Driving down from the island to the mainland was unusually crazy. Every other Friday, the human and vehicular traffic was more likely in the other direction – from the mainland to the island. The obvious reason, of course, was that night crawlers and revelers made their way in droves to night clubs and various hotspots. So it was a big surprise that I sat still in my car for almost three hours. I checked my watch for the umpteenth time. It was 8:15pm.
Frankly though, craziness has been the bane all day. I work with one of these new generation banks and the news everyone had been expecting broke around noon. The apex bank, The Central Bank sacked six CEOs of banks who had amassed non-performing debts to the tune of N55b. Thankfully, my bank wasn’t affected. So the relief was palpable. We were spared the drama that broke out. I can’t begin to imagine the stress I would have been burdened with especially as a Relationship Manager. I would have been swamped with phone calls, text messages and e-mails.
The Branch Manager called a meeting a little later. He reassured everybody that the situation was under control and there was not need for panic. But he asserted that all loans should be followed through. I still got some calls from concerned family members, friends and clients. I patiently explained anything they needed to know. It was with joy I jumped into my Nissan Altima at the close of work.
The sharp bump on the side of my car jolted me back to the traffic. The driver of the car by my left had tried to do something funny but ended up hitting my car. The offender was a lady who was probably in her late twenties. She almost looked like an albino but in contrast, her hair was as dark as coal. She was clearly agitated and seemed to be in a hurry. She muttered her apologies but I just stared back with a blank expression. I had more important issues tugging at the walls of my heart. I was on my way to the hospital. My mother was on admission there. The doctors were managing her kidney failure. But they advised that the best option would be to fly her out for conclusive treatments. My wife, Lola was already in India. She was diagnosed with leukemia and had traveled for bone marrow transplant.
My phone rang. My heart skipped severally in an instant. The number had an Indian code and I definitely knew it was my wife’s sister, Mabel. My hands were trembling as I picked the call.
“Hello Mabel. How are you doing?”
“I am fine. I didn’t hear from you again. You said you’d call yesterday.” She sounded as if she’s been crying for ages.
“I know..but… you know..”
“Well, the doctor says the surgery has to take place in less than 72 hours.” She dropped it like a nuclear bomb.
“I have heard you.” I was amazed at my composure.
I drove through the gates of Grumedics Medical Centre at exactly 10pm. I turned off the soulful voice of Alicia Keys. As I got out of the car, I sighted Dr. Ifeanyi in his brown Honda Civic. With my brain almost malfunctioning, I could not tell if he was leaving or returning. He sat calmly fiddling with his mobile phone. I tapped gently on the window of his car and he scrolled down.
“Hey, how are you doing?” He greeted stepping out of the car. He was wearing a striped red shirt and blue jeans. Even at 63, he always managed to look smart and boyish.
“I am fine sir.”
“Anything yet?” He asked. He adjusted his iron-rimmed glasses. He looked at me as if he expected something new.
“Emm.. I’m afraid nothing really,” I stammered. “The bank cannot loan me more than what they have given me already. Not especially with all the recent happenings.”
“Mr. Sylvester, I don’t need to remind you that time is running. And as it stands, you would probably have to decide who you’ll save – your wife or your mother.” He blinked nervously.
A million explosions happened in my head. It was the verdict I dreaded. The thought had crossed my mind sometime during the week but I fought out it off.
“But Doctor,…” I started but there were no words.
His phone beeped and his face twisted as he read the incoming sms. He tried to look me in the face but it was absolutely impossible.
“I have to go now. There is an emergency I need to attend to.”
He hopped into his car and drove off. I stood there staring sheepishly, speechless. I finally found strength in my feet and walked into the ward. By the time I entered my mother’s room, I was practically dizzy. The whole building was spinning and I literally staggered. She was still wide awake and she managed a weak smile.
“Nna, welcome.” She greeted fixing her gaze on me to my discomfort. “You came late today. Didn’t you close early?”
“I did Mama. The traffic was just horrible.” I replied fiddling with her provisions on the table beside her bed.
“Eiya..how was work though?”
“Work is fine. How are you doing?” For the first time, I tried to look at her. She appeared to lose weight every day.
“I thank God I’m still alive,” she sighed. “How is your wife’s condition?”
“She is fine. She will undergo a surgery in few days.”
She sighed again and looked away. She hummed a song that had come to be her favourite recently. It was in our native tongue and it basically was a cry to God for help and mercy. A tear dropped down my eye helplessly.
“Mama, I have to go. I will come and see you tomorrow.”
I quickly stood up and left without waiting for a response. As soon as I got into the car, I pulled out the brown bag that contained some money. It was the last money I had been able to raise from family and friends. The thick bundles amounted to eight hundred and fifty thousand naira. I exhaled and returned it back. The days were thinning out and more painfully, I have to make a choice. A hard one at that. Even the money in the bag will only save one life – my wife’s or my mother’s. Between the devil and the deep blue sea is often over flogged but that is where I am stuck. I sat down for a while in the car before I reversed out of the building. Different thoughts kept running through my mind, each seeking for priority. But really, who would or should I keep alive? Will it be my mother? The arguments that support her are heavily sentimental and moral in equal measure. She is the one who carried me for nine months and raised me up almost single-handedly – my father became blind when I was 11. Or would I save my wife? She is the love of my life. My world revolves around her and I absolutely adore her. I can remember not sleeping for nights on end after she announced she was pregnant. Now, all that joy seemed to be vanishing away.
I had heard various opinions ever since all these predicaments started. People argued for and against both my mother and my wife. Some suggested that my mother has indeed tried for me and I have been able to reward her to a large extent. Besides, she was 67 going on 68. She would soon die. They said I should save my wife and the unborn child. They were my future and my hope. Whether I agreed or disagreed, the day of reckoning was at hand. A choice was imminent. I would have to take sides and save a life. It won’t be messianic as one dear life will be lost. I picked up my phone. I had to pledge my allegiance either to Dr. Ifeanyi handling my mother or Dr. Ranjeev in India who was the Chief Surgeon. I had to call one of them and make an arrangement for payment. My mind almost went blank but I still dialed. It rang for a while before he picked.
“Hello?..” The voice was familiar and sharp.
I coughed and smartly responded. “ Hello Doctor, I’m have the money you need ready..”
I am not going to tell you who I saved. That will submerge me in guilt. But one of the two women I love is dead and the other is alive. If you were in my shoes, what would you have done??