Otasowie Christabel Ogiemwonyi: When the curtains do not fall [Nigerian Voices]

by Otasowie Christabel Ogiemwonyi

****************

Sometimes, you crave for solitude but you find out you are with company. The peripatetic bunch of memories won’t go away. They pay impromptu visits, choking you with emotions till pearly drops flow down your smooth cheeks  like molten lava.

Isn’t it entertaining that death teaches you a lesson by pulling a monkeyshine? Oh, you didn’t know that? Neither did I, until…

*******************

The sun makes a full appearance on the face of a typical Monday morning, with its plush  brilliance deflecting her grey to polished gold despite the gale of wind that ravages the scenery. Inside the commercial bus; the freshmen huddled in picayune groups, catch my attention. With the rigours of the clearance process the university conducts every novel session, they  are in high spirits, infectious laughter and buzz. I stare long  until I find myself with them in another time.

March 2004.

“See this one!  He is fine…hmm, an Adonis.” my eyes whispers in delight.

My eyes  rove around the length and breadth of the  giant brown colonial buildings housing various departments in the  faculty of sciences and the  deluxe of  guys  darting about their business.

My mother stands close to me and the fear of her is the beginning of wisdom.  I check myself and behave although I steal glances from time to time. From the checking  of  results on the  Joint Admission Matriculation Board’s website to the clearance process in itself, she is with me like  brain cells.

With her omnipresence,  my clearance process moves fast for me and I get settled in a mercurial  fashion. Mothers have a way of commandeering attention. Chemistry is the course of study on my admission letter, not of my  heart’s desire but of the University’s prerogative.

Once I taste freedom, It is honeyed and it sadly leads to an ominous downfall.

You know,  a time shows up when the world irritates you and leaving it the way you came is the only dibs. I loathe the fact that I am a prodigal daughter of nature; wasting oxygen that was deprived my late sister, shortly after birth.

The thought that interlopes around my head is suicide. What else was attractive in a world where I was a walking failure who had a bad grade in her first degree,huge bummer to my mother and a bad standard to my younger siblings? It sounds ironic that my father felt I tried…

‘ It’s a difficult course…really crazy course and since it was taught in an abstract manner, you can’t really be faulted, ..’ he opines.

Ah!  there must be some sort of magic most of my classmates conjured up so that they have excellent grades and I am amongst the few ignorant ones. Pffft!

I don’t know if his words are really that of sincerity  but no comfort is found in them- the man detests failure!

The failure  is unbearable for my being to bear and I call death to relieve me from  reproach.

 A perfect time knocks when no one is home. After ingesting a mixture of expired drugs of different colours and chemical composition, all that I feel is a tickle. I increase the dosage, weeping sore. Waiting for the effect of the drugs to kick in, I send a text message to my immediate younger sister intimating her of my plan already in motion.

She calls several times, I do not pick. Family members take turns in calling . Still, no response from me.

Mother sends text messages.

” Drink palm oil. You are a stupid child’.

” How is your body? Please pick up your calls.”

”  Hell awaits you, big fool.”

I read them all and scoff.

Thump! Thump!

The hairs on my skin stand as cold swivels in embrace, trying to take the place of  the body-snatcher.

I would like to think that the one, also known as the ‘deep sleeper’, fell ill to have ignored my summon.

I wait in vain.

Seconds grow into days. I earn ridicules and end up being tagged a coward for plying the road of self-destruction. The more expletives I am peddled with,  reclusion becomes a second nature.

Trust my mother to indulge in them:

‘”What were you actually doing with yourself in school?

Big girl abi? You have arrived…”

She continues , eyes red like a hashish user.

“… have you forgotten my falling flat on the ground when I came to give you food in school… or is it making sure you were way comfortable than most of your peers by equipping you with the best of gadgets?

I blame myself… Comfort isn’t meant for you–

She rants on.

‘”- -bu-but wait o. Do you realise you are the first child? Shame on you many times.”   Her eyes boring into mine with bitterness and pain.

Her voice reaches a crescendo. ” You have finished me, you this girl.”

She doesn’t stop reminding me of my ‘evil’ mistake.  I close my eyes in shame.

One breath in. One breath out.

My face loses its pallor and my eyes are puffy in the days that roll in.  Of course, my mother has no idea that my agony is superlative than hers.

 A hush of silence permeates the house anytime mother  jeers at me. My siblings look at me for signs of reaction as I am normally outspoken when pushed beyond my endurance  limits.

All they keep on asking in whispers ;  ” what happened?”

My response is silence. Words become my enemy . Besides, I have  no strength to utter anything.

*************

National Youth Service Corps arrives and my joy knows no bounds. I need a new lease of zing.

Whose mother follows her child to the orientation camp? Mine!!!

Making new friends from the different parts of Nigeria was no issue for me. I try to get rid of the stink of failure that reeked of unwashed bodies and stale urine. My smiles most of the times, coupled with my interactions and discussions with them help mask the secret burden I carry on the inside.

“You are very intelligent.”

“You should be one of the best in your department.”

” Your parents should be proud of you.”

These words serenade my soul with the exception of the last statement but I despise them as well.

There is no better way to temporarily forget your past than to absorb yourself in the activities that the present brings. Before I know it, one year is over with all its allure and foul moments.

Even though I make short visits back home during my service programme, my presence- being finally home, excites everyone and I am treated like Venus.

********************

Life begins to flaunt herself at me- once again.

She says softly, tapping her dainty feet;

Honey, I am beautiful- bask in my ambience.”

 Her performance shows verisimilitude.

King’s square, located in Ring-road, the heart of the ancient city of Benin, which houses the musical water fountain that glows beautifully with different colours at night, gives me a courtesy bow in welcome as jets of  water spray my face as I stroll past. My destination is the bank.The pride of having money in your account after one year of service  to your country makes  my steps proliferate.

Then, the unpredictable happens. The road flanked on the right by the post office and on the left by the Central Bank of Nigeria becomes free to cross after a  traffic gridlock. The pedestrians including me, move in togetherness.

Like a bat from hell, death pulls my strings and slows me down and I find myself alone in the middle of the road with the screech of tires of a black car inches away from me. I place my hands on the bonnet of the car for support. I am in shock.

” You wan die abi? If they send you,  tell them you no see me, ”  the driver retorts angrily. His wife hisses like a wounded cobra.

Time passes and people do not notice what happened. It was as if time paused for them.

Then I hear the voice… Death’s…mocking me.

” I play by my rules. Mine only! When it’s time, I will be back for you.”

I tell no soul about my experience else one thinks  hallucination besieges me.

Then it hits me hard. A setback is not enough to die.

I pick up my pieces- of course, with my mother’s help and refuse to let circumstances define me.

*************

As I continue to find my purpose in the labyrinth of life, one thing is clear- I will prefer to hang on the wings of the birds of the skies than wallow in the muddiness the ground offers.

Failure sees me from time to time and winks at me.

I wink back and I bark—

” GET LOST!”

The door opens before me as I enter the floodlit office to submit an assignment in partial fulfilment of my doctorate degree.

I might stoop, but I will surely conquer!


This entry was submitted as part of the Nigerian Voices competition organized by YNaija.com.

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