She screamed again. This time louder than the previous and accompanied by series of laments. “Why today, why on my asoke, eh why are you even here?” I could see flames of fire flaring in her eyes, it was hot enough to defrost five frozen fishes.
Auntie Jenny was not the type to yell at the top of her voice, but on this occasion she did without remorse. It was a cheerful Thursday morning in the month of June and our house was busy with guests trooping in and out for Sister Sandra’s traditional marriage. Some of the guests had familiar faces, others I had never seen before and dad would certainly not let me meet them for fear of the unknown.
The guests were loud, the high life music blasting from the home theater was louder, competing with Jenny’s shrew voice and drowning the silence of my voice as I tried to apologize to my sister’s maid of honor.
I wanted to tell Jenny I was sorry. I also wanted to compliment her silver and pink eye shadows that complemented her silver asoke and pink gele, but the words couldn’t move past my lips. After seconds of struggling to find my tongue, I finally did.
“Why today, why on my asoke, eh why are you even here?” I said in the lowest tone I could find.
“And why is he repeating what you just said?” the makeup artiste queried.
I didn’t want to lose my cool. No not today. So in a bid to calm my slender body that was beginning to vibrate back and forth, I flapped my hands up and down, flicked my fingers repeatedly and kept nodding my head in disappointment that my lips disagreed with my thoughts.
“Mum please come o!!!!” Sandra bellowed, trying to stay stable as the makeup artist worked on her eyelashes. Mother came running into the room, with her younger sister, auntie Kate trailing behind her.
On seeing my beautiful handiwork, auntie Kate made straight for the asoke while mum moved closer to hug me ‘well-done’. I drifted away; I was not in the mood for bear hugs and appraisals – I was no more a child. Just then, Dad walked into the room and the look on his face quickly reminded me that it was neither my birthday nor my ‘free day’.
“Who unleashed this young man?” He turned to my mum, “I have told you and your son not to embarrass me today. My friends and colleagues will be here soon and I don’t want him being a nuisance.”
I could see the different colors of pain in mum’s eyes, it was the same shades she had anytime dad or any other person talked about me in such a manner. I remember many years ago, when my headmaster told mum to withdraw me from the school because I was not doing well in class. She had that look, especially when my school head said I needed special care and recommended a specialist. I was six years old then and didn’t understand what the specialist meant when he introduced himself as a Neurologist. He told mum a lot of things I could not understand but I remember him mentioning that I was special and something about ASD.
Somehow, things became clearer sometime in 2012 when mum took me to an Awareness Event. I met some cool friends there and the organizers explained why we behaved the way we did. They said we were unique voices representing people living with Autism.
One of the people who spoke to us said our condition was not a limitation, but a unique strength to become more. Since then, I didn’t feel so bad whenever dad got angry with me for not answering my name or not doing exactly what he wanted me to do. I knew I was more so I wanted to make Jenny’s silver asoke more . . . more gorgeous . . . with several splashes of pink eye shadow glitters from the make-up artiste’s collection.
I wonder why Jenny didn’t appreciate my art. Mum always did and usually hugged me any time I made a new painting . . . like the one I made for my best friend, Jocelyne. I had decorated Joce’s face with seven stripes of different colors on a white canvass.
Joce is also special. Although she makes funny faces and avoids looking at me whenever she plays her guitar, she has charming eyes and her smile makes me happy.
“Take him back to his room,” dad ordered, “and don’t let him out until every single guest is out of this building.”
On other days, mum would have supported me, but surprisingly, she obeyed dad. As she took me upstairs to my confinement, I feared I may not be allowed to come downstairs anytime soon, maybe not until sometime in July. However, I smiled.
I knew I would see Joce again at the upcoming Autism Awareness Campaign holding at the Lagos MUSON Center. I had a spectrum of hope that the audience would love my paintings and also would applaud Joce’s performance. I smiled again, remembering our favorite quote – Autism Spectrum Disorder is not a limitation, but a unique strength to become more.
A fictional story for GTBank Autism Awareness campaign.