I have never had to write anything close to an essay since I painstakingly wrote and passed my GCE and JAMB English Language examinations.
However, I am aware that as a first year medical student, I will not be spared the ordeal of the English 101 General Course essay at the end of this semester. Give me algebra, quadratic equation, quantum physics, organic chemistry and the ilk, and I shall delight. But, sincerely, the thoughts of hunching over a piece of paper to contrive stories, or piece grammar together give me the creeps.
It is therefore, with much heaviness of hand and of an even heavier heart, that I pen the words you are about to read. I apologize in advance for surely it will not be in the league of that of Okey Ndibe, Pius Adesanmi or Rueben Abati, I make no pretensions about that. Perhaps, the publisher will decide not to deride his pages with such mediocre work, I care less. All I know is; put something in indelible ink, I must do. Perhaps I will have to resort to the age old bottled letter thrown out in the sea method. Someday, somewhere, somehow, someone shall find it and read and know and take heed.
I have failed my mother. I have failed my father. I have failed my siblings. I have failed me and I have failed life. Perhaps I have failed the Most High too. I am the cause of my mother’s painful, comatose, awaiting-death situation. It was me who asked for the money. Because of me, she defied my father’s warnings and went ahead to travel to Yenagoa for the PDP rally, in the company of some other equally desperate women of the village. N4,500, that was all I asked for. I had sent a text message to our neighbour’s phone the night before the Party’s recruiters came to the village from the local government secretariat. That was my greatest undoing. Where did I think Papa and Mama were going to get the money to send to me? Sell the last remaining goat? Why didn’t I ignore the hard-of-a-soul lecturer who had assured Carryover to all students who did not purchase his handout at the cost of N2,500 each, before the end of the week. Why? What is Carryover in comparison to Mama? What is it? May God have mercy on my poor, stupid and selfish soul. Look where I have landed a woman who has suffered since the age of sixteen to care for her children. A woman who has given her all, and is now – may God Almighty forbid bad thing- about to give her life.
I am of all men the most miserable.
It was the threat and fear of the lecturer that led to all these.
“I don’t have to repeat mysef. “ I remember him saying, as his nose poured mucus and he made a hurried attempt to retrieve a stained brown handkerchief from the back of his pant pocket. Too late. The mucus already dotted his thick, woolen yellow coat. He paused to wipe himself clean. Spreading the handkerchief, he re-folded it and wiped his sweaty brows, extending his hands to the back of his neck and down his back, revealing dirty looking chest hairs. We waited in silence. All 300 of us, crowded in the auditorium turned lecture hall.
“I swear by my dead fada, go and ask your seniors my modus operandi.” Red eyes glared at the Jambites in front of him; scanning the room for unfriendly stares, murmurings, or pretty faces, as has been told us by our “seniors”.
“I do not tolerate nonsense from my students. You hear me?”
“Yes sir” we chorused. The unison was desperate, stressed, angry, eager- to –please, confused. The spectacle before us was disconcerting.
“If you like go and make photocopy of this handout. You think you can guy me in this school.” He smiled maliciously and shook his head.
Waving the ten page, brownish, rough looking sheets of paper in front of him, he declared;
“I have personally stamped all the pages, and only a stamped handout can admit you to the very first exam coming up on Monday.”
An exam on Monday? It was our third class in the semester – according to the time table, that is. It was the first class he would attend. The first two he was nowhere to be seen. We sat and waited - for the few lucky ones who got seat – for about two hours under the humid air until his allotted time passed.
“But before the exams, don’t you think we need a course rep for this class?” He asked the question casually as he dug his right index finger deep in his mouth and scratched out saliva from his tongue.
“I need someone to help me with selling the handouts and writing names of purchasers. I don’t want anyone of you coming to my office for any reason whatsoever.” Wet thumb and index fingers counted out handouts.
My heart gladdened at the thought of a class rep. It made you a friend of the lecturer and ensured that you got all your handouts free of charge. I shot my hand up, volunteering to be the class rep. I can’t remember the last time I was at the receiving end of a more disdainful look. The lecturer pointed at a man seated two benches behind me and appointed him the course rep. It was only after the class that I realized that they shared the same last name, he was a cousin of the professor.
“The class on Friday is cancelled. Read your handouts and bring it to the ezams on Monday”
That was the end of the class. I was in a desperate situation. Where was I going to get N2,500 to pay for the handout? My washerman business was not making as much money as I thought. There was hardly enough water for me to take my bath talk more of washing clothes for a fee for my fellow students. I had to trek miles to fetch bathing water and the owners would not let you wash around the borehole.
I needed money badly for this handout. Plus I also had some other lecturers demanding money to purchase laboratory equipments for practicals. Thank God I do not have to worry about food; garri, soaked in water, a spoonful of sugar and a handful of groundnut added, taken twice a day usually held my stomach very well.
I had no option, but to approach the lecturer and try to work something out with him.
“Excuse me sir, excuse me sir.” I ran after him as he hurried to his car just 30 minutes after he came out of it.
“Yes?” the fury that emanated from his eyeballs brought a momentary transfixation to my bounce.
“Am sorry, sir. Am sorry, sir.” I was tongue tied.
“Sorry about what? What do you want?” His voice was thundering above the generator by the side of the copying shop where we stood.
Sir, sorry, I just wanted to ask if I could pay for the handout in installments. I have about…”
He didn’t let me finish.
“If you don’t get out of my face now I will give you such a dirty slap that you will need to be hospitalized. Stupid idiot. You are very willing to spend money on your good-for-nothing girlfriends, but will never spend one kobo on your books. Do I look like your mother who sells pepper and crayfish at your village market? You want to pay in installments. Can you spell the word installment?”
The newly “elected” course rep stood behind him laughing loudly to his hearing, but pretending to be stifling a laughter.
“My friend” He was addressing the course rep.” Don’t allow mentally retarded students like this to waste your time. Collect the N2,500 and give the handout, don’t even try to explain anything to fools like him.”
The insult was just too much to bear. I might have come from a poor family, but I have known nothing but respect and appreciation of my humanness and character from birth. My father confides in me, Mama adores me. Our neighbors would send their unruly sons to me to mentor, women sent their of-age daughters to my mother often, expecting that I would begin to chat them up for possible marriage proposal.
I was crushed to my bone marrow, devastated by the degradation of my being.
“ I am sorry sir” was all that fell out of my one-hundred ton heavy mouth. I turned to go.
“You, come back here” I turned. I was so sick, so sick of the whole thing. I was barely able to coordinate my movements. I turned to the right first and then to the left, facing him.
“Give me that cap”
“This cap?” I held my head. My thoughts could not reconcile the situation unfolding before me, with the cap on my head.
He reached forward and snatched my face cap.
“Village boy. Didn’t your elders teach you not to address your teachers wearing a facecap.” It was a statement of finality made as he turned and walked away. Course rep followed two steps behind him, shaking his head and muttering something that sounded like “mine is a doomed generation”
It was this experience that made me send that text. That text I sent from Ungiekem’s phone.
“I warned her not to go, Ugbong.” Dad said to me for about the fifteenth time since I got to the hospital, straight from school. I have never seen my father look so haggard and sorrowful. His face was squeezed to one side I was afraid he was going to come down with a stroke. I keenly watched him for the signs.
“When she opens her eyes ask her. Ask her how I refused to eat her food for the first time since we got married.” He hissed. We were forbidden to hiss or sigh at home. Dad had let go – that was the height of unethical conduct for my father. Hissing and sighing in front of his child. I made a mental note to ask a doctor for tranquilizers.
“ Ugbong tell me, was my refusal to eat her food not enough signal to Imaobong not go to that Yenagoa ? I said to her, let us sell the goat and send you the money. But she said she suspects the goat is pregnant and we cannot sell a pregnant goat. We are owing almost the whole village and nobody would lend us more money. Ugbong am tired. I am just tired of trying. This one will kill me.”
Dad got up and left the room. I stood staring at Mama.
Mama lost two of her legs to the bomb. One kidney was taken out just before I arrived the hospital and half of her liver also had to go with the kidney. The governor visited her the day it happened and took pictures with the press. He gave directives to the doctors to treat the injured patients and charge the government.
The only problem is that the list of things we needed to buy for the surgery performed and the remaining surgeries were not covered by the government’s “magnanimity”. According to the administrative nurse, the government only took care of the doctor’s bills or workmanship including the admission. And the “food,” if that is what four dry pieces of yam that would not satisfy a four year old is called. Routinely, patients provided surgical equipments themselves. It was my mother’s trading group in the village and the town’s union that contributed money to buy all the 21 items on the list. A nurse friend donated cottonwool, iodine and disinfectant.
The doctors say Mama needs five more surgeries urgently, but they are waiting for the government to release the funds in order to pay and bring the consultants that will perform the surgeries.
“Can’t we take her to the consultants, do they have to come here?” I asked the young looking doctor as he left the general ward where my mother lay, walking carefully so as not to scratch his white overall on the dirty hospital beds.
“She will not survive a ride on 1km of the road outside this hospital” he replied flippantly as he hurried towards the private ward where he often spent much more time with the far fewer patients. Mama will have to lie unconscious while waiting for the files to reach the desk of the Governor to sign for her remaining surgeries. Doctors are not sure how long she can live without the urgently needed surgeries. Every day she breathes is a miracle.
I am not sure how I will get over this or if I ever will. It is too heavy a burden for me to bear. I must put it down somewhere outside of my soul. Perhaps, someone had read the news about the bomb blast in Yenagoa and forgotten it ever happened, but I will never forget. But for this paper with which I have put away a fraction of my burden, the rest will remain deep within my soul.
-This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to any real situation or events is merely coincidental.