Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Ties that Bind

The year was 1997. In a decrepit little apartment room in Accra, Ghana, two boys were asleep even though it was midday. An older boy sat in a rocking chair that looked like it had seen better days. His name was Juldeh and the two sleeping boys were his twin brothers, Adeyemi and Bosco. The harsh sounds that boomed from outside went unnoticed in the tiny room. The only things that mattered to Juldeh at that moment were the tumultuous thoughts going through his head. He contemplated waking up the twins, but that was merely a fleeting thought that soon passed. Juldeh was twelve years old, but he looked slightly older. His hair was jet black and his brown eyes had a fierce intensity about them. He sat in the rocking chair with his eyes half closed. The look on his face betrayed the anguish and pain in his heart. Just then, one of the twins opened his eyes groggily and like clockwork, they were both awake.

“Where’s mom and dad?” They asked in unison. Juldeh turned to his brothers with a pained look on his face. “How could their eight year old minds grasp what had happened to their parents?” He wondered. He paused, just like he did between moves in his chess games, but those days were in the past. He was mature for his age and he knew that the truth did not always set you free. Even though his parents were not alive, he resented them for this. “ A twelve year old doesn’t need this kind of responsibility.” He decided finally. He could not believe that only a week ago, he was a carefree boy who had dreams of being a chess prodigy. “What good is chess” he thought “If it can’t bring my parents back?” He got up, went to the kitchen and got food for his brothers. He was probably the only boy in the world whose mother had taught him to cook. He had never thought he’d use that knowledge. A few days ago, chess and his calculus homework were important, but now he couldn’t picture himself ever doing those things again. He gave the chicken soup to his brothers and they devoured it hungrily. The overhead fan whirred noisily, but did little to dispel the oppressive heat. The twins who he had always considered a single entity asked in unison. “Are mom and dad on vacation?”

“Yes” Juldeh replied wearily, growing tired of the ever-growing multitude of lies. “And don’t talk with your mouth full.” He glanced over at the twins. They had jet-black hair, like his, and looked identical to each other with their pudgy faces and their fat bodies. Watching them eat ravenously did little to help his appetite. “How strange” he mused. He had never thought of his brothers as bothersome before, but now he’d never wanted to be more alone in his life. He felt guilty, but he could not help it. The guilt was a knife that stabbed at his heart. Now that his parents were gone, he knew that his days as a child were over and the realization was a bitter pill to swallow. He envisioned his life looming before him, but like a malnourished child with all the life sucked out of it. His brothers didn’t need to know anything. All they did was eat and sleep anyway. Juldeh also knew that the social system would soon be ready to impose its will upon his broken family.

He looked up from his reverie and realized it was sundown. The oppressive heat had set along with the blazing sun. Sleep had not come easily in the past week and he knew it would not come easily today. The twins were asleep and the streets seemed to be calling out his name. The room seemed even more oppressive and claustrophobia was starting to set in. The idea of a long walk was appealing. Like a sheep without a shepherd, he opened the door and stepped out. Three hours later he came back home. The walk had not been as satisfying as he thought it would be. On his bed, he vainly tried to go to sleep tossing and turning. When he did finally get to sleep, it seemed to him that only five minutes later it was daybreak. Even then, that was enough time to be haunted by the recurring nightmares. Just then, the doorbell rang and he got up to answer it. The man at the door was Mr. Francis Okonkwo. Even though it was so early in the morning, he was sweaty and looked uncomfortable in his suit. Juldeh looked up at him and instantly recognized him as the social worker in charge of them.

“May I come in? It’s awfully hot out there.” “You can come in” Juldeh replied coolly. He led Mr. Francis to the living room and ushered him to a seat. The twins were still asleep and so he told Mr. Francis to control his voice. The two sat down and in an ironic way, Mr. Francis felt like the child. “You still don’t want to go to the orphanage? That would be in the best interest of you and your brothers.” He asked this while knowing what the answer would be. “We both know that the room we’re in now is ten times bigger than the entire orphanage. To go there would be folly. Besides, we can legally stay here till the end of the month. This gives me thirteen days. I’d rather take my chances here with my brothers than put their lives in the hands of the bureaucracy.” Mr. Francis never ceased to be amazed by the young man in front of him. He decided that it was time to reveal the real reason for his visit.

“I am here to officially tell you that we have a family that is willing to adopt you. Now before you comment, let me finish. The family is from Canada. You probably don’t know where that is. They know you from your chess tournaments and they have expressed a strong interest in you. Now the decision is entirely up to you.” Juldeh was trying to calmly receive this information, but his heart was racing a mile a minute and the blood was pounding loudly in his ears. He’d always believed that he was destined for better things and now his expectations were finally starting to be realized. “However” Mr. Francis continued, “they’re only interested in adopting one child. Three children at once is not really the Canadian way.” The news that Juldeh just received made his heart sink like a stone. “My brothers need me and I can’t just leave them.” His voice faltered. Mr. Francis said, “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. The doors that get opened will never be closed.” Time stood immeasurable as both men sat. Mr. Francis continued, “I need a decision from you immediately.”

“This must be some cruel joke. O fate, how could you deliver such sweet sorrow?” Juldeh thought. It seemed to him like he had become an independent observer, outside his own body. He paused just like he did between chess moves and time stood immeasurable. “My decision is made Mr. Francis. Come back tomorrow and I shall tell you.” He knew what he had to do and nothing was going to stop him from fulfilling what he knew was his destiny. Three days later, he was on a cruise ship bound for Nova Scotia. He did not regret his decision. He both feared and respected God. He turned, stared at the twins who were looking with admiration up at him. “I’d do it all again for my broken family.” He deliberated. He and his brothers were finally getting the life with a new family that they deserved. He gazed at the sun as it set. The heat was not oppressive anymore. He had God on his side.

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