We arrived at the hospital on Bama Road and Amina was rushed to the emergency ward. The hall was overflowing with patients. Many stood about, while others lay on the floor. Even the window sills bore the weight of those struggling with the last breath of life. A boy of about six was bleeding from his bandaged eye. Another was calling, “Mama . . . Mama . . . Mama.” A deep gash was on his right arm, and the left side of his head was swollen. I pulled out my handkerchief to wipe the tears off my eyes.
Cries and lamentations enveloped the crowded hall. They had managed to wheel my wife into the theatre while I fretted about the place, praying. Thirty minutes later, one of the doctors came to brief me about her condition. He said they may have to evacuate the unborn child to save the life of my wife, and he needed me to sign the consent form.
I reluctantly reached for the paper. “Doctor, please, you mean nothing can be done to save my child? This is our first child sir…her first pregnancy…please help us,” I stuttered and scribbled my signature on the form, my eyes flashing between the paper and the doctor.
“Sorry, sir, we can’t guarantee anything now. But I can assure you we’ll do our best,” he said.
I did not hear from the medical team again until two hours later, after my wife had been stabilized. She had regained consciousness and was taken to the Intensive Care Unit; the doctors were still battling to save her pregnancy. Some prescriptions were given to me, upon which I hastened to the pharmacy to purchase the drugs. Then I thanked God and immediately offered a quiet prayer for my boss, Mallam Sirajo Labaran.
I began to wonder if members of the different Islamist groups professed the same Muslim faith as my godsend supervisor; the payments Mallam Labaran authorized for me that morning had come in quite handy. I procured the drugs and hurried back to the ICU. After I handed them to the nurse, I stamped to the bedside of Amina.
She managed a grin as I took her hand. “It is well with you, my love,” I muttered and sat on the edge of the bed.
She did not respond. She was weak. She looked at me and began to sob. Her face had taken on a different mien as the glow of the preceding days had paled into a sorrowful visage. She was on the brink of losing her first pregnancy in our ten years of marriage. Her resolve to come along with me and live in any village had been strengthened by the thought of having the child. It would erase the series of mockery and bring an end to the humiliating insinuations that had intensified with the years of barrenness. Now, all that expectation was collapsing around her. The hopes of a promising future were fading away.
I sensed her thoughts. I must re-kindle her faith. “The doctors said you’ll be fine,” I uttered with forced optimism.
“What of the baby . . . our baby?” she said in a barely audible voice.
I looked away and bit my lips, then I turned with a grimace and faced my wife. “Our baby will be OK . . . our baby is OK. The grace of God is sufficient for us,” I said and blinked as the tears rolled off my face.
The door creaked. Two doctors walked into the room. “You may have to excuse us for now, please, Mr. Ndukwe,” one of the doctors said. I rose to leave and gave her a reassuring smile, but she had switched her attention upon the doctors. I patted her shoulder and headed for the door.
It was eight thirty. I was beginning to feel dizzy as I had not eaten again since my breakfast of pap and bread. I asked a nurse who was passing by for the hospital canteen. She turned and pointed toward the backside of the hospital. Promptly, I expressed my gratitude and, with the light glowing from surrounding windows, I traced my way.
In a short while, I had walked with feeble steps into the canteen and located a seat at the far corner. The place was virtually filled up. The aroma and sizzling of fried onions and tomatoes from the kitchen permeated the hall.
I asked for a plate of white rice, stew and fish.
“Oga, we no get fish sir,” the stubby waiter said.
“What do you have?” I asked.
“Assorted, cow and goat meat,” she said.
Because I was too shattered to make a simple choice, I gazed emptily away. “Just give me whatever you have,” I said.
As she left, I glanced across the place. The canteen would normally take about twenty people, but it was obvious that additional provision had been made to accommodate the unusual number of people that thronged the hospital. As they ate and chatted away, sitting around the white plastic tables, one topic dominated the discussions. Many were expressing worries at the rumors of an imminent attack on the hospital.
The radicals who had caused the mayhem in town were said to be mobilizing for an attack on the hospital to finish off the hapless victims of their violence. I remembered that I had sighted two armed policemen at the gate. They were expected to keep guard at the premises, but it was clear they would easily be swept away by the rampaging hoodlums. The tension within the canteen was palpable. I started to get uneasy as the tables began to empty. People were gradually exiting the hall. Without looking up further, I gobbled my food and hurried out of the place.
* * * * *
I had gone a few meters away from the canteen before I noticed that the hospital had become quiet. I walked toward the crowded general ward I had passed on my way to the canteen and peered through the window. It was empty. The three people left inside were heading for the exit. Two of them held an elderly man with a bandaged leg, helping him to the door. I turned and began to hasten toward the ICU. The few people I saw on the way were hurrying out of the hospital, lamenting the imminent invasion by the hoodlums.
I got to the Intensive Care Unit. It appeared deserted, so I quickly made for the door. Amina was sleeping, with the drip still connected to her right hand. The younger doctor was pacing frantically across the room.
“Where have you been, Mr. Ndukwe? I’ve been looking for you all over the place,” he said. His clean-shaven head shone in the fluorescent light.
“I’m sorry, Doctor. I rushed to the canteen.”
“Now, we have to leave here fast. The security signals we’re getting are not looking too good. I’m Dr. AbdulFattahu Usman.”
“Thank you, sir. I heard about the threat at the canteen.”
“Yes. As you can see, people are fleeing the hospital.”
“But where do we go from here, Doctor?”
He stopped and looked at me. “It’s OK. I can understand. Your wife was crying. She said you had nowhere to go. In fact, I had to put her to sleep so she doesn’t worsen her condition with her agonies. Come, come. We have no time to waste.”
I watched as those words issued from his thick lips, then hastened to join him by the bedside. We lifted Amina out of the bed. He took out the sachet of drip from the iron stand and held it up as we rested her on the mobile stretcher. When we got to the car lot, he briskly opened the doors of his Datsun Bluebird car and helped me to gently lift her into the backseat of the vehicle.
I hopped in to join her at the back while he gestured that I hold up the drip properly.
As we sped out of the hospital gate, a crowd of youths was heading for the hospital from the opposite side, chanting war songs. They wielded guns, machetes, sticks and broken bottles. It was then the magnitude of the crisis began to get to me. I wondered where the doctor was taking us.
He had introduced himself by a name that clearly sounded Muslim. I took another look at him—this time more searchingly. I began to imagine that he could very well be one of those fanatics, who camouflaged their extremism in a garb of harmless officialdom. I was torn between a sense of gratitude and a morbid fear of ambush. But it also baffled me why the doctor would go all this length if the plan was to still get me and my wife killed. He could very well have left us at the mercy of those rampaging youths we saw as we were driving out of the hospital. But these are truly unusual times. Anything is possible.After all, there are psychopathic killers who derived special satisfaction in personally decapitating their victims.
The doctor drove into the newly-constructed housing estate on Kashim Ibrahim Road, on the way from Maiduguru to Potiskum. I had heard about the place but had never been there. As the gatemen at the entrance walked toward the Datsun car, I fixed a stare on the one dressed in jalabiya, his Koran in his right hand. They recognized the doctor, greeted and swung the gate open. My eyes darted about the place. Street lights illuminated the lawns and road curbs. All the houses were of uniform shape and color. He drove further in and turned toward one of the white bungalows.
I noticed a window blind slide aside. In no time, the front door of the house was opened. Dr. Usman had stepped out of the car and was moving to the left side of the back door. I looked up and saw a young man in dark shorts and white singlet come out of the house; his stocky frame and light skin were conspicuous in the fairly illuminated premises. He appeared to be in his early thirties.
He walked to the car, greeted the doctor and joined in lifting my wife into the house. We put her on the brown-cushioned seat in the living room, and I stood beside her holding up the drip. I raised my head and caught a glimpse of the Arabic inscriptions on an Islamic poster that was hanging on the wall. Quickly, I pulled my suspicious eyes away as the doctor approached again. He held Amina by the wrist to feel her pulse and instructed the young man to prepare the visitors room.
In no time, we settled into the room. A mattress was placed on the floor for me while she lay on the bed. The drip had been properly positioned on an iron stand by her side. I heard a knock on the door. Dr. Usman stepped in. He walked to the bed and injected some drugs into the drip. As he turned toward me, the lights went out. The room was pitch-dark.
“Sorry, Mr. Ndukwe. I didn’t tell you the lights here usually go off by twelve,” he said.
“It’s OK, sir. Dark nights are something we’re all used to,” I managed to utter in the dark; my heart had begun to pound.
“I’ll be back,” he said. He walked out of the room and shut the door.
[End of Excerpt]