Fortunately or unfortunately – or both, I am one of the over one million Nigerians afflicted with sickle cell disease. I have written a story which details my on-going grappling with the disease, the attempts to get cured or alleviate suffering through various orthodox and unorthodox means including urine and water fasts. It also tells of my growing up in a polygamous family ruled by an authoritarian father; of smoking and alcohol abuse in early life; of being sexually molested at the age of seven of difficulties at home and school and work caused by health impairment; and of my singular experiences which resulted in my repudiation of religious orthodoxy. At another level, it is the story of other sicklers and ‘normals’ in my extended family.
Perhaps the idea to write my autobiography was born as I sat opposite a doctor who brashly informed I was not likely to attain the age of 25 – he did qualify his pronouncement by saying I might live to 25, but certainly not beyond my early 30s.
Unemployment has been the bane of my life since I graduated Bachelor of Science (Univ. of Ibadan) in 1984 and this has nothing to do with my physical or mental capability. I happen to live in a country where if you have no one to pull strings for you, you get only the crumbs. In 1989/90 I was studying for PhD but discontinued after one year due to financial difficulties. I have survived by doing all manner of odd jobs including commercial motorcycle/bus driving – a distasteful, physically and mentally demanding job from which I often have to run. I also hawk from bus to bus, office to office and school to school the American lottery during its season.
To conclude I would like you to take a look at the PREFACE to my book:
It comes as a bit of an anticlimax to write a preface after working for so long on this novel. It was sheer hell. Hell, from my own body – from the daily aches and pains, the illnesses, the sleeplessness, the unaccountable tensions – and hell from the effort of writing itself. George Orwell was only too right to describe writing a book as a “horrible exhausting struggle … a long bout of some painful illness.” I have exerted myself with a rising sense of foreboding, foreboding whether I would live to see the morrow, literally, foreboding whether I would not suddenly die or worse, a feeling engendered by a sense of the noose tightening around my neck, so to say, from so many medical diagnoses, the complications of one.
I was galvanized into this activity some time after a doomsday medical practitioner prognosticated I probably had no more than a few years to live. More than anything else this is a book about my experience of sickle cell disease, a life threatening inherited condition of the red blood cells. Along the way, however, I discovered that I could not divorce the total experiences of my life from the parochialism of raising the dust about sickle cell anemia, of crying foul, of entering upon a jeremiad of pain, of seeming to say – or think that I have received a raw deal from life. No, no more can I say that my life had been undone by illness than I can that my interaction with others had detracted from, rather than enriched, the story of my life.
I am immensely grateful to the unseen help – the “invisible instructors” who have been invaluable to me in this work and indeed throughout my life, and who assure me that despite every aggravation, real or imagined, I shall live. So be it!
Lagos State, Nigeria