By Paul Anozie:
Swollen and taut as a Yoruba tom-tom, Ngozi was all belly and bones as she lay helplessly on a tiny part of a bed in the children’s ward at Christ the Saviour Hospital. Her pulse had dropped to an abysmal low. Though Dr Peter had a city-wide reputation as an inveterate life-saver, I was afraid my daughter’s life could not be salvaged even by a miracle.
“I have prescribed for her a pint of coke,“ Dr Peter said after pressing her swollen belly and feeling her temperature. From now on, everything depends on how fast you can be. Her life is literally in your hands. So you rush to the nearest coke dealers and get me the stuff if you are not comfortable with the prize around here.” I nodded. He continued, “People don’t know how powerful a drug coke can.”
“Yea,” I said aloud. And then added inwardly, “this man is actually preaching to the converted.”
I left Jesus is Life Hospital in a daze, and commenced an approximately two-hour trek to the central joint down Bridge Head. Every denizen of the crime world knew that *the Hole* experienced no shortage of supplies in season and out of it.
It is 7.30 pm. Night has come. The streets hum with life. But beyond Upper Iweka, as I head towards Bridge Head, it gets quieter and lonelier. People crowd cheap restaurants, and wait for eleven forty-five pm, then go to the clubs. Night life in Onitsha is fun. Eat food. Pop Champagne. Roll up the sleeves and exchange few devilish punches with a drunk scatterbrain.
On the artistic quality index, this town sinks to rock bottom. Not many concerts. No music festivals. No comedy clubs. No opera shows. Just a few funky live bands spewing mixed high-life message ranging from the eternal wisdom of Osadebey, to the ribald comedy of Flavour and Fino.
We loved it that way. It could get really hilarious when the police burst unsuspecting chattels and put naked prostitutes on the run, or when, as I would witness this night, crime suspects facing jungle justice escape with burning motor tyres strapped around their necks, and head to the River Niger to cool the hotness, and eventually to die. It gets really dangerous when the police raid drug joints and set off a volley of armed fire, which brings down the clouds.
I ducked as an escaping pick-pocket kingpin breezed past me with burning motor tyre around his neck. The smell of burning flesh filled my nostrils, and made me giddy with fright. It tasted like a combination of mutton, beef and pork, stuff I enjoy on their own, but couldn’t stomach this time because it was so revolting.
Soon, a crowd of angry youth rushed from a nearby street, literally sniffing the ground in search of the fleeing criminal. It had been one or two minutes since the poor bastard wheezed past, so it was difficult finding his trail.
“Sebastian,” a man with the stature of a leader called loudly. Another young man pushed through the crowd, and presented himself to the commander, who tilted his head in a gesture similar to when a police dog is being charged to lead the pack. Sebastian obviously had a dog’s sense of smell. I saw him immediately taking them to the very direction which the runaway criminal took!
I had a sick feeling that a police raid could happen this night. My stomach wrenched and my heart pounded, as intermittent shots of adrenaline cut through my inner body. I could barely walk upright, but the thought that my daughter was about to die kept me going. Dr Peter practically implied that my membership of the drug underworld would be my daughter’s saving grace today. Though l was close to ruin by a reign of terror, for the first time in my life, I was proud of who I was.
One hour thirty minutes later, I was back in the hospital. The doctor, following a shrill cry from my wife that our daughter’s breath was ceasing, was rushing in to inspect the little girl. We almost pushed each other to the hard door frame on opposite sides as we struggled to enter the ward at the same time, the doctor and I. But it was not something to worry about. I used that brief moment to slip the wrap of cocaine into Dr Peter’s palms.
Where’s the drink? the doctor asked after a routine examination of the sick girl.
“Drink?” I was flabbergasted. “You mean the drug?” I asked.
” Yea,” he said, opening his left palm to receive something from me.
“I have already given it to you,” I replied, and advised him to search his coat for it. He dipped his hand into his side pocket and brought out a neat wrap of something he obviously didn’t know was there.
“That’s it,” I said dutifully. ” I slipped it into your hand when we were entering the ward.”
The doctor unfolded the wrap, examined it carefully and sneezed. Then he threw me those I-didnt-know-you-are-such-a-scumbag look that kills more than bullet wound. “Madam” he said as he turned to my wife. “Your husband’s drug addiction is a danger to you and your children.”
Suddenly, it was judgement day, my judgement day. God’s court of no appeal was in session. Everybody was watching: archangels, angels, cherub, seraph, family, relatives, friends, name them. My wife and children cast down their heads as I was led into the eternal gas chamber for the crime of negligence to family and drug addiction.
By the time I snapped out of the reverie, one of the ward attendants had been ordered by Dr Peter to go get a bottle of coke from the canteen. She was soon back. They forced about five tea spoonfuls of the drink on Ngozi. Few minutes later, she belched a couple of times and the terrible gas which caused her stomach to swell like those of kwashiorkor children, gradually escaped through her tracts. We were good to go.