Wed. May 29th, 2024

Sickbed

.

‘What happens in this house stays in this

house. Do you understand?’

***

Eyes closed, I lay in bed, waiting for a

horrendous lump in my throat to dissipate.

Stella probably thought I had fallen asleep.

But then I sneezed, and in that moment I

feared the pills I’d swallowed would pop out

of my mouth.

I knew it would only be a moment before

she engaged me in a conversation. I

couldn’t blame her though. The boredom in

the air had enough intensity to sicken the

heart of an average person.

“So, you’re sick with fever, headache and

catarrh?” Stella’s voice cut through the

silence.

Did she need me to answer that? Obviously

not, for she went on, “Fever isn’t necessarily

a bad guy. It is your body’s natural reaction

to the real bad guys. It is your body’s

response to an untreated sickness or a

hidden infection. This could be anything

from a urinary tract infection to

tuberculosis.”

“Mine is just malaria,” I said.

“Care to tell me which doctor gave you that

diagnosis, Victoria know it all?”

I looked away sheepishly. “I’m sorry, I just

thought—”

“Do you know how dangerous what you’ve

just done is?” she asked.

My thoughts hovered over her choice of

words. Dangerous? When did it become life

threatening to look away from someone

when offering an apology?

Knitting my brows in concentration, I tried to

put two and two together. And then it

occurred to me she hadn’t questioned my

diverting my gaze, but my self-diagnosis. I

knew self-diagnosis didn’t count as a good

idea. I knew the risks involved. But what

could I do?

Mistaking my silence for ignorance, she

lectured, “It has led many down the wrong

path. By self-diagnosing, you would be

wrongly assuming you are well informed

about your current health condition. What if

a more intense sickness masquerades as a

trivial one, or a trivial one as a more intense

one? What would happen?

“You would be misdirecting any clinician

who attends to you into prescribing drugs

that don’t see your situation as a whole.

Even worse, he could administer drugs that

are way too high for what you’re

experiencing. Side effects are always around

the corner, waiting to strike. Is this what

you want for yourself?”

I sighed. “No.”

“Good,” she said. “Now that’s a start.

Goodness! I should get Sir Amadi to let me

address you students about this issue. I

really should. Anyway, once school is over,

go see a doctor to get a blood test done

ASAP. You should find out the root cause

before you start taking treatment. Do you

understand me?”

If she awaited an answer, she would never

get one. Her lecture had just erupted painful

memories. Embracing myself, I turned to lay

on my side. Hot tears blistered my eyes. I

knew it would only be a moment before they

spilled onto my cheeks.

If I had a mother, she would always be there

for me. My health and happiness would be

her priority, and I would never have any

reason to cry.

But I never had a chance to meet my mum.

Dad told me she’d suffered from amniotic-

fluid embolism and died two days after my

birth. If I hadn’t been born, perhaps she

would still be alive.

As much as dad had always told me never

to think like this, I could not stop nursing

these thoughts. For me to exist, mum had

to go. I wished this tragedy had never

struck. My life would have been different if I

had her with me. Although we had never

met, I missed her. The tears I tried to fight

spilled out of my eyes and plopped onto the

bed.

I missed my dad. He had always been there

for me, trying hard to bridge the gap of not

having a mum. And he had been

exceptionally good at it. I would only have

to cough to find myself at a hospital.

Several tests would be run to detect any

hidden sicknesses. And each time, I would

try to resist. I would cry and try to talk him

out of it because I feared needles. But he

never succumbed. He would hold me

through the tests and afterward he would

take me shopping to make up for the

discomfort he had caused me.

Now I would give anything to feel the sting

of a syringe. I wanted things to go back to

the way they used to be. I wanted my dad.

But some prayers could never be answered.

And I just had to deal with reality.

My thoughts settled on how Stella had

mistaken my silence for ignorance. I wished

I could tell her how much she had hurt me

with her little lecture. I knew the health

implications of self-diagnosis. But what

could I do?

At home, they didn’t care if I existed or not.

Nobody paid more attention to me than they

would a stray dog roaming the streets.

While dad still lived, they had treated me as

their own. Or so I’d thought. But in the blink

of an eye, it all came crashing down. I

watched them toss the very essence of my

existence into the gutter. How could I have

known they would change dramatically?

A few weeks after dad’s death, my

deteriorating health had knocked me off my

feet. Shivering with fever, I had approached

my stepmother with the news. I could

remember vividly the words she told me.

‘You have fever. You have cough. You have

catarrh. So what should I do? I should throw

myself in front of a train abi?’

She had also said, ‘It seems you’re

forgetting your place in this house. You are

no child of mine. So why should you worry

me with your problems? Even the Bible says

each one will carry his own load. Look here

my dear, your well-being is no responsibility

of mine. It was solely your parents’ duty,

and since they have decided to leave you,

well, there’s nothing left for you.’

Although she had said those words four

years ago, it still stung when I reflected on

them. My stepmother’s cruelty remained a

mystery I could never decipher.

My dad. Why did he have to leave me? He

had been more than a father to me. He had

been my mother, my best friend, the glue

holding my side of the family and my

stepmother’s side together. He had assured

me he would always be there for me. But

life never gave him a chance to keep his

promise.

Why me? Why did all the bad things happen

to me? Had my birth been a crime? Why

then had I been born in the first place? Why

should anyone be born to suffer like this?

First, my mum left without even knowing

me. She had only been allowed to cradle me

for a few hours, after which death snatched

her away.

But no, mum alone could not satisfy its

hellish blood thirst. It had to take dad as

well. Why did it end there? Why hadn’t it

taken me along?

Why should some people be happy and

satisfied with life, and others miserable,

having despair where joy should be? Maybe

life was a game and the privileged used a

cheat the rest of the world didn’t know of.

Each morning I would awaken with a sigh

because my suffering continued. Living

compared to a race and I didn’t know how

to hit the finish line. I did not even know the

direction of the finish line to start with. No, I

wouldn’t call this living, but survival.

Years ago, I had plenty to eat and drink. I

would stay cuddled in dad’s arms and fall

asleep watching TV. Twice a year I would

visit the orphanage, giving help to the less

privileged. And most importantly, I had dad,

my reason for joy. But now I’d been stripped

of everything I ever had. Now I had close to

nothing.

My thoughts rested on the stillborn children

who never had a chance to see the world

and all its depravity. They had left this cruel

world for somewhere safe, somewhere

peaceful. They had faded into nothingness,

where no one could ever hurt them or make

them feel worthless. They would never have

to gulp down the spicy dish of cruelty the

world had to offer. Why hadn’t I shared with

them in their fate?

I peered toward the future, aiming to catch

a glimpse of my life a few years from now,

but the darkness of my present, a mass of

black smoke, filled my vision. Could there be

any truth to my stepmother’s words that

nothing good could ever come out of me?

If I didn’t live to see the next day, would

anyone notice? Would anyone even

remember a girl like me existed? Surely their

lives would go on as though nothing

happened. They would look to where I used

to be, and would barely even remember my

name. Only Amarachi would grieve.

As much as I wanted death to put me out

of my misery, I didn’t want to give my

haters the satisfaction of driving me to my

grave. For them I would be strong. For them

I would cut off my ears to spite my face. I

would survive.

“Victoria,” Stella’s voice severed my

thoughts.

I lowered my head and wiped my tears with

the back of my palms. She couldn’t see me

cry.

“Take care of yourself,” she said. “I’m out to

get recharge card. Will be back in five.”

Letting down my guard, I raised my face and

watched her advance to the door. And when

I least expected, she turned around, her

eyes catching the glister in mine.

She dashed to my side, her eyes searching

mine. “Are you alright?”

“Yes.” If I said more, my voice would

wobble, giving me away more than my puffy

eyes already had.

Stella sat beside me, the additional weight

causing the bed to groan. “What’s wrong?

Do you feel worse?”

“It’s not…the fever.” And like I feared, my

voice betrayed me. It sounded too brittle, I

almost didn’t recognize it.

“What’s wrong?” she asked. Her eyes told

me she cared. The softness of her gaze

assured me I could trust her. “How am I to

help you when you won’t even speak about

it? When you told me about your headache,

did I not give you pills to subdue both the

headache and the fever?”

“It’s not about my health,” I said.

“So what’s wrong?” she pressed on.

I stared at her, conflicted about what to do.

How could I tell her about my despair?

Where would I start from? Would I not be

betraying my family by speaking to an

outsider about our problems?

“Do you want me to call your sister?” she

asked. Wounded by her suggestion, I shook

my head with a questionable vigor.

Silence lingered in the air. But it only lasted

as long as I let it. “Have you ever lost a

loved one?”

I had thought by asking that question I

would chase the silence. But no. More

silence ensued and I realized I had chosen

the wrong start for our conversation.

With a voice as tiny as a mice’s, Stella

spoke, “Yes.”

More stories @ www.chorusman.com

 

“Who was it?” Raising myself to sit, I leaned

against the bed’s backrest.

“Someone special,” she said. I waited for

more details, but they never came.

Someone special. A reply as simple as that,

but weighing so much that it knocked her

emotionally off balance. Her rue-

cheerlessness mirrored mine. Whoever had

died must have meant a lot to her. At this

point I had no idea what to do or say to

make up for awakening memories she had

put to sleep. Guilt clawed at me for

transferring my broken spirit to her.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“It’s fine,” she said. A little white lie. It

would never be fine. Deep down, she knew.

Just as I hadn’t been able to get over my

dad’s death, she hadn’t been able to get

over hers either. Silence stretched between

us, so thick that if I reached out to touch it

I just might find something tangible.

“You were going to get recharge card?” My

voice sliced through the silence I had

brought upon the room, sounding weirdly

thin amidst the awkwardness between Stella

and I.

“Actually, that can wait. There’s plenty of

time to do that. Now is story time.” She

punctuated her statement with a wiggle of

her fingers.

Wearing a serious look, she said, “Have you

ever heard of Miriam Adewale?”

Of course. I had heard that name more

times than I could remember. But where?

I gave up on trying to remember. “It rings a

bell.”

“Of course,” she said.

“Who is she?” I asked.

“Was,” she corrected.

Was. That only meant she no longer existed.

I put the facts together. Miriam Adewale.

Dead. And suddenly, I remembered. I had

read an article of her in one of our school

yearbooks. She’d been among the first set

of students to study in Western High. She

died on the 24th of May 1996.

A shocking realization dawned on me. “She

was your sister.”

How had this never occurred to me? Other

than sharing the same surname, they

possessed similar facial features. I regarded

Stella with my empathetic eye. It must have

been hard watching her sister’s health

deteriorate, and even harder accepting her

powerlessness in saving her sister’s life. It

must be hard confining herself to a place

brimming with bitter memories. During idle

times, would she not be tempted to relive

painful experiences? Didn’t she feel

smothered by those memories? Did they not

fight to steal the air from her lungs?

“I’m sorry about your sister,” I said.

“That was her junior year,” Stella said. “I

was two classes behind her. We lived in

Ondo state, so we had to stay in the

dormitory. Schooling so far away from home

gave me the creeps. I wanted to be close to

home. But I didn’t stand a chance. All

Mimi’s friends were going to this school, and

she wanted to be in the same school with

them. At that time, Western High was the

newest and most popular school in Nigeria.

“From our childhood, Mimi and I schooled

together, so it was totally expected I was

sent to the same school as her. Things

were going great. I loved the school. My

new friends. The atmosphere. The

infrastructure. The teachers. And then I was

proud to actually be a student of this

school. Students of Western High were

recognized as one of the best students

nationwide. And till date, this hasn’t

changed.

“One evening, Mimi had a very high fever.

Her friends and I rushed her to the sickbay.

And the nurse…she was eating.” Her face

contorted grotesquely as she mentioned the

nurse. Narrowing her eyes to slits, she

clenched her teeth. “She whined on and on

about how she’d been extra busy all day and

was in no mood to attend to anyone. She

said she’d been attending to others at the

expense of her own stomach. She asked us

to leave with Mimi and return in the

morning, but we didn’t. We placed Mimi on a

bed and I assured her she would be fine. My

sister lay in one of these beds.”

She pointed to the bed adjacent ours.

Sadness clouded her features as she stared

at the bed and through it, reliving the

moment she had just described. In my

mind’s eye, I could see a picture of what

that day possibly looked like. Thinking back

to the photo of Miriam in the school

archives, I conjured an image of a sick

version of her lying in that bed, hoping the

nurse attended to her.

“It was all too late when the nurse attended

to my sister. All she gave her was a lazy

dose of Paracetamol. There was more she

could have done. But she didn’t. My sister

lay there for six whole hours before

receiving proper treatment. Couldn’t a test

have been carried out during that period to

know the underlying cause of the fever? But

no. The only thing she did was force three

stupid Paracetamol tablets down my sister’s

throat! That woman did close to nothing to

save my sister’s life. She barely even paid

her any attention. Instead she said she was

only pretending so she wouldn’t have to

participate in the inter-house sports.”

“God!” I gasped, shaking my head in horror.

How could someone think that?

“Horrible, right? That’s what you get when

you hire staff who don’t have the right

motive. Her motive for being a nurse was

purely financial. Totally wrong. A nurse is

someone who must make saving lives a

priority. Money making and any other thing

must only come after it. Not before. For two

days, my sister lay in this bed, getting worse

by the second, dying slowly. When the news

reached our parents, they hit the road at

once. My sister was transferred to St.

Martin’s hospital. That was the last time I

ever saw her again.”

It broke my heart to hear her voice become

a lifeless monotone. If I could I would take

away her sorrow and mine. But wanting to

do something was one thing, and having the

power to do it another.

“I’m sorry.” I had just said sorry for the third

time. It served to comfort, but did it? In my

case, I would be a liar if I answered in the

affirmative. No amount of sorry could make

me feel better over my father’s death.

Apparently, Stella shared my feeling toward

the word ‘sorry’, for she said, “Sorry is an

empty word, Victoria. It does nothing but

make us feel sorry for ourselves over and

over again. Have you not already realized

that for yourself?”

“Please forgive me. I didn’t mean to—”

“You’re always sorry. Don’t you ever get

tired of being sorry over nothing?” Mimicking

my voice, and failing dreadfully at it, she

said, “Sorry. Please. Forgive me. Are those

the only words you know?”

Driven by a sudden urge to share my story

with her, I said, “Those are the only words

they make me say.”

To be continued..

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