Nkaiso and I both stand on either sides of Ijeoma’s bed. Nkaiso leads the prayers, while I whimper my ‘Amen’ between sniffles, cracking open my eye every now and then to see if her soulful prayers is somehow touching God’s heart, the way it is touching mine.
She does not even so much as crack open an eyelid until we finish praying.
We walk out to the reception, with my hopes as high as the ceiling. Ijeoma will wake up soon, I think to myself. What kind of merciful God will hear such heartfelt pleas as the one that fell out of NK’s lips, and yet refuse to do something? I reason.
Whatever had been the reason for the mild ruckus Nkaiso and I walked away from earlier has been resolved. Mercy and Chinwe are seated, and had their eyes and concentration trained on Mimi.
“Twenty-four straight hours!” Mimi exclaims in what seems like an exaggeration, as we approach them. “Twenty-four hours, I was in labour pains. I screamed and screamed eehn! By the time the baby came, my voice was gone.”
Mercy and Chinwe let out a collective gasp of horror.
“Are you trying to scare them?” I ask.
All three eyes turned to Nkaiso and I.
“Oh! You guys are back,” Mimi says. “We were about to go file a missing persons report.”
“Ahn! But we didn’t stay that long nau!” Nkaiso protests.
“Well, now that you’re back, can we go now?” Mercy asks, rolling her eyes. “I’ve had enough hospital to last me for five years.” She attempts to take the bite off her words with a small chuckle.
“I don’t think there’s any other thing to be done here,” I say. “We should all keep praying for Ijeoma’s quick recovery.”
“Amen!” Mercy hollers, raising her hand in mock supplication and standing at the same time. “Let’s move it,” she adds, walking towards the exit.
We all file out of the hospital reception.
“So, which way for you two?” I ask Mercy and Chinwe as we approach the car park.
“I don’t know,” Chinwe answers. “It’s just 3pm. The day is still young, and I don’t have anything taking me home. I’ll just hang out in your place for a while.”
“You?” I turn to Mercy, hoping she has somewhere else to be. It has taken sheer will-power for me not to slap some of her thoughtless words back into her mouth.
“Nothing doing, either. Guess I’ll just hang with you guys,” she says off-handedly, looking at her phone.
I heave a silent, long-suffering groan, looking accusingly at Chinwe. She mouths ‘I’m sorry’ back to me.
“I know!” Mercy pipes up just then.
Chinwe and I scramble to get back our poker faces, hoping she didn’t catch our charade.
“Let’s go to Nza Street. I know this cool place where we can eat grilled fish!” she says excitedly.
“Yay! Point and kill!” Chinwe exclaims. Mercy’s excitement is clearly infectious.
“Ahem…” I clear my throat.
They both look at me expectantly.
“I can’t go,” I say simply.
“Ahn! Why noooow!” Chinwe wheedles, her countenance, taking a plunge.
“I have to go pick up Gabby. The person I dropped him with has somewhere to be at 4pm.” I look at my wrist watch. “It’s already past three. I’m sure we can’t finish and get back before 4pm.”
“I’m paying,” Mercy interjects.
“Excuuuuse me…” I start to say, bristling. Then, remembering my vow, I take a deep breath, and try again, through clenched teeth. “Look, babe, money isn’t the issue here. I said I have to go pick my baby.” I really have to get away from this nonsensical specimen of a girl, before I break my vow, I seethe silently.
“Wait! You still refer to that old man as ‘baby’?” Mercy laughs, a short mirthful sound that is a cross between mockery and disbelief. “Isn’t he three already?”
“Even if he is three, how is that a point here?” I ask, failing to hide the anger that is now making its way to the surface. Without waiting for her answer, I add, “Anyway, you guys can go, I’ll just head on home.”
“Don’t be angry now!” Chinwe beseeches. “Can’t we find a way around this?”
“There’s no –” I start to say.
“We could go together to the place where Gabby is,” she interrupts, “and pick him up. Then, we’ll take him with us to Nza Street. Please?” She looks beseechingly at me.
“Ok,” I grumble, eyeing Mercy, who, as usual, is oblivious of the ruckus she almost caused. Sometimes, I wonder if she acts clueless on purpose.
“He is everything I want in a man, and more!” Mercy is telling us about her boyfriend. “I like that he isn’t too clingy. He spoils me with money and gifts. He always tells me, ‘I know you have your own money, I’m just trying to make you feel my impact as your man’,” she concludes, taking a sip of her drink.
“Awww!” Chinwe gushes. “I wish my Chukwuebuka will be like this o!”
“Meaning?” I ask, confused. “Is he just in your head?”
Chinwe throws her head back to indulge a peal of laughter. “Chai, Adaku! You get bad mouth o! He is outside the country. We met through a mutual friend on BBM. Long story for another day jaré.”
“No o! We have time. Tell us!” Mercy says insistently.
“Erm, I don’t think so o!” I say, eyeing Gabby, who, tired of sitting in a place once the fish had finished, is now sitting on the floor, playing with bottle tops and sand. “I have to take this little man home.”
“Here we go again!” Mercy says, rolling those eyes that I am beginning to wish I can pluck out. “I almost did not enjoy this outing because Gabby has to this and Gabby has to that,” she complains.
“E don do for you sef, Mercy!” Chinwe instantly rounds on her. “E don do! Ahn! Why have you been attacking Ada left, right and centre since today? What exactly is your problem? And you…” – she turns to me – “what exactly is going on with you? Why are you letting her walk all over you? This isn’t the Ada I know. What is bothering you?”
“Wait! Shey you think it is business as usual with me, abi?” Mercy charges at Chinwe. “Levels have changed o!”
“I’m not even ready to hear the nonsense you’re about to say,” Chinwe cuts her short with raised hand. Turning to me, she says concernedly, “What is going on?”
“See…” I begin, proud of myself that someone is noticing my efforts. If a human being has noticed, then God must have taken proper note long time ago, I reason. Aloud, I continue, “Let’s not fight, I beg you guys. Let us allow this day end happily. We are lucky to be alive enough to hear and talk when someone disses us. Some people are bedridden and unable to say a single word in reply to someone’s greeting –”
“Aha!” Chinwe cuts me off. “This is all about IJ, right?”
“Not necessarily,” I say with a sigh.
“Sorry if I offended you,” Mercy intones. “Even though I don’t see how I could have offended you sha.”
“I’m good…” I start to say, and then I see Gabby trying to drink water from the bottle on our table, and pouring the water all over his clothes. “Gabby!” I scream, taking the bottle from him, and gently giving him to drink.
“Arrrgh!” Mercy groans. “After all I’ve seen today, I’m never having kids!” she declares.
“Yeah, right!” Chinwe rolls her eyes. “Hope you’ve cleared that with…erm…what’s that his name again?”
“Ikenna, and yes. He already made that suggestion. I just made up my mind!” She clicks her tongue and picks up her phone.
“Don’t mind her,” Chinwe says to me, using her handkerchief to wipe down Gabby’s shirt. “You have to take him home, so he doesn’t catch cold.”
“Yeah!” I reply, gathering my stuff into my bag.
“Babe, we’re about to go o!” Chinwe says to Mercy.
“Yeah! I’m already tired of her sef,” she sniffs, rising.
I drop them off at New Haven Junction before heading to the house.
I bathe Gabby as fast as I can, put him down to sleep, and then, rush to the kitchen to prepare dinner for my husband.
Then I see it.
My kitchen is in complete disarray. The pot of coconut rice has been left open. Looking into it, I realize that someone has taken a greater part of the food, and cleared all the meat inside. There are grains of rice scattered all over the cooker. There are a number of used plates in the sink.
I stand there, trying to gather my wits and wondering who did this. Then I hear footsteps walking into the sitting room.
“It’s like I’m hungry again o! Let me go and take the remnant of that rice,” calls a husky voice. A voice that I know too well, and recognize.
“Oh! You’re back!” the woman says, upon stepping into the kitchen. She stands there for a few seconds, and then turns and leaves the kitchen.
“Where’s the food nau?” I hear Ifeanyi ask.
“I saw something that made me lose my appetite,” Leticia says in a voice that is louder than necessary. She obviously wants to be sure I hear.
Some few hush-toned talks later, they both burst out laughing.
“Let’s get back into the room jaré!” Leticia says laughingly.
I shed angry tears as I clean up the kitchen and prepare dinner for my husband. I really cannot wait for Ijeoma to wake up. Imagine this hussy misbehaving anyhow! I resent Ijeoma for a very short while for having to be ill, and make me to make this vow that literally allows everyone to step on my toes and get away with it.
After preparing dinner, I decide to lie down for a little while.
I must have slept for about forty minutes or more, when I wake up suddenly. I sit on the bed, wondering what woke me up, and why I am feeling disconcerted. I feel around for my phone under the pillow, but it isn’t there.
Getting off the bed, I look on the dresser top; the phone isn’t there either.
I decide to go check for it in the kitchen.
“What the hell is going on here?!” I screech, upon walking into the sitting room.
Ifeanyi and Leticia are making out. On the floor is half their clothing.
“Are you guys for real?! In my sitting room?!” I scream. “Your room isn’t enough again? You have to bring this out here, with my child in the next room?!” All the anger that I feel rises to the surface, and threatens to render me violent.
They stare at me, wide-eyed and somewhat terrified by the picture of a virago that I must look in that moment. Just then, I hear my phone ringing in the kitchen.
The sound cuts off my mounting rage, and I take a deep inhalation. “You two, clear out of this sitting room by the time I come back. I’m not joking,” I say in an eerily calm voice, which surprises even me.
Then, I walk briskly to the kitchen to pick up my phone. The call has ended by the time I get to the kitchen. I have seven missed calls from the same number. I redial the number. An automated voice informs me that I am out of airtime.
Just as I am wondering what to do, the phone rings again.
“Hello?” I speak into the phone.
“I have been trying to reach you and her husband. You weren’t picking up, and the other person’s phone is even switched off!” a high-pitched voice whines in complaint.
“Good evening. Who is this?” I ask, totally confused. “Whose husband?”
“Sorry. This is Nurse Nkechi, calling from 82 Division Hospital.”
“82 Division Hospital?” I almost scream. “What’s going on? Hope everything is okay? How is Ijeoma?” I ask, stringing the questions together, scarcely taking a breath in between.
“We need to reach her husband. It’s urgent,” the high-pitched voice says, grating on my auditory nerve.
“Come, why are you calling me, if you won’t tell me what is going on?” I say, getting angry. “Did Mr. Anachunam tell you that we live together?”
“Ok, ma. Well, I guess I can tell you, since we cannot reach her husband,” the voice says, and then pauses for a while, to converse with someone on the other end.
I am just at the verge of losing my patience and hitting my phone against something, with the hope that the sound to communicate my irritation to her.
Then she speaks again, “Hello? Are you still there, ma?”
“Yes, I am. What is going on?” I ask, gritting my teeth.
“She’s awake, ma.”
Written by Adaku J.