‘’You’re a dirty-looking and unkempt person, Ben. You need to learn how to look at yourself!’’ Esther said to me, laughing together with her friends who witnessed my humiliation, when I attempted to answer an important question in class. Throughout that day, I felt the earth to open and swallow me completely! It was a sad day for me.
I go by the names Ihekuna Chimezie Benedict. People seldom call me ‘’Mr. Ben’’. Born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, my birth history has always been a miracle to all and sundry who knew what really happened. There were birth complications surrounding the putting to bed of the baby who would be later christened ‘’Chimezie Ihekuna’’. Unlike the ‘turning’ orientation of babies that would have them come through the head as they are being brought to the world, I came to Mother Earth with my face! It was a topsy-turvy challenge to the mid-wives and obstetrician who handled my case. According to what my mother who told me what happened, the doctor improvised by skillfully avoiding any contact of the fluid from the umbilical cord to my face; for if it had, it would have resulted in permanent blindness. The ‘weight’ of the fluid did affect the left part of my cheek. My journey into the world of surgical operations would begin three years later.
Having completed my first surgical operations at age three, I was scheduled to go for yet another major one the following year. All the while, according to what my mother told me, it’s been from one drug prescription to the other, special infant foods as recommended by the same doctor who handled my case (He was based in Saudi Arabia at the time. My parents paid for all expenses to have the operations carried out in Nigeria). When I turned four, I went under the knife. After the operation was successfully completed, the doctor told my parents that as I grow in age, the swelling on the left side of my cheek would experience a shrinking; it wouldn’t be pronounced as it was at the time I turned a year old. My parents had to be patient to see me grow and watch the state of my swollen cheek. But for me, it would mean me having to endure torture and brace up myself for the harsh realities ahead.
At age six, I started experiencing rejections from my colleagues. Though I was given the best of material attention, the emotional connection positioned me as a loner. My parents were rarely available as they were occupied with demanding work schedules in order to meet up with pressing needs of the home. Rather, what they did was to place me under the watchful eyes of a house-help. Togolese by nationality, she really did not know how to connect with my emotional needs; she was there to just ensure that I was comfortable: Being for me when I am hungry, pick me up from school, change my uniforms to my casual clothes and wash my dirty clothes. I faced a hard nut to crack challenge trying to communicate my emotional needs to my parents who would come late at nights, only to leave early for work. My only consolation was to be a loner, since I felt the world does not understand my predicament. This habit of theirs and my inability to communicate with them would linger for years.
A memorable day for me was when I celebrated my sixth birthday: July 6, 1990. My then class captain, Elsey Farrington, Caucasian American, was on hand to help celebrate my birthday with me. Back then, it was the tradition for the birthday celebrant to depict benevolence by letting the entire class know about it and sharing food and drinks to each member of the class he or she belonged to. Every pupil looks forward to his or her birthday. Yes, it was always a day we, children, would challenge our parents to celebrate our birthdays in schools! She knew I was a loner but chose to treat me on that day, as her very-own brother, friend and ‘little’ kid lover (I could imagined how lost in that desire I was). She took me round the length and breadth of the spacious school premises, letting the world know that that day was my birthday. Life returned to me through the radiating smile emitted from the puerile face of my innocence. I was very happy throughout that very day. Since then, we became friends until her sudden departure back to the United States, a year later. I was saddened to hear she was no more in the country. I asked of her whereabouts but was not able to see her…again. I just had my loner-to-bright moments cut short! She was the only girl who knew how to spark that light of liveliness in me. ‘’She’s no more!’’ I said, looking up and down and walking aimlessly in my home. I just have to accept the fact that I am on my own…
For over a decade, I have to take solace in being a loner while I look forward to a focus that would earn me a life-long career. Throughout my post-primary education, I endured all manner of humiliation, insults and certain abuses because of my facial deformity (The left side of my cheek is still swollen). However, what kept me going was the core attention to my academics. I have always aspired to be the best in my class. That, I was able to accomplish! That gave me the inspiration to forge ahead!
From the age of seventeen till when I turned twenty –seven, I was in the business of asking ladies out for a serious relationship. I did not care about the age, race, tribe or size. What mattered most to me was if she (any girl whom I come across) would say ‘’yes’ to my request to be my ‘’girlfriend’’. I was used to being humiliated by both sexes. Unfortunately, I asked out a total of eighteen women and none of them said ‘’yes’’! What shocked me the more was that most their responses resonated with all manner of physical intimidations like sending people to threaten me in my house!
At some point in my life, in my late twenties, I turned to the other side of life—seeking a drastic measure—-suicide! I had already ventured into full-time writing at age 22 and having endured all rejections, coupled with the ‘’hates’’ coming from people around me, I thought about taking my life suddenly. My life began to make a U-Turn when I read an anonymous sticker:
‘’There comes a point in your life where you have to stand tall amidst challenging circumstances and show the strength of character. Don’t look down on yourself, don’t give up and don’t give in to anything that would pull you down’’
I read it severally and it had a subconscious impact in my life. It made me realize discouragement is a part of success, there is an inner-beauty and wealth awaiting the environment, time and person to attract them. All the discouragements, insults, humiliations and disgrace that were thrown at me were all the energies I would need to become who I am today….
Having gone through the life lessons and motivation, I am now a published author, poet, writer, voice-over artiste and speaker. See my works at amazon.com/author/mrben. It was really, like, in the words of Late Nelson Mandela, ‘’A Long Walk To Freedom of [self-realization]’. But it was worth it.
I am still living with the swollen cheek but I have learned to outgrow the psychology of being let down. My successes are speaking for me, as I look forward to when a re-constructive facial surgery would be completely done to restore the originality of my face! I have been, still am and will remain very optimistic!
Chimezie Ihekuna writes on faith, relationships, and philosophy and has also published science fiction and a collection of poetry. His work is available here and he’s published through Pen It! Publications in Indiana, USA.