The old man in agbada was winking at me. I tried to ignore him, since scowling at him was yielding no result. He probably thought I was another one of those young girls he could deceive. I wonder about those girls, and how they manage to see past his pot belly.
I stirred in my seat, uncomfortable at the incessant gesture, ungrateful for my imaginative mind, already constructing and playing out series of appalling images going through that man's mind. I took my time to assert him.
He looked to be in his fifties, old enough to father seven or maybe less. The watch on his hand gleamed a burnished gold and his crisp Italian shoes reflected the dull light from the bulb overhead.
Someobody's father...I thought to myself.
Next to me, my Mother took a sharp breath. My chest tightened and I shot a glare at the negligent nurse chewing gum loudly at her station. She was rotund, with her hair braided in cornrows, packed up in a band.
Her beady eyes busied themselves with eyeing new patients maliciously as she barked, “Have you bought card? 500 oh! No card, No attention! Wait there…” Then she would rattle on in her Ibibio and for the life of me, I never seemed to understand why she couldn’t sit one place.
I wrapped my arm around my mother and brought her head to rest upon my shoulder. “Mummy, maybe it’s just the cold. After seeing the doctor, everything will be fine.” The words were heavy in my mouth, bland and doubtful. The images of the day my father died were still vivid in my head. I hadn’t been there but I had been told and in my mind, I had Imagined everything.
“Why won’t this woman attend to us?” My mother sighed. Then she eyed a vacant bench next to the nurse's station. “I didn’t want to come here but I’m glad that other nurse it not here.”
“What other nurse?”
“The nurse that was on duty the day we brought your father here. That bench there, that’s where your father took his last breath. The woman just sat there staring at us.” Her body trembled and I squeezed her tight. I tried to speak but I choked on emotions. I resigned to keeping quiet and keeping my mouth shut, squelching the anger boiling within, blinking to keep my eyes dry.
That man was still winking at me. A lecherous smile slowly taking form on his face. I was annoyed. My fingers twitched. In a parallel world, I would have walked over to slap him back to factory reset. But this was not a parallel world and this place was an excuse for a hospital. I tried to take my mind off him. I let myself absorb the place. The floors stank of disinfectant, yet you could still see dried drops of blood. The nurse haggled at her station, her tone loud and irritating, under the soft wail of an old woman, lying in a stretcher by the corner of the room.
I didn’t know what the woman was suffering from and it took me a moment of keen listening to understand that she wasn’t wailing—she was breathing. Each breath she took, was a drawn out intermittent pause of short gasps and when she would exhale, it would sound like a cry.
I became weak. I wondered about the difficulty that woman was going through, and the fact that she had to put up with listening to a negligent nurse chatter away right next to her. I continued to stare at her. She was shriveled and worn. The skin around her tired eyes cracked and deep grooves outlined every feature of her skull. Her skin was crumpled and sagged and her small body curled into a ball.
A languid fear diffused my thoughts.
Was this the reward for long life? Where were her grand children? Why was no one tending to her? Did I really want to live this long? To be abandoned in the corner of a desolate hospital, fighting for each breath? Without anyone I love?
Unfortunately for my country, there are no Health programs for the elderly, no nursing homes solely for looking after them. Tears blur my sight and I look away, blinking desperately. I return my attention to the features around me.
The walls. The paint of the walls were coming off at the seams. The window louvres were black with dirt; I had to remind myself that this was a hospital. An odour hung in the air, a concoction of disinfectant and other smells I did not want to think about.
We should have gone to a private hospital. I scream it in my head three times but my opinion paled when I remembered the hospital charge we had received at one private hospital in Uyo.
A woman’s crying pulled me from my thoughts. She was carrying a small boy. The boy had gone pale, with his eyes shut tight in her arms. The woman was screaming for help. The nurse eyed her and sighed, “I don’t know why mothers don’t know how to take care of their children.”
The crying was loud, a doctor rushed out of a room. She was a woman as well. “Isn’t it this the boy that we've already ran tests for? Did you not tell Dr. ***(I don’t want to mention names) to attend to her?”
Another man answered from somewhere, “If it’s a child, I am not seeing."
“Me, I am going, am not on call.” Another man hanging a stethoscope walked past.
“Please? His Hb count is low?” The afore woman stood akimbo, eyeing two other doctors.
They squabbled for a minute before she reluctantly accepted to attend to the woman and her dying child. I was lost for words. Blank with contempt. Until idly, my gaze fell on that fat man and he winked again. I glared at him, calling him colorful names with my eyes until a fair nurse emerged from one of the rooms and told him a doctor would see him. I was relieved to see him disappear behind that door.
My mother's body trembled and I squeezed her again. Why wasn’t it our turn yet?
Finally, a tall young man walked in. I recalled him immediately from school. He had been a medical student once at University of Uyo. He paused when he saw me. Familiarity registered. Then he looked my Mum.
“She seems gravely ill. I will see her now.”
The rest was a blur of hours waiting on that bench. When my Mother returned, she had undergone tests and bought prescribed drugs. A day later, she had taken those drugs and felt much better but she never stopped prattling about how impressed she was with the way that young man examined her thoroughly, better than the attention she had received at a private hospital and another general hospital at Enugu. She said he even went on to help other neglected patients.
For a moment, I’m proud the young man came from my institution and that we may still have young and passionate professionals in the Health sector.
But I still remain appalled by everything I saw at that general hospital, a federal hospital. And in my quiet moments, I contemplate the workings of my country and wonder about the lives lost in slaughter houses guised as Hospitals.
A hospital is supposed to be a resort for solace, where lives are saved or at least maintained. What I saw that day, was far from solace.
But what choice does the common man have? The less privileged? The impoverished? When they cannot afford the stupendous bills of private hospitals? What choice other than to hope that fateful day at a General hospital, would not be the day they die?
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I'm dure you will enjoy one of my latest writes, #Letting Go,
Blurb of Letting Go:
Secondary School was a hard time for most of us if not all of us and it was no different for Edima. And from that hell of taunts, self doubt and low esteem, Edima emerged a fiery character filled with loath and self-appraisal until she meets a face from her past; one of the boys that made Secondary School a living hell for her...
One my recents, a romantic story with a tang of action, politics and grudges. I'm positive you would enjoy this read.
Link to letting Go Episode 1:
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