‘The life I now live, I live not with life. I remember those eternal words like yesterday, “Many are busy making a living without having a life.” It would have been good if I was making a living, nay I was rather just living. I looked through the pane of the darkly lit room, through the horror of what feeds me now. I am confined to this room, to this loneliness. If I were a prisoner, maybe I would have been contented. But can you explain the prison of circumstance, prison you were never meet for? Can this room not be what it is for what it could be?
My mother came in without knocking. She was here to comfort me. She came to tell me that I am not only the victim of fate. She came to say why we do not live to decide some things. I might be able to choose a political leader. I might be able to choose what I want to become, or even who I want to marry. But I decide not, what sex I want to be or to whom I would love to be born to. You might decide to change your name but what you grow to be called is a function of a naming by another. I thought why someone should decide for me my identification. Of course, I was just a baby.
She leant closer and began to say, ‘When your sister was born, the world was silent. We all were rejoicing. Everyone was glad, uncontrolled in our expression of elation. It was such a soothing night. Amidst the smiles and joy, my mother-in-law was crying. At first, I thought it were tears of joy. I was wrong….’
The curling of her lips, her languid gestures and the overt dullness of her gaze unsettled me. Was her presence in the room telling? Maybe she was losing it; the hope of my possible survival becoming a bleakness of fact to her. That overwhelmed me. I shrilled.
‘…You know, your grandmother and me never really got along since I married your father. She was a pain that clogged my throat. She was annoying. Seeing her that day weeping profusely unsettled me for a while; people were amazed too. I was not too sure who asked her but someone probed, wanting to know why she was crying. I remembered her response till today, “she looks like my dead mother. Her name must be Iyabo,” she said. We couldn’t fight her, neither could I argue. I had craved for peace with her. I thought of your father, my acceptance would mean a lot to him and our marriage. Maybe at last she would be the friend I had always wanted in my mother-in-law, I thought. But I was wrong. That’s not actually what I’m driving at. See my point is this, your sister suffered for that name. She suffered for a name she never chose; a name with an evil shelling. You know the story; at least you grew up to know some.’ She stood up and left.
For some minutes, I could not think. Pain. Agony. Heartache. Sorrow. Tears. Anguish. All flashed within a minute. NEVER. Yes, I grew up to know some of her story and those words are the summary. I can’t imagine another minute of such experience. I’m fragile. I’m soft. I’m frail. She was strong. I might not be able to choose this painful experience but surely I can now choose whether I still want to be in this room. Surely, hell would be better. Did my mother come to assuage my pains with words? Words and pains don’t match? Or had she come to subtly tell me what lies ahead? Was she giving her nod?
I think I have the right to choose when life becomes intolerable to me.
The faint echoes of my troubled past ravished my thought. The gory state of my present, too bare to bear, softened me. It rendered me empty once again. This was an emptiness I am familiar with; an emptiness that had almost engendered me to commit suicide. This is the same contemplation that has now soaked me thoroughly. I shuddered at the thought and I stared undecidedly at the window. The window which has now become a muse to me. I could hear its message. The message seems even more eloquent than my mother’s statements. It was the barricade that stands between this clamped world of my room and the soft renders of the atmosphere outside. At once, I thought of what the barricade between life and death is. I almost reached out to the window. I almost wished I could open it and breathe again the familiar scent of the growing oak behind it. At once again, I wished my opening it could be my access to the other world, the other world where life is guaranteed. I wished the tree was that tree of life that could guarantee my vindication from the dew of death that has caressed my soul. Yet still, I wanted to cling to that tree unremittingly.
I slept for a while. And then, I had a dream. In the dream I saw a doctor. He came to me with a word. He said, “kill”. I didn’t understand and I remember asking him to help. He took out a syringe and injected me. I jerked and then I died.
I saw a sarcophagus appeared and quickly it disappeared. Then I heard a knock. It jolted me back to life, and looked up. It was Ajoke. What was left of her was the shadow of her past. Her eyes were sucked out of place and her countenance charged with so much sadness. She could not even pretend to be cheerful. Everyone seemed to be sad these days. This was not the Ajoke I used to know. Things seem to have changed. I remembered the day I met her.
It was a wet Sunday.
She was all smiles. She looked like someone who had never known suffering. She was dressed in an overflowing gown, so soft, lush and exposing. The curvy shape of her body had sent my senses reeling. I could not approach her that day because I was yet to overcome my shyness. I could not tell her how beautiful she looked because I had been taught to be mute all my life. It was a policy from dad. Our conduct outside home is about his social relevance. We were beaten for stray conducts not because he wanted us to learn but because he couldn’t bear us spoil his name among peers. I had always considered it selfish. But truly, are all men not?
I moved towards her and reached for her face. I touched it. I tried to make sense of it. I wanted to tell her how much I love her. I wanted to say how sorry I was to have allowed things play themselves this way. I couldn’t.
No. I wept. I wept so much that my tears became a river in the room. I saw the look on her face. It was familiar. The misery only masked it but I saw the fire at the balcony of her eyes. It was love. I recognize it anytime. I had seen it before. From that angle of her eyes, tears strolled from it. Her tears were generating this anguish; this pain I couldn’t explain. They laced my fingers to her face. The tears were hot. Hot with anger. It was hot with despair. We hugged but there was no flesh. And so we mutually enjoyed the priviledge of crying together.
Soon we were through and we sat close to each other on the bed. We were staring into the space. It was like it gave us comfort but we said nothing. I looked at her as though that was the last time I would see her. It was this same silence that played its tune between us the first day we met. Is it the same that would play itself before we finally say goodbye?
She moved towards the window. She wanted to open it. She wanted to…I don’t know. Then strangely, she stopped abruptly. It was like something told her what she was about to do was ominous. Then she turned, looked at me with this sudden realization gaze. I saw fear. I saw pity. I saw everything I had feared. She seemed to be given up on hope. And she made to leave.
I gathered strength. I was going to shout. I was going to tell her to wait; to stop. I wanted her, that her presence in this room was encouraging. Let’s share our grief together. Let’s talk about death together. Let’s drown in the rivers of tears. But I couldn’t. I have become voiceless. When she got to the door, she spoke without looking at me. She said, “I died last night.” Her voice was thin and almost inaudible. It seemed like two tons of elephant were sitting on it. There was no life to it. I only heard the gentle whispers of her trembling lips.
We died long time ago, I thought. She left me alone again. She left me to my silence. She left me to my fears. She left me to my privation.
I left the bed for my floor. I remembered the biblical Job. How a man of wealth became a man of dearth. The highest height of misfortune. I allowed my gory past to hunt my soul. I made my imperfection torment my flesh. But there was a knock again. And a man with a dangling cross around his neck came in. He had a sturdy built body. In his hands were a white bottle and a massive bible. He came in and asked for my name. But I was silent. He asked him if I had stolen from my mother before. But I was silent still. He asked if I smoke or drink. He reeled on with his avalanche of question. But the stupidity of many of it made me resolve to further keep quiet.
I found his questions ridiculous. What has all those got to do with my sickness? If he was poised to weave my sickness around my sins he had better think so and not ask questions. I smiled inside when the question of stealing from my mother sneaked to my mind again. Of course I had. And she caught me. I stole her meats and I was caught on my third try. I remembered I had told her I was helping her count the meats but I couldn’t remember any other thing. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I never had sex. Even Ajoke had not privileged me for lip taste. In morals, I should be passed. He was a fake; I just knew it.
He started ranting; shouting, cursing and jumping like a released buffalo. “Yabbbbbayabba Rooobooobo kaaaakkaaa!!! Hey, the Lord is speaking. He says you should come hither from this valley of silence to the mountain of confession. Confess. Confess. O son of Lucifer, confess. The Lord is here. He is ready to forgive your sins.” I saw him stole a gaze at me. It wasn’t working, then he changed his prayers. “All your enemies must scatter. All the enemies of your household, God is breaking their backs. Those who are women won’t give birth. The men are rendered impotent. Hey, emi o! Lebroobobo Yededede. Take it!”
I dare not take that madness. That would have worsened my case. Adding insanity to my state would rather render me ‘impotent’. After all his gimmicks, he left the room disappointed after five hours of athletic resolves. It was like a sick man trying to help a dying man.
I felt weak when I saw another figure enter the room. It was my father. As far as I was concerned, he died long time ago too. He had just returned home from one of his ceaseless political meetings. He touched my head and he looked at me with something more of a caring look than a pitiful one.
“I’m sorry. I know I have not been there as a father. I have failed you. I have failed God. Can you forgive me?” I was shocked. This was a man my mother has struggled to make sense to over time but had not seen her. As soon as he became a senator, he remembered that my mother had no university degree. He did not miss the fact that she had no scintilla of beauty meet for public engagements. He did not forget that my mother was getting old and becoming more like a mother than as a wife. I gasped for more.
“You see, I did not attend to you when I ought to have. I was interested in lording it over you as a master and not a father. Looking at you today and knowing that you have few days to live I think I owe you an apology.”
I was green with fury. I knew it. Old soldiers truly never die, they just fade away. He was lying. He only came here to ridicule me. He only came here to satisfy his conscience. He only came here to remind me how much of a burden I am to the family. He only came to tell me how quick I can make my death. I was surprised but not disappointed.
He got up and left. He was so brief and his message was so eloquent.
I know the time has come for me to release myself that others might be. I have a rope here and a chair. Trust me; death is sweet when it is most strategic.’
• *** *******
Asake got up from the bed with the letter sparingly wet and realized she had been crying all the while. She knew she was the only one who knew his sickness. The thought of his actions overwhelmed her. She approached her mirror and saw what has become of her also. She can’t go home. She can’t look into her mother’s eyes and tell her what went wrong. She had to be brave. And just like her friend has done, she believes death can be justifiable. She picked a rope and a chair and left the room.