While You Were Away – 2 of 4

Driving lessons
Driving lessons

Departing from 247 Pharmacy, we were soon back at home. Upon our arrival, I again set about cajoling Helen to fill up her famished bowels. She complied and after her meal, she left the house.

Living on the same street as ours, she puts up in one of the tin houses popularly called “batcha” by the locals. Batchas are hurriedly constructed makeshift structures used by mostly newcomers from the villages and rural areas. These structures are usually on undeveloped plots and often near to the residences of the richer folks. As it so happens in life people can choose their friends but not their preferred neighbors, these ramshackle structures constitute eyesores to the richer neighbors. Helen occupies one room in one of the batchas at the end of our street. The rooms are tiny, poorly ventilated, and jam-packed. In the morning hours groups of little kids could be seen streaming out like bees from a hive.Mummy and I do not mind her staying with us. Her son Emmanuel, has already settled down with us as part of our family. We considered it out-of-place for a young widow to be staying in our already full house where there are several adult men. Even though we trust our boys not to do anything improper, for the sake of expediency we must avoid being the subject of neighbors’ gossips and wagging tongues. Helen has to stay in her own place.

Upon her return, I insisted she rest for a while in the guest room. She will return to the hospital in the evening. Come evening time, we set off for 24/7 Medical Center. Turning to Helen, I quipped, “Are you okay with the AC or do you want me to turn it off?”

“It’s all right like this. Thank you, sir.”

Turning to Mercy, I said, “Oonere, this is another chance to improve on your driving.”

To my prodding, she smiled with a noncommittal ”Yes”.

I reminded her of the first actions she must always take on entering the vehicle to drive out. These include pre-driving precautions like checking the tires, adjusting the rear-view mirrors, adjusting the driver’s seat to a comfortable and fitting position, and putting on the seat belt. “You make the seat belt click and finally, you keep your hands on the steering wheel. Remember the 10 to 2 position and your eyes focused on the road. You set off on your drive.“

The 247 Health Centre and pharmacy is five minutes drive from our house. It could, however, take thirty minutes on days when there are traffic gridlocks on the road. The flow of traffic is painfully constrained because of the ongoing road construction.

At the hospital, the receptionist immediately ushered into the doctor’s consulting room. The amiable and lively young doctor was all smiles. Turning to Mercy he said,

“I’m sure I have seen your face here before.”

“So this is your daughter. She is taller than you or almost so.”

To this, I proudly replied, “Yes. She is almost my height now. Her younger brother is already taller than her.”

“Who among you is seeing me?”

“She is the one.” I pointed towards Helen. “Her name is Helen.”

“Has she done medical tests before or are you just here to buy drugs for her?”

“We were here in the morning for the tests while you were away. We are here for the test results and your prescriptions.“

“All right. You should get the results of her medical test from the lab then.”

Mercy went with Helen to get her test results paper from the lab.

There was a lady standing at the back of the counter. I asked the doctor, “Is that your wife?”

“No, she is not my wife. My wife is at home with our two kids,” he said, smiling in his usual manner.

Helen and Mercy returned from the lab with the results in their hands. The doctor looked at the results and prescribed the drugs for treatment. Before he could go far, I stood up from the bench where I’ve been confined all this while.

“Doctor, please I don’t intend to waste your time, can you give me a layman’s explanation of what all these write-ups in the test sheet mean?”

“Yes, she is having a mild bout of malaria fever and high typhoid fever. I will prescribe some drugs for her now.”

“How much are all these going to cost?”

“N15,000 or do you want me to prescribe a more affordable one? You know, the malaria parasite is always changing. We must treat malaria patients with various drugs in other to stop the fever; otherwise, the fever will only persist and eventually get worse. And we don’t want that, do we?”

“It’s all right; I will opt for the drugs  already prescribed.”

“As part of the treatment, she will come for three rounds of intravenous injections once every day for three days starting this evening. Has she eaten anything today?”

On hearing the doctor’s inquiries, Helen replied she has eaten little since the beginning of the day. In fact, she had no appetite for food even though she managed with a can of malt drink before she left her house. The doctor insisted that she must drink a medium size bottle of Lucozade Sport boost drink before she can receive the IV injection.

“Please, where can I get the Lucozade Boost Sport? Or do you sell them here in your shop?”

“No. Just step outside and turn to your left, you will see a supermarket, you will get it there.”

I went to the supermarket and returned in a short while with the drink. She opened the bottle and gulped it down.

Helen will be staying at 247 to begin her treatment. Mercy and I immediately hit the road for the market to get the frozen chicken and other ingredients for the cooking.

Like many others, this road was similarly ridden with potholes. On either side of the road are tippers, fuel tankers, trailers and broken-down vehicles. On normal days, especially during the morning rush-hours and work-closing times, the road always transforms into a gridlock of mayhem. On both sides of the one-lane road, tricycles weave their way in and out of the gridlock. The “go-slow” is frustrating, wearisome, and nerve racking.

A first-time visitor will be forgiven for thinking that this section of the Garden City was just experiencing a lull from a crippling civil war. On average, every twenty to thirty feet is patched up with depressions and bumps and several deep potholes. Traversing the whole length of the road, pedestrians drivers, and their vehicles are forced to contend with bomb-craters-sized splotches on the motorway. You are left wondering, either this place is under attack from an invading army or it has recently witnessed impact from an asteroid. The dilapidated road has been left unattended this whole long dry season. The citizens of Elelenwo town and other road users, men, and machines are in for another round of frustrations in the coming rain season.

Ironically, both sides of the road were lined with several colorful placards, posters, and billboards of the politicians. From the community ward levels to the state and on to federal levels, most or all of them were aspiring to conquer and plunder in the forthcoming elections. This is the perception most Nigerians hold about politicians and their brand of politics. In this nation, people go into politics not to serve or to make a better life for the populace. Most of them aspire into the position of power not to relieve the oppressed or leave things better than they met them. Their aim is to get into government, grab all that they can grab for themselves and their immediate families. The crumbs and the left-overs are for their immediate communities to fight over before they ever consider the country. No wonder the nation is the way it is.

Significant sections of the road were at various stages of dilapidation. Drivers and motorcyclists had to maintain zig-zag courses as they try to avoid the worst of these ever-in-sight potholes. Drivers must be on full alert all the time. Your car is ever at risk of getting scratched or having its bumper dented by careless “Keke” drivers. The most common site to greet your eyes on the road is a hoard of these yellow kekes trooping up and down along all their chosen routes in lemming-like orders.

Keke drivers with their motorized wheelbarrows are notorious for harassing other road users. They do not spare cars and even jeeps of their maleficent antics. Being more compact and more nimble, it is easier for them to weave in and out of tight-corners and grid-locked traffic conditions at brief notice. It is not uncommon to see them suddenly veering in and out of their lanes without giving a timely signal to alert other drivers – risky moves that are unnecessary. It is not out of place to state that a lot of these dangerous moves are done out of “bad-blood”, meant to frazzle out their more fortunate road users who are riding in jeeps and cars. They also seem to glory in showing off their Keke driving skills. Experienced drivers have learned not to give them chances. Most of the ones you encounter are crude and rude. If you are a diver on this road, you will do well to stay alert and ever focused on the road and your driving. As soon as these Keke drivers notice that you have seen them from a distance, they will push their front line wheel in your direction.

Even though the tricycle is not as strong or as fast as a car, the bad road conditions often put them at an advantage. Between the car and the tricycle, It now becomes a game of “who dares wins.”

Arriving at the market, most of the frozen food stores were still closed. Full business activities will begin from the coming Monday the 6th day of the New Year. With the less frenetic traffic conditions, we could make it to the market earlier than usual. Most of the shops were still under locks and keys yet to open for new year business.

Mercy rightly predicted that vegetables and other food items are likely to cost more. As for perishable food items, the ones available were far from fresh as well. We finally arrived at the market. At less than 30 meters from the railway line, the market is not as congested today as at other times before the holiday season. Parking the car on the side of the road near the center of the market, Mercy stepped out and cross the road to the nearby grocery shop. Mummy used to purchase most of the frozen chicken used for most of the soup and stews we ate at home from this particular customer. With Mercy out, I drove further and made a U-turn as if to head back home.

The shop was filled with several customers who were making last-minute purchases for the first weekend of the new year. With most stalls and other shops still on holidays, the business was booming for the lone still opened grocery and frozen food shop. The front passenger side of the car was almost directly opposite the entrance to the chicken shop. I stayed inside the car while waiting for Mercy to finish her purchases and rejoin me. I did not have to wait long, Mercy popped her head inside the vehicle, “Daddy, please can I have 200 nairas? I need it to complete the payments.” I handled the currency note. Complaining about the famished withering supplies available for purchase she turned to me.

“Daddy, most of the carrots, cabbages, and green peppers on sale are not fresh enough. What are we going to do?”

To her complaints, I could only soothe her with “Just buy the ones that still look fresh. We don’t have a choice but to make do with whatever you can prepare for us until Mummy returns from Lagos.”

“They are also very expensive!”

“What do you expect at this time of the year? Oonere, now that we have bought the chicken, what next?”

“I am not sure we will get cabbage. The peppers and carrots look old and wasted. Now I know what the harvest of wheat and other vegetables looked like during the Egyptian famine.”

“Well, don’t worry, just manage whatever you’ve got as best as you can. The abokis have all traveled to their various homes up North. That is why everything is expensive now. The situation is further compounded by the devastation and waste orchestrated by the militant terrorists in the North-Eastern part of the country.”

“Oonere, do you see the absurdity of the claims of some of our fellow Southerners who suppose that the Northerners cannot survive if the worse turn to the worst and they eventually break out of Nigeria because they don’t have oil”? If you are a hungry man and all you have to sell are barrels of crude which you cannot immediately get buyers for, can you survive by drinking from your stock of crude oil? Won’t you rather sell it at any rock-bottom price so you can get the cash to buy food for your empty stomach?”

But daddy, why don’t we grow more food here in our area? We have better lands here. How do they manage to produce so many kinds of foodstuffs? And those Northerners, they are not that bad o. It is just the religious fanaticism of some of… Click To Tweet

I explained to Mercy that even though their area is arid, the dry season does not last throughout the twelve months of the year. Supported by government policies and commercial farmers using irrigation to augment water supplies, the Northern parts of the country have a landmass that is more amenable to large-scale agriculture. This is one reason they can grow so many foodstuffs. The issue with the South is partly because people get swayed with “easy” money from being directly or indirectly involved in the petroleum industry and related businesses. They are therefore less inclined to take up farming where the… Click To Tweet.”

Behind the wheels
Behind the wheel lessons
“I agree with you that those people are not bad at all. They are just like us save for the wasteful virus of an ideology that is rampaging a huge chunk of our country. Hmm, I want to tell you we are in a state of a serious war in this country even though we are not experiencing it in this part of the country. The crisis posed by these terrorists is more deadly than what the nation faces from HIV, AIDS or Ebola virus from which our country recently escaped. They will live peacefully and happily with you. But once they catch this virus they kill, destroy and maim the life of harmless people in the name of their religion even with no provocation. Here, we are up against a ferocious army that operates with impunity, without scruples or any moral inhibitions against those who do not understand or agree with them.


They even claim to be doing all these for God. How can God be in support of such heartlessness and inhumanity? Can you see what the wrong concepts about who God is and wrong ideas about His moral demands can do to a people? We cannot stay here cozily deluding ourselves that the war can never reach us. We really need to pray for God’s divine intervention in our country because even the federal government is evidently incompetent or unwilling to square up with them and defend innocent citizens. They started by handling the matter with kids’ gloves when they could have decidedly nipped those nefarious groups in the bud. Now, they have metastasized into hydra-headed monsters wreaking storms after storms of mayhem and needless destruction on the lives and psyches of our people.”
We were soon on our way back to pick Helen from the clinic for the trip back home.

The front entrance to the clinic was packed with arriving and departing tricycles. Incongruous as it was, the front of the clinic was where they choose as their terminus. There was no power supply. A small generator by the entrance into the clinic provided the much-needed electricity. The signboard in front of his office boldly proclaims the clinic and its mission. Business is apparently booming for the doctor. Under the two metal posts bearing the signboard is a packed Mercedes Benz jeep belonging to him. With barely enough space left to spare, I tried to pack the old Nissan jeep at the entrance of the shop. But if I do, I will block the entrance into the pharmacy. I had to back out a little. Shifting into reverse gear, I maneuvered the car cautiously.I did not reckon with an unrelenting Keke man. Though he saw the reverse light and noticed the motion of my car backward, he insisted on dovetailing his tricycle with my car as if to scratch the car. I stepped out of the car and confronted him. “So you are telling me you didn’t see my car in reverse motion?”“Oga, sorry I did not see you.”

“Are you blind then?”

“No. I am not. Oga I did not see your car.”

“You are telling lies. All you want to do is to pull out my fender after which you will come and apologize with crocodile tears. You people amuse yourself by denting and damaging other people’s cars. Don’t you ever dream of driving your own car in the future? Do you go home satisfied that you have vandalized someone’s car?”

The altercation over and having ensured that he did no damage to my car, I drove out to park by the corner at the end of the shop so as not to block the way for the other people coming to the clinic.

Entering from the front, we were both ushered into the presence of the doctor.

“Helen, have you taken your injection?”

“Yes, I have.”

“How long is the treatment going to last?” The doctor was immediately on hand with a ready answer.

“The daily regimen is for three days. She will come for injection every evening and the treatment will end on Sunday in the evening.”

Turning to the doctor, I said, “Thank you, doctor, we will take our leave now.”

“Thank you for coming over here. Just make sure she eats well, take more fruits and rest more.”

“We sure will. Bye.”

Mercy prepared a delicious jollof rice for dinner that evening. We can’t wait for Mummy to come back from Lagos. Still, there are five more full days to go.

While You Were Away – Part 3 of 4

Read the first of this four-part story here While You Were Away – 1 of 4