Love In A Photograph – Grace Ochigbo
The siren rent the still evening air like the knife of a butcher. It’s a violence to the calm that was the usual atmosphere of the FCT. The medics were already out there waiting as the vehicle sped into the gate of the hospital. In a flash, some persons lifted Ajuma onto a stretcher and down the hallway.
Ezinne followed with fear looping around in her mind until there was no room for anything else. Ajuma’s due date was still ahead. She prayed silently. She knew the next few hours will either pass as quickly as it’d started or would be the final trauma that would break her.
Samson Itodo held his daughter’s hand tighter.
“Stay on for me, my angel. Please!” he pleading whilehurrying to meet up with the speed with which the stretcher was being wheeled.
On the private floor, the atmosphere was completely different. The air had a perfumed scent and the seats were padded. Every surface was dustless. The nurses were unhurried and they moved with a serene purposefulness from one room to another. On the right hand side was a water dispenser. Samson had spotted it earlier but now that he looked at it closely, he felt a sting on his throat as they begged for liquid. Slowly, he pushed himself towards it, legs heavier than three bags of cements piled up on one another.
An hour had passed and no one came out to speak to them. The room his daughter had been wheeled into must be soundproof because they can’t even eavesdrop on whatever was going on in there. As another gulp of water poured down his throat, the loud ringing of his phone cut through the silence in the air. Adrenaline floods his system. It pumped and beat like it’s trying to escape. One would expect his heart to explode as his eyes opened wide with fear. It was his chief security officer in the house.
“What?” he exclaimed after listening for few seconds.
Ezinne casted concerned eyes in his direction and he winked reassuringly at her.
“Alright. I’ll be there in few minutes.” He dropped the call and Ezinne met up with him halfway.
“Hope all is well, daddy?” her voice was almost a whisper.
“Please, stay on the lookout. I’ll be back soon.”
“Where are…” Ezinne called out but Samson was long gone, out of the waiting room and heading down the stairs.
Linus was drenched in sweat, it soaked the clothes on his back like a map of some foreign land. Sweat trickled down his face into his eyes. The sweat trickled down his back also, free flowing like condensation on a window glass, it beaded on his forehead and dripped from his chin. The journey back here felt like a long walk to freedom. It wasn’t as long as he had expected – the drivers seemed to know really shorter routes, but the thoughts of what may befall him on arrival tugged at his heart. He was scared to say the least.
Ajuma’s father would drag him by the neck from his compound straight to detention.
He would personally lock the door to his cell room and throw the keys in the wide ocean.
He deserved to rot forever, that was for sure even though amid all these fear, deep down, he knew he was doing the right thing.
Now as the police vehicle that precededSamson Itodo’s car blared into the wide compound, the racing of his heart could rival that of an intoxicated horse. He watched keenly as a policeman came down from the passenger’s seat to open the back door.
Samson Itodo stepped out like someone holding another’s heart in his hand to kill. His eyes were a knife in Linus’ ribs, the sharp point digging deeper. The way his eyes squinted when he glared at him reminded him of hell and he gulped nervously. As he drew nearer, Linus’ suddenly wished he hadn’t returned. The older man’s eyes had a deadness, a stillness, a judgment.
“All I came back to seek is your forgiveness, father!” Linus called from his position on the floor, lying face down. “For months, I had punished myself, feeling that if I do it just enough, I’d get over the guilt. The guilt of failure, the weight of my conscience, the guilt of taking the life of someone that means the world to me… you.” he paused to swallow hard. “The weak can never forgive, father. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” He raised his head a bit to be sure.
The unmoving gaze of the older man was accompanied by deliberate slow breathing, like he was fighting something back and loosing.
“You are a strong man, sir. You brought up the strength walking on two legs that was my late wife. You have all justification to do anything to me. You can peel off my skin, you can dip me in hot oil, you are justified to do just anything to me but whatever you do, I want to die knowing that you forgave me.”
A lone tear dropped down Samson’s face as he closed the distance between them and bent down.
“Get up.” He stretched his hand and held Linus’ held it up
Linus tried not to stare at his father in-law who led him hand in hand to his jeep.
“Go in.” He said, a blank expression on his face.
Linus knew the end had come for him but not to bother, he wasn’t being bundled out of the compoundas he’d expected instead he would be honourablydriven to the gallows. The gallows where he’d be hanged.
Samson climbed in to come sit beside him and the policeman shut the door. Linus stared into the blues, expecting nothing, anticipating nothing as the older man cleared his throat once. Twice.
“We are going back to the hospital where Ajuma is having your child.”
Words left Linus. He stared at those tiny trinkets of smiles he caught on the man’s face and his heart fell silent. He couldn’t will his lips to move.
“Yes, Linus. She didn’t die.” Samson Itodo’s voice sounded unbelievably loud in his ears. “In her words, she’s been waiting for you to come home.”
Linus’ eyes widened and he stared at him in horror. Samson summarized the ordeal with the detectives’ report and most importantly, the last one that came in yesterday. It was the news of his death that forced Ajuma to go into untimely labour. That moment Linus’ heart broke… yet it was a good breaking… the type that leads to healing and new ways onward; sometimes, the loss of words says more.
Ajuma wasn’t dead?
She was having a baby?
Abba father! He almost screamed at the top of his lungs when the loud sound of a cell phone interrupted him.
Samson searched his pocket anxiously for where the device was and dragged the answer icon at the drop of a hat.
Linus’ heart raced. He was scared. So scared.
“Okay! Just calm down. We are on our way right now.Okay?” He heard Samson’s panicky voice. The fear sits on him like a pillow over his mouth and nose.
The car sped through the smooth and lit city streets yet for all those moments, Linus struggled to breath. Air got in his nose enough to keep his body functioning but he was crippling all the same. His stomach turned and he felt like throwing up.
Samson barely waited for the car to halt before the door on his side flew open. He ran straight ahead into the large maternity ward building as if forgetting for a moment that he had come in with Linus.
Linus’ feet didn’t touch the ground as he followed all the way behind Ajuma’s father. His palms were sweaty and the adrenaline coursing through his system was shutting down his ability to think logically. When he reached the corridor at long last, Samson was standing and blocking a door where three nurses and a doctor were attempting to move out from. Even from behind he could hear the older man’s teeth grind hardly against each other and his knuckles turned white from excessive fists. He had reached the breaking point of his patience.
Linus pushed himself to draw a little closer. Ezinnespotted him then through her teary eyes. Hate colouredher face.
“Doctor, there’s got to be something you can do.” Samson yelled at the top of his lungs. There was something in that shout, a pain behind it. “At least for her little son…”
Linus watched. He watched the doctor’s eyes. “I am sorry.” The man said sadly and finally managed to excuse himself.
Then he knew.
Fear gripped him. He breathe in real slow as Samson turned to look at him. The pain in the older man’s eyes was increasing in waves. Each blink was hard and he struggled to keep tears away.
“It’s too late, Son.” He patted his back. “Ajuma waited for you to come home but… guess you came in a littletoo late.” He covered his mouth and ran ahead, back down the corridor they’d come in through, stamping his feet for a few seconds.
Ezinne’s glare sucked something out of Akoji as his eyes caught hers.
“Your son has been taken to the incubator. Ajumareally loved you, Linus. I hope…”
Nothing she said afterwards registered in Linus mind. He knew. Reality dawned on him. That was all he needed to know.
Turning, he walked away hurriedly into the room where the doctor and nurses had come out from. Ajuma laid on the hospital bed. The sheets and her dress was completely stained with thick bright red-coloured blood. Her eyes were fixed and vacant. Linus hurried over to her, one hand over her still chest.
She was gone.
He picked up her hand, so cold and pale, touching it to his wet cheek, closing his eyes for just a moment. In that eternal second, he felt her presence, like the last kiss they never got to have. His mind struggled to stay. The wall clock ticked forwards. Pain takes over a portion of his brain. The pain has an unpleasant warmth to it, eating at his stomach, searing through his abdomen. The pain wasn’t sharp like a needle point or a knife, it burnt around his chest hotter than boiling water.
Suddenly, he dropped her hand and got up. Rage built like deep water currents on his insides. He felt the heat dry his skin, scorching.
“Abba father!” he screamed as pain drove through his back.
The words sounded strange coming from his lips. It’s been years.
He wept at his own suffering. “This is Linus Atede. You told me to trust you. You told me to trust you to fix my life.”
He cringed wishing the world to end rather than this sea of endless pains.
“You said and I quote, ‘call upon me and I will answer you. I will show you great and mighty things which you know not’.”
His heart burned, as if some invisible flame were held against his skin.
“This is the first time in years I am calling upon you, Abba. If you love me as you said, please bring back my wife. I swear…”
There was a static in his head once more.
“I swear, if you will listen to my cry and answer me and bring back my wife… I shall serve you all the days of my life.” He heard his own sound like a distressed child, raw from the inside as tears spilled down his face.
The door opened, presenting two nurses, a male and a female. The female, holding a piece of linenin her hands, walked over to the bedside, while the male nurse walked up to him.
“Sorry Mister, you have to leave now.” He tried to touch Linus’ shoulder but he shook violently, letting his hand drop.
Linus’ eyes welled up with sadness as he took slow steps towards the door.
“Loving can heal…
He mumbled the words of the song amidst sorrowful tears on his way out.
…Loving can mend your soul
And it’s the only thing that I know
I swear it will get easier
Remember that with every piece of ya
And it’s the only thing we take with us when we die.”
He tried to pause to look over his shoulders but the tall nurse barely an inch behind him blocked his view.
“We keep this love in a photograph
We made these memories for ourselves
Where our eyes are never closing
Hearts were never broken
Times forever frozen still.”
His whole life played in front of him like a screen. The heaviness was in his limbs as much as his mind.
“Wait for me to come home
Wait for me to come home
Wait for me to come home
Wait for me to come home…”
His sorrowful voice fast became a whisper. There was a part of him that will never believe. He had to believe his son was fine in the incubator. The lad would be fine. But Ajuma? He couldn’t believe that she was gone. Gone forever.
To be continued.