She Must Live! (1)

She Must Live! (1)

The honks from the taxi rose in a crescendo, causing a welter of pedestrians to move out of the way. Yes, they rose. And his heart was palpitating for his sister. His anxious eyes ran from her toes, the whole gamut of her twenty-three-year-old frame, to the golden weaves of her hair. She was of mixed race and stunningly beautiful.

Please Lord, he thought, don’t let my sister die….

“Nosa…” Her voice was weak.

“Yes! Maria….” His voice was full of trepidation. He was sitting beside her, breathing down her tremulous frame.

“Nosa, I don’t want to die….”

Nosa looked through the glass window of the taxi. Gradually, his eyes grew misty. She is saying this for the umpteenth time after she had come to.

“Maria, look, you are not going to die”.

He was trying to assure her of his conviction. Even then, his heart rate was way beyond normal; for he was anxious for his sister.

He was anxious, not because of her search for assurance, but because of the manner in which she took ill….

She was a very vivacious girl who was not subdued that her senior secondary science examination results had not been released yet.  And she had returned from church that morning, reciting the rosary playfully. She had gone to the kitchenette to blend some fruits in their small prized blender, when her voice plunged into a diminuendo:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the lord is with you,

Blessed are you among women,

And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus….

Her tone of voice had dropped from its natural level. Nosa had sensed danger without knowing why. The next sound he heard was Maria’s almost muffled cry for help. He had rushed to her. She had complained weakly of dizziness and of a pain in her chest. Then, she had passed out….


The poignant smell of formaldehyde hit his nostrils as they zoomed through the entrance gate of the hospital. And the beehive of activities in there brought a déjà vu. Twenty-three years ago, his eleven-year-old eyes had seen a similar setting when his pregnant mother was helped over across the white tiles of the hospital floor. She had had it with a German vagrant on Boramo Beach where she was once a stripper. He remembered this because she was drunk and he had come upon them as they were both naked in their little shack. After giving birth to Maria, Nosa’s mother had died of anaemia. And later, Nosa’s own father, an Igbo stage musician who took to begging for alms from white men, had left home one night in a drunken state and never returned….

Now, Nosa must allow the nurses to take control. Of course, his sister would have to be laid on a stretcher and wheeled into the theatre. Well, surprisingly, this did not happen so. The nurses were indifferent. Everyone appeared detached as if privy to some invisible information.

“Nosa….” Maria called again, “are we in the hospital?”

“Yes”, Nosa said, “It’s going to be alright.”

Nosa paid the taxi man and carried his sister himself into the hospital. Her weight in his arms was like that of the timber planks he carried for wages at the saw mill.

At the lobby, people were seated, waiting anxiously to either see a doctor or be allowed to visit a patient. Along an inner corridor leading into the lobby, many pale figures lay, groaning in pains. Every patient had a family member virtually administering the duties of a nurse to them. Nosa could not believe his eyes. Why are they not lying on beds? He laid his sister on an empty bench and walked over to the reception. Am I lucky to have acquired a bench?

“Please I have an emergency” he said to an ugly nurse who was busy watching TV and painting her nails at the same time.

“Then go to the Emergency Department” she replied curtly, without looking at him.

“Please where is the Department?”

“Go over there,” she pointed at a section of the hospital at the other extreme of the gory corridor. “Next time, read the signs.”

I shall not be bruised. Nosa went over to Maria and reassured her that salvation was on the way. Then, he quickly dashed through the overgrown grass that bypassed the corridor to the Emergency Department. He was asked to register and obtain a card before he could even pay for a bed space. At the registration point, there was a long queue of people. This was too much for Nosa. Time is expensive now. He had to think fast. At the moment, a tall handsome doctor was walking briskly into a computer laboratory. Nosa ran after him and almost bashed into the laboratory just as the doctor was shutting the door after him. Easy, easy now. Behave yourself if you want to make a difference. What is my mission? To influence this doctor and get him to help me in every way he can.

He knocked at the door like a gentleman.

“Come in” a baritone voice responded.

“Good day Sir” Said Nosa, standing obsequiously and uneasily. He had found himself in a room with rows of laptops, stationed on a very long varnished Mahogany table, for use by staff of the hospital.

“Good day,” The doctor answered, even as he continued to type away at a laptop, “How may I help you?”

“Sir, my name is Nosa. As we speak, my only sister is lying critically ill on a bench over there, about to die. I am an undergraduate student. But I survive through menial labour. I have neither a mother nor a father. Please Sir, in the name of God, Most High, do not let my sister die….”

The doctor stopped typing and looked directly at Nosa for the first time. He stood up slowly and looked at his wristwatch. Suddenly, it appeared the virus of indifference that had bitten deep into every doctor and nurse in this hospital just flew from him out the window.

“Where is she?” he asked like a Daniel come to judgment.

“At the reception, Sir. She fainted and came to a while ago”

“Let’s go”

Nosa could not believe that it was working. Anything can happen oh! And miracle can only occur at the right moment, the right mood and with the right person. They took a concealed passage into the lobby.

The doctor took one look at Maria and something throbbed inside of him. Maria had fainted again. In a matter of minutes, the doctor had gotten some nurses. They had Maria stretchered and wheeled into the theatre. Nosa was asked to stand outside. It was then he noticed that the bench on which he had laid Maria was empty because a cleaner wanted to disinfect it! As the cleaner did this, he watched the blue foamy water in a bucket into which the cleaner dipped her wipe steadily becoming black. A pair of gloves covered her hands….

Eternity passed. A doorknob turned.

“Nosa,” It was the doctor, “your sister would have to be fully admitted. Meanwhile, see me in my office.”

Nosa was led to an expansive office that smelt of a mixture of lavender and formaldehyde. The doctor, a Yoruba man, walked over to his heavy swivel chair, sat down and began to swivel to and fro.

“Sit down” He said, motioning Nosa to a seat opposite him.

He sat down, apprehensive. A fish in an aquarium, a pious office fish, flashed golden streaks across his eyes. It appeared the fish needed food. Nosa remembered the golden weaves in Maria’s hair.

“Nosa, we have done a Computed Tomography scan of her lungs and chest areas and we have detected a cancer tumor…,” The doctor crossed his fingers, “Nosa, your sister has lung cancer.”

It was like the detonation of a Hydrogen bomb. Nosa stood up and sat down again.

“Take it easy. She is alive” The doctor said.

“What do we do now, doctor?” Nosa asked with a tremulous voice.

“There is hope. We have discovered that with a drug called Interferon, the growth of the tumor cells could be inhibited. Very fortunately, this cancer is still in its very early stage, thus we hope to destroy the tumor and it would be better done within the next three days. I’ll give you a prescription which you would use to get the drug at Malta’s. We’ve ran out of supply.”

Nosa was at a loss of what to do. He had only a thousand Naira with him and he hoped that the doctor’s kindness would also help write off the hospital bills that were already mounting, even if he, Nosa, had not been told about them yet. He just sat staring at the doctor. When he found his voice, he only asked, “Doctor, thank you very much. I’ll go get the drug. Can I see her now?”

“Right.” The doctor scribbled something fast on a note and gave the note to Nosa.

When they got to her, Maria was lying in a supine position. Nosa sat down on her bed and held her hands.

“Nosa, what is wrong with me?” She stared at him.

“Em…em…,” Nosa stammered, “Don’t worry you will be fine.”

“Nosa! What is wrong with me?”

“Excuse me.” The doctor said to Nosa as he moved closer to the bed. Nosa moved a bit, secretly relieved that the doctor was trying to handle the situation, especially then that there were surreptitious tears in his eyes.

The doctor brought down his stethoscope and felt her heartbeat. He touched her forehead and smiled. Nosa’s handkerchief worked their way to his eyes.

“You’ll be alright. We will work on you to remove the cause of the pain. It will soon be over.” The doctor was very reassuring. “The nurses would attend to you. Tell them what you will eat and they’ll get it for you.”

Maria looked from the doctor’s face to Nosa’s for a while. Then she closed her eyes and sighed.

The doctor gave a quick bow and left.


Outside the wardroom, the shuffling feet of agonizing patients and the busy footfalls of nurses were decibels higher than within. Nosa waded his way to the exit. But his soul was with Maria. Her tremulous voice, her hair (fast losing its golden touch), and the doctor’s words about the urgency of her condition all combined to form a monstrous command in his brain: Go get that drug!!

I must not let her die! He thought. A costermonger ran across the busy road with his wares—tobacco was emphatic among them. Nosa’s eyes picked out packets of his sister’s most favourite cigarette, Waves. Waves was Maria’s vice. She was caught up in the vortex of Nicotine. Nosa’s pleas about her habit had fallen on ears that were drowning in captivity. Now, Maria had cancer, lung cancer….

Malta’s was a very expansive pharmacy. After a few enquiries at the reception, Nosa was invited to the pharmacist’s office.

“You said you want Interferon?” The pharmacist asked again.

“Yes sir.”

“Can I have the doctor’s note?”

Nosa fished out a note he had completely forgotten in his passion for the elixir drug that would save his sister’s life.

After gazing at the prescription in his hands, the pharmacist looked up at him, “The drug would cost you Eighty thousand Naira. You need two packs”

Nosa’s heart missed a beat. He had no idea where to get the money for this drug. Ah! I must not let her die!

“Please, pharmacist, I am ready to sign an agreement with you to have this drug save my sister’s life. I will pay back in installments for three months consecutively.”

“How?” The pharmacist was amused but did not show it for the circumstance of the time.

“I work as a wood drudger in the saw mill in town. I am certain if I work hard I can make the money in three months.”

The pharmacist regarded him with a critical eye.

After a while, the pharmacist said, “Well, I can give you this drug if you can pay an advance of just Fifty thousand Naira.”

The pharmacist called an attendant and asked to see the drug to make sure they had neither run short of supply nor own expired quantities. Nosa followed the attendant with his eyes as he dutifully got the drug from a shelf and handed it over to the pharmacist. After a while of inspection, the pharmacist handed it back to the attendant. Again, Nosa followed the attendant with his eyes as he dutifully placed the drug into position at the shelf.

“All right,” Nosa mumbled, wondering on earth what to do. He pushed the chair he was sitting on backward and stood up, wondering on earth what to do, “I’ll be back.”

As he eased his way out of Malta’s, he became exasperated. Outside and in front of the neon light signboard of the pharmacy sat a man. He was seated on an upturned paint bucket. His blue overall had smudges of white paint on it. He was contemplating a cigarette in his lean right hand. Nosa looked at that lean hand. In that lean hand, he saw his sister’s cry to be free. Her voice, hoarse. Nosa closed his eyes.

My sister must be free. My sister shall be free. I must get this drug, if that is what I’ll do with this life of mine. I must get it! He walked down the sidewalk, passing the paint man and a notice reading, “WET PAINT”. There are many other ways to wet the hands and mind, and there are also ways to wash off the paint.

It was seven o’clock already. Nosa’s mind was racing. The neon light of the signpost at Malta’s was conspicuous among the kaleidoscopic throws of colours down Malta street. I am going to sneak in there now. I shall then remain motionless somewhere inside until they close sales for today. Then I shall make away with this drug of mine. It is in that shelf. Isn’t it? Their pantry may be expansive too. I shall sneak in there. I shall hide in there. I am going to kiss my conscience goodbye! And I am going to go to hell for all I care.


24 thoughts on “She Must Live! (1)” by jeff unaegbu (@jeffunaegbu)

  1. I was thrilled after reading this piece, brilliant effort, then I read your bio and I was not so surprised anymore. Well done Sir!!!

    1. Oh thanks, Scopeman. We hope to get there together.

  2. Mazi Nwonwu (@Fredrick-chiagozie-Nwonwu)

    Nice story. However, I think you are killing it by putting in too many strange words. While I agree that people need to learn new words, but putting too much of it in a single story is taking it too far.
    “a very long varnished Mahogany table” – wondered what this meant.Is it a Mahogany table that has lost its varnish, or one that was varnished long ago-therefore faded/old?
    “welter of pedestrians”, “the whole gamut” of and “palpitating for”; all used in just two adjacent paragraphs, did not cut it for me at all.
    Thankfully it got better after that first paragraph. You have a good, if familiar, story to tell, don’t kill it with the use of phrase and words that will cause the reader to expunge energy that will be used reading your story on dictionary searches. Waiting for your coming stories.

    1. Good try, Fred. And very detailed….
      You see, sometime in the past, I picked up the book, “The Man Died” by Wole Soyinka. By the time I left it to do something else, I had gone searching for words not less than fifty times. Words even compete with each other in single sentences for sweet abstruseness. Yet that book brought the Nobel committee to gaze upon Wole and his oeuvre, or entire works. If I post a section of that great book here, I am sure your impressive comment will suitably apply to it too.
      It is true, “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”, especially because what applied to a former generation of writers and critics may be scorned by a recent generation of writers and their watchdogs. Times change and tides too, but the gods need never lie.
      And great works are sometimes simple and sometimes difficult. I, for one, subscribe to both styles. These days, young writers are at home with poetic license, crisp and snappy sentences that move like a movie. I write that way too, depending on the style I summon. I used to criticize fiercely this way too, but I have learnt to detach myself from works and look at the zeitgeist that moves them. That way, we learn to follow other people’s styles and appreciate them and conquer the natural desire to try to make them write like we do ourselves. Maturity comes with experience.
      Nevertheless, the abiding feeling behind a written story may be criticized (melodrama, anticlimax etc).
      Spelling errors and incorrect grammar may be criticized
      But styles need never be.
      Good try.

  3. Ditto @Fred.
    Very nice story.

    1. Oh Lade, thank you so much for seeing this story as nice! You rock!

  4. Very nice story. You captured the true state of some hospitals. Think there’s more coming. Like the best part of the story is yet to come. Waiting.

    1. Thanks Jaywriter. I am really very bitter about the state of our hospitals. So many cases that are otherwise redeemable are not so!!

  5. I like the story itself, but not so much the telling. Still I look forward to part 2.

    1. Thanks Uche. The telling is hard, I guess? Simpler stories will come too. But both simple and hard are needed for a total growth in Naija Stories, or else, my Nobel laureate masters would be having nightmares coming here.

      Thanks again.

    1. Glad you like it, man. More power to your elbows.

  6. This is good Jeff, as always.I noticed that you tried to cut down on the big words like you commented in your last post here.But you know, a leopard never changes its spots.i think you should stick with any style that suits you, but put the most important consideration in mind– your readers.

    Well done!!!

    1. This is Lawal speaking. Of course, a Leopard will always be a leopard. It is just as well that I have reserved simpler stories for my friends here. I may still post a very very difficult one someday, just for the fun of it. One can be mischevous, you know. But all the same, both styles will help a part of the audience as well as another.

      I appreciate.

  7. nice story this is, funny that I read the part 2 before reading this. i liked it but you suddenly give this guy a solution to his problem like he had planned to steal the drugs before….

    “The doctor took one look at Maria and something throbbed inside of him” what is this line doing there my dear?… I think its irrelevant at that point.

    1. Thanks, Poet.

      On solutions to problems, I am sure you know what is called a Deus ex machina.
      Of course, You did note that Nosa is hiding and waiting for morning to come when the deux ex machina happenned.

      First of all you did not say why you think the line you indicated is irrelevant, my dear. But let me try to answer the unfinished reaction.

      That line is necessary, my dear, for the reason of love already addressed in part two. Love at first sight is still probable, of course. And in this case, it was a mixture of love and compassion. Now, if it is not love at first sight, then the quick proposal in part two will be very unconvincing.

      Thanks and continue to be brainy!!!

  8. You know, I had to come back to read this. I’m just glad I did. It’s interesting..

    1. You know, dear Cute, I am glad you are glad that you read this story. You are a darling….

  9. What I liked about this story (especially towards the end) is how you bring up the urgency of Nosa’s predicament, and how his morality is tested. I like that your language is simple and direct towards the end; in fact, I would say that the directness of the language underscores how important the issue is for him. (No, I’m not a fan of purple prose at all.)

    I’m curious – why was the doctor sympathetic to Nosa? Surely, he had heard the ‘I am a poor struggling man’ line many times before. He hadn’t even gazed upon the beauteous Maria up to that point – in fact, that might have been a better reason for him to cast aside his indifference.

    1. Thanks Tola.

      Have you noticed that many people accused of purple prose happened to turn classic with time? Look closely at William Shakespeare. Of course, you will agree with me that his writings are filled with flowery language, e.g. ‘Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds’ (False love alters). Other writers may include Cormac McCarthy, James Hunt, Arundhati Roy, Thomas Pynchon, Stephenie Meyer, and Jonathan Safran Foer, even our Wole Soyinka. And Chinua Achebe in “Anthills on the Savannah”.

      The doctor’s sudden change of mind? Sure, he had heard such stories, but if we go into human psychology, you will discover that if one appeal is spoken in different contexts, different reactions will occur. A happy person might react differently from an angry person to a kiss. The same person might react differently depending on the mood. Contexts change the tone of the same stimulus. And everyone has what is called a ‘Tolerance Threshold’. Meanwhile, Nosa’s mind was on a mission. The mind is very powerful. If the mind of a person is very focused upon another chosen person, anything is possible. As a lady, you will agree with me that it is very difficult for a man to escape a woman whose mind is made up to conquer him.

      Nevertheless, your point is well noted. I see I should have explained his abrupt sudden change of mind to the benefit of every reader. I think I left the explanation to the correct conjecture of my readers who are already very familiar with Human Psychology.

      Thank you again.

  10. Nice one Jeff! What I like about this story is the accusative rhetorics of the failings of the entire staff members. Your choice of words captures and accentuates the deplorable conditions of our health institutions. There is more to this story than just entertaining. Kudos!

    1. @Johnson, I am so happy for you. And it is good that your strong sense of English vocabulary has shown that you are mature enough to capture the essence of the story and to enjoy it thereby. This is the pathway to a Nobel award for you!!

  11. I think Jeff bothers too much about defending the ‘whys’ of this story…i’m starting to wonder…

    I agree with Fred (too many strange words), Uche (liking the story but not to the telling)…and just as a side note, i don’t think your/my reaction to the detonation of a hydrogen bomb would be to stand up and sit down again.

    Still..who knows?


    1. I see I have another serious observer here.
      For your wondering: I think to tell Seun that its “Different strokes for different folks”.
      For your strange words: I think to tell you that a word is strange to you depending on your level of mastery of the English vocabulary.

      At for not liking the telling: make your case point by point, or just drop one point. And by point, I mean, show me where in the story that the telling veered off track for you. This goes for every constructive and mature critic.

      As for the bomb reaction: I am sure Seun knows the meaning of “Hyperbole” and that when he knows it he would not hide it in his box but bring it out and use it in his literature if he will. In this case, there is a creative combination of “Simile” and ‘Hyperbole”: “Like the detonation of a hydrogen bomb”. Note the word, “Like”.

      All in all. Good try! Keep it up!

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