“Do you know how it feels to have a cheating husband?”
“No, Ma”. I replied
“With all, I did for Garbati, can you see? Can you see where it has led me?!” She added raising the arm her drip was attached to angrily.
I didn’t respond.
“Shashashan banza da wofi!” Hajia Salamatu cursed angrily.
I hoped in my heart that the sleep-inducing injection would take effect soon and she would be asleep because I was tired of all her ranting, blabbering and cursing. I sat beside her bed on a chair and waited patiently.
“If Garbati should come here, don’t let him in. I do not want to see his ugly face. He should go and stay with his mistress!” She shouted and yawned.
“Yes, ma,” I replied dutifully.
I noticed her eyes getting weary and I was glad. The same Garbati that she didn’t want near was the one who asked me to sit in this chair. I folded my arm and watched Mrs Garba as she finally slept off. She looked very tired. Her lips were slightly apart as she snorted peacefully.
I sighed; I wished she was always peaceful. I stood up and collected all the instruments I had used on a tray. With one last peek at my patient, I stepped out of the room and into the hallway.
The atmosphere was nonetheless the usual except a lot of pregnant women were sitting down in rolls of the chair while waiting their turn at one of our consultation rooms. It skipped my mind, today was another anti-natal session.
I tried to search for Mr Garba with my eyes but the walkway was a bit crowded. So I figured I would have to drop my tray and then give him a phone call. Taking a right turn towards my office, I had to pause as a stretcher was pulled past me by some nurses and volunteers with a patient that had blood all over his legs. They were headed to the x-ray department and were probably from the accident and emergency department. I shook my head in pity, it must have been a ghastly accident.
It was then I spotted Mr Garba, his white sleeved shirt was stained with blood. He stood in the hallway watching the stretcher. I walked up to him, he seemed to be lost in thought.
“Sir,” I said he raised his eyes to stare at me and smiled.
“Bikina! How is the work going?”
I nodded and turned to where all his attention had been. It was the stretcher and it was at the far end of the hallway.
“They had an accident not far from the hospital. That man is the only survivor.” Mr Garba said sadly.
“I hope he gets better,” I responded yet Mr. Garba only nodded.
“If not in this country, I wonder who would build a death trap and call it a road. The road is too curvy.” He complained.
I only shook my head because I had nothing to say. I only marvelled at how he cared for others. I knew he was among the first to head to the scene and try to help out not minding what had happened or who it was.
“How is my wife?” He asked.
“She is fine.”
“How fine is she?”
“She said I should tell you that she doesn’t want to see you.”
He chuckled, “she is very fine. For her to have the energy to say that, I think she’s recovering quickly.”
It always baffled me how he reacted so coolly, no matter the tantrums Hajia Salamatu threw at him. It is a known fact that he had a golden heart and that made him a good doctor. He worked at a public hospital in town. Though I had pleaded with him severally to move to the private sector and get better pay. Or even move here where I worked but he had refused.
The only reason he was here was that his wife preferred this place because it was closer to the house. He watched the environment carefreely. It seemed he had forgotten his blood-soaked shirt.
“Sir, when will you come and work here with us?” I asked pushing my luck. He would be a nice addition to the team.
“Nurse Bikina, how many times do I have to answer this.”
“Since you are about to retire in like two years, you can work here even after that,” I said sheepishly.
He heaved a sigh and nodded while he murmured. He checked his wristwatch and then told me his shift would start in an hour and excused himself to go home and change his clothes. Mr Garba was very skilful in avoiding issues. I think it’s the reason he has been able to cope with his wife for this long.
“Nurse!!” Someone called out.
I turned and found a colleague. “Is anything the matter?”
She came closer and talked in a very low tone. There was an emergency in the operating room and more hands were needed. I quickly said bye to Mr Garba and moved as fast as I could to follow the nurse. I still had my tray in my hand.
At this very point, one had to acknowledge that, in the world of doctors and nurses. There has never been time for rest.
The sun was a little too hot when I stepped out of the hospital. I wanted to get some shade very quickly. I spotted the gateman and waved at him. He waved back and shifted on the plastic chair he was sitting in very close to the gate. I rushed to my car and started it.
The car was an oven. It had been under the intense heat for hours. Coupled with that, my car refused to start. I had to try kick-starting it a couple of times. The old grey Camry is now seven years old. Something didn’t have to go wrong for an old cargo, it just naturally knew how to develop issues.
Finally, I had the engine running and made a reverse out of the car parking space and out through the gates. The gateman waved at me again and I gave him a (100) hundred naira note. Life isn’t easy.
My phone beeped, a message from Maina, my second wife. I didn’t need to see the content of the message. It was definitely about money. I just had to bear with it because I had placed myself in this situation. Though every day, I regret my actions.
It was one night.
I told my wife, Salamatu that I’d be back early from the hospital. But my friend had pleaded with me to please stay on the first path of his night shift because he had an important family crisis he had to settle. I just could not ignore a friend in need. I tried to call Salamatu to inform her of a change in plan but the devilish network had seized. As always I know what my fate will be. My wife would bathe me with anger.
As soon as he arrived I rushed home. I entered my house like a leaf blown by the whirlwind, my heart was racing. I didn’t know what to expect. I walked from my car to the front door and knocked. The mobile network had suddenly returned and a text laid there on my screen:
The king of my heart, come home safely. I know you forgot but it’s our wedding anniversary. Love you!
The back of my head rang, this is going to be disastrous.
The door clicked. But she didn’t open it. A clear message! Walk into my trap, old man. I swallowed and opened the door. The living room was dimly lit. She had prepared a very romantic scene. She sat at the dining table in a very attractive dress. The candles at the middle had burned down to just a few inches left. I tried to apologize.
“I’m sorry. I …. I wanted to call you but the network was …bad. I had no idea. Honey, I’m really sorry.”
To my surprise, she didn’t say a word. By now she would have nagged about how I didn’t put our family first. She sat there watching the candles burn. I walked closer to her and tried to embrace her. I knew she’d take my hand off but I still wanted to console her. Yet, she said nothing neither did she move. I sighed; I was tired and needed to freshen up.
I left her and walked towards the stairs. That was when I heard her speak.
“Go back to where you are coming from.”
“What?” I asked gently.
“I said GO back to where you are coming from!” She repeated a little louder than the first time.
“I’m sorry I just had an emergency I needed to fix before….”
“I do not want your explanation, JUST LEAVE! In har ba mutuwa ka ke so ba.” She responded harshly.
This time she was facing me. Her arm pointed to the door. Her body was shaking violently. I knew she could do something irrational because of her temper so, I left silently. I could just make do in the car for tonight.
When I got to the car, I couldn’t find my keys. I must have dropped it in the living room. Oh God, I am stuck. I couldn’t enter my car neither could I go back because my wife will not open the door for me. I was confused, tired and hungry. I could have asked my gateman if I could stay the night but, I remembered that his wife had come to visit him. It was like every force was against me.
I ended up walking out of the house. Maybe I could find something to eat first. The street was so dark. Yet, I spotted Baba Amir, one of the oldest among the men in the vigilante group assigned to our street. He was already at his station close to a tree a few blocks away from my house.
“Likita!” He called out once I walked closer. At his age, I had thought he wouldn’t be able to see me.
“Officer! Ranka ya da de” I said and smiled at him.
“Why are you roaming the street by this time?” He asked. I rubbed my head.
“I didn’t tell my wife I’ll be coming home tonight and the network did not allow me to call her. You know the way Musa snores, he didn’t hear me too” I lied.
“Ayya sorry. Come and sit with me here. I have roasted corn.” He offered. I was glad. Something to eat finally.
We were not there for up to thirty minutes before a young boy ran to him. He told Baba Amir that his wife needed medical help. Though Baba Amir was quite old, He ran after the little boy with great speed. I followed suit. If someone was watching he would think we were chasing a criminal.
It turned out to be a high fever. I had given her first aid treatment and asked someone to dab her body with a towel soaked in cold water. The situation was soon under control.
Baba Amir was grateful, he asked for one of his daughters to prepare a room for me to sleep in and find me something to eat while he went back to work.
The little boy from before, Jabir as I came to know directed me to a room. I had made myself comfortable when she entered. Maina, gracious and beautiful. She came with the food but also had only a cloth wrapped around her chest. I knew she had bad intentions and I too entertained such ungodly thoughts. She opened her wrapper for me to see and at that moment, just like magic everything was forgotten, the time, the place and the condition.
A moment I never forgave myself for. I married her out of shame and still regret whatever happened that night. I just hope my wife will one day forgive me. My phone began to ring startling me. Maina was calling. I took my phone to answer the call while I turned the wheel at the same time.
As I raised my head properly, I saw light. It shined bright like the sun. But what was the sun doing just outside my car? Though I tried to turn away from the light, I couldn’t stop myself from driving straight into it.
Believe me when I say I tried.
“Your husband asked me to give this to you.” Nurse Bikina said passing a large envelope to me. I collected it and sniffled.
“Anty Sala, I just wanted to tell you that your husband loved you very much” she added and left my bedroom.
Tears welled up in my eyes. I held the envelope and read the words written on it. ‘to my dearest wife’ it was my late husband’s handwriting no doubt. I couldn’t stop the tears now. They fell onto the envelope as I held it in my hands.
I found the courage and finally opened the package. To my surprise, I found about twenty letters. They were all for me alright. But what was so hard for him to say to me that he had to write as letters and why was Bikina handing them over to me now?
The letters were arranged according to the date he had written them, the first one from as early five years after we were married. I opened the first one.
Dearest sweetheart, I am sad. I am sad that you have to go through all this. Today’s diagnosis confirms that you have an anger disorder. Which I had feared would be the case…. I’m sorry I have to keep this information away from you, though I promise to take care of you and I would never leave you…..
I paused, why didn’t he tell me about this, why? I couldn’t continue reading that one. I moved on to the next.
…..it has become an issue between you and your boss as he has complained severally to me on your outbursts. Don’t worry I have not said anything to him but I’ll figure out a solution to help you…..
I had to blink, this was why he asked me to take pencils to work. I remember he mentioned to me that any time I was angry I should immediately break a pencil into half because it would help me calm down. I thought it was silly until I tried it and it worked.
There were other techniques he had suggested for me to use to pipe down, like using paper bags to help when I hyperventilated and countless others. Over the years he had developed nicknames for me like angry bird, hot pepper, wildflower etc.
I dropped the letters and sat on the floor. To remember everything now was painful. He carried this burden alone and took it to his grave. I’m such a terrible person.
I had to read recent ones. Yes, I have to. I need to know why he started sleeping around.
I kept flipping through until I got to one that I felt would answer the questions that burned in my heart.
I’m sorry my heartthrob, I wish I could turn back the hands of time. I tried as much as possible not to blame you for it. But somehow, I do blame you. If you just didn’t send me out of the house that night, Maina will not be in our lives. I loved us together, you were fire and I was ice. I was enough to keep you from burning out and you, enough to keep me warm. I love you and I hope you would forgive me.
That witch called Maina, sometimes its good to have a bad temper, immediately she heard that Garbati had passed away, she had come here to ask for her share of his wealth. it was just three days after the accident. The wrench, I immediately threatened that I’d conduct a DNA test to confirm the paternity of her child before a single dime would be given to her, and asked a doctor who was present to collect her son’s blood sample.
After all, my husband had doctors as friends. She saw my seriousness and immediately apologized. She confessed that she just wanted a means of survival and resorted to what she had done. It took the grace of God, for me to be stopped from arresting and locking her up.
Oh, Garbati! Why did you have to suffer so much?
Intermittent explosive disorder, dear. That’s what it is called. That’s why you can’t control your anger. That’s why little things annoy you. That’s why people can’t bear living with you. That’s why you feel like crushing the neighbour’s dog for barking too loud. That’s why you throw things at me because you can’t stop. And it is not your fault.
I cried uncontrollably as I forced myself to read on picking them at random.
Nurse Bikina will help you when I’m not there. She promised that she would take care of you for me. I wish I could tell you but I know you hate people treating you like you are handicapped. You would start to think I care for you because I pity your condition like I do my patients. I don’t want that dear.
The tears clouded my vision. I couldn’t read any more. I stood up and went outside my room. Mourners were still outside sitting and discussing in low tones. They are not my problem. I stepped out, no one had tried to stop me. But I heard a few whispers and knew someone would be sent after me.
I close the gate behind me and walk down the street. The hot sand burning my feet as I have no footwear on. There is a kiosk not far away. I want to buy some pencils from him. If not for Garbati, who could stand me for twenty years?
I stretch my arm to receive the pack of pencils and caress each one carefully. Tears burning in my eyes. But the man at the kiosk seems to be fiddling with my change.
“Malam, Chanji na!” I screamed.
Why did I scream at him? I cannot explain it. But all I can say is that I am angry and I don’t know why. My head hurts too. The man paused his counting and passed me my money.
“Haba Hajia, me yayi zafi???” he asks.
I lower my gaze and swallow the lump in my throat. On a normal day, this could have lead to something else. But today I’d keep myself in check.
Here and now, I promise My Garbati, the king of my heart that I would do my best to control my anger.
Shasha-shan banza da wofi; Stupid fool
In har ba mutuwa ka ke so ba: if it is not death that you seek
Haba hajia me yayi zafi???: Hajia, why blow hot or why the angry outburst?