If you could see beyond the horizon of what is and into that amorphous realm of what will be, what would you do with the knowledge from your sight? What would you say? Would you tell the joyful mother cradling her son in her arms to love him with all her heart now because it will be difficult to love him when he becomes a murderer? Would you tell the woman tossing a handful of soil onto the coffin of the man she loves to smile because she will eventually find a greater love in the arms of another? Would you tell the man who has lost everything he owns to steady his nerve and brace himself because he will soon lose everyone he loves as well? Perhaps you would just stand there with your lips sealed, silent and sessile as the river of time flowed gently towards it destination, for better or for worse. Perhaps you will do nothing with this gift but wish you could return it.
But I do not like uncertainties.
So, I will give you this gift for a time. I will let you see.
You can see Mrs. Koiki standing over her son’s bed watching him sleep peacefully. This is now. You can see the love in her eyes, a tender sparkle in the corner, a sort of constant wetness that threatens to form a tear but never actually does. You see it, don’t you? Good. Now look closer, do you see that constant tremble in her hand and the way her cheekbones resist the upward curve of her cheeks when she tries to smile? Good. That is fear, a severe trepidation of sorts. She is afraid she will lose her son to the disease they have just diagnosed him with.
This is now. Let me show you what comes next.
You see Mrs. Koiki pacing up and down the garden of an expensive house which you will soon begin to believe is a palace. You will begin to believe this because its garden is larger than any house you have ever seen. Look around. Now look at the grass beneath Mrs. Koiki’s feet, trampled, their stalks crushed. They will devoutly bow east until they eventually wither and die. Look at them and give their plight no second thought. Think only on the facts and realize that Mrs. Koiki has been pacing up and down this particular patch of grass for almost an hour.
She stops suddenly and you see a young girl run out of a door in the house, throwing her feet carelessly forward, her Bantu knots making her appear to be about ten years old. Actually, she is fourteen.
You know this because I let you know. I am trying to show you something. This is the gift.
The girl finally reaches Mrs. Koiki and she falls to the floor, trembling. You can hear her sobbing now. It is a loud, pathetic sound like the pleadings of an angel being defiled by a demon skilled in the theft of innocence. You see Mrs. Koiki put her arms around the girl and attempt to comfort her. You can see the way she does this and it tells you that this is a mother comforting her child; trying to reassure hereafter something terrible has come to pass. But here, in this verdant court of branches and leaves, before a jury of freshly cut grass and perfectly trimmed hedges; you know she is guilty of a crime against the very daughter she is trying to comfort.
You know she knows. You can see it in her eyes. She condemns herself.
They remain there for a few minutes until a man in a suit that is one size too small and dark glasses that completely obscure his eyes emerges from the same room the girl has just fled and drops a small “Ghana-must-go” bag on the floor. He stands beside it, still as a statue, and Mrs. Koiki pulls away from her daughter just long enough to collect it. As she wraps her hands around the bag, you can hear the man say something to her.
“Chief said you should bring her again on Friday evening,” He pauses briefly before adding, “And you should tell her to stop crying when he is playing with her. He doesn’t like it.”
You know this because I let you know.
Now, do you begin to understand? Perhaps not. Let us go further. You will see eventually.
You can see Mrs. Koiki in the cashier’s office of a hospital. She is paying for something with great big wads of cash, fifty naira notes held together with tattered pieces of paper and rubber bands. The cashier is an old woman who is big in the places she should be small and small in the places she should be big. Her face and body would lead many to believe that she is over forty years old but you know that she is actually twenty-nine.
You know this because I let you.
She takes all the money from Mrs. Koiki and hands her a receipt which she takes to another wing of the hospital with a sign above the swing doors that says ‘Radiology’ in bold, harsh font. The name on the receipt reads ‘Olumide Koiki’ and you know this is not the girl you saw sobbing in her arms earlier. You know this was the young boy over whose bed she stood when I first let you begin to see into her life. He is dying of cancer and she is trying to save him by committing an unforgivable sin.
Do you now understand?
Come back to the beginning with me.
You can see Mrs. Koiki standing over her son’s bed watching him sleep peacefully. This is now … again. You can see the love in her eyes, but now you are afraid of it, are you not? Now look closer, do you still see the fear that was there before? It’s such a small thing now, barely perceptible but you see it clearly now and even worse, you know what it will lead her to do. There are few things that can inspire cold fear like witnessing the birth of what you know will be a wild, consuming monster. You know what her fear will lead her to do. You are now afraid of the things a mother will do to one child to save another.
I can show you more. I can show you the future where her son survives his disease thanks to the expensive treatments paid for with blood money for her daughter’s innocence. I can show you what her daughter will end up doing on the streets, selling herself along Omega Bank Avenue and Adeola Hopewell Street after she runs away from home on her seventeenth birthday, no longer able to live with the woman who wilfully sold her body to a filthy old degenerate. I can show you what Mrs. Koiki does to herself, trying to find penance through pain. I can show you, but I suspect you already know enough.
So, what will you do, now that you have seen?
Will you tell Mrs. Koiki to refuse Chief’s offer when it comes and let her son die so that she can keep her daughter’s love? Will you reassure her that she will be making the only decision she can to save her sons life? Will you tell her nothing and keep this foreknowledge I have given you to yourself, letting it weigh down your soul like an anchor? Will it even matter what you do? What will you do with this gift if I give it to you?
And before you decide, know this: Once I give you this gift, you can never return it.
AUTHOR BIO: Wole Talabi is a Nigerian engineer (definitely) and writer (arguably). His fiction has previously appeared, or is forthcoming, in the Kalahari Review, Omenana, Klorofyl Magazine, and the anthologies ‘These Words Expose Us’, ‘AfroSF:V2 – Science Fiction by African Writers’ and ‘Hidden in Your World’ from Visionary Press.