I was not a blind man yesterday or the days before yesterday. When I woke up yesterday, in the dimly lit room I used to share with Fatima my estranged wife, I first laid eyes on my wedding picture dangling loosely against the wall. The day Fatima left, my head was aching and roaring loudly from the spirits I had unsparingly downed the previous night. I could barely make out her words and honestly I didn’t care. I only wanted her to stop the yelling so that the loud chatters in my head could stop. She didn’t pack her things. She did not even walk out, she ran. Away from me and into the waiting car that I saw standing in front of my landlord’s gate. It’s been 5 years and she never came back. Not even to pack her things.
My parents’ picture was next to my wedding picture on the wall. What an irony! Two people who could barely tolerate each other in their lifetime were now forced to sit together. The picture was my ultimate revenge against the man who vomited me into this woman who now had to walk around with the stink of my pregnancy for 9 months. Vomit. That is what I was to my father -a man who was only having fun- and to my mother -the teenage child of a widowed pastor-. They never lived together as man and wife and neither of them forgave the ‘vomit child’ they didn’t want for disrupting their lives. When I had struggled through school and made enough money, the first thing I did was to get a picture of mother and another of father. I then employed someone to merge the two, framed it and rested its back against the wall in my living room. Poetic justice I will say, because I married them at last.
My glance fell on an upturned picture frame lying like a vagabond on the ground and I quickly deferred my gaze elsewhere. Too many charring memories were stored in the eyes that lay in that picture. I saw my running shoes and knew it was time to embark on my morning jog. My jogging reminds me of my years of practice on the streets of Lagos. Back then, when I was a young lad who hawked things for his mother, I was the best on the streets. I understood the language of traffic and the needs of the people in a surreal way. I could weave through moving cars with an expertise that ensured my goods were always sold out. It was on these streets that I met the man who delivered me from the daily sting of my mother’s tongue and whip.
The man was a regular. Daily, between 5pm-5:30pm he always came into my view in his Mercedes Benz S-class. I was only 17 at the time and already a worshipper at the altar of automobiles like most boys my age. The appearance of his car in the evening traffic always signified a few minutes of break for me. I would simply stand and stare. One day, I noticed his car was making a strange noise. Each standstill and movement accentuated the noise so much that I eventually dashed to the driver’s side and knocked. He rolled down a little, enough for him to peek out and gruffly ask
‘Can I help you young man’?
I replied ‘Sir, your car is making a strange sound. It has never made this sound’
The man raised an eyebrow and I blushed at my unintentional admission that I had been watching him. The cars started moving.
‘Please park at the side of the road to investigate the noise’. I hurriedly continued.
I did not wait for a reply. I crossed to the other side of his car and began maneuvering traffic to ensure that he got a chance to navigate into a place I had spotted. It was no easy feat but we achieved the task after minutes of listening to people curse at us for disrupting the snail-pace movement. I found a mechanic who fixed his car and henceforth, we looked out for each other everyday in traffic. What started out as courtesy greetings soon developed into a friendship. I educated him about life on the street and he regaled me with talk about the corporate world. He was an accountant in a big company. We must have made a funny sight. Him –big man, in suit and loosened tie, in one of the biggest cars of that time; me- small boy, goods strategically balanced in a large basin on my head, walking beside his car until we got to the point where the road became free. This would usually take fifteen minutes. Whatever conversation we were having would then be aborted and the next day we would start a fresh one.
It was only natural that I told him I had passed my West African Senior School Certificate Examination. That was the first time he gave me money and took active interest in my academic life, an interest that helped me get a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from a prestigious Nigerian university. Mr. Ade, that was his name, died few weeks to my graduation. God bless his soul.
My running boots on, I opened the door. At 6am, everything in space always seems foggy. Yesterday was no exception. A gust of cold wind embraced my body and I shivered a little before shrugging it off and proceeding on my jog. My house is just opposite the main gate of the Polytechnic of Ibadan. The road between my house and the Poly gate leads to Sango market which is the route I take every morning.
The town was stirring lazily now, preparing to wake up from its slumber soon. A few motorists were already on the roads so I kept strictly to the side walk. Some young girls, likely polytechnic students were strolling across the road towards the Poly gate, decked in cardigans and cursing a certain Mr Adekunle who fixed a class for this ungodly hour. Soon, I was at the Sango market.
I came upon an old man in a wooden stall tucked between two locked shops. He was fully clothed in a shirt and trouser, his grey hair looking very unkempt. The man looked frail and old in his attire which was too big for his frame. He was sprawled on a makeshift bed fashioned from two wooden benches. If not for the arms wrapped tightly around him, offering scant protection from the cold wind, I would have said that he slept with reckless abandon.
Moving on, my nostrils picked a faint whiff of cigarettes that got bolder and soon filled my lungs. I increased my pace. I had read somewhere that inhaling the smoke made me a passive smoker. Soon enough, I happened upon the source of my carcinogenic panic and stopped to watch him. The young man sat on the floor in front of a store where he was wrapping something that looked like dried leaves into a paper. My proximity to him couldn’t totally ease my curiosity but I suspected it was marijuana. He momentarily paused his task to remove the cigarette that was firmly held between his lips and placed it between his second and third fingers. Smoke billowed from his mouth and nose. He picked a sachet of Regal dry gin from his laps, deftly cut it with his teeth and poured it all into his mouth. His cheeks puffed out like he was rinsing his mouth and I saw his Adam’s apple bulge slightly to signify the admittance of the liquid into his oesophagus. His face broke into a crooked smile until he frowned and squinted. I quickly moved on when I realized I was the object of his frown.
The shop owners had started opening up to clean their environment when I left the market and began tracing my steps back home. The wind had picked up momentum and those who had started displaying their wares on tables were packing them back into the safety of their shops. I began to run back and noticed the old man who was sleeping had woken up. He was now hurdled in a ball in a corner of the stall. I shuddered thinking of the fate that would befall him when the rain starts.
I was now at the roadside heading back to my house when a Range Rover sports car suddenly swerved to my side of the road. The driver stopped just beside me and alighted, shouting abuses at someone on the other side.
‘You are a mad woman, a very mad woman. Idiot! You cannot extort money from me with the claim that I injured you with my car’.
The recipient of his fury was a tall woman with soot-blackened face. She just looked through him, oblivious to his shouts and in a world of her own. For a nanosecond, I thought she was sane despite her mismatched attire and sack-load of jargons until she screamed; a peace shattering sound that itself reeked of raving madness. She started to dance away from the scene, accompanying the music she was making with the plate and stone she held. The man kept calling at her.
‘Woman you are insane! Come back here and apologize!’
I left the scene when I noticed the wind had gotten violent and started throwing objects around. I couldn’t help but wonder about the mental status of a man who deemed it fit to shout and point out the obvious insanity of a strange woman. I decided to take a bus back to my house to avoid the angry wind. There were two people inside before I boarded; a man and a woman with a child strapped to her back. I sat beside the woman who was busy giggling with the man. She rested her head on his shoulder with a familiarity that made me momentarily ache for Fatima. It wasn’t difficult to see them for the couple they were. The baby soon started crying and the parents pretended not to hear. Puzzled and angered by their indifference to the plight of their baby, I made to tap the woman. Just then, the baby started squirming and kicking. This seemed to get the attention of the parents as the mother unstrapped him and began fussing. The woman raised her blouse up, pulled one breast out of a black brassiere and guided the baby towards a scraggy nipple. Appeased, the crying baby was suckling calmly. I looked up in time to see the man make signs with his hand. The woman smiled and made signs of her own as well. They were both deaf! I alighted at my busstop.
The rain had started. I dashed across the road and into my house. I noticed my louver wasn’t shut and opened the door to the living room. Papers were lying around on the floor, my curtains swaying back and forth. I noticed there were no hangings on the wall anymore. My parents’ picture had fallen, the glass that secured it in the frame scattered all over the floor. My wedding picture was now beside a table flat on its back. I bent to pick it up and stopped midway. There was another picture beside the table. I picked it up. Jemima… The name reverberated throughout my soul.
Five years ago, Jemima was ten months old. Parents are understandably sentimental when describing their offspring but my Jemima was a beauty. She smiled and laughed often, tears were seldom welcome to her doe-like eyes. I had become an alcohol lover but never accepted my wife’s claim that I was an alcoholic. One night I came home drunk, and we had one of our usual fights. My half opened bottle of wine was on the table in the middle of the room. Fatima and I were shouting at each other. I threatened to beat her and she quickly put Jemima on the floor then turned to me in a bid to fan my drunken anger. We circled each other, both tentatively waiting for the other person to attack. Then we heard a shatter -the wine bottle hitting the tiled floor, followed by a scream –Jemima’s frightened cry, and then another scream –Jemima’s agonized cry for help. The bottle had broken and the tile had bounced a broken shard into our little girl’s stomach.
‘I didn’t want her to fall from the chair. That’s why I put her on the ground. I didn’t know she will crawl’. That was Fatima’s constant tear-punctuated refrain as we raced against time to the hospital.
Jemima died that night and took my life with her. When I saw the hate in Fatima’s eyes every time she looked at me, it mirrored the one in my heart. I hated the father who planted my seed in a drunken state of dementia. I hated the mother who conceived me in one short minute of wantonness. I hated Mr. Ade who helped make me a man worthy of Fatima and Jemima. But I hated myself most for being less than the man I could have been.
Anyway, all that happened yesterday when I was not blind. I went to work and came back drunk as usual. I slept off in the living room and woke up this morning. But today, my sight is dead and closed to the world so I am left with my thoughts and they pine for Fatima.
I didn’t tell her how sorry I am for Jemima’s death. What words could I have offered that would cleanse her heart of the hatred or wipe away the memories of our beloved one?
I have caused pains to too many people; my parents, Mr. Ade, Fatima, Jemima. This is what happens when eggs that should be flushed out as menstrual blood are left to fertilize. A mistake is what I am.
Perhaps all isn’t lost. I cannot be like that old man spending the dusk of his years sleeping in a market. I didn’t spend my youth feeding poison into my blood and lungs like the young man wrapping marijuana yesterday. I am a man who has lived and loved. Surely there is something life can still offer me besides blindness.
I chuckle loudly. If I didn’t give life anything with my sight how do I live and be happy as a blind man? The answer came to me! Didn’t the baby of the deaf couple I saw yesterday know he had to kick out to gain their attention? Does their thought not have a language despite their ignorance of human language? Maybe there is hope that I can live despite my blindness. Maybe my yesterday was preparing me for today. Maybe I should get ready for my tomorrow. I can decide to live it anyway I want. I pick up my phone from its regular abode beside my head and dial a number. The phone rings and I catch myself praying passionately for her to pick up.
‘Hello’? I say when she picks the call.
‘Kamal’. It is a resigned statement as if she has been waiting for this day to come. I hear her voice clearly over the phone. It is exactly the way I remember it from the last time. Five years ago.
‘Fatima’. I reply and become mute for I know not where to start. What words do I speak to this woman who is now a stranger to me?
‘I am sorry’. I say.
‘I know’. She replies.
‘Can you forgive me’? I ask her and hold my breath.
‘I will. One day’. She answers and heaves a sigh.
‘Thank you’. I hear the click of the phone as she cuts me off.
I dial my doctor’s number next and tell him about my eyes. He promises to be at my house in ten minutes. I only have one more thing to do.
‘Please hand me the picture of a man and woman that is lying on the floor. They are my parents who never married’. I tell the doctor when he arrives.
I trace the breadth of the picture to the middle with my fingers and fold it into two equal parts. Then, I tear it along the line of the fold. I smile and urge the doctor to proceed with his examination. Whatever he tells me about my eyes won’t matter though. Blind or not, I am waiting for tomorrow because I will be happy when it comes.