When we knelt down together in prayer that Sunday afternoon, I felt his hand slip out from within my grip. There we were, a father and his daughter crouched on all fours – a return to our infantile position, in the hope that we may approach our heavenly father as innocent children.
The first gust of wind blew right through our front doors, and forced the louvers on both walls of our dining room to shatter into a million tiny splinters; the sound of the crash enveloped in the chaos of the raging storm. I shifted farther into the corner of the wall that supported our massive dining table and assumed a fetal position. There, underneath this table, I began to call out to God. I called out to the God who occupied the first six letters of my name, and whose saving power was reflected in the last five letters of my name, such that my name became a testimony in itself, “ God saves” – Chukwunazor.
When I opened my mouth to pray, I asked him for forgiveness, for mercy, and for another chance at life. I asked Him to verify my name, and I told Him I had let go of all my other losses; two relatives to natural disaster, and four more to a raging fire. Here I was, with all I had left in the world; this father of mine who watched his wife and three children become a burnt offering for the sins of mortal men, who lost the one arm he thrust into the fire when he grabbed my crying self and pulled me away from death, whose will to live died the day his children were buried. I had let go of all these losses, I promised God as I prayed.
My father prayed silently, a smile appearing at intervals on his face. For one who craved death each day, there was an unmistakable aura of peace that surrounded him, with each gust of wind that rattled through the furniture in our home – now an object of jest for the raging elements. When one has lived in a state of internal emptiness majority of their life, they do not feel, no, nor do they fear.
When finally opened his mouth to speak, several hours had gone by and sirens could be heard in the distance. “You will live, nwam. You are not your father”.
The rain began to pour through the gaping holes where our roof once stood. Had my throat not tightened and my lungs not recoiled continuously, I could have confused my own tears for rain, as their torrents mimicked the ebb and tide of a raging sea – a microcosm of the raging storm.
My father died a few hours later.
Several sirens had passed by, calling out for anyone who may have survived to climb to the highest mound of debris in their home. I had been quiet for an hour after he passed, and after a silent prayer, I stood again.
Having been close to death, everything from my birth to that moment was of no use to me anymore. I stripped bare, bare to the bone. What better way to be reborn than to do so in my garment of birth?
When I peered about me, I saw flayed humans and disjoined parts floating over a puddle where grass once grew. I saw a child and it’s mother facedown in the rubble, a pair that carried their bond to the grave. I stood there in a trance, lost in time.
I woke up to see six eyes peering down at me. When the blur of my eyes faded into clarity, I recognised them to be those of `my father, then that of my mother, and finally Dr. Karan.
My schizophrenia had worsened with each passing year, and my episodes were now more frequent. In my state of frequent psychosis, I had managed to conjure up a different reality for myself – one where all I knew was loss, fire and prayer.
And now, as with each time before this, my parents stared with pity upon me, and said “hello honey” in a tone that wished me back into comatose and schizophrenia – anywhere far away from their reality.