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By Vivian U. Ogbonna (main picture)

 

Thursday, August 7, 2014.

 

My name is Hope

I was born in Nigeria by Nigerian parents, and have lived all my life in Nigeria. I was born healthy and handsome and my parents were over-joyed because they had been married for several years before I arrived. However, I was born with both male and female reproductive organs, but this didn’t seem to bother my parents very much.

I was given the name Hope two weeks after my birth. My father’s mother had arrived from the village, laden with all manner of foodstuff, condiments and local herbal remedies which she said were good for nursing mothers. The next day, as she prepared to give me a bath, she noticed I had both male and female sex organs and she burst into tears; copious tears that didn’t stop flowing for hours. My mother became scared that my grandma might drown me with her tears so she took me from her arms and laid me on the bed, the bed that I shared with my parents, while waiting for her to quieten down.

After she had been consoled, grandma asked tentatively, to no one in particular-

“What sort of life will this child have? It’s neither male nor female?” 

 

My father looked up from the newspaper he was reading and said to her, “It doesn’t matter, Mama. The baby is healthy. That’s what is important.”

“Have you thought about all the difficulties this baby will face in future? Will it be dressed up as a boy or girl? What about school and hospital records? Will they read male or female?”

“God will take control, Mama. We don’t want to worry about that now,” my Father said.

 

The next day, after my Grandma had eaten a huge meal of yam porridge and vegetables, and had drank a big bottle of stout, she belched loudly, wiped her mouth, patted her stomach and announced that my name would be Hope, not Kingsley, or Shirley, or Musa, or whatever else my parents had suggested.

“How can you give your baby any of those names?” she wondered. “They are gender- specific and your baby has no specific gender.”

Gradually, members of my family became used to my being both a boy and a girl. Outwardly I looked like a boy so my mother dressed me in male clothes with a very strict warning that I never take them off in public. I obeyed her. I was a happy child and didn’t know there was anything unusual about me.

 

 I grew into a good looking and well behaved teenager. I did very well in class and excelled at sports. In spite of it, I found it difficult to relate with people outside our home. You see, word had filtered out that I was both a boy and a girl and people didn’t understand why I was that way. They thought it conveyed special privileges on me. And they didn’t like that, not at all. So, everywhere I went people mocked me, and bullied me and asked me very embarrassing questions.

 

Two of my friends cornered me one day in the school toilet and asked me to take off my clothes so they could see for themselves all they had heard. I refused bluntly. And they jumped on me

 

and beat me up.  I put up a strong resistance but it was two of them against me. Somebody alerted the Sports Master who came running towards us just as the bullies tried to stuff sand into my mouth. When my persecutors sighted him they loosed their hold on me and took to their heels. I fell down to the ground and cried as though my heart would break; these were my close pals.

Later that evening - I think my friend Daniel told my parents that I’d been in a fight with two other friends - my father wanted to know what happened but I was reluctant to give him the details. I was very heart-broken. My mother came to me when my father had gone to bed and coaxed me into telling her about the fight. In between tears I told her what happened. As I spoke, she held my hands, wiped my tears and cried with me. Thereafter, my parents decided that I would go and live with my grandmother in our village. There I would be happier and safer, people would not be as intrusive and judgmental about me and I’d have a better chance of growing up without any emotional trauma or complex. I sat through the discussion with a mixture of sadness and excitement. I was excited at starting a new life elsewhere, but I was going to miss my parents so much.

 

My father and I prepared for our journey to the village. They bought new clothes, shoes and a new school bag filled with school books for me. I even had a hair cut at the Barber’s, who also cut my finger and toe nails. The morning of our departure, my mother woke me up and hugged me. I felt her tears on my face as she held me close, prayed for me and promised to visit every month.

 

Our journey started.

Suddenly, I heard screaming. It was a woman’s voice and I thought it was my mother’s. When I opened my eyes I found myself in the midst of chaos. Our bus had been involved in an accident. There was flesh, blood, broken bones, mangled metal and the smell of melted plastic all around me. I saw the driver lying in a crumpled heap by the road side, coughing out what looked like blood, more blood running down his forehead, his clothes torn in places. The woman with a baby who had been sitting on my right was lying prostrate on the ground. Her baby lay close by and I wondered if she was alive or dead. I looked around for my father and saw him sitting near the driver, his head in his hands, his hands and face lacerated with cuts, his shirt torn into several shreds. Other passengers were either lying down by the side of the road or struggling to stand up. There were sounds of groaning, crying, cussing and loud praying from these people.

I looked closely at this scene again. Eighteen passengers had embarked on the journey but I could only count seventeen now. Gradually it dawned on me that I was the eighteenth person, but now I was standing outside the scene and observing all that was going on. As I stood there taking in the confusion, I felt a touch on my left arm and I looked around. Somebody stood there looking at me. I wasn’t sure how old she was but she looked very young, about my own age. She was dressed in a long yellow dress that flowed to the ground, which had long flowing sleeves and a white sash at the waist. She took my left arm and said in the kindest, softest voice I ever heard –

“Come on, let’s leave this place. It’s not a pretty sight.”

 

“No,” I said, shaking off her hand, “who are you?”

She smiled but didn’t answer. I looked behind us and saw a huge beautiful gate. It was made of a material like metal and painted a very brilliant white. On it were carved an uncountable number of human beings of different sizes and races, animals and birds, trees and flowers, mountains and hills, and everything in nature.  It shimmered and glistened as rays of sunlight flashed on it, dotting the white color with streaks of gold and a million other colors. I squinted in the brightness of it all. This person, who had met me at the huge gate, pushed at it very gently and it opened wide enough for us to walk through.

“I want to go and be with my father,” I told her. I was annoyed and started to walk back towards the gate.

“You can’t,” she said very gently, her eyes filled with compassion.

“Why?” I asked.

She smiled. It was a barely-there widening of her lips that didn’t convey any emotions.

“Because you are dead,” she replied. Now I saw a hint of wetness in her eyes.

“Dead?” I asked in anguish.

“Yes,” she said. “You are dead. You belong here now. Just like me.”

 

 

“Is this a joke or something?” I asked again. I hoped this was a silly hoax. Today was the 20th of April, so it wasn’t April Fool Day. My shock had turned to annoyance. “I said I want to go and see if my father is okay and you tell me I can’t?”

“Yes, you can’t. You don’t have life in you anymore. This is your home from now till eternity.” Her voice was firm.

“Who are you?” I asked.

Everything felt surreal.

“I was a human being just like you but I died and found myself here,” she replied.

“What is your name?” I asked.

“My name is Peace.” 

“Tell me what happened.”

Peace cleared her throat. Her eyes glistened with unshed tears. She sniffled.  And then she started to talk.

 

“One day, very early in the morning just before the call to prayer, a car bomb exploded in our neighbourhood. I was only three years old at the time. Hundreds of people died in that explosion, houses were burned to the ground, cars were destroyed, trees and all forms of vegetation was scorched in the inferno that followed. A piece of concrete hit me on the head and I passed out. At the hospital, the doctor said I couldn’t be revived. However, I could hear and see him talking to my distraught parents as I lay on the gurney. Then, I saw myself standing in front of the huge white gate where I met you. Somebody came outside, took me by the hand and led me in, as though I was being expected. He dressed my wounds, gave me a bath, a change of clothes and food to eat. And since then I have been here. I have tried so many times to leave the big gate but it wouldn’t open. I was miserable initially but over the years I have grown used to it and now I actually enjoy it here.“

 

“O my goodness.” I said. Tears welled up in my eyes and ran down my cheeks.

“Do not despair. Eventually you will start to like it here.” Peace assured me.

“How long have you been here?” I asked.

“I can’t say for sure. There are no clocks or calendars here and so we don’t have any concept of time. Let me show you something.”

She took me by the hand and led me towards a beautiful house. It was painted a light yellow on the outside and had lots of gardens round it. We walked inside the house and stood in front of a window draped with white curtains. Peace drew back the curtains slowly. I expected to look out unto the beautiful gardens around the house but instead I saw my parents sitting outside our house. My mother was wiping her eyes and blowing her nose, while people stood in groups talking loudly, some gesticulating, others with their arms folded over their chests, their faces tense and worried. I started to hear their voices and make out their words.

 

Somebody asked if I was dead and where was my corpse. My father said he wasn’t even sure what had happened.

“After the accident, I looked around but I couldn’t find Hope. Nobody at the crash scene saw his corpse. We don’t know how, but we lost Hope.” Then he burst into tears.

 “What exactly do you mean?” my mother’s sister asked, visibly angry. “Is Hope dead or lost? If he’s dead where is his corpse? And if he’s lost, you must tell us how it happened.”

My heart broke into a thousand pieces, seeing my father sob like a baby. I hid my head in my palms and cried. The pain of separation was so deep. Here I was looking at the people I loved most in the world, hearing their voices, longing to touch them and hug them, but not being able to.  It seemed so unfair.

Peace closed the curtains and turned to me.

 

 

“It’s okay Hope. Wipe your tears.” She handed me a white handkerchief that smelled a bit like my father’s.  Or was it just my imagination?

“I know it’s a tough one but you’ll get used to being here. You see, this place is so much better than where you’re coming from. Here, life is like paradise. We eat well balanced meals every day. Our hospitals are better than the best in the world. Our roads are smooth and our streets well-lit at nights. We have electricity all the time. Here, there are no criminals and sometimes we go to bed without locking our doors. We may even sleep in the open air in those gardens if we wish; the air is so fresh and clean. The internet and telephone services are also without comparison. This is the ideal place to live in, believe me.” She stopped, took a deep breath and exhaled.

It didn’t sound like a bad place after all; it was certainly better than where I was coming from but I

“Peace, I really would love to go back. You see, I haven’t yet told you that I’m the only child of my parents and the separation will kill them. I am also the only person in my country who’s called Hope. Every other person that was named Hope died in infancy. My grandma gave me the name Hope because she said it’d give me courage to go on living in spite of the bad experiences I would most certainly have in life.  You may also be surprised to know that I was born with both male and female sex organs.

“I know.”

“How did you know?”

“I can see everything that happens over there from this window? I knew you were coming here some day because people called Hope live very short lives in your country.“ 

 “Like my grandma predicted, being this way came with many challenges. And so my parents decided I should go live with her.”

“And you died on the way to your Grandma’s!”  Peace said this with a hint of annoyance in her voice.

There was silence as we both became lost in our thoughts. 

“What a cruel fate.” Peace resumed talking. “Why then do you want to go back?”

She had been kind all this while but seemed to be sneering at me now.

“I’ll tell you something else. The system in your country insists on destroying everything that makes life worth living. Look through that window again and observe your people.

 

They’re so angry and bitter and cynical. Most of them do not believe any good thing can come out of your country any longer. And that is because your governments have failed you over the years. Besides, your people talk about things that are wrong but only few people are ready to right those wrongs. They have placed themselves at the mercy of the system and nothing matters to them any longer. They have lost Hope. But this shouldn’t be. Hope can be restored... Hope can be restored.”

 I looked at Peace. She was right. A sense of hopelessness wrapped me like a blanket. I was lost for words. My tears had dried on my cheeks. I kept on replaying her words in my mind. She said this was a better place than where I was coming from but I felt no consolation by her words.

At that instance I heard the sound of music playing at a distance. It sounded like Nyanya’s Kukere. Was there a party going on somewhere? Peace laced her fingers through mine.

“Let’s go and find out what’s happening,” she said as we walked away.


Vivian U. Obonna is an interior decorator who lives and works in Lajos and Abuja, Nigeria. She studied English Language at the University of Nigeria Nsukka. She loves the written word and hopes to be a published author in the future.

My name is Hope: A Short Story by Vivian U. Ogbonna

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