Doc Al stood watching one of his patient’s father try to act the doctor on another of his patient. The patient’s father, Ochuko was trying to feel for a pulse on Sandy who had just blanked out again. He stood there beside him and watched with mounting dislike. Moments ago, he had decided to tolerate the man, he had in fact gotten into real friendly terms with him but now, that was changing and very fast.
“She’d be okay Mister.” He said and tapped Ochuko lightly on the shoulder.
“What just happened to her doc, how did she go out like that?”
“It’s not something bad, it is normal, very well expected. All she needs right now is some real good rest. So if you don’t mind.”
“But I can hardly feel a pulse.” Ochuko said in bewilderment. He turned to face Doc Al. “Is there no medication you can give to her to at least help her pulse get more pronounced. Something like that.”
“There’s no such thing. Moreover, you don’t realize that you have taken my place here.” Doc Al tried for a smile. He hoped it came out looking like a wide grin.
“Oh, okay.” Ochuko got up from Sandy’s bed and shifted for the doctor to take his former position. “Come and check her out then. She just have to live doctor, she has to.”
Doc Al took Ochuko’s former position beside the bed and turned around to look at him. The man looked restless and broken. His phone rang briefly, he dug it out of his pocket and looked at the screen. That didn’t take long, it was a text message. He disposed of the phone the moment he was done and an expression of relief lit his face. But that also lasted just a brief period.
“Look,” Doc Al said, “Sandy here needs some rest. She’s received medications prior to this moment and it is right that she gives them some time to do their work.”
“How long are we talking about here?”
“How long doesn’t matter. All that does is her complete recuperation and don’t go thinking that I’m not doing my job well. I love all my patients and Sandy is a very special one. Moreover, I get paid for doing this job, my job.”
“Can I increase her pay so as to hasten her recovery?”
The distasteful expression on Doc Al’s face was halfway becoming unconcealed, he was beginning to care less about his countenance. He hated men who thought money could get them all, including life itself. It was disturbing that the man had still not gotten the picture he was trying to paint, the boundary he was trying to establish. It wasn’t about money now, it was about having Sandy as his afterwards. The increased pay was enticing enough though but that would be like selling out his birthright for a plate of porridge. He had already out of his love for her chosen to charge her nothing for the services, and it would remain that way.
“Tell me Mister, who is Sandy to you? Because she never mentioned anything about you to me.” Doc Al asked.
“Do your patients mention their all to you?”
After considering the question for a while and finding out that no answer was forth coming, Doc Al got up from the bed and walked closer to Ochuko.
“Can we have a little chat outside?” He said, looking up at Ochuko’s face. The man towered him with what must be a foot.
“If it’s something that cannot be discussed inside this room then it has to wait because really, all that I care for right now is to see that Sandy opens her eyes. Let me hold on to your word that she would live.”
“But shouldn’t you care more about your daughter?”
He watched the man open his mouth to say something only to close it back. He was visibly confused. The question was a minefield, one he had to thread lightly on before he got blown sky high. And silence, to him, seemed to be the only answer that made sense. Ochuko walked out of Doc Al without sparing him a single glance and resumed his position on Sandy’s bed. He stroked her hair.
“You know, I like to believe that you never knew Sandy was here. From all indications, your meeting her here this morning was pure coincidence. I don’t know if it occurs to you that she might as well be dead and you wouldn’t still know, maybe until the same coincidence does its thing. And here you are now, trying to prove the affectionate lover. Doesn’t it look very fake to you?” Doc Al pushed further.
“What does it matter to you doctor?”
“A whole lot. Anyway, the fact is, we don’t leave our patients with people we cannot identify as family or close friends. And from all that I can deduce, you are neither of these options.”
“Doctor, this is not something I don’t know and moreover, that is for protection’s sake. Does it look to you like I want to cause harm to this lady?”
“What it looks to me does not matter. This is standard operating procedure, and it must be followed. The patient has to recognize you as being no threat and Sandy is presently not in the state to do that now. Why don’t you just wait in the waiting area till she wakes up or better still, do exactly what you wish to do here with her with your daughter?”
“Fine.” Ochuko said dryly. His face was set. “Take my daughter as leverage then. If I harm Sandy your patient, then…”
He could see what Ochuko was driving at and it angered him the more. It was entirely senseless but to tell him how senseless the idea was in words was difficult. Left to him, he would prefer to knock out the senselessness from him.
“If you must know doc, that’s my only daughter you have there in the next ward and she means the world to me the same way this woman does. And that’s tangible reason for my difficulty in placing priority.”
This was at least sane but Doc Al knew there were still some murky waters idling somewhere, some hidden story that Ochuko was not telling. If it were just a matter of trust, Ochuko looked trustworthy enough but trust was not all that was involved in this case. Doc Al was in love with the woman, he wanted her to himself and Ochuko here was a contender.
There were so many things he was sure Ochuko did not know about asides Sandy’s admission into the hospital. He doubted if he knew the bleeding young man who had saved her life, him who claimed to be her fiancé. That was a man truly in love. As he stood watching Ochuko stroke Sandy’s hair, he wished the policemen had not come to the claim him the time they did, he wished to see how both men would tussle for their lady. For the first time, he saw what Sandy was – a golden throne at the top of the mountain – and understood the fierce battle that must ensue between Lords and Kings for that adored throne. He wondered how many more men were adept on getting her and considered deeply if he really wanted to be counted in. He had a wife already – though barren – and should be satisfied, but who gets a bronze medal and never aspire for a gold one? Not him.
He wore a sly smile on his face as he turned to leave the room. As there were many ways to trap a rat in a cage, so were there many ways to get this lady he loves. But he wouldn’t hurt anyone to do so, though he would make people hurt themselves.
* * *
The size of AMAZING GRACE hospital was not at all amazing. It was no sight for sore eyes, no ultra modern multi million naira glass house. It was in fact meant to be someone’s one storey duplex with not enough parking space for ten cars. As most hospitals around the area, it was painted white. All the windows had blue drapes which were all down, giving the environment a more tangible deserted feel. Dirt littered about in inconspicuous places and an ambulance wagon coated in dust sat with deflated tires at a far end of the fence where grasses were left to evolve into trees.
Some things were peculiar to the hospital though: there was a caged multicoloured parrot at the right side of the entrance glass door that said hello to anyone approaching the entrance, a small map showing the plan of the hospital spread on a small tiled podium where the walkway ended, and potted fine scenting flowers lined at the balcony of the ground floor with soft cushions for relaxation.
It was on one of these chairs that Miss Sharon sat – the very last chair that disappeared into the corner – and took in the whole sight. Occasionally, she threw glances at the parrot which was several distance away from her and always found it returning her glance. She hated the creature and it took enough will power to refrain from wrapping her fingers over it’s feathered neck. Maybe some other time when she’d have been done with the business at hand. She grew itchy at every passing minute, time was cruising away and she was yet to come up with an idea of carrying out her mission discreetly.
She had looked at the map, it was well detailed and simple, but from experience she knew that the simpler something appeared, the more difficult it was to conquer. She thought of Christ’s simple vestment, the one without seams and how difficult it was for the soldiers to share it amongst themselves. It was a strange comparison but a worthy comparison nonetheless. The hospital had only two entrances – one at the front, marked GENERAL entrance and another at the far right side of the building marked RESERVED. There was no door out back, that was strange. Taking the general entrance was out of the option, she would get noticed. From the calmness of the hospital’s exterior, one could unerringly infer that such would characterize the interior. As support to the inference; since she’d been sitting at the balcony, not a single being had either rushed in or waltzed out through the entrance door. It might just be a bad business day. But, the same map showed a reception area. It would be more than a fair slice of luck not to find a receptionist in a reception area, those beautiful chatterbox of ladies who must not only insist on ones name but on how one’s day was going. Ladies who could pick out any object – no matter the size – entering into the building, like sensors. That left her with the side entrance.
After ten more minutes of sitting, Miss Sharon decided to try out the side entrance. She moved without throwing side glances like one with firm purpose. Wouldn’t you say she has a purpose?
It was not much of a walk, the entrance was on the same part of the building where she had sat for twenty minutes. Eight windows covered with blue drapes lined the wall and not a sound came from any of them. Those were the windows of the four wards on the right side of the ground floor which the same utility map had revealed. She had the complete plan pasted in her head. The reserved entrance had a narrow passage leading to a restroom and also a flight of stairs to the first and only floor, marked as administration offices. At the end of the restroom was another door that led to a wide passage, the same one that had the eight wards flanked at both sides. Preceding the first ward on the right – the last ward, coming from the main entrance – was a room marked STORE. The store had a secret door that led into the closet of the first ward.
This looked like a sure way to break in unnoticed, exactly what she wanted. But she doubted if the door of the reserved entrance was without locks, she mulled over the possibility of being picked up by a camera, hidden or unhidden. So far, she had seen no security official, not even at the gate, but was it unlikely to have a security guard standing watch at a corner in this section? Of course not, the entrance led to the administrative section after all, every organization’s secret house. Could it not also be that the store was presently bustling with tittering nurses sorting out one drug after another, one hospital equipment after another?
She sighed as she rested her hand on the chrome door handle. That had been simplicity doing it’s thing, branching off into webs of difficulties. She took two minutes to still her nerves, it worked just fine, the tremors coursing through her arms were gone and the atmosphere had stopped heating. The underarm of her clothes were damp and perspiration broke from her face, but there was a cool breeze blowing at the moment, it chilled her sweat and fortified her growing tranquil. This was good. She shut her eyes and turned the handle as she thought: NO RISK, NO REWARD.
Somehow her mother was right, she must have had a peek into this moment. She was right about the odds being on their favour, and the soothing support of mother nature. The handle turned as expected and a slight push had the door obeying. It moved with an oily smoothness, muffling every supposed creaking sound and pushing blackness against her. Not a single bleep of machinery, a thud of footfall, or the tick of clock; the place was a grave yard. She stepped in and carefully pulled the door in behind her and it became a pitch dark graveyard.
With all thoughts of cameras gone, all fears of security guard non existent, Miss Sharon stretched forth her arms in the syrupy blackness, touched the wall of the narrow passageway and walked the end of it. The blackness swallowed her whole and spat her out at the door of the rest room which was also unlocked. She turned the handle likewise without a break for thought and stepped in. The restroom was out of use but not untidy. At a corner, cleaning equipments were made to rest on the door and at another corner, pipes and spare bowls of sparkling white commodes sat squat on the tiled ground. Between these two corners was the door that led to the wide passage. Before moving to the door, she went to check out herself on a mirror over a line of sinks. She looked okay and tidy but for the sweat patch at the underarm of her top. Her hair was still neatly packed, her face shone with a mixture of sweat and oil, and there was no trace of fright or uncertainty on her face. She had the charming appearance of a death angel. She used her handkerchief to wipe her face.
Having succeeded this far, she knew that continuing with carefulness was very essential. Just like it was believed that help came to those who helped themselves first, so was it that discreetness was achieved only if one was conscious of every single bit of details, not overlooking little things. She walked stealthily towards the door and pressed her ears to it. She would count to fifty before she opened the door and then pray for luck.
On the thirty-ninth number of her count, she heard approaching footfall, the clacking of shoe heels on hard ground, probably stilettos. Nurses don’t wear that, she told herself but gripped the door handle tightly. The footsteps were coming her way, the sound grew steadily. Miss Sharon was struck with the spell of confusion, she could not think of what to do if the owner of those footsteps walked in into the restroom and found her. There would be nothing to explain, neither would there be any pleading.
Almost reaching the climax of her panic, her eyes came in contact with a pile of buckets beside her. Lying next to it were cutting implements: a small sized lawnmower, different shapes and sizes of cutlasses and two garden shears. She picked a bucket with handle and a short-bladed cutlass with pointed end, it looked more like a big dagger than a cutlass. She still had her hand firmly gripping the door handle as the sound of the approaching intruder – yes that was what the owner of the footfall was – grew more audible. She would let the intruder intrude then with stealthy care she would creep up to her or him with the overturned bucket, it better be a her, she thought; and pull it down over her head, simultaneously piercing the cutlass into her stomach. That part was soft and would cause no obstruction to the smooth passage of the cutlass. She hoped the cutlass was deadly sharp.
Just at the last moment when Sharon was beginning to let go of her grip on the door and the intruder was about to cover the handle with her palm, somebody called out. Miss Sharon swallowed down her heart.
“Shhh! Don’t shout my name.”
Janet, the intruder just stood there at the door and waited for Zara, her coworker to meet her. More footfalls.
“What did you come down here to do Janey?”
“You like to poke your nose into others’ life. It’s a bad character Zara, really.”
“Well, you don’t know when you get them red handed in a dirty act.”
“If that was why you followed me, I’m sorry to burst your bubbles, I don’t do dirty stuffs.”
“Yeah, I can only guess. But I’ve known a couple of nurses who do stuffs in there with doctors. Is he there waiting for you already? I mean doc..”
“Don’t be silly, there’s no one there. You’ve seen my babe na, you know no doctor here beats him and moreover, we’ve sworn faithfulness, we’re deeply in love.”
There was a small chuckle from intruder two, Miss Sharon imagined her covering her mouth to do so. This area of the hospital seemed to be a noiseless zone. The two talked in low tones of voices, almost whispers.
“Then it’s the other way around. You want to go in there and imagine him doing things to you. Come on Janey, let me enter and watch.”
“Jesus! Zara. Seriously, I’m scared for your life. You’re too spoilt.”
“Abeg, stop forming jor, don’t you touch yourself at night when Jude is not with you?”
“See, it’s enough. I was coming in here to get some minutes away from this place. This hospital is very terrifying at times. And seriously speaking Zara, even if I do touch myself, why would you want to watch? Are you a Lez?”
“No na, not like that oh. Me, my hands are clean and my conscience too. Just that it would be fun seeing you get dirty.”
Another round of muffled chuckle from intruder two. Sharon was growing irritated by the gist already, somehow some dark part of her hungered to kill. She wished intruder two or was she Zara, would just let Janet come in and really get away from the place, get away from the world entirely.
“So what’s terrifying about this place?”
“Zara, don’t you sometimes see the ghost of that patient that died under Doc Al’s care? She haunts this place regularly.”
“Abeg spare me those ghost stories. Doc Al did not intentionally kill that woman, didn’t you see the way he cried after her death?”
“That one is one, the other is the old witch I’m watching after. She’s too spooky for my liking.”
“For everyone’s liking, but she’s not a witch. I mean, I’ve seen her cry before. Do you know of any witch that cries.”
“She is a witch. Which normal old lady would use a kitchen knife to carve out her teeth with some of the gums still attached and cackle over it. She should have been the dead patient and not that other woman.”
“That is scary Janey, are you making this up?”
“Zara, I’m not. Go and see for yourself. I ran out of that ward in serious fear.”
They have spent fifteen minutes chatting, Sharon noticed. They were encroaching on her own time. Maybe she would organize herself better, grab some more implements, go out and take them both. She would drag their corpse in and wash her hands clean. She gave them ten more minutes. Meanwhile, she darted her eyes about the room.
“Let us go and check her out then, maybe try to stop the bleeding. Or call Doc Al.”
“Are you crazy? Don’t you understand that I ran out of that place?”
“It doesn’t mean anything. We would just go and do our work.”
“It’s your work not mine. Did I tell you that I’ve hinted Jude on these strange happenings? He said I should just withstand it for this month then quit. I’d be his secretary in that his company. I’m so very detached from this place already Zara.”
“Oya then, come let’s go and check out that small girl that hot water poured.”
“Oh that princess. Eh yah, I feel for her sha oh. But she’s lucky the wound won’t leave scars on her. Seeing how sweet she looks makes me want to have a daughter tomorrow.”
“You can hook up with her Dad oh. He’s very hot. Me, I’m sha eyeing him. He should just do and look my side.”
“I swear, you are very crazy Zara. I pity the man you would marry.”
Sharon saw something else of high utility – a tape. She thought of binding the two nurses, hand and legs. Lips sealed tight also to prevent them from leaking the secret. She picked it up and ran a generous quantity over a pipe, it stuck tightly. She opened the door then but the nurses were no longer there, they had gone to check out Lucy. She was left in despair.
It didn’t take long for the killing frenzy to disappear; after all, she was still a normal human that needed to love someone and likewise needed someone to love her in return. Not all of it anyway, it was still very important that little Lucy was out of the picture. She tiptoed out of the restroom and into the store. There was nobody there and the fluorescent lights were very dim. She wasted no time wondering, she advanced to the closet. It was spotlessly clean and smelt of lavender.
There were low sounds in the ward whose toilet she was in, it was the two nurses conversing. She had never felt any happier than she did at the moment. She was very close to her prey, there was nothing now but a door demarcating them. She would take her mom on a treat after this was over but that was only if she’d meet her alive.
So much adrenaline ran in her bloodstream at the moment, she hardly waited for the back of the nurses to disappear out through the door before she crept in. She circled over to the other side of the bed where Lucy faced. She was asleep, her brows were knit together in a frown and she looked beautiful, charming. There was a brief moment Miss Sharon felt like smoothening the little girl’s brows, she gently drew the pillow from beneath her head instead.
Lucy’s eyes flew open.
* * *
Something was getting away from beneath her, she could feel it. Lucy had been in a mystified world where there were only stars the colour of rainbow, pink clouds with neither sun nor moon. The breeze smelt of vanilla ice cream and every single creeping animal that came around was a fruit. She was standing on a firm ground in this world and admiring it when the ground began to disappear…
She opened her eyes to see a blurred figure standing beside her bed. She wiped her eyes with the back of her palm carefully, the pains on her face had subsided now. She could hardly feel any pain. Whatever the doctor was treating her with was very effective. She saw who the figure was and a sincere smile stole her pretty little face. She could hardly contain her joy, she felt like jumping into the arms of the figure.
“Miss Sharon?” She asked wide eyed with irrepressible awe.
“Oh yes baby. It’s your choco mama.” Sharon returned the smile, her’s was more charming. “Remember what I told you about my name.”
“Yes, yes.” Lucy managed to throw a clenched fist at the air, she was very happy. She slowly brought herself to a sitting position. “My Miss Her.”
“Good sugar. I saw your drawing at home. That was a very fine work. Your hands must be made of gold.”
“The one I wrote HER + ME + DADDY = A HAPPY FAMILY?”
“Yes sugar. I loved that you wrote HER instead of my name. You learn fast.”
“You love the drawing? Maybe it’s time to beg my daddy to marry you. You are my choco mama.”
“Yes sugar, it’s time. But lie down back and close your eyes, I’ve brought you a surprise package.”
“Really? Please let me see.”
Miss Sharon shook her head sideways, her hands were perfectly concealed behind her back.
“Lie down back and close your eyes. Its’s a surprise. Surprise, surprise?”
“Surprise!” Lucy almost screamed. She lay back down gently and pinched her eyes shut.
Lucy did not realize how uncomfortable the bed now felt without pillow, she was to happy to notice it. She just thought of how sweet her Dad was. She had begged him to bring Miss Sharon to see her, he hadn’t replied then, he was so worried about her that nothing else mattered to him, but he had granted her request nonetheless. She didn’t like the way her Dad was looking, very tired and old. She wanted her Dad to be happy. Miss Sharon had once told them in school that women were meant for men and men for women, and that true happiness was when a man finds a woman and lived with her in a home. She did not only love Miss Sharon, she was attached to her, but she had no man in her life. So it had occurred to her that she could make two people become very happy. Their happiness was her happiness. She would make it happen.
Something forcefully hit her face, it awoken the pain on her burnt face. She tried to scream but nothing came out. She used her small hands to push against the object that was pressed to her face but she was not strong. She writhed on the bed, flailed her legs and held the hands that were pressing the object, a pillow, she was sure, against her face.
Lucy’s heart sank when it dawned on her that Miss Sharon was person causing her pain. No, it was more than pain, she could not breath with her nose anymore and her opened mouth was getting filled with the soft material of the pillow instead of air. She understood what would happen to her not long from now, she would suffocate to death. She had watched it on television many times.
She thought of her sweet Dad then, thought of him weeping bitterly for her. He had not cried yet for her burns because it would make her cry too. Thus she would not cause him to cry. So with the picture of her Dad telling her a story about her favorite folktale character, the tortoise, she did the wisest thing she could think of.
Lucy stopped struggling, but not abruptly. She withdrew her hands slowly from Miss Sharon’s and stilled her legs. She writhed some more, then stopped altogether. At a point, she felt it would make no difference, Miss Sharon still pressed harder. But just before she decided to quit the act and struggle her last, she felt the pressure on the pillow reduce, then stop. She remained calm and prayed that her eye lashes would not flutter when Miss Sharon lifted the pillow.
Nothing happened for some minutes, the pillow was still over her face and she couldn’t make any movement. She dreaded removing the pillow herself for fear that Miss Sharon might just be at a corner watching. She instead opened her eyes to the blackness caused by the pillow, she found it difficult to breathe, her throat hurt like mad. Yet, she wouldn’t push the pillow off and struggle for better air. She was dying and couldn’t help herself, she wished so badly for a saviour, she didn’t want to die this young.
All the effort would turn out to be a waste after all, she thought. She closed her eyes and the picture of her mother she hardly knew appeared, she was smiling. The world was fast turning to gray and her heartbeat was slowing down. She held the image of her mother, she was a very beautiful woman…