Tooooot! Tooooot! The trailer’s blaring horn cut rudely into Awazi’s thoughts. “Oh my days!” she exclaimed. Today, of all the immeasurable number of days in time, Lagos-Ibadan expressway had chosen to be the meeting point of the world union of traffic inducing demons. As her husband would say, the traffic tie wrapper, come wear bandana join dey dance atilogwu. Even a slither of water would not find its way through this bumper to bumper traffic mess, and expectedly, they had passed a generous sprinkling of vehicles that had coughed and given up whatever ghost cars possessed parked by the roadside. The one hour journey from Lagos to Ibadan on a normal day had taken them four hours today. And they had just barely gone past Ogere trailer park. Her only consolation was that her husband Derin had just changed his car. If it had been their old Honda, the air conditioning would have done nothing to alleviate the searing heat. She balanced in the rear seat (popularly called Owner’s Corner) of Derin’s new Kia Sportage jeep. The fact that this was an automatic transmission car also kept him in high spirits during the trip. Had it been their old manual transmission Honda, he would have been a grumpy grouch by now. Derin had done well for the family. He had finally made that move from his old generation, meager salary paying bank to an oil servicing firm whose name eluded her now. And voila, within a year of that move, they had been able to change the car, and had now moved away from Shomolu to finally go to that nice spot behind E-Center in the Sabo area of Lagos she had always wanted them to go to. Life was looking up.
“Your ogo looks very knock-able from behind” she said, playfully rubbing his clean shaven head now. Derin laughed without taking his eyes off the road, trying to inch ahead of the minibus that was trying to reenter the road from the red sands of the patch between the road and the bush beside it. “You this Eggon woman from the bushes of Nassarawa wants to slap a full grown Yoruba man’s head. Abomination! We Ibadan men require the liver of a male snail as sacrifice for such atrocities o.”
They both laughed as she rose to kiss the back of his head “how about that kind of head slapping, Mr. full grown Yoruba man?” she asked smiling naughtily.
“Haaaa,” he said in mock horror. “This woman, you want to cause an accident abi? And you are doing bad thing in front of the baby, you want to teach him bad bad things?”
As she collapsed into the seat laughing again, the baby chuckled out aloud, seemingly joining her in laughter. She felt a surge of love rise through her being as she looked at him. The baby. Her baby. Their baby. Her, and Derin. It had taken a heart wrenching twelve years for him to come. She had cried, prayed, fought, despaired and nearly given up. It hadn’t been an easy marriage, from the beginning. She was a Hausa speaking, Eggon woman who had spent all her life in Nassarawa. She could hear her father drilling it into her head from when she was old enough to understand the word ‘marry’.
“Awazi, my daughter,” he would say, giving her one of his carefully selected serious looks. “Ours is a small and close knit tribe, and we enjoy peace with ourselves. When you are of age, we will find you a nice Eggon man, and you will marry him.” She remembered rolling her eyes internally, but nodding obediently as she was expected to.
NYSC came and for the first time, it had taken her out of her cul de sac in Nassarawa. Her father had repeated the warnings when she was leaving but she hadn’t heard them. He was the proper Ibadan Yoruba boy and they had met when he came to work in Calabar, while she was serving there. Both parents didn’t want the marriage. Her father had exploded in rage when she brought the matter up. But Derin was a charmer. By means she could never understand, Derin managed to win his affection and his blessing to take his daughter as wife. She was elated. So, marry, they eventually did, and she had settled with him in Lagos. That had been the number one wahala. Lagos was simply too close to Ibadan, and her mother in-law didn’t think much about barging in on them. Shebi she would have preferred her son to marry a properngbati ngbati woman like her. After three years without having a child, her mother in-law turned the heat up. She visited every weekend, and spoke Yoruba all through her stay. The only English words she spoke were directed at her and they were a sarcastic “one day you will confess what you have used all your unborn children to do, you this man we have married,” or something of the sorts. As the assault got more serious, the relationship between her and Derin deteriorated. It was only a matter of time before the explosion came, and when it did, it nearly blew her marriage to smithereens. She had repeatedly heard rumors that Derin had fathered a child in Ibadan and the child was with his mother, and when the rumors got too much, she had decided to confront him. After all, she had reasoned, there was no smoke without fire. It eventually turned out to be false news, planted by Derin’s mum to incite to act exactly as she had done. Derin had rejected the suggestion when his mum had brought it up, but the woman still found a way to make it hurt. And before it was exposed to be false, it had destroyed the thin fabric that was holding the marriage together.
They had been separated for six months, but Derin (bless him, she thought) came after her, and won her for his wife a second time. It was then they agreed to the ruse that preserved their marriage. They had gotten a new apartment in Shomolu, far from the Abule Egba where they had been staying. Derin then told his mum that he had been transferred to the bank’s regional office in Abuja. They had forged a letter on the bank’s letterhead that Derin brought home, and she had coined the letter to mean a promotion. Overjoyed at her son’s promotion, the woman believed they were really moving to Abuja. They then arranged for some correspondences to be sent to her from a friend in Abuja to her impersonating Derin, sealing their ruse completely. And so they had lived, more happily for five years, while searching for a child.
There had been pregnancies in all those years, but she had lost them all. Seven times, she had had miscarriages. Seven times she had hoped, only to have her hope shattered when she had begun to find hope in her hope. When she had become pregnant for him, she had refused to allow herself hope. As the pregnancy had advanced, the fear and foreboding within her had grown, expecting to see the now familiar telltale blood between her legs at anytime. But the months had passed and he had grown within her. One day, within the eight month, she felt a sharp spasm run through her body. She instantly recognized it for what it was – labor pains. She was beginning labor premature. Forgetting everything she had been taught in antenatal, she panicked. “No,” she had said. “No!” she had screamed. No, it couldn’t not go perfect. Why would she be having a premature child?
Thankfully, it had been a weekend and Derin had been at home. He always hovered around her protectively when she was pregnant anyway, so he wasn’t far off. He had rushed in when she screamed and assessed the situation without a word. With quiet efficiency, he gathered the kit he had practiced putting together over and over again with her, and then gently led her to the car.
The calmness he exuded didn’t translate to his driving though. He drove like a cheetah in pursuit of prey through the free roads and they were in the Surulere hospital Derin used for his HMO in no time. On the way to the hospital, the contractions had gotten more frequent, more intense. When they got to the hospital Derin’s composure was nearly gone. He hurried her in and the nurses who were familiar with their story saw what was going on and quickly took over from him, stretching her to the labor room.
They had endured a grueling two weeks after his birth before the doctors finally pronounced the baby okay. Coupled with the huge bills incurred on the incubator, they were on the edge. They were so unsure, and their faith so battered by years of loss that they chose not to share the birth of their baby with anyone, not even close family and friends. They waited to be sure, and it had taken two weeks. Those two weeks had been the longest in her life. When the doctor finally told them that the baby was out of the woods, she had seen Derin shed silent tears for the first (and the last time) in their marriage. After that, they had called and told everybody. Her whole family, including her father had flown in from wherever in the world they were. Derin’s mum too had come, along with his only sibling, his younger sister. Their father was late by then. Awazi relished the look on her mother in-law’s face when she held the baby. It was a priceless look of someone who now had to eat very big, hurtful words she had said over the years. But she couldn’t deny the pure love she saw shinning through the old woman’s eyes whenever she looked at the baby. In that, they were together. So, after toying with all manner of names of exceedingly great length in her head (she even came up with OluwaVindicateMi), she simply named her baby Isaac, like the biblical Sarah.
“Finally!” Derin exclaimed, bringing her back into the present. “The annoying thing about all this traffic is that you get to the end of it, and find the road free.” True to character, the rest of the journey to Ibadan was smooth. It was when they got to the outskirts of Ibadan that Isaac began to cry uncontrollably. Not the normal baby cries. Piercing, ear shattering cries. But for the mother, it was more than ear shattering, every cry ripped at a shred of her soul’s fabric. Suddenly, he became quiet, and she noticed he stiffened and his little arms and legs began to twitch spasmodically and his breathing became irregular.
Letting out a low gasp, she picked him out of the baby car seat he had been in. She nearly dropped him back into the seat. In the short time it had taken to get to Ibadan from the point where they escaped from the traffic, his temperature had risen dramatically. He was blazing hot. Ever vigilant, Derin had heard her gasp and noticed his wife’s reaction through his rear view mirror and he quickly pulled over. A mob of youths selling all manner of breads and chargers mobbed their car in the hope of making a quick sale but he ignored them all, unshackled himself from the seat belt and twisted around to face her. The baby had started crying again by now, even louder than before.
“What is wrong with him?” he asked, above the cries of the baby.
“I don’t know,” she responded, bewildered. “He seemed perfectly okay in Lagos and I even breastfed him while we were in traffic. This started rather suddenly.”
“We’ll stop by at a hospital I’m familiar with before going to my parent’s place,” he said.
They had agreed that they would not be staying at his parents’ place to forestall friction. They would go visit, but would lodge in a hotel.
He quickly pulled out onto the road, narrowly missing one of the hawkers who hadn’t moved quickly enough. He swore under his breath.
Twenty minutes later, amidst incessant heart wrenching cries from Isaac, and repeated occurrences of the spasms, they arrived at the hospital he had spoken of, one he had been familiar with since he was a boy. It was a white two storey building with well paved lawns and a low fence. Even though there was a sign on the main road, indicating they were at the hospital, they had to turn off the main road into a smaller side road to get to the big black gate that was its entrance. The sign announced that they were welcome to Omega Clinic. Like an expert robber, he parked, unlatched his seat belt and opened the door in one movement. Awazi was still trying to gather all the lose baby things in the car together when he opened the door impatiently. He reached over her and picked the baby up and left the door open. The baby was so hot now he felt his arms warming up uncomfortably as he cradled him in his arms. He quickened his pace to a quick trot. By the time he got to the see through glass door, his wife had caught up with him, with one item or the other falling out of her hands with every step. She didn’t stop to pick any of them. Derin rammed his shoulder in the door to open it.
The hospital reception area was filled with all manner of people. Old, young, healthy looking, and obviously sick. It was a busy day. He cursed his luck as he meandered his way to the mighty looking mahogany receptionist’s desk. Isaac was still crying at the top of his little lungs, the volume of his wailing quite the opposite of how little those lungs must be. The smell of drugs hit him in the face like a punch. It nauseated him but he took no notice of it. There were two nurses at the desk, one middle aged squat woman with rabbit-like teeth visible even when she closed her mouth. The other was a wiry looking nurse. Both were unsmiling, unwelcoming.
“Yes…” the older woman whose name tag said her name was Mercy asked. The question sounded more like a rebuke and her face remained as unwelcoming as it could ever be. She spoke with a slight lisp, no thanks to her teeth.
“My son, he suddenly developed a high fever, is having spasms and is crying uncontrollably, on our way from Lagos. All this started within the last one hour.”
Kaffy, the younger nurse hissed. “So because you are from Lagos now, you think you can come here and jump the queue. Abi you did not see that all the people you passed were waiting since ni?” she clapped her hands together and shook her head “all you these Lagos people sef!”
“Abi o,” Mercy chipped in.
“Ladies,” Derin said impatiently, “if it was not such an emergency, I would have joined the queue. But as it is, this is the first time Isaac here has been sick, and it seems pretty bad.”
Kaffy again eyeballed him and turned away to some paperwork.
Mercy was a bit less hostile “Oga, do you have a card?”
At this point Awazi lost it. “Iskanchi! How can we have a bleeding card! He just clearly said we came here straight from the road. We are not Ibadan people; we came in from Lagos with an emergency involving our only child, a six month old baby. You are a woman and a nurse, and should understand how urgent this is. The infant cannot even say what is wrong with him; the earlier he’s attended to, the better. We will pay whatever it is, just let the baby see a doctor immediately.”
Now Mercy was just as angry as Kaffy. Really, all these Lagos people that would come to Ibadan with all their pomposity. She was used to their type. They would walk in with all their airs and graces with the assumption that Ibadan was some kind of backwater inferior town to their big Lagos. I mean, even Johnson, her younger brother who was thirty before he left Ibadan for Lagos now came back preening around like a cock whenever he was in town from Lagos. Nonsense somebody! What did she mean by “Ibadan people”? And who was she to question her womanhood? And why was this woman giving her orders. She hissed loudly.
“Madam, we don’t attend to anybody that does not have a card in this hospital. Take the corridor to your left to our admin department to go and buy a card and register. And then you will join the queue like everybody else.” And then she too turned her back and joined Kaffy at the paperwork.
Derin considered his options – stay here and spar with these clowns and waste precious time or go in to get the card and by any luck run into a doctor. Doctors were known to act better than nurses in most hospitals.
He quickly made his decision. He handed Isaac over to Awazi and dashed down the corridor like a rabbit down a hole. Seconds later, he had located the admin department. It seemed empty.
“Is there anybody here?” he shouted. Silence
“Is there anybody here!” he shouted louder.
“Oga, you don’t need to shout now, this is a hospital!” someone shouted from within the admin room. The owner of the shouting voice that had told him not to shout emerged from the shadows. How ironical. It was a dark man with thick glasses on.
“How may I help you?” the man queried.
“I need a family card,” Derin responded.
The man slowly turned around and went to get a bunch of keys from a nail on the wall. Then he methodically selected one of the keys, wasting seconds that seemed like hours to Derin.
“Would you please hurry it up Mr.” he said to the man, clearly irritated.
The man ignored him and continued at his unhurried pace. He opened a safe and went through a blue, then green and red card, before finally separating the green card from the three. He then went about putting the other two cards back into the file, locking the safe, putting the bunch of keys back on the nail before returning to Derin. He seemed to be deliberately taking his time and nothing Derin said hurried him up.
Five minutes later, he had paid Three Thousand Naira and filled out loads of forms. Then and only then did the man hand the precious card over to him. Derin bolted from the place back to the reception area.
Apparently, while he had been gone, Awazi had gotten into a shouting match with the two nurses, and had attracted a more senior nurse and a doctor. She was angrily explaining the situation to the doctor when he returned, interjecting her English with a sprinkling of Hausa now, like she did when she was exasperated.
He held the card triumphantly in his hands towards the doctor, and addressing the doctor, he said “sir, now that we have a card, can you please take a look at our baby?”
“Ha, gentleman,” the doctor said, I would love to, but I have about three patients waiting to see me right now, and they are my personal patients.”
Derin did all he could to keep his calm as he explained “Doctor…” he said, looking inquiringly at the doctor who obliged by supplying his name “Hakeem,” he said.
Derin smiled his most beseeching smile “Doctor Hakeem, I understand that these patients have been waiting to see you, and they are important. But you see, this happens to be an emergency…”
Hakeem waved his hand dismissively and interrupted “Mr. Banwo,” he said in a bored voice as if he was explaining a more than obvious point to a dimwit, reading his name off the card “as I have told your wife here, I understand perfectly. But the truth is that every patient feels their own case is an emergency, even the ones with mere headaches and tries to influence us to break protocols for them. It is the Nigerian way, but it is one of our jobs to maintain this order. Hence…”
This idiot was comparing this to a mere headache? Derin couldn’t control himself any longer. “What the fuck are you saying dude! Are you not a doctor? Do six month old babies develop boiling point temperatures over thirty minutes for regular ordinary ailments? You could do your job with some sense and at least take a frigging look at the baby!”
“Mr. Banwo, that is no way to talk to me, I am doing my job by being here and sorting the hullabaloo that you and your equally uncultured wife have raised here. I will not be insulted by your likes. Mr. Banwo…”
“Do not Mr. Banwo me! You are an insensitive clod of cold steel, the whole lot of you. This is not the hospital I remember this place to be as a kid.”
“Well, it is not the hospital you came to as a kid. Things have changed since my father handed over the running of the place to me. I have made some changes and run this place differently now, Mr. We are now modern and orderly, and we have systems and protocols we follow strictly. Now if you don’t mind, I have real work to do.”
As if on cue, everyone went quiet. And it was in that sole moment of quiet that they noticed what had eluded them. For as they shouted and quarreled amongst each other, Isaac had become quiet. And he wasn’t having spasms this time, he was still. Awazi screamed.
Tunde Leye is the author of the blog Finding Hubby, which catalogues the escapades of the well loved Oyin Clegg. He is currently putting finishing touches to his debut novel - Golden Sands, which will be published in Nigeria in October, 2012 and will be available in select stores and on Amazon. Follow him on twitter @tundeleye