Fiction

Born To Run: A Short Story by Wumi Raji

Taye noticed them from a distance. He also was just trying to pull himself together. He was equally devastated. He just thought that he must live up to the role expected of a man, he must rise up to the challenge of the occasion. As the husband, he had to keep himself under control. But he was being put in a tight corner. He could not allow the two women to go on crying. They might soon have a flood to contend with going by the rate at which they were expressing themselves. In any case, even if he could just ignore his wife, he had no choice concerning the other woman. But where would he find the strength to console her? Where? For, he knew he himself was bound to break down should he try to rise up to the demanding occasion.

Just then Olabisi came in. She saw her friend as she wept very copiously. She saw too the helpless woman as she was being tortured by emotion. She also noticed Taye’s predicament. She knew the challenge was hers.

“E se mama. O ti to.” She was moved herself. She was just mustering resistance against the emotion that was threatening to overwhelm her. She was doing this with all her strength. She had to save the situation.

“Mama, please calm down. Only pray for us. Pray for us. Pray that our plantain may never die without fresh shoots to replace it. Thank you, mama. Just pray for us. And Malomo, isn’t that enough? All morning and you’re still at it. Won’t you stop and get something done? You can’t go on like this for ever.”

Everybody agreed that the couple deserved to be happy.

When Malomo was delivered of Moyosore, she was in a very critical condition of ill-health. The baby was not a bouncing one either. Mother and child had to be placed under intensive care. Ajani, their doctor was a first class physician. Being himself of humane disposition, he was very patient with them. The naming ceremony had to be postponed for a considerable time as they spent several days in the hospital. Having gone through the health history of both patients, Ajani already had an opinion. Trying to confirm this, and knowing that they had already incurred heavy bills, he had to find a way of persuading them to undergo blood tests. He was proved right by the results.

Before discharging them therefore, the doctor had called both father and mother to advise them on the health of their new baby. The child, he said was likely to give plenty of trouble, not due to its own fault though. Rather, it was due to the health problem which he would have inherited from both parents who, as he suggested, must themselves have been very sickly at birth. They also had this weakness handed down to them from their own parents. Weak blood type, he called the cause, venturing a description for the layman.

The baby would need extra attention in order to survive. Susceptible, as such children were, to malaria, it must be protected from mosquitoes and other possible infections from the environment. Anything cold be hazardous to the child’s health, though it should drink plenty of water. Ordinary water. He laid out other details, general and specific. He prescribed drugs and emphasized that the directions be strictly adhered to. The baby’s blood type would be confirmed after one year but, as he said, and given what he had seen of those of the two parents, nothing could prove his present position wrong. In any case, he would be constantly available to advise them as occasion demanded.

Husband and wife were greatly impressed by the careful attention they received from the doctor. They also felt enlightened and educated concerning their own backgrounds.At least, he had no knowledge before of their own health history. Yet he discussed it with such preciseness. For example, Malomo was the only child left of her parents’. Her mother had had eight. Three had preceded her. She grew up to know only one of them, the one directly before her. She was eleven when he died at the age of fifteen. By that time, two of her juniors had also died. The third, at the age of four was caught by a strange illness, an illness that defied all attempts at healing: modern or traditional. The child would not eat and would not drink. He could not talk. Neither could he walk. His eyes were open, however. Lying on his back in the early stages of the illness, his eyes would glow at the sight of a familiar figure. But only in the early stages. As time wore on, his body began to shrink: the limbs, the frame, even the hand. His eyeballs shrank also and the sockets became too large for them. He grew thinner and thinner until he was no fuller-bodied than copper wire. There could be only one interpretation. Some punishment, totally undeserved, inflicted by people who would prefer nobody should be successful. The child died after sixteen months, hard as the parents tried to see that he lived.Soon after, the mother became pregnant again. This resulted in a stillbirth and she almost lost her life in the process of delivery. Thus the parents gave up and Malomo became their only hope.

She herself was very sickly at childhood and was taken ill almost every other day. Her illness each time lasted approximately two weeks after which she was up for a few days.Due to this fact, she did not begin schooling on time. She started at the age of eight and picked up gradually from then on.

It was as if she had been waiting to start school. She was a very interesting girl, highly talented and brilliant. She was a good sprinter, could sing very well and was beautiful. In fact ravishingly beautiful, with her ebony black complexion, her moderate height, her long, shapely legs, her glowing eyeballs and her jet black hair. She mixed freely with boys and would expend her energies playing with them. Then she would arrive home only to complain of acute pains in her bones. Then she would go back to school with her parents warning her against any rigorous exercise. It was all futile as she would do the same thing all over again and the same story would repeat itself. In spite of her being so brilliant, Malomo stopped schooling after primary six. The fact that there was no secondary school as at then in their immediate locality contributed to this. The closest one was located at least five kilometres from them. Asking a girl in her condition to do that to and fro on a daily basis would, simply, be tantamount to inviting trouble. And it would be equally risky to ask her to stay away on her own especially given the dangers she was capable of exposing herself to. So her parents reasoned that she had had enough school education.

But the young mother was excited to know the cause of her health problem: weak blood type inherited from both parents! The doctor certainly knew his job. So the young couple decided to repose all their trusts in him regarding the health of their child. They were frequently in the hospital and Ajani never disappointed them.

Tongues soon began to wag. People could not understand what was wrong with Taye and his wife; how they got so easily brainwashed. It perhaps would have been pardonable for two different partners. Certainly not Malomo and Taye. Being themselves Abiku, how could they fail to recognize the same spirit in their child? Or had they forgotten their own history? Impossible. The wife carried it about in the name she answered to. Malomo. That was a desperate plea. She kept coming and going like that, defying all efforts to make her stay. Until her mother begged her. ‘Don’t go again, please. Stay with me, please.’ She begged in helpless agony. With tears. Poor woman.

Or could it be possible that Taye’s parents did not tell him what it cost them to make him stay. Kehinde, his twin sister, having died at the age of four, Taye began to give his parents trouble. He was missing his partner. His real illness, however, did not come until he was nine. It was a prolonged illness. For several months his parents ran from public hospital to private clinic to professional mullahs and later to Christian evangelist homes.But none was able to cure him.

Until they brought him before alayewo. The babalawo said they came just in the nick of time. A little delay further, he went on, and the child would have died. He confirmed that the child was being attracted to the other world by his partner, twins being inseparable as they had the same spirit. It was very wrong of the parents not to have let the child know this, the people pointed out. And how about this: how about the eventual sacrifice, the most expensive ever in the village, with a whole ram killed? This in addition to other things which included a gallon of palm oil, seven metres of white terelene cloth, two hundred and one kolanuts and even money; seven hundred and seventy-seven naira, seventy-seven kobo.

And how he sleep-walked. Remember that. At least so the parents reported to the whole village. Why did they not tell the boy? How he started by talking in his sleep, cursing someone invisible for trying to steal his meat. How then he rose up and walked out of his mother’s room, heading for his father’s; how he picked up the leg of the ram which had been reserved for his father’s private consumption and how he held a final conversation with the spirit of his partner. His father painted a vivid picture of the event and they could still re-capture the child’s exact words as he talked with Kehinde.

First, he appeared to be looking at the meat as he picked it up. Then he cast up his gaze and fixed it on the wall. Of course, he was seeing beyond it.

“Yes”, he said, “you can take that away.”

“Hmn,” he said again after the other had replied to him, “I said you can take that away.” Then he replaced the meat, walked out quietly, re-entered his mother’s room and lay back on his previous position.

Was that not the story? And how did he end up in school? It was not originally planned that he would go to school. Otherwise he would have started earlier. Much, much earlier. Was it not his father’s idea that Taye, being the only male child, should inherit his large farm? But the Babalawo had instructed them after the sacrifice that the boy be allowed free movement with his peers in order that he might have people to play with and so easily forget his twin. Was it not then that the parents thought that the best way to solve the problem was by sending him to school where he would meet many of his age group? Was that not how he started school at the age of eleven?.

Taye and Malomo attended the same school but he was two years ahead of the girl that was later to become his wife. Like Malomo, he too was a very brilliant pupil. Unlike her however, he was very reserved, and he never had a talent for any kind of games or sports. There was no way anyone could doubt his intellectual endowment though, leading, as it happened, his class throughout. In primary six, he was appointed the senior prefect, being the best and the oldest. Taye’s teachers so much wanted him to further his education but his father could not be persuaded. He was his only male son, he had repeated again and again and he had a number of things which he would like him to take charge of. He therefore would not allow him to wander too far. While still waiting for him to attain maturity, he thought he could pick up a skill. This was how he was sent out to learn tailoring. Parents from both sides had meanwhile noticed that both herself and Malomo seemed somewhat drawn towards each other. Having confirmed his boy’s feelings for the girl, Taye’s father wasted no time in making his mind known to Malomo’s parents. Taye was twenty – two and Malomo seventeen when they got married to each other. It was now fourteen years into the marriage and still they had no issue. Or better put, they had none that was still alive. They had three before Moyosore. One was a stillborn and the other two had died at infancy. In the first two years of Moyosore’s life, the couple had consulted no other person and sought no alternative opinion. They simply stuck to Ajani. Any little whimper from the boy and one could be sure they were already on their way to the hospital. After age one, the blood test was carried out and the doctor confirmed his view. The boy suffered from sickle cell anaemia, he had told them, assuring them in addition, that it could be managed, that it would be managed. Husband and wife were happy. Moyosore was their source of joy.

The boy, having survived the first four years, the couple felt convinced that they could place their hopes on this doctor who was trained in Western – style medical practice.

Moyosore fell ill on a regular basis, to be sure, and each time he did, the parents experienced intense anxiety. It was during such times that people seized opportunities to bring in their opinions. The tension was great. As pressure mounted on Taye and Malomo so it did on their parents from both sides. Moyosore was a spirit child. Modern medicine could not solve his problem. Did they not see how the child went down now and again? If the matter had been approached in the traditional way, his problems would have long been a thing of the past. They cited several cases to back up their arguments, several instances, some similar and others different, where, as they contended, the new method had failed while the traditional alternative had worked. The pressure continued to mount.

There was soon to arise another dimension to the matter. Moyosore might or might not be an Abiku. But since people had said so, it was only best to accept it and abide by their suggestions regarding the health of the child. At least, this was what Taye’s father did when the boy was growing up.

Everybody knew the story so the meaning went down deep. It happened that during Taye’s much-talked-about illness, his father was very reluctant to take him to alayewo. Having converted to Islam and now staunch in the faith, he was determined to have no hand again in what he now saw as heathen practices. The pressure was great but the man would not budge. He went everywhere, tried all methods, leaving out only the medical herbalist. He spent a lot, yet the child refused to respond to treatment.

The mother knew she had to act or her son would die. She called her husband one day. She begged him, pleaded with him to give the traditional alternative a chance. After all, all that mattered was the child’s life. What everybody wanted was for him to live.

“I am also a Muslim,” she said at length.”I believe in God. And his prophet, Muhammmadu –salalalu alehi wa salam. Allah is the source of all knowledge. He created all trees. He knows all herbs. I would like you to think again about the illness of Taye. We’ve tried many things. They’ve refused to work. I want you to think again whether we may not have to try the traditional healer…”

She stopped, not wanting to spell out the suggestion. Her husband remained as he was: seated, his head hung low, his two hands hidden inside his agbada.One of his legs was drawn up and the other stretched out.He was thinking. Four women now in his life. The first two between them had six children. Only two of them remained alive now. Both of these girls were now married. Their mother had divorced him. She died a year after the separation. The third was still with him. She had no issue. She was a patient woman.Hoping that with time God would answer her prayers, she had waited. Time passed and now it was too late.She was at length resigned to fate. She had children around her though all of them were adopted.

Iya ‘Beji the last of them was taken on, having divorced her first husband.Now she had four children, Taye being the second and the other three happening to be girls.

He was thinking. His only son was dying and the disease had defied all cures. Just one option was left now. There had been pressures from several quarters with his wife now adding her own. The fact was that he could no longer remain adamant or he would be held responsible for it should the child die. His faith was under trial. What should he do? What would they say: members of the muslim community especially?

His wife read his mind. “You don’t have to base your action on what people will say. Of course they will always talk. But most of them are hypocrites. What they practice in the secrecy of their homes is a deliberate contradiction of what they profess publicly. Besides, Baba ‘Beji, the courageous man is not the one who boasts loudest. It is the one who knows how to appropriately adapt his principles when confronted with fresh challenges.”

“I heard you, Iya’beji. I will talk to you tomorrow.”

When he called her the following morning, it was to tell her to get ready for the visit to alayewo. The rest of the story was not unfamiliar to Taye.

When they first approached him, the reaction of the eighty – year old medicine – man was to refuse to attend to Taye and Malomo, telling them pointedly to return to their new – found healer. Husband and wife were themselves not unprepared for this. They were aware that the oldman had full information regarding their reluctance to come to him, regarding their decision to leave matters of their son’s health in the hands of Ajani. In any case, Moyosore was well over five years as at the time they reported to him for the first time. Even if he had not received any prior information, the question would still have arisen as regards who they had been visiting. Rather than put up any argument then, they simply pleaded for the old man’s forgiveness. He accepted their plea in the end but not before reminding the two young parents of their own health histories. In particular, Taye was taken through the story of the big sacrifice for the umpteenth time and he was asked to confirm from his parents how it happened that he was sent to school. Malomo was also reminded of the profound troubles she took her parents through, how she often returned from the same school with acute pains and it was his medicine that cured her of the illness. All these he did, as he told them finally, thirty – twenty five years before when he was much younger and therefore less experienced. Since then, he had achieved many more of such feats, and even a few others that were much more astounding. He did not fail to cite examples.

They thanked him and he proceeded with his diagnosis. Having consulted the oracle, he reported that it was the same abiku spirit that had haunted both parents in their childhoods that had now taken possession of Malomo’s womb. Special rites would have to be performed to expel it once and for all. In his own case, what Moyosore needed were rites of exorcism. Once this was done, his health problems would simply disappear. The rituals were not as expensive as Malomo and Taye had feared, and they were both happy that they carried them out. They resolved to continue to consult the man regularly, even as they made up their minds never to abandon the conventional hospital. What they wanted was for Moyosore to remain in good health, how they achieved it was not of particular importance.

It somehow happened that for two years after his parents’ visit to alayewo, Moyosore never took ill even once. He never even had malaria. At age six, he started school. It turned out that he had inherited his parents’ prodigious intellects. And for over one year, he went to school and returned without any complaint. People did not allow this to go unremarked about. They pointed out the difference between the boy’s condition when his parents consulted only the modern healers and his current condition. They reminded the parents of their initial reluctance to visit the old man and pointed it out how difficult it had been persuading Taye and Malomo to take the steps. Though they themselves noticed the improvement in their boy’s condition and felt really relieved about it, the young couple did not, on their own, talk much about the development. It was as if an open discussion of the situation would engender a reversal. They probably were really afraid since, as it would seem, the rituals carried out in specific relation to Malomo had not worked. Or, rather, and to put it a little more appropriately, what it had done was to effectively seal up the young woman’s womb. This was to the extent that throughout the same two – year period, she had not missed her period even once. Which was unusual. But the old man continued to assure them that there was no cause to worry, that the couple needed to exercise just a little patience, that Malomo would give birth again and again. When the matter was mentioned to him, Ajani told them, on his part, that the woman might need to undergo a comprehensive medical investigation adding that it might be necessary to refer them to the bigger hospital in the city for the tests. The couple received this suggestion without much enthusiasm and part of the reason was not unconnected with what the financial implication of the investigation might be. They decided to continue to hope on God and on the old man. In any case, they still had Moyosore and he was doing well.

Two months into his ninth year and the boy went down. It was a major crisis which caused the parents much distress. To them, it was a clear indication that the problem was not yet over, that Moyosore might after all not be a sure hope. To most of the rest of the community however, it was not really a big issue. The medicine man had been at it for too long. He would not allow Moyosore to introduce a blot into what otherwise had been an immaculate career. The old man himself assured the parents that they needed not to worry. It was the same abiku spirit that was expelled two and a half years before that was trying to return, it was trying to re-possess the boy. Since he, the old man, was now in charge, it would not be possible for him to re-gain entry. Well, Moyosore recovered after two long months, and after he had succeeded in shaking his parents faith in everything and everybody around them, after he had created a permanent feeling of anxiety in them. While still on his sick bed, the school session wound up to a close. Moyosore could not participate in the promotions examinations that were written in the last two weeks of the term. He had no choice but to repeat the class.

The boy did not even try to douse his parents’ anxieties after this – he fell ill regularly. And, one night, just two weeks before his tenth birthday, he gave up the efforts to live. Neither Malomo nor Taye could cope with the reality when eventually they were confronted with it. The future held no respite, as they saw it. They were terribly shattered and terribly devastated.

Dr. Ajani thought he should pay Moyosore’s parents a condolence visit on hearing of the boy’s death but neither the husband nor the wife could give him any real attention. They were in intense agonies. On their own, the men preparing the corpse for burial simply thought they should not allow the doctor to waste their time. They deliberately snubbed him, displaying their absolute impatience for the rubbish he continued to mutter, attributing Moyosore’s persistent illness to sickle cell anaemia. Utter nonsense. Taye came out as the one among them holding the knife brought it down on the boy’s forehead, making a deep cut. He watched quietly as the man did the same thing on each of the boy’s two thighs. Taye saw that each time he made the cut, he warned the boy in a grave voice never to return to the world of the living if he knew he was not ready to become part of them. Otherwise, and if he would not stop running, as the man added, Moyosore should expect further brutalising treatment when next he visited. The boy’s father could not help but wince in pain as the middle toe in his son’s right foot was ripped off and flung into the fire burning gently beside the men. Then, as he saw the rest of the body wrapped up and dumped into the shallow grave, something told him that he might need to give Ajani’s words another thought.

Please leave a comment...

*