The red cab parked before a residential building that had a high fence and a shiny, red gate. Nothing about the house’s exterior indicated that it was a hospital; not even a post.
“Oga, you sure say na dis place?” I asked the cab driver and he nodded with conviction.
“I don carry plenty customer come here well-well,” he said and honked his horn. A gateman came out from the building and walked to us.
“Oga good evening,” I said to him. “Dem carry any man wen break hand come here now-now?”
The gateman nodded. I paid the cab driver our fare and dragged drunken Monica out of the cab. Fiyin had stepped out already and was on her way in. The gateman must have thought Monica was a patient needing help as he half-carried her in. He led us into the reception area and my antennae went up. All the things I expected to see in a typical private hospital were conspicuously missing and replacing them were live plants in every corner, and posters of more live plants with botanical names for them that I had never heard in my scientific life. But what nailed the coffin for me was a massive poster behind the nurses’ station of a typical native doctor like the ones in Nollywood movies, wearing nothing but red leaves around his waist; and standing beside him was a modern day medical doctor with a white lab coat holding a small branch of the same red leaves. Above both doctors, respectively, were captions: THAT WAS THEN and THIS IS NOW. HERBAL MEDICINE IS NOT VOODOO. I wanted to smile but remembered I was annoyed. What on earth possessed Amaka to bring James to this type of place with its annoying jazz music playing in the background to treat something as serious as a hand fracture?
“Lolo?” I heard my name and turned to Amaka who had just emerged from a place labeled OUTPATIENT.
“What happened? Why did you bring him here? He needs to go to a real hospital.”
Amaka broke into tears in her usual hysterics but I was having none of it.
“Stop it!” I snapped. “Talk to me like a non-crying person!”
Fiyin handed her a hanky and she blew into it before speaking.
“James was standing between both lanes, talking to me and then one aboki just came from nowhere and he just pushed him into the road and…” She shivered. “There was a SUV coming and…”
“And what?” I asked impatiently but Amaka was done talking. She started crying again. Gratefully, Habeeba who was thumbing on her phone nearby completed the story.
“The SUV didn’t fully hit him. He jumped away in time but his right hand got in the way.”
I forced myself to turn to her. “It didn’t hit him anywhere else? Did he fall?”
“No,” Habeeba replied with her concentration still on her phone.
“Thanks,” I told her. “Maxy, where is James now?”
“He’s with his doctor,” Habeeba answered. “He insisted that we bring him here.”
“Why? This is not a hospital.”
The nurse at the front station looked at me with unimpressed eyes.
“This is James’ hospital,” Habeeba said brusquely.
Without asking permission, I pushed in the door that Amaka came through and appeared in a doctor’s office that looked nothing like a dibia’s shrine. In fact, the place smelled of fresh roses. Talk about 21st century herbalism. There was a doctor in lab whites, with his back turned to me, examining James’ entire right arm.
“I asked specifically not to be disturbed, nurse,” the doctor said, not looking my way.
“I am not your nurse,” I replied and he stopped and turned. He had an arrogant stare and a bit of a flat nose but oh my! was he sexy. He looked like a perfect sculpting and at that point I forgot all about Bem and lost the reasonable head I had on my shoulder. Never having been awed by men’s looks, I often congratulated myself for being a strong woman for a long time but I didn’t know what happened to me that night. And I blamed it all on Bem. If he had called me earlier that evening, I would have been spending time with him, but he left me alone and vulnerable, with my heart all around the place.
“Well, if you’re not my nurse, you should leave,” the sculpted being told me.
“It’s okay, Pere,” James said to him. “She’s Amaka’s sister and she’s a doctor.”
“Oh, really?” the sculpting murmured and looked at me from top to bottom distastefully and I remembered that I was dressed in Amaka’s tight dress that exposed a little more than I liked. I held back from pulling the dress up to cover my spilling cleavage and addressed the real issue at hand.
“Like James just said, I’m a doctor. A real one. I don’t know what goes on here but I feel he needs to have a chest x-ray done immediately and even a scan to rule out any possible internal hemorrhaging, and I doubt that you have any of those facilities here. With every passing second, the chances of him going into shock are increased and that is why I am here to make sure he is okay and transferred safely to a competent…”
A loud crack stopped me and James groaned loudly and swore through clenched teeth.
I dashed to him. “Where’s the pain coming from?” I asked and he shook his head. “What did you do to him?” I flashed at the doctor but he smiled arrogantly and walked to his desk.
“Lolo, it’s okay. I’m fine actually,” James told me.
“Lolo? Your name’s Lolo?” the sculpting snorted and shook his head.
“Pere set my shoulder back into place,” James explained but I stubbornly examined his whole arm from shoulder to finger tips and found nothing broken or out of place. I said nothing after that and waited as the doctor filled a small plastic bag with bottles of herbal pills and concoctions, massaged a balmy substance over James’s shoulder and upper chest and put his arm in a sling. I expected him to talk to me, even if it was something sarcastic, but he ignored me, finished what he was doing and left James and I.
“You are so into that thing,” James teased me.
“What thing?” I asked.
“Pere.” James released a lazy smile. “By the way, he’s a real doctor. Thrice. An obstetric…”
“Obstetrician,” I corrected.
“Obstetrician, chiropractor and has a degree in herbal medicine. He shuffles between here and a hospital near my house.”
“Mehn, whatever. By the way, a chiropractor is not a real doctor.”
“But you like him.”
“Now, you’re just being an ass.”
He laughed. “Oh, Bem is so in trouble…”
“James, can you let it go?”
James yawned and sipped from a Styrofoam cup in his hand.
“Can I ask you a question, Lolo?”
“What?” I crossed my arms.
“Now that you finally realized that you’re a sexy woman in a world of men who want you, how do you think your dating life will turn out?”
“What are you talking about?”
He smiled lazily again. “I have no idea. The answer lies with you. FYI, Doctor Hawtness is a dog. He barks at, and bites your gender mercilessly. No one has succeeded in putting him on a leash.”
“And I don’t intend to tread where angels dread.”
“I’m serious,” I said. “I don’t like him.”
“The last time I heard that phrase said about Pere, it was from a guy.”
“You’re high, ba? No more alcohol for you.” I took the cup from his hand and downed the drink inside it at a go. Surprisingly, it was sweet and smooth and caressed my throat. Nothing in it was alcoholic.
“I wish you hadn’t done that,” James said and he was right. I had consumed his pain medication, a mixture of Nutri C and cannabis. It took about thirty minutes for things to begin to get hazy for me but in no time, I found myself in a deep discussion with Pere. Yeah, he was not that bad a person to gist with. When Amaka and James and the rest were leaving, I told them I would join them later. I could see Amaka scolding me with her eyes but I was past caring. The magnetism between Pere and I was too strong to let me free. And in less than an hour, I found myself on his bed in his posh duplex a few houses from his clinic. I don’t want to blame it on the high I drank from that Styrofoam but I just couldn’t control my urges. Pere was incredibly intense in every way a man could be and I was downright taken by him. I went to sleep only in the early hours of the morning and woke up with a very cleared head. I looked around me and discovered I was alone but there was a note on the bed.
Gone 2 wrk. Sori.
No brkfast in bed.
Help yourself out. Leave the key with the guard.
The room was tidy and spotless. Nothing was out of place, including the side of the bed Pere had slept in. It was as if he was trying to erase all evidence of what we had done. Doing what the note dictated, I quickly dressed up and found my way downstairs. The gateman helped me get a cab and I left the place.
My phone began to ring as the cab hit a busy street and I checked the caller ID. It was Bem. I shut my eyes and banished the guilt gnawing at me but it kept returning. I knew I was going to have a shitty day and thoughts of Pere flashing through my mind weren’t making it any easier for me. The constant smirk around his lips, his arrogant brows and his strong arms that lifted me easily were bound to haunt my thoughts throughout the day. I willed tears to come, to wash away the jumble of emotions tumbling within me but I had shed enough tears the night before to last me a lifetime.
James had asked me a legitimate question but unfortunately I couldn’t conjure up an answer. Suddenly life opened a door I never knew existed. I was led into a candy store full of men and I started to see them everywhere and notice things about them that evaded me in the past. I constantly wanted to be in the presence of musky scents, hairy chins, Adam’s apples and strong arms (my personal favorite). And while my mates were done playing around and were seeking for men to spend forever with, I was just beginning to live my life.
* * * * * * * *
“Lolo, me I’m tired of James, o! I’m tired o!” I endured Amaka’s whining and put her on speakerphone as I dressed up for work.
“You know I stayed at his place last night…not like anything happened between us.”
“Not like I care.”
“But this morning, as he was leaving for work, that idiotic Watzhername came to the house and started forming that she was sick and bleeding and James just left me there and carried her to the hospital. Me, I didn’t see any blood on her o. She was just pretending and James couldn’t see through it. He was there telling me trash, that he can’t let her die. I swear, Lolo, I’ll leave him, o! He’s really misbehaving. When I start my own now, everybody will be saying Amaka is overdoing! You better talk to him.”
“Okay, I will.”
She ended the call and I rolled my eyes. Another call came in. It was my boss, the chief consultant in my department.
“Good morning, sir.”
“Doctor Stanley, I need you to go to Supreme Specialist Hospital in VI and take up a case for me there. I can’t make it because I have to be in surgery in an hour. The case you’re taking is a preterm labor. I don’t know how severe it is but can you handle surgery?”
“Of course, sir.”
“Okay. There’s a team already waiting. You’ll be the only pediatric surgeonon board. Sure you can handle it?”
“Yes, sir. I can.”
“Good. Keep me updated.” He rang off. I had heard of the famous Supreme Specialist with their modern medical equipment but lack of good doctors because the owner, a certain Doctor Dokuboh didn’t like to pay her doctors well and on time. She preferred enlisting the help of specialists on the spot for emergency purposes and left the everyday consultations for student doctors.
I left the house in a hurry, not caring to eat, and I drove to Supreme Specialist. At the hospital’s parking lot, I saw what looked like Bem’s car but I wasn’t so sure. When I got in, I was surprised to see James waiting in the reception, reading a newspaper.
“Loretta?” he also was surprised. “You practice here too?”
“No. What are you doing here?”
“Onagite’s in labor.”
He nodded. “She’s seven months, I think.”
“Wow. That fast already? Oh my God, I think it’s her case I’m handling. My boss sent me.”
“Really? That’s good.”
“don’t worry. The baby will survive. I’m a good doctor.”
“How is your hand?” I asked. The sling he had on was gone.
“I’m good. And how was your night?”
“Forget about it,” I murmured and he gave a wink.
“don’t tell me,” he smiled. “See…I want a DNA test immediately the baby’s born.”
I nodded. “And you will get one. I don’t want to be calling some weird child my nephew or niece when they are not.”
“Loretta?” Bem showed up and walked to me with a surprised smile.
“Hi,” I smiled back, masking my guilt.
“What are you doing here?”
“Making sure Onagite’s delivered safely of her baby.”
“Well,” he smiled, “I finally get the privilege to scrub in with you today. Come on, surgery’s in an hour.”
“James, see you later,” I said and he mouthed, “DNA.”
Bem led me to see Onagite. She looked frustrated and just wanted to be rid of the baby, explaining to us that she had been bleeding for a week but didn’t want to tell Bem (her doctor), just in case he was going to give her bad news. We both scolded her and I proceeded to examine her baby and when I was done, I gave the go ahead to prep her for surgery.
“I heard there was a team,” I said to Bem as we walked to the theater.
“Just me and you and Doctor Dokuboh.”
“Finally I get to see her,” I said.
“Hey, about that yesterday’s kiss…”
“I haven’t forgotten it,” Bem said as we entered what was supposed be a locker room but looked more like an office. It was tight and full of boxes and Bem had to wait outside while I changed.
“Where were you last night, sef?” he asked.
The question came from nowhere.
“Eh, I was… You know James had an accident right?”
“After we left the hospital, I went to my parents and crashed there. How about you?”
“Mhonum is in town,” was his answer.
“As in Mhonum? Your ex?”
“Yeah. I was with her last night and we had a long talk.”
He was silent for a while.
“Ehen…?” I urged him on.
“She has HIV.”
“No way. Where did she get it from?”
“Not from me obviously. She cheated on me with my brother and the whole world and now she wants to dump her HIVing ass on me, like I freaking gave birth to her. She says she is completely broke and has no one to take care of her. I wonder what she wants me to do. I can’t let her live with me. Am I mad? And I can’t rent a place for her. Who has that type of money? I can’t even put her in any hospital. She has a long way till death.”
“So what do you want to do?”
“I referred her to an NGO in Akure and told her to get the hell out of my life.”
“Then, Habeeba…” he said. “I visited her this morning at James’ place and we spoke and she said she’s not letting me go, that she loves me.”
“And what did you tell her?”
“I was about to tell her I was in love with you when Onagite came with her wahala.”
“You’re in love with me?” I asked and walked out of the locker room.
“Shouldn’t I be?” He looked into my eyes. “It’s only appropriate that love is reciprocated. You told me you loved me yesterday. Remember?”
“Yes Bem, but…” I exhaled noisily.
“No buts. Just say you meant what you said…” he drifted off as my previous night’s mistake walked in all his regal sexiness. Enter: The Sculpting.
“Doctor Dokuboh,” Bem nodded a cold greeting at Pere and addressed my confused face. “Doctor Pere Dokuboh is the son of the doctor that owns this hospital and he has graciously allowed us scrub in with him. He’ll be the obstetrician in charge of Onagite’s surgery.”
In my own opinion, Pere’s presence in that theater was going to be totally unnecessary. Bem was a competent obstetrician and Onagite’s case was not that critical. Besides, I wasn’t sure I could handle the awkwardness of having both guys in the same room with me. I felt Pere’s eyes undressing me audaciously and I prayed that he wouldn’t bring up the previous night.
“Pere,” Bem continued, “meet Doctor Stanley. Pediatrics.”
“Oh, Loretta and I have met,” Pere said. “I’m actually surprised to see her here.” He smiled like the devil, very aware of the uncomfortable situation he was putting me in. “You look quite bright and springy. I’m surprised you can still stand. You’re sure you’re strong enough to work, especially after last night and the wee hours of this morning?”
Bem looked at me and I avoided his eyes and glared at Pere angrily. But the evil bastard was not done. Oh no, that guy was bent on finishing me. As he walked into the locker room, he paused beside me and smacked my bum, making sure his hand lingered. When he was gone, I turned to Bem, an explanation forming on my lips but I couldn’t find the words.
“Congratulations,” Bem said. “You just slept with the whole of Lagos.”
“Bem, I’m sorry.”
“No you’re not. You’re a fool.”