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By Vivian U. Ogbonna

 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014.

 

Hope and Peace explored the nooks and corners of a new world that was Magical and Enchanting. Majestic hills stood out of the mist and touched the blue skies; rivers and streams flowed in graceful curves through lawns and fields; trees hung heavy with ripe, succulent fruit; exotic plants dotted the landscape in vibrant hues, their sweet perfume wafting through the breeze; birds and butterflies flitted around the gardens like pieces of brightly colored paper; animals frolicked and gamboled in abandon. They heard sounds of music, sounds of laughter, sounds of animals and trees and birds speaking to one other. They met people of all races, nationalities and tribes, the young and the old. 

They returned to the beautiful house and crept into bed, but Hope was restless and couldn’t sleep. He was sad and longed to see his parents once again. He tiptoed into the room where Peace lay sleeping. She looked calm and beautiful. He ran down the corridor, quickly, careful not to make a noise, and into the room from where he and Peace had observed his parents. All the windows looked alike draped with white curtains.

 

 He ran to the first one and pulled the curtains open.

“My Goodness,” he exclaimed, covering his mouth with his hand.

 He was looking right into the palatial living room of High Chief, Sir, Dr. Olowo Oriade, JP, the wealthiest, most flamboyant politician in town. He was surrounded by members of his family, party stalwarts, neighbours, friends and business colleagues. The mood was jubilant as they clicked glasses of champagne and toasted to Chief’s recent victory in the state’s governorship elections. Hope shuddered. The name of High Chief Olowo Oriade elicited fear in his heart. His father had told him that Chief Oriade was found guilty of murdering a young journalist who had unearthed some terrible secrets about him a couple of years ago. High Chief Oriade had served only one month of the jail term. He left the maximum security prison amidst pomp, pageantry and a long convoy of exotic cars, after which there was a lavish party to celebrate his release. It was rumored that he had bribed the judge in charge of the case with choice property in the Maitama area of Abuja and more in Dubai. The following month High Chief Oriade had married two wives on the same day. The women were sisters and their father was his Campaign Manager.

 

As Hope looked on, a woman with huge breasts, massive buttocks and several gold teeth flashing in her mouth stood up and addressed the High Chief in a very loud and hoarse voice. She was the Woman Leader of his campaign organization.

“Congratulations on your victory, my oga at the top. You are this best man for this job. We know you we deliver the dividends of democracy to the teeming masses of this state. We are forever loyal to you, sir. God will continue to bless you.”

High Chief Oriade nodded, raised his hand in salutation to her and belched loudly. He tried to stand up and make a speech, but couldn’t. He was tipsy, having consumed four bottles of Champagne in the past one hour. He dug vigorously inside his nostril, brought out a slimy lump and inspected it closely before flicking it off the tips of his fingers.

 

“Our Woman Leader has spoken well. Mama Orobo. Iya Ikebe. Carry go jare. You are the mother of this great party. May God bless you,” shouted a very light complexioned man with blackened cheekbones and knuckles. His voice was so guttural it was almost intelligible. He wore an embroidered kaftan made of a bright yellow brocade fabric and a pair of bright green patent leather shoes. He stood up and walked over to the Woman Leader and they exchanged a high- five.

“Mama. You are a money spender,” he hailed her.

“And a cheerful giver,” another party supporter chorused. Everybody burst out laughing.

Stewards appeared with more bottles of champagne, steaming plates of food, small chops and asun, pieces of goat meat cooked in peppered sauce.

 

Hope turned away from the scene, embarrassed.  He made his way to the next window. Perhaps he would see his parents through this one. He pulled open the curtains and his eyes filled up with tears. Uncle Innocent, who used to live on their street, was walking down Liberation Avenue, the longest road in town. The sun was harsh and relentless. Every now and then he would wipe his face with a piece of cloth and stretch his hand into the road to flag down a bus. A woman walked ahead of him carrying a baby on her back and a toddler in one arm. In the other hand she carried a plastic basket. Uncle Innocent walked up to the woman and said –

 

 “Madam, let me help you.”

She looked at him tiredly as he took the child in her arms. She thanked him profusely and asked, “When will this NUPENG people call off their strike sef? This sufferhead don too much o! Look at me carrying two children, trekking for almost one hour. This Government should help us. We are really suffering in this country.” 

She sighed as she adjusted the baby on her back. Uncle Innocent didn’t say a word and kept on walking.

Hope hurried to the next window and parted the curtains. The face of Sylvanus Toby, reading the late night news on Nigerian Television Authorities, stared back at him.

“In the early hours of Saturday morning, gunmen suspected to be members of the Boko Haram sect abducted 77 students of Danbaki Girls’ Secondary School, in Danbaki, Bornu State. The girls were returning from an excursion to the Baki Dam, located in the village of Danbaki, Borno State.  Details after the commercial break.”

 

Hope stood rooted to the spot, confused. He remembered that six months earlier, members of the Boko Haram sect had released every person in their custody. The day the released hostages arrived Abuja, from where they had been held in Guzama forest, was declared a Day of National Jubilation. People danced and celebrated on the streets all over the country. As Hope contemplated this piece of news he heard Cyril Stober say again: “In another report coming into our studios, a group of Niger Delta Militants abducted twenty seven expatriates working for Tech-field Oil Services Company, as they travelled from Port Hacourt to Brass.”

 

This is ridiculous, Hope thought, moving away from the window. Didn’t his father say the government had, through series of negotiations, persuaded the Niger Delta militants to stop all kidnappings?

 

Hope closed the curtains. He felt like a voyeur, peering into people’s homes and lives. Now he understood why peace had warned him not to open those windows. He should have obeyed her. But he was determined to see something that would lift up his spirits. And so he picked up courage. It gave speed to his steps. He rushed over to another window and pulled the curtains open with such force that the rods on which they hung shook as though they would come off the wall.

The scene before him made his heart beat furiously. His throat tightened and he gasped, as though for air. His body started to shake and he felt the urge to urinate. He closed his eyes as though to blot out the image, but curiosity overshadowed pain and he opened them again. In horror he watched as people tried to escape the scene of a bomb blast while Fire fighters battled to quench the fire that engulfed the building. Rubble, charred cars and body parts littered everywhere. Attendants carried the dead, the maimed and the wounded and placed them in ambulances which screamed away to hospitals. Passersby rushed over to help. He looked on as a policeman bent over a wounded man dressed in a business suit, pull out a wallet from the man’s suit and slip it inside his own pocket. He then called out to a volunteer and they lifted the suited gentleman into a waiting ambulance. He heard a soldier shout frantically into a cell phone, “Bomb blast. Yes, I said bomb blast. I need more men. Yes! Yes! Now!”

 

He closed the curtains and fell down to his knees. He was angry. Is this how much value there was to human life? He buried his face in his hands and the tears, which never seemed to be far away these days, started to flow. After a while he felt a presence over him. He looked up and Peace stood there, her eyes moist with tears. She offered him her hand and he stood up shakily.

“Oh God,” he gasped, “I didn’t know you were here,” Hope said, sniffing.

“Hope, you promised not to look through that window again,” Peace said. 

“I couldn’t help it. I was so sure I’d see my parents again. But the things I saw make me very unhappy.”

“That’s why I warned you not to go there. The pain you’ll feel is more than you can bear. Can you deal with it? Tell me. Even if you go back to earth can you change any of the things you’ve just seen?”

“I think I can. I will do my best,” Hope replied.

He stared into Peace’s face, his expression full of hope. Then he continued-

“Peace, you know…it’s not so dark and dismal on the other side. There are many bright lights there, but I can hardly see them from here. Why is that?”

“That is the way of life, Hope. We see situations in their true colours when we stand outside of them. And yes, if you must know, I see the bright lights too, but the darkness threatens to over shadow them.”

“What can I do then?”

“I can’t tell you what to do. You have to work out the change you want; change that will endure. You have to keep the lights shining too. If not, they’ll burn out. And you’ll be left in perpetual darkness, forever.”

Hope started to sob again, his head resting in the crook of his elbow. With the edge of his sleeve he wiped the mucus from his nose. Peace put her arms around his shoulders.

“Anyway, it’s time to leave,” Peace said gently.

Hope looked up sharply.

 

 “Leave? I don’t understand you.”

“It’s time for you to go back to earth.”

Hope rubbed his eyes with his knuckles. This was a dream, surely.

“But you said I was dead. You said I would never leave this place,” he blurted out defiantly. Why had Peace lied to him?

“Yes indeed, I said so. But The Master wants to breathe life into you and send you back.”

“Why?”

“It’s obvious, isn’t it? You are miserable in this place. You are just like Lot’s wife who preferred the pleasures and pains of the past to the hopes of the future. Besides, The Master says you’ll be more useful in your country than you can ever be here. You have to go back.”

Peace took Hope by the hand and led him gently outside. When they got to the big gate Hope hesitated.

“Go. This is what you wanted, isn’t it?” Peace nudged him forward. There were tears in her eyes. Hope looked back at the beautiful house, still holding on to Peace’s hands.

“This is so sudden, Peace. Can’t I leave another time? I’d like to say goodbye to the others.”

“No! There’s no time. You must leave now.” Her voice was firm.

 

“But, how will I find my way back?” Hope sounded fearful.

“Two men are waiting to lead you back.”

“Two men? How will I recognize them?”

“You won’t need to. They will find you.”

Peace pushed gently at the huge gate and it yielded.  She tried to push Hope through but he placed his body in between the gap. Tears rolled down their cheeks as they looked at each other. There was so much to say, but the words wouldn’t come.

“I’ll miss you, my friend. You are a good teacher.”

Gently, Peace pushed Hope away and stepped back. The huge gate closed without a sound on his face.

 Hope looked upwards. The gate was ablaze with bright sunlight and beautiful colours. He shielded his eyes with his hands. It seemed that more human beings, animals and birds, trees and flowers had been carved on the gate since the day he walked in.  Peace had said that each time a living thing died, its image became engraved on the gate. Now he believed her.

He turned away and stepped into the road leading back to earth.

***                                                     -

Dr. Oma Atete ground his teeth noisily as he looked at the young man lying unconscious on the bed. His wounds were very severe and his neck was at an angle that suggested it might be broken. He took a stethoscope from the matron and listened to the patient’s chest cavity and heart. He picked up his wrist and checked the pulse. They would have to move him to another hospital. 

Matron Vicky stood timidly before him.

 “Two men brought him here around 6.30am. They were on their way to church when they saw him lying in a gully inside a bush. They thought he was dead, but when they came close they noticed he was breathing. I told them to go and make a report at the Police station,” Matron Vicky said.

“Are you sure their story is true?” the Medical Director asked, his face swollen with displeasure. 

 

“I think so, sir. The policemen came back with them to see the boy. The DPO confirmed there was a ghastly motor accident yesterday morning along Jubilee Express. He said a boy of about sixteen years, who was travelling with his father, got missing. They think this may be the boy.”

Nurse Vicky was scared. In spite of the Medical Director’s instructions that they never admit a patient who wasn’t accompanied by somebody to pay the bills, she had admitted the wounded boy.

“So have they contacted the man to come and see if this is his son?” He glared at Matron Vicky.

“I don’t know sir,” she said and stepped back nervously, bumping into a nurse who had walked in carrying a kidney dish with dressing forceps and other items to dress the patient’s wounds.

“Give me the DPO’s number. Do you have it?” He asked.

“No sir. I think Manager does,” she replied.

Dr. Atete turned to walk away and she followed him.

“Err, please sir, the Police men also collected money from me when they came here. They said we have to give them something so that they can start investigations, and also for their fuel.”

 “What kind of investigations are they doing? Is this a criminal case? And haven’t I told you never to admit anybody who was involved in an accident?”

Dr. Oma Atete was angry. He wiped the sweat from his face.

“Sir, the boy was seriously wounded and his pulse was very faint.”

“Matron, I don’t want to hear that rubbish. Next time you will obey my instructions. I won’t refund that money to you.” 

He stormed away. At the entrance, he bumped into three men who were accompanied by two Police men. One of the men had his arm in a sling. His face was covered in stitches and plasters. He walked slowly and stiffly.

“Sir, these are the two men who brought the boy here this morning,” Matron Vicky said.

“Good morning, Doc,” the Divisional Police Officer said effusively. This doctor looks wealthy, he thought.

“Good morning officer. The Matron has told me everything. Thank you very much.”

Dr. Atete shook hands all around. He was relieved to see them.

“And this is the man whose son went missing after the accident. He wants to see if it’s his son lying in the ward,” the DPO said, pointing to the man whose hand was in a sling.

“Oh that’s good. Matron, please take them to the ward. I’m in the office. I need to make an urgent phone call.”

 

Dr. Atete studied the wounded man who wore a faded checkered shirt over a pair of oversized corduroy trousers and bathroom slippers. This kind of person will not be able to pay my bills, he thought. They have to take the patient away immediately.

He walked away, leaving a trail of expensive perfume behind him.

Vivian U. Ogbonna 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 – PART 2: A Short Story by Vivian Ogbonna

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