I was born blind, on one such cold night in Zagreb – the last child of my father, the first of my mother.
She was declared barren by the enchanting priestess of Agbor, the goddess of fertility.
"You have a spirit husband,” the chalked woman proclaimed. “He has vowed never to let you hear the cry of a child.”
When my mother got pregnant, people thought it was a tumor. Truly she is cursed, they whispered. And when she went to labour, there was no one to assist her with the delivery. The pain of childbirth took her, and a blind child was born.
My father sent me to school. I was the cursed son – punished for the abomination I was yet to manifest by my blindness, not fit enough to harvest his barns like my brother Dimkpa, not strong enough to go for the hunt like my other brother, Chika, nicknamed the Antelope of Zagreb.
"Go with the white missionaries,” my father said. “That's where all the useless sons go.”
School became my comfort. I was blind but I could hear. I could listen. I picked up the words. I learned the sounds. And when I recited them with my raspy breath, I could tell Mr. Brown was impressed.
Everyone said Mr. Brown was handsome. He looks like a god, the girls whispered in between giggles.
It was difficult to understand Mr. Brown; with his pinched British accent, he spoke like he had a pipe clasping his nostrils. But I listened to him, every word he said. He would always lean next to me in class and help me with my writing. His compliments became my religion. I did what I did for Mr. Brown.
It wasn’t long before Mr. Brown began to walk me home. He would hold my hand as we walked. I felt the brush of his hairy arm against mine and the hold of his hand, cold and clammy, like fish freshly out of water.
"Sola, I won't let you fall," he always said. “I won’t let you trip on the stones,” he said as he led me safely home.
We were under the pear tree the first day he kissed me. I could smell the warmth of the branch, the green of the leaves. I traced the lines of Mr. Brown's face. I touched his lips; they were moist, like he had just licked them. He was leaning over me, his breath a warm rush across my face. I brought my lips closer. He didn't resist. It felt warm. It felt right.
The nights would turn to days. The sun would rise and set. And the months turned to years. I would finally leave Zagreb on the insistence of my maternal aunt. She took me to a school for the blind in the city of Ketu, and I began to learn a craft.
I took to pottery. I loved the feel of clay; it felt like skin, like the lips of Mr. Brown who had long left Zagreb even before I did.
Soon I would start acquiring regular customers, kindly people who bought my wares. I knew their voices. I heard their footsteps. I couldn't see them but I knew them. One of them was Doctor Ajayi, who first patronised me when he came to purchase some plates for his wife.
We struck up a friendship. He was nice and easygoing.
"Sola, have you been blind since you were a child?”
"Yes sir," I replied.
"Did your parents ever take you to a hospital for proper diagnosis?"
"No sir," I said.
“Then it's time you checked it out,” he said. “This might be something correctable.”
Dr. Ajayi took me to the hospital where my eyes were examined. He came to see me a few days later with news.
"I have both good news and bad news, Sola,” he announced. I could hear his frame as he dropped into a chair beside me. “Your problem is very correctable. It's just a displaced bone obstructing both corneas. If you had had it fixed when you were a child, there would be a 90 percent chance of you regaining your sight. But now that you are 19, the chance of you regaining your sight after surgery has dropped considerably to 30 percent. And the cost of the surgery is something I'm sure you cannot afford.” He didn’t stop to let me absorb what he was saying. He instead moved on from problem to solution. “But I will do my best to canvass for help for you. We can at least see about getting the money ready for the surgery. However, considering that there’s a 30 percent chance of you regaining your eyesight after the surgery, you don't have to go for the surgery if you don't want to. It wouldn’t do to raise your hope just for us to go through it all with no success.”
I could feel his kindly eyes on me. I nodded and said, “What do I have to lose, sir? If it doesn't work out, I remain blind. If it does, I will see and my heart will stay full with joy. My responsibility is the easy one. You have the harder task of seeking financial help.”
Dr. Ajayi chuckled as he clapped my shoulder. “Good point.”
Six months passed and there was no headway. Donations were paltry and nowhere near what was needed for the surgery. Dr. Ajayi stayed steadfast and encouraged me whenever he came to visit. But he needn’t have bothered. I hadn’t hoped. With each day that passed, I carried on with my daily activities. I lived as I had always lived, as I knew to live.
Then the day came when Dr. Ajayi burst into my workplace. I could hear the excitement in his voice as he exclaimed, “I received an anonymous letter with an envelope. In it was ten thousand pounds. The sender did not disclose his name, saying he prefers to stay anonymous – which is odd considering his generosity. And he was very generous. There is enough money for your operation and then some more to help you get by.”
It has been eight months now since the operation. I am recovering quite well. I can make out shadows and colours, but I am yet to see clearly. The doctors assure me that my eyesight will improve with time and that I will be able to see clearer. The surgery was a success.
Today, I pick up my pottery, the most beautiful I have ever made. It is white, decorated with black flowers. Like two hands, reaching out to hold but fated to never meet.
A stranger walks in. it is a familiar smell, a familiar footstep. But he isn't one of my customers. I can make out the shadowy outline of his frame; it is tall and lean, and his wide shoulders are like the top of a tree branch.
I stand and move a step toward him. The familiarity of his smell is a frisson on my senses. I move another step and trip. I stagger forward and he darts forward, catching me, his cold, clammy hands holding me steady. I can feel the pulse of his skin and the standing hairs from his pores. I can also hear the song in my heart.
“I told you I would never let you fall,” he said to me.
Written by Song