by Tunji Akande
Born Again – First Runner-up of the 2019 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)
My mother screamed nine times in one night, drawing fistfuls of her hair, cursing God, Eve and the earth that produced the fruit. She kicked the nurses and spat on the doctors. When she’d tried six hours straight and I still wasn’t forthcoming, the doctor said, ‘how about an operation?’ And my mother cursed my father because the doctor was asking him and not her. ‘He who is in me is greater than science, I shall deliver like the Hebrew women,’ she said.
Of course, coming for the second time I had to be great— that’s what my mother said, but I’m not sure I believe her.
There is my mother. She sits and stands. Back to the ground, legs up, breath held. The instructor passes bottles of water to the women whose bellies are pushed out in different sizes, sweat dripping down their dark and light skin. There is my mother pressing the yellow towel to her skin. ‘My second,’ she says to the plump woman to her left. ‘But it’s different compared to the first. ‘
‘Eh, this is my first,’ the woman says.
My mother says she knew happiness the first time I arrived inside her, but now what’s happening with me. The first and second me, all of me.
I do not have memories of the times I did not exist, but my mother wants me to remember. ‘Where did you go, when you were not here?’ She asks, and I wonder if there are people who know what it means to be dead even while they’re alive. I turn to my friend Google, our teachers say we should make Google our friend. Entry: where do dead children go.
Heaven, at God’s right hand.
They were born into this wicked, but couldn’t accept Christ, so hell.
They stopped existing.
Sent back to the world as other people’s children.
Entry: do dead children come back.
Entry: how do I know I have been born again.
By giving your life to Christ.
Erase, new entry: how do I know I am born into the same or another body again?
You love listening to certain beats, drums especially.
You just know.
When reincarnation happens, you might and you might not know.
But this isn’t about reincarnation. I don’t think I’m taking another person’s body. And also, my mother believes this is me from the previous time. Same eyes and nose and complexion and hair.
During her first pregnancy, my mother was happy. She said knowing that another living being growing inside her made her feel like a god. Knowing that your actions didn’t only affect you, but also another tiny being learning to breathe, to live inside of you makes you feel that way. She went to the market and got clothes for the baby, accepted gifts from everyone who offered her one. She was planning to be the good mother. Had a crib made for the baby. Poor baby who wouldn’t stay.
The baby finally came out— no cries— with pale skin and eyes which were closed to the world. She had one look at this dead baby before it was taken away from her.
The Lord gives and the Lord takes.
When she became pregnant with me, my mother had learned how to avoid the sun and people. Too much evil spirits lurking around, too much evil eyes piercing through her thin satin blouse. She kept me a secret from everybody who wanted to know if she had taken in again. She cancelled family meetings and took a break from her job at the law firm. She didn’t care that they threatened not to take her back. These evil eyes could be lurking anywhere.
‘How do you know I’m the same dead baby?’ I once asked her.
‘You were never dead,’ she said. ‘They tried to kill you, they will continue to try, but you are a strong boy, baby.’
When I was about five years old, I used to have this recurring dream that chased me out of sleep. We are all walking down the street, my parents and I. Maybe returning from church or a family friend’s place. Then we get to this junction were these women and men in long white robes are singing, drumming and dancing. They let my parents go and hold me hostage. My parents go without looking back and I scream my lungs out, screaming into wakefulness.
These dreams would come and go with my mother cuddling me, reminding me that I was strong, that I had done it before.
In school, I fought with other students so much they feared me. The teacher made me sit alone at the front of the class, repeating words I can’t remember. Back home, my mother asked, worriedly, ‘why do you allow this old spirit use your body like this?’
‘Tell me your dreams again,’ she asked. But these days, I hardly remember my dreams.
When my father wouldn’t agree that I go for deliverance, my mother called him a foolish man, and he called her a crazy woman. She took me to a church where the pastor asked me to close my eyes, praying and kept asking me if I could see anything.
‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘Just darkness.’