I watch with remorse as Ijeoma’s mother totters on unsteady legs, on her arthritic way out of the room.
“I hope you’re happy now?” the young girl beside her, Amara spits out at me through clenched teeth, as she does her utmost best to steady Ijeoma’s mother with one hand, while holding a squalling tot in the other hand.
“I’m sorry…” I murmur, feeling the burn of mortification suffuse my face.
In the past two days, I have made a habit of putting my foot in my mouth.
Two days ago. . .
I take my husband’s car to the hospital, despite my promise to bring it back immediately after dropping Gabby off at school.
He gets tired of waiting for me, and leaves for work with public transport, leaving his brother, Ifeanyi with the instruction to take my car to the wash, and bring it to him afterwards.
I hear from the gateman that Oga Ifeanyi took my car out, and I hit the roof in anger. Furiously, I make some calls, which start out as scathing, but quickly end with me feeling the sting of chagrin. That is the first foot I put in my mouth.
Yesterday. . .
I stand at the foot of Ijeoma’s hospital bed, watching her ‘sleep’. There is no visible difference between the way she was when she was in ‘shock’ immediately after delivery, and now that she is comatose. Looking at her, trying not to mind all the wires attached to her body, I note how peacefully she sleeps, as though she will wake up with just a tap or nudge from me.
“Ijee…” I whisper. “Wake up…”
There is no stir or fluttering of eyelids, like I expect. The beep-beep of the machines surrounding her is the only response I get.
“The doctor is taking the baby off oxygen this evening,” Ijeoma’s husband says behind me in a robotic voice.
“Are they sure they should be doing that now?” I turn briefly to ask.
“Yes,” he replies in his flat tone. “They even wanted to take it off just before you came in, but I asked them to leave it for a while, just to be sure.”
“Yeah…” I say absent-mindedly, still staring at Ijeoma. “Better to be safe than sorry, right?”
“I wonder what I’ll do with her then,” he says.
“With who?” I ask, turning fully to focus on him.
“With the baby,” he says, looking as dismal as he sounds.
“Erm… I don’t know. What about Ijeoma’s mother?” I query, a tad confused.
“She cannot come,” Godfrey says simply.
“What do you mean?” I am perplexed by the answer.
“I don’t just know. Your friend somehow decided that she is better off without her. Even though, she has been having some medical challenges…” He let his voice trail off.
“Wait! I want to understand,” I start. “So, they agreed that she won’t be coming for omugwo?”
“And now, does she know about the situation on ground?” I ask again, getting worked up.
“Yes, she does.”
“And she’s still not coming?” I say, my eyes flashing with the fury welling inside me.
“That’s what she says,” Godfrey replies dully.
“But why now?” I screech.
“Not so loud!” he cautions, casting furtive glances at Ijeoma.
“Oh! Sorry, sorry,” I say, dropping my voice to a near-whisper. “So, what reason did she give?” I walk to the long sofa in the room where he is seated, and settle down next to him.
“I really don’t understand. She just calls and encourages me every now and then. That’s all.” He punctuates his words with a shrug.
“Don’t worry. I will find out exactly why,” I say in a firm tone as I rise from my seat. “Some people are not fit to be called mothers!” I fume under my breath as I walk out of the room, pulling my phone from my purse as I go.
Today. . .
“What use is your apology now?” Amara says in a sharp retort, as she adjusts the baby on her hip, firmly putting her back to me, before walking out of the room, leading Ijeoma’s mother.
I’d called Ijeoma’s mother, and the aged woman had pled ill health as the reason why she could not come and be with her daughter and grand-daughter, a reason which I rejected right off the bat, without waiting to hear the specifics. I’d insisted that she come.
She came in today, and when I saw her, I wished I hadn’t insisted. She is really unwell with advanced arthritis. She walks with a great deal of pain and difficulty. I imagine her case would have been worsened with the stress of the journey and the distress of observing her daughter’s unconsciousness.
Godfrey is very angry at me, because I did not tell him that I ‘ordered’ his mother-in-law to come; he hadn’t told the woman the real situation of things with her daughter, and so isn’t pleased to be confronted with her discovery of his prevarication. Since I orchestrated that, he is making me bear the brunt of his displeasure.
Amara is Ijeoma’s mother’s wife – I remember Ijeoma making a joke about her mother wanting to marry a female who would take care of her in her old age. And the young woman just had a baby barely two months ago; so, she too resents the idea of being ‘ordered’ to come into Enugu town.
I watch as they leave the room and let the door close behind them. I rise from my seated position and walk to the bed, to Ijeoma’s supine figure, feeling condemned by the beep-beep of the machines that are monitoring her heartbeat.
“You see what just happened?” I say to her, straightening the spreads beneath her head.
I am getting used to the idea of talking to her as if she can hear. The doctor says she can actually hear. At first, it seemed awkward, but I’m getting more comfortable with it.
“Shey you know I had good intentions? How could I have known mumsy isn’t feeling well? How could I have known that Godfrey did not tell her the true situation of things…that you’re in a coma?” I perch on the bed, rumpling the spread that I just straightened.
Placing my head in my left hand, I rub my temples, which is beginning to throb.
“I have seen something that has made you unable to talk,” I say, chuckling mirthlessly at my lame attempt at levity, half expecting her to say something in retort.
“You know what?” I continue, standing and neatening the spreads again. “I am making a vow right now. I will be absolutely good and nice to everybody, while I pray for your quick recovery. Maybe God hasn’t been answering my prayers because I have been bitchy to everybody. So, if you see Him there, tell Him that I want you back, and I will fulfill my part of this vow to that end.”
I kiss my friend’s forehead, and wipe my lip-gloss from the spot, before turning, lifting my purse and walking out of the room.
I drive straight to Nkaiso’s house to pick Gabby up. It is a Saturday, and considering the fact that Nneamaka had banned Gabby from coming to her place and ‘spoiling’ her daughter, I’d taken him to Nkaiso’s place.
While I drive and mull over the events of the past few days, I make a mental list of those that I owe an apology, in furtherance of my vow. Nneamaka is at the top of my list, followed by Ifeanyi, then Ijeoma’s mother.
“This is not going to be easy at all!” I mutter to myself. “But it is worth it. Anything is worth Ijeoma’s life and health,” I declare firmly to the empty car.
I park the car at the edge of the street, two houses from Nkaiso’s, and make the remaining few yards of the journey on foot. I am surprised to see Mimi answer the door to Nkaiso’s house.
“Ah! I did not know you are that close with NK o!” I say, hugging her.
“Not really sha,” she says, extricating herself to lock the door. “She is helping me with some stuff,” she explains, walking ahead of me to the sofa where her bag is.
“My God!” I exclaim. “I can’t get over how slim you now are!” I say, admiring her svelte figure.
“I know, right?” she starts to say, just as Nkaiso enters the sitting room.
“How is she doing?” Nkaiso promptly asks, hugging me briefly, concern etched on her face.
“Hmm…” I sigh, shaking my head, conveying a wealth of information with the act.
“Don’t worry, she’ll wake up, inugo?” Nkaiso says consolingly.
“Who is sick?” Mimi interjects.
“My friend o…” I start to explain, and then I realize that she knows her. “You remember Ijeoma nau! From my birthday?”
“Oh yes! Has she put to bed yet?” she inquires.
“Yes, and she had some complications. She’s in a coma now.”
“Oh no! This is so sad!” Mimi exclaims, the sadness in her grimace genuine. “What of her baby?”
“She survived.” Then turning to Nkaiso, I ask, “What of Gabby?”
“He’s playing. Won’t you sit for a while?”
“No. I have to get going. I haven’t done anything at home,” I beg off.
As if on cue, Nkaiso’s help brings Gabby into the sitting room. He squeals in delight upon seeing me, and darts to me. I lift him and nuzzle his face while I give him a huge, squeezy hug.
“I will come and see Ijee tomorrow,” Nkaiso says.
“Yeah! I should do that too,” Mimi cuts in. “What time will you be going?” She turns to Nkaiso. “We could go together.”
“What time is visitation time?” Nkaiso directs at me.
“From 10am to 4pm on Sundays,” I reply. “But, you guys should come at 2pm. Chinwe and Mercy are coming to my house, and we’ll go to the hospital together at that 2pm.”
“Oh, goodie!” Mimi says almost exultantly. “It will be like a mini reunion.”
“Only, it won’t be for a happy event,” I say sadly.
My words hang there in the air, ominous and awkward for a few seconds.
“I’ll see you off,” Nkaiso says then, breaking the awkward silence.
I listen as the melody of the door-bell sound from somewhere inside the house. Almost immediately, dogs start barking. I give a small start, suddenly remembering that Nneamaka owns dogs.
“What a friend you claim to be!” I berate myself, just as Nneamaka opens the door.
She stands there at the door, uncertainty clouding her features as she stares at me.
“Nne, I am so very sorry about what happened between us the last time,” I begin. “You are right. I shouldn’t tell you how to raise your child. I am sorry I called you a hypocrite. I am sorry I walked out on you.” I wait for a beat, and when she doesn’t say anything, I continue, “I am not here to make excuses for myself, and you must not forgive me. But I still hope you will. I am so sorry.”
When she still doesn’t say anything for another beat, I turn to leave. Then, I notice that Gabby is no longer by my side. He had passed through the little space between Nneamaka and the door, and gone into the house. I turn back to Nneamaka.
“For the sake of the friendship between our children…” I start again.
“Stop that joor!” she cuts in a little chuckle, delight dancing in her eyes.
“What?!” I ask.
“If it is your plan to make me feel guilty, you have succeeded,” she says, pulling me into the house by the hand.
“No oh! That wasn’t my plan at all o!” I say, laughing in relief that I am in good terms again with Nneamaka. God, shebi You are watching, I think, throwing the words heavenward. I’m doing my part. Better get ready to do Yours.
Written by Adaku J.