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.

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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

DRINKS AND THE SOUND OF MUSIC

My first contact with the sound of music was thanks to Mrs. Togonu – Bickersteth, the vice principal of my Federal College. That day, without previous warning – at least to the students – the academic staff had gone on strike and we were bereft of classes. To help us take advantage of that free time, the vice principal invited all the girls to the school hall to see the musical. I had to leave with other day students half way through. This was in 2001.

Over the years, I have seen clips of it on TV, listened to my friends sing some of the songs, sang doe, a deer, a female deer in music class at school; but I never got to see the movie from start to finish. Until recently. With the birthday of Amanda.

Amanda, my friend from Hong Kong, wanted a big birthday bash. So we went all out for it. A good homemade buffet, thanks to the Administration of my residence, a make-shift bar with a proper bar tender to boot and a movie! From the dining room, we went, cock – tails in hand, to the sitting room, to see the sound of music. At last! I’ve always considered it a beautiful story and a great movie; sitting through it now didn’t diminish my high regard for it.

At the Bar

Yesterday, I put down the book behind the musical. It’s called the story of the Von Trapp family singers. The musical is only a taste of the icing. Maria von Trapp, the novice turned wife and mother, recounts in a very wonderful way the family’s trip cum flight to the USA and the fight they had to put up to live a dignified life in their new country. It’s an extraordinary book that tells the ordinary life of a family of 12. The episodes that shine out are few in number. But neither are there any dull moment.

Maria writes of the hard work, their joys, their rehearsals, their different singing tours, their faith in God, etc. Along the way, there are many who cross their path and many of these stay on as part of the family. There are the various friends who welcome this new group of immigrants – yes because Baron Von Trapp was just one more Austrian immigrant – and help them with their first tottering steps in making a life for themselves in the States.

Maria also demonstrate her understanding and respect for those who saw things differently from the Von Trapp family. I was very impressed by the way she writes about the Austrian Relief Fund; an NGO started by the family in 1947 to send aid back to their ailing nation at the end of World War II. They publicized it during each of their concerts asking their listeners for donations to send to the needy in Austria. Maria mentions that many of the responses were positive; the participants were usually much moved and gave a lot the next day. But there were also negative and even violent responses. In some cities, some in the audience complained that they had come to listen to good music and to relax and not to be burdened with the world’s problem. A very legitimate opinion. But read what Maria writes next

With time, she says, we got to respect those views too and to ask the opinions of the organizers before the concert if we could publicize our Austrian Relief fund and if we could expect a positive response from the audience. From then on, we received only positive feedback from our audience.

They didn’t shy away from their NGO in order to keep up their singing fame. Nor are there any negative comments in return for each of the negative responses they received. They tackle the issue the right way – with dialogue and with a lot of charity and respect for those at the other end of the table. I’m definitely picking up one or two tips from this.

Now the Von Trapp family still have to ‘contend’ with the millions of fans of the sound of music, some of whom visit their Lodge in Vermont, who firmly believe that the reality was exactly as the musical; which it is not, I assure you. The directors of the Sound of Music knew their stuff. They have given us a classic and if I’m writing this blog post after reading the true story, it is thanks to them. Without the musical, the book wouldn’t have called out to me when I first saw it. But life is richer than a two – hour long musical which gives us ‘the end’ after the fifth chapter of a more than twenty – chaptered book.

Have you seen the musical and didn’t even know that the book existed? Well then, it’s not too late. You’ll truly get good value for your money. For those in my shoes who have read the book and seen the musical, I’ll like to hear from you! Am I alone or do you see things the same way?

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Fiction, Musings

Miss Turris Revisited

I once wrote a book which, for love of Latin, I called Miss Turris. I tell people when they ask – ‘oh basically, it’s a story about friendship’. But I’ve heard a different take on it which I found quite interesting. One reader’s comments has helped me re – discover my novel. Just an excerpt from Miss Turris to begin with –

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Alex had taught her the act of manoeuvring and now the situation called for it. She stood up quietly, and walked stiff – necked to the window which overlooked the small garden. Her body all straight and stiff, she gazed at the plants, looking and seeing through them. Those plants knew her as much as she knew them – she spent her leisure pruning and weeding them. They knew her tears and her frustrations. They had listened to her questions and to some of her joys.

She stood like that in silence for about two and half minutes and was almost giving up the act when she heard light footsteps behind her. Her grandpa was coming. A smile lit up her face for a fraction of a second and was quickly replaced by a blank expression; she remained still and waited.

Of course, he knew that she was putting up an act. After all, he was once her age. Even more, he was her grandfather. But, he decided to play along and in the end, indulge her as always. He counted himself lucky that he had a sensible girl for a grandchild. First tantrums; now this. ‘Some progress’ he chuckled as he stood beside her.

One look at her face and he almost burst out laughing. Anyone who didn’t know her would have been deceived by her expression, but definitely not him. He decided to start a conversation.

“The plants are beautiful, aren’t they?” he asked

She almost cried. This wasn’t what she had expected to hear, but she managed to keep her cool.

“The flowers even more so” she replied. “See how pretty that pink Anthurium looks.”

“Still thinking about the ‘hair’ issue?”

“No” An easy lie. It was part of the act – to pretend as if it didn’t mean anything to her, anymore.

He smiled and commended her inwardly. “May I ask why?” he asked

“Well”’ she allowed herself a shrug “because I’ve learnt to take whatever you decide, as law. You know, what an elder sees sitting down, a child will not see it, even if she climbs a palm tree”. She said, quoting him. Another lie.

Not wanting to push further, he said “Permission granted”.

“To do what?” she needn’t ask because she knew the answer, but it was part of the act to do so.

“To start growing your hair; I’ll put no objections in your way.”

The greater part of her wanted to hug him tightly and say a big thank you, but that would mean breaking the rules. So instead, she replied,

“You‘re too kind … to me”

He sighed “And you are a good actress, my lamb”

“Oh! Grandpa,” she said, giggling and hugging him tightly. “You always manage to see through me, no matter how hard I try.”

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‘She’ is Pamela, my protagonist.  She’s a granddaughter whose family consist in one person – her granddad. And the loving, tender, relationship between him and her is one of the main themes in Miss Turris.

It’s the kind of relationship I would have liked with my grandma – a sweet one as most grandmas are. And we did have it to the extent that the distance and language barriers allowed. She spoke only Igbo; I spoke bekee. She lived in Eastern Nigerian; I in the south 4 hours away. She called me her nnedim – mother of her husband. Everyone who knew the true nnedim said I was her look alike.

Once I went with my grandma to one of our palm tree plantations. She must have been about 70 years old then. We collected some dry sticks for the fire and a medium sized bunch of palm fruits. She tried balancing the bunch on my head. Uff! City gal. I couldn’t bear the weight and I staggered, almost dropping the bunch. On the way home, I had to walk beside her with the light load of sticks while she proceeded gracefully with the bunch on her head. Strong woman!

Dear grandma, you kept our large family going after the death of grandpa. And now 17 years later, you have gone to join him. We buried you today. I can imagine how it went. I can see you smiling at us, resting in peace. Keep watching over your nnedim. Keep watch over us all.

_____

bekee – one of the igbo words for ‘English’.

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Musings

Too much?

You know how you think you can’t do without something until you have had too much of it? By then, you get disgusted just by the thought of it. When I was younger, I used to get very impressed by children my age who hawked along the streets. I wondered how they managed to balance that tray of sweets or biscuits on their head. Throughout the day, they plodded to and fro, selling their wares. If I were in their shoes, I thought, I will have to be punished with increasing severity daily. I felt I would become the one customer and eat up my goods daily without pay.

Until I went home one holiday with a big bag of ‘Hausa groundnuts’ as we called it… I had helped a classmate to buy it. Unable to deliver it for some reason that I can’t remember now, I took it home. Our fridge was bad. It had a short shelf life. It was attractive. It was delicious. As a human being, I liked good things. Plus, I had an older sister and four younger siblings. I had ‘no choice’.

We began to eat it. A little at a time. It had this sour-sweet taste that I like. The kind that you get with yoghurt. Then the daily ration increased. More, more, more. By the eleventh day, we were fed up…It was ten days to go to the end of the holidays.

I have always liked figures. I still do, to an extent. I calculate the metres as I walk. I calculate the age of anyone I meet. How many hours you have been on this job, how long she has had that wig on… Figures intrigue me. As an electrical engineer, I work with them; calculating this or that and translating it to reality. My latest task is to do an inventory of the equipments and assets of a large school complex. It entails counting and counting, calculating and compiling. You guessed right. I have had it up to…. here!

PRIMARY

But it doesn’t end there. Just as eating those ground nuts did not stop on the eleventh day. We endured the now disgusting taste until the bag became empty. And when school resumed, I bought another bag, from the contributions of all, for my classmate.

Now I will count on till the end, the end of the task. When all is done and submitted to the boss, I will have become a better person.

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ViMP

On the third day – ViMP

Arrows of God!

The day was here. We had been prepared and had been preparing for it and now it was here.

Arrows of God orphanage, here we come!

We left early after breakfast and drove into a warm welcome by the staff of the orphanage. A short formal welcome speech gave voice to the smiles of welcome. Good for me for I never liked long speeches. It meant more work to keep the mind from wandering out of the arena.

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Then we set to teach. There were two main groups divided into various sub-groups for the different classes. Some groups attended to the primary school students for the ‘more than money’ programme. The other groups were with the secondary school students for ‘careers with a purpose (cwap)’. Two main group and one, well, what shall I call this set? I got it! Two groups and one set. As you can expect, there was enough work for everyone, even for those who didn’t feel called to teaching. These latter belonged to ‘the set’ and they had the opportunity to hone their fatherhood and motherhood skills, useful skills for the near future. ‘The set’ remained with the babies and the younger children that had not started formal education. I can recall the smiles of the babes, their waves to their uncles and tiny voices calling ‘uncle Chima’ – Chima Andrew Oparah – when it was time to depart.

There were nine students in the class my group was assigned to. It was good to see, to touch and to gist with them. They were no longer just an idea or a thought that I had conceived from preparing to teach them. They were there! I thought to myself ‘how lucky these children are’. I don’t know the circumstances of their birth, just as you don’t know mine and I don’t know yours. I do know that for some of them, their mothers chose life for these human beings rather than death for these ’clump of tissues’ or ‘group of cells’. I also considered them lucky because they could go through such a programme ‘careers with a purpose (cwap)’ early enough, thanks to Junior Achievement Nigeria (JAN) and ViMP. Perhaps if I had had such an opportunity, I might have chosen a different course in the university. Or it might not have been such a hard choice to settle for a particular engineering discipline.

An open confession – I am head over heels in love with engineering but the problem was and still is; I want all of engineering, not just electrical or petrochemical, not a part, but all of it. But I can’t have all and if you think otherwise please let me know how you managed to juggle all well. So I settled for electrical/electronics. I want all because I’m free. But I can’t have all – simple. Am I still free? Of course I am! But does it not mean less freedom? Of course not! Freely I chose the course and freely I worked towards graduating with the CGPA I have – don’t ask me what it was o! And even more freely, I am trying to chart my life along that line.

Back to Arrows of God orphanage; we began with skills and talents and asked the children to identify theirs. For Joshua Emmanuel, it was singing. And when prompted, he sang a lovely ‘happy birthday’ for Ellen Ukpi. It was her birthday that day. Boy! We were much moved. And Ellen? She declared that it was her best birthday ever, to have a future music star sing for her, free of charge I add. Life’s best things are free.

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The children are very intelligent and good team players. I still remember their animated faces – they were practically bubbling with animation and excitement and hard work too. I remember their faces and voices as they worked in teams to group the quotes we gave them under the headings ‘job’ or ‘career’. By the time we were ready to leave, we had learnt more from being with them than they, from us.

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