It was at exactly fifteen minutes after Miss Sharon had left, and seven minutes after Ochuko had completed his perfunctory check on his daughter, that Doc Al got one of his hunches. It was a strong one, unlike any other he had ever had. And as always, he obeyed his hunch. He went to check out on Lucy. At first there was every urge to hasten up, to in fact disappear from his secluded dark upstairs office and appear in the white light-washed ward where Lucy was. He sensed danger so much that he could even touch it. None of his hunches had ever been wrong and although dimly he thought this one would break the rule, he knew it was only wishful thinking. There was danger.
He had completed the the first flight of stairs and was to take the final flight, in the same two mighty leaps as he did the first, when he finally decided it was best to calm himself down a little. He didn’t want any staff or even a patient to catch him looking so harried like the whirlwinds were on his tail when there could actually be no problem at all. It was just a hunch after all, a simple but persistent negative intuition. He sighed, turned back the way he had come, taking the stairs in twos this time. He had a box of candies in his office. He grabbed a handful of candies and continued to Lucy’s ward. If everything was alright, he would offer her the candies; he liked her enough to show this little act of friendship. Hell, he wouldn’t be this disturbed if he didn’t like her mighty much.
Every wall of comportment he had struggled to build crashed down the moment he swung the door open. How had he not suspected something like this? Well, it was simple: because something like this have never happened in Amazing grace. Janet, one of the nurses had come to complain to him in his office one day. She looked very pale and spooky as she complained that the hospital was haunted. She believed that she heard and saw ghosts walking the halls and wards. He had laughed so hard that tears had rolled down his eyes. She had left embarrassed. There was no such thing as ghosts and never would be. He placed her to be one of those kids who grew up watching horror movies or were made to digest horror stories. That was one thing he would never allow any child of his do, nor would he in any way aid such.
What he saw standing at the entrance of Lucy’s ward almost changed his belief; nobody had done that to the girl, nobody that anyone had seen. And the little girl would never do this to herself. He had not lifted the pillow from the girl’s face, yet he knew what had happened. Someone had attempted to suffocate the little girl with a pillow. It had to be someone and not ghosts, he reminded himself. This was very unfair, this was murder of the worst… he was wasting time.
His heart stopped dead when he lifted off the pillow. Her face had turned blue. He quickly observed her neck and found the veins there sticking out, they were swollen. She was asphyxiated. Already, she had managed to survive this from the burns; had the burns been more serious that what it was, she might have passed through the same state she was now in.
Without wasting time, he did what he was trained to do. He rolled up the drapes and slid the windows open, the penetrating afternoon sun rushed in. Lucy was lying on her back already so that eliminated the first process for him. He supported the nape of her neck on his palm and pressed her head backwards. Then he pressed the angle of her jaw forward from behind to extend her head on her neck and lift her tongue clear off the airway. He did this painstakingly, fearing that the swelling of the tissues of her throat had been aggravated by the burns. Though she had stopped breathing, her heart was still beating, but feebly. He could feel carotid pulse at the base of her neck, he thanked the God of hunches for this. With the airways now opened, he began a mouth-to-mouth.
He inflated her lungs with small breaths repeatedly at the rate of twenty times per minute. At first she made no response, then her small chest began to rise. He also heard the rasp sounds of the air she exhaled. He continued the artificial respiration, now at the rate of twelve times per minute, until he was certain her natural breathing had been restored. He straightened and exhaled his pressure, she was fine now.
Doc Al watched Lucy some seconds more, seconds long enough to see the handful of candies strewn all over the floor, then hurried out of the ward to get ready for the next stage…
* * *
“This is entirely senseless!” Ochuko barked.
“See, you have to understand that some things are not priority now. This hospital is currently running on a capital project that requires so much resources.” Doc Al explained to Ochuko.
“Do you even listen to yourself speak? I thought you people save lives here?”
“Sure we do. And as you can see, we put in our best.”
“And the best doesn’t warrant even a single security guard around. See doc, wares would never be sold inside the bank. Why? because the idea is for you to bring them your money to save. The damn idea is to entice you to save and not to spend. Same way you don’t save lives with drugs and neglect the security of the lives you try to save. Every single bit of detail should be catered for. These little things when neglected sometimes mess you up grandly. You don’t need me to tutor you on these things.”
Ochuko was really pissed and this case was the kind that brought out the devil in him. Cases where professionals fail to recognize the integrity of professionalism. He was a professional as well and understood very clearly that perfection and not mere superficiality was expected of professionals. Cases like this brought out the orator in him, and the more he talked, the fiercer his anger burned.
They were seated in the doctor’s office with the air conditioner at sixteen degree Celsius, yet the atmosphere was hot. Shiny beads of sweat stood out on Doc Al’s temple, and Ochuko could feel the underarm of his shirt soak up sweat. The doctor had called him into the office to discuss the almost successful attempt at his daughter’s life. It was totally unacceptable to him that the perpetrator came in and left unnoticed. It vexed him the more the way the doctor was trying to be diplomatic about the whole thing. If he had the power, he would have sacked him immediately and saved more of this crazy diplomatic tactic. Who knew how many more people he would diplomatically explain his incompetence to, definitely not him. He was officially done with Amazing Grace.
“Mr Ochuko, we should be appreciative that the inconvenience was contained. The good news is that your daughter is fine now.”
He was reaching that stage where civility ended, he wished the doctor could be wise enough to sense this and shut up. On his part, talking any further might lead to a brawl. Hell, a mad fight. He would relish knocking off every single tooth in the doctor’s mouth. That way, talking would be difficult. If only the man understood that the only thing that defined his world had almost been taken away… he bent his head and pinched his palms.
“And now, greater measures have been put in place to ensure that your daughter’s life is no longer jeopardized.”
Pinching his palm was not working. In fact they had curled into fists already. He bit his lips.
“Two nurses have been assigned to carry out a routine check on your daughter every five minute. And you know what? I even offered an increase in pay to any one of them that sits watch over your daughter for a complete –”
There was no time to complete the statement. The doctor swallowed the last words on the ground with a mouthful of blood. He never expected what happened. A strong fist – Ochuko’s – just appeared like a flash and struck him squarely on the mouth. That same instant, he was lying on the ground with his seat still under his buttocks, only awkwardly.
“I’d give you five minutes to clean up yourself and meet me at the door. We need to discharge my daughter immediately.”
It was all he could do from beating Doc Al to mashed sardines. The whole thing was extending its root into his brain. He might go mad with anger.
Doc Al was grateful for receiving just a blow, though the blow had caused serious damage. He had bitten deep into his tongue and one of his teeth was no longer sure of it’s stand on his gum. There was no way he could match that blow. He was no fair match to the man. And from the look of things, the man was very angry. He had always been the prey to bullies all through his school days, so he clearly understood that popular saying, “even in your anger, I’d still beat you hands down.”
He was not angry at all, he just had his mind made. This singular act had helped him confirm his earlier idea of putting things into motion. He could clearly see an impending WWE heavyweight championship.
He got up, spat blood into a part of a cloth -his former lab coat, and used a different part to wipe at his mouth. His upper lip had burst open too. He tucked his shirt neatly into his trousers and picked up a new lab coat. After that he grabbed a pen and wrote on his note pad:
- Give Sandy’s boyfriend or fiance a call and tell him Sandy has been discharged. That it was after being convinced by a man that she affirmed to be her real fiance.
- Check out Ochuko’s details and send Cas his residential address. Inform him that they both drove to his home in the man’s ride.
- Try to also tell him that you think he’s really her hus–
Ochuko’s knock on the door made him fling the pen away. He cleared his throat and said in a cheery voice: Just a minute Please.
He meant to complete the reminder but he couldn’t see where the pen had landed. He hoped he would remember what he wanted to write when he revisited the reminder. That should be in the next thirty minutes or an hour at most. He stepped out.
“Lead the way.” Ochuko instructed, and the doctor meekly complied with a wry smile on his face.
* * *
Sandy watched the same smiling nurse that had dropped her a tray loaded with medications some minutes ago swagger into the ward, yes, that was what she did, and bit her tongue in an attempt to keep from laughing aloud. The lady thought she was a model on the runway, her hair was even free. Warm air blew it backwards, disclosing a perfectly round face. She was beautiful anyway, Sandy gave her that.
“I guess you called me just now.” The nurse inquired.
Of course she had. She had not done that directly anyway, she didn’t know any of their names. She only rapped furiously on the tray on the table. But now the nurse had arrived, she appeared to be deep in thought.
“Madam.” The nurse called, “are you alright?”
“Not really.” Sandy replied in the feeblest of voices and gave a weak smile. “I don’t know if you can help me unwrap the bandage on my head.”
“That would not be proper Ma. You should still carry it on for some days until the doctor says otherwise.”
“I know. What I meant was for you to come and check it out. I think this one has soaked up blood and needs changing.”
Understanding dawned on the nurse’s face then.
“Very well then. Just put your head in place. It might hurt you a little.” She said and came forward.
She began loosening the bandage, it was indeed soaked with blood. The wound inflicted by the stool still looked fresh. She neatly folded the used bandage and placed it on the tray.
“Let me get a new bandage to dress the wound.” She said.
“Alright. Just take your time okay? I think I’m enjoying the feel of the breeze on my head. That bandage felt like bondage.”
The nurse chuckled as she lifted the tray off the table. She turned to leave.
“Oh please, one more thing.” Sandy said, pleading with her eyes. “Can you please get me my hand bag? It’s over there. I need to use the mirror, and maybe apply some makeup.”
The nurse grinned this time, she looked like what Sandy’s demand resonated with her.
“You’re just like me.” She said. “I don’t joke with my makeup oh. Can you believe that I sometimes apply it in the market, in the shop of the last trader I patronize?”
“Wow!” Sandy exclaimed albeit she wasn’t the least thrilled about the information. And she left it at that, she was not in the mood to gossip either. All she needed was to get the hell out of the hospital.
After waiting a couple of seconds in silence, she realizing that the chat was over (Sandy had already fished out her makeup kit). She – Zara – turned to leave.
“Oh please one last thing before you leave. Thank you.”
Zara smiled still but Sandy could read the angry expression hidden beneath the smile. The smile was all too phony, exactly what professionalism taught.
“I think you would have to help me deliver a message to the doctor before you get the bandage. Tell him I’m sorry for shouting at him, he can come and talk to me now.” She paused, and then, “do you know if he love his ladies natural or on makeup?”
At this, Zara let out hearty laughter. When she realized that she was going loud, she cupped her mouth with her palm. Tears gathered in her eyes, and Sandy wondered what element of her question was that rib cracking.
“Yes yes yes.” She nodded abruptly. “You need to see the way he gapes at me every morning when I’m still fresh on makeup. Like dog on bone. You know, we resume our day shift by 10 am, so I just get enough time to reach Macy’s. That woman is a makeup sage.”
“Maybe you should visit Macy’s when you’re finally discharged. You would be surprised at how sparkly you can look.” Zara finished.
“I’d keep a date with her then, if you say so.”
“You would not regret it in your lifetime.”
“Okay. Please you have to get to the doctor first before you get the bandage. It’s that important. You get that?” Sandy sent a wink.
“Like Mad.” Salacious Zara winked back and hurried out of the ward.
Sandy felt the urge to take one full minute to applaud herself. That was perfect. She never believed she could accomplish such deception without any flaw. All she wanted was to freeze time so that she could find a way to escape. And she had succeeded.
She wasn’t oblivious of the fact that the time she had bought for herself was sparse. She quickly dabbed powder on her face, applied lip gloss and wrapped her hair in a scarf she discovered from her bag. She was glad the injury hadn’t been on her forehead, there would be no way to disguise that.
She sprang up from the bed, slipped her legs into her flat shoes and moved to the door. A minute pain began to form in her head, and she understood that it was going to grow to become a storm of pain later.
The passage appeared to be clear, not a single person in sight nor a single spoken word heard. Sandy stealthily slipped out of the door and hung her bag on her shoulder. She took a deep breath and let it out almost immediately. It surprised her to find that she wasn’t afraid, not the slightest bit. She took sure unhurried steps down the passage and on reaching the reception area, began to whistle.
* * *
The previous plan she had made with Jude her Teddy companion had been useless. It lacked all concrete purpose and precise steps a true plan possessed. It took the newspaper she had settled down later to have a glimpse at to realize this. The plan had one recurring line in each step:
…THEN WE WOULD BE INSIDE HIS HOUSE…
Wunmi had picked the newspaper on her way back home from church. She had merely done it out of habit, and it was funny habit because the most she did to these papers was glance at the pictures. Then it went to join the others in the newspaper rack. This was something she picked from her Dad, only unlike him, she always eliminated the reading process. Reading papers required a lot of patience which she did not have.
Just there on the front page was her man shaking hands with another man the paper identified as Mr Jide Okafor, former owner of Atlantic group of companies. The headline of the paper read:
ATLANTIC GROUP OF COMPANIES FINALLY BOUGHT OVER
From the way Ochuko was grinning in the picture, it was obvious that he was the brain behind the buyout. She felt very happy for his achievement, and realized how complete the joy would have been if she was already his. She might even appear there in the paper, right next to him. And afterwards, they would get drunk on expensive wine and have rough, wild sex. She hated that this was not already happening… and wait a minute, the celebration of the buyout was just yesterday, the day of their meeting. Why then had he looked so sad and lonely?
She knew the answer immediately. His wife was no more to celebrate his achievement. Also the biggest mistake of her life came rushing to her. She could see how hurt he had looked seeing his daughter in agony; an agony she caused. She could make things right, she knew she could.
Oh dear, and who do we have in the background also smiling, but sheepishly?
Who else other than Mr Ogundele, Modupe’s husband. How could she not have known all these while that her younger sister’s husband had been working hand in hand with her Chuks. She knew from firsthand information that Dele was the major shareholder of the firm he worked for.
Things were beginning to get served on a platter of Gold.
She had reached a conclusion, and there was no way it would be wrong: Mr Ochuko was Mr Ogundele’s subordinate in the firm.
Wunmi was high on happiness. She grabbed Jude and hugged him tight, not minding if his seams let go in the process. She even kissed his black-buttoned nose. She stretched an arm to get her bag and poured out the content on the table. She saw the item of her attention and picked it.
“Hello, Dele.” She whispered into the phone.
“Oh my God! Wunmi, you shouldn’t… we agreed…”
She bit a finger in a naughty manner and smiled. She let the memory of her last encounter with her sister’s husband fill her. It was not a nice one, but considering what she planned to do, it was.
It had been two year ago on one of her visits to see Dupe who was then heavy with her first child. She had come to help her out with all the domestic chores there was to do, so she would refrain from labouring herself so much. She had been warmly accepted by the couple, unlike her other brothers and sisters. In little time, she had already blended with the family. She would sometimes engage Dele in long conversations (one of such conversations had disclosed what the paper now proved) and very quickly, they had become fond of each other.
On one of the nights she spent with her sister’s family, Dele had behaved funny. She had been deep in sleep when she felt something walking under her night robe. At first it seemed to her like a dream, but when the sweet sensation from the teasing of her hard nipples hit her brain, she began to doubt it was a dream. As if that had not been enough, something began moving over her soft spot. She had jerked up from the bed the moment the thing began to slip inside her. It withdrew immediately, and she saw a figure rushing towards the door. On impulse, she had quickly pulled the string of her bedside lamp and the light came on to reveal the midnight intruder. It was Mr Ogundele.
Shame, embarrassment and regret where the three unmistakable emotions that characterized him as he stood frozen by the door. Wunmi had been madly angry, but in an odd way had kept her calm. Knowing who her sister was, she understood what would become of their relationship if she raised an alarm. He had pleaded more than a frightened kid caught stealing meat from the pot would have pleaded. She forgave him but never forgot it, and after returning back to her place months later, she dreaded going to spend nights at Modupe’s place.
She would make the old prick pay back.
“Yes, we agreed we shouldn’t talk to each other again, nor see each other.” Wunmi helped him with the words he seemed to be choking on.
“And by God! This is my private number. What are you thinking?”
“Sho? So I can’t freely have my In-law’s number and talk with him. Have you become such a hotcake?”
“See, you know your sister is very suspicious. She has asked me a couple of times if I liked you?”
“And you said, ‘of course I do, why not? Can’t you see she’s hot.'” Wunmi teased.
“Jesus! No way, I can’t say I like you.”
“So you don’t?” She raised her voice threateningly.
“No, not at all. I mean Yes. You’ve got the curves and you’re full and… but I can’t tell my wife this naw. Ehn”
Despite how much she wanted to smile all through this discussion, the muscles of her face tensed up at his confession. She was disgusted, but she played along.
“I’m coming to the house today anyway, thought it would be nice to inform you first. And you can have my body.”
“Sisi mi, do you mean this? When–” he stopped speaking and she could distantly hear Modupe ask what he was smiling about. He said nothing, and then she heard footsteps. He was moving away from his wife’s ear reach.
“See Wunmi, we can do it somewhere else. A hotel would be just fine.”
“That’s only if you’d be lodging with my sister.”
She got the reply she expected.
“How!?” The confusion and shock was not missing.
“I want to have sex with you on your matrimonial bed. I’d sneak in on you when I’m sure she’s asleep. And we’d do it right there. We’d rattle the bed baby.”
“It can’t work that way na, Sisi. Dupe would wake up and catch us.”
“And so? Are we doing anything bad. Is it not what you want? Now I want it too.”
“Please Wunmi. Let’s just forget about this. We have agreed that–”
“See wahala oh. Were you not the one saying now that we should go to a hotel? You want it and you don’t want it. Are you confused?”
“No no no.” He whined, she could hear it clearly. A smile escaped her lips. “I don’t want it. Ever and ever again.”
“Anyway, that one is your business. I want it now and I’m coming. I would have it as I said I would. Unless–”
“Unless what?” There was desperation this time.
She kept silent.
“Sisi mi please talk now.”
“Shey I’m the one that called you. It’s my credit so don’t hurry me. I’m thinking.”
“Okay. But there’s no time. The family is going to the cinema this afternoon. My wife is almost prepared.”
“Well… I’d come and meet you guys in the cinema then. Shey it’s Silverbird’s?”
“Please Wunmi. Forgive me for everything. You know I’m a man not a wood, I love… just forgive me. You can ask for anything and I’d give you. Don’t come over.”
She understood that he would cry if she pressed on. He was on the verge of tears already and there just was no way he could kill the call. It would mean a definite YES for her.
“Okay. See what you would do for me.”
“Anything, just mention it and It’s done.”
“Do you know Ochuko?”
“Ochuko? What about him? He’s our brain box. But he doesn’t–”
“Shut up Dele.”
And he did shut up.
“Place me to work as his partner. Monday, I’m starting work.”
“Jesus Christ! That is very unethical Wunmi. You don’t just bring in anonymous partners and impose it on the–”
“They’ve warned me.” Wunmi said, all business now. “The network people. If you don’t give me a yes now and this call ends, I’d come over to discuss it in bed with you. I’d achieve two things that way.”
There was silence on the other end of the line except for his laboured breathing. It continued for a little while. Wunmi was losing her patience.
“Ochuko is a tough and principled man. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He said at last, then, almost grudgingly, “consider it done.”
Wunmi hit the red button, slid the phone over the table and jumped into the bed. She would get her man back.