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While You Were Away – 1 of 4

Mfon Willy and Emma, 2016

The compound, newly tiled, shined under the sun like scattered china. The harmattan was dire. There are days when the dust haze would cloud the sky like a swarm of locusts. But this afternoon was different. The sun was blazing as though it was competing with the harmattan on who can make humanity in this part of Nigeria suffer the most.

I went back to my room to pick my sunglasses. All this while, she was sitting on the stairs under the scorching midday heat.
“How far Helen, why are you sitting under this scorching sun?”

“My body is cold sir, so I thought the sun would help,” she said with her shaky voice. I went over and touched her neck.

“That means you still have the fever. Did you use your drugs as prescribed by the doctor?”

“Yes, I did, sir.”

“Okay. This is what you will do. Sit by the entrance of the shop, there is shade there. This sun will do you no good.”
She sluggishly followed my suggestion. The fever has taken so much toll on her.

Backing off into my room momentarily, I soon reemerged with the fever-thermometer. It was just as I feared. Her temperature was over 40 degrees Celsius. “This is serious”, I said to myself. I got the non-contact fever thermometer for the family’s use a few months back. It was during the height of the scare of the Ebola scourge. The highly contagious deadly was rampaging the Congo Democratic Republic. As reported, it was even then threatening to spread to other African countries, Nigeria inclusive.

Reporting to the office in the morning, all the workers must duly have their foreheads scanned for the first telltale signs of Ebola – feverish high body temperature. It was that serious then. But fortunately, not for once was any of the workers screened off or quarantined away.

“Helen,” I said to her, “If Mummy were at home now, she would have known better what to do. But we can no longer wait for her. Your fever is getting worse.” Her temperature was unusually high even for feverish conditions. “I hope it is not Ebola o,” I muttered to myself as I continued addressing myself to her.

 

“Have you eaten since the beginning of the day?” “No. I am not hungry,” she replied with her parched lips and glazed weary eyes.

“It’s about midday and you have had no meal? Eat something right away because I want to take you to the hospital.” I sent, Bobby, to buy her a bottle of Malt before we left for 24/7 Medical centre. Bobby returned with the Malt some minutes later. Helen received the offered drink and reluctantly drained it after my insistence and cajoling.

Now done with the malt drink, I urged her on.

“Now, go over to your place and shower. You need to cool down. Your body temperature. It is too high.”

When she left for her place, I thought. Helen is a total stranger to our family. Not until she came to our church as a newcomer, the entire family had known nothing about her. Eventually, she became a regular member, and we took her and her son in as recent additions to our family. That was several months ago.

I was sure what she had was a fever and that she will recover once she has received treatment. Still, a lingering apprehension lucked within me. I don’t know any of her relatives. Whom will I and my wife call upon should anything bad happen to her? I don’t want to run into trouble. Should any mishap happen to her while she was under our roof, relations who presently knew nothing about her whereabout will suddenly show their faces. Then, they will demand from me explanations on what happened to “our” daughter. Worse still, the accusation will then fly over my head of sinisterly using her for “money ritual”. I really need Mummy back home.

Together with Mercy, we entered the car and drove down to 24/7 Medical center. Mercy joined me in the front on the passenger seat, while Helen sat at the back. Today, the third day of January is Mercy’s birthday. I had taken her on her first driving lesson earlier on in the day.

 

Many of our neighbors and other estate dwellers have traveled home for the Christmas and New Year celebrations and because of this, the roads were free. Mercy hopped into the driver’s seat while I was by her side in the front passenger’s seat. We did practice runs through the long stretch of the main street in our estate. The road is about three hundred meters long. While not smooth, it was fairly straight enough for her to embark on her first behind-the-wheel trials. Together, we did three rounds of practice before she called for a recess from her practical class.

My goal was for her to do at least five rounds before we retire for the day. However, already fagged out, she was getting less enthusiastic about this whole driving thing.

“Daddy, my legs are tired, I want to rest.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to continue with this practice session?” Now, it was my turn to entreat and sweet-talk her to add more minutes. She did not bulge.

“Yes. Daddy, I will continue later.” Sounding a little disappointed about her waning zest, I succumbed to her request.

“All the pains and tiredness is because this is your first time,” I said as I took over the wheels from her.
“Are you afraid?”
“No, I am not.”
“That’s good. Just make sure you don’t have any fear lurking at the back of your heart. You cannot coordinate yourself or control the car when you hit a major road if you are driving scared. Be courageous. Learning to drive is almost like learning to swim. If you get frightened by the water, your body will be tensed and it will be more difficult for you to maintain the buoyancy condition you need to float on the water.”

Wondering if my impromptu lecturing was not rolling off her mind as water of the back of a duck on a stream, I continued.

“Remember that under normal circumstances, the other drivers on the road are also trying to avoid running into your car. This attitude from drivers approaching from the opposite side of the road, any road in a large measure helps to prevent accidents. So you need not be afraid. You understand?”

“Yes, daddy.”

The driving session of that day was not properly introduced. That was my fault. Prior to this day, we have been talking about her need to start and complete her driving lessons and also get a driving license before she goes back to school. This morning I ushered her into the car. Her driving lesson has begun. Abruptly. That was my mistake #1. She narrowly missed the wall that screens the road from the step-down transformer at the T-junction near the nursery school. Apparently, she was shaken. I had to encourage her to do a few more rounds.

Now, as we were setting off for the hospital, I resolved to correct some of my earlier mistakes. Trying to sound reassuring, I told her to watch me as I drive.

“The first thing you do on entering the car is to adjust the seat and the side mirrors to suit you. This is to ensure you can easily see other vehicles coming from behind through your car rear-view mirrors. Next, you put on your seat-belt. You engage the transmission and then put your two hands on the steering wheel. Position your hands on the steering wheel in a 10 to 2 position. Just like this You remember the 10 to 2 position of your wristwatch?”

“Yes,” she replied.

I showed her the 10 to 2 position.

“Just watch the way I maneuver out of our estate for the main road.”

Mummy with Willy
Mummy & Willy, 2005
Our car is at the tail end of the T-junction now.
“What you do is to approach the junction steadily. Your goal for the next few seconds is to shift your car to the far right-hand side even though you want to branch off to the left of the T-junction. All the time you are doing this, stay vigilant and ever on the lookout for other road users and vehicles who may speed from either side. You may not see them approaching and they too may not see your car.”

We arrived at the 24/7 Medical Center a few minutes later. Strategically located at the junction along Elelenwo – Woji road, the pharmacy cum health center is always busy round the clock. On any day, the clinic is a beehive of activities. 24/7 has a front shop that is also facing the busy junction of the road. The front of this clinic also serves as the terminus for the ubiquitous tricycles popularly called “keke NAPEP”. As the terminus side of the clinic was choked up with traffic, we had to drive towards the Woji axis of the T-junction where I located a place to pack the car.

When we entered the clinic, the receptionist heartily welcomed us. Her office and shop were warded off by an elevated display case that has a top serving as a table. The one-room office has every corner and free space crammed with cartons of drugs that lined the shelves that cover two of the right-hand sidewalls. To the left is a narrow passage that led to an office that served as the doctor’s office.

On this first visit, neither the doctor nor his assistant was around. After the brief exchange of greetings came the barrage of questions from the receptionist.

“What is the problem? Who needs treatment? Do you want to see the doctor or are you buying drugs?”
“Yes. I want to see the doctor? The lady with me has been complaining of weakness and she has been running high temperatures. So we brought her here.”

While listening to my answers, her eyes darted intermittently at Helen. Cursorily, she scrutinized her as if that was all it will take to arrive at the doctor’s diagnosis.

Oh, okay. The doctor is not on sit now, however, she will have to go the laboratory for medical tests before we can give her any drugs prescribed by the doctor.”

“Okay, run the tests now. Where is the lab?”
Hardly taking her face off the lab tests form that occupied her attention, she answered me.

“It’s just by the corner”, she pointed towards the direction of the lab.

“Just step out and walk towards Woji, the first door that opens to the right-hand side is the entrance to the lab.”

I muttered a thank you. Mercy now led Helen to the lab while I trudged on from behind.
The lab was even smaller than the front end of the hospital which served as both an office and a drugstore. The lab attendant on seeing Mercy and Helen smiled with recognition.
“So you are back again? What is the problem this time around?”
Smiling at me she asked Mercy, “Is this your dad?”

With a wide grin on her face, Mercy shook her head in affirmation. She has repeatedly been to this place with her mum in the past. Her mum prefers going to 24/7 for medical tests and treatment instead of my company’s hospital even though the latter is better equipped and better staffed. My company’s health insurance covers my family but Mummy preferred coming here along with her kids including Mercy for treatment. The last time she was here, it was to treat Emmanuel, who was then down with malaria. Emmanuel has since recovered. Now, it was his mother’s turn.

“How much will the test cost?”
“One thousand naira.”
“And when will the test results be ready?”
“Come back by 4.00pm.”
“Won’t you be giving her some drugs to relieve her before then?”
“I am afraid I can’t. We will give you drugs after the doctor has looked through the test results and given his prescriptions. But, make sure she eats some food before coming back so that she will not have to take injection on an empty stomach.”
“OK. Thank you.”

And so we drove back home.

NOTE: This is one of my experiments while telling my personal story. Mummy (my wife) was away from home in the first week of January 2015. That was when I documented as best as I knew how to my efforts at home-keeping while she was away. Putting myself into her shoes and appreciating better how well she has been managing and running our home all these years. I’ve always appreciated her though

Read the second part of this story here: While You Were Away – 2 of 4

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