Upon entering the house, after antenatal classes, I peel away all item of clothing from my body, and head straight for the bed. Lethargy has been quite the bitch for the past few days. I have two hours before Gabby’s school lets out for the day, and I am happy that I don’t have to go and pick him up. My husband does the school run on my antenatal days since there is no knowing when exactly I will see the doctor at any given antenatal appointment.
I fall asleep almost immediately my body hits the bed.
A phone call wakes me up at what feels like minutes after I shut my eyes, except it’s been an hour and fifteen minutes, I realize upon a quick glance at the wall clock in the room.
“Hello?” I mumble groggily, wishing already that I had ignored the call. Sleep is still calling my name seductively.
“Aunty, my aunty is dying! Please, help!” a frantic voice screams into my ear.
“What? Who is this?” I ask, attempting to sit up on the bed, sleep fleeing from my eye instantly.
“It’s me, Gloria!” my caller says. “Please, come! My aunty is dying. There’s blood everywhere!”
“Gloria – which Gloria?” I ask, willing my brain to finish booting and remember who Gloria and her aunty are.
“Aunty Ada, it’s Gloria! I live with Mummy Derrick!” The voice is now tinged with impatience.
“Mummy Derrick…” I say, thinking for a bit. And then I gasp, “Oh my God!” I have just remembered that Nkaiso’s eldest child’s name is Derrick. “Nkaiso? What happened to your aunty?” I query, a frisson of dread slithering down my spine.
“Aunty, please! Come and help her…” She starts blubbering and crying. “She’s wounded. She’s bleeding on the floor…”
“Where are you? Where is she?” I ask, getting down from the bed and picking my clothes off the floor, the call staying connected through my ear piece.
“We are at home.” A beat and then she says, “We now live inside PRODA quarters. Please, come quickly.”
“PRODA quarters? When did you people move and why?” I ask, wondering why and when Nkaiso and her family moved places. Then I realize I am speaking to the help, who no one explains the whys to. “You know what? Never mind. I’ll be there soon.”
I hang up. And then I dial Chinwe as I dress up.
“Babe, what’s up?” she says upon picking up.
“I dey. Where are you?”
“I dey office oh!”
“Are you busy?”
“Not really. What’s up?” she asks warily.
“Nkaiso’s house help just called me. She says Nkaiso is injured and bleeding. I’m thinking maybe he has hit her again.”
“Oh my God!” Chinwe exclaims.
“Are you free to come with me?” I ask.
“Yes, I am! Where are you now?”
“I’m about to leave my house. I’ll come by your office and pick you up.”
I pick up my car keys and purse, and proceed to leave the house as fast as I can waddle.
After several phone calls to Nkaiso’s help in order to get directed to their new abode, we stop before the gate of a solitary building with a high, barb wired fence, waiting for the gate to be opened from within. Minutes later, the gate is opened and I drive in.
“Where is she?” Chinwe barks at Gloria as she struggles to pull the gate shut.
“Inside the house, ma,” Gloria, a mere slip of a girl, says. Her eyes are puffy from apparent too-much crying.
“Which way?” I ask, looking the imposing structure up and down.
“Through the back, ma,” she responds, and leads the way.
We follow her into the house through the kitchen door, and just there, sprawled on the floor of the small connecting hallway between the kitchen and the dining room is Nkaiso. She is groaning in apparent pain, barely conscious of her environment. I recoil from the sight of her, remembering how battered she’d looked the last time I saw her as an abused woman, and noting how even worse she looks now. She has been beaten to a pulp. Both of her eyes are swollen shut and her lips look like they have been pumped up to five times their normal size. Her face is covered with various cuts and contusions and her hair is matted with blood. There are small collections of blood on the floor around her body, and I don’t even know which part of her body is shedding them.
“Jesus Christ!” Chinwe gasps in horror.
“Oh my God…” I whimper, feeling tears spring to my eyes.
“This man is a monster,” Chinwe mutters. Evident in her low tone is such savage bitterness.
“What happened?” I ask, trying to keep my voice strong, even though emotions are battering my insides.
“It’s Oga…” Gloria begins and chokes to a stop as tears begin streaming down from her tear-bruised eyes.
“We have to get her to a hospital immediately,” I turn to Chinwe to say.
“Yes, we should,” Chinwe agrees. “But hold on, wait.” Muttering under her breath, she pulls out her phone from her hand bag and takes some snapshots of Nkaiso as she lies there. “Ok, let’s lift her,” she says to Gloria.
I step out of the way as they lift her. Nkaiso offers a whimpering groan as they move her, and nothing more. She is in obvious pain but too out of it to express it.
“Gently please,” I say helplessly as I follow them out of the house.
The two women carry her toward my car. I grab a towel from the clothes line, and cut them off before they can deposit her in the backseat of my car.
“Hold on,” I say before I spread the towel on the car seat, an attempt to prevent as much blood as possible from getting on the seat. “Okay, go ahead, put her down.” I step back and watch them maneuver Nkaiso unto the towel-covered seat as gently as they possibly can.
Then they step back and Gloria shuts the car door.
“You’re coming with us,” I declare. “Get into the car.”
“I need to stay with the children, ma,” she says.
“Oh God, the children!” I exclaim, realizing then that I hadn’t even thought of them.
“Where are they?” Chinwe asks.
“Inside. I sent them to their room,” Gloria says. There is something about the way she says this, a matter-of-factness to her tone that hints at the frequency with which she has done this – usher Nkaiso’s children away from the grisly sight of their mother’s abuse.
“We can’t let you or them be in this house. It’s not safe,” Chinwe says.
“What do we do now?” I ask. “Nkaiso needs urgent attention.”
“Yes. Hold on, let me call Mercy again,” Chinwe says, pulling out her phone once again and dialing. She’d called her first on our way to the house, when we felt we needed numbers for the emergency of getting to Nkaiso. “Nne, are you still coming?” she says into the phone when Mercy answers. “Okay,” she says after a while. Then she disconnects and turns to me. “So, she’s on her way here already, but she can’t exceed her lunch break time. So, Gloria will go with you to the hospital, and I’ll stay here and wait for Mercy to come and pick us up.”
“That’s okay,” I say, signaling to Gloria to get into the car.
“Aunty, let me go and tell the children the plan, so that they will agree to follow this Aunty” – she gestures at Chinwe – “when your other friend comes.”
I nod my acquiescence and she promptly scampers back into the house.
Ten minutes later, Gloria isn’t out of the house, so I go inside to find out what the holdup is. Following the muted voices that I can hear coming from somewhere in the house, I find the help and Nkaiso’s three children in one of the rooms. Gloria is holding Nkaiso’s last child, Mfon, in her arms, murmuring words of reassurance. The little girl is clinging to her and crying bitterly in the lowest tones that she can manage. The older kids, Derrick and his younger brother, Aniekan, are puffy-eyed and hunkered down in various corners of the room, looking on.
“Darling, don’t cry,” I say, startling them around to face me. They obviously hadn’t heard me come in. I raise my hand in a placating gesture, seeking to calm them and reassure them at the same time. “Your mummy will be fine,” I say gently. “I have to get her to the hospital with your aunty here, while you wait for another aunty to come and pick you up and bring you to the hospital, okay?”
“What if he comes back while you’re gone?” the oldest asks.
I turn to him, this young thirteen-year-old with a haunted look in his eyes that speaks to an aging that no teenager should know.
“I don’t want to be here when he gets back,” he continues, his voice firmed by a determined tone. “Can’t we all come with you right now?”
There is so much hurt etched on his face, a pleadingness that causes my heart to tighten. It is heart-breaking that a child his age and less should be exposed to such ugliness.
“My car will not be able to take all of you…” I start to explain.
“We’ll manage,” Aniekan pipes up. I turn to him; he’s ten and just as aged as his brother. “We will lap each other, please, Aunty, don’t leave us here and go away.” Tears are blooming in his soulful eyes.
The other children are looking up to me, every one of them, including Gloria, in agreement with this new plan.
I hesitate a fraction of a second, and then nod. “OK. Let’s all go. We’ll find a way to make it work.”
They all troop out of the room and out of the house speedily ahead of me.
“Mercy is here oh!” Chinwe says just as I step out of the house.
I can hear the tooting of a car horn coming from the gate. “Ah! Thank God!” I sigh as Gloria hurries away from the backyard to let Mercy in.
Written by Adaku