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Ebuka Prince Okoroafor is a Nigerian Medical Student. His work has appeared in Litro USA, Bangalore Review, Eunoia Review, AFREADA, African Writer, and elsewhere. He is a selected winner of the Green Author Prize 2017, and winner of the 2019 Sevhage Short Story Award. Find him on IG @show_fantastic_ and twitter @Bukadobigshow.

This is not your name--neither by your baptism, nor confirmation in the church. But from the time you grew older and met it on the lips of Dada, your granny, you instantly loved it. You met it in the smile of your Pa too, in the way he would drag you into his bosom once he returned from one of those protracted travels that he always ventured on, usually lasting some weeks and a few times, stretching into months. He would call you, "Warrior! Warrior!!" Lifting you up and sitting you on his thick, muscular shoulder so that you felt you were taller than everyone in the house. In those moments, you felt safe, you felt the pain that always lingered in your bone drain out, and your body coming alive as though you just began living.
But in school, nobody called you Warrior and it irked you. Everybody knew you with different names. Your classmates taunted you with Big Head, Big Belly, or Drummer girl, because your fingers were as though they were shaped like drumsticks. Your teacher Mrs. Gladys called you The Strange One, and when you had complained to your Pa and he came to unload a truck load of bile on the proprietor, he was told, " Mr. Peterson, we have been looking for a way to ask you to take your child away, she doesn't seem to fit in here. She is bright, but you see, interaction with other pupils here has been a problem."
So you changed school, from Ake Memorial, to Ijebu High, to Egbu girls, to one with a name even we could not pronounce correctly. Your Pa always told you how you were different from the rest of the world, how you were unique. Most times, when you looked in the mirror, you saw the truth in those sunken eyes, that bleached skin, and lean limbs. You wondered why you always felt pain on the left flank of your belly, wondered why the Doctor infused you with a pint of Pa's blood once every two months, wondered any time you felt sick and went swoony.
Your Pa never complained though, he always smiled like the half moon was always meant to be plastered on his face. He smiled and hugged you the day you ran away, when a thought had crept into your head, making you believe you were a burden to him, to Dada, and surprisingly, to us too. They had found you at the church and while Dada made to scold you, Pa carried you in his strong arms and took you home.
We know all the while, you saw us. We know you were too afraid to talk about it even when Dada had come into your room one certain night and asked you, "Chinaza, do you see them?" You didn't know how to tell Dada you had created a world in your head, and we were the products of that virtual construction, Yugo and I. We both looked like you, only that you always made us wear a smile, and hid your pain from us, always making us look like perfect kids. You hid in our bodies to deny yourself grief whenever the world ridiculed you.
Dada was a smart woman, she did not stop asking questions. In fact, she told your Pa, and reluctantly, he'd agreed you should be taken to a fetish home where they made you drink a mixture that made your throat sore, and the bitterness had lingered on your tongue for days. Momentarily, we went away, we diffused into thin air and you thought you were OK, and perhaps like Dada had suggested, we were the marine spirits disturbing your life. Yugo went south, and I went north, to the place where the Atlantic kissed the sky, where the sun was warm and spirits roamed.
Then one morning, you called us back. It was because a boy from school had said you looked like an Avatar because the sclera of your eyes were turning yellow, and in response you had pulled at his ear until you drew blood. That was the first day you saw your Pa get angry at you. As he screamed and his frustration bared its ugly form, you jumped out of your body and into our skins. And when he was done, he'd left and only come back in the dead of the night and wept by your bedside while you slept.
The next morning he apologized, he had said, "Chinaza, if you keep reacting to everything people say to you, then you will not enjoy life." He let you into his arms, but while he did this, you resolved we were going to stay a longer time. We were probably never going to leave again.
And so the night you got very sick, we were right there by your side, while Dada held you in her lap and applied shear butter on your skin, and the Doctor set up another line for a pint of blood your Pa had had a good friend donate, you asked us to take you to the places we went to when your Dada succeeded in driving us away and we'd strongly objected. We'd told you this is how death happens, but you insisted, and so, we took you.
For the first time, you experienced what it was like to live outside your skin, to observe the worried picture of your loved ones, the way they bent over your frail body. We thought to you how to become a molecule of air, how to climb into your Pa's head and that night, after you'd explored it, after you'd rummaged through Dada's mind too, you slipped back into your body. By morning, when you'd opened your baggy eyes, you kissed your Pa's cheeks and for the first time, you told him how sorry you were.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, May 20th, 2020

Author Comments

The Idea to write this work was conceived on World Sickle Cell Day 2019. I'd felt the need to express the challenges people who suffer from the disease pass through, especially in a society where a subtle form of stigmatization still exists, a society where in some parts, the sufferers may be branded as being possessed by spirits and thus traditional means resorted to in order to exorcise them.

Sufferers from indigent homes may have little or no friends, and so they may resort to creating friends and perfect worlds in their heads. Cheers!

- Ebuka Prince Okoroafor
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