FOR BETTER, FOR WORSE
Daniel clung to the banister and groggily climbed up the stairs, his little head swaying from right to left. He had never had this much alcohol to drink in his life before. He had had a few shots of palm wine at the presidential villa when he suffered a mild case of conjunctivitis and his grandfather had told him it was good for his eyes. From that moment on, his father had been giving him little sips from his brandy, but nothing like today when he had downed almost half a glass of the burning liquid he had found in the kitchen. Now, he was sleepy and he was going to climb up to his room to give into nature’s dizzy spell. He knew his mother would be angry at him when she got back from church but she would pour out her anger on his father instead for allowing him drink.
He crawled up the stairs and the first thing he saw was the children’s sitting room with its large open glass doors that led to the balcony and for the drunk little boy, his bedroom seemed too far away at that moment. The sitting room welcomed him gladly and he staggered into a blast of cool air that hit his face and made him feel tingly, clearing his dizzy spell momentarily. With a few more steps, the five year old walked to the balcony and stood before the railing and in no time, still standing, he rested his head and drifted off to sleep. The last sounds he heard were the voices of his father and his soldier colleagues doing their usual Sunday alcohol get-together downstairs.
Now last month, Luke and Emem had gotten into one of their violent fights in which Emem went into her usual fit of throwing things at Luke. It started in this sitting room. She had hurled a heavy encyclopedia at him, he moved backwards to the balcony to dodge it and in the process, fell backwards, slipped on one of the twins’ toys on the floor and hit his back on the railing. They ended their fight that night and each went to their separate bedrooms but none of them knew that Luke’s fall had made the old, rusted rails loose and the moment their little boy rested his weight on them, they gave way and he fell to the concrete floor beneath.
36 Hours Later
Dressed in casual clothes and accompanied by Jamila and a plain clothes bodyguard, Igwe followed a nurse to the private wing of the Head Trauma Center in West Virginia, USA, where Daniel was hospitalized. When he entered the room and Emem saw him, she rushed into his arms and broke into tears. Luke was sitting in a corner, Daniel’s twin on his lap, deep in sleep.
“It’s okay, Emmy. Daniel will be fine,” Jamila assured her and offered to take the sleeping child from his father but Luke held tight. He hardly noticed the presence of anyone else in the room; his eyes were bloodshot and distant. Occasionally, he would turn to his favorite son and stare at his frail body lying on the hospital bed, his arm over his toy robot but with no sign of life in him. The faint regular sounds coming from the EKG and a respiratory machine were the only assurance that the tiny heart was still alive. Luke feared that any minute now and it would all be silent. Then the world will blame him and tell him it was his fault his wife spent the whole of Sundays praying in church; if he was a better husband and father, she wouldn’t need God. They would also tell him it was his fault he had chosen Daniel as his favorite, pushing David to his mother; if he had loved both boys equally, not separating them, they both would have been under their mother’s protective radar and none of this would have occurred. They would blame him for leaving his glass of brandy unattended in the kitchen and say it was his fault the boy learnt to drink alcohol. Yeah, Luke knew very well what would happen. For the rest of his miserable life, the people that lived in that perfect world in his head that reality could not catch up to, would say the death of Daniel was all his fault.
“I’ll get the doctor,” said the nurse who brought Igwe in and she walked out. With his arm still around Emem, Igwe walked to Daniel and slipped his forefinger through his open palm and mumbled a prayer, then he looked at Luke who was not there with them and sighed. Overnight he had turned into a shadow of the man he used to be.
A doctor walked in, followed by another and a third. Emem went back to her seat beside her son and Igwe turned to the practitioners. The first doctor gave him a handshake, “Mr. President.”
Igwe nodded a brief greeting in return and acknowledged the other doctors.
“I am Doctor Steven O’Grady,” the first introduced, “and these are my colleagues, Doctors Scott Coleman and Wendy White.”
“Can we do this outside?” Igwe said walking out and they followed him to the hallway.
“Mr. President, my colleagues and I sympathize–”
“Get on with what you have to say,” Igwe cut him off.
O’Grady adjusted his glasses and began, “your grandson suffered from multiple fractures in his arms and legs–”
Igwe interrupted again, “I already know that. I want to hear about his open head trauma.”
“Yeah…he suffered severe open head trauma from the fall that–”
“Why are you referring to him in past tense?”
O’Grady became uncomfortable as he cleared his throat and continued, “I’m sorry sir.”
“Is he going to make it?” Igwe asked.
“I…am afraid not, sir. Daniel is…brain dead. I’m…sorry, Mr. President.”
Igwe crossed his arms and leaned on the wall beside him, looking straight into O’Grady’s eyes, making him even more uneasy. “So you’re saying there is no electrical activity and no clinical evidence of brain function?”
“Yes, sir. We did everything but it seemed apart from the insult of the initial trauma, he suffered from secondary brain injury maybe through transit…”
Wendy White cut in, “the doctors back in Nigeria did a great job or it could have been worse than this.”
“How are you sure he is brain dead? Is he not the one I see lying on the bed in there?”
O’Grady replied, “there are certain tests we ran which proved a complete absence of brain function—an absolutely flat electroencephalogram–”
“But he is still breathing!”
“Mr. President, to state or pronounce a person brain dead in the United States is a severe medical and legal process, usually requiring neurological exams by two independent doctors, hence the presence of my colleagues. The procedure entails scrupulous examinations to establish if the patient is really brain dead or is in a coma.”
“Just how sure are you that he’s not going to make it?”
White stepped in again, “Mr. President, sir…all you and your family can do right now is spend time with him.”
Igwe took a step closer towards O’Grady, piercing his eyes with his. The doctor tried to hold his gaze but failed and looked down. Something about the man’s eyes scared him deeply.
“And if I am not satisfied with your drawn conclusions and I decide to take him elsewhere, would it be a waste of my time and my resources?”
“This hospital is the best head trauma center in the world. Yes sir, yeah, it would be a waste.”
Igwe rested a warning hand on his shoulder for four long seconds. “For the sake of your reputation, pray to God that you are right.”
He walked back inside.
A Day Later
A second bed was brought into the room for David and placed beside Daniel’s the night before. If Luke ever thought any of his sons was going to spend time in the hospital, it had to be David who was born with Chronic Lung Disease. Daniel also had his own health issues but he overcame them in the first two months and grew to be a normal baby while his twin was near death his whole first year. It was during this time, Luke bonded with Daniel and changed his name to Leonel, meaning ‘young lion’ for to him he won where his brother lost. Now, he wasn’t so sure; the picture looked utterly hopeless. Both boys were bedridden and the doctors had told him this morning that if David didn’t get better by the next day, they might have to transfer him to another hospital for specialist care. His recovery depended on his brother’s a great deal. Luke understood this; he was a twin himself. So different from his sister, Jamila in so many ways especially in ethical matters, yet there was a bond between them that made him feel her heart millions of miles away.
Luke shifted his eyes to his wife and wondered how she was bearing up. The twenty-two year old who was more woman than most her age was resting on a couch by one of the windows, her eyes to the ceiling and lips moving in prayer. He loved her immensely but would never tell her lest it got to her head. Truth was he was madly in love with her and would turn the world away in an instant just to be with her for all of his life. He knew he had his guilty pleasure with his long-standing mistress who also had a son for him but Emem would always be the One. No one knew her like he did. To them, they saw a girl filling in shoes too big for her; to him, she was all woman if she could take him and his crazy all in and not lose herself in the process. Beauty became her so easily that he wanted desperately to tell the world what he felt each time he looked at her. She had this dimple on her left cheek that deepened whenever she smiled and he would just forget his name and become lost. Or was it her graceful fingers that God created and fell in love with so much he just had to take away her voice so the world could see his handwork? How about her lips that hardly ever moved yet spoke volumes every time he felt them between his?
A shiver passed through Emem and she was forced to open her eyes and look in the direction of the door and she saw Luke staring her way. He noticed her looking back at him and pulled himself away from his brief succor to the reality before him.
“The American Catholic people, and a whole bunch of religious zealots are standing outside in prayers and are going to be there all day and the next until they pull the plug.”
Slowly Emem sat up, and looked at him with a question in her eyes.
“May we speak outside?” he asked and she picked her crucifix and followed him out. He gently led her to the wall beside the window and she peeped in on her boys. “Em, Leo…Daniel is brain dead, meaning he is dead without that machine in there. The doctors are waiting for your word.”
She shook her head vigorously and turned away but he blocked her with his arm.
“He is dead. Read my lips, Emem. Dead. You have to come to terms with the reality of the situation.”
She shook her head again.
“There are people outside who have better things to do with their lives and who I would not have putting their white American noses into my personal affairs. Do you hear? So I want you to tell the doctor that he can just end my son’s misery or I swear that I will enter there and do it myself.”
She held him tightly, begging him with her eyes and noticed that he was in tears.
“Give me one more day,” she said, her lips moving. “Just today, and you can do anything after that.”
“One more day for what? For God to step in and do magic?” He forced her head to the window to look at their sons once more. “Do you need a sign from heaven before you can see that God has abandoned us?”
She tried to move away from him but he pushed her back.
“Emem, he is gone.” His lips trembled fiercely, “please, let him go. I can’t…I can’t stand him like this. I blame myself and forever will but please, lessen the pain for me.”
Still mouthing her words, she hit him in the chest, pushing backwards, “Daniel will live!”
He shook his head in tears, drew her back and rested his weight on her. “Please, please hold me. Please,” he sobbed. She put her arms around him and as he felt her hands gently caress his back, he held her tight for strength.
To be continued. . .
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