No matter how much he tried, Tunde could not quite keep his shoes from echoing off the paved floor. This was made worse by the fact that the hallway was relatively empty, which in itself wasn’t such a bad thing. He wouldn’t have appreciated a corridor filled with bleared eyed individuals who would occasionally be breaking the silence with their moans, sniffs, coughs or cries of discomfort. It was the reason why he had chosen to come around this time…well past consultation hours. Even then he still felt uncomfortable after all he was hard to miss in his dark blue suit which hardly looked dishevelled by the day’s activities at the office. He was a very fastidious person, his tie always neatly knotted and his hair well combed and his shoes always sparkling.
The few persons he met on the way wearing the telltale chequered green gowns stole glances at him adding to his discomposure. On a good day he usually revelled in been the centre of attraction. But the looks he was getting here were “how I wish I could switch with you looks.” He tried not to shiver with revulsion has a man clutching a bag filled with yellow liquid hobbled past him. God, he hated this place he was going to make this visit short and snappy. He quickened his steps wrinkling his nose in yet another attempt to rid it of the pungent smell of disinfectant. He glanced quickly at doors until found the one he was looking for: Room 202. He rapped his knuckles briefly on it and opened the door.
It was a simple two man room demarcated by a curtain rail that ran down its centre. The bed nearest to the door was vacant and because the curtain wasn’t drawn he could see the second bed which was occupied by an old woman. The woman was fast asleep and he could easily tell that she was unwell by the way her chest rose and fell with an unnatural rhythm. The visitor’s seat beside her was occupied by an elderly man probably a younger brother or cousin or something. The man smiled at him in greeting.
“Uh… Good evening sir.” Tunde mumbled.
He step back briefly to glance at the room door again, yes it was the right room but where was his mother?
“She went out to use the rest room, she would soon be back.”
It was the man who had spoken. “Oh thank you sir.” He answered.
So much for his brief visit …sighing he rounded the bed and sat on the order visitor’s seat. He was now much closer to the order occupants of the room.
He hoped the old woman’s guest was not the talking type. Old people always wanted to talk. Been closer he was now able to note that the woman was not as old as he thought, she just looked physically drained from what was probably months of ill health. The man didn’t look so old either. He was probably in his early sixties.
“She opened her eyes today…” Oh no! The man had caught him looking, the perfect conversation opener…
“Doctor said she was never going to open her eyes again, but she did and she spoke. She said-”
Tactfully he fiddled with his BB and it dutifully emitted a merry tune. “Sorry sir, I have to take this…”and he fled the room.
Outside he let out a breath of relief. Where on earth was his mother? He needed to blow this joint.
“Tunde ooo! So you have finally come to see me before I die.” He rolled his eyes.
His mother was out and loud as usual obviously well on her way to recovery from her bout of malaria.
“Mummy please don’t shout where in a hospital.” He said between clenched teeth.
“Eh? Is this how you are going to greet your sick mother?”
“Sorry mummy. Please can we just enter the room.”
“It has taken you two whole days to come and visit me in the hospital and this is how…” he tuned his mother voice out… he would be lucky if he got to leave here in an hour…
Tunde got out of the luxurious confinement of his four wheel drive and slammed the door shut with more force than necessary. It had taken him a good one hour thirty minutes to get away from that ‘doorway to death’ centre. He couldn’t wait to get out of his clothes. He would have to get Seun to take them to the dry cleaners. He needed some peace and quiet now and he had better get it in his own home.
“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” His daughters tried to scale up his body like baby chimps as soon as he walked through the door.
Grubby, sticky fingers and oily breaths… he didn’t need this.
“Girls! Daddy is very tired go back to table and finish food.”He said sternly.
The look of euphoria visibly dimmed from seven year old Ladi face and she turned and went back to the dining table. Two and half year old Tayo smile did not waver, his mood completely lost on the toddler but fortunately she decided to trail after her sister, sucking her fingers as she went.
He needed to pass through the dining room to get to the staircase so he followed them. His two sons Tunde junior and Gboyega, eleven and thirteen years of age respectively, stood up with soldier like precision from their dinner as soon as they sighted him.
“Good evening sir!” He nodded in acknowledgement. Without say another word they sat down and return to their meal. He glanced at the wall clock; the kids were taking their dinner late. The kitchen door burst open.
“Have you children finished eating? I need to set the table for your …” Her voice trailed off as she notice him.
“Tunde! You are back!”
She had obviously come in late, because she was still wearing her office shirt. She had rolled the sleeves back to free her hands. Her long hair was plastered all over head with sweat. Her day’s makeup formed long streaks down her face. Her sudden entrance had been accompanied by a blast of heat from the kitchen. His irritation level went up another notch. Just for once he would like to come in and meet everything in place, the place tidy, the kids in their p.js in bed, his dinner on the table…
“Is that how you greet your husband when he returns from a hard day at the office?”
“Tunde…I am sorry I was j..j..ju…”
“My food had better be on table by the time I come down and you kids go to bed now!”
Really! The woman was becoming more useless by the day he fumed has he pulled of his shoes and socks in the bedroom. And for some reason she had taken to stammering of late and that got seriously on his nerves. He discarded his clothes in an untied heap on the floor and entered the shower. He scrubbed his body vigorously and came out a few minutes later and put on a pair clean shirt and trousers from the neatly folded stack of clothes in the cupboard. By the time he got down the children were no were in sight and his dinner was on the table.
He scooped some jollof rice onto his and took a spoonful and dropped his spoon.
“Yes? Tunde I am coming.”
She emerged from the kitchen again drying her wet hands on a napkin. He moved quickly so she wouldn’t have the time to react and the back of his hand connected with her cheek.
He watched in satisfaction as she stumbled backward, one of her foot catching Tayo’s bicycle and she fell flat on the floor. She had it coming.
“The rice got burnt.” He stated.
“Only the bottom …I had to attend to Tayo and…”
“Excuses, excuses all the time.” He said as he walked toward her.
“Why did you hit me Tunde eh?” She sobbed. “Is that the reason why you are hitting me? ”
“Are you talking back at me, Seun?” He snarled.
She tried to crawl away. But he grabbed her by her hair.
“Ok am sorry Tunde…please…” She pleaded.
“I said you burnt my rice and you are talking back me?” He roared.
TO BE CONTINUED…