Leke just ended his first prayer in months. When he looked at the time it was seven-twenty by the clock on the wall facing the dining table. Even though he could not remember the last time he prayed, he desperately needed to know GOD had answered this particular prayer. The events of the next seven days were contingent upon the prayer he just prayed, afterall Tolu, his fiancée, would be back within the hour.
Outside, it was a cool but windy Saturday evening. The kind of evening that precedes a heavy rain in the middle of the night: the Sun had made a hasty departure from the skies, dark clouds slowly replacing clear white ones, breeze so cool you want to relax on your foldable camp chair. Leke sat by the dining table and decided to put on the lamp since the power company seemed to have forgotten his part of town. He had struck seven matchsticks and none burnt for long enough to enable him light the wick; he didn’t realise how many sticks he had used: his mind was far away from the matchsticks, in fact, faraway from his present location. He was just as far away as he was earlier that morning at the departmental store.
He and Tolu had gone shopping for household materials; it was the last Saturday before their wedding. In one of the stores where they wanted to buy a microwave oven, Tolu asked him a question about which of two brands he preferred, Leke was lost in thought. At another store, he had sat down by the counter with his left hand under his chin looking out of the window. All would probably had gone well that morning if not for the fact that he almost ran over a biker on the way home after failing to realise the traffic light had turned red. That was the last straw for Tolu. The discussion they had in the car about his whole demeanour that morning was the most one-sided they’ve had in a year. ”You are going to tell me what’s on your mind and you’re gonna tell me today! Since you came back yesterday, you’ve been acting pretty strange and saying little. Adeleke, what’s going on?” She had ended the sentence with tears in her eyes and with the sound of muffled sniffs.
This night, he had a decision to make: to tell or not to tell.
It all started six months ago. He had completed half of the service year as a National Youth Service Corps doctor working at the Community Hospital in Ifaki-Ekiti. Being the only doctor in the vicinity, he was often called upon at any time of the day since he was given an apartment within the facility. One fateful night, he was woken up at about one-thirty in the morning by the nurse on duty. A young girl had been rushed into the facility unconscious by her father who happened to be the local government inspector for NYSC.
The girl, Ariwoola, had taken an overdose of drugs the previous night. Her father had earlier on beaten her silly for disgracing him and his family with a ‘poor’ Senior Secondary Certificate Examination results; after all he had done for her, she could only get distinctions in four subjects. The father had rained abuses on her for failing to do better than Sumbo, the daughter of his perennial neighbourhood enemy, who had distinctions in five subjects.
When Leke examined her, her pulse was forty-eight beats per minute and her blood pressure was very low. Her heart was slowing down dangerously. The nurse was fidgety and asked Dr Awoleke if they could refer the patient. The other relatives of the girl: mother, aunt, her elder sister called Alebiosu and her grandmother were either screaming or rolling on the floor of the hospital or engaged in both.
Leke handled the situation with the great calmness and sense of purpose. Fifty minutes after she was brought in, her condition was much better and she had opened her eyes. The atmosphere had changed from that of screaming and rolling on the floor to grateful kneelings by the relatives. Ariwoola’s father was much relieved and much more impressed.
Her condition gradually improved over the next two days and was subsequently discharged on third day.
That night proved to be the turning point in Leke’s service year. Everywhere he went he got looks of admiration. Many fathers brought their wards to him to talk ‘sense’ into them. Ariwoola herself and her sister Alebiosu often came to the hospital to see him. Leke was initially worried about the visits (NYSC local government inspector’s daughters visiting an NYSC doctor) until Ariwoola’s father invited him home for his own forty-seventh birthday celebration.
Three months to the end of the service year, Leke had gone to Ipaja Housing Estate in Lagos with his parents and a few other members of his family for his introduction to Tolu’s family. It was at the introduction of both families that a date was fixed for their wedding ceremony. It was going to be the week after his ‘Passing out Parade’. Plans were mapped out, deadlines fixed and duties were delegated.
The night he got back to Ifaki-Ekiti was the Annual ‘Erebe’ night: a night of youthful displays and celebration of culture. Two other corps members who were serving as teachers in the community secondary school had come to invite him but met his absence. He was informed of their visit and he decided to give it a try, afterall, he had not been to any event in the community since he got there. He went there in a green sleeveless dashiki, a pair of trousers of the same material, a dark brown slippers and an abetiaja to match. He got there a few minutes after eight-thirty at night to find the arena in the community square highly energised. It was youthfulness was on parade. Young men in patterned trousers and bare chests save for the green and yellow strips of clothing slung across both shoulders with muscles bulging everywhere. The girls were all fairly dark in complexion except for the leader of the group. They were in green patterned wrappers that fell a handbreadth short of their knees and yellow wrappers that covered their breast region but leaving their navels bare. The girls also had tiny bells tied round both ankles and when they danced in unison the sound produced was music on its own. The girls first performed – twenty-four of them – then were shooed dramatically from the arena by the young men who came in from the left of the square wearing masks and wielding wooden cutlasses. They held the arena for about fifteen minutes with acrobatic stunts and several dance formations. Once again the girls took over the arena from the right by ‘sweeping’ away the young men with brooms. After about another fifteen minutes of rigorous buttock-shakings and call-and-response songs, the young men slid in among the girls and both groups performed a jointly-rehearsed dance that elicited a lot of excitement from among the spectators – either due to the high-energy dance or due to the way the men were gleefully touching and carrying the girls at several points of the dance.
Leke was just about to start leaving when he noticed Ariwoola. She was standing by a tall mango tree with three other girls of her age. She was wearing a dark blue wrapper not unlike the ones the dancing girls were wearing and a sleeveless blouse.
As he approached the girls he noticed that it seemed the other three girls were teasing Ariwoola who appeared flushed. ”Doctor, doctor, so you can come to a place like this? One would have thought you’d only be found inside your small hospital world”. It was Funmilayo who spoke: she was the oldest of the quartet and the first to visit Ariwoola at the hospital the morning after the incident. It was the same Funmilayo who had come to the hospital everyday for two weeks wanting to be attended to by the new doctor only in the second month of Leke’s arrival. The same one who had two complaints at every visit: one constant breast complaint and a varying complaint ranging from headaches, abdominal discomfort, muscle cramps in her thighs and so on; same Funmilayo who always wanted Leke to examine and palpate those areas every time. It was not until the fourth day of her visits that Leke understood what was going on. He stopped examining her and later stopped seeing her altogether. That didn’t stop Funmilayo from coming to the hospital for another seven days before she got the message.
Leke had joined the quartet asking for the history of the carnival. Funmilayo gave a hand gesture that indicated that Ariwoola would be in the best position to tell the story and the other two nodded in agreement. Ariwoola started the story by referring to the Ekiti Parapo wars of the nineteenth century and continued often pausing to watch any part of the carnival that brought the square alive with a lot of noise. When she ended the story ten minutes after starting, they both found themselves facing each other and alone. The other three had found somewhere else to continue the party. Althrough the narration Leke had looked intently into Ariwoola’s eyes and what he saw were innocent dazzling eyes asking life’s questions. Questions he wanted to provide answers for, someday.
The sudden start of the rain without warning sent almost all the party scampering for refuge. Leke and Ariwoola ran in the direction of their respective homes which happened to be in the same direction. The showers were so profound that everyone not under some form of refuge was wet within seconds; the drops of rain had been like tiny pebbles blown by strong winds. The health centre was closer and Ariwoola’s house was still much farther. Leke offered her temporary shelter which she accepted quickly.
In their wet clothes and breathing heavily, they entered into Leke’s one room apartment. Clothes were strewn on the bed and the wooden chair by the table. Left-over beans mixed with garri was in a plate on table beside rows of pocket medical texts. The side of the bed by the window was moist from the spray of the raindrops through the windows. The room was however warm. Leke proceeded to remove his wet clothes when he realised she was needed to warmth. He had directed her to his bathroom so she could squeeze her clothes and he threw her a towel to use.
He was lying on his bed eyes closed when he felt the warmth of her body…
The story continues…
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