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My Name is Hope

By Vivian N. Ogbonna

Monday, March 16, 2020.

Part 1

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 said:

“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.

 

PART 2

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 the 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 Harcourt 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: A Short Story

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