Favoring my left hand wasn’t something I thought about. It certainly wasn’t something I did to cause discord between my parents. But it did. Like taking a breath was instinctive, I reached for anything I wanted with my left hand. When I started to doodle on the brown earth, I held the broken twig with my left hand. When I ate, opened a door, or picked up an object, my father’s face would contort into an unpleasant mask, and my mother’s movement would flurry in anxiety. There were a lot of fierce whispers between them; her voice grew more desperate with each argument.
On a Saturday, I awoke to her cutting strips from an old cotton wrapper that used to lay scrunched up in the corner of her wardrobe.
After my bath, she wordlessly began to swaddle me from my shoulder blades, encasing my left arm with my torso – turning me round and round, the spinning continuing after she stopped.
‘Use only your right hand.’
When I pleaded to be released, she slapped me across the face.
She had never hit me before.
I was too stunned to cry.
That first day, I stumbled around, lopsided, often falling as I lost my balance. My arm and torso ached in the mummied prison, and my bladder gave way once as I hurried to relieve myself.
She cleaned me up wordlessly.
Food tumbled off my clumsy fingers and splattered on the wooden table and floor. The fierce whispers between my parents continued that evening. His voice was angry, hers a supplication. ‘All my fault,’ I thought as I fell into a troubled sleep.
Each time I made a mess, she cleaned up after me, averting her eyes from mine.
She would release me from prison in the evenings and rub my limbs with shea butter, her fingers tips doing a graceful dance, and I would hear faint cracks as she pulled my fingers and toes, muttering words of encouragement under her breath. I looked forward to the evenings when her words were one with the oil, encased in a reassuring bubble.
I was determined to escape what I had brought upon myself. I can’t say when and how I became deft at using my right hand. Time can be elusive when trapped.
I did recollect exhilaration when I was set free and him lauding her efforts, pulling her against his in an awkward embrace.
I was grateful when it was over.
Long after release, I would awake, shaking from a recurring nightmare where I was blind, deaf, dumb, and terrified as familiar hands wrapped me from my head to toe.
One day, I saw a beggar on my way from school, his lone arm-hand outstretched for alms. He was blind, one of his pupils a milky hue.
‘Maybe they didn’t want me to become a beggar.’
Omobola has a BSc and MSc in Microbiology from the University of Lagos, Nigeria.
She lives in Chicago with her family and enjoys riding her bicycle when the weather permits.
Illustration by Chinonyelum Osamor
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