First part here.
Dr. Subair, St. Joan’s Head of Emergency Response, is away on official assignment. The only other doctor in the unit, Dr. Maxwell – the young, baby-faced houseman – is working another emergency.
“Do your best to stabilize the patient,” Dr. Subair’s raspy voice echoes in the receiver.
“Who is attending to her?” an urgent, angry male voice behind Susan queries. She is startled and jerks around quickly, thumbing down on the cellphone’s end button and cutting off Dr. Subair. She sees a nurse is chasing after the man, asking him to return to the waiting room. She can hear other angry voices in the waiting room area. Unsettled, she hurries across the corridor and returns to the adjoining ER.
She starts to undress and clean the patient. Slabs of torn flesh thrust out in the abdominal area. There are deep, bloody gashes all over the face and neck. A barely audible whimper escapes the patient. After the cleaning, she takes another look at the patient’s file. The name jumps at her, and for several seconds she is stunned and frozen on her feet. When she comes to, she shrugs and tries to summon her well-practiced composure, but it’s gone. In its place is a strange and palpable fear that creates intermittent vibrations inside her belly. With gloved hands that have begun to quake, she rummages in the medicine rack above, searching for a sedative.
Dr. Subair arrives in an impotent haste, to meet morose-looking nurses sauntering back and forth in the corridor. The patient is dead.
From a window in the third floor room where she has confined herself, Susan can see St. Joan’s gates part to let in the mortuary van. Its slow, deliberate cruise strikes a morbid note of finality.
Susan tosses her handbag aside, flops on the chair and flicks on the TV. The evening news is a few minutes gone. The anchor’s tie is badly done.
…a young woman by the name of Priscilia Ibru died in a Satelite Town hospital while allegedly left to the ill-trained treatment of a nurse.
A picture of Priscilia Ibru flashes onto the screen. The anchor’s voice speaks on in the background. Those vivacious eyes have taken on a haunting, ghoulish quality.
Relatives of Priscilia Ibru have petitioned the state commission for health. The family’s legal advisers have also threatened to pursue a suit against the hospital for medical malpractice…
Susan switches off the TV. The moisture that has swamped her eyes is warm, and stings. There is a lump in her throat. She collects her bag and flees to her bedroom.
After drying her tears and taking off her clothes, she trudges to the bathroom. She takes her time in front of the bathroom mirror, gazing at her finely chiseled face; at her large, normally sparkling eyes that have become a shadow of themselves; at the smooth, chocolate-toned skin of her torso; at her firm, full breasts and their coffee-black nipples. Her gaze trails downwards, to her tiny waist, generous hips, to her thighs and feet. She stares and the mirror returns the graceful undulation of her hourglass figure. She runs her fingers through her short, soft hair. She turns on the shower. She will have a hot bath. Afterwards, she will call her mother.
St. Joan is located at the eastern end of Brown Street. At the western end, where a huge signpost depicts men and women flaunting incredible-looking torsos, is the town’s largest gym. The road is bad here; loose gravel grate under tyres, and grey dust bellow when vehicles zoom past. It’s a dual-lane road. The landscaping on the median strip is bushy and heavily coated in grey dust.
Across the road from the gym Madam Orji’s fabric shop is buzzing with mercantile energy. Her staffers scurry about, running errands, attending to customers, perspiring at the armpit despite the air-conditioning. Columns of assorted fabric cover the walls from floor to ceiling.
Susan walks in on Satelite Town folks sauntering the shop floor, exchanging tidbits, ogling colourful fabric and running fingers through them. She catches snippets of conversation from a group nearby.
“Where were the doctors, for Godsake?”
“And right here at St. Joan, our good private hospital.”
“Government should close it down temporarily.”
No one has recognized her. In an inner chamber whose door is left ajar, she sights Madam Orji, who knows her by sight. Madam Orji is cosseted in rich lace and a generous sprinkling of jewelry, and is lounging with an equally rotund woman. When their eyes meet, Susan knows it is too late to beat a hasty retreat. She watches Madam Orji rise from the settee and amble towards her.
“My sister, what is this we hear?”
Susan stares blankly at the woman.
“Please, start again from when the man barged into the ER,” Dr. Adamu says.
Susan still hasn’t shaken the feeling of being in a bad dream, perhaps a nightmarish episode of her hospital-dreams, one from which she might gratefully awake any instant. Autopsy reports have pinned the primary cause of death on Diazepam overdose. Reports of the incident have created a stubborn buzz all over town. In magazine articles, in Satelite Town’s barbershop and living-room talk, its recurrent motif is a great, almost revered institution whose hallow has disgracefully faded. A distraught Anne had asked what she and her husband would say to the parents of a girl who had been with them barely a week. Then she had said her husband has asked her to stay away from the matter.
Susan heaves a sigh, braces herself, and starts to recount the requested portion of that fated morning’s events. Dr. Adamu pays attention, nodding slowly here and there, apparently hoping that some small detail would swing the case in the hospital’s favour and stem the spiraling scandal.
Dr. Adamu’s phone rings: three short beeps, repeated. He gestures with a raised hand and picks up the phone, and the narration tapers to a stop. While he speaks to the caller, Susan takes the time to look around the office. There isn’t much to see; the man is notoriously modest. On the wall, behind the desk, above the window-blinds, hangs a pretty circular clock with a gold-ish strip running round it. It’s the type where the seconds hand does not tick, but runs continuously around the clock face. There is a water dispenser in the far corner of the room. Her eyes return to the desk, to the picture frame facing away from her. Probably a picture of his family, she imagines, and for some reason it makes her remember her dead father.
Finally, Dr. Adamu places the cell phone back on the desk.
“That was Barrister Hope,” he says. “We are still trying to persuade our friends to settle out of court.”
“Would it be any help if I resigned?”
If Dr. Adamu is surprised, he doesn’t show it. Silently, he mulls the question.
“It shouldn’t get to that,” he says finally, now looking at her eyes. “I’m aware of your excellent record here. Besides, the culpability for this…”
He pauses. There is a pained look on his face, as though the thing on his mind is too heavy for words.
“Listen, I will meet with the commissioner in a few hours. If we survive this thing, you will stay with us.”
Susan lowers her brow onto the hollow of a palm. The skin around her eyes tingle but she fights the tears. Her fuzzy vision registers the inscription on an up-turned card centimeters away. It’s the hospital’s credo, the one said to have been coined by the legendary Maduashi himself. A resolve has coalesced on her insides. It has taken too long to reach this hardy point, but the manner in which things must henceforth proceed is clear enough now. First, she needs a good-sized break, some time to straighten out jumbled priorities. She will get it. By God she will, one way or another.
At the end of a tiring, rewarding day, Detective Sergent Ben Okaro hands in his latest report. The three canines that mauled Priscilia Ibru were found dead and putrefying near an abandoned warehouse on the eastern outskirts of Satelite Town. His team had followed clues deep into a yard where the overgrowth of shrubs and climbers had camouflaged the old warehouse. Laboratory results revealed that the dogs were repeatedly injected with a yet unidentified chemical substance. It appears the animals were test subjects for pseudo-scientific experiments.
“Foul play,” Sergent Ben’s superior says, letting the stapled sheets drop on his Formica desk. Under the desk, his thighs are shaking from left to right.
“This investigation has just started.”