Fish Brain Clan (7) Bem
I’m out of juice. Today I nicked an artery and almost killed my patient, almost got myself into trouble. Standing in the theatre, scalpel in hand, I lose track of time until the consultant calls my name. I look at him. I’m sweating. I can’t think clearly.
“Bem?” the consultant calls again and I give him a glance, still distantly. A nurse swipes at my sweaty forehead and some kind of cool takes over. I know I must continue.
Four hours later, I step out of the theater. I’m done for the day; I’m headed home. I don’t even change clothes. I just head straight for my car in my scrubs. Loretta is on my mind. I haven’t seen her in six days and I’m beginning to worry. The last I saw her was at Accident and Emergency on Sunday after our fight. She avoided my eyes as she walked by; I avoided hers too. Now, I’m worried.
Something is wrong and I have to make it right.
I drive to her place. Her car is parked outside and it’s very dusty. I walk up to her door and knock.
There is no answer. I knock again and realize the door is open. I give it a slight push.
“Loretta?” I say in my nicest voice but she doesn’t reply. “Lolo?”
The sitting room is dirty and scattered, voluminous medical books all around the floor. She had been studying. I head to her room, taking slow steps and gently I push the door. It responds with a lazy creak and I walk in. I find her on the bed, in a pool of blood…
Her eyes to the ceiling…
She blinks when she sees me and tears slip from her eyes. “Please, just let me die,” she whispers.
I rush to her and lift her in my arms, all my medical instincts thrown out the window. I should check her pulse, I should determine where the hemorrhaging is coming from, I should ask her what happened, but I don’t do any of these things. I just lift her up and carry her out.
Every girl needs a hero.
* * * * * * * *
The nearest hospital is a private clinic owned by a consultant who once lectured me. I’m glad to find he’s in. As they rush her to the ER, he tells me to wait outside. I sit in the waiting room. I do not really sit; I stand and walk and sit and stand and do it over and over until the nurse at the desk tells me to stop it. I walk out for a breath of fresh air. I gave up smoking years ago but I need to calm my nerves now, so I stop an aboki and buy a stick of cigarette. The taste is odd in my mouth and it chokes me upon first drag. I fling it in a puddle nearby and order some sweets instead. I take a short walk, not caring about the odd stares that people throw at me and my bloody scrubs. I’m thinking of my best friend and all the good times we’ve shared. If she dies I’ll die. I mutter a quick prayer and head back to the clinic. When I get in, the nurse informs me that the consultant is out of the ER and wants to see me. I rush into his office.
“She’s okay,” he says. “She took something to expel the foetus.”
I shut my eyes.
“But she’s fine. The pregnancy is of course, terminated and luckily, no injury to the uterine walls. A strange miracle, I should say. Very strange.”
He speaks further but I’m unable to hear him. There are tears of anger in my eyes. I’m very mad at her for trying to kill her baby and herself in the process. Who has unprotected sex in the first place with all the nameless diseases flying around? I want to shout at her and give her a piece of my mind but I remember her smile… I get to see it again.
Every girl needs a second chance.
* * * * * * * *
The road to recovery is a long one but Loretta is determined to make it to the end in one piece. She is determined to do right and I tell her she is able to as I make tight my grip around her wrist and pull her towards the table where the couple is waiting for us. The restaurant is very busy and noisy but I can distinctively hear the voice of Phil Collins in the background as we approach the table. At this point, Loretta threatens to go back but I put my hand around her and push her into a vacant chair and pull another for myself. We sit facing the couple.
“I can’t do this,” she whispers but I squeeze her knee beneath the table, reassuring her that everything will be okay.
“Good afternoon.” The woman sitting across me smiles. Her name is Adeyinka Balogun.
“Afternoon, madam,” I reply and her husband nods at me. The famous Doctor Balogun, the ‘king of hearts’. We have met severally. I nod back at him.
“Our wife,” the woman says, “you didn’t tell us you were coming with someone else. Mind I ask who you are, sir?”
“My name is Doctor Aonderver,” I reply.
“Nice to meet you Doctor, but you do know that this is a family meeting, right?” she informs me politely.
“Family? Not really.” I put my hand on Loretta’s. “Tell them why we’re here.”
Loretta withdraws her hand. Doctor Balogun and his wife wait eagerly for what she has to say but with the way her eyes are fixed on the window beside her, I know she isn’t going to say anything, so I speak up.
“She lost the baby.”
“What?” the woman gasps and her hands go to her mouth.
“A miscarriage,” I lie.
“Oh God…” the woman reaches out to Loretta but my friend recoils from her touch. “Did you take something? Were you ill? Did you overexert yourself?” She looks at her husband in tears. “I told you to bring her to come stay with us, Dayo. I told you.” She sobs. “This can’t be happening again.”
Doctor Balogun places a loving hand on his wife’s shoulder but I can see the pressure it carries; it’s a warning to her not to run her mouth any further than she already has. He looks at Loretta, searching her face.
“What happened? How are you feeling?”
Loretta still doesn’t speak.
The wife tries to calm herself but she cannot. A wail escapes her and she reaches for a table napkin to hide her face in. I’m guessing by the way her body is convulsing, she can’t control the state she’s in. I sense some profound pain.
“Oh God,” she cries, “when will this nightmare end? What have we done that is so bad?”
Doctor Balogun puts his hands around his wife and holds her close. There’s pain in his eyes too but I don’t give a shit. I want to beat him to a pulp. Loretta stares at both of them and allows the truth to sink in that she was never a part of the family. I stand up and take her hand.
“Loretta,” the wife calls, her face looking like a hungry kitten. “We can try again. Please don’t go.”
That does it for me!
“Madam, your husband ruined my friend’s life and it is sick to know that you were part of it! As a woman who wants to be a mother you should be appalled that your husband would pick a girl young enough to be his daughter, lie to her, disvirgin her and use her for the sole purpose of having a kid! You should be disgusted! Maybe the two of you should start asking yourself why you can’t have children in the first place, because this…what I see here, is beyond words! Loretta, let’s go, darling.”
I drag Loretta out of the restaurant and when we get into my car, she begins to tell me about her affair with the doctor and things I do not know about him and his wife. She says the couple has tried a few times with other women to have babies and have even paid for In Vitro Insemination twice but like a heavy curse upon them, all attempts ended in miscarriages. There had been five of them. Loretta was to be the sixth. She says she had actually offered to carry their child because of her feelings for the doctor.
I hold her hand to strengthen her and she asks me if I know what love feels like, if I’ve ever loved someone so much I can literally feel an aching in my chest each time I think of that person.
I ponder on her question and remember the past, of how I loved and lost, of how the aching in my chest never went away even in the throes of meaningless sex with countless women, of how I still feel it sometimes, especially around her.
“Have you?” she asks, tears in her eyes.
“I have,” I answer. I have never seen her in tears.
“Does the pain go away?” I see fear replace her tears. Fear of the unknown. I nod and shake my head at the same time. The answer to her question is yes and no. I’m about to explain why but she doesn’t let me. She breaks down, her whole body shaking uncontrollably and I’m reminded of the woman back at the restaurant. I know too well the pain of having what you desire in the palm of your hand and in a split second, have it being taken away from you. How does one heal from that? I hold my friend and she squeezes me like her life depends on it.
“It’s going to be okay,” I tell her.
Every girl needs a shoulder to cry on.
* * * * * * * *
We pick the pieces of her heart, painfully but she heals fast. I recommend a drug for her that speeds the process. It is the age-old healing power of giving. Every Sunday, I take her to see Grace, a sixteen month old baby who was shot in the liver when someone who claimed he paid her mother money to have her, somehow got into an altercation with the man that claimed he was her real father. After little Grace was shot, she was left to die until a stranger came to her rescue and brought her to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital
I donate blood to her on a regular basis. I wish I could do more. Loretta accompanies me and plays the role of the mother Grace will never have. She sings to her and tells her stories about a better home than her hospital bed. Grace, she says, is the most beautiful thing she has ever seen; even with her yellow skin, coarse hair, protruding belly and gangly legs, Grace’s aura shows her a new side of love. She makes her see how selfish her decision was for ending her own baby’s life.
“Can we keep her?” she asks me one evening and I shake my head in sadness. “Why?” she asks but she knows we just can’t keep her.
On one of our visits, we arrive to see Grace sleeping peacefully, her hands opened out on her stomach as if to someone. The nurse going on rounds tells us she had passed away only a few
minutes before we came.
“If I had not gone back home to change my shoes,” Loretta says breathlessly, “I would have been here earlier to say goodbye.”
She pulls a chair and sits beside Grace, tears clouding her vision. She holds the tiny, cold hands and washes it with her tears.
Every girl needs a hand to hold.
* * * * * * * *
Days turn to weeks and weeks to months, time passes by so fast. I have overworked myself this year and need to rest. I sign for my annual leave on a sunny Wednesday afternoon and after that I drive
Loretta to that same restaurant to meet that same couple. Phil Collins is still playing; it’s as if we left that place and came back months later to find everything still the same. The only thing different is the woman. She has lost her arrogant air; she just stares out the window as if bitten by a mute dog. I don’t care to notice the doctor. Loretta sits, I sit. I don’t want to be here but I will move the world for her.
“We will try again,” Loretta tells them. “I will have your baby. No sex, no marriage and I don’t want to get paid either.”
The woman’s eyes instantly turn from disbelief to hope. One would think that by now she’d completely believe she’s cursed, but hope no matter how feeble, never dies.
“Thank you, Loretta. Thank you,” says the doctor.
Loretta keeps a straight face but the moment we step out, she smiles proudly.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” I ask. She nods.
Every girl needs to redeem herself.
* * * * * * * *
When I get home, there’s a surprise waiting for me. My girlfriend, Habeeba, pays me a visit from
Kaduna. I walk in to the smell of a home cooked meal. I hurry to the guest room but find her praying, faithful Muslim that she is.
There’s a knock on the front door. I hurry to it and fling it open and I’m face to face with this stranger. A very intimate one. Petite and slim, she stands, with fiery eyes like the setting sun and hair that falls on her shoulders. She holds an uncertain smile but a blinding one. I am dazed.
“Bem?” she calls me in a small, scared voice and all at once, I remember everything—how I met her when I was but twenty-three and she was twenty; how it was love at first sight and how we became inseparable after that; how a year later we got married in a small ceremony in her hometown; how she wanted to be around me all the time even though she knew I had to be at school; how she began to complain that I didn’t have time for her; how we began to fight because of my absence; how she decided against better judgment to quit schooling and go into business; how I was mad at her for throwing away her future; how the marriage turned sour and bordered on separation; how the rumors began to fly about her indiscretions each time I was away; how I caught her with my own brother; how she confessed he wasn’t the only one, that my nights away had left her empty and lonely; how she filed for annulment and left me broken hearted.
Yes, I remember everything. And now, she’s back, ten years later, with a smile on her face and her wedding ring on her finger, now faded. I know the song she wants to sing. It will be about how young and how wrong she was. She will tell me she is older and wiser now and has no desire for any man but me. But will she understand my own song, that I don’t love her anymore?
“Mhonum, what are you doing here?” I ask my ex-wife.
She goes on her knees and holds my hands and begins to cry. I’m indifferent to her. Like one of the pieces of furniture in my sitting room, I neither love nor hate her. I just…desire her. That fire never died.
“Come back tomorrow evening. Stop at the estate gate and send the guard to get me.”
She nods, gets on her feet and leaves. I feel that old aching in my chest, though weakly.
Bem you’re playing with fire… so says my mom’s voice in my head.
Yes Mama, that it still burns in my loins and I’m not complaining.
Every girl needs to be heard.
* * * * * * * *
Mhonum hardly walks two houses away from mine when Loretta’s car appears. She sees me and honks with a smile. Seconds later, she’s coming to me with a strange but happy look on her face. These days, she’s all smiles. It seems she has finally found her rhythm in life. She looks a lot sexier too; might be my eyes.
“Bem,” she calls my name. That strange look again.
“I have something to tell you…” she begins and tells me how much I have changed her life and how she is better because of me. She tells me she wakes up with a renewed purpose to live and give. I remind her that I didn’t tell her to donate her uterus to Doctor Balogun. She laughs and without warning, says the following: “I love you.”
“Yeah, I love you too darling.”
“No… can I kiss you?” she asks but waits for no answer as she goes on her toes and kisses me. I’m shocked at first – naturally, and I don’t respond in those initial few seconds but I get knocked by that aching again, strong and fierce. I let it take over me. I pull her close. It feels so good. So, so, good until…
I stop immediately and pull away. I can feel Habeeba’s eyes burning holes into my brain.
“What is going on?” Habeeba asks in a betrayed tone. “Loretta?”
Loretta takes a step back, shame and puzzlement etched on her features. She is just finding out Habeeba and I are a couple.
Sheepishly, I turn to face my chaste angel who risks her father’s wrath to be with me. Her eyes pool with tears and I don’t know what to say to calm her gentle soul. I adore this woman, I really do but I don’t feel that familiar ache in my chest for her.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “We were just… it was nothing…”
She runs back into the house.
“Beeba…” I sigh. And from the corner of my eyes, I see Loretta turn away.
“Loretta…” I turn back but she hurries to her car and drives off.
I walk into the house to find Habeeba curled up in tears. It breaks my heart to hurt her but what I feel more is that stubborn aching for Loretta. I want to see her again. I want to kiss her more. I want to tell her how I’ve loved her for years but first… Habeeba must be appeased.
Every girl needs to be told she’s the only one.