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A Flood of Thorns: An excerpt by Jacob Ado

Don’t mind, it had been so. It will cease at its own time, perhaps when no more is left to flow.

Listen, I was there when you were born. I was not your father; I was not your uncle. And I was not in anyway related to you. My home was in the North: your home, in the East – the distant East, just an undefined passion. A mechanical urge gathered from experience, and an endeared devotion to a duty without a call. The plea flew from your eyes like a spear, and drilled rapidly through my heart, and fetched the indulgence I never knew existed in me.

All was done to make you cry. It was normal; it was a regular practice. What it meant, I never knew, but I knew that a child should or must cry when born. Your eyes were sharp and smart. I could not tell if you saw anything. But, I was sure that you saw me. The doctor held your legs up, swung you like a skipping rope, stretched out his middle and index fingers, gave you two weak slaps, added a little strength, and your soft flesh – the flesh of your buttock –  quivered like a pack of ‘pure water’. You did not cry. Your mother’s eyes were still shut. She lay still as if she had fallen into a trance. Until you turned your face to the direction I stood; when you gave a loud piping sound; when you felt the breeze of your new world; all were scared if you had a voice at all.

Even now, I see those eyes.

No, these tears; let me tour my heart, at least once more. No! I say noooo….!

I am sorry, it will not stop me. I will speak. I must speak with you my dear friend and son, my angel. I have never known you otherwise. I insist on talking with you, as I know you are willing to listen.

The cry was like a song that leads the spirit of the dead to its destination. It seemed it had the power even to revive the dead, and of course it did revive one. Fast, it left the theatre; were it passed, I did not know but I was sure I sensed it go out. It went straight to the path linking the earth with the spirit world. Your mother was on her way already. She did not bid anyone goodbye. She did not leave a message for you or for anyone else. Perhaps she was not prepared for the journey – she did not know it would come so soon. However, your voice reached her. She was already at the gate; so she said on her return. She was waiting to be let in when she heard the voice:

“Mother-r-r, mother-r-r, mother-r-r”,

Tiny and shrill, sharp and penetrating like an arrow from a giant’s bow.

She did not know where the voice called from; she did not even remember her being in the hospital let alone giving birth to a child. Over there, no one heard the voice. All the other spirits concentrated on entering through the gate, but she held back a little. The voice went closer and closer that her attention switched completely over to remind her of a seed she had left unsown, a rose in the flowerpot with no one to water and a bridegroom waiting at the alter. And when she turned again, the gate was shut. The only way left was the way back, but the memory was not there. The shrill voice led the way. She followed attentively as if a spell was cast to render her void of will. And when she arrived, I did not notice it. No one did. But, I noticed the return of the voice – its graceful tread and appealing sound.

Her eyes opened, her hands went up and she held you tenderly against her bosom. Tears streamed across her cheeks when she sat up to hold you well. Her pain was not your coming or her return, as she later said, but the way forward – a solitary pathway, a flood of thorns and a shadow filled with appalling sounds; a menacing threat and a painful death.

“Are you alright?” I asked her in a whisper. She did not say a word but only cried the more. It appeared my voice caused more pain; it seemed it refreshed the memory of a helpless and an unbearable future already grinning in mischief through the permeable hospital curtains. The cry was becoming louder. It would soon ravage the serenity of the hospital and throw all the people into distress, and the hospital attendants might not be kind at it. I should reserve all my other questions until later; but with some sort of obstinacy, I dared to ask. “What shall I do for you?” when no response seemed to be coming forth, I asked myself the same question in a fast thinking. “What do I do?”

“Let’s go home”, I said, amidst a muddle of ideas that loaded my pathetic conscience over and over again.

“Home?” she asked, with a blunt squint.

“Yes. Home”, I said with an emphatic nod.

Some look rose in her face that told more in silence than in voice a story in company of woe, and also asked ranges of questions at a time too short for even a blink of the eyes. It seemed a blanket shaded her face against visibility and gave a blur and illusive aspect to whatever question was there.

“Which home?” she asked. “I don’t have a home”.

“You have a home”, I said. “Let’s go, I’ll show you your home”.

“I don’t know you”, she said.

“I don’t know you either”, I said.

“Who are you?” she asked but did not wait for an answer as she pulled her limb fold indicating a change in decision.

She turned her face away, and I felt it was better than that hard stare. I could not make anything of what was happening in her mind, but I knew that she was making a decision – a decision that held her little child in great interest; she was trying to protect you. She had harboured that interest from when you were conceived I think, but, it seemed her interest on “carefulness” superseded that of its purpose.

“I’ll try”, she said after a while. “Where are you taking us to?” a voice of humility found its way at will to grace her with some hanging chance of hope and favour.

At first, she thought I was someone who knew her and she was surprised how that was possible. Now she was sure this was a mere helper.

“To a place that I am sure if not perfectly but to some extent, has some capability if not as great as that capable of securing the confidence as that of a child on a father, good enough to keep the beggar’s hope till dusk; a place that can silence the appalling sounds, soften the threat, reduce the number of thorns and the intensity of the shadow, and at least delay the death. I say delay, yes. It is because even the happiest man in the world, amidst what glossy company of favour and comfort, would meet with his death one day”, I said.

I kept my eyes fixed upon her, as gazed all other parts of my body, and the walls and the curtains and the ceiling with its stripes of sliced planks. I wanted to see if I could read any expression on her face – if that insubstantial blanket would permit a brief spy. My understanding failed with more staring, but turned active in a twinkle on withdrawal, which of course meant that it was sure that I could not get anything – any information.

Nobody was in the room with us. It seemed they all thought I was her husband, but I told them in a true confession that I was not when I observed that I was definitely going to fail if I pretended in any way. I lied that I was her brother. That was easier to handle, even though the success depended on the clear no-concern of the doctor. All this happened when she, your mother, could not reason or pay any attention to anything that happened around her. At the beginning were the pain, severe pain, and later, the brief transition and now the fear of the future.

Before she woke up, or would I say returned, all forms had been completed under the kind support of the young nurse on duty, who took personal interest in our case, and whose white dress glared with her spirited kindness. Only the space for the child’s name was left. I told her that we would take care of that when we got home but she would not agree to it saying that it needed to be put down on record. At this time, we were not sure when your mother would wake up. So I said “put Goodwill”.

“Goodwill or…?”

“Goodwill: don’t have any trouble” I interrupted firmly.

It seemed she discerned the trick. No name had been decided for the child but it was needless for her to get troubled as I had suggested singularly. I was not smart enough in whatever disguise I attempted. The nurse was smarter at every inch. It seemed my case should not even be numbered the hundredth of its kind she had met. A sudden ease came upon me to feel that I didn’t need to hide anything anymore when I realized that she had psychologically been in the scene all through. What was important, however, was that I was no longer expecting any trouble.

The doctor entered and invited me to his office where he presented me with the balance. I pulled out some notes of the exact amount from an aged purse I had refused to part with for many years since my mother gave it to me when I was small. At this point, I was free to carry you and your mother home to my house and I was glad she accepted.

I had never done it before; it seemed you would crumble in my hand. Sometimes I felt a cool touch as if you melted through my fingers. I was afraid of holding you tight because you were very feeble. Your skin felt like nylon. But I had to do it; it was my dreaded pleasure. I balanced you in my palm as carefully as possible and walked as if I carried eggs on a flat unguarded tray. Your smallness seemed to reflect a stagnation of hope or success: but what success or hope, I could not tell even though it yet urged on with impassive echo.

Jacob Ado
Jacob Ado
Jacob Ado, a BA graduate of English Language, is based in Jos, Nigeria.

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