A dictionary’s definition of crossover is “a point or place of crossing from one side to the other.” Every December 31st, at midnight, we cross from the bank of one year to another and clap for ourselves. We made it again just last week. But for several persons known and unknown, their crossover music was Jim Reeves ‘Across the Bridge’ – starless, sombre, sad in its finality.
She is a friend of our family, a widow. On Saturday, 28 December, 2019, this woman spoke with me that her son just wrote his final exams at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, English Department. She said the young man was involved in campus journalism and thus wanted to do a three-month job training/attachment in my office while waiting for his degree results. I promised to give her a feedback on Monday, 30th December. I did not get to see her on Monday due largely to my end-of-the-year tight schedule. Then, on Tuesday, 31st December, 90 minutes to the new year, a call came in from the woman: the son was dead. He was 23. Shocked, I turned to the person who linked us and asked what happened? The young man had a crisis that didn’t last 48 hours. He was a sickle cell anaemia patient.
That night, through midnight into the new year, we were with the mother of the dead at the hospital struggling to separate the distraught widow from the corpse of her son. The young man should not be taken to the mortuary, he would wake up and fulfill his promises, the mum insisted. Then she released a torrent of apostrophic queries: She reminded the boy how she sold her only house to send him to school. She told the dead how he promised to build her another house and fill the gaps in her life. “Is this the house you promised? Is this how to dry my tears? You never enjoyed life. You were always reading, talking about your CGPA and making me proud. So, you will now leave without collecting your certificate?…” She went on and on and would not stop the shrill, sometimes mellow, broken cries of a mother in pains.
Sickle cell anaemia is a painful medical condition that has, for centuries, contorted dreams and aborted destinies of its sufferers; truncated the joy of mothers and hung happiness of fathers. It is a deadly, lifelong affliction, hereditary – particularly and commonly among blacks, people of African descent. Before the 1970s, even in the developed world, half of patients diagnosed with sickle cell disease died before adulthood. You remember the famous Abiku poems and stories? Read them again. They sound like this thing that kills the joy of the joyful. What is the cure? There is none here, at least today, but modern medicine has crossed it out as a death sentence.
Abroad, there is a procedure, a cure called bone marrow transplantation. Available treatment options here are seeing sufferers live long to self-actualization but we can help eliminate the scourge completely by stopping persons who should not be husband and wife from getting married and making ‘sickler’ children. At the hospital’s blood bank, an exasperated official there told me the number of sickle cell anaemia cases was rising. “And it is found more commonly with us, Muslims,” she said, hinting at precautions being taken by Christian churches in Nigeria before endorsing couples for marriage.
Cries of a grieving mother come jarring. They linger as rainbows of sadness. The bereaved woman wept on beneath the darkness of the night asking now and then if her boy had come around. The weeping widow did not note that a year just ended for the Gregorian world. Her son was already across Jim Reeves’s sea where “there is no more pain.” She could not know. For everyone around, including relations of other precarious patients, her story was too much pain to hear.
The boy that died just before the flute of the new year had a brother who suffers same disorder. The younger person, I learnt, is going to the university this year. He wants to become a medical doctor. He needs help. Around the country are hundreds of thousands of persons suffering this ailment in silence and in penury. They all need help…
We had to leave. And so, we drove out of the LAUTECH Teaching hospital, Osogbo, finally around 2.00 a.m. Just outside the gate of the teaching hospital, New Year fireworks continued their peals of thunderous celebrations. The joy of many who suffered no loss in the year 2019 paved the sidewalks with new year pearls. Distant, effusive shouts of gratitude in the air knew not the agonies of a widow who just lost a 23 year-old son. Left and right were revelers, prayer warriors and aimless wanderers all singing the voyager’s hymn on their berth at a new dawn, a new year. They did same the previous year and certainly, they must have prayed again to be around next year to do same. My mind raced back to the widow and the son she was leaving behind in the hospital morgue. Different strokes….
With that dark night in the hospital and its duvet of chilly tears were thoughts about fate, prayers and the new year. We are all what Ilsley described as “voyagers on life’s troubled sea.” Many who seek pleasure and peace end up finding strife and tyranny. The new year should see all who have mouths speak for the weak and the needy. The year is already losing its freshness in the haze of avoidable deaths, existential denials and state crackdowns. Many who shouted ‘happy new year’ in Kogi State on Wednesday died on Friday. They were murdered by some people who probably also prayed for a prosperous 2020. So, what should we do going forward? Speak out, if that is all you have. If you are a Christian, read Acts, 18:9: “One night, the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.'” And if you are a Muslim, Quran 4:135, tells you to fight evil wherever it is seen: “Believers! Be upholders of justice, and bearers of witness to truth for the sake of Allah, even though it may either be against yourselves or against your parents and kinsmen, or the rich or the poor: for Allah is more concerned with their well-being than you are. Do not, then, follow your own desires lest you keep away from justice. If you twist or turn away from (the truth), know that Allah is well aware of all that you do.”
If you are neither Christian nor Muslim, listen to the cosmic insistence of your vocal gong. No spell shuts up the bellowing cords of the gong. Like Paul, keep on speaking; do not be silent, because every new year sails you towards eternity. Around you are persons in need of health, life, food, shelter, peace, justice. Bring their cases into your basket of to-help resolutions. Fortify the resolutions with prayers – and action. Last year, what were the prayer points? What are the wishes and resolutions for the new year? There is a John Rosove New Year prayer I picked somewhere, sometime ago, and modified to fit the condition of my country. In this sober moment of deep thoughts about life and living, I read again:
May we hold lovingly in our thoughts those who suffer from disease, loss, illness, tyranny, subjection, cruelty, and injustice, and work every day towards the alleviation of their suffering.
May we recognize our solidarity with the stranger, outcast, downtrodden, abused, and deprived; that no human being be treated as “other;” that our common humanity weaves us together in one fabric of mutuality, one garment of destiny.
May we pursue our Maker’s vision of peace; that we might live harmoniously with each other and side by side, respecting differences, cherishing diversity, with no one exploiting the weak, each living without fear of the other, each revering the divine in every human soul.
May we struggle against institutional injustice, free those from oppression and contempt, act with purity of heart and mind, despising none, defrauding none, hating none, cherishing all, honoring every child of God, every creature of the earth.
May we, our country and all peoples know peace in this new year, and, may we plant and nurture kindness and love everywhere. Amen!
Happy New Year.
– Olagunju, a respected journalist, writes for Nigerian Tribune