This is the second round of stories in the literary challenge between Walter Uchenna Ude and James Robert.
The theme for today’s stories is: That thing that makes you itch.
As usual, read, critique, appreciate, vote and have fun.
MISSED A SPOT
You hate hospitals. You really do.
They make you see all the things you’d rather not dwell on. The sight of ailing patients sitting with blank looks on the reception benches, coughing, sniffling, whimpering, and moaning, in various stages of handicap – a constant reminder of your mortality. And the smells – that uniquely poignant mix of disinfectant and sickness makes you wish you can wear a gas mask to the hospital whenever you have to.
It is because of your distaste for hospitals that you encouraged your first son to study medicine in the university. If he were a doctor, you wouldn’t have to come to hospitals. He can make house calls and take care of all your afflictions, in the clean-smelling, well-kept comfort of your own home. But did he listen? No. He had to go and be a lawyer. And all he does these days is put on those frumpy washed-out wigs and fussy black robes, and stand in courtrooms, speaking lots of big grammar that never helps anybody.
The nurse finally calls you to go into the consultant room. It is your turn to see the doctor. The man doesn’t even have the courtesy to get to his feet upon your entrance. The nerve! He remains seated, with that benign smile and begins to talk to you like you’re a child. You would have him know that you have a thirty-five-year-old marriage and three grown children in your repertoire, the patronizing little imp. You keep a slight sneer on your face as you sit before him, half-listening to him discuss your diagnosis. Your watchful eyes sweep over the burly part of him you can see above his desk, taking in his squat head with the apparent new haircut, the torso clad in a white lab coat, and running down to hands that end with stubby fingers, one of which is encircled with a wedding ring.
Something catches your attention, and your eyes go back up the white coat, to the edge of the wide collar. You rest your gaze on the smudge you have spotted staining the right-side collar. It is a small stain really, but to your careful eyes, they appear very startling against the white backdrop of the coat. You feel a spark of irritation. He is a doctor. Is he not supposed to be the epitome of cleanliness? Who does his laundry? Him? His wife? You want to tell him that whoever it is missed a spot on his collar. You also want to ask him for his wife’s number, so you can call the silly woman and tell her off for not doing her husband’s laundry properly. Perhaps, she’s not even the one; perhaps she belongs to this new crop of married women who delegate every wifely responsibility, but the conjugal duties, to the help. They call themselves fancy names these days. You don’t want to know. You just wish they will spend a little more time turning over clothes to their husbands, clothes that aren’t speckled with dirt. But this is none of your business.
The doctor has written out a prescription for you. You are relieved to see that the prescription paper is crisp and starchy-white. His handwriting is a miserable scrawl, of course, but that’s a problem for the pharmacists. You rise primly from your seat, and walk out of his office, glad that this indignation you are being put through is halfway over.
Back in the reception, you make to walk past a mother struggling with the feeding of her wailing child. The woman has just wiped the mouth of the toddler, swiping off custard from the corners of the mouth and chin, before proceeding to cradle the little boy and coo for him to stop crying. You notice that she missed a spot, just a tiny smidgen of custard on the right corner of the child’s lip. You want to tell her to clean it up. It’s just right there. But the woman continues rocking her child until his wails lessen to whimpers. You sigh, stifling that flicker of irritation again. You don’t want to think she is a bad mother, that she perhaps doesn’t care particularly about the hygiene of her child. It is none of your business.
You take the flight of stairs down two floors to the pharmacy. You hand over your prescription slip through the counter, below the glass shield to the simpering young woman on the other side. You can’t help it, you sweep your customary searching gaze over her. Her appearance meets your approval – spotless white coat, well-sleeked-back bun, expertly-done makeup. You nod your head with approval. At least some things are still right with the world.
She tells you to have a seat in the hall, and with a smile, she adds that your medication will be made available shortly. You nod again, and walk back to the benches to sit and wait. You look around. The room is cavernous, causing to echo softly through it the chattering voices of cleaners who are working on the floors with their mops and pails of water.
One of the cleaners is working slowly toward your corner. She is a small thing, with her frame clad in the green-and-black uniform of the hospital’s cleaning crew. She works methodically, her hands clasped around the stem of the mop, sweeping the moistened bedraggled head over the floor rhythmically for some moments before lifting the mop to her pail, to thump it around in the water inside the metal.
You watch her work. You count the number of strokes she makes on the floor with the mop. You pay attention to the squelchy sounds of the mop as it connects with the floor. You watch the ground dampen, turning a darker shade in the wake of each moist swipe of the mop.
It’s almost hypnotic, the way this cleaner works.
And then your eyes narrow on the ground when you see a dry patch on it. A dry part of the floor untouched by the moistness surrounding other parts around it.
The cleaner had missed a spot.
Your irritation is ignited again, especially as you watch her continue cleaning and inching slowly away from the spot.
Can she not see the dry place she’d missed cleaning? It’s not so small, heck, you can see it from where you are sitting. The dry spot stares back at you, taunting you, infuriating you. Your fingers tighten on your lap. You feel an itch skitter across your skin, lifting the hairs on your extremities as they horripilate on. You missed a spot! you want to yell at her, like you wanted to yell at the doctor, and then the woman with the child.
The cleaner keeps moving, pulling the pail after her. The metal gives out a small screech on the ground as it is dragged. The grating sound reaches your ears, rattles through your head and fans the flames of your blooming wrath. You have just about had it with this place. Why couldn’t anyone simply do anything properly?
You rise to your full sixty-eight-year-old height, your lips a moue of disapproval, your face a rictus of anger. You cover the few yards between you and the cleaner with a few deliberate stomps. She notices you looming over her and stops to look enquiringly up at you.
“You missed a spot,” you rasp.
She blinks at you, before venturing a hesitant ‘Ma?’
You jab a finger in the direction of the dry floor. “I said you missed a spot.”
She follows your gesture, and then returns her bewildered gaze to you. She still doesn’t get it, the idiot. She keeps looking at you like you’re the manifestation of a UFO on Nigerian soil. You have no time for her nonsense. Hissing furiously, you snatch the mop from her hand, stomp over the corner she’d cleaned and swipe the mop over the bothersome patch on the floor.
Just once, and the floor was evenly damp. You take a deep breath, feeling calmer now. Then you return the mop back to the grasp of the nonplussed cleaner, and return to your seat, whereupon you clasp your hands over your lap and resume waiting for your medication.
You hate hospitals. You really do. And after today, you hope you never have to come back to this.
A WRITER’S DILEMMA
“Hmm!” he sighed, a rush of hot air came from his mouth as again he hit the delete button. The words just didn’t fit; they should be like pieces of brick which need to fit each other perfectly to build the castle he desired. But he was unable to get beyond the scribble. All he succeeded writing the hours he had sat on his chair, fingers punching on the keys of his laptop was a blank MS WORD screen. He lifted his head and stared at the clock hanging on the wall to his right; it read 3: 47 am. He began to work at 10:15 pm and more than five hours later, he had written nothing.
Again he sighed and looked away from the clock, his eyes wandered around his study which doubles as his bedroom. The room was dark despite the filter of light from his laptop screen, yet on he looked. He couldn’t make out the bookshelf beside the window, nor the small fridge to the far right; with artificial bunches of tulip resting on two flower pots that towers on both of its sides. He didn’t see the poor imitation of Picasso’s Mona Lisa, which hung on the wall few meters away or the walk in closet at the other end of the room, just after the bigger window whose pane was closed and curtain drawn to prevent the moon light from filtering in. Outside the night was bright; the full moon cruised boldly across the sky. It was that time of the month, the period that brought back memories of a childhood not too pleasant save the full moon nights. On those nights, children from neighbouring homes gathered in the huge field a few yards away from his grandfather’s compound and have fun deep into the night. Those days were long gone; the priceless innocence of childhood always left him with a sense of nostalgia. He sometimes wished he could remain there, be a Peter Pan and refuse to grow up. Growing up remained a process he continued to distastes. It was like skin shedding, where the cloak of innocence was discarded for the darker and murkier linen of fear and distrust. Getting older even felt worse, it made him feel he constantly had to be on his guard and to ward off perceived enemies. To draw and redraw his circle of allies and ironically the circle got smaller each time he redrew. It made him wonder, if there would even be a circle when he eventually grows old, probably it would be a solitary dot. Him being all alone, sipping palm wine from a rocking chair and puffing a pipe as he looks back on the path he had trodden. Maybe he wouldn’t be nostalgic, the life he had lived would have numbed him or he would have reversed back to wearing that childlike innocence he reveres. Gravity should apply there, what goes up surely must come down. He prayed he should have taken a nose dive to naivety. Humbled by the events he had witnessed, after realising life is nothing but a whimper that can wither away with a mild gust of air. Besides he once read that some people experience a mental nosedive, a law of diminishing return of sort. Maybe then old age would rid him of all fears or worse still it might turn out to be the sum of all fears, like Tom Clancy’s book.
He continued on his visual tour of his room, several silhouettes of familiar objects lurk in the darkness; the exoticism of the scenery dazzled him. He saw his bed, beckoning him to come lay down and the form of his sultry pillows like a woman clad in a seductive lingerie yearning for a nightly romance. But he only longed for his muse; sleep would not be his boo tonight. He bravely resisted and shifted his gaze elsewhere; licked his lips as his eyes travelled back to stare at the blank laptop screen. Fingers resting on its keyboard, eyes blinking gently, forehead strained as if doing so would pop out the perfect line he sought. He removed one hand from the keyboard, picked up the cup of coffee that lay nearby. Took a long sip and massaged his eyes with two fingers; his thumb and ring finger. Yawned and stretched then returned to where he had started. Eyes fixed on the blank MS Word screen, fingers arranged neatly on the keyboard ready to tap those keys again. He had to scratch his itch for his muse has just given him a kiss so he began typing…
‘Shola never loved him, he had known all along before his friend Ritchie told him. Even before Damilola, Shola’s bosom friend told him as they sat opposite each other at Tantalizer. He had a can of diet coke on his table with a straw protruding from its top. Damilola refused taking anything; she only agreed to have some water after he insisted.
‘”She doesn’t love you, she has never loved you,” Damilola had said staring at him straight in the eyes.
‘”She sees you as a means to an end, just to pass out time. Nothing but an option, a toy she would gladly discard when a better one comes,’ She surmised still staring at him. He examined her critically, the honed rimmed glasses she always wore which made her sexy in a nerdy way. Her hair weaved delicately, save a few strands that fell just few inches to her left eye, covering it Rihanna like. Her pointed nostrils and the tiny birthmark at the ridge of her juicy lips, she wore a light red lipstick that matched with her fair skin. Her ear stood proudly by the side of her head, with a silver earing dangling from both ear lobes. She wore a blue sweater with turtle neck that hugged her body a little tightly, emphasizing her busty chest. Chest he had stolen hidden glimpses at when she wore low cut blouse that showed her cleavage. Her locked fingers rested on the table, with well-polished nails at the end and an Ice watch on her left wrist.
‘He had known all along, all that Damilola said revealed nothing new. The signs were crystal clear, but he stubbornly held on to the illusion they were made for each other. That she would magically love him, that he would make her see he means the world to her.’
He stopped typing; he went back to the beginning, read what he had typed and heaved with satisfaction.
“This seems better,” he said to himself, smiling too like he just unraveled a mystery.
“But what should I call him?” he asked.
“Richmond? No that’s too similar to Ritchie; I don’t want to hurt his feelings. Ogbonna sounds too crude; it lacks that exquisite touch which comes with African names. Or should I leave him unnamed? Refer to him as ‘He’ instead of giving him a name that people will use to interpret a non-existent plot?” he queried.
“But what if I am asked to describe the main character of my book? What name would I use, how would readers associate themselves with him? Is it even plausible to have a novel with a nameless hero?”
He tapped the CTRL and S keys on his keyboard. The save dialogue box popped up on the screen, he typed “Unknown 131″ for the file name, changed the file type to ‘Word 97-2003 Document’ changed the file location folder to ‘Writings’ and tapped the enter key. He looked at the time on his laptop which read 4: 30 am; stood up, yawned tiredly, stretched his tensed muscles, massaged his eyes with two fingers as he usually does and made for the bathroom. He had been glued to his chair for over six hours only took few moments for coffee. He was amazed at how much he had endured, his bladder was full and he knew he needed the short walk. Apart from it being a much welcomed exercise, he would use the short break to map out the plot of his story in his head; it was still inconclusive and had many grey areas. He yawned again, involuntarily cupped his left hand and brought it to his mouth and yawned more.
“At least I have settled on a beginning, if that is all I achieve tonight it would be a task worthwhile. And that stupid Tonia would say writing is easy? Copying a note might be, but sewing words to form a perfect dress is a gruesome task not meant for everyone. It is a chore I hate to love but I guess that’s what makes me not ordinary. Moreover what title suits this piece?”
“It should come with the story as the plot unfolds,” he concluded as he opened the bathroom door to take a well-deserved piss and possibly a heavenly blessed shit.