* * *
Mrs Osifo, Sandy’s neighbour who had provided the car which conveyed Sandy to the hospital sat slumped on a couch in the waiting room, deep in thought. She muttered words of prayers that were only made audible in her heart, she wished they would ameliorate the fear that clouded her mind. The forlorn expression still remained on her face and her eyes were puffed up and bloodshot from lack of sleep and occasional tears. She thought back to that sunny afternoon, ten years ago when she had entered into the sitting room to meet her only daughter in a bloody pool, the old fashioned air conditioner- which was the costliest thing in the house then- was on and it hummed noisily as it cooled the atmosphere, chilling her daughter’s blood. She had ran out of the door in pure fright and screamed the loudest she could but no one came to her attention. She had to run to the first store in the street to drag the first person she could lay her hand on back to the apartment. Other people had come along then, sensing her fear and they helped her rush her daughter to the hospital. The doctor had smiled sweetly to her like a lover about to say those reaffirming three words to his sweetheart, when he disclosed to her that her daughter had been dead long before she was brought to the hospital.
She had met the situation again last night and the victim was one who reminded her very much of her daughter. A replay of the past was all this was and she felt like she had felt then – a little child watching creep show on the television and scared to death but would not leave his seat or turn off the television for curiosity’s sake, wanting to see how the end would turn out. She broke out of her paralysis then and went to meet Sandy’s helper, doubting all the while that that was what he was.
“How’s your head now?” She asked Casmir who was pacing about the room with his hands in his pocket.
“It’s a little better now, the pain has dulled and I’m sure that I would live. But my nose–” he shook his head.
“What about the nose?”
“That was where the bastard had hit me,” he saw her flinch at the words and smiled. “Well, I didn’t mean to call him that but really, he’s not so far from being one.”
“Who is this other person you are talking about? Can you just tell me what happened, hopefully I would be on the same page with you.”
He smiled at the mild way she had made her proposal when the look on her face said differently. She looked frightened, on the verge of breaking down and… there was something else he felt as he stared her straight in the eyes. Was it distraught he was seeing in those eyes? Was it something else? Whatever it was, it didn’t look friendly, she didn’t look like she’d be the calm person her countenance were displaying… he was still in stress and she probably was stressed out too, so he let the intuition pass.
“Okay–” he said, thinking of how best to start his story, realizing that the real story, the true story began with him being stoned. That would create a wrong impression on the woman. “Okay, okay–”
“Okay. At least you can start with your name, who you are to Sandy, how you happened to be in her apartment last night. This should be the guideline to the whole narration as well as summary of the whole long story.”
He imagined her to be an English teacher but didn’t ask.the situation didn’t warrant that. Instead he said:
“Okay, I’m Cas, Sandy’s fiancé.” He paused to watch her comprehend his position in Sandy’s life but when her expression did not change, he continued. “We were returning from a joint where we had gone to eat isi ewu, it was Sandy’s request. She liked that delicacy more than anything. We’ve had many quarrel in our long relationship because of my occasional refusal of her isi ewu proposal. You know, I had to refuse sometimes. I read an article once that confirmed that delicacy to be poisonous to the human health.”
“How many years have you two been dating?” She asked, hardly concealing her excitement.
“Four, five…I can’t really say.”
“That long?” She put on a perplexed look, “What then are you waiting for before you get married? Judgement day?”
He chuckled. “We are engaged already and very soon-”
“Please lets not deviate from the story.” she cut him off with a hasty wave.
“Every man knows that isi ewu don’t go down well without beer. Sandy knows that too and she does not have any problem with that but the trouble came afterwards when I had downed four bottles and started talking. You understand what I mean right?”
“She wouldn’t let me drive back home in that state. We left my car parked there beside the joint and walked down to Sandy’s apartment which was somehow close and… and I felt like the night would be complete with a foreplay just at the entrance of the apartment. You know, I was high and she was in her happiest moods and… and the place was dark and quiet. So I kissed her there, with her back pressing to the door and she returned the kiss and–” he stopped when he noticed her face flush with embarrassment.
There was a certain kind of satisfaction Cas felt then at having told the unfortunate and bitter beginning in a very subtle – if not emotional – way. He thought of all the times he had lied his way into and out of situations. Maybe he would find have to find a way of making money from his mendacity. With the barrier to the story neatly put away, he told the remaining of the story up to the point when She had come into the room with a flashlight.
“You have killed the poor girl.” Mrs Osifo said when Cas was done narrating his story and the tears she had wedged like a dam broke free and flowed down her cheeks. “Sandy is dead and you killed her. You hear me? You killed her.”
“What are you saying?” Cas asked, drawing closer to her.
“Don’t touch me, you killer.” Her voice rose a step higher as she drew away from him. “Her blood is on your head and you will pay for your evil doings.”
“But I told you everything that happened, about the other man and moreover, Sandy would not die. She can’t die.” He was greatly distressed.
“She is dead. See.” She pointed a finger behind him.
The cold certainty in her tone and the grim look on her face forced him to turn back. The doctor, a small man with a goatie sprouting from his pointed jaw, approached them in commercial artist grin. It was a grin of hope and Cas couldn’t help but return his grin.
“It’s nothing. He would just inform us that-” he withheld the remaining words. Mrs Osifo was gone and the bang of the entrance door confirmed it. He sighed and turned back to face the doctor.
Finally out of the mad house (for this was all madness) and away from her recurring past, Mrs Osifo took out her phone from her purse, sat down in the driver seat of her sky blue Peugeot 406, to the rough beat of her heart and dialed the number of her younger brother, an officer of the law and the only family she had left. She would make a difference this time, she said to herself as she made her report. Someone would have to pay for another’s hurt.
* * *
So much drama had happened in the hospital this morning and Dr Al Ameen felt more impending dramas.
The first was between the woman and the young man that had brought Sandy to the hospital. Minutes after disclosing to the young man who claimed to be her fiancé that his fiancée had just taken the bold walk back to the world, the aged woman had come in with two men who appeared to be policemen and they immediately seized the young man. The policemen wouldn’t give any explanation for the arrest other than they were working on an order from thee top. The young man tried to resist and got butted in the head with a baton, he blanked out instantly and they dragged him out through the door without caring a thing. He had tried to protest then but got the nozzle of a gun staring dead at him. The whole thing had this military regime feel that held him silent till the show was over.
Minutes later a shriek had rang throughout the building, startling those awake and awakening those who were asleep. A man kicked against the entrance door violently with his foot and rushed in with a screaming little girl lying on both hands.
“Please someone should shut the child up before we all go mad here.” An angry faced woman in her early fifties cried, poking out her head from one of the wards and roaming terrified eyes about the waiting room.
“Where’s the doctor!” The man screamed into the face of the nurse who rushed to attend to him. “I need him here and now. Go and get him, my daughter is in pains. Go!”
The last command saw the nurse performing a perfect sharp turn, she bumped into the doctor who was already behind her and lost her footing. He caught her in time and discharged her to other duties.
Together he and the girl’s father who identified himself as Mr Ochuko tried to pacify the girl, reassuring her that she was no longer on fire and that she would still be the pretty little girl she was, as these were her major concern. He had examined the burns, they were not the serious sort – a first-layer burn. It wasn’t something much to make a fuss about. But he remembered then how this same thought had led to the death of a patient- Sandy’s mother – and wasted no further time in carrying out the first aid treatments. The disclosure of the death was still a difficulty to him.
Just when things had smoothened up a bit, a nurse came to inform him that Sandy had awakened and needed to talk with him. He sighed, shook hands with Ochuko who had already started telling his daughter some folk tales, and left for Sandy’s ward which was the ward adjacent the one Ochuko and his daughter were in.
* * *
Something was not right about the way she was feeling, she seemed to be struggling to move her feet and then somehow they struck a wooden box lying on the ground. The impact of her kick forced the box open and a figure popped out of it like a Jack in the box. She tried to scream but that was difficult also. A bright light bathed the figure that had popped out from the box, and to her greatest horror, the figure was her mother. Her head was cockeyed and her hands dangled lifelessly about her sides, but the eyes staring deep into hers were full of life and held a secret humour. This was some sort of prank, she thought in a dreamy way with her eyes popping out of their sockets in fright.
“Life is beautiful. Don’t leave it darling. Good things and good times are coming.” Her mother said without the slightest movement of the lips.
“This is not real mom. You can’t be like this, you can’t.” She finally spoke out but they came out muffled.
The figure returned to the box in the same manner with which it had come out, the box banged shut and floated into space before it finally disappeared out of sight. She shouted then but what escaped her lungs was nothing but a cough.
She opened her eyes to the reality around her. She was lying on a bed and to be sure she wasn’t still constrained, she rolled once on the bed. The action was smooth and that was just fine to her. She took all of the room into her visual modality, registering as much details about the place as she can. The place was familiar, she knew that but couldn’t tell what made it so. She brought herself to a sitting position, placing the white pillow behind the small of her back and resting on it. A sharp pain registered inside her head and she placed her hands over her head. She felt a tightly woven material circling her head, just below her hair line and realized at once what it was and where she was.
Just then, a nurse carrying a stainless tray entered into the room, realized she was awake and offered her a charming smile as she walked over to her.
“How are you feeling now miss Sandy?” The smiling nurse asked.
“Not too good.” She said then motioned for the nurse to come closer. When she did, she whispered into her ear, “is this the hospital my mind is telling me?”
“Which hospital is your mind telling you?” Smiley nurse asked in a soft and sweet voice, still smiling.
“That is right. Thank God your memory is still in tact. Here, just rest some more–”
“Don’t you remember me? The lady whose mother was admitted here some days ago?” She asked the nurse who has gotten busy arranging the contents of her tray. “How is my mom now?”
“You need some rest dear. You’re still recovering.” She replied and flashed her another smile.
There was some form of restlessness in that smile, Sandy saw it and the dream came back to her. A bad feeling had taken over her, she felt her fear heightening but refrained from pressing further the question, for fear of what the answer might turn out to be.
“Can you please get me the doctor?” She asked.
“You should rest some more first, the doctor is attending to other patients. By the time you’d wake up from the rest, he’d be free then. Hopefully.”
“What’s up with all these rests?” She flashed the smiling nurse a burning glance and her smile disappeared. “Have I not rested enough? Or do you plan to kill me while I rest?”
“Oh no. We save lives here.”
“Then save me my life as well as my time by getting me the doctor.” At an afterthought she added: “please.”
The nurse abandoned the tray on a small table beside her bed and briskly walked out of the room with all smiles gone from her pretty face and she looked even prettier that way.
Sandy tried to recall the last thing that happened before she woke up to find herself here. She knew she had been in her house the night before with a guy? a man? It didn’t matter which. His name was quite funny, something like Bob or Bobo; remembered that he was indeed a funny fellow and she had warmed up to him easily in a way she had never warmed up to any man. More than that, she had gone as far as to share her misfortune with him and he was willing to help, she had told that from the look in his eyes. She had also seen clearly from those same look in his eyes that he was already in love with her and somewhere in her she had known it wouldn’t take her long to love him back. Then what?
He had asked her about what would happen to Cas. Yes, that was the last that happened before… before what?
Talk about the devil… Talk about the devil…
What could that mean? Her eyes suddenly lit up with understanding. Somehow, Cas had found his way into the room and just as she was about to pronounce his fate, he took off her lights. That was what would have happened. Nothing else.
Talk about the devil…
There was no two ways about it now, it was over between both of them. Whatever love she had for him was replaced with contempt. She wondered what had become of Bobo, she subscribed to the happy thought of him dealing mercilessly with Cas the second time and bringing her to this place so that she would live. Behold her saviour. Whatever has become of Cas, she wasn’t satisfied. He had done so many terrible things to her to go unscathed, she must take her revenge, sure she would. Isn’t revenge a bitch?
Her mother and the thoughts of footing two medical bills this time bore down on her and she realized that life wasn’t getting any fairer. There, she’d be needing another saviour…
The creaking of the door brought her back to her present world. Doctor Al walked in briskly to her bed with a straight face that concealed every emotion. He sat down beside her on the bed and held her hand in both of his, massaging it lightly as he spoke.
“How are you feeling, miss Sandy.” He asked in a clear, rich voice.
“That was exactly the same question smiley nurse asked me. Is that a standard operating procedure?”
He threw his head back and let out a hearty laugh that lasted only for a short period. He looked charming while he smiled, with eyes glittering and fine goatie moving up and down. There was that brief moment when Sandy felt like reaching out to touch his goatie before a flush of embarrassment brought her back to her senses.
“I can see you’re fine. Thank God you didn’t sustain any injury on your beautiful face.” He said.
“Oh that?” She blushed. “Thank God. But my head aches like mad.”
“Sure it has to, it would be abnormal if you don’t feel any pain. You managed to survive a fracture of the skull.”
“Jesus!” She exclaimed. “I wouldn’t have been alive and talking to you then, would I?”
He did not reply and when she sensed that the silence would stretch longer still she let out the question that had threatened her peace of mind.
“Your mother? She should be fine.” Doc Al answered, flashing her a no-good smile.
“What do you mean by should?” She asked, sitting up straight as her heartbeat picked up speed.
“See, there’s something you should know about the human life. It is only-”
“Temporary. Right?” She finished his sentence. “Life sucks doctor. You know that too?”
A heavy drop of tears traced its course through her cheek, she wiped it off with the back of her hand and tried to maintain her composure. The dream was true after all. She’d always seen dreams as some sort of revelation and there, the one she had awoken from was not far from it, her greatest fear has been confirmed.
“You should take heart dear. It is even more important that you show gratitude to God that you are still alive.” He said.
“Yes, be grateful to him for the miserable life he has left me to live. Be grateful that my only hope and happiness in this world was taken at such an early time. Be grateful that I’m now an orphan without a job and nothing to survive on. What else is there to be grateful for? Tell me doctor, what else?” She asked, letting her anger flow without any restraint, they had to be let out once and for all.
Fresh tears streamed down her face, she wept and her body diddered from the force of it. Doctor Al shifted closer to her and collected her in an embrace, reducing her noisy sobs to occasional snuffles.
“You have not lost all Sandy, you still have me. I am here for you now, and always will be there for you.” He said.
“What do you mean by you’re there for me?” She asked, taking her tearstained face away from his chest. “You’ve been here for me to see me struggle back to life and so far as I’m concerned, that’s as far as being there for me can go. My medical bill would still be here for me to pay.”
“There are no medical bills.”
“You can’t be serious.” She said, “Doctor please. Lets get you to understand this situation very well. I’m not vulnerable yet and I don’t need you to start being charitable to me out of pity. I mean, just try to understand that I’m a grown woman and I can do my things and tend for myself. I don’t need any help from you other than doing whatever you have to do for my quick recovery. How many more days would I be staying here?”
He sighed and answered. “Probably a long period of time.”
He got up from the bed and went over to the tray the nurse had left on the small table.
“Come on Doctor, I feel good, even better. Why would I have to stay longer?” She said, raising her voice a little above normal.
“Calm down Sandy. We have to be sure you are perfectly okay before we let you go.”
“I am okay. Didn’t you hear me say that i feel better now. See, my mother is dead already and there’re plenty things to be taken care of. I don’t have to idle my days here like I’m paralyzed. I’m getting out of here.” She stripped away the blanket from her body effortlessly but then, the sharp pain registered again in her head and she screamed.
“Oh God! Can you now see why you have to stay more longer?” He rushed back to her and tried to help her lie on the bed. She resisted and pushed a foot to the ground.
“I have to leave.” She said with her eyes squinched and lips drawn into a snarl.
“You don’t have to leave and you wouldn’t.” He countered.
“I have to, and I would.”
They kept on arguing until a voice from behind made them stop.
“Can I speak with you doctor?” Ochuko asked.
“Oh. Sure you can.” Doc Al straightened , gave Sandy a final warning glance and turned to face Ochuko.
Ochuko was gazing past him at Sandy, his eyes were locked with hers. He didn’t miss out the expression of recognition on their faces. He shook Ochuko’s shoulder.
“Hey. You wanted to see me.” He said.
“Sandy, what happened to you?” Ochuko asked. He ignored the doctor completely and went straight to her bed. He picked up her hand, placed it into his without seeking permission and got himself seated.
For the very first time, Sandy had a good look at the face of the man who had helped her get out of the embarrassment that had sought her in the bus and who was here yet again to see the scars the terrible day had left on her. Worry lines crumpled his forehead and his concentrated gaze was on her, searching her heart and soul. The eyes were gray and lovely. She saw ease of life in this man and knew likewise that he was willing to share it with her. She thought then that this must be love. The sharp pain in her head struck again and this time, she closed her eyes with the pain and every sound began to fade away like she was walking deeper into an empty hallway that stood beside a busy road…
Isi ewu – goat head.