It was January 2007, two months after Ziim was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. Two months since the word CP came to turn my life around, though at that time I never imagined the extent it would be. Ziim was seven months.
We had just come back from the village after the Xmas holiday that was to be the last all of us siblings would spend together with my father. It was the first time some of my siblings were to meet with my daughter, Ziim, that is, those that live outside the shores of this country. Funnily, it was also the first time we stayed together without the sibling bickering, yes, there are usually these sibling bickering we have each time we all come home that I secretly love. We bicker over nothing in particular, to an uninformed, we hate each other, but those are the occasions that test our relationship as brothers and sisters for the true test of relation are to disagree and hold hands. In retrospect, I wonder if any of my brothers or sisters took note of that but I did though I did not and have not up until now mentioned it to anyone of them. It was a sobering period for me thus I was too preoccupied with the uncertainties that surrounded Ziim’s diagnosis that I had no time to start off those mischiefs that often resulted to the bickering, hm, it’s true, I often start the fire. It probably was such similar time for the rest of the members of my family, as no one tried to start up any of those our fake fights.
Everyone had gone back to h/her “station”, like my village people would say and I was back in Lagos faced with the challenge of what to do with Ziim while I go to work. Work then for me was a restaurant aptly called fast food outfit. Mrs. Ped, my neighbor had taken me practically round the whole of Suru-Lere and her environs in search of a day care center that works with children with special needs. We found none. We then tried regular day care centers. She took me to one where her children were attending at that time; it was not far from where I lived them, actually a walking distance. You could not imagine my joy when the head teacher, Mrs. R agreed to take Ziim in. The next morning, I packed a bag with her lunch and other necessary things and dropped her off and happily went to work.
My happiness was cut short when at about 11.a.m I got a call from the head teacher requesting my attention at the crèche. No, there was problem, Ziim was fine, the proprietor had come in and requested for me to come right away. For some inexplicable reason, I feared they were going to turn my baby away, so I took my time going there. My fears were confirmed when I got there much later and the head teacher gave me the bad news. The proprietor does not want a child with special needs in the center. Why may I ask? Ha, she said other parents would withdraw their children and that was bad for business. I remember crying uncontrollably. It was not the fact that I was at a loss with what to do with my angel while I tried to make a living for we both that made me cry so much, but it was the fact that at seven months my daughter was already facing discrimination!! At that age, with what I now know, Ziim was totally environmental unaware, taking care of her then entailed feeding her when you wanted, she hardly ever showed sign for anything.
This was the day Mama Ng came into our lives. She was the cleaner in the center and she also was running a small shop, “kiosk” nearby; her house was just next door to the center. She immediately offered to take care of Ziim for me while I go to work. She did not just open her doors to us, she opened her heart. Her home became a second home for Ziim. I used to see her carry Ziim on her back while she attended to customers. She does the same thing for most working mothers who needed a safe place for their children after school hours until they closed from work. Her house was filled with children’s laughter and love.Her children took Ziim and treated her like their baby sister; they fondly call her Zi’m babe’. Daily I would drop Ziim at their home on my way to work and picked her on my way back. They would make Ziim’s hair; one of them, Aunty Ify still makes Ziim’s hair up till today.
December 2008, mama Ng died!!!! She was barely 50 years old!!!!! I will not tell you how I could not control my emotions at the service of songs. I guess I was doing the crying for Ziim and myself. Hm…
I still took Ziim there, mostly weekends for by that time I had found a center that caters for children with different types of disabilities and was taking Ziim there week days. Gradually I stopped taking her to mama Ng’s as the children got into tertiary institutions. Ify attends a poly technique here in Lagos and she comes to make Ziim’s hair every week or whenever I want. I still stop by to say hello to them sometimes, but we know that home is never quite the same without a mother.
About four weeks ago, Ify was here to make Ziim’s hair, as always I asked after everyone noting that I saw their mother’s shop open the previous day. Yes, she said their elder sister Ng opens it sometimes when she returns from school. She has finished school and she is there more often until she finds a job. I forgot about this piece of information until yesterday, Thursday. Thursdays are my choir rehearsal days and I still have the dilemma of what to do with Ziim while I go choir. I refused to obey part of Isaiah 43:18. I remembered my conversation with Ify and also remembered how their home is such that I could and can still take Ziim even without her shoes on, just like being in your own home. Center closed, I put Ziim in the car and drove to mama Ng’s house, it is on my way to the church. I first stopped by the “kiosk” with the hope of meeting Ng. To my surprise, I met a girl I did not recognize. She informed me that Ng has gotten a job. My heart dropped, but quickly picked up when she told me that Ifek was at home. Ifek is Ify’s identical twin sister; I still find it difficult to tell them apart.
Leaving Ziim in the car, I half ran upstairs. As I opened the door of their sitting room, the sight I beheld left me with nothing to say but “thank God”. Pleasantries quickly exchange, I leapt downstairs to bring Ziim up. As soon as we came in, she was greeted with “Zi’m babe’, you be big chick now o”. Ifek made to put her on the only chair there, no please, put her down on the floor, where you were sprawled with the other children. No questions asked, I only said I was going for choir rehearsals and would be back about 7.30 or there about. As I made to take my leave, I saw her removing Ziim’s shoes, it was like welcome home Zi’m babe’.
I got back about 7.20p.m Need I say that while at rehearsals I never worried about Ziim. Ifek told me she has finished her NCE course, she works nearby, closes at about 3p.m. After school some parents bring their children for her to mind for them till they close from work, just like her mother did. It’s okay to bring Ziim week days, weekends she often go to braid hair for children. Very good, Thursdays settled. …d’/t’/l’/s’/f’/m/r/d’..where is my hymn book?
We went home, with me thanking God for making me remember old conversation and other things of old. Sometimes, do remember, was glad I did.