I was 7 when I lost my hearing.
That Saturday sixteen years back, I woke up and needed nobody to tell me that while I slept, something had gone horribly wrong.
Usually, I was woken by Daniel’s high pitched laugh. My kid brother, two years younger had a voice like a boombox gone haywire. And as the baby of the family, he could get away with it, too.
But, this Saturday, what woke me was a tap. Martha’s tap. I opened my eyes and stared at my eldest sister, her mouth was moving but she wasn’t saying anything. I remember being amused at Martha talking without words. I remember thinking, anti Matty no fit talk, e just dey open mouth like cow.
Except, it wasn’t my sister. It was me. I could sense that as I walked outside to pee on the dew-beaten grass by our house.
I could sense it as I watched a cock crow without a sound.
As I watched a motorcycle go by as silent as a breeze.
I was too little to understand what had happened then. In my Micky Mouse world, I thought the world had gone crazy. Everybody dey mad.
Except it was my world that had gone to Wacky Country.
Overnight I had became something, and I didn’t even know what it was.
¤ ¤ ¤ ¤ ¤ ¤ ¤ ¤
It was my mother who first noticed something was wrong with her boy.
She was fetching water into a large drum which once housed DDT. I was playing in the passage. An imaginary Atlanta ’96 olympics semi-final between Nigeria and Brazil. I was running round the passage, dribbling the heck out of the Samba boys and yelling ‘aaaahhhhhh’ when Durga tackled me too hard. I didn’t notice my mother coming and going. I didn’t see her gestures as she passed.
I didn’t know she was telling me to go inside.
Poor Ma, for her, it was just another unusual Saturday. Even my apparent disregard of her instruction wasn’t odd, as, of all my three brothers, na Hymar no dey hear word pass.
Sometimes I laugh at the pun. The irony there. It was the child they said ‘too no dey hear word’ that has suddenly stopped hearing not only their words, but, all the words in the world.
The next time my mother passed me, she didn’t waste her words. She gave me a resounding knock on the head that jolted me,temporarily giving me a K-leg as my knees knocked together and I raised my head to stare into her face.
She stood before me with the bowl of water on her head. Her mouth was working and she made irritated sweeping gestures wit her hand. I stared into her face, willing her to make sense. feeling aggrieved.
Feeling like an outsider in a world which had changed, moved on and left me behind.
Later I realised that as I stared at my mother, even though I couldn’t hear her words, I knew what she meant. I knew what she wanted.
Why didn’t I go in then?
I don’t know. I guess it was at that moment that I realised the severity, the depths of whatever had happened to me. I just stood there staring at a face that suddenly started to change before my eyes.
The irritation gave way to anger, which hardened her features. Then perplexity replaced anger as her face drained of meaning and took on a puzzled stare, her mouth shaped into an O of incomprehension. Then, finally, understanding came.
But instead of lightening her features, this new knowledge twisted it into something agonizing. Something mortal. The basin flew from her head like an unwanted burden, its thwuck! echoing like a stiffled thunder as the plastic connected with the concrete floor, water spreading in a journey of no return on the earth.
Then the ragged edges of hysteria gripped my mother.
And she began to scream in a voice that was lost to me as I stood there staring at the faces that suddenly crowded the passage. Staring at faces that had suddenly became strange to me. Staring at face after face like a lost soul with no where else to go.