“….she has Down’s syndrome…you’ll have a few difficulties…but with the right care….”
Four year old Eti-idara listened as the doctor explained to her parents that something was wrong with her baby sister, Uyai, who was just two months old. They were seated in the doctor’s office; the only room in the hospital that didn’t smell of disinfectants. The walls were white and there were plaques everywhere.
“Doctor, I don’t understand. Will she be able to function as other normal children?” Mummy asked, tears streaming down her face.
“Well, yes,” replied doctor Funsho. “We can’t tell how severe her case is right now. She’ll have a few difficulties; her speech, learning and motor skills will be slower. But with early diagnosis and intervention, she has a good shot at having a normal life.”
Daddy, who’d said nothing since the doctor began to speak, reached out and placed his left hand over Mummy’s hand. She looked at him, and then down at their hands. “Thank you, Doc. We need every info we can get, so we can give her the best care she needs.”
After the doctor’s visit, Mummy cried a lot, while Daddy spent more time with Eti-Idara and Uyai.
“Your sister is special, like an angel,” he said to Eti-idara one day. “She needs extra love and care. Do you think you can do that?” Eti-Idara nodded. She loved her sister; Uyai smiled all the time and only cried when she was hungry or needed a fresh diaper. But unlike her friend Martha’s sister, who took her first step at nine months and was speaking by her first birthday, Uyai didn’t walk until she was three years old.
“Mummy, see. Uyai is walking,” Eti-Idara shouted in excitement that afternoon, as her sister let go of the edge of the sofa and took a shaky step. She giggled and took another, almost tumbling to the floor.
“Mummy, see o,” Eti-Idara said again, pointing at Uyai while beckoning on her mother who was seated on one of the armchairs, watching a soap on Telemundo. But Mummy wasn’t as excited as Martha’s mummy had been; she looked over at them, grunted and returned her eyes to the television.
“Oh, shut up and let me watch this TV in peace!” Mummy snapped. Hurt, Eti-Idara went back to playing with her sister. She soon forgot how she felt, especially when Daddy returned from work that day and on hearing the news, laughed heartily and fussed over Uyai.
One Friday, a week before school let out, Eti-Idara got came home from school a little early. Her after-school lesson had been cancelled because their class teacher was sick. As she shut the front gate behind her and skipped up the short driveway, she spotted Daddy’s car outside. He too was home early, it seemed. Hoping to surprise her parents, she didn’t call out to Mummy as was her custom, but went round to the back door which was always open. She walked down the corridor to the staircase. She was startled to see Uyai seating there.
“Uyai, what are you….”
“Sssh,” her sister hushed her. “Dada shout.”
Eti-idara cocked her head to one side and listened.
“Akan, I am only twenty-eight years old. I want other children too. But I won’t risk it. What if the next one turns out to be another imbecile?” Mummy’s voice was loud and shrill.
“WHAT? Uyai, have you lost your mind? Don’t you ever use that word when referring to Uyai. Do you understand me?” said her father, his voice was low and angry.
“I’m sorry, but you can’t sit there and pretend that she’s normal. All I know is, I’m not trying for another child. This one drains me as it is. She can barely speak or read and I have to do everything for her. How long are we going to continue like this, eh? Have you thought about what will happen when she hits puberty?”
“We’ll manage,” Daddy said, sounding tired. “Many couples before us have …,”
“I am not many couples, Akan. I can’t go on like this, without a social life, my whole world revolving around her. I’ve told you before and I’ll say it again: let’s put her in a boarding school for children with special needs. She’ll be with children like her and…”
“So you can dump her there and forget she exists? Over my dead body! She’ll go when she’s ready. Until then, you and I will care for her.”
At the bottom of the stairs, Eti-Idara couldn’t listen any longer. She pulled Uyai up and dragged her to their room. The little girl protested, but was no match for her stronger older sister.
Three days later, Mummy left. She needed to clear her head, Eti-Idara heard her tell their father. After she left, the house was silent, save for the sound of quiet sobbing that came from Daddy and Mummy’s bedroom. Hours later, Daddy came out. He gave them their evening baths as usual, but instead of tucking them into their beds, he put them in his.
“Da-da!” Uyai giggled, wriggling under the covers.
Daddy came out of the bathroom in his pyjamas. As he slipped into the bed, Eti-Idara scooted to the other end, so her sister could be in the middle.
“Daddy?” she called, he voice filled with trepidation.
“Will Mummy come back?”
“Yes, sweetie. She just needs a little time to herself. She’ll be back, you’ll see.”
“But what if she doesn’t come back?”
She watched as tears filled her father’s eyes and he swallowed hard.
“She will, sweetie,” he assured. “Love will bring her home.”