become studio for almost everything, a music studio and an art studio concurrently. Jerry slowly walked over to the recording room, the room where he and his younger brother record all their ‘never-released’ albums. Joseph was really lost with that black headphone plugged in his ears as he played hard on the guitar strings. Jerry mutely watched him for few minutes before jerking him to reality with a light touch.
“How are you big bro?” Joseph asked, while dropping his headphone on the tall home studio table.
“I am fine o” Jerry exhaled, falling tiredly onto the wooden stool in front of his painting board at the other end of the almost dusty room. It’s so obvious none of the family members has used this place in a long while.
“She accepted my proposal…” He added, managing a smile.
Joseph screamed and ran over to shake him excitedly but the flip opening of the door shortened their moments of excitement especially after their father and mother walked in and stood directly in front of them.
“Joseph, we’ve not been seeing you at home frequently for two weeks now. Hope everything is alright” Jacob Onuh, their father asked as he kept approaching them.
“So for the records, I am a university student, part two Business Administration student of a federal university, not a state university like your barrister here…” he scorned winking at Jerry, “…Federal University, Lokoja Dad. Even if we are still on holidays which makes no difference anyway, because I leave home to school every day, I think I reserve the exclusive right to spend my day anyhow I plan it.” He replied firmly and everyone was placed in between chuckling and laughing at the same time, not for the sarcasm in the words but for the comic effect in the gestures.
“I didn’t know these things still exist in this house. Everywhere is quite dusty, doesn’t Caro clean this place?” Juliet, their mum, asked, remaining fixed at the door while she held a handkerchief firmly against her nose.
Jerry went over to the keyboard and started playing on the strings without uttering a statement regarding his mother’s question. He was reminiscing the night before moreso that he had told Joseph several ways he planned going about the proposal a very long time ago. Earlier, before he got to know about her disease condition, he had so many unrulily fantasies but had to make do with what he had as the situation presented itself.
“Dad, we have become real boring since we parked into Kogi state last year, so much for living in GRA. We no longer do our weekly release of family music singles anymore…” Joseph lamented, giving the guitar to his father who in turn laughed and collected it before Joseph went to drag his mother away from the door into the room.
“Can we do our family song once again?” Joseph pleaded in a babyish tone.
Jerry punched the keys immediately to give the instrumentals or interlude or whatever it was that began a family song while their father added the rhythm from the base guitar, mother started the song,
“I need you
You need me
We all are parts of God’s body
Stand with me, agree with me…”
Everyone sang with so much joy and passion that gladdened Joseph’s heart. This has been the part of his upbringing, the only memories about his family he had cherished for long and could kill to continue having a replay of.
“I love you; I need you to survive…” They chanted the concluding part of the song in unison and started clapping cheerfully.
“My man Jerry, how are you and our wife’s health coming?” Jacob asked immediately they got off the thunderous claps.
Jerry took a deep breath,
“The doctor slated her surgery for tomorrow morning. Abigail told me yesterday that she got an anonymous or is it altr… altruistic donor they called it? She got a donor anyway!” Juliet cut in before he could answer, “Poor girl, she had suffered a lot. I pray the surgery come out successful and God will richly reward whoever the donor is.” Juliet added.
Jerry started getting lost in thoughts again. He started remembering how Dr Wale patted his shoulders yesterday evening in the office, telling him not to worry because an anonymous donor has been undergoing serious and intense pre-donation screening at the hospital already and that Tonia’s blood and tissue was compatible with that one. Jerry tried hard to press the doctor further to see if he could get any leakage about this God-sent donor but obviously the doctor was too professional to disclose someone else’s details without permission.
“She accepted my proposal yesterday Dad…” Jerry announced again. He could see the vacant expression on his mother’s face. He could feel how she was trying hard within herself to swallow that news in and act normal without raising any other alarm as usual.
“That’s my son! I am so proud of you,” Dad exclaimed even though he sounded shocked but excited at the same time. “Don’t worry son, she would be alright. God is already in control. And I keep saying people with genotype AA that still marries another AA are just being selfish because the other genotypes need their help the most.” He said while holding his wife up to leave.
Jerry let out a light chuckle. He was grateful his mum didn’t raise any alarm as he envisaged but was confused why his younger brother was clearing his throat for the second time as everyone’s attention turned towards him now. He looked pale, like his mouth was dried. Though it was unusual for Joseph to ever keep quiet in any discussion whatsoever, but this time, the words on his mind were finding it difficult to gain expression through his mouth,
“If it still makes a difference anyway, I’ve been undergoing pre-operative screening at the Federal Medical Centre for the past two weeks, it’s why you all haven’t been seeing me regularly at home.” He said.
Juliet looked more dazed than everyone else in the room. She wanted to open her mouth but she was too shocked to find words and everyone moved questioning eyes from one person in the room to the other till they placed them on Joseph.
Thanks all for the support.
Spread the word.
NO to SICKLE CELL DISEASE