The gate that led into the hospital was tall and wide. I saw many people going in and coming out at the same time. Daddies and Mummies were walking up and down with their children. Some of them were talking and laughing. But I also noticed some others who were quiet and just looked straight ahead; as if they were suffering and in serious pains.
“Why are these people looking so sad?” I asked our Mummy as we went passed a man that carried a little girl on his arms. The girl had a white bandage round her leg. A woman was following the man and saying something to the girl in a language I didn’t understand.
“Don’t you know most of the people here are sick?” Oyigwe said before our Mummy could reply to my question, “They have come here to receive treatment from the doctors.”
“Your sister is correct, Otseme,” Mummy said, “When we go in you will see more sick people and their families and friends who have come to be with them and to comfort and encourage them.”
“I don’t like hospitals!” I murmured.
“Then pray to God that you don’t fall sick,” my sister said.
“I suppose nobody likes hospitals,” Mummy said to me, “But when you fall sick or you have an accident then you must come and see a doctor who will attend to you and make you well again.”
We had ridden to the hospital in a taxi; the Salamis didn’t come with us again because our Mummy told their Daddy not to bother bringing us in his car. The taxi driver that brought us spoke nicely to me and Oyigwe. He said his son was about the same age as me. He also asked if I would like to be his son’s friend. I told him that I was not sure I could be his son’s friend. He turned to look at me and asked: “Why don’t you want to be my son’s friend?”
“Your house is far from our house. Secondly, my Mummy and Daddy will not be happy with me if I follow a stranger to his house.” I said to him.
“You are a good boy then for obeying the instructions of your parents,” he said to me and laughed. Our Mummy laughed too.
When we got to the hospital, Mummy brought some money out of her handbag and paid him. He waved at me and Oyigwe and drove off. Mummy then held us by the hands and said: “We must hurry so we can see your Daddy before they move him back to the operating theatre.”
“What is an operating theatre?” I asked her.
“It is a special room in the hospital where doctors perform surgery on people who have injuries,” she said to me.
“Are they going to perform surgery on Daddy too?” Oyigwe asked our Mummy.
“That’s what the doctor said. Your Daddy sustained injuries to his head,” Mummy told my sister.
At the hospital’s gate we met nan old security man. He wore a brown uniform. He smiled at us as we went passed him. He said: “Sanu da zuwa.”
Our Mummy responded by saying “Baba, ina kwana?” (She told us she could speak Hausa very well because she grew up in Zaria).
The hospital was very big. There were many buildings inside. I saw ambulances and many other vehicles. Mummy said that they even have a building for treating only children. She said it was called: “Children’ Ward.”
We went into a very big hall with long seats arranged in rows. Many people were seated inside the hall. I supposed they all wanted to see the doctors too. The nurses were calling out names from a notebook which they carried. Someone would then stand up on hearing his or her name and follow them into a Doctor’s office. The place had a strange sort of smell; like a mixture of antiseptic and those funny medicines our Grandma use to take when she came to visit us.
Mummy got a seat for us. We sat close to an old man. He looked weak and appeared as if he was feeling cold, even though he wore an oversized sweater. Once in a while he would cough and murmur something under his breath. Another younger man came to join this old man. He whispered quietly to the old man and then put his hands carefully under his shoulders to help him get up. They went away, walking very slowly.
Mummy said she wanted to go and see the nurse on duty. She told us not to leave our sit while she was away.
“Did you notice how that old man was shivering?” Oyigwe whispered to me after our Mummy left.
“What’s wrong with him?” I asked her.
“Maybe he has malaria,” she said to me, “Our health teacher said someone will be shivering when he or she has malaria.”
I remembered one time that I didn’t go to school because I wasn’t feeling too well and Mummy had to give me some syrup to stop me from shivering.
“Sebi malaria is caused by mosquitoes?” I asked my sister.
“Yes, of course,” she said to me, “Don’t you know that that’s why Mummy said we should always sleep inside a mosquito net? They can’t fly and bite you when you are inside the net.”
“That old man’s children shouldn’t have allowed him to sleep without mosquito net. Now look at he is sick because he has malaria,” I said and pitied him.
“The doctor will give him injection. They will tell him to take a good rest when he gets home and then he will be well again,” Oyigwe said to me.
“Is that what they will do to our Daddy too?” I asked.
“Daddy didn’t have malaria. Or have you forgotten it was a car that hit him on his way from the office?” she reminded me and gesture with her hand.
“When I grow up I will buy a big car for our Daddy so no other car can be able to hit him on the road,” I told my sister.
“Me I want to become a doctor so I can help sick people,” Oyigwe said and crossed one leg over the other. She was pretending to be a doctor already.
“I don’t like doctors because they always carry injections in their pockets,” I murmured.
“It’s not all doctors that carry injections in their pockets,” she said to me, “Some of them will only sit in the office and wear eye glasses and tell people how not to be sick again.”
Mummy soon returned and said we should come with her. We followed her into one big corridor with many fluorescent lights arranged in long rows. The corridor was quieter than the hall we just left. A woman in uniform was pushing an iron bed with wheels fixed to them. We stopped outside a door and Mummy held the knob and gently opened it. We followed her inside the room. My heart started to beat very fast again. I was afraid. I didn’t know what was making me very afraid. The bed in the room was covered in white bed sheet. I saw wires connected to the wall. Somebody was lying very still on the bed. I couldn’t see the face because much of it was in bandage. A round hole was cut near the mouth and nose. I supposed it was done so that whoever was behind the bandage could be able to breathe. Then I also noticed one of his legs was held up on a rope. I turned to look at Oyigwe. She too was staring silently at the person on the bed. I didn’t know what she was thinking.
“That’s your Daddy,” Mummy said to us as she pointed towards the figure lying on the bed.
At first I didn’t believe her. That person on the bed didn’t look like our Daddy. I refused to go any closer. Oyigwe hesitated too. Mummy went to sit down on the available chair near the bed and spoke softly to the person lying down there. When he answered Mummy I easily recognised the voice to be our Daddy’s. He spoke as if he was very tired. Mummy asked how he was feeling. He pointed to his head and said it was hurting him. His voice sounded like he just woke up from a deep sleep.
“Sorry, dear,” Mummy said and rubbed his body carefully for him. “We thank God that you survived this. It was indeed a miracle.” Mummy said to him.
“How are the children?” I heard him asked our Mummy. She told him that she brought us along to come and see him.
“Oh…, that’s very thoughtful of you,” Daddy said, “I already missed them so much.”
We moved closer to the bed with Oyigwe. Daddy raised his hand and when he touched us, he stroked our shoulders lovingly.
“Happy birthday, son,” he said, without turning to look at me.
“Thank you Daddy,” I said, “We were waiting for you to come and take us to the amusement park yesterday when those two policemen came.”
He tried to smile. “I was already on my way home to join all of you when…” He winced.
“Are you in pains, Daddy?”Oyigwe asked him. He nodded and tried to smile again.
“Why did they put this bandage round your eyes so you can’t see us?” I asked as I peered closer at him.
“It is because I sustained injuries to my eyes and the doctor will have to treat them before they will then remove the bandage,” Daddy said quietly.
“I hate the person that hit you with his car. He will go to hellfire!” I said angrily.
“Don’t say that, Otseme,” Mummy cautioned me, “Didn’t they teach you in Sunday school class to forgive those who wronged you?”
Daddy drew me closer and gently took my hand in his. He squeezed them and said: “Son, the accident was a mistake. The man that knocked me down with his car said he was truly sorry, and I have forgiven him. Always remember that Jesus Christ wants us to forgive those who wronged us.”
At that instant, the door opened and a nurse walked into the room. She told Mummy that we have to leave now. Mummy began to complain that we only just arrived. But the nurse said Daddy needed to rest before they transfer him to the operating room where the doctor would treat his injuries. I didn’t want to leave. I wished our Daddy will just stand up and follow us back home.
Mummy put Daddy’s hand in hers and told him to be strong. She said she would take us home and return to be with him.