BEING BRUNO (Episode 9)

BEING BRUNO (Episode 9)

PAST

“Doctor, Ọ gịnị n’eme nwa mụ nwoke? What is happening to my son?” Your grandma’s eyes were trained keenly on the middle-aged doctor, like she couldn’t tear her gaze away if she tried.

You couldn’t look away from the doctor too. You liked the nice clothes he was wearing; the plaid shirts under his pristine white coat, the dark plain trousers that reached down his leg to the top of his foot, both ironed so well that lines that had been intentionally etched on them stood out like that dent on the 504 Salon you had ridden to church. You liked his hair, dark and shiny, well combed and with a parting just above his left temple. You liked the shoes most. Black leather polished till they glowered and glowed, slanting slightly upward at the tip.

But your grandma wasn’t looking at the doctor the same way you looked at him. There was something else there, not what you would come to learn to be a little hunger and admiration. It was a hunger of a different kind, that of answers to pressing questions.

It had been a week since your uncle had been confined to the bed at St. Benedict’s hospital. He had been brought in when the coughing had gotten even more violent and he had totally lost control of his bowels. Your grandma had wanted to stay at the church where they’d been residing for the three weeks since you followed them there, but your grandfather had put his foot down. “Mama Onyebuchi, I cannot fold my hands and watch my son waste away while we spend day and night praying. We have stayed here long enough for God to heal our son, if this was the right place for that. We have prayed ceaselessly, fasted for days on end and spent so much money looking for something we haven’t found. My son is going to the hospital and that is final. You can stay here and look for God’s face to your satisfaction.”

You had looked up at the two of them during the exchange, entranced by the way your grandfather’s voice rose when he was agitated. Your grandma had wilted like a dead plant, and you felt the tears long before they started rolling down her cheeks as she walked to the back of the church where the stuff they had brought to church were housed.

“Madam,” the doctor started carefully, his voice devoid of emotion, “we do not know for sure what the root cause of your son’s illness is, but we are making progress. We do know that his immune system is badly damaged. The symptoms he is showing are not that of one single illness, so we are suspecting that it is a compound effect of some undetected disease. For now, we have stabilized him while we try a few other methods toward reaching a final diagnosis…”

“So, what you are telling me is that you do not know?” my grandma said. With her mouth open, she had been hung on every single word the doctor had uttered. It was like she was inhaling the words through her mouth as much as her ears.

“Eh…as at this moment, no. But I’m confident that we will learn about his condition in no distant time. We have sent samples we got from him to different diagnostic centers. We will hear from them in a day or two.” The doctor raised his hand and placed it on her shoulder. “Don’t worry, Mrs. Ezeh.” Then he gave a sympathetic look that warmed you and chilled you at the same time before he left the room.

Your grandma stood there for a while, as if the words she had just heard had pooled around her feet and like concrete, rooted her to the spot. Her face was downcast, giving her shrunken face a haunted look. Then, she turned toward where you sat on the steel chair beside your uncle, a stunned look crossing her face. Maybe she had forgotten that you were there.

She crossed the room to the other side of the bed and slowly lowered herself onto the chair next to it. She raised the packet of Lipton label tea on the cabinet in front of her, put it down. She took the knife on the cabinet’s edge, returned it to the cabinet, much closer to the packet of tea. She rested the fingertip of her forefinger on the stainless steel cup, and ran it over the rim of the cup. Round, and round, and round.

You were transfixed, your gaze on her unwavering. Your uncle was the one they say was sick, but she looked like she was sick too. Yes, Uncle Onyebuchi had gotten thin – so thin that his arms could pass for sticks – but it was your grandma that frightened you more with the way she looked. Not only was her body changing, but so were some other things about her.

Like the fact that you hadn’t seen her smile let alone laugh in the six weeks you’d spent in Enugu since school closed for the session. Even when she saw the things that used to illicit cautious laughter from her – like seeing you in the nightgown you used to wear to bed – that haunted look sat on her chiseled face.

Like the fact that she looked at people who she caught laughing as if they were crazy, as if they had stolen something from her.

Like the fact that she had worn the same gown for three days now and had only showered once in that time.

Like the fact that Uncle Onyebuchi ate even more than she did.

You wondered if anyone else saw these things, and if they did, why they weren’t doing something about it.

Maybe you are supposed to do something about it.

You opened your mouth to say something, to ask a question, maybe. But then, the woman who sat behind your grandma said, “Ekwensu na ajọ ọrụ ya. The devil and his bad works!”

You turned toward her, recognizing her fair face from the last time you were here. She was sitting beside a man that lay on the bed at the other side of the room, her dark legs dangling from underneath a yellow wrapper.

She stood up and slowly walked up to where your grandma sat. “How long has he been sick?”

Your grandma turned toward her then, and you saw confusion and then recognition crossed her face. “Sorry, what did you say?”

“How long has your son been sick?”

Your grandma was quiet for a while, returning her gaze to her son’s body on the bed. She looked at him a lot these days. “Three months, but it feels like three years.”

“Eiyaa!” the woman said. “My son, Richard, just had his appendix removed. The thing happened so suddenly. One minute we were all chatting in the sitting room, the next we were rushing him to the hospital. The doctor said that he had to get operated on, otherwise, it would burst in his stomach and kill him.”

Your grandma nodded, as if she had heard what the woman had said. But you knew she hadn’t.

“What about you – what happened with him?”

For a long time, your grandma was silent and you were almost certain that she would not respond. But then she did. “It started slowly, I guess. He started getting malaria more often than anyone else in the family. Then the coughing started, subtly at first, but becoming more serious as time went on. He was losing weight. Look at his cheeks, they used to be full and puffy. Now, they are shadows of what they used to be. Then he fainted in school and things went downhill from there. That day he went to school and fainted was the last day that my son walked out of the house with his two legs.”

“Chineke! And the doctors don’t know what is causing it?”

“They say they don’t know yet, but that they will soon find out. They have been saying that for more than a month now.”

“Chai! This is an attack oh! Spiritual attack! Have you taken him to a church or something?”

Your grandma nodded. “There is no where we haven’t gone in search of solution. Nke dibịa, countless churches… No way. My husband brought us here from a church.”

The woman came over and stooped by your grandma. “Don’t worry. He will be fine, eh? This doctor knows what he is doing. The plan of the devil will not work, inugo?”

You wondered what was happening, why this woman would leave her ailing son only to come and ask about your sick uncle. What is it that drove her to come here? you asked yourself.

***

PRESENT

Thirty minutes into your stay at the clinic on the first day of your appointment and you wanted to run down the stairs, and out to the safe haven of your home, your room.

It had started with the prayer session cum preaching that took place downstairs, lasting between 7:00 when you got to the hospital and 7:30 when the doors opened. The man who was dressed in clothes much bigger than him – a checkered shirt, twice his size tucked into a pair of blue jeans that flayed about when he moved – and couldn’t contain the bursting energy inside him that made him dash from one corner of the open ground to the other as he sang and talked so loud that his voice grew coarse when he called for anyone who wanted to claim divine healing to sow a bountiful seed. Then you went gone upstairs after the crowd swarmed, found an empty space on one of the wooden benches in the clinic to sit, only to be confronted by another prayer session by another pastor.

And then one of the nurses had come to give a very long speech about how patients wouldn’t receive drugs if they didn’t start turning up for the voluntary support group meetings.

There were so many people, most of them middle aged women, sitting and moving and murmuring. You felt a headache coming, your senses crying out from the onslaught.

Your irritation grew.

Then you heard it, “Do you how know I got this thing?”

Your head involuntarily swerved toward the voice. It was one of those middle aged women. She was dressed in a tight fitting yellow blouse and black skirt. Her feet were clad in a pair of knock-off Nike sneakers, the color fading. Her face gave the impression that she was working hard on hiding her real age. A heavy mask of make-up, complete with dark red lipstick, was spread out over her face like dried clay.

You wondered why someone would want to divulge such private information here, in the midst of a crowd she didn’t know.

“It was one stupid man like that.” She was talking to a much younger woman beside her. A man your age sat on her other side, engrossed in a smart phone he was fiddling with, oblivious to the story that was about to be told. “He had been disturbing me for months, telling me how he fancied me and thought I would make an excellent wife. I kept posting him, doing him come today, come tomorrow. The man was very persistent, and my friend was like I should give him a try, you know, since we are not getting any younger.

“That’s how we started seeing each other. It was a few weeks before he wanted to…you know. I told him that as a child of God, it would be wrong for me to have sex before marriage. But he kept pushing and pushing, so I finally agreed. We did it without condom. When I kept pressuring him about his marriage proposal, he said that we should get tested first, to make sure that we are okay for each other. I didn’t know anything now, I agreed.”

At this point, you had become exasperated, but the women that sat around her were oddly engrossed. You tried to ignore them, turning on your music player but when she spoke again, you could still hear her voice, contrasting with Macy Gray’s. So you paused the music and focused on using her voice to override the murmur that came from the small crowd.

“When the doctor told us that I was positive,” the woman was still talking, “he flared up. Shouting and calling me a harlot. When we got home, he asked me to leave, that he couldn’t marry a prostitute.”

There was silence for a while as everyone seemed to mull over the story.

“But then, how do you know it was him that gave it to you?” the younger woman asked the question you imagined everyone was itching to ask.

“Of course it was him. I hadn’t had sex with anyone before him. And then, the doctor hadn’t told us his own result yet. He had insisted that mine be revealed first. You know how cunning men are.”

You saw the woman pause as if to agree with her. The storyteller had a piteous look on her face. In that moment, you realized what you expected to be one of the reasons why people did things like this and what that woman had done with your grandma all those years ago.

There you were, smack in the midst of people you didn’t know and wasn’t comfortable with, in a place that naturally encouraged discomfort. You would experience a need to seek out comfort, a very natural need. This need could inspire you to get close to others, to offer them comfort; just like that woman had done with your grandma.

Or it could drive you to seek out comfort for yourself in others, to illicit pity and incite others to give you comfort; just like this woman was doing.

At that point, the man beside her raised his head and rolled his eyes so much, you thought it would pop out the back of his head. He caught your eyes and you two shared a smile.

Then he stood up and crossed the space between the two of you and sat beside you on the bench. “Hi, I am Dike.”

You smiled broadly. So, this is how I find comfort? you wondered. “I am Bruno.”

His next words surprised you. “I know.”

Written by Uziel

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5 Comments

  1. Ikedi Oghenetega
    May 31, 11:32 Reply

    Daunting! This is the best episode so far! Counting seconds till the next.

  2. Dunder
    May 31, 15:00 Reply

    Chai! You write well o.

    I am just personally surprised at the beginning of the hospital scene- prayer session? In a hospital? For 30 minutes? Threatening to withhold drugs on account of patients not showing up for counseling? Which kind of radarada is that?

    I thought it was only at the passport office that they sedate you with praise songs and preaching and my thinking is, people preparing to trek to Libya probably need all the mental cushioning they can get.

  3. Q
    June 02, 11:31 Reply

    This is priceless, next one please

  4. BRYAN PETER
    June 02, 19:51 Reply

    I’m really enjoying this series. Can’t wait for the next episode

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