“Yvonne? Can we talk? I have to tell you something.” Imade’s voice was gentle, prodding.
“Yvonne,” she called again.
This time Yvonne looked up from her phone in response.
“What?” she asked.
“I…I need to talk to you about something.”
Yvonne sighed, turned to her.
Five weeks had passed since Olive’s diagnosis and even though Olive appeared oblivious to what her body was saying, Yvonne seemed to be feeling all the feelings for her. She Googled Olive’s condition obsessively, saving pages and pages of information and sending it to her husband and Imade.
Juvenile pernicious anemia was rare – a vitamin B-12 deficiency that required lifelong treatment and a drastic change to Olive’s diet. Imade was grateful that Yvonne was a full-time mum, otherwise how would they have coped?
Even though being a full-time mum had not come as an easy choice for Yvonne, it had been the best one at the time. Once, she had worked at a bank like her husband, keeping the same late hours and busy schedules. Yvonne often joked that they were living a fast-food life at the time.
The hours at the bank didn’t let afford her the opportunity to cook when she got home at night, so they resorted to store-bought meals day after day.
It was only when they actively started trying to have children that they agreed she needed to put in less hours and focus on living a healthier life if she was to conceive. It was when she began the IVF process that her energy levels began to drop until she awoke one morning and just couldn’t leave her bed to go to work. It had marked the beginning of her mental health problems and the end of her career.
Even though Imade had seen all the signs in her friend,Yvonne lived in denial of her mental state. When Imade suggested seeing a therapist for her depression, Yvonne had given her a blank look and said:
“What? I’m not depressed. I’m just tired.”
It was a delicate subject, one Imade chose not to pursue again, partly because she feared her friend would pull away hence worsening the situation, and partly because she believed depression was something prayers could handle.
But didn’t prayers only work if the person in question realized there was a problem? She wondered. If Yvonne was unwilling to see what was happening to her, how then could she acknowledge the fact that healing was taking place?
As Imade sat with Yvonne in the stylish living room – Yvonne had redecorated when she was pregnant with Olive, ordering new furniture and batik curtains online, (nesting was what the doctors called it while Benjamin, Yvonne’s husband had called it annoying because he felt the strain on his Debit cards) – watching her glued to the screen of her phone, Imade feared that the horror of six years ago was about to happen again.
“Yvonne, what are you doing?” she asked, mildly irritated by her diverted attention. The house was quiet; after three weeks of staying home and adjusting to the medication and changes in her diet, Yvonne had finally agreed to let Olive go to school. Even though the house was clean, Yvonne was dressed in her pajama bottoms, her braids packed into her bonnet like she was just waking.
“Did you know that there are some neurological symptoms of JPA? Dementia, depression even memory loss,” Yvonne responded still tapping at the phone.
Imade flinched, she hated the nickname Yvonne had given this sickness, making it sound like a familiar face who was here to stay rather than the unwanted visitor it was. Half-standing from her seat, she reached across the space between them and grabbed the phone from Yvonne’s hand.
“Hey!” Yvonne looked up, shocked. “What is it? Give me back my phone!”
Imade slid the phone into the back pocket of her jeans, staring at her.
“What kind of play is this, Imade? Please stop it now and give me my phone!”
“When last did you read your Bible, Yvonne eh?” Imade asked, arms akimbo.
“You heard me. When last did you read your Bible the way you have been dedicated to reading Google articles about that sickness?”
“That’s none of your business. I’m just doing research.” Yvonne snapped, holding out her hand. “Give me my phone. You are not my mother!”
“No, this is not research. You are just feeding your fear when right now you should be feeding your faith.”
“Hahaha,” Yvonne clapped, sneering. “Motivational speaker. Tell me something I don’t know, Mummy. Oh, I forgot. You are not one yet so I don’t blame you. You don’t know what it is like to have a child, talk more of a sick child.”
Yvonne’s words were harsh causing Imade to pause, to ignore temporarily the anger building up in her.
“You see the problem? The problem is that you have accepted what they told you, you have absorbed it and decided to brand your daughter ‘sick child’ based on what they said. You forget all of God’s promises, all the words you’ve heard from church, you have thrown it away and you think googling about this sickness will help Olive. I don’t care what you say to me. I may not have a child yet but I have a God that heals. I have a God that loves little children and He can only be found within the pages of the Bible not the pages of Google,” she said.
Yvonne shrunk, her hand dropping to her side, her head bowed.
“This is exactly what the devil wants. He wants you helpless, basking in self-pity. He wants you to question everything you know about God and the way he works. He wants you so far away from God and isolated. He wants to fill your head with the bad news so that you will have no space for the good news. He wants you to think you are in this alone. Yvonne, who gave you this child?” Imade asked.
“God,” Yvonne’s voice was a whimper.
“So why don’t you trust that he will take care of her? Why are you so quick to think that God, this our God will punish you for your past by harming this lovely girl that he gave you? Yvonne, God has forgiven and forgotten. You need to forget your past because in Christ you are a clean slate. Don’t let the devil drag you back to where you left a long time ago.”
Yvonne’s sobs grew louder as she crumpled to the floor, her hands wrapped around her legs.
“And stop basking in self-pity, stop hurting the people who love you just because you think they can’t feel your pain. Everybody has something they are dealing with but we don’t all go around carrying it on our head. You need to take a long hard look at yourself and what you believe because it is only when you know what you believe that you will be able to help yourself and your daughter.”
Imade grabbed her bag from where it sat on the couch and dropped Yvonne’s phone on the couch.
“I’ll see myself out,” she said above Yvonne’s tears.
The phone call from Yvonne’s husband came in a few minutes past 5pm while Imade got dressed for evening service. She glanced at the caller ID and thought twice about answering the call.
Her meeting with Yvonne earlier that day had ended on uncertain terms. On her part, she was still smarting from Yvonne’s barbed comment about not having a child of her own, and after her long-winded speech, she had dropped Yvonne’s phone, picked her bag and left her there in tears.
Sometimes being the strong friend was emotionally draining but no one seemed to recognize that. A part of her had wanted to reach out to Yvonne, put an arm around her and give her the comfort she needed but Imade knew she was not going to be able to play the part at that time. She was just too tired to, plus Yvonne needed a bit of tough love to get back on her feet and do the needful. She couldn’t go through life falling like a pack of cards at the slightest troubling situation.
Even Olive was not mourning her ailment like Yvonne was – granted, they had not told her the details of the sickness only that she was a bit sick which explained the vomiting and fainting – but even at that Olive maintained her brightness and playfulness while Yvonne acted as though Olive was dead not sick. Come on!
No, she decided. She wasn’t ready for any drama this night. Nothing could spoil her mood before service. She ignored Benjamin’s call. Whatever Yvonne had told him could wait. She wasn’t going to babysit anyone when her feelings were also hurt.
Was it weird that she was suddenly remembering her childhood? How she was always expected to pick up the broken pieces of her siblings? How everyone wanted her to look out for them but she never felt like anyone was looking out for her.
“You’re the eldest. It is your duty to be there for your siblings,” her mother always said.
And yet, when her younger sister had brought a man home to marry, an act that had seemed defiant and naïve to Imade at the time considering that her sister had just turned twenty-three, her mother had gladly given her blessings.
“If you won’t bring a man home, at least your sister has,” she had said at the end of the long phone call.
Imade shook her head to get rid of the memories. Was she wired to always be the caretaker of the people in her life? What will happen when she needed someone to look after her? Those nights when she soaked her pillows with tears after thinking about what should have been?
And those nights had been more frequent these past weeks since she quit her job, where the days seemed empty, listless, without form and void.
She had spent a lot of time on Netflix to distract herself from the constant urge to pick up her phone and call Bankole and tell him she wanted her job back. Then she had almost dialed an old law school colleague to ask for recommendations on firms to apply in, not because she needed the money but because she needed the work and the sanity.
Sitting in front of the mirror, brushing her wig, she remembered the thing she had wanted to tell Yvonne. The decision she had made that was scary and exciting at the same time. The answer she had gotten after days of contemplating and praying.
She had wanted to share it with Yvonne because sharing it would make it real. Right now, it felt silly and crazy but not real. Not yet real.
Ah well, she would have to wait or talk to her pastor about it before she began to take steps.
Just then, the doorbell rang. Who could that be?
She hardly received visitors without prior notice, even with close friends.
She slipped on her grey bathrobe, tying the sash around it.
“Who is there?” she asked, walking into the living room.
“Come and see,” the voice sounded like a parody of a cartoon character.
“Who?” she could already guess who it was by the playfulness in the voice.
“The love of your life,” the voice responded.
Imade sighed, unlocking the door. Lamide stood there, grinning, with a bottle of wine in one hand and a takeout bag from Lagos Bistro in the other.