400-level Medicine & Surgery
University of Ibadan
I have a thing for maps—they’re kind of like a kindred spirit—but I realise that people hardly touch or interact with them until and unless they need them; well, except those that study and design them. For as long as I can remember, I was merely a map to the people I walked the streets with, to my classmates at school. I was a girl with discoloured patches all over her skin, neither truly white nor black, tolerated because of her occasional usefulness. I guess you could say I occupied the same niche maps did in the world; I looked like one after all.
I was seven when blotches of the skin at the back of my hands and my forearm took on a markedly lighter tone. It must have seemed unnatural because Mum shrieked and Dad did that thing he usually did when he was looking for the car keys that left our furniture in a mess. Only now, there was a panic in his eyes and a jerkiness to his movements. I remember the speedy ride to the hospital and the soothing smell of bleach that slammed into me as we walked through the doors. The doctor had kind eyes and a calmness that soon rubbed off on my parents. I fiddled with the long slender rope around his neck as he examined my hands and talked to my parents. I caught the words ‘family’, ‘immune’, ‘disease’ and ‘progress’. Mum cried on the way back home; and soon, what started on my hands and arms would seek out my face and other places I had learnt to call private.
I thought little of it until school resumed and the pointing and laughing began. I was one of those chirpy children that loved Mondays, and every day after that, because I got to go to school and play with Majorie, my best friend. In time, however, as I became more alien than friend, Tuesdays and Fridays would become my most cherished days because I had to be at the doctor’s, rather than school, for my phototherapy. And that was saying a lot because after those hospital visits, came an irrepressible itch all over my body for the rest of the day.
Other days came with loneliness and a pain that wasn’t…physical. I had heard Majorie’s mother, at the parking lot after school one day, tell her to stay away from ‘that girl’ so she wouldn’t get what I had. I always liked how smoothly my name rolled off Maj’s mother’s tongue. When she said it in the past, my mind would wrap itself in the fond memory of the velvety covers I slept with…but I guess I had become ‘that girl’. The sheets on the bed in my room, that once knew the happiness of girls during a sleepover, now took on the wetness of one very teary girl. And although I hate mirrors— for obvious reasons— sometimes, I open the usually-concealed one in the bathroom and sneak a peek. In those brief moments, I find myself unable to blame the world for cringing; I do too.
I’m sixteen now and it occurs to me that I have never really appreciated my parents, been truly thankful for them. A part of me that has grown cynical thinks it’s because they had no choice; but I read, a lot, and so I know that parents aren’t just wired to have nothing but love for their children. There’s a choice somewhere there for them, and mine use theirs on love and on me, every day. Momma took to homeschooling me when she realised regular school was doing more harm than good, and Dad refused a better job because it would have taken away the time he wanted to spend with us. I know because I would sit outside their room after lights out, lean back gently and rest on their door, still my breath, and listen as they talked before going to bed. I know because I saw the less-than-perfect lives they led because they wanted to be there for me. And, as we sit around our small dinner table, holding hands and bowing in prayer, I know that if I left, to death’s sure peace, I would be taking them with me in a whirlpool of heartbreak.
And although the world has so harshly passed its judgement on me, I cannot bear to think of the gloom that would engulf it without the warm beauty of these two souls that made me theirs, first in blood and forever in love.