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”
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.
“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.
TO BE CONTINUED….