A real tear-jerker innit? Lol. Weldone Temi!
The pain in my chest startled me awake seconds before the wailing from the other end of the room started again. I gritted my teeth, tears springing to my eyes.
Breathe in… breathe out…
The pain subsided again, but it was still there. It felt like it had been there my whole life.
I opened my eyes slowly. The dimly illuminated single ward was full, everyone seemed to have a visitor. Everyone except me.
I stared at the IV giving set which had been disconnected from my arm when I had woken up earlier to urinate. No one had bothered to reconnect it. Tears pricked the back of my eyes
Why, oh why, wouldn’t that screaming baby just shut up?!
This was some way to spend my Christmas. I should never have agreed to come to the village with my family. If I hadn’t come, I wouldn’t have fallen ill.
‘This December 26 is my turn to host my group’s annual party’ My father had said ‘It comes round to my turn only every 13 years. I want it done lavishly… I want all my children around’
Well, today was the twenty sixth, and here I was, stuck in the village clinic after falling ill on the twenty third. My father had mumbled a few times about it not being safe for me to travel back to Lagos in my condition. But I knew the truth; he didn’t want to miss his precious party.
I had blamed my parents bitterly this morning, before turning my back on them. I didn’t say all I wanted to, thanks to the pain, but I said a bit. Afterwards, I’d felt some vindictive triumph at their pained expressions. But at the end of the day, I was the one left in the hospital. They had all gone for the party.
Life was so unfair.
The wailing seemed to be ringing bells in my ears now. I hissed in frustration. Everyone was either busy chatting or praying with their sick loved ones, seemingly oblivious to the sound. Was I the only one this baby was driving crazy?
Why didn’t someone pacify, gag or just take it out of this place?
I involuntarily remembered some of Tobi’s last words to me, just before we’d broken up a few months ago.
‘… you’re just too selfish. You’re always thinking about just yourself…’
He was just like the rest of them, underestimating my suffering
A matronly looking nurse sauntered past me.
‘Sister…’ I croaked out once. Then again.
‘Ah, omo Eko…’ she said when she heard me ‘You’ve woken up’
‘My IV has been disconnected for a while now…’ I said acidly
‘So how are you feeling?’ She said pleasantly, the sauntering now in my direction
‘I’m in pain’ I said shortly ‘Isnt it time for my drugs again?’
She removed her right hand from the pocket into which it had been tucked and felt my forehead ‘Poor child. You came home for Christmas, just to fall sick.’
‘What about my drugs and my drip?’ I asked exasperatedly
She smiled languidly at me. ‘I’ll check your chart. Dont worry, you’ll be fine’
Someone called her, just then. She began talking in my native Yoruba dialect. In another moment, she started off in that direction
‘Nurse, please can someone just keep that baby quiet!’ I said, a little louder than I’d intended. The little group 2 beds away turned in suprise.
‘Is she disturbing you?’ The nurse seemed very amused ‘Dont worry, I’ll tell her that Omo Eko doesn’t like it’. Then she turned to my audience and said something I didnt quite catch. They laughed, looking at me with curiosity.
I stared back at them with hostility till one after the other, they looked away.
‘Her mother died last night…’ a voice next to me croaked in Yoruba, interrupted. I turned, unsure if the statement had been aimed at me.
‘The two of them came in sick together. The mother died. Now, there’s no one to console her whenever she’s crying…’
‘What of her people?’ I asked
The shrivelled looking old woman shook her head ‘Who knows? Maybe they went to bury their dead… they’ll remember her soon enough…’ Then she became racked with coughs that seemed to go on forever. After saying sorry a few times, I turned to my own side, covering my nose.
The crying continued. She had been forgotten, surrounded by people who wished she’d just shut up. Story of my life.
The pastor had come with my parents yesterday after the Christmas service. My younger sister, Lani, had spent the night with me
‘Your genotype can change…’ He had said
But it hadnt
‘If you’re willing…’
In short, it was my problem, my fault.
I shook my head. The headache would soon start, what with all the tears. And it was supposed to be Boxing day… come to think of it, no one had given me any present
And what have you given? A voice seemed to ask me
I don’t have anything to give. I thought bitterly. I’m stuck in an overcrowded village hospital, suffering from Acute Chest Syndrome, lying down next to a woman that probably has TB and being driven insane by a crying lonely baby
‘If you’re willing…’
But I’m the one in pain. I’m the one that needs caring
‘If you’re willing…’
The baby’s wails seemed to turn accusing. I heaved a sigh and starting propping myself up. Was I really up to this? Shouldnt I be concentrating on getting better?
‘If you’re willing…’
I got onto my feet, wore my slippers and began my quest, past the beds and all the people.
The cot wasn’t hard to find. In it was a thin baby girl, wearing only a disposable nappy, wailing. An IV line was connected to her arm. The arm looked swollen.
I had enough experience with hospitals and IV lines to know that the line had ‘tissued’
I stopped the fluid and lifted her carefully out of the cot.
These hospital people acted like they knew nothing about pain sometimes. I felt like I could speak for the two of us – if they wouldn’t make us feel better, at least they shouldn’t make it worse.
She was still crying but now, it was a pitiful sort of mewling. She wasn’t that small at close range. Her hair had been made into puffs by someone sometime ago. And she stank…
I settled with difficulty into the chair next to the cot.
‘I cant solve your problems…’ I said gruffly to her ‘…I’m in pain too. But I can hold you’
I settled her on my shoulder and rubbed her back, careful of the swollen limb. She was now whimpering, her face in the crook of my neck. Her body was very warm. I leaned back further into the chair, trying to offset the breathing difficulty this position was giving me.
‘…sshhh…’ I whispered.
Finally, there was silence.
I parted my lips slightly.
Breathe in… Breathe out
We were both very sick, not getting enough drugs, seemingly forgotten by the people who loved us. But at that moment, smelly baby and I were okay.
‘If I was willing…’
The pastor had been talking about something completely different, but maybe it was really all the same. A moment ago, I had been absolutely miserable. Now, it wasn’t so bad. Smelly baby was as much a gift to me as I was to her – we both had really needed to be held. I had been willing to take the step.
Very much later, my parents and siblings had come. Lani said they had found me, sleeping on a chair, head resting on the edge of a cot. I was holding the hand of a baby. To be honest, I couldn’t remember when I put her down.
The uproar had begun then. My mother had started shouting at the nurse that I wasn’t getting my fluids or antibiotics. The nurse had started on how busy and underpaid she was. Then daddy started threatening to call the commissioner.
Smelly baby’s aunt came in then, swollen eyed. She joined in the fracas, pointing at her niece’s swollen arm, immediately beginning to change the soiled nappy
‘And you call yourself a mother…’ she shrieked at the nurse
Our families were back to care for us, like they should. I let them lead me back to my bed.
Now three years have passed, and though I’ve not seen her since, I think about that day every once in a while. Smelly baby’s aunt had told me her name was Irawo. What a beautiful name. I really hope she’s fine.
Things will not be all smooth for her, growing up without her own mother. But I hope she learns fast that she has the choice not to see herself as a victim.
Life would be to her what she willed it to be.
Even in the darkest, most dire of situations, there was always light waiting to come in, if she would let it.
For too long in my life, my genotype had been the sun around which all other things revolved. Now, I can see that my family and friends have a right to have problems other than me. And sometimes, I was supposed to be on the giving end. I was the one supposed to be caring and supporting.
Honestly, I’m much happier than I’ve ever been.
‘If you’re willing…’
Yes I am.
For Peju, Tessy and the wonderful people I know that have refused to be defined by the struggle they live with as a result of their hemoglobin genotype.
Stay strong. Stay beautiful