The Finger Portrait:Little Things Matter

Novel by Nkong Kima*


The twilight ember began to wane gradually into the bosom of the grey clouds suspending above the semi- circular highlands as heaps of cotton wool soaked in potash. The smoky substance ceiled the yellowish ember hanging beneath the blue sky; a remnant of the majestic sun that had risen with blooming and colourful rays in the early part of the morning. This was the atmospheric view of the farming season as hectares of farmland stretched out across the hills and valleys in sun-burnt texture. Heaps of dried grass, twigs and shrubs were alighted across the sloppy landscape and stretched out from portion to portion producing the greyish smoke that polluted the whole atmosphere. Twilight began to give way to complete darkness and it seemed every sound went mute as nothing could cross over into the exhaustive ears of returning cultivators who only bothered to think of reaching home. The melodious chirp of eventide birds was nothing more to attract their attention. One would not expect that the heart of a dry season would portray such dark features when the multicoloured evening sunrays should have been blooming as a prelude to summon unwedded maids to dating ventures. Many of these maids would see such gloom as a premonition to a future of barrenness or singlehood. Oral tradition held that a dating session should be void of atmospheric bleakness in order to guarantee a potentially productive generation. But if gloom persists, tribal oracles would come out in their seasonal rituals to evade the impending calamity and appease Mother Earth with blood sacrifices.

The greyness of one of those dry season evenings added to the woes which to say the least were utterly unprecedented. The importunate scapegoat caught in delusion with his self-desired circumstances stood with a gaped mouth like an ancient Egyptian mummy worn by dotage. It appeared he lost all sense of direction like one whose brain underwent a severe current shock. It was difficult to determine whether he stood anticipating a move to regain consciousness or to seek for compromise in a fateful escape. It looked obvious that he had a challenge before him which required a well disposed strategy to prove his manhood or be a woman and resign to fate. The latter option had grounds of consideration, for how could he regain his gracious esteem from a people whose preoccupation was always torch-searching opportunities to ridicule self-acclaimed cynosures? Rapt in this state of confusion, he could only preoccupy his mind with illusions or fantasies. In that state of absurdity, he began to attribute his mishaps to his childhood and upbringing; a situation he accused his parents for not being competent role models in child breeding. His accusation did not spare the state though for breeding anarchical principles to destabilize the aspirations of an enthusiastic youth.

All this took place during and after the funeral rite that enthroned this victim of circumstances as next of kin to the clan he was secretly accused of being responsible for the fate of its previous custodian, his own biological father. Now in this state of disarray, especially as he couldn’t completely disclaim the accusation for his father’s sudden death, he developed complicated neurosis that needed a long mental restoration process to enable him regain sanity. With the consent of the psychiatric department of Queen of the Rosary Hospital (QRH) Mealenga, he was to be confined in this department for an effective restoration target. Dr Mbubia, the departmental assistant had been known for his expertise in arresting mental disorders. He was personally assigned by Mother Hopegiver, the matron of this hospital, to use “all available craft” to restore the patient’s wits. It was the expressed wish of the members of the Eshuofua clan to have a custodian to look up to; someone anointed by the gods to lead the great clan. That was why in spite of the next of kin’s scandalous crime, the will of Mbe Eshuofua Tanyiatem to have him as a lawful successor to the great clan could never be tampered upon. It was a priority for the elders of this clan to safeguard against any unprecedented calamity which could come as a penitential ransom for reversing the words of their household gods.

The elders were aware of the changes in their new custodian and would not dare to act against the latter’s wish to be healed by medical means. His ardent hatred for traditional healing methods brought him into open confrontation with the elders who wanted to send him to Ngangafu, the tribe’s diviner. He denounced Ngangafu and his practitioners as cultic gamblers and swore to stand up for a fight with any who would venture into Alenga with what he described as a hypnotic brainwashing ordeal. Dr Mbubia was his choice to whom he personally saw an ideal redeemer. The pleasure of talking to such a great medical wizard was sufficient to calm the victim’s anxiety. Dr Mbubia was a short and stout white man full of admirable features. He hailed from Naples in Italy as Agusto Napolo, but known as Mbubia in Bioleh by dint of his profession. When he smiled, something he did quite often, it was enough opium to invite solace to a dejected soul. With the patient now in his QRH department, Dr Mbubia set out for a pragmatic measure to redeem the latter. He soon discovered the patient’s major hobby in writing, especially social events and anecdotes, and did not hesitate to supply the latter with sufficient paper and ink to write whatever he pleased. Dr Mbubia’s craft was to dig into the victim’s unconscious mind to decipher the malady with the conscious. He further showed concern by reading whatever his patient wrote with interest and curiosity, thereby motivating the latter to set down uninterruptedly. With this motivation, the patient set out to write an account of his own lifetime experiences as a special dedication to his ideal friend – whatever that meant. To him, Dr Mbubia was an incomparable missionary and he chose to address him using the French version, Missionnaire, since he considered it more romantic and intimate. For thirty uninterrupted days, nothing preoccupied this victim than that epistolary account to his ideal man.



With now a full grasps of Kerdy’s state of mind, Dr Mbubia swore to the matron Mother Hopegiver that he had had sufficient basis to set out for a pragmatic restoration target on the poor victim. How he was to accomplish it depended solely on a professional know how that only he alone could determine. The Eshuofua elders had persistently knocked at Mother Hopegiver’s door expressing disgust and disappointment on the healing process.

‘We don’t understand what exactly is going on Mother Hopegiver,’ they would jointly complain. ‘We had expected to see Dr Mbubia demonstrate his veteran expertise. But all he does is supply the patient with “book” and “pencil” with which he wastes days out writing madness and getting all the more worse. Yet Dr Mbubia takes and reads and gives him more “book”. Has it become a child’s play? We are eager to see the acclaimed magic power of Dr Mbubia. We are not here to waste time. Let him declare if he can handle the patient’s situation or not. If the white man’s magic fails, at least the black man’s can prove its worth.’

‘Let’s not be so anxious, most respectable and conscientious elders,’ the senior lady cautioned. ‘Dr Napolo knows every bit of what he is doing with the patient. You and I may never understand. Aren’t we all witnesses to his pragmatic restoration of similar neurotic cases, even those with real madness? I plead with you elders, let’s just be maturely patient.’

‘We were beginning to wonder if this is the great Dr Mbubia we have known and acknowledged,’ another elder gave in. ‘We expected to see him mixing the white man’s concoctions and giving our custodian to drink. Or perhaps diluting the white man’s injections and applying.’

‘That is perfectly right,’ Mother Hopegiver acknowledged, ‘but it is not in all cases that oral treatment is applied to all patients. Just only be hopeful as usual, dear elders, and do not fail to pray to the Great God Almighty through Jesus Christ our Lord and Mary Queen of the Rosary and the Universe.’

‘I am sure, Mother Hopegiver, that you understand our worry so well. The Eshuofua clan is a great one in the entire Bioleh territory. This is the clan that even the great Fuamaleh looks up to. It has been known for its great deeds in our society. Fuamaleh has expressed, in a number of occasions, the clan’s indispensability to the Bioleh Cultural and Development Initiative (BICUDI). It is a great clan that has enlisted great custodians right from the time of Eshuofua Mbendee. I’m certain you must have heard of Mbe Eshuofua Atabong 1, the man who died few years ago. He was misguided by some fateful gods to ditch out the throne to some dooms end but our forefathers spared the great clan from an unrelenting curse and shame. Then came Mbe Eshuofua Tanyiatem, the immediate father of your patient, whom you know died of a broken heart. This is why all of us here are putting on these sack clothes. As his own will unveiled, his lone legitimate son – your patient here – was to become the next of kin. The king makers of Fuamaleh had no option but to enthrone him amid this befuddled state of mind. So you must see why we are doing every possible thing to bring him back to his rational state. We are obliged to do this lest the gods of our forefathers place an indelible curse on us.’

‘I have heard your cry elders and I can only advise you to hope in the one and only Lord who will inspire Dr Napolo to come up with a solution to this unprecedented problem. No other god can do this. You may go now and only hope in the Blessed Trinity. Goodbye.’

The elders left Mother Hopegiver’s office without much enthusiasm. They could not anticipate any sensible reason why a mental patient would simply be supplied paper and ink to be writing what appeared to them as nonsense, and his pretentious rescuer would only take and read with utmost satisfaction. He would even shun food and drink whenever he held up a pen and paper to write to his ideal missionary. But as Dr Mbubia persisted in this strange form of healing, with the full support of his boss Mother Hopegiver, the Eshuofua elders soon gave up their doubt and resolved to keep their fingers crossed and watch the white man’s magic.

* Nkong Kima is a Teacher ,Writer and Critic. The views expressed in the blog Cumaland Diary are his.




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