‘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
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
“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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
“Victoria,” Stella’s voice severed my
I lowered my head and wiped my tears with
the back of my palms. She couldn’t see me
“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
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
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
“Actually, that can wait. There’s plenty of
time to do that. Now is story time.” She
punctuated her statement with a wiggle of
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
“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
“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..