The morning the news broke that a new mother gouged out her new-born’s eyes the country was agog with it. The story could not be missed; it was on TV, in the papers, radio, online, on lips… Everyone everywhere was talking about it, each reacting in his own way; women in the market lifted shoulders and snapped fingers in open condemnation of the act, men at their businesses folded their arms and shook their heads, you see women, they can be very dangerous!
On the online spaces links were shared, big words were thrown around; each person trying to show how informed they were. Feminist bashers found a way to link the act to be an evil arising from feminism, feminists became defensive, arguments arose, insults were traded and ‘subs’ were apportioned as they gradually leaned away from the topic on ground to other issues. Bloggers milked the opportunity to increase traffic, luring their readers with bold and somewhat misleading headlines. And there were the few empathisers, the ones that tried to make a case for the mother, saying not to judge her since her reason or mental state was not known. These voices were drowned by the majority.
In his office, Ojiugo listened to the news as Hannat read. Hearing her read gave him pleasure and serenity. His heartbeat when the words flowed out of her mouth usually calmed to a steady, lazy rhythm, while its soft, music-like quality warmed his blood. Instead of wondering like the rest of the country about her reason, he was only shocked by her action. Her reason, he knew.
He thanked Hannat as the newspaper was returned to his desk.
“I’m just thankful it is not a woman from the North this time again, if not they will make it about religion and say we are violent, whether the woman was a Muslim faithful or not wouldn’t matter, as long as she’s from the North.” She said.
Ojiugo was silent as he thought about the many factors that widens the schisms between Nigerians and ridicules what shaky peace they front. All it usually takes is one catastrophe to have everyone scatter and regroup into factions, slinging accusations at others who they consider not one of them. This elicited a sardonic smirk.
When Hannat asked him the reason for the expression on his face he did not tell her it was because he thought of how a Nigerian will be more at peace with say a Caucasian than with a man from another Nigerian tribe. He simply said he had a thought and the day went on as usual with him dictating and her hands flying across the keys of her laptop; another sound he loved.
By the end of the day, every news station he tuned to was talking about it, even the international ones. The door to his office opened before he could power off the Television and Hannat glided in soundlessly.
“The woman’s face, Oji, there’s something familiar about it, like I’ve seen it before.” Hannat’s eyes were glued to the image on the screen.
“Yes. She’s been to The Centre before. I recognised her name this morning.”
Hannat gasped then as she remembered and her wonder at the woman’s action increased.
Mrs Remi Solanke was a beautiful woman, according to the whispers at The Centre the day she came. Oji had not wanted to attend her lecture that day. He figured it would be like the others, a bunch of people wanting to assuage their conscience by doing something for the less privileged which they ended up sharing on social media for the world to see and approve. He would not be a part of the circus. So he stayed on in Hannat’s quarters and listened to her talk.
When they ran out of things to talk about, and the day was far from over, they left for The Centre’s main hall to partake in the lecture. She was talking about The Power of Compound Interest. Unlike the others, she wasn’t speaking from a place of privilege; taking for granted that her audience had the wherewithal. Instead she was being practical, teaching how one can invest even with minimum income.
“You are different from the rest of us in a good way. You are less materialistic from what I’ve seen. You can turn this to your favour if rather than just save, you invest.”
At this statement Johnbull raised his hand and signalled to the sign language interpreter who voiced his question to Mrs Solanke. There were lots of investment opportunities, but how could he know which was the best for him? Johnbull’s shoe and bag making business was raking in impressive revenue, he had even moved out of The Centre to rent a house. Now he wanted to go a step further to protect his fortune.
Mrs Solanke gave out her phone number then and promised to be available to assist them in making the right investment decisions. Oji listened and memorized the number.
More questions were fielded. A woman who introduced herself as Labake started to wheel her chair to the front to point out something on the white board and a stout man with a gut so large the last two buttons of his shirt had to stay open, stepped in and wheeled her to the front. He appeared normal, until Labake rather than word her gratitude signed it and he bowed silently in acceptance then waited to wheel her back.
Her gaze was taking them all in, even as she taught. Behind were two late comers; a small lady with twisted limbs in an electronic wheel chair and a man standing beside her, his hand resting protectively on the back of the chair. He was considerably good looking and well dressed in quality clothes. He twirled a pen in his free hand continuously, his eyes darting around the room but focusing on nothing in particular.
Every one of them present had a disability, yet they all seemed at peace with themselves and each other and were quick to come to the aid of another. Mrs Solanke thought the rest of the world could learn from them and said as much before she ended her lecture.
“The people who have not been here think you deserve pity. I thought so too before I came here, but you here are living the ideal life. Now I know that the loss of one sense is not the worst thing to befall a person, it is the loss of our humanity that is. And outside of this place, a lot of us have lost it. Do everything to make sure you don’t lose yours.”
Led by Hannat, Oji went after Mrs Solanke to drill her more on her promise to be available to help with investment decisions. Finding her in the reception he told her about his business and introduced Hannat, his assistant. Mrs Solanke saw beyond the words spoken and wondered how such an unlikely pair could end up together. He was handsome and seemed rich, she was none of those, but they were obviously in a relationship deeper than the business arrangement they had. She wondered if he would have chosen her if he had his sight.
Their conversation stretched and they had to sit. Hannat soon excused herself, leaving Oji with Remi – as she asked to be addressed. In spite of how wise and advanced she sounded Oji suspected she was a very young woman. He asked if she meant what she said about the loss of a sense not being such a misfortune. She said she meant it.
He enquired whether she would have married a blind man and she paused, as if thinking, then she gave a mirthless laugh.
“At the time I wouldn’t have. I was vain. I wanted the best – to be envied. Now …” Her voice trailed off.
“Maybe I should have.” She said ruefully.
They were both silent after that.
When she spoke again it was with her hand on Oji’s shoulder. “You see ehn, the eyes are the doorways to the soul. If the soul is going to be contaminated it would be through the eyes. What you cannot see, you cannot long for with a desperation that leads you to commit a vice.”
She was back at The Centre for People Living with Disabilities two more times after that, but not for a lecture. She sat in the common room and fraternized with anyone of the occupants who came through. Both times Oji was not present at the home. Like Johnbull, he had his own home away from the Centre and only visited sometimes to be among kindred folks.
Oji was at his office, which doubled as his home, when she visited him one late afternoon. Hannat was off for the entire week, as she was every month once her period started, incapacitating her. When he answered the knock at the gate, he did not need to ask who it was; he recognized the clean, fresh and expensive smell that was unique to her.
“I hear you have been frequenting The Centre.” He was bent in front of the fridge, feeling drink cans to get her the brand she requested.
“I like it there. It’s my peaceful place. I’ve only been here for a short while, but this place feels peaceful too.” She looked around at the massive room which appeared even bigger because of the sparse furniture and felt it was too much space for one person’s office. She said as much. He told her he liked large spaces. “It gives me room to move around without bumping my shin into anything.”
They spoke about a lot. She asked how long he’s known Hannat. For years. He was still living at the Centre when she was brought in, depressed and angry at the world after the accident that rendered her disabled. Whenever he was around her he could feel the sadness seeping out of her to cloak him. By telling her about his own life, how his family got tired of being held down by a blind son and deposited him at The Centre he made her realize it could have been worse. With time she started speaking, the first time he heard her voice he sat by her side for hours, unable to leave, mesmerized for the first time in his life, in love also for the first time.
That voice has been with him ever since. When he started a coaching business, teaching students how to play over fourteen musical instruments, the voice was there to do the introductions for him. When he expanded and began selling music instruments, it was there. When he was at his lowest, it was Hannat’s voice that could get him out of it.
Remi heard the fierce loyalty in his voice for Hannat and envied the girl who had won the love of such a man. She wondered again if he would love her if he knew what she looked like.
“Do you have an idea what she looks like?”
He shook his head. “I like how her face feels in my palms. I’ve heard people whisper that she’s ugly. My lack of sight means my sense of hearing is heightened so I hear what people don’t mean for me to hear. But it doesn’t matter. I don’t know what beauty looks like. Beauty for me feels like Hannat.”
“She’s a lucky woman.”
“I’m sure yours is a lucky man too.”
“Oh he’s lucky alright. There are more than enough of us making him feel lucky.” He heard the scorn in her voice but decided it wise to ignore.
He met her one more time after that and she reminded him of Hannat on her first days in The Centre. She was emitting sorrow in waves, it was suffocating. Rather than talk about his portfolio, which was the reason for their meeting, he spent the entire evening trying to cheer her up, while she tried, unsuccessfully, to keep as much of her woes as possible away from him.
Weeks later, he heard her on TV. She was a participant in a town hall meeting held between citizens and the Vice President of the country, during which she raised a question about the present administration’s efforts to include people living with disability in governance. He was impressed with her concern.
Though he never met with her again, one question she asked him that last day ten months ago resounded with him.
“There are many religious men who claim to restore sight, why haven’t you tried any? Or are you not eager to see?”
There was a time when his only desire was to see. His days were spent, not in school, but in religious houses, none visited more than three times. His mother was a woman who expected immediate results and when they were not forth coming she moved on.
He remembered them all; the faith they evoked in him the common factor uniting all of them. Each time his hope in their ability was ruined and with each disappointment he came to hope just a little less.
Dropping him off at The Centre had been the catalyst that woke him from a life spent doing nothing else but waiting and hoping; hoping to understand the concept of colours, distance and shapes, to know what people mean when they talk of the whirl wind and how it moves… waiting for his life to truly begin.
At the Centre, surrounded by people like him, he started living. He wanted his sight so bad back then, now, to answer Remi’s question honestly, he didn’t know if he would jump at the chance to have this sense he lacked. If having it will make him stop perceiving Hannat as beautiful, or to see her and other occupants of The Centre as less than himself, if it meant he will cause people sorrow like the one Remi wore with her skin, then he would think a thousand times about accepting it.
He hit the button on the remote to switch off the television. He will have to stop by at The Centre before returning home. Everyone there will have heard the news and will have questions. He wanted to make sure they were not getting answers that will cause them great confusion, or worse, hatred.
“Why will she do a thing like that?” Hannat asked a few feet away from him, the shock evident in her voice.
The next day her question and that of every citizen was answered. Splayed in bold fonts on the front page of every newspaper in the country was a quote from Mrs Remi Solanke. On the Guardian newspaper was printed; “A combination of eyes and penis in a man is lethal. Better he’s without one. I made that decision for my son.” – evil mother.
© Lilian Chidiogo Ezejelue
First published by http://www.themustycorner.com