I dragged my tired feet out of the Accident and Emergency Department of UCH and took a deep breath of the afternoon air. It wasn’t any better than the horrid air inside A & E, but at least the view was better. At that moment, I was hit by a deep longing for rain. You know, that kind of rain that falls hard and fast over a long period, the kind that looks like it is determined to wash all the sins and filth from the world. I wanted that rain so badly, but of course, a girl can only dream seeing as it is December and the air is so dry and dusty that you can feel your skin shrivel up every time you stay outside for too long.
I looked to the skies once more, imploring softly for that rain, a miracle, another miracle, hoping that I have not already exhausted the number of miracles a person can ask for in a year.
Slowly, I started my walk towards the cafeteria just a few blocks away. I wasn’t hungry, of course. I am never hungry these days.
“You have to eat, please. I don’t want to have to take care of you too.” My father had pleaded with me earlier, and it wasn’t just the words that cracked something in me, but the emotions behind them. He was tired.
I shouldn’t give him a reason to worry about me, but how do I explain that I haven’t been able to keep food down since the first day we ran into A&E, carrying mummy between us and begging for someone, anyone to attend to us.
I shook my head, trying to shake off the memory of that first day. I had promised him that I will eat, and I’m going to try very hard to.
100 naira jollof rice, 100 naira plantain, and thirty minutes later, I walked back towards A&E at a more relaxed pace. Keeping the food down was hard work and my body felt as if it had just run a marathon. I felt my phone buzz in the pocket of my jeans and I whipped it out immediately, my body immediately tensing up, ready to run.
“Have you eaten? You should pray Asr before coming back so that I can go and pray too.”
My entire body sagged with relief. It took a while, but I finally felt my body loosen up and I continued my stroll back to A & E. When I got to the entrance, I instantly wished I had listened to my dad and gone to pray.
Let me tell you something about A&E. Every hour thereabout, an ambulance, a keke napep, a police van, or a car tears into the parking spot right at the entrance, bearing at least one person that is dangling thinly between life and death.
Now, a piece of advice. When any of these vehicles come, don’t look. Descend into a place deep within yourself where you can’t hear the plea for help from the people that brought them in, where you can’t hear the silence of the almost dead, where you can’t hear the nurses tell them to wait outside because there is no bed available yet. Now, walk briskly until you get to a part of the unit where you can’t see them again.
“What’s going on outside?” My father asked me when I entered my mum’s room. His voice was warm but his eyes were so tired I felt my heart break in my chest.
“The usual. Oya, go and eat too and pray. I will stay with her. Take the back exit.” I advised.
When he returned, he looked remarkably better than when he left. A nurse was trailing after him, it was time for my mum to take her medications and injections.
I stepped out of the room to give them some space, but also because I didn’t want to see the number of medications being pumped into her system. There were no chairs outside her room, so I decided to go to another part of the unit that has chairs- the pharmacy area.
Like every other part of this unit, the pharmacy area is a madhouse, but at least it’s a madhouse with an empty chair. When you spend a lot of time in hospitals, you devise various games to keep what’s left of your sanity. One of those games is guessing the story behind why a person is there, using readily available information- the drugs they get, how they look, etc. So far, I have come up with very creative stories and maybe if my family survives this, I’ll write a book with some of those stories.
I was playing this game when a young man came into my line of sight, and I sat up a little straighter. He was barefoot and he had crazy eyes like he had problems focusing on anything. He had blood crusted on one side of his face, his hands, and his bare feet left tracks of blood in his wake. He didn’t seem to be in any pain, nor did he seem to notice the blood or the fact that everyone was staring at him and stepping away from him.
“Sit down.” A doctor boomed. He impatiently buzzed people away from a nearby seat and practically shoved the young man into it.
“No, I need to help out.” I heard him say, even as he sagged on the seat like a cheap suit.
“You can’t help anyone like this.” The doctor insisted. He tapped his fingers and a nurse came rushing over with a cold bottle of coke.
“Drink this, you need to get your blood sugar up. You are shaking.”
I watched with unabashed interest as the young man downed the content of the bottle at one go, almost as if he wanted to get it over with and get back on his feet. Except that the doctor stopped him from standing up with one hand.
“We don’t need your help at the moment. You will get an update later.”
With that, he walked away, some nurses and what I presume are student doctors trailing after him.
Just like that, everyone started going about their business again. Things are like that around here- everyone is quick to move on. There is always something bigger coming. I was like that too, but for some reason, I couldn’t move on from this.
Without any command from my brain, my body started moving toward this stranger.
“Hi. You should wash up. Come, I’ll take you.”
I don’t know where this newfound audacity came from, but I didn’t stop to think about it. All I know is that he was looking lost and I have been feeling so helpless recently. I couldn’t help my mum, I couldn’t take my dad’s fear and anxiety away. But here was one thing I could do- I could show this stranger a place to get himself cleaned up.
Without saying a word, he followed me. At some point, I turned to see if he was still coming, and there he was, looking like his soul left his body- but he was still walking.
We got to the tap at the back exit and I turned it on. With the same detached manner, he started washing his hands. When blood dries, it doesn’t look like a lot, until you try washing it off. It was practically raining blood.
It hit me then that I might be in the presence of a dangerous person. What if he had killed someone to get that much blood on his hands and then lied at the hospital? This is Nigeria, if you are smart enough you can get away with a lot of crazy shit.
Without really giving my feet the command, I took a step back. It was a tiny step but my body was already tensed, ready to run at any strange movement from the stranger.
“We were robbed. It didn’t go so well.” His voice sounded like nails being pulled down a chalkboard and I cringed a little, involuntarily. But he had spoken, and what he said gave me pause.
“We?” My body loosened up a bit.
“Yeah. My younger brother and I.” He finally managed to wash away the blood from his hand. When he looked up at me, the misery in his eyes hit me square in the chest and I felt the same sensation I felt the first time a guy hit me- totally unexpected and extremely painful.
“You have some on your face,” I said quietly, taking a step back again.
He scrubbed at his face, a little harder than was necessary and it looked to me like he was trying to wash away more than the blood.
“Yeah. You are officially blood-free.” Yeah, that’s me, I crack dry jokes at the most inappropriate time. Realizing that I probably shouldn’t have said that, I opened my mouth to tell him it was a joke, but he waved it off.
“Thank you.” He said instead.
He looked down at his feet as if he was meeting them for the first time, and I realized just how deep in trauma he is.
“Wait here, I’ll get you a pair of slippers from one of those stores.”
“No, you don’t have to do that,” he said, still staring at his feet. But I was already gone. I ran to the closest store, afraid that he wouldn’t be there when I return. But he was. In fact, he was still staring at his feet.
“You should wash your feet and wear this.”
By the time we were headed back to the hospital, his eyes were slightly more focused and he had no blood on him, except for the dark stains I noticed on his jeans, but those are not so visible. I took inventory of his injuries, the ones I hadn’t noticed before because I was too distracted by the blood. A split lip, one black eye, and a slightly broken nose. Someone will see him later, I’m sure, but split lips and broken noses are not a priority at A and E.
We found a quiet part of the hospital to sit.
Now what? I asked myself. Do I ask him about his brother? About the accident? Are you allowed to ask people about such?
I don’t know anything about anything and I’ve been so out of touch with reality since my mum got sick that I have forgotten how society really works. What do people say in situations like this? Hell, are you supposed to ‘bond’ with people in a hospital especially?
I heard him take a deep breath beside me, and just as I was about to say something- something meaningless, no doubt, he started talking. I realized that his voice was less nail-on-chalkboard before I heard what he was saying and I was thinking that he has a good baritone under all that coarseness.
“I’m sorry, what?” I only caught the last word, and I instantly knew that I should have been paying more attention.
“I’m sorry, but I didn’t have a choice.” He continued, oblivious to my ‘I am lost’ face.
“I…I don’t understand.” I said, settling for something that wouldn’t make me sound as lost as I feel.
“I lied about us getting robbed. Well, technically we were but that’s not what really happened..” He exhaled slowly and slumped in his seat.
“Did you kill someone?” I whispered, balling my hands into a fist to prevent them from shaking.
“No, nothing so juvenile.” This time he turned to look at me and there were fewer shadows there, and a glint of something I couldn’t identify before he looked away.
“So what happened then? And why did you lie about it in the first place?”
“I’m not even supposed to be saying it in the first place.” He said after what felt like forever.
“Fuck”, he muttered under his breath. It goes without saying that I absolutely have to know what the deal is. Of course, I can’t force him to say anything but I just might beg shamelessly.
He goes silent again. I haven’t known him for very long, In fact, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I know him, but he seems like the kind of person that takes his time before making any decision. I’m the exact opposite so I don’t understand it. But I respect it. So even though I was figuratively sitting on the edge of my seat, I managed to maintain an outward facade of calmness.
“We were not robbed, not in the way that naturally comes to mind. I lied about it because they told me to. Well, more like threatened.”
While he was quiet, I had come up with a dozen possible reasons why he might have lied about what happened but none of them came close to what he said.
“What do you mean they? Who are they?”
He looked around, then scrubbed his face with his hand.
“Fuck.” He muttered again, and when he removed his hand from his face I could finally identify that emotion I had seen earlier.
Rage. The kind that builds very slowly and grows into something terrible indeed.
“Okay. So, my brother and I returned from the US two days ago, and we only got to Ibadan today. We kind of wanted to surprise our parents, you know? Our uncle gave us his car, and that’s what we drove to Ibadan from Lagos. We were stopped by policemen around Iwo road.”
He closed his eyes then as if fighting off the memories and I wanted to beg him not to continue. I have heard enough of these stories to know where this one was going. We are in a hospital for fucks sake so it clearly isn’t a happy story. But I don’t say anything, I just hold my breath in a little.
“We thought it was a stop and search, you know? So we stopped, and my brother even tried to crack some jokes with them. The idiot talks too damn much.”
“Anyway, they didn’t take it so well, and after staring at us like we stole something, they asked us to come down.”
I want to tell him that it wasn’t the joke that brought that reaction on, but I don’t.
“They searched us, searched the car, went through the car papers like a hundred fucking times. I even showed them my driver’s license from before I left Nigeria. It’s still valid. But they still searched our pockets and bags and shit.”
“Did they find anything?”
“Of course not. There was nothing to find.” He sighed, clearly exasperated.
“So what happened?”
What I meant to say was, “How did you get from that to here?”
“They searched our phones and I have no idea what they found but they decided that we’re yahoo boys and that we had to follow them to the station. Of course, we weren’t having any of that so we tried to bribe them and it just went to shit from there.”
“Yeah, shit. It was at that point I realized they were very drunk. Have you ever tried to have a rational discussion with a drunk man?”
I didn’t get a chance to respond.
“I advise against it. Anyway, one of them slapped me and my brother got mad. We kind of got into a scrimmage after that, but they overpowered us because they were four and they all had guns. So we were pretty beat up, one of them got a little trigger happy and shot my brother three times.”
He stopped talking. I stopped breathing.
Three…three times. Oh my God.
I must have said those words out loud because he nodded his head. “Yup. Three times. I stood there and watched my brother fall. I couldn’t even rush to his side immediately because two of them held me down. They eventually let me go and by the time I got to him, there was a lot of blood. Jesus, I thought I was going to drown in it.”
I didn’t realize that I had started crying until I felt the wetness on my cheeks.
“Do your parents know?”
“No. They still don’t know we are back.”
I didn’t know what to say, This is not one of those things you say sorry to.
“They brought us here in their van. Their condition was that I don’t tell the authorities the truth about how he sustained his injuries. They have my license, they threatened that they’ll find the rest of my family and kill them if anyone came looking for them. They didn’t agree to drive us down here until I agreed. And I still had to pay them.”
“You did what?” I practically screamed.
“Yeah, The twenty thousand naira I had with me, and both of my phones. They also took all the money my brother had in his cross bag and his phones as well.”
“Dear God. No.”
I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to punch someone.
“Yup. They dropped us here, told the doctors that we had been robbed and they found us along the road. Home sweet fucking home.”
He sighed deeply and it felt like the sigh came from all the broken places within him. To have experienced that! No wonder his eyes had that empty look when I saw him earlier. Like someone that had spent a long time fighting his demons and ended up losing.
We were both silent for a while, both of us wrapped in our thoughts. I was thinking about their parents and he was probably thinking about his brother. My phone beeped in my pocket, rudely dragging the both of us back to reality.
It was a text from my dad, I would be going home this night. It’s his turn to spend the night with my mum.
“Have you called anyone?” I asked him, ignoring the text.
“No, not yet. I’ll call my uncle later. I can’t call my parents. They can’t find out that we are back like this.”
I know what he meant. There is the unspoken ‘what if’ hanging between us, like the elephant in the room. I made a mental note to pray about it. His brother simply had to survive. I have gotten too invested in a stranger, but it didn’t matter. What happened to them could easily have happened to my friends, or my partner, or my brothers. God will be hearing from me about this.
“I need to go”, I said grudgingly as my phone beeped again.
“Oh.” His voice was calm, but I saw the panic in his eyes and I understood it. For all our talk of being independent and learning to enjoy our own company, we never want to be alone when we’re living our worst nightmare.
“I’ll be back tomorrow morning.” l said earnestly “I’ll find you.”
“I don’t know your name.” He said in a way of response.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Okay. And…thank you. I probably would have gone crazy today if you hadn’t shown me kindness.”
“You’re welcome. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I got to UCH as early as 7 am the next day, which means that I left home around 6 am. I couldn’t sleep and I was anxious to know if Tunmishe’s brother made it through surgery and through the night. I had prayed fervently for both of them.
Because misery never takes a day off in the hospital, even as early as 7, people were wailing and moaning in pain from their beds. I looked around for Tunmishe, but I couldn’t find him. I went to where I left him the previous day, and he wasn’t there, neither was he outside where the friends and families of the patients usually sleep. I figured he was in one of the wards with his brother and I felt hope blossom in my chest.
I was familiar with the nurse on duty so I went to ask her which ward they were in.
“The brothers the police brought yesterday?” She enunciated her words slowly, the effect of too much coffee and deep fatigue. I nodded earnestly and she nodded sadly.
“What do you mean by…?” I repeated her head motion, trying to keep my voice down.
“They didn’t make it.”
“What do you mean by that? It is only one of them that was injured.” I could feel the panic rising in my chest, completely squashing that hope.
“The one who had surgery didn’t make it through the night, and the other one slumped around midnight. The doctors said he must have been hit on the head with something heavy. His brain had been bleeding out slowly. There was nothing they could do for him.” She continued talking, but I zoned out and her voice was replaced by another talking about getting beaten up by the police. He must have downplayed it, Even as bad as it seemed, he must have downplayed it.
“So…he is dead?” I asked slowly, just to be sure.
There was a new kind of sadness in her eyes as she looked at me. “Yes, I’m sorry. Did you know him?”
I didn’t answer. How do you answer that? I mumbled a thank you and went outside, clawing at my chest all the way. This can’t be real. I can’t possibly exist in a place where such a thing is possible. Where the people that are supposed to protect you are the ones you need protecting from. I walked right into a wall as unshed tears formed a thick film over my eyes.
He can’t be dead.
They both can’t be.
Their parents don’t even know that they are back.
Dear God, no.
This has to be a dream. A nightmare. I’ll wake up soon.
I’ll wake up. I have to.