“We were and then, we weren’t” I summarized my marriage of twenty-five years in my head.
Standing over a body that I am performing an autopsy on, I was aware that I wasn’t…at least my thoughts; were unprofessional. I was trained to be alert to the body…to feel something for the humanity that had departed which was especially demanding in the case of this six-year old girl. I was trained to be so many things while in the presence of a body but, minds tend to have a will of their own.
My scalpel cut through skin and in about twenty minutes, I would be getting the reading on the now cold heart. Thinking this is like my mind’s way of assuaging its guilt.
I take a look around the room and glory in the silence. I have always loved working alone and here in St. Barth’s hospital. I am aware that everyone calls me “Queen of the Dead” because of my love for solitude especially around bodies.
One of the biggest and best hospital in Nigeria and they still find a woman’s dedication to her work as Medical Examiner… ghoulish. I would never cease to be amused. Well, to be fair to them; the reputation and even the name had preceded my appointment of two years now. I had worked at my father’s hospital for twenty years before I resigned. The Indians who owned St. Barth’s had been in line to hire me immediately. Anywhere was better…
Thinking of my father brings back painful memories. Everyone knows the legendary, Dr. Bukas. Harvard and Oxford trained; one of Africa’s four Neurologist and in many people’s opinion…the very best.
“My father…” I cringed as I realized I had just spoken out loud. After a pause, I continued cutting into skin.
As Dr Bukas’s only child though; I am the only one who knows the least about him. My mother had died giving birth to me and my father had never forgiven me for that.
Why else was I trained by nannies? Why else did I never get to see him except every Wednesday when he would walk into my room to ask me ‘twenty’ questions about school?
At first, I had tried all I could to get him interested in me. I wanted him to smile at me or to laugh with me or to be interested in my drawings which my teachers agreed were brilliant. I always took the first position in my class and was well behaved. I broke nothing and never got dirty but, it was futile.
I was ten when I got him to notice me though… for the worst. I had drawn my mother.
On that Wednesday, my father had come into my room and enthusiastically, I had shown him the picture. The ever composed mask which I was used to, slid away and in its place was an ashen faced man whose hands had suddenly begun to tremble. In a very tight voice, he then spoke the words that changed me…
“You killed her”. He had gotten up and walked away.
That was the last day my father came over with his ‘twenty’ questions. That was the last time I attended school as a day student…. That day was also the last day I ever drew…that picture of my mother was my last… I was bundled up and sent to a boarding school.
From the boarding school, I was flown away to Princeton. I think people stop questioning my passion for my job when they hear how my mother died. I graduated and returned to Nigeria and to my surprise; in addition to being the Chief Medical Examiner in my father’s hospital, he made me his right hand person…taking the job from a young handsome Dr Lawrence.
I did my job with as much grace and dedication as I could but, I equally relied on the contributions of Dr Lawrence. After a year, we became comfortable enough with each other to do away with the ‘Doctor’. We were two very busy people and it just seemed natural that we would fall for each other. Our trysts were usually in the office and helped relieve our pressure for outside meets or even prying eyes.
Lawrence was off to Princeton for more studies that same year, when I discovered I was already pregnant. Never been one to whine or complain, I made my decision and carried my baby to full term. I had our first child- Nathaniel; alone. When Lawrence returned two years later, we did what we felt was right… we got married and that same year, we welcomed our two months premature twin daughters.
We weren’t a perfect couple- Lawrence and I but, we did our best for our kids. Lawrence loved to chit-chat and play around but, I did not believe in such trivialities. I think this has always been our biggest difference. I just loved to be a doctor and take care of my kids. I had no one to take care of me and so, I believed Lawrence was selfish if the spare time we had away from work would ever be for such simple-minded plays.
In twenty-five years, there were days of fights, silent rebuffs… Lawrence usually acted out. I never did. In over two years now, we both hadn’t shared a bed and as though by mutual consent, we have been very careful to avoid bumping into each other even in the home. It was terrible working with him in my father’s hospital and so, I had to resign. I couldn’t stand all the pretence needed to get through any day that had to keep us smiling and holding up a ‘perfect-couple’ ruse.
I was stoic through all that anyway but, resignation was best for, I have always being the mum I wish I had…for my own kids and this mattered most to me. I believe myself to be the very best of mums… my three kids have all graduated from the universities abroad, returned home and were now working in good establishments…none in the medical line and none have ever tried to talk about the state of our marriage or home. Maybe they couldn’t, the same way Lawrence and I couldn’t. Maybe we were just too tired to try again.
Back to the present, I placed the heart of the girl on my table on a scale and took its reading. Everything appears normal to me. Having now worked in two of Nigeria’s most sophisticated hospitals, I was glad that autopsies could now be done in Nigeria. I pitied the parents of this girl whose life has been cut short by…well, I would give a definite answer when I am done and not before. Guess-work isn’t my thing either.
“Six years old?” I queried in my head. Not because I didn’t know but because, it felt so…
Three days ago, I had celebrated my forty-eighth birthday. I wondered what this girl might have done on her sixth birthday. I had gone to see my father on my own birthday.
I had taken a banquet of flowers to his room. I wasn’t surprised to see Lawrence but, he seemed startled to see me and quickly, he darted for the door after a curt, “Hello” to me and was out.
As the door shut behind him, the room became even quieter. The only sounds were the beeps of the medical gadgets all around my father. I was aware that his eyes were on me. Even at eighty-six; he still never missed a thing. Well, we rarely spoke and I was glad he wouldn’t. He had been in the hospital for over six months and that was my first visit.
I crossed over to the left side of the room where there was a vase and unwrapped the flower. I opened the fridge, brought out a bottle of cold water and poured into it before putting in the flowers.
“Get well soon” I whispered and began to walk away.
“Queen of the dead” The words were barely audible but I was sure I had heard them. I turned to face him…
“Excuse me?” I spoke. I was aware at that time that, he was the first person to have ever used the name on me…within hearing distance…well, except for the press.
His face appeared unchanged. In fact, it was as though no one had spoken. I wasn’t paranoid, I knew he had spoken. After a pregnant pause, I determinedly turned to walk away again…
“Cold, distant… did you even try to work on your marriage?” I had already turned around as he spoke so. I didn’t have time for his head games.
“Cold, distant, pretentious… did you even try to work on our relationship?” I flung the words at him. My eyes were leveled on him and if eyes could freeze hell, mine would have.
To my chagrin, he chuckled before speaking again…“I loved you too much to be near you…”
Now, I was angry. How pathetic… how low could this liar go?
“W…wh…what did you just say?” Anger made my words stumble out.
“My wife…your mother…gave birth to you…her spitting image before…”
“I killed her?” I interrupted, finishing the words for him.
“I warned her!” His voice was an angry outburst.
“What’s going on here?” I asked in my head…
“Doctors all over the world warned her against pregnancy. Her womb was damaged from birth and any pressure would rupture it… she couldn’t… she wouldn’t accept it. On and on we went all over the world but, the conclusion was the same…on and on I pleaded with her to accept the fate of the heaven but, she wouldn’t. On the verge of losing her by constant pleading, I let her be…” He began to sob as a tear slid down the side of his eye and he raised a trembling hand to wipe it off. As though his energy was spent, he seemed to have fallen asleep. After what felt like a minute though, he began to speak again in a whisper…
“I came home one day and there she was…so beautiful…she was waving a paper. I opened it and…confirmed…she was pregnant. There was no talking about abortion unless I wanted a divorce…she warned. I stood by her…my Agnes…my love”
He was breathing so heavily that I feared he would collapse because of exhaustion but, he continued to speak…
“I had her taken to Britain and she stayed in the best hospital all through…on the day that you came into the world, the delivery had gone on well… then, in a blink…everything went straight to hell. There was a rupture in the womb and Agnes bled from every orifice…until she died…my wife…my Agnes!” My father’s cry was heart wrenching.
I was at a loss for words. I had never heard this version of events…
“Childa, I do not need your sympathy…” I was startled at the mention of my name.
“…didn’t need my sympathy so…what was the story for?” I wondered in my head.
It was my turn to ask, “Why did you never talk to me?” I intended the words to convey my anger but, they came out in a whisper.
“I don’t know…anger maybe” He replied.
I frowned at him.
“What was I to do with you? Maybe I was just stupid…” He lamented
“Why now?” I queried. “Why are you talking to me now?” I asked hardly disguising my disgust.
“Do you believe in second chances?” He asked
Smelling a rat; I quickly replied, “Nope. Am not God…don’t do second chances”.
That same annoying chuckle… and then silence. In that silence I connected the dots…
“No way” I screamed in my head. As though reading my mind, he turned his head to meet my eyes. .. I had to be very clear in my answer…
“I have given up on Lawrence a long time ago…” I said.
“You sure about that?” He asked
“Yes” I answered.
“Anyone new?” He asked as his eyes held mine daring me to…lie
His audacity grated on my nerves but, I was lost in the moment.
“Yes” I answered, startling myself. That was the first time I ever spoke that secret out.
“Who is he?” He asked
I couldn’t speak as tears welled up in my eyes. For once in a year and half, I was staring at my biggest fear; afraid to confront it. Right before me, my father was warring against his secret demons and for all my stoicism, I was too afraid to look at mine…
“Who is he?” I heard him ask again but, I didn’t answer. I had simply turned on my heels and walked away from him…away from the hospital.
Organs of six year old harvested; and labeled appropriately, I began to tidy up. I hosed down the girl with water before doing some light stitching. The digital clock above my head said 6:30 PM. On another day, I would have stayed put until the girl was done but, I couldn’t. I had an appointment in less than an hour.
I quickly removed my lab gown and took a shower. While dressing up, my mind began to wander again…
I wondered where my dinner would be. My lover is spontaneous and is bound to surprise me. I was putting on some lip gloss when the knock came. I said “come in” and he did…flashing that charming smile that makes me feel feathery all over. I crossed over to him and fell into a warm embrace.
“How is it?” He asked, his mouth in my ear
“Better now you’re here” I replied
That made him chuckle before he raised my face to place a kiss on my mouth…
“Time to go, I hope?” He asked still holding me
I gently pulled away from him, looked around and nodded…
“You look worried, had a hard day?”
“I did” I said in my head. “I spent hours lost in thoughts. I thought about how I had come to this point…. I thought about my father and Lawrence and about you; John…”
“Are you okay?” John shook me now, the worry line evident in his face
“Yes…of course. Why wouldn’t I be?” I replied, trying out a smile…
“Whew” He blew out air and I pretended to look worried.
“Don’t worry about me, am fine. Just a hard day harvesting the organs of…” He was quick to interrupt…
“Nahhh. Hold on lady… I understand. Now, let’s get going… I have a surprise for you…”
He put out his arm and we began to walk away. He began to whistle softly and before long, we were both whistling and laughing… the joys of his youth washing through me… this is the John I know…28 years old and my son’s best friend…
I hate to keep posting 1/2/3 and all that… so, read more on “Novel Page” … http://adaobiokwy.wordpress.com