Pravda shto, by Leonardo Lopes da Silva
Jonah Abdul-Haq came into the world by seeking the light. Something had started pushing him out, and once he sensed he no longer belonged in his hiding, nurturing place, he was resigned to leave it behind. But resignation was not the right word to define how he felt upon arriving into the delivery room. The thousands of shocks one is subjected to, at all once, unfiltered, unmuffled, unrelenting! The cold! Blinding lights! Beeps and clangs, squeaks and rustles, the whirr and buzz of what used to be unseen, unheard, unknown! That firm pressure around his legs, something holding him upside down, or downside up, who was he to say?, briefly displaying to Mum the fruit of her labour and her triumph as woman.
The spanking was barely necessary. Jonah belted out his primal song immediately after breathing it all in. For the first time. His anguished cry was not unlike any other soliloquy rendered timeless by other infant thespians, reciting the sorrows of being naked and cold and out of their element. But as he lay in Mum’s arms, overwhelmed by gravity and touch, and he heard her serene shushing, along with her tender, loving words:
“My sweet boy. My beloved. Don’t cry. Shh-shh-shh. You are a bit hungry, that’s all…”
He sneezed a tiny, cute sneeze, and stopped crying.
The sudden silence was not something any of those seasoned doctors were used to. Nor Mum, specially since Jonah was her third born. They chuckled and jested, telling the smiling mum that she had got the remote control for her new born concealed somewhere next to her. Mum asked then to be left alone so she could make amends to her son by feeding him. For the very first time.
* * *
Raising Jonah in the big city turned out to be an increasingly difficult challenge. He shared the fate of many who cannot bear to spend a single minute without sneezing. At practically anything. Cold wind blasts. Feathers. Fur. Dust. Pollen of all sorts. Mum constantly found herself at a loss – there was no such thing as an allergen free environment, and keeping Jonah protected from all those things, while working two jobs and running a household with Grandma, would require locking him up in a bubble. Dad, Mr. Abdul-Haq, was constantly out of home, working on his sermons, visiting the elderly in their community and praying with them, running study groups, coordinating the congregation’s soup kitchen. Time was of the essence to him, and the little he had of that currency at home would not be wasted on trifles.
“The boy needs to toughen up, Luz. You can’t possibly shield him from dust, for Heaven’s sake. Let him develop some kind of immunity or whatever!”
“Don’t you see that I’ve tried it all? There has got to be a way to heal him. It is not natural. What use are your prayers if you can’t even get your son to get better?”
And so the rows would go on, simmering but never reaching a boiling point. Jonah, already withdrawn by nature, would hide into a corner of his room, surrounded by crumpled up Kleenex tissues, and bury his face in X Men comic books. The growing awareness of his ordinary strangeness would swell up his chest and burst into a storm of tears, which would be soothed when he came across Jean Grey on the paperback pages, trying to tame the beast inside Wolverine. “You can trust me. I know your pain. There is good inside of you”. And he would sneeze heartily.
After years of suffering classes that he sneezed through, teachers at the end of their wits and bullies who threw snot-stuffed paper balls at him, Jonah could not take it anymore, and had a nervous breakdown. Psychological treatments were offered to address a supposed psychosomatic condition, and tried, to no avail. The Abdul-Haqs were considering moving to the countryside one summer morning when they were visited by the family doctor. He had wondrous news to share.
At last, a reliable treatment for allergens had become available – and affordable. It would take getting a great deal of immunotherapy shots, but it had a very high success rate – most people who underwent treatment had a great improvement in their lives with much less sneezing, if not no sneezing at all. Would you be willing to try that out, Mr. and Mrs. Abdul-Haq?
That was a question that did not need answering. You need not ask a drowning man whether he’d like to be thrown a life donut. Off they went to the local clinic, squandering some savings they’d made, to make their boy normal (again?). There was a kind of frantic enthusiasm in everything they did, and even Jonah could not help but get swept up in it as well. After almost a year of comings and goings, where Jonah would sneeze at the correct change given by the ice cream vendor, the instructions given by the nurse, or even thank yous or pleases, the big day came. That would be his final shot, and hopefully, the beginning of the end for those most dreadful sneezes. Another smiling, chuckling, seasoned doctor leaned forward to shake Jonah’s 9-year-old hand and give him a pat on the head, to say:
“Well, that’s about it. You should get a lot better from now on!”
Jonah looked at him with the slightest glimmer of hope in his eyes.
“… Unless, of course, it is God’s will that you should sneeze till the end of your days!”
A volley of mucus got splattered all over his horn-rimmed glasses.
END OF PART I