BLINKERED – GRACE OCHIGBO
EPISODE TWENTY SEVEN
Unlike the first time he came in, he looked more elated today, he didn’t look like someone under the influence of alcohol anymore neither did he look like an escape from the psychiatric ward anymore. Dr Wale could see, standing right before him, a young man with a matured sense of responsibility that was quite impressive. The doctor slapped himself in his heart for the negative impressions he had about this same fellow when he barged into his office two days. He can now also clearly see how depression can turn the bravest of men into a fidgeting ant in the face of war.
“Yes, why didn’t you want me to call your name initially?” Dr Wale asked, immediately the young man took his hand off the door knob.
“They wouldn’t want me to do it, if I gave a name. I don’t want to hear sermons from any quarter.” He responded quite boldly as he took the seat the doctor offered him. His determined self right now could scare the greatest doubt off anyone. “I’ve made up my mind about this and that’s final”
“That’s not final” Dr Wale retorted,
He straightened up from the chair where he had sunk into initially because he couldn’t afford anything going wrong right now. He peeped into the ward and saw Tonia smiling from her bed some moments ago. He saw a redefinition of her limitless beauty again, the glowing beauty that seemed to have vanished from her eyes ever since she was bedridden. It was so much so that the newly found hope in the atmosphere of the whole room spewed to the outside thereof. Nothing should go wrong now. He had meticulously started, as a matter of urgency, with countless screening tests yesterday and that was why he didn’t go near her ward all day. He was not ready to give room for suspicions just yet.
“Any problem, doctor?” He asked, looking bug-eyed and feeling very uneasy as the doctor kept flipping through some papers he recognised very accurately as test results, in a grey file. The doctor’s unusual calmness wasn’t helping matters as well
“The screening results are here, young man.”
“Jerry!” he interrupted
“Alright! The screening results are here Jerry” Dr Wale heeded the correction after letting out a light chuckle.
If eyes could control the flow of speech, Jerry’s would have made the elderly man vomit everything in his vocal cavity, as rapid as the speed of light, with the way he gazed at him
“You both are not compatible”
“Exactly what do you mean by that, doctor” He asked, hoping perhaps the doctor was only joking with his last statement as his eyes kept begging for a different response.
“You cannot donate one of your kidneys to Tonia, Jerry.” The doctor said firmly.
Jerry felt like falling off the chair he sat on. No. This can’t be happening now. Why did the doctor break the ‘news of hope’ to them when he couldn’t donate? Who then is donating the kidney the doctor already told Tonia about? Was anything wrong here? Or was a professional now acting amateur all of a sudden? Why would a doctor raise a patient’s hope only to dash it at the end? All these questions and more flooded Jerry’s heart as he got up and went to hit the wall beside him hard. He stole a glance at the doctor who seemed to be unreasonably relaxed and that saddened him the more.
Doctors were supposed to be kind. Not carefree. Not nonchalant.
Jerry wasn’t ready to take all these in anymore, not when someone is dying and needed to be saved. He must save her, by hook or by crook.
“So what is next now” Jerry asked Dr Wale, almost yelling at the elderly man.
Dr Wale removed his eyeglasses and pushed his chair backwards. He got up and walked over to where Jerry stood leaning against the wall, placed a hand on his shoulders and patted him calmly.
We were eating rice. Or do I say they were eating? Mum, Success and David. My eating and normal functions has become involuntary lately, there is more to having a pipe run over your nose to feed you. Strength has been coming for me, especially with the events from the past two days. I wanted to live, for my family, for my Jerry. I wanted to love.
The door creaked open and Aunty Juliet walked in sluggishly. I stared at her with my tired eyes as she walked directly over to my bed without uttering a word to the rest persons sitting on the long chair in the room. I’ve never seen Aunty Juliet this solemn ever since I met her. In fact, I used to wonder if she never had any worries because when she is not smiling, she is laughing, if not she is talking. Such a lively life is my dream and aspiration but…
“How are you, my sweet girl?” she asked, touching my already flat cheek with her hand. I’ve lost so much weight that I look like my own skeleton already.
“I am fine aunty” I replied, holding back her other palm with the firmness with which she held mine. Her long maroon gown swept along with her as she walked. She loosely wrapped another black tainted head tie from her head and extending to round her neck, this is also one of the few times I’ve seen her head wrapped. She continued squeezing my hand for a little while before turning and walking towards where my mum and siblings sat.
“King David, Success! How are you darlings? I’ve missed you” she said, hugging them one by one as she called their names.
“We missed you too Aunty! We are fine.” My siblings responded excitedly almost at the same time as though they planned it.
Mum made a signal to Success who dropped the plate of rice she was holding on the table and covered it carefully before holding on to David’s hand as they both excused themselves.
Mum and Aunty Juliet stood face to face for a long time with their both heads bent downwards like they would pick up something from the cemented floor. My heart was racing within me. I felt I should just get up and push the two lifelong best friends back into each other’s hands. The silence in the room was so deafening and stretched for so long that the only source of sound came from the brown rickety fan on the ceiling, blowing hot air across the room. I was the one that suggested the air conditioner be switched off because I was feeling cold from my inside.
“I am so…”
“I am sorr…”
The both of them stammered at the same time. I watched on as they fell into each other’s arms in a long warm embrace. Aww! Love in the air. They were both sobbing on each other’s shoulders at this point. Theirs is the biblical, ‘there is a friend that sticks closer than a sister’, yeah!
“I am still here” I shouted with the little energy I had left. The two women turned to look at me with their hands still locked in one another. They smiled and sat closely together on the seat; so close, it seemed as though they were obstructing air from breaking their union.
“Abigail… omi?” Juliet asked, jeeringly pointing her index finger towards herself.
My mum chuckled. Then laughed, the kind of laughter I’ve not seen beaming from my mother’s face in a pretty long while but I decided to take my mind away from friends trying to catch up and concentrate on more pressing issues. Yes. Jerry, of course! I still haven’t seen him until now. There is this usually atmosphere of warmth and confidence that comes with him so much so that most times I forget that I was ever sick at any point. He still makes me feel extremely beautiful even in this dilapidated state. At times, I test him to affirm that he is not just whining or flattering but then I see sincerity, heartfelt sincerity, in his eyes. The type he had when he was asking me for a relationship over a year ago, the type he also had that day in my room when he was asking me not to leave him and the type he had on our noisy street that evening, when he talked about our parents’ plan to have us get married before youth service.
“Jerry learnt about Okpanachi” I heard aunty Juliet say. Her lips curved to reveal all her front teeth as she said ‘learnt’. My mum looked at her with eyes carrying sympathy. Their discussion, as much as I wanted to take my mind away, kept dragging my attention. Maybe, or definitely, it’s because Jerry’s name was mentioned.
“Oh! How? Oh no!” My mum exclaimed continuously before saying a real word. I’ve discovered that my mum’s emotional strength is much more minimal relative to the weight of an atom.
“I know what you want to ask” Aunty Juliet interrupted when mum opened her mouth to speak, so mum swallowed back her words.
“I couldn’t bring myself to tell him. Jake was superb, he was doing very great at the agreement. It didn’t just feel right …” She muttered until she voiced out the last statement.
Yes, talking about dad and Uncle Jake his friend, I last saw those two days ago as well. Men. They can like to shy away from emotions, from hurt, from pain, from anything ’emotions’. Obviously, just to prove a weak point that real men don’t cry.
My heart skipped a beat immediately I saw who opened the door. It felt the same way one sitting in a restaurant would feel when a long-awaited order arrives. It felt like seeing the president after waiting on the queue for hours or better still, like finally getting to the front of the cashier in Nigerian banks after waiting on the queue for as long as your brain can recollect. It felt like I just got exactly what I needed right now.
He greeted the women and moved over to me while I looked on, sternly, at him with my exhausted eyeballs till he came to me. His charm, his gait, his posture, his neatly trimmed beards, his dark fresh skin, his everything makes my heart love him, the only man it has always truly loved, the more.
“Baby, how are you?” He asked in a soft tone after planting a kiss on my forehead. I closed my eyes as he did that. I don’t know why but I always close my eyes.
“I am fine Sweetheart. I am fine. Now that I’ve seen you, am fine.” I said, one at a time.
“You look more beautiful this afternoon. Oh! Just two days I didn’t come here and you have gone to my mother’s spa, huh?” He questioned jokingly, stealing a glimpse at his mum but fortunately and unfortunately the duo were so lost in their discussion that they didn’t even hear him. I noticed they switched from English to Igala language immediately Jerry walked in. I understood them but couldn’t place exactly who the main character- Okpanachi- in their story was. The funny thing was that Jerry who was the topic of their discussion couldn’t even understand any of the things they were both saying.
“Can I take you somewhere?” he asked.
I was surprised, more like shocked. I didn’t see that question coming. With the needle fixed to the dorsum of my right hand and the catheter on my lower part, I don’t know how Jerry imagined us taking a walk this time. Though the drip was disconnected this afternoon when the nurse came, that was after I pointed her to my hand that was swelling already from the effects of the excessive drips I’ve been receiving, I don’t have any energy to get up, let alone walk.
“C’mon, you aren’t walking. Don’t be scared” Jerry added, when he saw I was looking on at him with confusion written all over my face.
“So how are we going?” I asked, sounding even more confused.
Jerry pushed the wheel chair from behind, asking intermittently whether I was OK or not. It took a little while for us to convince my mum that I could actually get off that bed. She reluctantly agreed or better still I insisted. I haven’t been out of the room for over two weeks now and it felt so nice to see people, other than familiar faces, again. We saw a stretcher wheeling an accident victim into the emergency ward where we just wheeled past. Apart from the fact that the roads are not good, motorcyclist in this town speeds as though they have distinct nine lives to themselves alone.
We moved through the very busy reception and out of the main building.
“Where are we going?” I asked as Jerry paused on the interlocked floor of the large hospital compound. The main road just in front seem extraordinarily busy to me today but I know all this is because I’ve not really been out here in a very long time.
“Just relax” He replied turning the wheelchair and we moved on the path to the right.
I marvelled at the small but colourful chapel built a little distance behind the hospital. It had inscriptions, a lot of them, on the yellow coloured, square cornered wall. The podium was only slightly more elevated than the other parts of the hall occupied with blue rubber armless chairs. Gosh! I can’t believe this. It was beautifully tiled as well!
“I didn’t ever imagine they had a church here for patients” I commended and turned my head upwards to see Jerry’s face and saw he was already beginning to sweat. The ride, or wheeling as the case may be, was quite a distance.
“How did you know there was a place like this?” I asked immediately we got to the front of the blue rugged altar. The movable glass podium had sets of beautiful flowers adorning it. The wall to the back of the altar was beautifully decorated with blue and red decorating materials and the little dimming light bulbs crowned up the celestiality of this room.
“One can locate anything, so long it helps to bring the heart closer to the mouth” He replied firmly.
I didn’t understand that and just watched as he left the handle of the wheel chair and climbed up towards the left of the altar. He took his seat behind a gigantic keyboard and only then did I notice that the instrumentations in this little chapel was magnanimous, the jazz set, the drum, the guitar, the saxophone and mighty speakers mounted at every corner of the room. Indeed, music is the medicine to the soul.
I swayed my head gracefully as he played Enya’s song ‘long long journey’ on the keyboard. He played with so many gusts, so much concentration, and so much energy like his life depended on it. Jerry was very good with the use of his hands any day, when he held his pen, he wrote well, when he held his pencil, he drew perfectly and when he is on the strings, Hillary Clinton would rise to applaud him. My heart was lifted up in enormous serenity and with peace that loomed from inwards; the type a chick felt under the warm wings of its mother when the hawk dances closer to the ground than the sky.
He then switched to the instrumentals of ‘Only time’ by the same artist. I could view the beautiful clouds through the zinc roof from the wheel chair where I sat. My tears began to drop again and I wiped it as fast as it came.
Jerry left the keyboard and came to take his seat on one of the steps to the altar directly in front of me. He looked intensely at me in silence. He then held my hand and I felt as though my mouth was full of sugar. His eyes carried fear in them. Fear of what I didn’t know. Fear of what he didn’t know. Fear of the unknown. Fear darkened his eyes to the colour of coal tar.
“Mum said my real father is dead. It’s a very long story, Baby” He said with a sarcastic chuckle in between.
I could feel the effort he was putting in, to ease the tension, to ease off the uneasiness we both felt before one another. My mind went to the discussion mum and her friend were having in the room we just left. I overhead them talk about an Okpanachi, a brave hunter who was mistakenly killed in the thick forest by another hunter. The whole words were making better sense to me now than then.
“I am sorry Jerry” I said, rubbing his full dark hair with the other hand he wasn’t holding. He placed his head on my laps and I saw the baby in my adult sweetheart. He held onto my hand as a baby would a travelling mother. It felt like home as usual and I wished I could get off this wheel chair already.
“I love you Tonia” Jerry said, his head still resting on my thin laps, his lips still pecking the back of my hand he held and my other hand still digging and picking strands of his hair slowly
“I love you too Jerry” I replied with a breaking voice. “My fear… I was scared for a time like this. I love you so much the thought of my dying days made me run away from you last year.” I started.
He raised his head a little, “You know nothing would have still changed between us if you had told me about this condition right?”
I took out the time to explain to him the events before that Tuesday, August 16th; the doctor’s announcement on the worsening case of my kidney, how I would soon be placed on dialysis and would require a life donor, I saw all these sorrowful end and wanted to spare him the trauma. I explained in tears. I wasn’t heartless as he took it to be, it was in a bid to be ‘heartful’ that I saw ‘leaving’ as the best option. I couldn’t tell him I have been living with sickle cell disease all my life and I also wasn’t ready to tell him all the battles I’ve fought for life at every vaso-occlusive crisis event.
I explained everything to Jerry with hot sorrowful tears which became uncontrollable. He looked up at me again. I could feel his heart shattering as he stared into my eyes. It was like breaking a valuable ceramic on a tiled floor, like pouring flour in sand.
He stretched up and licked the tears on my cheeks with his tongue. He then pecked my two eyes and hugged me passionately. So tight that even in my sitting position I could feel his heart beat against my ear. He withdrew from hugging me and pocketed his hand.
“Please marry me Tonia” He said, getting down on one knee holding a small red box with a shinning diamond ring sparkling from within in.
I forgot my mouth was opened and I left it that way.
“Jerry!” I exclaimed. “I am…”
“You are not dying, don’t say it.” He interrupted me, closing my lips with his fingers “Don’t even think of it. There are a lot of things I may not have been able to do right all my life. There are a lot of challenges I’ve shied away from just to preserve my reservations and conservations but you Baby, you are my treasure I can’t let go of you for whatsoever reason. I can’t let you go to sickle cell disease or sickle cell nephropathy or whatever it is called, Baby… I’ll do everything, fight, and lay down my last life to get you out of this…” He said as his voice rose and dropped simultaneously in a crescendo,
“Please marry me, Tonia” he said again… I was speechless.
To be continued.