That was just number 1 though. Other numbers followed. Other letters followed.
Nkem was a child that made love easy. Teachers and students alike adored her. Then, the 5s became 6s and her 9s 8s. I couldn’t get my mind around it. She seemed to forget each correction as soon as it was made, as though oblivious to how she was making matters worse. “No”, I would say, erasing a number she had just written,”That is six. Now, this is five.” “Sis”, she would say, pointing to 5. When we finally tediously get over that, she would take the pencil from me and write her seven with the dash pointing to the right. Ten painful minutes would go by on that, then she would go right back to mixing up 8 with 9. Homework was always a chore. “She’s just too playful”, John would say. I refused to believe it was that simple.
It was that year when she turned 5 that her teacher called me to her office. Five minutes later, I stormed out of her office, a storm of tears raging in my eyes as my mind replayed her words. “Your daughter is a dullard. Her brain is definitely under attack”, she had said, “Ma, please take her for deliverance.” “Your daughter is a dullard… Your daughter is a dullard.”
It was that year that John’s company called me to their office. It was an impressive building, it’s glass walls sending forth glints of the reflected sunlight. The land on which it sat was a sight for sore eyes as well. The architect certainly set out to make the structure befitting for the multinational oil company that occupied it. This was however not on my mind that morning as I proceeded to John’s boss’ office. A thousand possibilities ran through my head. I had never before then been requested for alone. So when I sat facing the mournful looking Mr. Badmus, my heart was hammering.
“John was a good man”, he started. Was? It wouldn’t be proper to convey a dismissal to me. “There was an accident on site”, he continued. Before he said the words that followed, I knew. I shook my head slowly and dug my fingers into the arms of the leather chair I sat on.
When an hour later, I walked into our sitting room on unsteady feet, my 10 year old, Dumebi rushed to my side concerned. “Your dad”, I managed to say in a whisper. “What…”, she started. “Dead”, I said, cutting her off. She stared for a second before rushing into my arms. We wept together, our tears flowing as one while Nkem stood up from where she had been seated on the rug, taking one uncertain step until I beckoned her over, much as she had looked on uncertainly as the distance between her and her dad increased and his love waned more with each day. He was gone now. She didn’t need fear his angry outbursts at her anymore.
I wept that day, not just for his untimely death but for myself, for my kids. It was just like him to die before the miracle happened: before he could let go of his shield of anger, and love enough to actually go through this phase with me. That was what I desperately hoped it would be- a phase.
In 2011, when Nkem turned 11, it had long become glaring that it was no phase. Repeating classes didn’t solve a thing and school was basically pointless. Someone still helped her take notes in class. Dumebi still read them out to her. As though her learning difficulties weren’t trouble enough, she was hyper-active to a fault. At Dumebi’s frequent plea that she was still a child and children just had to play, I would look at her with paused lips and still bolt the doors leading outside. If I were lucky, she would tire herself enough to the point of sleep.
Mine was a pain that was hard to deal with. My best tactic was to put up a hard-core front, keeping my tears and heated prayers for private moments. Most times, i wondered how long it would continue, how long Dumebi would be wary of taking my Nkem out knowing how easily she wanders off, how long her mates would look down on her, how long I would have to shield her from the playgrounds, afraid she would reconfirm the ‘olodo’ tag given her once she opened her mouth to say something wrong- I wondered just how long…
It wasn’t long after that a glimmer of hope shone through.
They said she had dyslexia.