Dead ears don’t hear. I knew. They are muted to everything. I knew that too. Still, two earpieces stuck into the ears, volume tremendous. Fingers switched between albums of music and Quranic recitation on the phone. The melody blared in my ears like a trumpet. I could hear the beats but could not make out a word. Sighing, I pulled out the earpieces and flung them on the bed. I lay on the pillow and closed my eyes, my mind drifting. When will I start hearing again? Didn’t the doctor say it was temporary? I’d been waiting for my hearing to return for eleven years, hoping it would come back as suddenly as it left, taking with it the crowing of roosters, bleating of goats, ticking of clocks and honking of vehicles in the street. I often sat by the window and looked out, focusing hard on the sounds of the outside, willing myself to pick out one. Sometimes, I believed I could hear their vibration through the surface of the ground, an inexplicable belief that was always, quickly shrouded by disappointment when I’d realize it was my imagination.
I once woke up to the sound of birds chirping on a cold morning in middle 2009, a week after I was discharged from the hospital, and I dashed off to the kitchen where my cousin sister was making breakfast. She was five years older than I was.
“Ya Ummah, I can hear the chirping of birds.” I gushed excitedly.
She turned around to look at me, a little taken aback before she beamed. “Alhamdulillah! It must be a sign that you will start hearing again soon.”
But when would that be? This was in 2009 but we are on the verge of giving way to 2021 and still nothing. Sighing again, I thought of what I would do that day.
Victor was coming in the evening. The plan was 4pm. We would stroll through the neighboring streets until we reached the hills that formed a passway between Okada road and my street. Then we would sit on the hills and talk at length like we once did when he first came to see me in Jarma road. He’d stood at the junction separating Jarma road and Zarumai Quarters. There weren’t many houses around there so the area was quiet. We’d walked up the hill and climbed to its peak, which looked almost like a mountain. We sat there under the scorching sun and watched the city, snapping photos with my new Itel phone. We spoke through writing, and then writing itself, the books we read and our favorite authors, before we hurried away from the scalding hot sun. On the way down, we ventured into a discussion about feminism, but it died down when we reached the main road.
I wasn’t sure how I felt that evening. He’d suggested we meet when we’d last seen each other at CandyBite. It was a secluded eatery; not many people knew it existed. Few people came and went. We sat at the last table and placed our orders. I didn’t want to eat but he said he was hungry. He ordered a burger and 5Alive while I asked for a soft drink with doughnut. They brought me CWAY.
The plasma TV on the wall closed to us blinked with music. A video played with men singing and dancing while the women twerked and shook their bodies. I tried to listen, straining my ears to pick a word from the music, just one word. I shifted my attention to Victor. He was done eating. He wiped his mouth with a tissue and placed it at the side of his plate.
I took out my conversation note and placed it on the table. I used the 20 leaf notebook when I was tired of talking or struggling to read lips. Victor wrote down what he wanted to say and I wrote my reply, sometimes speaking it. But we mostly used the notebook, and the written conversation was always interesting.
The first time Victor met me, he had no idea that I was special. They never do. We met at a literary event a week before our first outing. He was sitting on a chair beside me. He scooted closer to say something that I failed to grasp. But he continued talking and I could not hear a single word. I could not read his lips either; they moved in a strange pattern – so strange that after focusing my whole attention on them, I surrendered. I told him of my hearing impairment and watched his face turn blank. Then he seemed surprised, and smiled. I admired his canines; they looked like fangs.
He typed something on his phone and showed me. He was asking if I had books on my phone. Excitement rippled through me at the mention of books. I had lots of them yet to be read.
“A whole lot,” I said.
His big grin made me chuckle. Lovers of books intrigued me. I had a small circle of friends who didn’t read much, so I craved like-minded people who talked about books; the writers, the journey of characters, their dilemma and toils. Who spent hours talking about a particular book and how it had impacted their lives. I felt a stronger bond with such people, especially strangers. In my world, there was the table stand beside my bed and on it, the stack of good books I woke to each morning. I read for most of the day, speaking to nobody unless they barged into my room. Books gave me solace and walked me through my loneliness.
Xender opened on both phones and connected. Three hundred and eighteen books floated from one phone to another, and Victor was still searching for more. I showed him the folders where he would find them. It must have been through the app that Victor and I also connected.
He took my number when we were leaving the event and gave me his. We chatted through the night on WhatsApp, joking and teasing each other and it was then that he suggested our first outing. That evening, we met at CandyBite.
As we sat at our table, Victor brought out his phone and began to type. He didn’t want to write in the conversation book I’d brought with me.
“Check your phone,” he mouthed at me, pointing at his. I was getting better at reading his lips.
Curious, I brought out my phone and opened WhatsApp. I chuckled at his message.
- You look beautiful √√
- Thank you! You look good yourself√√
He was wearing black jean trousers and a red dotted shirt. I thought he looked like a model.
The conversation continued on WhatsApp and the two people seated at the table opposite to ours looked at us, watching as we laughed without saying a word to each other, focussed only on our phones. They whispered to each other.
- They are looking at us √√
- Yeah, I know. They are making it obvious √√
- I think they are confused. We’ve been laughing without talking √√
We peered over at them and broke into fits of laughter. An hour later, we walked out of CandyBite, our gleeful expressions telling of what had transpired.
After observing my Asr prayer, I folded up my prayer rug and placed it on the rug stand. I stood in front of my wardrobe, thinking of what to wear that evening. There was no need for overdressing. I wore blue denim trousers with a black blouse and covered up with a long blue hijab. Satisfied with my appearance, I hurried out.
Unlike the first time he visited Jarma road, Victor knew where to meet me this time, and we set off as soon as he arrived. Pleasantries followed, and then our conversations took on the shape of anything and everything as we walked down the boulevard of Zarumai Quarters, leading to Okada road past bungalows and schools. I spoke and he listened. We were so engrossed in each other’s company that we arrived at Okada Hills in no time. I climbed up a huge rock, spread out my hands and breathed. I loved it up on the hills. How I felt such contentment up there in their peaceful quiet.
Victor sat on a rock and asked me to sit beside him. I didn’t. Instead, I sat opposite Victor and watched him. First, we spoke about my immediate sister. I told him how she’d died — young and pure — illness taking too much from her. But it wasn’t just any ailment. She was sickle cell anemic, and her body housed many kinds of sickness. And then, after many battles — after the bone marrow transplant, after everything — she was free.
I was not aware of when I began telling Victor my own story. I told him of how my hearing vanished: how I lost it the morning after I was given the Gentamicin injection in hospital. I told him of I’ve coped ever since, and how my late sister — even when her body had decayed under a heap of sand, even when my other siblings barely remembered what she looked like — was still my strength.
“Enough of the depressing story!” I snapped. I inhaled deeply.
Victor listened, not once interrupting until I quieted down. “I’m sorry you went through all that, Ummie. I truly am.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “It has been a long time. I am used to it now.”
My gaze settled on the city breathing below us. There was something about Minna city that I loved. Apart from the greeneries, the colorful buildings and the city surrounded by hills and mountains — unpolluted by urbanization — there was never chaos or violence or tension. It was a peaceful place to live and the people were united, regardless of religious difference.
We talked about music, something I’d lost along with my hearing, one of the many things I wanted to get back. I loved music. Music made me happy in every situation but there was none of that now; no learning every new album like I had in 2008, when I’d competed with my boarding school friends, always the first to memorize lyrics. How I loved to dance to every song. I once learned to sing two songs by placing my hands on the speakers and feeling the beats that filled me while I read the subtitles. I followed the music this way, but it took time to memorize it, copying lyrics on a piece of paper and singing songs on repeat. I could still sing every song from the soundtrack to a dance movie called ‘Cheetah girls’.
The last song I ever heard, that night before I was admitted into the hospital and a doctor, who didn’t know what he was doing, offered up my hearing to God through a single injection, was ‘Treasure’ by Elisa Kate. It became my favorite song, the last song I’d ever hear. My eyes misted up. I missed everything about music; I missed listening to new albums and dancing to them.
Victor was still watching, so I looked away to hide my tears. “Sing for me,” he mouthed and I laughed. I was always laughing with him.
“I don’t know any of the recent songs. I can only sing old songs. Like really old ones,” I replied.
And I didn’t want to sing old songs. Not because I had forgotten the lyrics, or because I was not willing to sing, but because I was embarrassed of my inability to control the pitch of my voice and of singing in front of him.
“Okay, I will sing for you,” he mouthed again.
“Please do!” I said, barely able to restrain my excitement even though I knew that I’d barely hear anything. “Sing and let the wind listen, I will feel it,” I thought.
He began to sing. I studied him: at that very moment, he was beautiful, his fangs so charming I couldn’t help but smile. He closed his eyes and sang with his heart.
Chills spread through my body and I hugged myself, feeling the music touch me once again, a sweet sensation filling my chest. The wind may have heard the music, but I felt it.
Hajaarh Muhammad Bashar is a writer and poet from Minna, Niger State, Nigeria. Her works have appeared in ArtMuse Fair, Voice of the Aspirants anthology, SetuMar19 anthology of Women, Power and Creativity, Amaravati Poetic Prism, Late Night Blues anthology, Weight of Year anthology of Afroanthology creative Nonfiction, ANA Review and others. She emerged the first runner up of Sevhage Short Story Prize and second runner up of Poetically Written Poem Contest. Hajaarh is a lover of cats and nature. When she is not playing with her cat, she’s up on the hills reading.
Feature image by Bruno Ramos Lara