The realization always hurts the first time, doesn’t it? That sudden dawning that things can never be the same for you again despite how much you wish it all to be a dream. I can no longer remember the feeling of grass under my feet or even the sound of my voice anymore. Those are privileges for my wheelchair and my old secondary school mixtapes.
That’s where taking a bullet that eventually gets lodged in your brain—for your nation’s army that will just count you as a statistical casualty—gets you.
And don’t bother about feeling pity for me, my love. I no longer feel even that for myself.
It isn’t easy when the favorite child, the one the relatives preened and approved of during family gatherings, is jarringly placed a hundred rungs behind even the black sheep of the family. I suppose it is that status of favorite child that ensures I have actually lived this long and not been taken off the cumbersome life support contraption.
But wouldn’t being dead actually have been more of a mercy than condemning me to life as this?
No matter, I don’t think that would be a problem anymore. I see the way my doctor looks at me. Like every other person, his eyes are full of morose pity, but unlike the others, his runs deep. He looks at me as if every raspy breath I take takes a swing at his own joy and every stream of saliva that runs down my jaw tugs at his conscience to end his patient’s suffering.
I know he will eventually succumb. I just don’t know if I’ll actually be ready when it comes, despite how desperately I crave release.
* * *
Disorienting is a feeble word to describe it the first time it happened. My nanny was done washing me up for the evening, and wreathed in her unending disgust, she’d retired to her room, probably to the arms of the boyfriend she had decided to share my house with. I didn’t sleep on the bed anymore; the wheelchair could recline almost completely horizontally. Most times, sleep itself was a seemingly elusive quarry that gradually changed into a pouncing predator when I no longer expected it to descend.
I’m not sure how long but I assume it must have been minutes after I had slipped into slumber that I suddenly opened my eyes and found myself hurtling through an infinite blue… environment. Before I could fully grasp the situation, I pushed through the blue and found myself in space. Not the normal space you see on TV with the black beyond and innumerable stars. This space was all colors of every spectrum and colors I can never be able to describe to you, my darling. There was a large shimmering blue circle behind me and its light shifted in different gradients and pulsed across its entirety. I was mesmerized by the utter vastness and color of my unearthly environment that I didn’t realize that I could move my body parts. I slowly raised both my hands, turning them round even as tears began making trails from my eyes and I choked back a sob, before comprehending I had also recovered my voice.
It was then I let it all out: I cried long and hard.
Other than the joy of our first kiss, I can think of no other moment that comes close to the first time in the Dreamspace.
Yes, that’s what I chose to call it after I floated into my nanny’s dream. Instead of stars, clouds of ever changing images and swirling colors were scattered across the infinity of the Dreamspace. The cloud closest to me felt indescribably familiar in all its mysterious grandeur. I hovered towards the cloud, somehow trusting and not trusting what it was. Little tendrils half-heartedly snaked their way towards my fingers, not physically drawing me in but just enough to entice me. I went in.
I suddenly found myself in a boutique with a floor so transparent that I could see the slow swirling patterns of the cloud beneath. I saw her, my nanny, dressed in a bright turquoise caftan and barking orders to evident salesgirls, even striking one’s ear. As they scurried away like mice, she put on a smug look of self satisfaction that made me raise an eyebrow. As I walked closer to her, her boyfriend appeared from behind a rack of designer hats. He sported a wolfish grin as he approached, and with an equal grin on her face, my nanny’s caftan literally vanished, rendering her as naked as the day she was born. Her man’s clothes were also equally nowhere to be seen. And just like that, they were a-thrusting and a-moaning right there on the boutique floor. I stood there in part shock, part fascination.
Then I sighed.
My nanny’s head suddenly whipped in my direction and it was then she was finally aware of my presence, despite me having been less than three meters from her the entire time. She screamed and frantically unplugged her boyfriend, trying to use her arms to cover her breasts and privates.
I honestly don’t know why but I just turned and walked away from the pair, straight to the first door I saw. I opened it and stepped through.
I found myself in the compound of one of the most dilapidated houses I’d ever seen. The bungalow had parts of the paint peeling off and floating up, up, up into the evening sky. The ground was no longer transparent but rather, it had taken the form of something akin to frosted glass; I could make out the cloud beneath only if I really squinted. Abruptly, the door of the house opened and four little girls ran out, laughing and playing with each other. Even as a little girl, I could still tell which one was my nanny and I was suddenly certain that I had walked further into her dreams, which were apparently now becoming more logical, coherent; like memories. I made no sound this time as I passed the hooting children and stepped into the bungalow.
The scene changed again and this time, I found myself in my own room. I saw my real self, sitting slack jawed on the wheel chair and staring at my nanny as she yelled at me.
“You must add me in your will o, you decrepit invalid! It’s the least you can do after all I’ve done for you! Are you hearing me?!”
My two selves kept staring at her.
“Eh? Will you add me or not? Talk, my friend!” And she ironically punctuated ‘my friend’ with a burning slap across my other’s face.It sounded like a bullwhip. My anger began to roil. But apparently, she hadn’t had enough. Saliva from my other’s jaw was splattered on her palm, which she looked at with seemingly infinite loathing and proceeded on a slapping spree. My anger spilled over instantly, my love. I couldn’t stand there anymore. I rushed and with a hefty swing, brought my hand down on her exposed cheek in a great arc. I could almost feel her brain rattle with the force of my strike and that provided me a great measure of dark satisfaction.
“Are you mad, Ogechi?!” I yelled, my eyes widened. “How dare you?”
She looked from me to my other self, hand on her assaulted cheek, and failed to produce any intelligible sounds from her stupid mouth. I itched to slap her again; not a good way to start using my hands again but would nonetheless have been satisfying.
“I… You… Is this…” she stuttered.
“Shut up! Shut the fuck up before I kill you!” I walked closer to the astonished woman. “So this is what you’ve been planning to do to me, eh? So you hate me like this but you want to be in my will? Who even told you I have a will??” It felt really odd and good to be hearing my own voice again. I took more menacing steps toward her.
And right before my eyes, my nanny faded from my sight until me and my other were the only ones left in my room. And then the room began to break apart into tiny glowing fragments.
I was the only exception to the crumbling. I watched as the bed, the ceiling, the floor and even my other self break apart into motes of soft green light. The ceiling had disintegrated enough that I could make out the colorful spectra of the Dreamspace above. Slowly, levitation eased back into me and I made my way through the widening ceiling, away from the collapsing dream cloud. I looked down as the last remnants of the shrinking cloud spiraled out of existence. I stood floating in this immense universe and oh, but I wish you could imagine it! But like I told you before, words can never be enough for the beauty and majesty of the Dreamspace.
Even as I made my way back to the shimmering blue circle, which I would eventually choose to call the Gate, I saw more clouds grow into existence and I also noted a few far off ones that winked out like my nanny’s own dream cloud. I made my way through the Gate, not for the reason of returning to my room or planet (if I had truly left Earth), but more for the reason to verify if the Gate could truly be used to take me back. As I passed through, I was immediately pulled into its rushing blue and I was suddenly back in my wheelchair, in my wretched state, attached to the companion that is my life support machine.
My nanny quit the very next morning after waking up with severe pains on the left side of her face. Maybe I’d slapped her a bit too hard. Just a bit.
* * *
As my doctor comes by every day, I wasn’t worried when Ogechi packed her bags — along with some of the expensive china plates in the kitchen. He immediately made arrangements and before the evening, I had a petite young girl, probably in her early twenties, as my new nanny. She looked like someone who I may have been really good to if circumstances had been different. But like the others, she would have to settle for wiping saliva trails and making sure I was never covered in my feces and urine.
I spent the passing weeks as an invalid by day and an unearthly wanderer by the fall of night. It didn’t have to be at night too. Even during siestas, I’d fall through the Gate into the Dreamspace. I ran from the bleakness of my existence to find something close to happiness in the dreams of others. I learnt not to wander far into a person’s dream because the further I went, the more the dreams turned into memories and then to deeply buried thoughts. A few of them are too disturbing to tell you. The human mind can conceal the darkest of things, my love.
I walked into your dreams about two months after I entered the Dreamspace. I don’t know what attracted me to you in particular. Maybe it was because you dreamt you were in a lush meadow, sitting on a wooden chair and facing the setting sun and the purpling sky. Maybe it was because you kept a thesaurus at your feet as you wrote that poem about the twilight (but seriously, who has a thesaurus in their dreams?). Maybe it was the surprise you watered down with fascination when I made you aware of my presence. Maybe it was your voice or your eyes or was it even your laughter? I don’t know. I don’t really care. You made me come back night after night, waiting impatiently for sleep and always being reluctant to leave when you woke and your dream dissipated.
Ironically, our first kiss was the day you had the nightmare. Your greatest fear is the Deep. The ocean. I recall seeing you struggling to stay afloat the turbulent water as lightning threatened to rend the sky in half and thunder rattled the fiber of your dream world. I appeared on your quaint little sailboat moments before you finally went below the surface. I didn’t hesitate. I dived in after you and brought you back to the boat. We remained in that position: me on top of you, leaning on an elbow and you below, hair matted to your forehead and lips parted as you steadied your breathing. It was then, my love, that I leaned down to taste the water on your lips.
We forgot about the ocean and turned a nightmare into a blissful memory.
* * *
I don’t want to die anymore but I know the time has come. When my doctor walks into the room today, I only look at his eyes once to know that he’s finally decided I have suffered enough. Oh, how I want to scream at him that I don’t need release anymore; that I’d found it. But all I can do is follow him with my eyes as he kneels in front of me, sniffling and muttering about how no one should have to suffer like I have. I watch him fill up the syringe with a pale red liquid as he renders apologies and a litany of pleas for my forgiveness for taking actions into his hands. I can only watch in horror and dismay as he injects its contents into the tube, from a compartment of my life support, which carries glucose into my bloodstream.
“You’ll go to sleep. It will be painless, I promise. I hope you forgive me.” He takes my hand and covers it with both of his as he sits on the floor beside me. My thoughts cloud, my vision darkens and I curse him. I curse him a thousand times. The poison tampers with my emotions and gradually all I want to do is to sleep and slip into the welcoming dark embrace.
My eyelids close.
And in the darkness, hope spikes through me, as I make out a shimmering blue in the distance.
About the writer
Haku Jackson is the pseudonym of a young man that writes in the dead of night (maybe), sleeps all day, and eats at ungodly hours. Writing both literary and speculative fiction, his work has appeared on African Writer Magazine and he is an alumnus of both Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus Trust Workshop, and Goethe-Institut’s AfroYoungAdult Workshop.