This time I will approach her
Say those things I have held back
This time I will conquer it
For heart is heart, no fearing it
Love’s only pain is unrequited
Love’s gentle flow if always felt
This time I will approach her
Her eyes did twinkle when I smiled
This time I will conquer it
For presumed rejection
Me, it won’t defeat
Leah felt heady. As though she had drank a thousand gallons of sugar and every bit of her was coursing with loose energy ready to go wild. She had barely slept after the party and had woken up into daylight, fully awake and excited. Throughout the day, each time she thought about the party, a fresh rush hit her and she couldn’t keep herself from smiling.
Leah and Ter stood a few meters away from the wire, staring up at it as if it was their Everest. On the other side, the Clinic seemed like an ordinary building. Unattractive green and brown paint, immaculate landscape crowned with brilliant green carpet grass. There wasn’t a single person in sight. No attendants, no doctors, no patients. The place appeared desolate as if it was the haunted building that was once a clinic and not currently functioning.
“Hmm, you’re lucky I like you,” Ter murmured at the job before them.
Leah shook her head at him. “It’s really not that hard. And it’s not like we can go through the door.”
It was a dark night. Even with the moon partially out and people milling about during free time, they were still largely just shadows covered by darkness. A small store building and a thick cluster of mango trees provided further cover against the few attendants who stayed back at night.
“Ladies first?” Ter asked.
Leah shot him a look and proceeded to remove her shoes and stick them into the band of her jeans. She walked over to the wire, stretched her muscles and then began to climb.
Once she started, she moved quickly. It was like climbing a tree; the trick was not to think about what you were doing until you were at the top. She moved, got to the top of the wire, pushed her body over and began her descent.
Ter followed and soon they were both on the other side. As soon as he landed on the ground he bent over and began to take in deep, heaving breaths. She laughed and slapped his back. “You’re such a baby,” she whispered.
The two of them walked slowly and quietly along the side of the building. The lights were on inside, shining through large glass windows. Leah stretched on her toes to peep in through the one of them and found an empty office. She imagined patients sitting on the other side of the dark brown desk, the doctors listening intently in their swivel chairs. They continued to move, searching for a side door to the building. The front would have guards at the gate and attendants inside keeping everything in check.
As they approached an open window, they heard female laughter ring out through the building, pausing them in their stride.
Leah listened closely and heard two women talking about one of the doctors.
“What are you doing?” Ter asked suddenly.
Leah glanced back at him. He stood with his hands in his pockets, staring at her with curiosity.
“Looking for the entrance,” she said as though it were obvious.
“That was your plan?”
“Yeeees,” she said, uncertain now.
Ter chuckled. “Follow me jor.”
He walked around her, taking the lead. He moved quickly and confidently straight for the front of the building.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
He didn’t respond, just kept moving. They arrived at the front of the building and true to her predictions, private security decked in light brown shirts, black trousers and thick black boots manned the gates. Ter waved at them without slowing and headed into the building.
The distinct scent of pineapple air freshener enveloped them as soon as they entered the large, immaculate, granite reception area. Leah followed Ter to the stone desk where two women in white uniforms sat in high chairs, watching their approach. He smiled at them.
“Na you?” One of them asked and he nodded. Leah stared at his profile as he pulled out a white envelope and slid it to them on the granite surface.
The woman who spoke smiled and took the envelope. She counted the money quickly, touching her finger tips to her tongue to smoothen the process.
“Oga, you go add something oh,” she said once she was done. “There get another brother wey dey here wey we go still give something make he no talk.”
Ter’s expression grew dark. “Na so we agree,” he said firmly.
“Ehn” she said, cajoling. “We no know he go dey here. Add small abeg. No vex.”
Ter stared at them hard for a moment then sighed. He pulled out his wallet, counted a few notes and gave them to her. Both women beamed back at him.
“God bless you,” she said.
“Who’s taking us?” Ter asked curtly.
“Na me,” the woman who had collected the money said, jumping off her chair.
Ter took a step back, glancing at Leah for the first time. She stared up at him, impressed.
“When did you plan this?” she asked.
Ter smiled at her, a completely different person than he had been a minute ago. “Earlier. When you were busy planning how to scale the fence, I knew your plan was going to be unrealistic.”
He smiled down at her. “This is why you need me. I give you balance,” he said.
“You dey come?” The woman called out, scratching her stomach lazily.
They nodded and began to follow her through the halls of the Clinic. It was quiet and empty. Everywhere had already shut down for the night.
“Them dey sleep by 9,” the woman explained. She told them the doctors were gone by 7PM each day except for emergencies.
The deeper into the place they went, the more it actually smelt like a hospital. The scent of medicine and disinfectant was strong in the air. They followed the woman through a white, door labelled ‘female ward’ and the quiet disappeared, replaced by chatter from behind the rows of doors on either side of the hallway. Leah heard someone singing, and conversation interspersed by laughter.
“Mad people too dey talk to themselves,” the woman complained, irritated. She stopped at one of the doors and pulled out a key from her pocket. “Na her room be this,” she said and inserted the key into the lock.
Leah was suddenly nervous. She wasn’t sure what to expect.
The woman pushed the room door open and stood aside for them to enter. The lights were on. The room smelt sterile. Eerily quiet. They saw her immediately; lying on her back staring up at the wall, her bandaged wrist hanging limply over the edge. She turned her head slowly with dead eyes as they entered. A flicker of recognition passed across her face but she didn’t make any other movements.
Leah inhaled and stepped forward slowly. “Mamita,” she said, forcing a smile. “Hi.”
The girl didn’t respond.
Leah moved to the bed and knelt beside it. “Hi, how are you? We came to visit. I’m sure this place is dry,” Leah said, attempting to infuse her voice with cheer.
Mamita’s eyes stayed on Leah’s face. Her hand twitched restlessly. A moan emerged from deep within her throat while her lips remained stationary.
Leah turned to Ter. He moved forward and bent at her side, examining her face. “Is she on drugs?” he asked the woman.
The woman nodded. “She too dey cry. Dem de give her medicine make she sleep.”
Leah’s throat closed up with emotion.
“How is she doing?” Ter asked the nurse.
“Make you all just dey pray for her,” the woman said. “She go dey fine.”
Leah nodded, the back of her eyes beginning to burn. There wasn’t much else they could do.
“Sorry,” she whispered to Mamita, smoothing down her hair. She moved, sitting on the bed with Mamita and began to speak to her about random things. The more she talked the more she realized how little she actually knew her. She didn’t even know if she would be interested in this type of conversation. Ter tapped her back lightly when it was time to go.
“It’s getting late,” he said. She nodded, rising slowly and looked down at the person who used to be in the room next to hers. She was like a different person entirely from the glowing girl she had first met.
They followed the woman back out into the noisy hall. The singing had intensified; a few more voices joining the initial lone voice.
“Shut up,” the woman yelled, banging on the doors and they all quieted. As they left the ward, the singing began again.
Leah and Ter left the Clinic building and headed back to the fence.
“You couldn’t have paid someone to get us in?” Leah asked, attempting to lighten the mood.
Ter smiled. “Don’t be greedy.”
They scaled the fence quicker than they had the first time. On the other side, they sat with their backs pressed against the wire.
“Don’t tell anyone we came,” Leah said. “It’s just going to be depressing.”
Ter nodded. “Yeah.”
“And thank you for coming with me.”
“I had to. You wouldn’t have made it without me,” he said.
“It’s true. I think I did a good job today. So good I think I deserve a reward,” he said lightly.
She turned her head to him. “What do you want? You want me to pay you back?”
“I don’t need more money,” he said and leaned in and kissed her. Leah froze, unable to move for a second. She remained absolutely still as he pressed closer, his mouth on hers. She knew what was happening, yet it felt alien. She moved quickly, shoving her palms against his chest, pushing him backwards.
He fell on his elbows, the surprise clear on his face. “What?” he asked, concerned. “What’s the problem?”
She shot to her feet, looking down at him. “Err…” She said, reeling a bit.
He rose slowly and she took a step back.
“You know I like you, right?” he said,
She hadn’t known actually, and it seemed suddenly unbelievable now that she hadn’t.
“Er…” she said again, unable to find coherent words.
“Ter,” she began but couldn’t continue.
She looked directly into his face. “We’re friends. You know I love you, but no.”
She glanced around, shrugging wildly. “I don’t know. I…I…Just no.”
He closed up; straightening and folding his arms over his chest. “Okay,” he said.
She stared at him hopefully. “Okay?” she said.
“Okay,” he repeated.
The next afternoon Leah sat at the back of the room in the empty chapel. Up front, a piano and drum set were piled beside the makeshift stage where they’d been left by the crew setting up for Sunday’s service.
She had taken the woman from the clinic’s advice and prayed for Mamita. If she had been expecting some peace, she didn’t get it. All she found was quiet, intensified by the seclusion of the chapel from the rest of the place where everyone was enjoying their rec time.
“Leah,” she heard and her head swivelled at the sound of Dr. Sulo’s voice.
Dr. Sulo walked into the room, a small smile playing her face. She was back to her matronly clothes and serious hair, but after the party Leah couldn’t look at her the same way. Seeing her at home had taken the animosity out of their meetings. The doctor now seemed normal, like all the rest of them.
“I was looking for you,” Dr. Sulo said.
“You were?” Leah asked with surprise. “Why?”
Dr Sulo shrugged. “You were on my mind. You only have a few more weeks here.”
“I know. I can’t wait,” Leah said honestly.
Dr. Sulo glanced around the chapel. “I didn’t think you believed in God.”
“Doesn’t everyone in Nigeria?” Leah asked with a smile.
Dr. Sulo sat beside her. “No.”
“Do you?” Leah questioned.
“Yes,” she said simply.
“Is it worth it?”
“Yes,” she said again in the same tone.
“You sound sure,” Leah said, examining her face.
“I am. I don’t know where I’d be otherwise.”
“Are you going to try and convince me?” Leah asked, amused.
Dr, Sulo shook her head with a small smile. “In another place and time, yes. When you leave, I’ll take you to lunch or buy you coffee and we can talk about it properly.”
Leah turned and stared straight in the direction of the stage. She was quiet for a moment.
“What are you thinking?”
Leah didn’t respond immediately. “I’m thinking that if He’s real, He gave me the worst parents in the world.”
Leah felt D. Sulo’s surprise.
Now that the words were finally out, there was no point in hiding the rest. “They really are the worst people you will ever meet,” Leah said. “My father is selfish and evil. My mother is selfish and hard. He took the two worst people in the world and gave them to me and Stephen. We deserved better.”
“Children almost always deserve better than what they’re given,” Dr. Sulo said, empathy in her voice. “We’re human, we’re flawed. We make mistakes even when we don’t want to.”
“Yeah?” Leah asked, her voice stripped of emotion. “Well, I’m not talking about other children, I mean us. Me,” she emphasized. “I deserved better. My parents got divorced because my father molested me. My mother was so angry she moved us to my grandfather’s house and divorced him. But then she stayed angry. We left, shouldn’t she try to move on? I was a child, shouldn’t she have tried to help me? She used to lock me inside the room with her and make me repeat the story over and over again. She said she wanted to understand what he saw in me.”
“Leah,” Dr. Sulo began,
“Terrible parents,” Leah cut in. “They were terrible. My father got me one time. The things she did after…” she trailed off.
“What did she do?” Dr. Sulo asked quietly.
Leah smiled humourlessly. “Why does it matter now? They did what they did. They turned both me and my brother into different things. Stephen always wanted to be more to please them, I always wanted to be less to escape them.”
“They do sound like terrible parents.”
“Thank you for agreeing,” she said softly.
“This is why you’re angry at your father? Why you attacked him?” Dr. Sulo asked. “What about your mother? You don’t react to her the same way. You even still live with her till this day.”
“He started it all.”
“And she perpetuated it.”
“She did,” Leah said quietly. “It’s complicated.”
“Okay,” Dr. Sulo said, soothingly as if she was scared to ruin the progress they had just made. “I’m so proud of you, Leah. For telling me. I know it was a big step for you.”
The entire weight of the last few days came down on Leah.“ I’m so tired,” she said, her barely audible voice breaking. Tears began to stream down her face, unchecked and she turned to Dr. Sulo with lifeless eyes.
Dr. Sulo placed a hand on hers and squeezed it tightly. “Good. That’s good. We can work with that.”
Leah wasn’t sure she believed her.