“Oh my God, she’s so…red!!” I coo softly at the sight of Ijeoma’s baby.
The tiny, slightly-squirming bundle is ensconced in a kind of transparent case, all red and splotchy.
“Can we hold her?” I turn to the doctor.
“I’m sorry, you can’t. Not at this moment,” she says. “She suffered distress in the womb. She is on oxygen right now; we are doing our utmost best to stabilize her.”
“You mean she isn’t okay?” Ijeoma’s husband flashes his red-rimmed eyes somewhat menacingly on the doctor.
I automatically take his hand and squeeze, holding him back in case he is nursing thoughts of attacking the doctor.
“But she will be fine, right?” I ask, desperately trying to steal a glimmer of hope for Godfrey.
“Were you paying attention to what I just said,” the doctor rounds on me, suddenly defensive.
“I heard you. I just need you to reassure us,” I say in a near whimper, grasping Godfrey’s hand tighter, as he tries to wriggle his hand from my hold.
“Listen,” the doctor starts, in a more mellowed tone, “it is a big miracle that she survived.” She gestures towards the tiny sleeping form of Ijeoma’s baby. “Do you believe in God?”
“With all my heart, I do,” I say fervently.
“You?” She turns her face to Godfrey. When he doesn’t say anything in response, she continues, “I believe in God too. And He has kept her alive up till this point. He will see her through, her mother too. We just have to be more prayerful, that’s all.”
I notice a look flit across her face. Too brief for me to decipher what it is, but it gives me an assurance that she is all in on this case. After all, she said ‘we’, I think to myself.
“…you come back,” the doctor is saying. The words pull me out of my thoughtfulness.
“Sorry?” I say.
“I said you can go home now, and come back in the morning,” she repeats.
“Ok,” I say, letting out a deep breath.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Godfrey declares.
The doctor smiles benignly at him. “You have to, Mr. Anachunam. You need all your energy when your wife wakes up. Go and sleep and clean up.” Her tone is kind but stern.
As Godfrey and I walk out of the neonatal ward, I feel my empty jean pockets, belatedly realizing that I do not have my phone with me. I wonder where it is, I think. I must have left it in the car.
I look up at the clock in the hospital lobby as we walk out, and I am alarmed to discover that it is 9pm already. My husband is going to have a fit, I realize. However, not wanting to alarm Godfrey, I focus on getting him to go home, as I can see him bending to seat on the nearest chair in the room.
“Up!” I command, pulling his hand. “You have to go and eat and sleep. I don’t want you fainting and giving me extra headache biko,” I add, feigning annoyance, knowing that Godfrey will only obey if he is thinking of another person’s comfort.
It works! He gets up grudgingly, and we move together back to the car park. I watch him get into his car and drive off, before gunning my own engine.
I walk into the house to see a frowning Nneamaka and my pacing husband.
The moment I walk in, the two of them start speaking at once.
“What is the meaning of this? How can you leave like that without trying to reach anybody…”
“What is wrong with you? You didn’t think to call me…”
I eye both of them levelly, and sit down on one of the sofas, pulling off my footwear, one after the other. Then, I get up and head towards the bedroom. My husband follows after me.
“Baby, what is the matter,” he asks gently, as we walk into the room.
“I’m sorry. I left my phone in the car, and there was no time to go and pick it up to call. In fact, I didn’t even remember…”
“Your phone is here. You left it in the house. Which of your friends is sick?” he asks.
“Ijeoma…she isn’t ill. She had a baby, and both she and her baby are not very okay.” I plonk down on the bed, and almost immediately, tears start leaking out of my eyes.
“Ahn! What happened now?” he queries, all concerned.
“Hmmm! Where do I start now?” I wonder out loud, wiping my tears. “Anyway, she had something they called placenta abruption… She was bleeding, so, the doctors said they had to operate on her. She refused and it got very complicated. They finally operated after she fainted. She is still unconscious. Her baby is on oxygen.” I feel very much as grim as the story I just told.
“Let me go and settle Nneamaka,” I say, rising from the bed, “before she gets too upset.”
“Nne, I am very sorry.” I let my words proceed me as I enter the sitting room.
“Hmm! You got me so very worried! Then, you weren’t picking your calls. Do you know the bad things that went through my mind? The way you even drove off in a hurry? Biko, don’t give me this kind of high BP again o!” she admonishes.
“Sorry, nnem. Time got away from me. Ijeoma is unconscious, and her baby is on oxygen,” I say both in apology and explanation.
“Ewoo! Chai –!” she starts exclaiming, and then stops when her phone rings. “My husband is calling again,” she says, picking the call. “Hello, ubii,” she speaks into the phone, and listens for a bit. “No, she’s back. I’m coming home now.” And then, she clicks off. “Let me start going,” she says to me. “My husband has been worried too.”
We walk out together into the night, heading for the gate.
“What did you just call your husband?” I ask in belated amusement.
“Ubii, short for Ruby,” she replies. “That’s what we call each other.”
“Awww, that’s sweet,” I singsong.
“Jewe biko!” she returns with a small chuckle, playfully shoving me. “I have to run now. Good night,” she bids before setting off in a small run.
“Nwayokwa!” I say with a chuckle of my own. “Don’t fall down o! Good night.” And then, I head back into the house.
“Sweetie, can I use your car to take Gabby to school?” I say to my husband’s back as he faces the bathroom sink, brushing his teeth.
“Mmm…” He spits out into the sink, then replies, “Why now?”
“My car smells!” I say with a grimace. “I forgot to ask Samuel to wash the seats for me. Ijeoma bled onto the seat while I was rushing her to the hospital.”
“Blood?” he asks. I nod. “That’s not what Samuel can handle now,” he says, turning to continue his brushing.
“So, what do I do?” I ask.
He stops and spits. “I’m going out in the next forty minutes to one hour. So, take my car and take Gabby to school, and come back immediately. I’ll take yours to the wash. You’ll go and pick it later,” he says, before turning his back to me again.
“Thank you!” I say, leaving the room immediately. Gabby is almost late.
Nneamaka is outside minding the children, and shepherds them into my husband’s car when I unlock it. In a matter of minutes, I am soon pulling out of the compound, my brow furrowed with concentration on my driving and worry at the children’s lateness to school.
“Ewoo!” Nneamaka exclaims then as she lifts a polybag from her handbag. “I forgot to drop Nuella’s day clothes inside your house!”
“Don’t worry. Just leave it in the car. I’ll try to remember it when I get home.”
We get to the school in record time, and proceed to take the children to their class.
“Hope Gabby didn’t give you any trouble yesterday?” I remember to ask Nneamaka as we walk out towards the school gate. “Anyway, he is an angel in human form,” I add with a small laugh.
“Ehen! Speaking of Gabby,” she begins with a frown, “he did something really bad yesterday.”
“What did he do?” I ask, slowing down my gait.
“You really should watch that child,” she chides, “and mind the type of movies you let him watch. Like me, I don’t let Nuella watch TV or movies. That is where children learn all sorts of bad things.”
“Ok. But what did he do?” I ask, getting impatient and stopping just outside the school gate.
“I’m serious o! I mean, where else would he learn such a thing –”
“Wait first! Tell me what he did before analyzing where he got it from,” I snap without meaning to.
“Oh yes! I forgot! Gabby is an angel who does no evil.” Nneamaka’s heavy sarcasm colours the smile she throws at me. “Why am I even bothering to report him to you? You’ll probably not do anything about it!” she huffs, and makes to walk away.
“Oya, sorry now!” I say with grudging pleadingness, pulling her gently by the hand. “Tell me what he did.”
“Well,” she starts, a tad mellowed, “he hugged and kissed Nuella on the cheek, and from the looks of things, it has been going on, because my baby didn’t even resist him.”
“Well, what can I say?” I shrug. “My son is irresistible.” I laugh. “Seriously, tell me what he did,” I say. Then looking closely at the other woman and noting her set features, I widen my eyes with incredulity. “Hold on! You’re serious! That’s it?”
“Eheenu! You don’t think it’s a serious thing?” she queries, her expression a mixture of annoyance, concern and exasperation.
“Erm…wait! Let me be sure I got what you said,” I say. “My son hugged your daughter, and gave her a peck, right?”
“Yes!” she almost screams.
“Aaand…” I draw out the word.
“Nothing else! For chrissakes, they are just two! Where did they get it from?” she wails.
“Gabby got his from me. I hug and peck him all the time. Don’t you hug and peck your daughter?” I ask, amazed.
“Of course not!” she returns, her voice rising by the decibel with each sentence. “That is so wrong!”
“I don’t understand you. How can you not hug your baby? How is that possible?”
“Don’t you tell me how to bring up my child!” Her voice changes to a low growl, causing me to flinch. “You borrow stuff that are unheard of in our culture from the Whites, and use it on your kids! This is how he will go and be corrupting every child he comes close to. In fact, let me warn you. I do not want to see Gabby close to my Nuella again!”
I throw my head back to let out a bark of humourless laughter. “Did you just say ‘stuff unheard of’?” I retort with a sneer. “You are the very definition of hypocrisy, you know that? Shey it’s you that goes up and down, telling people that your name is Sophie, abi is it Stephanie? See, abeg, I have bigger issues bothering my head other than standing here and exchanging words with you!”
That said, I turn and stomp back to the car, promptly driving off without another glance at Nneamaka.
On my drive home, I suddenly think of Ijeoma, and acting on my thought, I place a call to her husband.
“How are they doing?” I ask, when he tells me that he is already at the hospital.
“The doctor says that the baby is getting better, she might be able to breathe on her own by this evening,” he reports.
“Oh! That’s good!” I exhale. “Ijeoma nko?”
“No improvement,” he replies flatly.
“Don’t worry, she’ll be fine,” I say consolingly. “I’ll come later in the day to take over from you. Have you eaten?”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Mbanu, you can’t say that,” I speak firmly. “I will bring you something when I’m coming. Jisie ike, oh?”
“Ok.” And he clicks off.
My phone rings as I pull into the compound. Ijeoma’s husband is calling back.
Hmm, I muse inwardly as I reach for my phone. Maybe she’s finally awake. I am smiling as I pick the call. “How far?” I say in greeting.
“She slipped into a coma!” he bursts out.
The smile freezes on my face. “What? Who – what?” My brain is suddenly scrambling to process his words.
“Ijeoma…” That one word comes out in a distraught tone. “They just told me now that she has slipped into a coma!” He breaks down into tears.
“I am coming over immediately!” I scream. “Hello! Hello? Godfrey, did you hear me?” I say into the phone.
All the response I get is Godfrey’s sobs. His heart-wrenching sobs.
Jewe biko – Go please
Nwayokwa – Small-small
Jisie ike – Be strong.
Written by Adaku J.