Fiction

Before His Legend: A Short Story by Jude Ifeme

Like a window to a home
Is the eye to the soul
Open and brightness calls
Close and darkness falls…

A little boy came to me and said; “I want to go someplace I can study and be a great man.”

I looked at him. The flame of ambition beamed in his eyes. He smiled at me – that sort of smile that reached the ears without showing the teeth.

“Ok,” I replied, “go to Florence’s – there you will find every provision you will need to be great.”

He stared straight into my eyes, his smile unflinching, and then he vanished.

I woke up profusely sweating. The room was pitch-dark. I groped for the switch on the wall and turned on the light. The hands of the wall clock firmly stood under 12:00 am.

My sister, Florence, and her husband, Edwin, lay behind the wall. Florence was eight months pregnant.

I never mentioned a word about my dream to either her or her husband.

***

When Tira was born weeks later, I found it rather unsurprising that it was a baby boy, and quite normal that I had a prior knowledge of his arrival. Each time I looked at the infant, I felt a strange familiarity with him.

Though before Tira turned fifteen, I visited my sister’s over a dozen times – sometimes I passed a few nights since my family lived in another city at the time, and somehow that strange feeling that I had known Tira before his entrance into this realm did wane. Perhaps it was just that erosion that time brought, or I just got more at home with the strangeness of the feeling. I could eventually see my little nephew. Though I cannot deny that a strand of strange feeling still stayed out of place no matter how normal things seemed to get.

***

Tira loved to read. My first gift to him was not a ball, or a toy car, but a book – a novel. This eleven-year-old who had read virtually everything in print in that house devoured the piece in no time, and with so much gusto that I could not help but give him more, and more despite his age.

He was a year older than my son who was at war with his schoolwork, and two years younger than my daughter who could barely read with much cohesion or comprehension.

When Tira read or talked about things my kids would only watch with lower complex; at some point, that worried me. But I still had to make them spend more time with the young genius by letting them spend vacation together.

Florence and Edwin were not very rich but they provided for Tira’s academic interest with so much grace, even though they had two more kids to cater for.

***

As Tira graduated from the senior secondary something tragic happened. Florence called me to the house. Tira was at the table eating supper. That was the first time I had ever seen the young man eating and not reading at the same time, he was such a bookworm. He seemed somewhat depressed and small in his rather colourful woven cardigan. The only time I had really seen Tira gloomy was when Edwin passed away after being involved in a ghastly motor accident. That was almost two years earlier; I had become in essence a surrogate father. Florence could not handle Edwin’s death well, and I had to be around to piece her shattered life together – now my buried worries were sticking out behind my heels.

“Uncle, do you know what glaucoma is?” he asked rather blandly after he had greeted me. My mind raced for an answer as I tried to settle opposite him.

“Glaucoma? No.” I replied. Tira never asked a question, even when he did he knew a thing or two about it. He did not take his eyes off me.

Though I had heard the word glaucoma, I never got to checking it out or giving it a second thought. Now my seventeen-year-old nephew wanted to know what I knew about it. Since Florence did not say what had gone wrong other than that I should come immediately because Tira was in trouble, I sat and observed the young man keenly. It was then I noticed a strange hue of gray in his iris. The eye balls have also become bloated and propped up the lashes. His gaze was almost a blind stare and I noticed his pupils were dilated and were rested on the grayish brown iris.

“What is wrong Tira? Your eyes…”

“The sun is going down on me.”

He held his face in his palms and drew in a lungful of air. Sometimes he spoke like a seventy-year-old man. There were times when he gave me the chills.

“Please talk to me, my boy – talk to me. I want to understand you.”

He let out the air in a long resigning sigh.

“I think I’m going blind.”

Those words threw me into panic. Florence who had mournfully sat beside him refuted the words with “God forbid.” And so did I.

“I can’t bear anymore.”

“How come no one told me about it?” I demanded from my sister.

“I never thought it was serious, Rufus, he kept talking about blindness – you know how he talks about things,” she began to sob, “besides, he is only a boy, I didn’t want to let him live in the fear of blindness, there is no such thing in our family.”

Coupled with the fact that things had not been easy financially, Florence had quietly prayed that Tira was just playing with a new idea he just picked up from his endless academic findings.

“Why didn’t you just talk to me, Tira?”

I walked round to him and held him by the chin and steered his face towards the light, he flinched and moaned, shutting his eyes.

“I can’t face the light,” he cried, “it’s like taking stabs to the brain through the eyes.”

I released him. He quietly turned his back to the bulb before daring to open his eyes. I suddenly felt tears gathering in my eyes.

“They have become too painful lately,” he said, pushing away the plate in front of him. I took a seat beside him.

“They have become painful lately, more painful when I look at light. At first it wasn’t so, there were just big halos round the lights and, this painless throbbing in my head. Now the eyes – as if they will pull from their sockets, the nerves behind pulling. The pain is endless.”

How could this have come about, I thought. Tira was just a boy.

“Uncle, I can’t even read anymore.”

“What? You mean you cannot see?” I screamed in fear. But Tira was calm. He shut his eyes and smiled mirthlessly. It was unlike the smile of the little boy I saw in my dream. I saw pain, deep-rooted pain, too deep for a boy.

“The lines are gone.” He sighed. “They’ve become dark lines – I mean, the words, the alphabets.”

He opened his eyes slowly, and they were laden with tears.

“Can you see me? My face, can you see my face?” I asked anxiously.

Florence began to weep.

“There is a dark cloud, but I know it’s you. It’s like I lose the power of vision as the seconds go” he ran his fingers through his hair, and then over his face, “I’m going.” I heard him mutter under his breath.

“Go to bed, son. We will see the doctor first thing tomorrow.”

He stood up slowly and looked long at me. He seemed to look at me like a wide space and not an individual.

“How would you like to be remembered?” he asked me. I was taken aback, not just by the question but the demeanor. At that moment I did not see a boy but a grown man, a man older than I was. I still bothered about prosperity and this boy thought about posterity.

“Get some sleep,” I told him. I noticed he walked into things as he headed to his room, seemed to have groped for the door as he got to it. We need to see a doctor and all will be fine, I thought to myself.

I had the enormous burden of calming my sister Florence. She had always been a weak one, and as her elder brother, I never stopped protecting her, even in her matrimonial home.

Before I slept that night, I checked on Tira to ensure he was all right. His door was an inch open. I saw him packing books into a big envelope. I stayed till he was done, laid on the bed and tuned off the light. He never saw me.

I slept off in the sprawling mess of my troubled mind.

“How would you like to be remembered?” a raspy voice whispered to my ear, an hour or two later.

I was suddenly awake; my eyes wide open in the pitch of darkness. Was this a dream? Was it reality? It was hard to decipher. A cold wave of eeriness swept over me.

Then it suddenly occurred to me that Tira might be up to something, I jumped on my feet. “Tira!” I ran screaming to the next room. I found him peacefully asleep as I turned on the light. What was I even thinking? I placed my palm on his temple, down to his closed lids. Right then I wished I could just mutter a word and heal him.

***

The next morning, Florence and I watched through the clinic glass as a lady optometrist took his visual acuity. It was so bad she came back to us fiercely demanding to know where we were all along.

“This young man is all but blind, what sort of parents are you?” she spat at us. Her anger was understandable; Tira was too perfect to be impaired.

The left eye could only pick hand movement – clinically damaged, and the right was not much better. Tira was right. It was glaucoma, a deadly eye disease with an irreversible trend. His optic nerves were mercilessly ravaged, starting from the left eye.

Tira stayed away from the discussion, and only spoke when questioned. It was hard to tell what went on in his mind.

“Doctor, is there any prospect that I will see again?”

His question was not out of place but given that he had not spoken since he came into the clinic, the optometrist seemed genuinely ruffled.

“Probably,” she replied.

“I’m going to have a surgery, what difference does that make?”

No one had mentioned surgery yet, and that left the optometrist really baffled.

“Yes, you are going to have a surgery that will put a halt to the damage done to your optic nerves by draining the fluid percolated in your eyes…”

“Has it ever made any difference?”

“Yes, there are records of patients with remarkable improvement after surgery.”

“Do you have a personal record?”

“Master Tira, we have to get you ready for the theatre. Every second is vital to saving whatever vision you have left. You are too young to go through this. We will do all we can to give you the best attention.”

He was lodged in a ward upstairs. By evening Tira’s right eye was operated on since the left was clinically damaged and the effort was to save whatever vision was left of the eye.

For the next twenty-four hours, Florence and I watched over Tira. He now had a white bandage wound around his head to hold his stitched eye in form for healing. In the evening of the next day, Tira got up.

“Can I move around a little?”

I looked at Florence; there was a look of excitement on her face. Tira had been rather reticent since the previous day. He walked up to the door as though he could see perfectly.

“Don’t worry about me, I will be fine,” he said and smiled at us. I was almost on my feet but the smile was a stopper. I could see only the un-bandaged eye and it shone bright and healthy. Deep inside I was happy, and so was Florence. Tira had recovered his sight.

He closed the door behind him.

We happily chatted about the new course of events.

Suddenly, there was a loud scream from the stair-hall. We ran out and down at the foot of the stairs was Tira; there was a crowd of four lifting him from a pool of his blood. Florence fainted. I was torn apart. No one knew or saw what happened. Two days later, Tira died of his head injury. We buried him next to his father.

***

Tira would have turned eighteen a week to his death. I knew how hard that would be for Florence, and like I had always done, I stayed to keep an eye on my sister. Fate had taken away two most precious things in her life. I was helping clean up Tira’s room, going through his would-have-been dreams then I made a startling discovery. I found a big book on optometry. So Tira had more than a passing knowledge of his condition? God! Did Tira commit suicide?

Then I found a big envelope addressed to me. I opened it and found eight big notebooks. I flipped through the first and discovered a collection of poetry written by – Tira Omoren.

There was a knock on the front door; I waited for Florence to take it but she didn’t so I went for it when it persisted.

“Good afternoon, sir. Mr. Philip from Angle publishers. You must be Mr. Tira Omoren.” He was a man in his middle age, not more than two years older than I was.

“No,” I replied baffled, “I am Mr. Rufus. Actually, I am Tira’s uncle.”

I could see the shock on his face.

“You mean Tira is…”

“A young man, he was to turn eighteen today.”

“How come? I mean, this work is far too advanced. A seventeen year old can’t posses such insight.”

“Come in,” I told him. He sat opposite me on the dining table and listened to what I knew about Tira.

“We are very interested in his work and have decided to publish his book, and anything else he may have. When can we see him?”

“Tira passed on a week ago.”

The man bore his eyes through me, “You are Mr. Rufus Ejide?”

I nodded.

”There is a letter sent in two weeks after his manuscript ‘Before His Legend’”

It was a well typed letter of instruction with a simple directive:

In the events of my absence please deal with Mr. Rufus Ejide (My Uncle).

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