Your Brief Bio:
Gideon Ogbonna is an aspiring writer from Ebonyi who alternates between being a Pharmacist and writing stories. For him, his life is a tug of war between his Pharmacist's Oath and his pen.
Tweet-Style Story Summary:
Burning Miracles is a captivating story of pain and the need to be loved. It captures a tale of Kambili, a sickle cell patient and her hurdles through life.
At 10 you heard you were going to die. If they don’t die before 21, then they will live long, you overheard him say. He said this, unaware that the message was for you. Yet, you never lived in this burdensome knowledge that death may come for you anytime. Maybe this ability to deny this knowledge was what your mother called faith. Because there were nights when death taunted you; when you felt the shallowness of your breath; when your heart became fading pulses, and all you whispered was, I shall not die.
You knew what faith was through your mother. Faith was trudging to church on Wednesday evenings to see her pastor and to pray. Faith was nodding to the pastor when he blinked his palm nut-shaped eyes and asked, do you believe this thing can be changed?
Good, he would say after you nod. Keep praying. God answers the prayers of little ones quickly.
But you knew why God did not answer yours quickly – your innocence had been scalded by the heat you felt every night when you guided your aunt’s hand to the tender ridges under your pajamas, as your hand found way into her own bristles.
You are convalescing when she first fondles you; she massages, with a cloth soaked in hot water, the many punctures that dot your buttocks then dabs the streak of your innocence with the cloth, and later a finger. And you do not know what the touch should make you feel – pain or pleasure. But the way she closes her eyes – as if savouring an aroma tells you – it is something sweet. Sweeter than the pain you are recovering from.
You were 11 when you first came close to dying. That evening, there was a throbbing pain on your waist like it was another heart in your body. The pain lurched from your waist, squeezing and tearing through your blood vessels, and settled on your chest. Strapped to your mother’s back in the hospital, as she sung praises with a voice hoarse with tears, you couldn’t tell if the heat you suddenly felt was from the dimly lit room, or from the cloth that strapped you, but you felt hot and gasped for breath. And soon, everything seemed ethereal. It was like the sun took up a white resplendence and no longer sunk beneath the clouds with a fierce, orange glow; like this resplendence shone in the room, painting the walls white like heaven, and the brown-tiled floor like gold. Like it enveloped you and made your body saunter in air. That was before the pain traveled to your throat, strangulating you.
Mom, I love you, you said with tears, like you regretted not saying it on better days. But I love you was not what flew all over the place at home. Your father and mother never said it to each other. No endearments whatsoever. Not even for you. Sometimes, your mom, pliant, would be teased by family friends and on days like your dad’s birthday, you will hear her say, Happy birthday my lord, unfurling the words with effort like a child struggling to open a gift. She made ‘my lord’ (flushing like a new bride when she said it) less audible than ‘happy birthday.’
And your father? Stoic. Bespectacled from much studying. Rotund from alcohol. Endearments were not for him. Kporo’m nne gi, call me your mother was what he said to you when he needed your mother. And when he decided to call her himself, he would say, his face impassive, enyi, biko bia go di, friend please come.
That was the language of love you knew – silent and strong. So when you told your mother you loved her, it had a taste; even a profound taste when she cried, I love you too.
At 15, you were a woman in a girl’s body. Loneliness – the bane of an only child – thrummed in your heart even more and you wanted love because of it; because you didn’t want to die without love stranded in your bones; because your aunt had stopped touching you in places that made you warm and left you with cravings that rocked your body. Every night, she would reel out the events of her day to her lover, giggling and squirming on the bed, then falling asleep with a smile flickering over her ginger-colored face after saying, I love you too. You wanted to be like her; to have a man.
You knew your aunt stopped touching you because of her lover. She had hit your hand when you tried getting under her skirt the night she blushed after a call. You tried again, and she hit it again without uttering a word. And when you dressed for school the next morning, she told you that what you tried doing wasn’t proper. You are too young for what you wanted to do last night. Moreover, it is not proper for a woman to touch another woman in that way, she said. You replied with a nod to stifle the bile that rose up your throat. You felt like a little pawn for pleasure, and you expected an apology. Instead she said, holding your shoulders, that you are growing into a beautiful woman, and soon a man will come for you. Then with a wintry gaze that gripped you, she added, but remember that everything that happened between us is in the past and no one should hear of it, and she left. The finality of her words made you shed a tear. That was how you knew how people magnified their importance by etching deeply into your heart, then yanking themselves off it.
You were 16 when you learnt that the language of love was the eyes. But you were never proud of the sallow smudges that were your eyes because they reminded you of palm oil smeared on a white cloth. Was that not why you wore glasses to glance at Tobey during Sunday service, willing his brown, graceful eyes to meet yours, as the pastor hopped from place to place, heaving words in that vibrating way peculiar to Pentecostals? On the day Tobey’s eyes lingered on yours more than usual, you thought it was because of your hair, which you made to cascade down your shoulders in brown, fluffy tufts, making more evident the moon shape of your face. That was the day he asked your name with an obvious effort to repress his stutter. Kambili, you said, flushing.
The kind of love you and Tobey had hid behind the bone-white walls of the church – for that was the only place naiveté allowed you two to meet – to plant a kiss on each other’s cheek. It was a love that kept secrets; you never told him about your health and when he’d come to see you in the hospital, you would tell him, almost in a whisper, that the doctor said it was malaria. Tobey did not tell you that he had not been with a girl before but you knew in the way his fingers trembled and his lips quivered when he gave you a peck. That was the extent Tobey’s holy body could go; a peck. And because you could not tell him that your body had held pleasures that went beyond hidden, sloppy pecks; because you knew how (too much) sensuality tainted the beauty of love, you pretended, for a while, that your body was holy too. However, it worried you. You had thought that Tobey would douse the sensual cinders that smouldered in your body. You could not understand how a boy like Tobey, 18 and handsome, withheld himself from discovering the pleasures wrapped in a girl and the ones within his body too.
So one afternoon, you are home alone, and you invite him. It starts with a peck. Then you dare him to kiss you. He does, scowling his face the same way you do when served porridge beans. You giggle. Close your eyes and follow my lead, you tell him. And soon both of you, enraptured by soft kisses, unlock the sensuality fallow in your thighs. Then it is all over. Your heavy breaths are drowned by the rain. You look at his face and it holds guilt and embarrassment. Maybe it is because he realizes that he is naked before a girl; or maybe it is because of the blood trapped within the sheet, but whatever it is makes him hurry out of your house, not minding the rain, as if the rain would douse any passion left in his body and cleanse him of the filth he has known. And this is the last time you see him.
There was a day you said to your mother – your eyes evading hers – that miracles do not exist. She had asked if you still prayed for your health. You were 18 and in your second year in university.
Well, maybe they exist. But a miracle is not just for me, you calmed her because she had exclaimed, Oh God! Have mercy on my daughter, clutching her chest.
Never lose hope, Kam, she sighed.
So you were tethered to a pillar of hope and fed on unseen evidences until death came again the second time. This time it was like the pain unhinged your lungs and you felt them floating in your body. And when the pastor came to the hospital one afternoon and told you that your faith was weak, you wished him this pain. And he felt it. Or did he not say it one Sunday as he preached? Saying he never knew that a bone pain could hurt that much. And when he despised drugs and dismissed what he had felt with, by faith I became healed, you shook your head in revulsion.
When death came this second time, two men clad in black told you: Thank your mother for her prayers. But we will be back again. Then you woke up with an itch on your big toe, the one that came with the drug the nurse administered. You made nothing out of the dream, yet you told your mother about it. And she, her hair covered with a shawl, knelt down and gave thanks to the God who had done this.
She rubbed your big toe with olive oil. This itch will pass too. The enemy has failed, she snapped her fingers and watched how far the blood transfusion had gone.
You muttered Amen because you wanted to please her. But you had escaped the tether of hope. And you never blamed God for not sending a miracle to you. Because for you, God’s phials of miracles are not for sinners. Because a sinner was what you saw when you gazed at the mirror on some mornings, naked. You would feel your bones through your skin that sometimes had the color of ivory. The anemia shrunk you into a short girl, thin like a twig. Your body was one that had been sentenced to pain so all you wanted were pleasures. And in your diary, you wrote:
Miracles don’t stay here because my body is a bag of pleasures burning miracles.
They say the world is fraught with peaks and troughs, and you knew this late in life. Perhaps, it was because the troughs chose you; or it was because you did not know that you could, sometimes, create peaks for yourself. But after you knew, you did. Was that not how you learnt to love yourself? How you quelled your addiction to the pills that eased your pain? How you knew that there was a glowing beauty to your skin, one you never saw before? How you freed your hurting scalp from the twists of braids, and wore you black weaves with all sleekness and straightness and style?
But these were after your mother told you those banal words – settle down, and asked you to find a man like men were fruits littered on the ground after a windy night; after you met Clement on a day when the dusts of Nsukka made people wear brown eye shadow; after he slipped a wedding band on your finger on your birthday; after he warned you not to make weaves but braids because that was how he wanted his woman to always appear. After he stopped you from wearing your snug shirts because they revealed parts of you only he should see. After love leaked out of your body through your eyes when he said, a stutter to his voice, I can’t do this anymore. You are a sickler, I can’t bear to watch you die; saying ‘this’ with a tastelessness that formed a ball in your throat.
And these were before you died. You were 21.