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Kick Polio out of Africa
Chika threw her baby up in the air and was rewarded with its gurgles, revealing pink gums in a toothless mouth. She caught her and nuzzled her soft baby curls. “Kasie mummy loves you” she whispered into her tiny ear and the baby gurgled again as if she understood what the whisper meant. Yes she named her baby ‘Kasiemobi’ because that was what it was meant to do, console her aching, broken heart.

She threw her up again and her eyes caught something that made her heart begin pounding. Kasie’s leg bent at an odd angle? No! It must not be what she was thinking. It urgently had to not be. Her heart raced as she dropped Kasie frantically to examine the legs.

Chika was an orphan who struggled all through her life, living with relations, most of whom maltreated her. She could remember the years she spent in her uncle’s house, her status no different from that of a slave. That was because her uncle’s wife, whom all the neighbours and even her husband called ‘Mama Uju’ in reference to her first child, Uju, was a monster who only saw her fit to be a slave to her and her children.

She could still hear Mama Uju’s voice in her head, “Bow-leg get me cold water,” “Bow-leg don’t put too much salt in that soup oh,” “Bow-leg this, Bow-leg that”. Her bow-shaped legs were as a result of polio that ravaged the land when she was a baby. In those days, most parents did not understand the value of vaccination. Chika’s mother did not. So she had to carry ‘bow-leg’ like a badge, an identity and even a sobriquet. "She would always remain not less than a foot shorter than her age mates", not only that Mama Uju said that, but she also did not think her legs would ever straighten.

In her mind’s eye were still the scenes that left her heart broken, dislodging tiny parts each time, like that dreadful morning in her junior school, when she was walking behind the classroom window and heard some girls discussing. She could make out Ugochi, her best friend’s voice. She heard her when she came closer: “Chika thinks she’s beautiful but she doesn’t know how bad her bow-legs are.” She stopped, vibrating with impotent rage and disappointment, her heart began aching. “Even Ugochi” she thought. A single tear made a path on her cheek. She turned back and ran towards the toilet, tears blurring her vision. After that, she thought she would never have a friend again.

That creepy night always came to her mind sending shivers down her spine, when she was forced to sleep outside the house. She had come back to find Mama Uju’s ‘george’ wrappers - the ones that could not be bought even if she was sold - dripping from the rain’s visit. She trembled into the house fully aware of the gravity of her offence (not being able to predict the rain). That night was as cold as the arctic.

And to make it worse, countless shapes swam across her eyes, and weird noises echoed in her ears. That must have been spirits. The spirits she was told that took over the night and repeated the activities carried out by human beings in daytime. She was surprised that she woke up in the morning. She was surprised she did not pass out in fear. She was only twelve then, but it left her with a subtle strength. If she survived that, she could survive anything.

It seemed providence smiled on her when a young man attracted to the industrious lady with a beautiful face and a stature marred by deformed legs began to look her way. In her eyes, Obinna  was  "god-sent" who came to wipe away her tears. His acquaintances testified to his generosity. He was generous even in praise and commendation. It was phrases like, “you’re beautiful,” “you’re special,” “You’re uniquely you,” that worked the magic and changed 19-year-old Chika from a low-esteemed, self-pitying lady to a confident damsel. Her gratitude was so much that looking into Obinna’s picture every morning she would say: “Obi m I’ll love you till forever.”

Becoming a ‘Mrs’, Chika had done away with shyness and timidity. Strength and confidence adorned her. She joined the ‘Kick Polio out of Nigeria’ campaign, and orphans were her major call. Passionately, she spent her efforts trying to shield kids from going through things similar to her experience as an orphan and a polio victim.

Unfortunately, three years into their marriage, the couple had no child to call theirs, and Chika had not yet missed her period. Tests revealed no problem with the couple. Finally she did miss it and yes, tests confirmed her pregnant. Six months later, she walked into her parlour and picked up her ringing phone. She was dazed by what she heard. The words were so euphemistically painted: “Mrs Ozue, right? Can you come to Garki road? We need you to identify an accident victim”. She got there to meet a lifeless Obinna, bloodied at different parts. Strong as she had become, the blow was devastating and she thought her world had crumbled. But when she remembered her unborn baby, she got the fortitude to move on.

So when she finally gave birth to her baby girl, she named her ‘Kasiemobi’. “You’ve got to console your mother Kasie, you’re all I got.” She then promised herself that Kasie would never suffer polio. Regularly, she looked up Kasie’s vaccination calendar and ensured she got vaccinated when due. And she promised herself her child would not be an orphan, early in life. She, Chika would not die and leave her child, an orphan. That was what she told God every night when she prayed over Kasie’s bed.

Hence, seeing Kasie’s leg in such an angle sent her heart racing. Was it becoming hereditary, that source of the ghost in her past? What horror it would be for Kasie to be a reminder, an avenue through which that ghost would haunt her. A haze crept into her mind. She strived to get it cleared as she stood Kasie on the sofa. The legs came out straight. The haze cleared in a second and she laughed. “Kick polio out of Nigeria, Kasie” she mused. The baby echoed the laughter and kicked her leg as if she understood that.  

Precious Chinenye Okoye is a writer, performing poet, spoken word artiste.A teenager with a deep mind, she is interested in people and why they act the way they do. She is an avid reader with an entrepreneurial spirit. She believes in being the best and making a change. You can connect with her via or 08165914750 08088529439.

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