The last place Nengi ever imagined she would be on New Year’s day, was at a hospital. Worse still, at the bedside of her only sister who had tried to commit suicide. Nengi’s eyes were red from crying. It had been a really long day.
Nengi turned tired eyes to the wall clock in the room. The time was 7pm. She had not slept since the party and she was exhausted.
Belema looked peaceful in her sleep and for the umpteenth time, Nengi wondered what could have driven her sister to suicide. There had been no signs, no unusual behavior, nothing whatsoever. Belema had always been the quiet one so nothing had seemed out of place.
Mrs. Ochoga walked into the room sniffing.
“Is she awake?”
Nengi shook her head.
Since they got the call at noon that day, Mrs. Ochoga had not stopped crying. Nengi was tired.
“Mum, you need to stop this. What would you be doing if she was dead?”
Mrs. Ochoga ignored her younger daughter and walked up to Belema’s side. She tapped her gently
Nengi’s tone was sharp and she regretted it the next second. Everyone was stressed.
Seun knocked softly on the door and opened it. Nengi stood up and went to hug him. Seun’s eyes were red as well. He had not caught any sleep either. He patted Nengi’s head as he hugged her.
“How are you dear?”
“I’m tired.” Nengi sighed. She motioned towards her mother and Seun walked towards Mrs. Ochoga, still holding Nengi’s hand.
Mrs Ochoga’s lips trembled as she tried to speak.
“Seun, see your friend…”
The tears began trickling down again and Nengi sighed.
“I’m going to find the doctor.”
Nengi walked out and shut the door. Belema needed to wake up and start offering explanations. How dare she attempt to take her own life? How could anyone be that selfish? So while people celebrated the New year, her own family would have been thrown into mourning?
Nengi looked up and saw the doctor smiling at her.
“Hi. Good evening.”
Nengi opened both hands and shrugged.
“Who’s in there with her?”
“My mum and her fiancé”
“Oh good. Come let’s take a walk.”
Nengi shrugged and fell into step beside him.
“How close are you two?”
Nengi rolled her eyes.
“Not close enough apparently, seeing that she tried to take her own life without as much as a ‘hey sis, I hate you guys so much so I’m just going to take a dive off third mainland bridge.’”
Dr. Ikem smiled.
“What’s your name again?”
“Nengi, don’t be angry with your sister. Please. Right now, she needs all the love she can get.”
Nengi stopped and folded her arms.
“Please, don’t tell me that. All we have ever done is show her love. She’s my big sister. We talk all the time. So I am absolutely clueless as to how she would wake up and decide to kill herself.
I look up to her a lot. I used to think she was cool. Now all of a sudden, she’s this loser who tried to commit suicide.”
Dr. Ikem sighed and extracted Nengi’s right hand from across her chest.
“Nengi, you’re hurt, tired and frustrated and that’s understandable. It’s been a long day. I think you need to go home and sleep then come back tomorrow morning. And you need to take your mum with you as well.
I placed your sister under some heavy medication. She’s really not likely to wake up anytime soon.”
“You’re welcome. Belema will be fine. And so will every one of you. You just need time to sort it all out. But go home and rest. You should be able to talk to your sister in the morning.”
Still holding Nengi’s hand, Ikem turned back and walked towards Belema’s room.
When he opened the door, Mrs. Ochoga looked up. Ikem walked to her and held her hands. He advised her to leave with Nengi and return in the morning. With a little persuasion from Nengi and Seun, she agreed.
Seun offered to drop them off and return to keep vigil by Belema’s side. As soon as the three people left, Ikem walked back to Belema’s side and he saw the tears trickling down her cheeks. Her eyes were still shut.
Ikem took her hand gently and Belema opened her eyes. Ikem couldn’t help but notice how beautiful they were. Her pupils were brown and made even more distinct by her clear white sclera. Her lashes were long, black and perfectly curly.
“I’ve made a terrible mistake.”
Her voice was barely audible.
“Hey. Nothing that can’t be fixed. You’re alive. That’s a starting point.”
Belema tried to sit up and Ikem helped her by propping the pillows behind her.
“Everyone is angry with me.”
“I think they’re more worried than angry.”
Belema covered her eyes and sobbed softly. Ikem reclined his back in the chair and watched her.
His phone began buzzing seconds later and he pulled it out of his pocket. It was Ojiugo.
“Can I take this outside? I’ll just be a minute”
Belema nodded and Ikem walked out quickly.
“Hi Ugo, what’s up?”
“I’m fine. Leslie won’t let me come to the hospital to see Belema. The headaches started again and he’s forcing me to stay in bed.”
Ojiugo sounded like she was sulking and Ikem laughed tiredly.
“Ndo dear. Have you taken your meds”
“Mehh. Daalu. How’s she? Has her family come yet?”
“Ugo, have you taken your meds?” Ikem’s tone was firmer
“Yes! Leslie has been policing me all day. What do you think?”
“You’re just a handful. Anyways, Belema’s mum and sister came here with her fiancé. I’m not sure what the story is but no one noticed any signs of depression. I’m going to speak with the fiancé sha. Need to know if things were good between them. This entire thing is so odd.”
“Wow. This life ehn. Strange things keep happening all the time.”
“I know right? Sha, she just woke up. She’s crying but I think she might want to talk. I need to go back to her.”
“Alright. Sorry I can’t be there with you. I’m really curious about her.”
“I’m glad you can’t be here Ugo. Get some rest biko. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
Ikem wished her a goodnight then hung up and went back into the room. Belema had stopped crying. He put on what he tagged his most understanding smile and sat beside her.
“Do you want to talk?”
Belema seemed to think for a few seconds then she asked
“Are you going to judge me?”
The honesty of her question took him completely by surprise.
“Umm. No. I certainly will not.”
She looked like a little child who was afraid of getting scolded for skipping school.
“You have my word Belema.”
Belema took a deep breath.
Ikem waited for what seemed like eternity before she spoke again but it was actually two minutes.
“Seun does not know I’m pregnant. And that is because he doesn’t love me and I can’t afford to be with someone who does not love me.”
Ikem looked at her intently and she continued.
“Actually, all my life, I have been surrounded by people who do not really love me. People just endure or pretend or act nice because they feel pressured to do so. I can see these things and I’m tired of being a burden. I’m tired of losing the ones I love and being stuck with people who merely tolerate me because they feel sorry for me.”
Ikem’s eyes betrayed his lack of understanding. What was Belema talking about? How could she claim no one loved her? The three people who had surrounded her bedside a few minutes earlier looked like they all doted on her. What was she on about?
“You promised not to judge me.”
Ikem looked up. He hadn’t realized he’d taken his eyes off her.
“You promised not to judge me but I can see it in your eyes. You think I’m foolish and don’t know what I’m talking about.”
Ikem composed himself and smiled
“I’m not judging you dear. I am only digesting and processing the information you just shared.”
Belema looked doubtful and in a matter of seconds, the vulnerability and child-like innocence were gone from her eyes.
“I’m tired, I want to sleep.”
Ikem thought for a bit but it was pointless. Belema eased herself back under the sheets and shut her eyes.
Ikem sighed. There was nothing he would not encounter in this his profession.
Nosa felt tiny fingers flutter across his face and he reluctantly opened his eyes. Cute little eyes met his with an adorable smile that revealed missing teeth. His two year-old daughter Benita giggled loudly. Nosa sighed and tried to brush her hands gently off his face. He needed to sleep.
Benita chose to climb over him instead. This time Nosa heard a louder giggle from across the room and a tiny click from what must have been a camera. Nosa opened his eyes fully and sat up. His face felt funny. He looked at the Oghosa who was bent over in one corner of the room giggling loudly and then he touched his face.
Benita laughed some more and rubbed his face as well. When Nosa looked at his hands, he shrieked.
“Wetin be this na?!”
Oghosa was on the floor, clearly in stiches. Nosa jumped off the bed and ran to the bathroom mirror. What he saw startled him. He had makeup smudged all over his face-green red and brown colours stood out in different patches. He sighed and began to wash them off frantically.
Why were women so mischievous? And how had he not felt any of that while it had been ongoing?
He came out of the bathroom, a stern look on his face.
“Oghosa, which kain thing be this na? Man pikin nor fit sleep for im house again?”
Oghosa had Benita in her arms. She smiled at him
“Nor vex. Na Benny start am.”
Nosa’s look softened as he looked at his daughter. The girl was too cute for words.
“Two of una dey craze abi?”
Benita stretched out her arms to her father and he carried her.
“Make I see the picture wey you snap.”
Oghosa picked up her phone, swiped her finger across the screen a few times and put the phone in Nosa’s face.
Nosa screamed again
Oghosa burst into fresh spasms of laughter at the look of horror on Nosa’s face.
“Wetin dey give you laugh? You think say e funny abi?”
Oghosa tried to comport herself but failed.
Nosa hissed. For a second, he looked like he wanted to hit her but he changed his mind. He dropped Benita on the floor and stalked out of the room.
Nosa went to the living room and lay on the couch. Oghosa was just troublesome. Why on earth had she put makeup on his face? Why?!! It was one of her many acts of mischief that she always managed to get away with. Everyone told him she had cast a spell on him and Nosa was tempted to believe them. He was fifty-five, she was twenty-six and she had his mumu button nicely tucked away somewhere.
Oghosa walked out of the room with Benita in her arms.
“My love, you still dey vex? Na play we been dey play na.”
“Which kain yeye play? You know say I been work throughout today. Man need to rest na. You come put that una yeye colour for my face. I resemble woman?”
Oghosa knelt in front of him and looked genuinely remorseful. Benita’s face fell as well.
“I’m sorry. No vex. Abeg”
“E don do. Oya stand up.”
“That your banga soup still remain?”
“Oya, go make me another starch quick quick make I chop.”
Oghosa got up and went off to the kitchen.
Nosa picked Benita and tickled the little girl till she laughed really hard. She wrapped her tiny arms around Nosa’s neck and Nosa’s heart warmed some more. He inhaled her baby scent and kissed her neck.
He heard his phone ring in the room and he went quickly to get it. As soon as he saw the caller, he frowned. Why was Grace calling him? They had not spoken in over two years. Their only form of communication with each other had been text messages where necessary but Grace had not called him in a long time.
His tone was gruff when he picked up.
He heard a small sniff.
“Grace, na wetin? You dey okay?”
The lady on the other end of the line cleared her throat and spoke
“Belema tried to commit suicide today. You need to come to Lagos.”
Nosa was stunned
“Belema. Your daughter.”