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MONDAY, 7TH JULY 2014
“Hello, Sweet Potato.”
Bola rubbed her eyes as she struggled to keep awake. The voice on the line was gruff and sounded slurred like the person had been drinking all night. She knew it could not have been 5.30 am because her tiny Nokia phone’s alarm had not rung. Who could be calling her at such an early hour?
She cleared her clogged throat. “Hello. Who is this?”
“Who else can it be? It’s me, Bosco, your love. Were you expecting someone else?” Bosco, her boyfriend of few hours replied, sounding a bit irritated.
Bola’s foggy head became clearer. She could hear some music playing in the background on the other line. “Bosco?” She racked her brain, trying to clear her head and gain control of her sleepy eyes. “Oh! Bosco! Forgive me, I was not expecting your call… or any call.” She rubbed her eyes and remembered how excited he had been when she gave him her answer hours ago and how he had promised her heaven and earth for making him the happiest man in the world. What she had not expected was that he would call her at this time of the night, as if he had every right to. “It’s barely morning, Bosco, and you should be sleeping, not calling me.”
“You know I hate it when you call me ‘Bosco’. After last night, you should have found a sweeter name for me, not Bosco. And is there any rule that states I cannot call my baby anytime I want?”
Bola sat up on the floor, moving further away from the other sleeping figures on the bed, whispering into her phone. “You know my father is sleeping. I don’t want to wake him.”
“Then I suggest you go outside.” His voice became stern. “Because I feel like talking to you.”
Bola looked at her father, who was turning on his side. Tomiwa slept peacefully, holding the edge of the bed as if he was afraid to fall. She was confused on what exactly to do. How could she open that creaky door without arousing her father from his peaceful sleep? She knew how much he hated being disturbed in the night. She wondered what was so important that Bosco could not wait later in the morning to discuss.
“Are you outside now?”
“Shhh! I am going outside now.” She replied in undertones. She stood up and walked as quietly as she could towards the door. Carefully, she placed her hand on the knob, turned the lock and opened the door as noiselessly as she could. The door made some squeaky noise, but not enough to wake anyone. She let out a sigh of relief and as she took the first step outside, a voice stopped her.
“And where do you think you are going?” Her father, whom she thought was deeply asleep, raised drowsy eyes at her.
She least expected this would happen. She stammered, quickly hiding the phone behind her back. “I… I need to go and ease myself.”
Baba turned his head to the wall. “And is that why you are sneaking like a thief? Be quick about it. Your movement is disturbing me.”
Bola did not wait to reply. She stepped outside quickly and closed the door after her. She walked briskly to the backyard door and yanked it open, heading straight for the small bathroom that was barricaded with nothing but roof-pans outside the house.
Once inside, she turned the lock and spoke harshly into the phone. “What do you want exactly?”
“Was that your Papi?” Bosco’s mocking laughter filled her ears. “See how he dey control your life. You know say you fit fashi am come live with me abi? Just think am well, okay?”
That sounded as the most fantastic and yet, most ridiculous idea to Bola. Though she needed his money badly, living with him under same roof was out of the picture for now. She meant to keep their relationship away from her family, especially from her father whose condemnation she would not be able to bear. And as long as she could do that and still bring food to the table, she was game. “Okay. I will think about that. So what is it you want to say that cannot wait till morning?”
“Well, my padis are organising a faaji this Friday night for some few hours, and we suppose come with our kokolets. So you have to come with me o, make we go peche and enjoy ourselves.”
“A faaji?” Bola had never been to an overnight party before. She had heard of many atrocities committed there, how everyone got drunk, how girls were raped without their knowledge after they had been drugged. “I don’t think I can come.”
There was an uncomfortable silence on the other end of the line. “Why? By ‘padis’, I no mean all these omo kekere in this mushin o! Emi ke? I mean big boys with big moneys in this Naija. Me no dey send all these small area boys na, my level don change o and I fit change your own sharp sharp, so I no understand why you no want to come with me. This one no be one chance o! Na de real deal.” He tried to push further. “If you know the soji people that will be there, eh!”
Bola’s ears tingled. How much she wanted her level to change too, but attending a night party was not what she signed up for, at least for now. They were just barely few hours into their relationship! “Ermm… It is not like I don’t want to go, but I will be very busy Friday night.”
“Doing what?” His voice was curt.
“Ermmm…” Bola didn’t know what to say. It was obvious he would not accept whatever reason she gave.
“Baby, you no fit do this to me. Wetin you want make my boys say about me? We just start this thing and you want to embarrass me in front of them? I need you by my side.”
“There is no but. I will pick you up by 9pm at Morgan Bus stop. Do you still have some money left?” His words were in proper English sentences for the first time and not in Pidgin or his favorite Yoruba language.
“Good. Get a fine dress and look doro-sexy for me. We will go and dorobucchi all of them.”
Bola felt very uneasy. She did not like the way the conversation was going. “Okay, but…”
“I love you, my sugar-baby. Make sure you dream about Bosco, okay?”
Bola’s mouth became bitter. What had she gotten herself into? She had not bargained for this. “Good night, Bosco… my… my love.” It sounded very strange in her ears.
There was a soft chuckle on the other end. “You are getting there small small.”
Bosco made some kissing sounds on the phone that Bola found very disgusting. She cut the call and rested her head against the door. She needed to find a way out of this, but could not think of any. By the time she returned to the room, her father was sleeping soundly. It took almost an hour before she could find sleep again.
Few kilometers away, Bosco counted his luck. A shrewd smile escaped his lips. He was good, no doubt. He knew how to have his way with women. Who wouldn’t want to have him? He was young, smart, and rich. Just what every woman wanted in a man. He leaned against the railing on the verandah and dialed another number.
“Yes, this is Bosco. I have a new girl.” He listened to the person on the line. “No worry, she dey perfect for the job. You just give me time to win her to our side and we make the move.” He chuckled loudly. “This one na done deal, trust me.” He chuckled again. “Yes, I will be bringing her to the party. Relax I go bring am come your side. I dey sure you go like am once you see am. She be mugu too. Just who we need.” He paced around the little balcony he was, paying rapt attention to the receiver. “Okay. Bye bye.”
He cut the call and became overwhelmed by the feeling of satisfaction that filled his body. The last time he felt this way was when he got his first millions when he started this ‘business’. It was then he knew there was no going back for him. Getting money was easy once you knew how to find your way or ‘who to use’.
“Baby, come back to bed.” The voice was husky and seductive.
Bosco turned to see the woman he had picked up to warm his bed for the night. How long had she been standing there? He thought wildly. She rubbed her eyes and Bosco knew she probably just woke up. She looked nothing more than a skeleton as she leaned against the door, inviting him with an enticing smile on her face. No normal man would have been able to resist that invitation, but Bosco did not know what was wrong with him lately. After sleeping with any of these girls, the next thing he felt was revulsion for them. “Go back to bed, ashawo.”
The lady choked on her feet. She did not need to be told she had been ‘dismissed.’ She covered her bare breasts as if protecting them from him and scampered away. Bosco rolled his eyes in disgust. He wondered what he saw in her in the first place. Right now, what he needed was ‘fresh meat’ and if he played his cards well, he would have one before the end of the week. A mugu named Bola.
“How dare you, mother! How dare you get your pastor to call me? What… what was that for?”
Lola nearly jumped off her seat as the voice of her son startled her. She had least expected his call and not at this particular time when she was waiting for the results of the numerous tests the doctor had taken. She had spent over three hours in St. George Hospital undergoing one test to the other. The female doctor wanted to make sure she got her results accurately. After listening to Lola’s complaints and going through the results from the previous hospital, and a reputable one at that, Dr. Flora knew she dared not make any wrong diagnosis. Lola was seated at the edge of the leather seat in the waiting room, scared and worried about the outcome of the result. She had not thought her son would call her now. Last night, Pastor Mark had told her he had been unable to reach Charles, but that he would keep on trying. He obviously had succeeded.
She breathed in deeply as she placed the phone on her ears again. “Charles, just calm down. I had no other choice. I just had to get someone to call you since you refused to pick my numerous calls.”
“And that person had to be your holier-than-thou pastor? Did you know how I felt when I heard his voice, begging me to travel down to see my own mother? MY OWN MOTHER! I felt very embarrassed. He made me feel as if I was uncaring.”
“I am sorry if you felt that way. I am sure he didn’t mean to make you feel embarrassed. But you know how many times I have tried to call you. Didn’t you see my calls?”
“Mom, you know how busy I am. Sometimes, I do not even have the time to pick calls. I am always going from one surgery to the other and it is not easy for me. Even my family is suffering for this.”
“But Charles you know you have to create time for your family. A time will come when your children may not even recognize you again.”
Charles’ voice sounded more defensive. “My children understand my kind of work. They know I am doing all these to secure their future. This will only be for a while. When I have made enough money that will pay off our mortgages and last a lifetime, I will take time off to spend more time with them.”
“What about with me? When will you have the time for me? I need to see you urgently.”
“Mom, everything is always urgent with you. Was I not home last Christmas?”
“You only spent a week and that was seven months ago. You didn’t even come home for Easter this time!”
“A week was the best I could afford.” His breathing was louder. “At least I tried. You should praise me for that first.”
There was silence at the other end of the line. Lola felt like crying. Here she was begging to see her son when she needed him most and all he could give her was silly excuses.
“Are you there, mom?”
“Yes. Yes I am.” Lola sniffed.
“Are you crying?” Charles sounded weak.
“I just want to see my son. Is that too much to ask?”
Charles hated to be pushed into a corner. “Okay.” He gave in. “I guess I can find a way around this.”
Her face lightened up. “Really? Are you sure you can?”
Charles was not completely sure but he knew he did not want to break his mother’s heart more. “I will have to rework my schedules, but my coming may not be possible until next month. Is that okay?”
“That… that is fine.” Lola would have wanted sooner but she did not want to push her luck further. She knew she had already boxed him into a corner and she was grateful he had given in. She only hoped it was not too late before…
Lola looked up to see the doctor standing outside her office with a file in her hands and a vacant look on her face. She quickly spoke into her phone. “I will call you back, Charles. Please make sure you pick your phone this time.” She cut the call before Charles could respond. She stood up slowly. “Yes, doctor?”
The doctor smiled at her. “Can you come into my office? I will like to discuss the results with you.”
Lola brightened up when she saw the smile. Maybe Dr. Aluko was wrong after all. She followed the doctor into the office and when she sat down, her heart began to beat heavily. What if she thought wrong? What if the first diagnosis was indeed correct? Her hands began to shake uncontrollably.
“Calm down, Mrs. Williams.” The doctor assured as she sat opposite her patient. “There is no problem without a solution.”
“You mean there is a problem then.” Lola concluded, her fears coming alive.
”Well, I am afraid the first diagnosis was right.” Dr. Flora opened the file in her hands and placed them before Lola. She pointed at some words scribbled on the paper on top. “This is the summary of all the results of the tests.” She leaned closer and pointed at a part she had circled with red ink. “You are having kidney malfunction, Mrs. Williams. You have to undergo surgery as quickly as possible. Do you have anybody that can be a donor?”
Lola’s mind had wandered far away. Life had just given her a death sentence. Suddenly, everything became empty and nothing mattered anymore. “How much time do I have left?”
“Well, that depends on how quickly you agree to do the surgery. If you do it on time and it is successful, then you can have many happy years ahead of you. But what is most important now is getting a donor that is compatible with your system.”
“And if I don’t get one on time?” Lola stilled her mind for the bitter truth as she stared straight into the doctor’s eyes.
Dr. Flora shifted uncomfortably on her seat. This was the most difficult part of her job. She hated telling her patients they had little time left to spend with their loved ones. It was as if she was taking a knife and slicing it slowly through their hearts. “I am afraid it could be months, weeks or even days. Right now, you have very high blood pressure and we also detected traces of blood in your urine. The CT scan shows a side of your left kidney is damaged. I am surprised you ignored Dr. Aluko’s advice all this time, Mrs. Williams, and that is very dangerous. It is advisable you do this surgery on time. I am pleading with you.” Dr. Flora expected the old woman to fall on the floor, weeping and rolling back and forth in tears as most female patients did anytime she conveyed some terrible news, but was shocked when the woman did not even blink a tear. “You were prepared for this kind of news?” It sounded more like a statement than question.
“Doctor, how else do you expect me to take this news? I am sixty two years old and I must say I have lived a fulfilled life. My husband, God bless his soul, went to be with the Lord eight months ago. Since then, I have never felt lonelier in my entire life, despite my being surrounded by friends and relations. If this is the way God has decided to call me home, then so be it. ”
“Mrs. Williams, at sixty two years, there is still a lot you can achieve. I have treated patients who are well older than you. In fact, I have a man who is almost ninety years and you will not believe the kind of work he still does in this community.” Dr. Flora grabbed Lola’s hands. “Look at me.”
Lola raised her eyes slowly at the doctor. It was obvious she was trying to control her tears, trying to be brave.
“You are only old in age, but not at heart.” The doctor continued. “And there is still a lot you can do for this world. You will go for this surgery. It will be successful and we shall spend more years together. Your children and grandchildren and even great grandchildren will have a good time with you.”
Lola found herself smiling. “That’s a good picture you just painted, doctor. Unfortunately, I have just one child and two grandchildren whom, I must confess, I do not have a good relationship with unfortunately because of their father’s tight schedule. They are based in the UK and I hardly see them. So, you see they will hardly miss their grandmother.”
Dr. Flora reached for her bag. “Then I guess you have to find a way to get them to love you, which means you need to live longer by doing this surgery in India.” She brought out a card.
“India?” Lola was dumbstruck. “INDIA? I cannot travel that far, doctor. I cannot even travel at all.”
“We don’t have the facilities to conduct the surgery here in Nigeria. A lot of people travel to India because it is cheaper there than anywhere else in the world and the doctors are good. Our hospital has good affiliation with this hospital I am about to recommend and I have had many patients transferred there. So far, ninety percent of the surgeries were successful.”
“And the other ten percent?”
Dr. Flora handed the card over to Lola. “I prefer to dwell on the positive side. The Hospital is called Kokilaben Hospital in Mumbai. They specialize in this kind of area.”
Lola collected the card. “Like I said, I cannot fly doctor. But I will hold on to this card.”
“That’s a positive sign.” Dr. Flora smiled at her. “I will really appreciate if you can make this decision as soon as possible. We do not have the luxury of time. In the mean time, is it possible for you to recommend a kidney donor? We will like to conduct the necessary tests before we can declare him or her a suitable donor.”
“Hold on to that thought, doctor. I will get back to you on that and if there is nothing else, I will like to leave now. At least, I won’t be dying tonight.” Lola stood up.
“Of course, Mrs. Williams.” Dr. Flora handed her a paper. “This includes some drugs recommended by our Pharmacist, which will help with any pain and hopefully slow down the damage. Thank you for paying us a visit and I hope you were satisfied with our service.”
‘Satisfied’ was the least way Lola felt now. What she wanted to do was to go home, get on her bed, hide under the duvet away from the world and cry her heart out. It was not every time one would go to the hospital and be told one had a failing kidney and had limited time on earth. Even a sixty two year old grandmother would not expect that.
“Thank you, doctor.” Lola expressed as she walked towards the door. “You have been of great help.”
“Bye, Mrs. Williams. I shall be waiting for your call.” Dr. Flora rested her back on her leather seat. As soon as the old woman closed the door behind her, she let out a big sigh. The old woman had taken this more maturely than she expected. But there was more. Beneath that aloof demeanor, Dr. Flora had noticed a pain that went beyond the disease of the kidney. There was a growing disease of loneliness in Mrs. Williams’ heart and unfortunately, no surgery in the world could take that away.
“Pauline, are you okay?” Jumoke asked her colleague who had been toying with her food for almost ten minutes. “You are supposed to be eating your food, not play with it.”
Pauline paused suddenly. She did not know she was being observed, was not aware she had been turning her spoon round and round in the plate. She was not even hungry. Food had no taste in her mouth these days. “I am fine, Jumoke.”
“You don’t look so to me.” Jumoke was a beautiful, young woman who everyone loved in the office. The way she joked about almost everything made her everyone’s delight. “Maybe you should go visit the doctor. Who knows?” She grinned mischievously. “Maybe you have swallowed the cockroach.”
It was break time and both of them were seated in the company canteen with few other staff that were eating and chatting away in groups. Pauline wished she had swallowed ‘the cockroach’, but the last time she checked, all the cockroaches had deserted her. She was a certified barren woman.
“You know not having appetite to eat is a symptom.” Jumoke continued. “I remember when I had my first son. I could hardly keep anything in my mouth…”
Here we go again. Pauline thought sorrowfully. She closed her mind against what Jumoke was saying. Why would the world keep reminding her of her cross as if she had not suffered enough already? When she arrived at work this morning, she had promised herself not to be weighed down, but she had failed. When she stepped into the kitchen and had seen Nneka, her husband’s new love preparing breakfast, she had snapped and demanded the lady left her kitchen. But instead of doing that, Nneka had stood her ground and told Pauline to get out of the kitchen instead. After all, she had as much right in the house as Pauline had. That had led to a big argument and when George had come in to intervene; he had taken Nneka’s side, stating that he was the one that requested she cooked breakfast for him. Pauline had left the kitchen filled with shame and bitterness.
By the time she got to the office, all she could see was Nneka’s mocking face; all she could hear was Nneka’s chant of victory and when it was time to take a break, she had found an empty spot in a corner of the canteen, hoping no one would come there to disturb her, but she was wrong. Five minutes later, Jumoke had pushed her way through the tables and seats to where Pauline was. As much as she didn’t want any company, Pauline did not want to sound rude, so she decided to keep quiet instead. But now, she wished she had actually told Jumoke off.
“So, don’t worry. This phase will pass.” Jumoke continued, not bothering to check if she was listened to her. “But you first need to do the test and be sure you are pregnant in the first place.”
“Thank you, Jumoke. When I have done that, I will let you know.” Pauline replied, hoping that would shut her up.
But chatty Jumoke did not look like she was about to end soon. “Of course, the evidence will be out there for everyone to know in few months’ time.” She chuckled. “But I hope it’s a boy. Boys are adorable as babies, but when they grow up, they become a handful and…”
Pauline’s phone rang and her mind strayed from Jumoke’s babble. The number calling her was foreign, starting with the United State’s code, and she wondered whom it could be. She quickly did a quick run-through of who that could be in her head, but still could not figure it out. She signaled to Jumoke to keep quiet as she placed the phone against her ear.
“Good afternoon. Am I speaking with Pauline?” It was a male voice with a mixture of American and Nigerian accent.
Pauline stood up and walked away from the table. “Yes, this is Pauline and who am I speaking with?”
The voice became friendlier. “Pauline Adesuwa! So glad I got you. This is Ola. Can you remember me? Pastor Ola from Covenant Believers Fellowship in Unilag? I was your Pastor in our students’ Fellowship nine years ago.”
“What!” Pauline could not believe her ears. “Pastor Ola Solomon?”
The man chuckled loudly. “Wow! I’m impressed you still remember my full name. How have you been? It’s been donkey years!”
“My God! I can’t believe it’s really you. How did you get my number?”
“Well, I asked somebody who asked somebody who asked somebody that had your number. You know how it works, but eventually, I got it. So good to hear your voice again.”
Pauline’s heart melted at that deep baritone voice she fell in love with nine years ago. It was Pastor Ola that had taken it upon himself to make sure she received adequate medical attention after the rape incident. It was he who would check on her every morning and evening during and after her stay in the hospital and made sure she was well fed. His voice was the first thing she would hear every morning and the last before she slept. And it was he who held her hands and whispered soothing, encouraging words into her ears at those moments when she could not hold back the tears. He had been her knight in shining armour and she had fallen deeply in love with him. But there was a problem. It was public knowledge that Pastor Ola was engaged to another sister in the fellowship, so Pauline knew there was no place for her in his life. She had kept her feelings for him secret and when he finally travelled out of the country for another Masters Programme, her heart broke. Just when she thought she would never find love again, she had met George a year later.
“It’s so good to hear from you too.” Pauline’s heart beat faster. “How are you and your family?”
“Family’s fine.” His voice was a bit curt. “How is your too? Your husband must be a lucky man.”
Pauline took in a pained breath. “Well, if you say so.”
“I was going through Facebook recently and stumbled upon your picture on a friend’s wall. Immediately, I contacted him to get me your details. It’s been a long time and I am sorry I didn’t reach you all these years. But I am happy to see you moved on and now have a family.”
“Well, what can I say? Life goes on.” Even without love. A sharp pain tore through Pauline’s heart. Even without love.
“I can’t wait to see you, though, so we can catch up on the lost times. I am coming down to Nigeria this week. I will be glad if we can meet, you know.”
“That… that would be great!” Pauline could barely control the surge of joy that shot through her body. “I mean, I will be available. You just tell me when you will be free and I will work my schedule to suit yours.
“Well, I am coming in for business-related matters with two of my colleagues, but I can make my time flexible. So it’s all about what’s convenient for you.”
Pauline smiled. Ola had not changed at all. Still putting people ahead of himself. Wasn’t that how a good husband should be? “Okay. I will let you know my schedule. When precisely are coming in?”
“Wednesday, but I will not suggest Thursday because I shall be having series of meetings.”
“Friday is more like it.”
“So it’s a date… I mean a meeting.” Pauline wanted to slap herself for that slip.
Ola chuckled again. “I will call it a reunion. Hold on please. Just a minute.” He requested.
Pauline could hear some voices on the other end of the line and she waited with the phone on her ear. He had called their meeting a reunion. That was fair enough. Though she wished it could be more. She cautioned herself. He is a married man, for Pete’s sake. Nothing can come out of it. She paced around the canteen nervously. He isn’t just any married man. This is my first real love and fate has brought us together again. She stopped walking as her thoughts wandered deeper. What do you think you are doing, Pauline? Don’t be stupid to think he has feelings for you. He never did and never will. He is married to the love of his life and you should go and fix your own marriage. But what if…?
“Hello, Pauline. Are you still there?”
“Yes, yes, I’m here.”
“Okay. So Friday it is. Can’t wait to see you.”
“Me too.” I am actually dying to.
“Bye for now. My regards to your husband. Got to go now. My lunch time is over. Got to get back to work.”
“It’s okay. Thanks for your call and looking forward.”
The line cut and Pauline stood for several minutes staring into her phone. Could this be another chance at love? She shook her head. She was clearly deceiving herself, but why could she not control the happiness she felt in her heart? It had been years she felt this way.
“So, was that a call from a former boyfriend?” Jumoke sneaked up on her from the back.
“Mind your business, Jumoke.”
“Well, I guess I’m right. From the way you literally brightened up like a star, I knew it must be from someone very special to you. Does your husband know?”
Pauline shook her head in disgust. “Like I said, mind your own business.”
“Okay. Just be careful.” Jumoke shrugged nonchalantly. “I hope you know how to play this kind of game well or else you will lose on both ends.” She strolled out of the canteen.
Pauline went back to the table and settled in front of her food. This time, the food looked appealing and she started eating. She knew Jumoke’s warning was sensible. But this opportunity was something she did not want to miss. Meeting Ola again could lead to more catastrophe, but it was worth the risk. Her marriage had already crashed anyway, so what’s the bother?