The lobby at Babangida hospital was freshly-painted nude walls, narrow space lined with metal chairs and frames of smiling babies, old men and pregnant women, alongside motivational medical quotes – “Your body is a temple, treat it right” “COVID-19 is real, mask up”, “Minding your business is good medicine”. The receptionist’s counter was cordoned off with the sign No mask, no entry. Be your brother’s keeper.
Imade pulled her mask up from where it previously framed her jaw. She hadn’t been in a hospital since the pandemic started as she had heard that hospitals were the hub of the virus.
She spotted her friend hovering over the receptionist’s counter, seemingly in the midst of a difficult conversation with a gum-chewing slender woman – even though Imade had seen Yvonne earlier that evening, well-dressed and elegant, she almost could not recognize her. Her braids were askew in a bun that didn’t stand proud, plus she was wearing yoga pants and a Levi T-shirt that Imade knew she would not be caught dead in under normal circumstances, her rubber clogs were two different colours. She looked like she had shrunk in the three hours since she last saw her.
Imade hurried to her friend, desperate to pull her out of the slight argument she was having with the nurse.
“Yvonne!” Imade opened her arms, offering the hug she knew her friend needed, and mouthing sorry at the nurse.
The tremble of Yvonne’s entire being told Imade all she needed to know: something really bad was happening.
“Hey, calm down. Okay? Talk to me. What’s going on?” she asked, patting Yvonne’s back like you did a baby needing to burp.
“It’s…Olive.” Yvonne whimpered.
Imade’s heart clenched. Olive was Yvonne’s only child, one she had conceived after four years of waiting, and two failed rounds of IVF. Olive had been a gift, just when Yvonne and Benjamin had decided to stop hoping, she had slipped into their lives unannounced, bringing joy and light into their home, pulling Yvonne from the precipice of darkness. At four, Olive was an adorable child, always full of questions, laughter and energy.
“What happened?” Imade asked.
“We don’t know. She has been vomiting and complaining of tummy ache for a few weeks now. Her appetite has also gone down. We initially thought it was malaria so we treated it and she seemed fine…but then earlier today, she threw up again. And then this evening…oh God, this evening, she just…slumped. She fainted. Then we rushed her here.”
Imade slung her right arm across Yvonne’s back, pulling her close as she led her to sit in one of the empty metal seats.
“Where is Ben?” she asked, because she was afraid that anything else would reveal the depth of her fear.
“He went in to see if he can find out anything, can you imagine those nurses refusing to let me see my daughter.” Yvonne sniffled, patting her forehead. “I hate hospitals.”
Imade nodded, Yvonne’s hatred for hospitals had been birthed after six years of traipsing in and out of doctor’s offices while they tackled their fertility issues. It worsened when COVID came and everyone lived in perpetual fear of the pandemic.
“Can I…can we just say a quick word of prayer for Olive?” Imade asked. What else could they possibly do? The helplessness they felt could only be muted by turning to the one who gave hope. Yvonne’s slight nod was enough response.
“In Jesus name, Father we thank you for Olive, your daughter. We pray that you see her through whatever is going on right now. Healing is the children’s bread, dear Father. We pray that her healing comes swiftly and speedily, in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
As they sat in the lobby, Yvonne leaning against her, Imade was reminded of a time when they had prayed and cried together over her last failed IVF process. Their friendship had wobbled at the time, Yvonne’s moods were erratic and unpredictable because of the hormones, the IVF had taken a toll on their finances even though Benjamin worked as a manager in an investment bank, Yvonne had failed to recognise that she was bordering on depression. She spoke less and less to her family and friends, folding her pain into herself, a volcano set to erupt. In her isolation, she created a distance in their friendship that could not be measured by Google maps.
It wasn’t until the second IVF failed that she reached out to Imade, frantic, wailing, exhausted and in despair.
I’m losing it, Imade. I can’t do this anymore; I can’t go through this again. It’s like the one thing I want, I may never have. I can’t, I just can’t.
Imade had driven over then, grateful that finally after months of silence, of one-word responses to her Whatsapp messages, of not answering her calls, of missing church, Yvonne had finally, finally reached out.
She had held her as she wept, listened as she lamented, cried with her when she shared some of her pain and finally prayed with her when she was exhausted.
“Honey? Oh hi, Imade.” Benjamin, Yvonne’s much shorter husband, had returned to the lobby. “Thank you for coming, Imade. I’m so sorry we disturbed you. I told my wife not to bother but…”
“It’s okay. I don’t mind.” Imade replied.
Benjamin looked more composed than his wife, at least he had managed to put on the same pair of clogs even though his T-shirt was inside-out.
“What did they say?” Yvonne sat up, rubbing at her eyes.
“They are running some blood tests.”
“But she’s awake?”
“Yes, she’s just a bit weak. They said she seems dehydrated.” Benjamin sighed, running his hand through his shorn head.
“Should we get her food then?” Yvonne asked.
“Not right now, maybe after the tests. Babe, relax. Everything will be okay.” He reached down, taking her hand in his.
“Hmmm…I hope so.”
It was 2:15am by the time Imade arrived home from the hospital, she was surprised she had made it home in one piece considering how tired and sleepy she felt.
She hadn’t wanted to go but Yvonne’s husband had convinced her that there would be no more news till the morning, besides they all needed to catch some sleep. He had also begged her to convince Yvonne to go home to get some sleep before returning the next day.
“She won’t listen to me, but the truth is there is no point doing a vigil here. We need her strong and alert. Please talk to her.” He had said when he took her aside.
She had to concede that he had a point; she also knew that Yvonne could not possibly sleep knowing that Olive was in the hospital. Her bond with Olive was second to none – it was as though she wanted to make up for all the years she had waited for a child.
Yet when she had returned to Yvonne in the lobby, she had found her dozing off, her neck angled wrongly.
“I’ll drive you home,” Imade said, helping her up. “You need to get some rest and be back here for Olive in the morning. Maybe even cook something nice before Olive gets back.”
“I’ll take an Uber. It’s late, I don’t want you driving me around. I have disturbed you enough already. Thank you, Ima.”
As Imade locked the door behind her and crawled into bed, she muttered a silent prayer for Olive, sent a quick Whatsapp message to Mosun to please pray for Olive.
The voice is unfamiliar, belongs to a child. The child sounds breathless, wary.
Imade gropes in the darkness, searching for the source of the voice.
The voice is fading now, like steam that has outlived its time.
I’m coming! Imade responds.
A piercing scream, then silence.
Imade jerked awake, covered in sweat. What in God’s name was that?
She reached for her phone, plugged to charge beside her bed, and checked the time.
7am, barely four hours of sleep. Why did it feel odd to still be in bed at this time? And what was that dream about?
Work! She scrambled to her feet. She was supposed to be at work in an hour. How had she overslept?
Her phone beeped then and she unplugged it, scrolling through as she turned on the tap.
An SMS from Funke, the HR manager: Oga wants a meeting, says he isn’t accepting your resignation. Come in today?
And then Imade remembered. She didn’t have anywhere to be. She had no job, no plans, no prospects.
It felt good, or did it?
She tapped out a reply: Okay. I’ll be in by noon.