Little things, Musings

Jonathan’s chronicles

It’s been very quiet here because I needed to resettle into my Naija country. Someone, we’re all settlers… always reaching for more. And I’ve missed my readers and they’ve missed me.

My story begins with January instead of October. I deleted it from Nijava’s with hopes to take the story to a wider audience by publishing it on adda stories. But you know… rejection is part of a writer’s game. I’m glad to associate baby Jonathan to my come back. You’ll always be fondly remembered. 

 

January is almost ended. Only four more days to go. It feels like I’ve already lived a year. I think I am getting better in the art of assuming the problems / needs of others and of sharing in them; making them mine. And so I have lived so much. I’ve wept and smiled and laughed so hard.

But today made the crowning point of it all.

Jonathan was born and died today.

When I was in primary school, I learnt a rhyme of Solomon Grundy for the days of the week –

Solomon Grundy; born on a Monday, christened on Tuesday, married on Wednesday, …, died on Saturday, buried on Sunday. That was the end of Solomon Grundy.

It didn’t make sense then. I couldn’t fathom how Solomon who lived for only one week could have done so many things. Now, many years later, I don’t have a Solomon. I have a Jonathan instead. I’m going to let him tell his own story. It’s a short one. It lasted not one day but 60 minutes only; 3600 intense seconds.

—–

My name is Jonathan and I am a being for death. Of course that quote isn’t mine – it’s Heidegger’s. A 60 minute old child isn’t supposed to know anything, to have lived anything, to have felt anything. But I know a lot. I know what it is to be chosen to be kept and loved by a mum and a dad and 2 sisters and a brother.

10 weeks ago, when I was five months old inside my mum, we went to hear what the doctors had to say. They said something like ‘fatal kidney failure’ and mentioned ‘death’. At that point, I stopped swimming and squatted still. Not because I knew what that word meant. I mean, I don’t have any online dictionaries inside the womb. I stopped because I could feel mummy’s dread.

The doctor went on and advised abortion given the circumstances. The baby – I – wasn’t going to live after being born. Most couples chose that option. The other one wasn’t worth trying. I wasn’t worth keeping.

Daddy thanked the doctors and got up, ready to take his wife home. A decision had to be made. Mum’s cloud of dread hung thick over me. I laid still, face up, wondering what it all meant.  Mum began to cry as soon as they got into the car. I was disturbed as the cries racked her. But that cry was good, very good. It drove the cloud of dread away. All was clear again. My life had returned to normal. My world was okay again. I resumed swimming.

Two weeks later, I heard Tess, Dan and Leah whispering together. Dad and mum had called a council. Dad repeated what the doctors said, omitting death and the abortion option. It made no difference anyway. I still didn’t know what those words meant. What mattered was this – that thick fog had been dispersed two weeks ago and it hadn’t come back since then. My siblings erupted into cheers. Dad had added that although the doctors had vouched for the uselessness of the decision, we were, they were going to keep the baby. And – mum added – we’re keeping Jonathan. Hurray!

Now they had to inform the rest of the family. Well, I suppose each one reacted in his way. Don’t ask me. I don’t know. What I know is that since that day when Dad told his family and mum told hers, I became a celebrity. There was ‘Jonathan’ on many lips. There were many cries to heaven for Jonathan. My aunt Charlie went as far as telling everyone of her over 100 Philosophy and Theology classmates in Rome; her Jonathan was passing through a rough time and could they please say some little prayer for him and the family.  My feeling of importance shot up. I am Jonathan and I am world famous.

Mum changed clinic. She simply started going to another. I found it strange. But no matter. I guess a woman like her knows what’s best for her baby. The doctors in the new clinic said it was going to be very difficult, almost impossible. But never again did I hear the words ‘useless’ or ‘needless’ or ‘in vain’. Given that everyone, even my 2 year old sister Leah, was saying a little prayer for me, dad decided to add his grain of sand. He would pat mummy’s stomach many times. And I felt his touch; as if he was holding on to me, asking me to fight, to hold on. But I don’t even know what ‘to fight’ means.

Fast track to New Year’s Eve. I was now 28 weeks old. Mum was going to see the doctors again and Dad had patted me to say that he was coming of course. The doctors mentioned February 13th and added ‘an hour more or less’. Dad, I suppose, sent the message to his extended group. My aunt repeated it to all her classmates – a cry for help for Jonathan. Help for his family.

Today finally arrived. But it wasn’t February 13th as planned. I couldn’t wait. I had to come now or never. At 6.40am, I was born into earth. After the quick clean up by the nurses, everyone rushed in. Mum was weak but smiling. Dad too. But there was this tinge of sadness in the corners of his eyes. Mum’s dad was there. Dad’s parents too.

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Baby Jonathan and his brother

They all wanted to hold me, to cuddle me. I couldn’t understand. I could only rest in the intensity of their love. As if they could transform every one of those minutes into days, into years. Imagine, 60 years instead of 60 minutes. But what am I saying – I don’t even know what a ‘year’ is.

They took pictures with me. I was truly a star. They wanted to keep these memories of their baby and their brother and their grandchild. I was slipping away. But I didn’t know it. I was just content to be in the arms of Tess, Dan and Leah; their arms joined together to hold me, their brother. Time pass quickly. Time passed quickly. Mum called for her baby. And she cuddled me with dad on the bed beside her. I was still slipping, going by the minute. Leaving, leaving…, and still leaving; until the 60th minute when I left. Mum’s dad broke into tears.

—-

Jonathan died at 7:40am today, 60 minutes after he was born, surrounded by family and by love. They dressed him in a white dress with tiny wings attached. Their little angel! And they mourned him, each in his / her way, but together, closely bound by this baby.

Thanks to Charlie for the privilege to share in this story. 2 weeks ago, I practically wept over the death of Catherine, who died from infections after giving birth. She was a total stranger to me. I stumbled on her story on Facebook and wept with the knowledge that she died in an attempt to give life. Women shouldn’t die in the life giving process.

My sorrow was dealt another blow when I read Akwaeke’s story of removing her uterus for reasons which I would never have imagined. Dear Akwaeke, I wish you a quick and complete recovery from your surgery; and a light in your path of discerning your place in this world. I’m with you!

Then came the good news of the birth of my niece. My sister posted pictures on Facebook, thanking our dear mother for having gone to help with the baby. I appreciate my sister. I love the baby. My senses have been sharpened by sorrow. I value this new act of generosity by my sister and her husband. Never again will I take it for granted. My sister added – ‘many more grandchildren on the way’. How beautiful.

Dear Rebecca and Simon, parents of Jonathan, we are with you. And Jonathan too. From heaven. He’ll help you adjust, recover; help you to live through those moments when you’ll want your child in your arms, your new born baby. When your breasts will be full with milk, ready to feed your Jonathan who now has no need of it. You won’t ask yourself if it was worth it – you already answered that question 11 weeks ago when you said yes to Jonathan, to Him. Thank you so much for keeping Jonathan. Thank you so much for giving him the 60 minutes chance. Thank you. Thank you.

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Little things, Musings

Give and take? Receive and give

Benjamin Enekhai started a blog some years ago and he called it ‘Cogito ergo sum’. I think therefore I am. I got an invite to the blog and I was bemused with the name. Descartes had coined that phrase in latin before latin was left to only the Catholic church. And Benjamin has always been a latin freak [at least for my almost non – existent level of latin].

I think therefore I am. A going from the subjective to the objective, from one’s reason to the tangible world. It’s what we call rationalism today. And we are the products – all of us! because we are children of our time. Don’t we try to fit reality to our own way of thinking? Look around you; see and appreciate the widespread individualism. I think – it’s I, me, myself. I’m not only in the centre. I’m the centre!

So Java, aren’t you exaggerating? I am. Each one bears the individualism in varying degrees. I know and I live with many people who are more selfless than individualistic. Or who are at least trying to be. My friend Benjamin belongs to that category. That’s why I was bemused. And I told him so – ‘I know you, my bro. And I think this title is not the best for a blog owned by you’.  He accepted. The blog was renamed – Nemo dat quod non habet. No one [can] gives what he doesn’t have. That phrase stuck with me – so simple yet so profound. Active voice, present tense; easy to remember. I can’t give what I don’t have. Neither can you. It’s that straightforward.

But I want to. I want to give time, an open ear, joy, hope, peace, smiles, encouragement, understanding, faith, Christ. The spiritual intangible goods are harder to give. It’s a paradox. They don’t diminish by being given; yet we rarely find them given.

Let’s go back to cogito. I think, therefore I am. I’ve tried it before. We’re a self – sufficient bunch right? Add to that a strong choleric temperament and you have me. I’ve tried it before. I’ll do this by myself – when she come in, I’ll smile at her. I’ll not nag him. I’ll try to see things from her point of view. I’ll share her joy instead of being envious [the bad envy eh!]. I’ve tried and I have failed.

Existentially speaking, cogito ergo sum didn’t take me far. Until I met Cogitor. I found it in a theology manual. Cogitor ergo sum. Passive voice, present tense. I am thought of; therefore I am. It thrusts me back to objectivity. I am not the centre. I don’t have to do everything. I also have to receive. I have received my being, my existence from something, from someone outside of me. I can receive time, an open ear, etc., from someone, from others. And then I’ll have.  Then I can give. Better still, if I’m open to constantly receive, I can also constantly give out of my overflow.  Without this, nemo dat quod non habet. You can’t give what you don’t have.

 

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Musings

‘Deatheaters’

What do you do when you lose 4 members of your family in a space of less than 2 years? First your aunt, then grandma 1 followed by grandma 2 and now your uncle.

What do you do when you know that your dad is hurting so much over the death of his brother and the only thing you can tell him is ‘has the burial date been fixed?’ When you want to hug him so tight but you can’t ‘cos you’re thousands of miles away?

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2 crazy friends posing as VOLDEMORT and L. MALFOY in a HP’S themed dinner

What do you do when you realize that despite your mum’s brave front, she’s so devastated by the turn of events? So much so that she has asked her prayer group to pray over her and cast away the spirit of death.

What do you do when your sister is so upset because she thinks that some family members are partly responsible for her uncle’s death? Because as she has judged, they failed to take adequate care of him while he was sick.

What do you do when the answer to ‘has the date been fixed’ is ‘no o. We’re waiting for money’? And you know that it’s just a polite way of saying ‘my dear, we’re still recovering from the burial of your grandma last October’.

What do you do when you want to cry out ‘enough? Why do we have to do expensive burials, depleting savings and even up to the point of borrowing? Why can’t we do simple but dignified burials?’ why do we have to give a banquet, to throw a party when we know that we can’t?’

What do you do when these thoughts accompany you throughout your day but you hold your peace because you can only think ‘will my people understand?’

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Fiction, Musings

Lights and shadows

My friends on Facebook put up all sorts of posts. I thought to share two of the best marriage posts I read some weeks ago –

sometimes we get crazy at each other instead of being crazy about each other, yet we soldier on as God’s grace sustains us. Need to believe there’s God? take a look at us. (Darlington Iriogbe on his first wedding anniversary)

… I PRAY that God continues to bless us (would have said ‘you’ but we are one now *winks*). (Georgette Ezechukwu on her husband’s birthday)

Life is not perfect – thanks Oluoma Udemezue for the reminder. But I’m pleased to add this opinion that we both share – that there are many, who like my friends, give their best to make their marriage work.

But then there are some who don’t. Sometimes not out of bad will. But because life is richer than we can ever imagine and sometimes things don’t just work out despite everything. Oluoma sent me a well written story that kind of illustrates this. Or maybe not.


 

Enugu was lonely at that time, and a handful of cold-dry wispy breeze charmed the dust off the earth to a revolt adding some verve to the lonely road. It was New Year’s Eve. A time to discard stuffs you don’t intend to carry into a new year: sins, guilt, long-suffering, burden….

A 2016 Range cut through the cold unnoticed; it made straight for a restaurant down the road.

The scarcity of life on the road gave Chioma food for thought; she roamed in her deep thoughts, of what not to carry along too, into a more promising year; she kept on rubbing at her silver and gold crested wedding ring, as though they weighed down on her searching thoughts. It was a wedding that drew reputation to the open. No, she didn’t want to think straight; to think straight is to make her a rational being and to become a rational being is to be human. No, humane. Yes, that was the right word; to become what she wasn’t would only cause her to forgive, but could she afford to forget? She gazed upon the band that had fisted on her finger: ‘ten years was no common joke.’ She remembered the stern look her eccentric mother spat at her before she walked out on her decision. She wanted only one thing out of the present: to feel her own presence beside him.

The ride from Agbani road to Nise suddenly turned pale orange –just like the street lights of Lagos. Lagos was a dreamer. She felt hot and nasty all of a sudden and gazed out through the clear glass, while the space between them itched to be filled by some soothing. She left her ringed finger, and led the idle hand to her right ear lobe. All of a sudden, she turned pink and felt some flakes of guilt, and suddenly returned the roaming hand where it belonged, on her laps; covered by a short shimmering silver gown; it came home in a gift pack, back with Obi in order to spoil her silly. A shy smile lit up by the corners of her red lips, but her eyes caught the stained back seat, through the review mirror and the smiles indulgently faded away the way they came. Little Kodilichukwu would have been eight that day, had she not been in so great hurry to get to work. The truck would have got her, and not him. She died each time her eyes caught that spot and Obi knew it, but he had decided not to change to car seats, just to punish her.

Obi had already hit the headlights on: it was as though he was not present. They threw silence at each other with uncanny circumstances. He had his full weight on the car seat, too comfortable in his red and white isi agu –his people had given him a title after helping out with a bore hole, one out of too many attentions he had gotten that year. His sight was fixed on the road, but less, fixed on her. But those firm hands he gently placed on the steering wheel could be quick tempered at times. They bumped into a pothole; he grunted and finally slowed the car in front of Calabash restaurant. She couldn’t actually punch a fist at what impregnated the silence between them; nurtured it and purged it out to haunt their marriage. They actually existed in a lake of purgatory, paying for what they actually have no idea about. Obi was different, but she couldn’t let go. Lagos; the subtle memories wouldn’t go away –it stuck close like a bad smell, a bad old habit. But Obi; through his rimmed double lenses, couldn’t see the guilt that was written all over her; the moment she stepped through the door, after Lagos. Or did he? The sea salt mixed with champagne and the luxuries of his yacht still hung about her; the feeling repelled and rebelled everything that walked in her way since she came back, but Obi.

They stepped through the door of the restaurant after Obi locked the car door. He smiled down at her, a quaint smile –Obi was much taller– before they jammed hands to service stray eyes.

Luxury was the best word to describe the restaurant. They walked into a band led by Oliver De Coque junior; he delighted the guests with Biri Ka Mbiri, it was as though they were the ones the music was meant for –Obi just received a transfer letter to Paris from the oil company—so, it was their music, the others knew he got the transfer, including the smudge of red lipstick on the collar of his white crispy shirt that bade her welcome immediately she walked through the door from Lagos. So, they couldn’t wait for her to turn her back before they went in for the kill: creeping mice.

Obi knew virtually all who seemed too eager to meet his handy wife while they had cleavage display icons by their sides. While he generously made his way around their tables, she felt out of place as always, drew back and left him on the spotlight, the way it has always been. Later, a very young waiter –she noticed for the first time in ten years- led them to a quiet corner, presented the menu in a thick leather bound file and waited with a generous smile that smeared all over them like hot butter on bread. Chioma gazed through the menu, but all she saw was the guilt of Lagos. Obi held the menu in his hands: those hands that cut through wood to see him through the university, it was still those hands that plotted the proposal that won him a good position at the oil company, those hands held her fingers –when he went about in a pair of woollen shoes– while the other made her wear a diamond stud for ten years and counting. Her hands went back to her ear lobe, but this time, it could not miss the spot, the one very close to her ears, where she had to mould with unending Mac foundation, in order to hide her blood that already congealed. It hasn’t gone down yet, she thought. It would have been nice to stay back in Lagos: on Yinka’s yacht, his mansion and his world, where they could do nothing, but frolic on old school days. She had only gone to visit her sister, but he appeared, out of nowhere and swept her off her feet.

“You are not hungry?”

She was gently snuffed away from her day dream by Obi’s concerned voice. She looked at the hairy hand he casually placed on hers –they were cold and strong. Cold from working too long and too hard at the rigs, his wife had to make do with the overflowing and suffocating benevolence of the oil company. She looked at the raised knotted inquisitive browse of a total stranger: Obi.

“No.”

At that instance, they heard loud crashing of plates held by a waiter that even interrupted the band that played.

“No.”

She said again, but this time around, it was forceful, not like the first time. It was as though air was trapped in her tracks, but she forced herself to push beyond it. Her mother’s stern look came at her for the last time, but she found the will to brush her aside, because she knew that theirs was a family, broken.

 

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Fiction, Musings

Pamela’s Patina

Seeing that she was quiet, he left the room. He was upset and needed to calm down; upset and disappointed that his granddaughter could lie to his face like this.

True to his expectations, her sadness had continued. Wednesday passed – the same. When on Thursday, she was still depressed, he became alarmed. Brooding had become her god over the past three days and a jealous one at that. To serve him well, she had embarked on rigorous fasting, barely touching her food and pushing it away. As such, she was fast losing body weight. The irony of it was that it would have been a most welcome development, had circumstances been different. With each passing day, he became more and more afraid for the health of his frail grandchild.

“Is it so difficult for you to confide in me?” he asked again that Thursday afternoon.

She had some notebooks and a Mathematics textbook on the table. She had intended to finish her assignments but brooding got the better of her. She remained there, seated, looking at the books and into space at the same time.

“Pamela, what’s eating you?”

She got up and went to stand by her favourite spot – the window overlooking the small garden, the tears streaming down her face. At once, he followed suit.

“I don’t deserve all this agony, Pamela.” He said, breaking the silence.

“What agony?” asked a surprised Pamela, quickly wiping off her tears with the back of her palms. She had not heard him approach.

“The agony of watching my grandchild, fight a losing battle with an unseen opponent, and not being able to help her. It breaks my heart, Pamela. It really does.

“What losing battle? What opponent? Oh! I wish my problem could be solved by the good use of English Grammar.” She turned to look at him. “I love you, grandpa and I care very much about you. I do not want to hurt your feelings or see you sad and heartbroken” she was beginning to feel guilty. “And that’s precisely why I’m trying to shield you from the knowledge of my problem.”

“But you are making a mess of it” he retorted “You’re not hiding it well as you claim. If that was your intention, then ab initio, you should have acted like your normal self, as if all was well. Then I would have gone about my business, deceived into thinking that nothing was wrong in the first place” he said angrily. Then his tone became gentler

“But that would have been impossible, Pamela. You’re a bad actress…” She smiled for the first time in days.

“And I’m your grandfather. I know you and I know you very well because I love you very much, ok.”

He put his arms round her. “Your heart is heavy. At your service  is someone who cares, who is ready to listen. Besides, he’s not just someone, he’s family. I tell you, it’s not every time that one is lucky enough to find a listening ear ….”

“‘Class’” Pamela said quietly, dry-eyed; there were no more tears to shed.

“Class?” he repeated, surprised at what the word class had to do with the problem.

“Yes, class. I was as puzzled as you now are when I first heard it.” She proceeded to explain “One needs to be from the upper class to qualify for the contest and one must be able to prove it.” She stopped. It was her turn to be surprised as he slightly threw back his head and exploded into raucous laughter.

{Excerp from Miss Turris by Amaka Anozie}

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I have given this post a ‘forced’ title. Patina is not exactly the word to describe Pamela’s attitude. But it’s the new world I learned today thanks to wordpress and Merriam – Webster dictionary. I find it very interesting that ‘patina’ comes from ‘paten’. The paten – a small but very important tray – is at the highest point of the Holy Mass in the Catholic Church. There, the bread offered is transformed totally into the body of Christ. And we partake of it. We do so to feed our souls, hoping in the eternal life while living fully this present one.

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