‘Doctor, please show us to her,’ Loretta had said this in a calm voice despite the draught of impatience whirling up around her. And her sister too.
The slim doctor continued to stare at the two women. ‘You need to understand, ladies, that she is in quite a critical condition, we need a relative to give consent before—’
‘Doctor, we are her sisters!’ Florence flung out, unable to hold in her irritation any more.
‘Oh.’ The doctor blinked and took back his eyes. ‘Follow me then, please.’
In the ward where Susan was laid, Florence and Loretta stood beside the bed, frozen-stiff as they stared at their immobile sister.
‘She’s gone into shock,’ the slim man in a long white coat said. Even under his transparent glasses, you could tell how small his eyes were.
Florence ran her fingers down Susan’s hair. ‘Doctor, is she going to be okay?’
The doctor nodded. ‘Hopefully,’ he said. ‘We will do our best. We’ve injected her with a sympathomimetic. Her blood pressure is extremely low. We also discovered that she is pregnant. Lost already obviously. Can I ask who’d be so callous as to cause this?’
The doctor finally took his eyes off the two sisters when he realized neither of them was too conscious to talk.
‘She’d be fine,’ he said to them, hoping that that made them feel a little better. At least, bring them back to full awareness.
He turned his face up to check the drip sac hanging above Susan’s bed.
Florence took Loretta’s hand and started praying in a hushed voice.
The doctor turned to them. ‘You can pray outside, ladies, you both need to excuse us now.’
Florence and Loretta walked out of the room slowly still holding hands.
The doctor turned to the nurse that had walked in with him and murmured out an instruction.
The plump nurse dropped the silver bowl she was carrying on the over-bed table by the wall and set about preparing an injection.
Florence and her sister were on the silver bench at the hospital’s central hall when two nurses hurried past them with a stretcher supporting a lady covered in blood-soaked bandages.
Loretta’s eyes followed them till they disappeared through a door that had the words –INTENSIVE CARE—printed at the top of it.
She shook her head in pity and prayed that the ‘God of Healing’ visited the lady too, after He might have been through with her sister.
Some minutes later, a young man was running into the clinic, straight to the reception area. He appeared tense from his uncontrolled gesticulations as he talked to the receptionist nurse.
Recognising who the man was, Loretta stood and walked up to him.
Florence was facing the other way, her head supported on one hand as she prayed silently for a miracle. A healing miracle for her little sister.
Now it occurred to her how bad it’d actually be if Susan never opened her eyes again.
It’d mean that she would not get a chance to speak to Susan again. It has been many months since she last spoke with her.
She somehow blamed a part of herself now for everything that has happened, though she didn’t stop to ponder fully on how she had caused anything.
The truth is that Florence was sorry. Sorry for all the things she felt she hadn’t done right over the years. Even things that had nothing to do with the situation at hand.
And now she so hoped that with the feeling of self-reproach, that the Almighty would turn more willing to come to her aid.
A tear dropped off from her eyes and she quickly wiped it. She sniffled and was opening her handbag to bring out her phone to dial Pastor Isaiah when she heard the sound of something like a slap.
A really hot one, if it was.
Her sister was holding a man at the collar, her right hand stretched out in the air in the threat of another strike.
Now Florence saw that it was Christian Loretta was dealing with. Before she could get to them, Loretta has given him two slaps more.
‘Tell me what she did to you that you had to leave her that way.’ Loretta’s voice was loud, effectively gathering attention. ‘Tell me, Christian, tell me!’ She slapped him again.
Her aim was always so accurate that Christian never succeeded in dodging any. ‘Did I not think that you were a human being before? So you deceived us all along?’ Another slap, on the head this time.
‘Hey, hey, I did not touch your sister,’ Christian said. ‘I do not know what you are talking about.’
‘Shut up your useless mouth, beast!’
‘Loretta, it’s okay,’ Florence said, coming close.
Some nurses have gathered. A man in a striped white and black shirt stood among them, but neither of them was bold enough to come close.
Florence tried to get Loretta’s hand off Christian’s shirt.
‘I do not know what you might have been told, but I did not lay a finger on your sister,’ Christian said. ‘It wasn’t by my hand that she is brought here, you can go in and ask her that.’
Hearing this, Loretta raised another slapping hand.
Florence grabbed it. ‘It’s okay, Lori. Let him be.’
Loretta turned to look at Florence.
Florence gave her a slow, urging nod. ‘Allow him be, dear. But let him just pray that Susan got out of this in good skin otherwise—’ She broke off and turned to Christian with vicious eyes. ‘…otherwise, hmm, Mr. Christian, I will personally see to it that you taste raw shit!’
She turned back to Loretta. ‘Loretta, leave him.’
Slowly, Loretta let go of Christian’s shirt.
Christian straightened his rumpled shirt. ‘Ladies, I have no idea of what you are talking about. Susan may have had a fight with my new wife, but I’m not aware of any of it.’
‘How would you be aware when you threw her out of the house?’ Loretta screamed. ‘Gosh! Christian what demon possessed you?’ Her voice went lower with disappointment.
‘I don’t know what you are talking about,’ Christian said. ‘Now if you’d excuse, I need to be with my wife.’
‘Which wife?’ Florence asked.
‘I got a call that Jennifer was involved in a car crash and she’s been brought to this same clinic.’
‘Oh, that’s even why you are here?’ Now Florence felt like giving him her own dose of slaps.
Christian looked at Florence and said nothing. He turned and started toward the doctor’s office.
‘Well, just pray that she dies because I’m going to give her an even more excruciating death if I set my eyes on her!’ Loretta broke down to tears. ‘Oh my God, and to think we all thought he was the perfect man.’
Florence held her. ‘It’s okay.’
‘Poor innocent girl,’ Loretta continued to cry. ‘She couldn’t even defend herself.’
Florence rubbed her sister’s back. ‘I said it’s okay!’
Inside the ward where Jennifer was laid, Christian stared at the blood-soaked lady on the bed through blank eyes.
He appeared completely without understanding.
All the bandages on the lady; on her arms, legs and forehead—were grossly stained with blood. Her blood.
Jennifer tried to extend her hand to him. ‘Baby,’ she called, her voice gravely weak. ‘Baby, you came?’
Christian continued to stare at her, not showing any bit of comprehension still.
He knew he had seen the lady before. He recognized his former secretary who quit her job abruptly and just disappeared…
Did she have an accident?
Of course, she must have—that’s why the wounds.
He blinked hard.
But what is he doing here?
His eyes ran wide. Oh crap! He must have been the one that hit her.
He turned to the doctor— a short round man in a long blue coat. Strangely pot-bellied for his profession. ‘Doctor, what happened exactly?’ he asked.
‘Well, she was involved in a nasty crash earlier today. She was transferred to us from St. Benedict’s.’
Chris turned back to the woman on the bed. ‘You are Jennifer, right?’
Jennifer’s mouth opened wide, but words did not come out immediately.
‘Yes, it’s me, honey,’ she began to say. ‘It’s me.’
Of course, he knows.
But just why is she calling him honey? Christian felt everything surreal.
‘Step closer and you will see that it is me,’ Jennifer said.
Christian’s head swayed feebly.
He does not need to step any closer than he already is. The much he could remember about the lady now, she was not a particularly nice lady.
Never been any nice to him.
She’d threatened once to destroy him.
His marriage. All he owned and cared for…
He remembered his wife now.
And his little girl.
He tried to remember more, but much of his mind was a dull, cloudy silence.
He tried hard to remember the last time he was with his family.
He saw pictures of happy breakfast occasions at the dining table, each one of them smiling away in the love of family.
Laughter-filled pillow fights in the room upstairs.
And then where he was hi-fiving with his little girl in his wide sitting room.
A smile was creeping into his face when the ugly pictures started to fly in, straightening out his features in a flash.
Raised voice screaming at a quiet lady who appeared too stunned even to produce a word to defend herself.
A loud slap to her cheek in the room downstairs.
And then the rough-handling of a little girl in the same room he had seen so much laughter in.
Christian plunged into an emotional mess.
He turned to the doctor. ‘Doctor, where is my wife?’
On the bed, Jennifer’s cavities flew wide open.
The doctor appeared puzzled by this question.
Only a few minutes ago and he was rushing into the unit with all eagerness to see his wife and see that she is fine.
And now again this question. The doctor searched for the right name for this mental symptom, but he eventually could not find one.
Not even with his many years of practice.
Resorting to explanation therapy, he began, ‘Well, Mr. Christian, the people that brought the lady here gave us your number as her husband. Do you not know her?’
‘Oh Lord!’ Chris whimpered. He put his two hands on his head. ‘Lord Jesus, save me! Oh Christ!’
He rushed out of the room.
Okon entered with Baby Blossom.
The little girl sighted Aunty Florence and quickly freed herself from the gateman. ‘Aunty! Aunty!’ She hurried off towards Florence.
Aunty Florence stood and stretched down her arms. She scooped Blossom up into the air. ‘Look how grown you are!’ She pinched Blossom’s nose.
‘Okay, so I’m not your Aunty too, abi?’ Loretta said, rising.
Blossom quickly transferred to her.
Loretta rubbed down her hair. ‘Looking ever beautiful,’ she said. ‘Nne oma, kedu?’
‘Aunty, I am fine,’ Blossom said.
Loretta looked at Florence. ‘Lele, onye ocha!’
The three girls laughed.
The doctor’s appearance cut the amusement off.
All eyes turned to him, eager for news. Good news.
But the news that came was bad.
The slim doctor shook his head. ‘I’m sorry, ladies, she couldn’t make it.’
It appeared no one understood this statement at first, the way they all gaped blankly at the doctor.
‘I want you all to know that we did our best,’ he added, as if in defence. ‘We did all we could.’
He took one step back when the people before him appeared stiff still.
Being in the job for over seven years, he knew quite well what loss could drive people into.
But now he saw that this people were different. They were not the kind to get violent.
Florence drew back and flopped down on the bench, tears streaming down her face like in an open tap.
Loretta held Blossom tight and stared blankly ahead. Not a single drop of tear came out from her eyes.
Okon dropped to floor and started to cry, his two hands on his head. ‘Hey, na good madam na! Na good madam na!’ He turned to the doctor. ‘Doctor, na good madam. Abeg, do something. Abeg!’
The slim doctor swayed his head.
Never once had he been this touched over the loss of a patient before. He felt it as his own loss too. He wished there was something that could be done.
If not for any other thing, for the little girl in her auntie’s arms who was staring at him with empty, unknowing eyes, pulling at her hair.
Baby Blossom did not understand, but when finally she saw Aunty Loretta blink and tears ran down her cheeks, she started to cry too.
Aunty Loretta shook her lightly. ‘Oh my God, Baby please.’ She started to wipe Blossom’s eyes. ‘Nne, please don’t cry, inu?’
It was then that Christian came out to them.
And he stood there, frozen-stiff, staring at the so much sadness before him.
15 years later……
My name is Blossom Ugochukwu.
It has been fifteen years now since my mummy died and I started living with Aunty Florence, whom I’d say I’ve come to see as my new mommy now.
She made me feel that way.
The acceptance had been wonderful.
It was just as she had promised. ‘Never will I allow you to be with sadness again,’ Aunty Florence had said to me.
And she has ever kept to her promise. She and Aunty Loretta.
So today Aunty Florence has asked something of me. And now that she is involved, I am not going to refuse.
So today I am going to finally forgive my father.
Yes. Finally, I will.
The past fifteen years has been the most miserable part of Christian’s life. And it was a misery he knew he was never going to come out of.
He had done so many things he thought could bring him some form of peace; he’d quit his job, sold his house and rented a one-bedroom apartment on the other side of town, and stalked his daughter for fifteen years, but nothing worked.
So today his guilt has finally driven him to a decision.
Finally he was going to buy himself peace, through other means.
A knock came on the door.
‘Are you sure he is home?’ Blossom asked.
Aunty Florence nodded. ‘He should be. The man that informed me said he doesn’t go out.’
Blossom pounded the door again.
After several attempts and nothing still, Aunty Florence walked to the gate and called the man she met there.
The lanky man in dirty brown trousers rolled up to his calves came with his brother.
Finally, they were able to force the door open.
And they saw the lifeless body hanging from the ceiling fan.
The body of a man who had finally learned just how guilty he could be.
‘So, my children,’ the old woman narrating the story says, ‘you should never give in to the claws of temptation, for once they grip, they are not going to let go till you are completely destroyed. You may retire to your homes now.’
‘Thank you for the story, Mummy Jay!’ the children choruses.
‘But Mummy Jay, what later happened to evil Jennifer?’ one of the children sitting before the woman asks.
‘Yes, Mummy Jay, tell us, did she later die?’ another joins.
Mummy Jay smiles now— a slow, wistful smile. ‘No, my children,’ she says. ‘Mummy Jay is alive today.’
The children’s eyes fly open.
Mummy Jay nods slowly at them. ‘You can all go now.’
The children stand and quietly disperse.
On their faces, in their eyes, you could see the impact of this story on them.
It is not like the usual kind of stories Mummy Jay, the limping, one-legged old woman with face full of scars living in a container house at the end of the street told; stories of talking butterflies and enchanted princesses.
This story is different.
Today, Mummy Jay has chosen to tell a story of her life.