For my dad who still checks her car…
For the husband who makes sure her engine is running fine…
Dike was the first at the hospital. It was barely seven when he arrived. He found the nurses praying and he gave them some privacy and stood outside to feel the cool morning air before the harsh sun appeared. There was a catholic church nearby and he strolled there. He walked in and sat at the rear. The quiet presence of the cold walls surrounding him gave him peace and he found his head bowed in deep introspection. Unlike the few people he found in the church, he was not praying. He was listening. Kachi’s voice was in his head. It had been there since she walked out on him over a month ago. He did everything to banish it but it was now part of him, whispering constantly like the most beautiful of songs playing at the break of dawn.
Long minutes ticked away and Dike lifted his head when he saw the sun forcing its way in through the wide windows of the church. He stood up and said a prayer and turned away. The street was busier when he got outside. It was now a few minutes past eight and when he got back into the hospital, he found the nurses at their stations and a few patients waiting. One of the nurses recognized him from earlier on and beckoned to him. He moved to her desk and had her retrieve a family file.
“Is this your first time here, sir?” she asked.
“Yes. But you know my wife?”
“Yes, sir. She’s a nice woman. She’ll be coming in, won’t she? She has an appointment with the doctor.”
“Yes. In fact, I’m waiting for her.”
“Okay. Please, sit. When the doctor comes, we’ll let you people go in first.”
Dike thanked her and took a chair. He waited a full hour before Kachi appeared. The clinic was now filled with patients and there were no empty chairs left. Dike stood and offered Kachi his chair and she gave him a smile, wiping off a film of sweat on her forehead with the heel of her hand.
“I told you not to come,” she said, fanning herself.
Dike ignored her.
“Why did you come?”
“Ogbudike Elvis!” the nurse at the front desk called and Kachi looked up. The nurse nodded in the direction of another nurse waiting to take her to see the doctor. Dike offered his hand but Kachi disregarded it and walked ahead of him. He followed her, his tall frame towering over her like a bodyguard. The nurse showed them the doctor’s office and they entered. After pleasantries, the doctor examined Kachi while Dike concentrated on a text from his lawyer.
Been trying to reach you. Got the decree nisi from the court yesterday. Will bring it to your house later.
Dike shut his eyes for a second, taking in the sad news. When he told his lawyer he wanted the fastest divorce in history, he didn’t think it could go so smoothly. He only wanted to make Kachi happy, to help her fulfill her lifelong dream of completing her education and working in the UK. He didn’t want to fight her in court over the breakdown of their marriage. All he requested for was to be allowed in his children’s life with no intrusion. To Kachi, that was a fair deal and she acceded to his wishes. They settled custody and financial issues within a week and the rest was left for the court. But now that the decree separating them temporarily was out, Dike was very afraid that it would be over too soon before he would get the chance to catch his breath.
He looked at Kachi. She was walking back to him after her routine check with the doctor. She was beautiful. Her skin had started to glow and curves his hands knew so well were more emphasized underneath her clothes. Readying herself to sit, the doctor asked them to accompany him to the ultrasound room. Dike got up and helped her with her handbag, ignoring her whispered protest. They followed the doctor into the ultrasound room and again, Kachi was laid down and her abdomen exposed. It was to be Dike’s first ultrasound. When Kachi was pregnant with Travis, she had begged him to accompany her for a few scans but he had refused, complaining that it was too expensive and unnecessary. It was ironic that he was now the one desperate to witness it all.
“Is that what I think it is? Is that the baby?” Dike asked, peering into the ultrasound monitor. The doctor nodded.
“That is the head.”
“Wow. That’s a big head.”
The doctor laughed.
“When do we know the sex of the baby?” Kachi asked.
“Four, five months,” Dike replied and Kachi looked at him with a frown. The doctor smiled again.
“You seemed to have kept yourself updated, Mr. Elvis.”
“Every man should,” Dike replied. “Er… can I get a picture?”
“Dike, can you please wait outside?” Kachi requested. “I want to speak to the doctor alone.”
Dike nodded and left the scan room. He walked outside to the parking lot and looked around for Kachi’s car until he found it. From where he stood he could tell the car needed a wash badly but that wasn’t all. One of her back tires needed changing too. Dike took quick steps to the car and gave the bad tire a slight kick. He stepped back to study it and shook his head. On instinct, he walked to the driver’s door and opened it. Kachi had a bad habit of leaving her key in the ignition and he wasn’t surprised to find it hanging there. He turned the ignition and pressed the control button that operated the trunk of the car. He took out a spare tire and replaced the bad one. Afterwards, he checked her radiator and topped it with some water. When he shut the engine, he found her staring at him with questioning eyes.
“Thank you,” she said, getting into the car. He waited, watching her like a guard until she started the engine. And just then, he stopped her. She spread out her hand to ask him what he wanted and he gestured to her to let the window down. She obeyed and looked at him impatiently.
“Can’t you hear the scratchy sound your ignition is making?”
“Like metal grinding on metal. You can’t hear it?”
“No. Look Ogbudike, if this is a ploy to…”
“Come down, Kachi. I’m suspecting your bendix unit is dirty or worn out. I have to fix it.”
“Yes now. Come down and take my car.”
“Ogbudike!” Kachi fumed. “It’s not going to work o! In six weeks, everything will be over and we’ll go our separate ways!”
“Yeah, until then, you’re still my wife and my responsibility and my car is still yours. So get down and take mine while I fix yours.”
Grumbling under her breath, Kachi took his key and marched to his car. He watched her until she drove away from the hospital premises and then he called his mechanic.
The tapping of the computer keyboard was the only thing heard in the silence of Uyi’s sitting room. Once in a while the sound of a car driving by would drown the sound of the keyboard but it would resume immediately after. It was past nine in the morning and Uyi was with Dami. It was one of those days lovers found themselves doing nothing because they were tired of sleeping, tired of having sex and tired of going out; so they would lay around in silence, not because they were bored but because their relationship had metamorphosed to the phase where they were learning to enjoy each other in silence. Dami had been scared when she found that they were not crazy about ripping each other’s clothes as before but Uyi assured her it was totally normal. He told her the hots would resume after a while and it would be stronger. All they needed was time with each other, to get to know each other asexually. But if Dami had read between the lines, she would have discovered that all Uyi wanted was rest from her unusually high libido. Weirdly, she didn’t complain about the break; instead, she used the time to concentrate on her career which she was trying to revive. Her agent in Nigeria had scheduled her for a handful of fashion shows in August and September and she was excited.
“Do you think I’ve added weight?” she got off the couch she had been lying on and stood before Uyi in a pose.
“Not now, Dami. You know I have to finish this work this weekend na. Give me an hour.”
“No, Mr. Smith,” she said with a little laugh. She knew he didn’t like the new pet name she had dubbed him. Recently, he had gotten himself a pair of medicated glasses to correct the abuse the constant use of computer screens had wrought him. Having worked only two months in DPS, he was constantly drained. The only thing keeping him back was the pay and benefits which always left him wanting to pinch himself to find out if he was in a dream or not. But the job was killing him and Dami’s ever bubbly persona kept him afloat. In some way, she had become his pain medicine to every throbbing problem he developed.
“Uyi, talk na! Have I added weight?”
He pried his eyes away from his laptop and the tapping of the keyboard ceased. He looked at her carefully.
“Yeah, a little. Only in the right places, though.” He smiled. “More cushion for you-know-what.”
She frowned. “I have to lose a good five pounds.”
Uyi watched her saunter back to the couch she had been sitting on and he became worried by her gait. “Come back here.”
“I’m tired,” she complained and slumped into the couch. “I’m kind’a dizzy.”
“Yeah, I noticed. You don’t look okay. Your complexion is somehow. How is that nausea going?”
“It’s still there. But I’m fine.”
“You’re sure you’re not pregnant?” Uyi asked and felt butterflies muddle his stomach. He had been careless a few times with her and she was beginning to like the idea of not using protection, but he had watched her take morning-after pills every single time they had had sex without a condom.
“Chill. I’m not pregnant,” she assured him but he saw her face screw up as her hand went to her mouth. She sat frozen, waiting for the wave of nausea that had just hit her to pass before she relaxed again.
“Okay, that’s not good,” Uyi said and put away his laptop. He walked to her and put his hand to her forehead and found her temperature raised. He also noticed her breathing had become erratic.
“I need to take you to the hospi–”
“No!” She shook her head strongly, and with one jerk of her body, threw up on the floor and on his legs. Holding him with one hand for balance, she wiped her mouth with the other and looked at him apologetically.
“I think it’s malaria,” she said, fanning herself and trying to get up but Uyi pushed her down gently. And without warning again, she threw up a second time.
“Sit still. Let me get you water.” Uyi rushed into the kitchen and returned with a bottle of cold water from the fridge. She took it and he went back for a mop and a bucket. He was confused over what could be wrong with her. He had noticed changes in her lately. She was mostly lethargic and lacking of her former energy and she slept most of the day and complained of stomach cramps and dizziness. He hadn’t taken her seriously but now he was deeply disturbed.
“Dami, let’s go for a test.”
“I said no!” She repeated firmly and got off the couch. She took a few steps away from him and lost balance as she dropped to the floor. Fortunately, he was there to catch her fall.
Uyi had expected a long wait before the doctors emerged from the ER, so he sat quietly and busied himself with his phone, doing nothing in particular. Crazy thoughts filled his head but the loudest were about being a father. He wasn’t ready. Dami wasn’t ready. In fact, she had said it a million times how kids made her sick. He prayed it wasn’t pregnancy and also prayed that it wasn’t something serious either.
A doctor in scrubs had walked out to the reception and spoken to a nurse who pointed at Uyi and the doctor walked to him.
“Omoruyi” Uyi corrected and sat up.
“Okay, Damaris is your girlfriend…right?”
“She’s poisoned or overdosed on something and we’re not so sure what. Luckily, we have isolated the poison but to treat her further, we need to know what she OD’d on.”
Uyi stood up in confusion. “Poison? Overdose?”
“That’s not possible.”
“Maybe she took something accidentally but we need to know what she took to help us treat her better. She’s still unconscious…”
“She’s been kind of ill but she hasn’t taken anything yet. She…”
“We’re suspecting it’s DXM but we’re not sure. Has she been taking any cold medicines recently?”
“No. The only thing she’s taken, and that’s just once, is weed.”
The doctor shook his head. “No one overdoses on marijuana. Do something for me. Go home and check your dustbin or wardrobe or her handbag or anywhere else she hides things and get me any pill or bottle or sachet you see. Hurry, please.”
Uyi nodded and rushed out of the hospital. He drove home in a haze, trying to make sense of the conversation he had just heard. Dami was not crazy about him smoking weed. She hated the smell on him and said it gave him bad breath. But he remembered the conversation they had gotten into after he had boiled some weed in her tea a month before to ease her menstrual cramps. After taking it, she had told him she hated that it got her too calm. She added that she preferred something that would make her hyper and then asked if he had tried any pill before. When he replied that he hadn’t, she didn’t say anything further.
The moment Uyi arrived home, he ransacked his bedroom like a mad man but he found nothing amongst her belongings. Just as instructed, he checked the trashcans in the house and even the garbage bag he had dumped outside the gate that morning but nothing useful came up. Uyi got back into his car and drove to her place where he began another frenzied search as minutes went by hazardously. He checked her medicine cabinet, her travel cases, turned her closet upside down, checked in her shoes and even in the pockets of every pair of jeans he came across but he uncovered nothing. Tired and almost about to give up, he casually remembered she always carried around a Tic-Tac container. He never gave it much thought because she was very obsessed with having a clean breath. As he went for her favorite handbag by her bedside, he prayed the Tic-Tac containers he had missed earlier carried only breath fresheners in them. Speedily, he emptied the bag and its contents fell to the floor, some rolling under the bed. From the ones he could retrieve, he counted thirteen Tic-Tac containers and when he went about emptying them, only two had the real Tic-Tacs. The other eleven had multi-colored pills that he had never seen in his life before.
Shaken by his discovery, Uyi took a few seconds to collect himself before he began gathering the pills. He was angry at her, knowing there existed no other explanation for such a massive use of drugs except abuse. When he was done putting the pills in a plastic bag that had a seal, he lifted her bed to retrieve the items that had rolled there, and another shocking sight was waiting for him. An unhealthy collection of empty cough syrup bottles spread before him and he instantly became sick by them. He lifted the bed properly, wedged it against the wall, picked a few bottles and rushed out of the house.
She was unconscious for six hours. When she came to, she stayed up for an hour and the doctors observed her before she went back again. Her father was there and he sat with Uyi by her bedside, both men waiting for her to wake up again. When it didn’t seem like she was going to rouse soon, Anyebe broke the silence with a quiet tapping of his cane on the floor that got Uyi’s attention.
“You should watch her more carefully,” he said to Uyi.
“I didn’t know she was using.”
“But I told you…”
“Only in passing. I had no idea it was this serious.”
Anyebe rested his hand on his cane and rested his chin on it. His eyes were on his daughter and they didn’t hide their worry.
“She will go to rehab when she gets better.”
“Yeah,” Uyi agreed and silence fell upon the room again. When she began to stir, Anyebe got up.
“I’ll be leaving for Beirut this evening. Pass my love to her. When they discharge her, I’ll send someone to take her…”
“Sir please, let it be my responsibility. I can handle everything.”
Anyebe considered what Uyi said and shrugged. “As you wish. Still I will send details about the best facility. And Omoruyi, be firm with her.”
“I will. She’s in safe hands.”
Anyebe placed a kiss on Dami’s forehead and left the hospital room. Uyi sat with her until she fully roused several minutes later. She had trouble focusing on him but when he spoke and she heard his voice, she tried a smile.
“Dama?” he replied with a name she hated and she smiled back.
“Where’s my dad? I can smell him.”
“Maybe you’re still hallucinating. Your dad is out of the country.”
“I’ll call the doctors.”
Her eyes had begun to close again as Uyi hurried out. He returned with the doctors and they stirred her awake again and pushed him out of the room.
Dami took a few days to recover but the doctors kept her for a week under observation and for proper recovery. The day they finally discharged her, she was excited. One week had been too much torture for her. In that space of time, she had made friends in the hospital and hardly kept to her room. Most of the patients knew her and she had gone as far as being generous to one of them, settling the woman’s medical bills to the last kobo.
On their drive out of the hospital, she tweeted about being discharged from the hospital.
“Don’t you keep your private life private? Must everything go on Twitter?” Uyi asked as they stopped under a traffic light.
“They don’t know I OD’d. They think it’s malaria.” She laughed but Uyi was quiet. She put her phone away and stroked his thigh.
“Are you mad at me, baby?”
“That would be a classic case of the pot and the kettle and their blackness.”
Uyi pushed her hand away and stared out the window to avoid her face. “You should have told me and I would have helped you!” he spat out.
She rested into her seat and crossed her arms. “It’s not like you’re ever there.”
“I’m working, Dami! You should try that as well! It takes your mind off addiction!”
“And that’s why you come back home every day and allow your own addiction take your mind off work?!”
A horn blared behind them and Uyi put the car into motion again.
“It is not the same thing, Dami! You’re shoving chemicals into your system, destroying your kidney and liver!”
“And you’re destroying your brain cells!”
“Pills and syrup are man-made! They can kill you!”
“And weed is equally bad for you!”
“It is not!”
“It is not!”
“It is! It is! It is!”
“Are you even sorry for what you’ve done to yourself? I saw bottles under your bed like you were selling them! And ecstasy? You were doing ecstasy?! What next will it be?! Heroin…cocaine?!”
“Stop shouting on me! Stop it!” she hit him with both hands and gave him a nudge before she stopped. “God! I hate you!”
“Good! The feeling is mutual!”
She aimed her hand at him but he guarded himself with a raised elbow.
“Where are we going? I don’t want to go to your house! Take me home!”
“We’re not going to my house. We’re not going to yours either. I’m taking you to rehab.”
“WHAT?!” her voice came out in a shriek. “Stop the car!” She hit the dashboard. “Stop it! Stop! Stop! Stop!”
Uyi ground his teeth and slowed the car to a halt by the sidewalk. Dami got down and slammed her door and began walking away. Uyi ran after her and grabbed her, putting his arms around her.
“Leave me!” She struggled but he held tight until she lost her strength and fell into sobs. “I don’t want to go anywhere. I want to go home with you.”
“I know,” he whispered into her ear. “But you know you have to, luv. You have to. You almost went into a coma back there.”
“I don’t want to go to rehab.”
“It’s not that bad where you’re going. I got the brochure. It’s top class and they’ll make you feel real comfortable and the food is good, plus I heard you could catch a celebrity or two there.”
“No, you don’t understand.” She pulled away to look into his face, her sobs hardly letting her speak. “I’ve been to rehab two times already. I’m afraid to go again. If I go, it means I’m a loser. It means I can’t even help myself.”
Uyi’s heart broke at her confession and he hugged her tight, faintly hearing the cars as they sped by. Slowly, her heaving chest steadied itself and Uyi led her back to the car. She crawled to the backseat and rolled herself up into a ball as Uyi started the car again.
The facility was breath-taking and exclusive, just like Uyi had seen in the brochure. Uyi had Dami registered and helped her to her room with the suitcase he had packed for her. They got back to the reception and sat down.
“It’s only twenty-eight days,” Uyi said.
“I know.” Dami rubbed away fresh tears coming to her eyes.
“I’ll call you every single minute.”
She shook her head.
“I like to do it alone. No calls. No visits.”
“So what am I supposed to do with myself for twenty-eight days?”
“Yeah, apart from that…”
Dami laughed. “I’ll miss you.”
“And stay away from that girl you gave your room to.”
“You’re not supposed to remember her name.” Damaris looked genuinely annoyed.
“Na wa for you oh.” He kissed her hand. “I’ll try.”
Dami squeezed his hands tight and turned to watch the soundless musical playing on a plasma TV stuck to the wall facing them. Uyi pulled out his phone from his pocket to find out who had been calling him. He discovered twenty-four missed calls from two numbers. One was Temi and the other was his ex, Vivian. He pushed the phone back into his pocket and pulled Dami close, wondering how he was going to handle the temptation cum trouble waiting for him outside the four walls of the facility.