DAYS by Jewo Oghenetega – A Christmas Story – PAROUSIA Magazine

There are days when I wake up in twisted bed-sheets, drenched in sweat birthed from pre-jentacular nightmares that accompany me into the morn. There are days when the melodious songs of birds mixed with the chirping of insects, seep in under my billowing curtain and remind me of a reason to live.

There are days when father wears his smile backwards like prosthetics on his face; as the loud voice of a newscaster blares the rising toll of a voracious virus. There are days when the hallways remind me of the sound of missing laughter.

When reminiscences of the pre-covid era, hold my hands and lead me to grief.

There are rooms in this dying house filled with the memorabilia of ‘patient 254’, or whatever they now christened mom, as she lies in the cavity of a hospital room. With her lifespan dependent on a cylinder of shackled oxygen; and her every exhalation accompanied by a fear that the last thing she’ll ever give this earth is carbon dioxide.

There are days when my heart transforms into a heavyweight boxer, throwing incessant blows at my rib cages in a bid to escape its burden of anguish. There are days when I offer screams into the cavity of my pillow hoping to reap hope, but the mass of foam wrapped in polythene –stares back at me, as if saying “we’re sorry too.”

There are days when I stare at the sea of blue above, sending wistful supplications encapsulated in tentative words. As I wonder if the angels could lend a helping hand, or if doing so would leave them armless and crippled, and so they abandon us mortals.

There are times when even ice-cream scalds my tongue, as I remember my mother; the smile in her voice, the beauty in her tone when singing, the serendipity of her gait, the lush scent of her braids, hanging down the side of her neck like tree branches. There are days when I escape into solfa and sound spurting off plucked guitar strings, but they sound sonorous compared to the liquid silver her windpipes could deliver in streams. When next I walk past her empty room, I block my ears to the echoes of silence, and then I dig into my soul for one more broken smile for the new day.

I wake up today on what seems like the wrong side of the right-sized bed, with my head heavy and my eyes groggy from the weight of the nightmares. I can’t even sleep properly nowadays. I hear her voice in my sleep, I see her eyes in my dreams. I feel the intricate wrinkles in her palms as she holds my hands and leads me down memory lane.

I roll down the side of my bed and slip onto the red rug of my room floor. Red; the colour of the newly arrived Christmas season, but, yet, I am unable to bask in the merriment that subsists in the harmattan wind. On days like this, even the sun’s rays seeping in through my opened window lack the ability to plaster hope on my heart. I go down on my knees and offer prayers to a God I choose to believe exists, because if he doesn’t then I’m doomed. Who else would I run to, or pray to for mom’s healing? In whose arms would she lie peacefully if she were to depart from us suddenly. Jim reeves’ lyrics: “this world is not my home, I’m just passing through” echoes in my subconscious, and ricochets off walls in my mind. Walls I built to shield me from pessimistic tendencies. I walk into the parlour, and sight my father, with his arms crossed and his eyes peering down into a sheet of newspaper; monitoring the rising stats, checking for news on the arrival of suitable vaccines to the country.

I understand what he’s going through right now, because I feel the same thing in my bones too. He’s at that point where he begins to ask himself questions. Like how did all this happen to him? How did his quest for love & a white picket fence transmogrify into the bondage of hopelessness. How did free time spent chatting with old friends from college become time spent scanning the news; hoping for a sliver of light at the end of the dark cavernous tunnel threatening to swallow his entire family.

The threadbare hem of his worn agbada, flares out as a reminder of his hollow purse; for, every breath of oxygen mom takes from the hospital’s cylinder; is another portion of his pension that fades into oblivion. We now bid days by listening in anguished silence to the excruciating tick-tock of the aged grandfather’s clock.

Each ‘tick’ increases the palpitations of our hearts, as we expect anytime to receive a call announcing her departure. Each ‘tock’ elevates our collective blood pressures, as we marry our palms together and plaster our backs to the couch waiting in silence. These are days no man can plan for, and no one also prays for them; but the universe makes fun of mortals by issuing them out.

We’ve now learnt not to take the name of God in vain lest our predicament multiplies. Two years ago, if someone had told me that rice and stewed chicken could taste bitter in my mouth, I would never have believed it. But my favourite meal did taste bitter on the day mom collapsed in the living room, after unpacking her luggage from her recent trip overseas. She’d complained of a bitterness in her throat, and in that moment I could relate with her, as I dropped my spoon into my half empty plate. Her condition worsened daily until she was diagnosed with the covid-19 virus.

That was the day the skies shed their colourful garment and donned a wretched sackcloth the colour of onyx. Wails of agony rang from the throats of concerned relatives, who came around. The clergymen ran their thumbs over the worn surfaces of rosary beads, and petitioned the almighty for his intervention. These are memories that only fetter me to a past I’d love to forget forever. So I stare around the house looking for something to focus on; something that would not bring

back these foreboding memories.

My eyes sweep across the small expanse, past the huge Christmas tree sitting regally in the middle of the room, past the walls adorned with sheets of peeling paint. This is my world, it’s where I’ve lived all my life; and now it’s threatening to come crumbling down on my teenage head. The worn rug still bears tell-tale signs of my childhood exuberance. There are marks on its delicately woven length that were formed by imprints of the pressing-iron I once played dangerously with as a kid.

Once again I try my best to drift from such memories, because they are just too painful to remember. Like a man trekking through the Sahara, remembering the taste of water in his parched throat. My eyes continue to roam in a detached manner, such that the images formed are not really registered by my subconscious. But wait! There’s something there, hovering just out of my mind’s reach; something, a picture? An image? It was there for an instant then gone. I retrace the path of my eyesight through the room’s expanse, wondering what had just caught my attention.

Was it a voice? Yes I think it was a voice, one that sounded pre-recorded like the robotic drone of TV reporters and journalists. I look at the television, and focus on the images mixed with voices, in an aura of light & pixels. At the far end of the plasma screen there’s a box housing a group of six digit numbers. This is the number of confirmed cases in the nation at present. But, that’s not what drew my attention. I focus on what the pretty lady in blue blazers is saying. She’s at the middle of a sentence that sounds something like this, “…..and following a meeting held today in the Federal Capital Territory, the Minister of health, made an announcement that a batch of the vaccines up to 1000,000 in number would be arriving the country this week, courtesy of the WHO in conjunction with the UN. Also, a foreign based company that mass produces oxygen cylinders has donated hundreds of them for use by the country to assist those struggling in the hospitals.”

I look at dad from the corner of my eye. He’s still buried in the newspaper. I jump up and grab his burly hands in mine. “Daddy didn’t you hear?” I ask in amazement. He shakes his head in confusion, and then I break the good news to him. For the first time in a long time, we wear bright smiles on our faces; and Christmas bears tidings of a miracle on its sleeves.

BIOGRAPHY:

JEWO OGHENETEGA is an emerging poet, creative writer, and spoken word artist. As a christian undergraduate of Medicine and Surgery, he writes on themes of hope and faith. He was a finalist in the Shuzia christian quarterly prose contest; third place winner of the BPPC (Aug/Sept 2021). His works have appeared/are forthcoming on WSA magazine (November 2021 & January 2022) editions; ChristApoet, Brittle Paper, Spillwords.

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