Derin spun around and quickly took Isaac from Awazi. The first thing that struck him was how cold the child had become, in contrast with the vivid memory of how hot he had been when they were bringing him in.
A panic ran down Dr. Hakeem’s spine. He collected the child from a numb Derin, and practically ripped the clothes off his body. Placing him on the receptionist’s desk, he confirmed what his cursory observation had told him the moment the mother had screamed. The baby was dead.
He turned around to face Derin, whose eyes were glazed as if not seeing anyone in the room “I am sorry, Mr. Banwo but…”
A sharp pain caused him to swallow the rest of the sentence and he found himself reeling backwards. It took a few split seconds to overcome the shock and realize that Derin had punched him square in the face.
“You are sorry? YOU ARE SORRY? Oh, you are not yet sorry, but you will be sorry when I’m through with you!” As he spoke, the tears began to flow freely from his eyes, and through her tears, Awazi saw her husband cry for the second time ever.
Kaffy was trying to cover Isaac’s body up now and she caught the movement in the corner of her eye. She rushed over to the reception desk in one stride and screamed “Don’t lay your filthy hands on my baby!” shoving the nurse away with such force that she fell heavily into the chair just behind her. By now Derin was beside her. As if in a trancelike state, they silently wrapped the baby in his shawl and then began to move towards the exit. Dr. Hakeem called out from the seat he was nursing his chin from “Mr. Banwo, there are still things we can do for you, that you require…” He swallowed when Derin turned back towards him. The look he saw in the man’s eyes, plus the very real pain he was feeling in his chin warned him that drawing attention to himself by talking wasn’t a wise choice at the moment. He had wanted to suggest that they would require a death certificate to move around with the child, but he kept quiet.
Derin slowly turned back towards the exit and then walked briskly to the car with Awazi in tow. “Where are we going?” Awazi queried as soon as they got into the car.
“My mum’s place. We have to bury Isaac, and do it immediately,” he responded in a colorless monotone.
“And why do we require your mum to do this? I really need to get this,” Awazi said.
“Because,” Derin responded and started the engine “we are not going to be part of the burial. It is forbidden in Yorubaland for parents to bury their children.”
“Well, I am not a Yoruba woman,” she responded, “and I will bury…” At the mention of the word bury, she burst into tears. It was Isaac they were talking about burying. Isaac. She looked at him looking so peaceful in his carrier. You could almost think he would wake up any moment from now, and cry out to demand for his food. But she was not going to hear those cries any longer. The tears flowed freely and she lost the will to protest wherever Derin was taking them.
They had barely driven for ten minutes, when they took a sharp bend into one of the very narrow Ibadan streets that always confused Awazi. Just around the bend, there was a group of policemen. Two of them were searching a white saloon car they had pulled over, while three stayed in the middle of the road, guns in hand, to flag them down. As they had slowed down to negotiate the bend, they didn’t have a choice but to stop. The policemen must have picked this spot for just this reason.
Derin parked the car and wound down. “Yes, officer,” he asked, clearly irritated by the delay “how may I help you?”
The officer scowled, his face a reflection of what Derin’s countenance must have been and said “Oga, this is a stop and search operation”.
Derin frowned even deeper and said dismissively “Chief, this is a roadblock, and I hope you know that we all know that roadblocks are now illegal.”
“You are a troublemaker abi? Who told you this is a roadblock? We are conducting a stop and search operation, based on information we have. Now,” he undid the safety of his rifle, “get down and open your booth and let us see wetin you carry.”
Derin knew better than to argue with a group of gun totting, probably drunk police officers. And it was early evening already, so they might as well get this done with. If he had been paying attention, he would have noticed Awazi looking at him, trying to communicate something. Two of the policemen went to the booth with Derin. They took their time to practically go through everything in there, bringing all the items they had packed to give his mum down, going through them, while an obviously impatient Derin tried his best to hurry them along.
After about fifteen minutes of this, they slammed the booth and followed Derin to the driver’s side.
Awazi had been silently praying that the policemen would be content with looking in just the booth. She saw that her husband’s anger had beclouded his mind and he wasn’t thinking what she was thinking. She was glad when he came back into the car and began to work the gear to move it.
Constable Dimka had been with the madam while the other two more junior officers had gone to search the booth with her husband. That Isa always annoyed him with the way he handled these things. Proud Hausa man that he was, once he felt someone was looking down on him because of his police work, he would forget why they had risked coming on the road in spite of stern warnings from DPO that the IG was serious about this no road block business. They were here first and foremost to get paid, not to pick fights with the people who would “drop” for them. Now, it was obvious that this man had nothing they could hold him for (the car looked very new, so he guessed the papers were in order) and he was too angry to drop anything for them. Foolish Isa. As the husband returned, he noticed that the madam’s eyes went to the back seat quickly, twice. It was then he realized she had been doing that quite often while they had waited.
“Isa, make we check the back seat,” he said out aloud. And watched for the woman’s reaction. He got the reaction he suspected he would and became even more convinced there was something there she was hoping they wouldn’t check. He smiled, a display of teeth browned from eating kola and snuff. Payday, he thought.
Derin watched the policemen swoop in on the back seat of his car. And then it hit him. Even as they began to exclaim, he sensed that he was in trouble, deep deep trouble.
“This pikin don die! And as e cold, no be now now e die,” Isa exclaimed in heavily accented pidgin English.
“Oga, who get this pikin,” he said, addressing Derin.
“He’s our son,” Derin answered.
“You don’t know he is dead?” It was Dimka asking now.
Awazi answered “we know, we just left the hospital where he died.” She went on to explain all that had happened to the police officers, watching their eyes to see if it was softening as she spoke. When she was through with her narrative, the policeman whose name tag said he was Dimka asked her the question she had dreaded all evening
“Can we see the death certificate?” he said, his eyes twinkling with something that Awazi knew wasn’t good. He was the most intelligent of the lot, and by extension, she guessed, the most devious.
She went ashen faced, and she saw that Derin had broken into a sweat, even though the AC had been running.
“Officer,” he began “I can explain this…”
“Oga! Which explanation? You get abi you no get the certificate?” Isa hollered, obviously pleased that the man who minutes ago had been proving to be stubborn was now in their palms.
“Actually,” Awazi ventured “because of the way they treated us in the hospital, we left without it.”
“How do we believe you madam? How do we know you are not ritualists who killed this baby? Okay, do you have the child’s birth certificate? We can use that to confirm identity and check against your ID card” Dimka asked. Of course, he knew they wouldn’t have it with them. When the man said he didn’t have it, he smiled again and said “you will have to go to the station with us to explain yourselves.”
Derin was exasperated. He could sense that this smiling policeman was deliberately asking what they couldn’t provide but there wasn’t much he could do in this situation except appeal.
“Officer, I understand your position, but we can easily sort this out, if you would just go back to the hospital with us. I’m sure the doctor will confirm our story, and there will be some of the patients there who were also witnesses to the whole thing. So, please officer, en?”
Dimka suddenly switched to his vicious mode. He released the safety of his gun noisily and shouted menacingly “you think we have time for such nonsense? I’ve even given you some options with my ‘church mind’ yet you could not. When you get to the station and we deal with you, you will confess to what a dead baby was doing in your car! Isa! Join them in their car, and if they try anything funny, scatter their heads!”
Awazi wept silently.
Otunba Haruna Ajanaku paced in his former office, hands behind his back, with his left hand running occasionally through his grey hair. His trim figure was evidence of years of paying particular attention to his health. That body had failed him a couple of months back, when he had suffered a stroke at work without warning one morning. Thankfully, it hadn’t been as major as it had initially seemed, but he had still had to go through two months of physiotherapy to get use of the left side of his body back. And it was then he had made the decision to retire and hand the running of the hospital over to his son. The hospital. It was his pride, and the crowning jewel of his life’s work. He had set it up from scratch, with almost nothing, and it had grown into one of the finest in Ibadan. In those years, he had earned the nickname Dr. Omega, after his hospital. Now he wondered if he had not made the worst mistake in his career by being sentimental and leaving Hakeem at the helm of Omega Clinic.
“How could you possibly have been this stupid?” he was saying to Hakeem as he continued pacing. “One, you let the hospital devolve into that level of professional negligence that is the direct cause of this baby’s demise. On febrile convulsions that could have easily been treated with a simple injection! And two, you allowed them leave here without a death certificate! Incompetence has never found a better ally as in you, Mr. Chief Medical Director! Damn, how could I not have seen this?” He had worked his way to his chair and he sat down with a thud.
Hakeem saw that his father was ready to let him speak and he quickly started before the man began talking again. The old doctor had a knack for talking and pausing and talking and pausing whenever there was an issue, and his memory was archival. He could bring up something that happened when Hakeem was five that was somehow related to this incident.
“Look, dad, it’s an unfortunate case, but really, the hospital is not liable. The baby was not yet our patient when he died and hence, we cannot be legally accused of professional negligence for someone who wasn’t our patient. And just in case you missed it, I tried to give him a certificate but got a broken nose in return!”
“You are a fool to assume this is about the legal ramification of things!” Otunba exploded, his hands trembling. “Do you think a hospital thrives on legality? It is perception and reputation that drives this business, sonny boy, and if this story gets out, our reputation is a goner. I know young Banwo well, hec, I treated him as a kid! Do you know they had been through several miscarriages, and twelve years of marriage before they had that child? You are lucky all you got was a broken nose! In his shoes, I would have ensured that not only your nose was broken, but your neck as well. Now imagine, for a moment, Mr. Legalist the spin the press would put to this. Especially with all these online people that can make things spread like wildfire. ‘Omega Hospital, Haven of Death, Baby Killing Factory murders baby a Lagos couple searched for for 12 years in cold blood for their processes and procedures’ would be some of the nicer ways this would be reported!”
“But dad,” Hakeem tried to say
“Do not interrupt me when I am talking!” Otunba shouted, jumping up from his chair. “You were always a legalistic, unfeeling child, but I thought your training as a doctor would have instilled some compassion in you. Clearly, I was very wrong. Do you think I am not thinking of how to make sure this doesn’t hurt the hospital? Of course I am! But the crucial thing is this; that’s not all I am thinking of! I’m thinking of that young man and his young wife and how to help them through this. And that is the crucial difference. You’re clearly not ready to run a hospital just yet.”
“What are you saying? That you are relieving me of my position as Chief Medical Director? Dad, you seem to be forgetting something.”
“And what might that be sir?” Otunba asked.
“That with your retirement, you turned ownership of the hospital to me, as well as its running. You cannot simply waltz in and relieve me of this sir. I know I’ve never been good enough for you dad, but really, you simply are in no position to do this. Oh, and to make sure that this probability was cancelled, I had the lawyer make changes to that effect,” he said with mock politeness.
Otunba began to laugh, a deep, rumbling sound from deep within his belly.
“Bi omode l’aso bi agba, kole l’akisa to. And just in case you didn’t get my Yoruba, allow me translate for you. Even when a child has more clothes than his elders, he cannot have as much rags. Hakeem, I gave birth to you and you grew in my hands. If I didn’t know you as well as I do, what sort of father would I be? Of course I knew you would try that. And that lawyer was watching you on my behalf, young man. You don’t get to my age and build a business such as mine with naïveté. I’m glad to disappoint you young man, but I still own Omega Clinic fully. And of this moment, you are no longer the Chief Medical Director. Now if you’d still like your job as a doctor here, you would go and write that death certificate. I’ll personally take it to his mother’s house and see what I can do to manage this very bad situation.”
Mrs. Agatha Banwo came to the living room to receive the Otunba. Since her beloved Adeoye had passed away, she relished the opportunity to see faces she had known from the days when her husband was with her. And Otunba was one of those faces. He had been Derin’s doctor when he had been a small, sickly child, and a loose friendship had developed over the years. She couldn’t say he was a close friend, but he had been part of those years that she looked back on with fondness and hence was always welcome in her home. She was a taller than average woman, with what Adeoye had always called a “Yoruba ikebe”. She had always teased him that he fell in love with her backside before even really seeing the rest of her. She missed him sorely.
She exchanged pleasantries with the grey haired doctor and then they asked about each other’s children until the househelp had served some drinks.
Otunba had deduced two things. The first was that Derin hadn’t come to his mum when he had left the hospital. That worried him, as that was where he expected that the young man would come. He also deduced that the woman sitting before him, chatting away and laughing politely had not heard the news. This was going to be much harder than he had thought.
“Madam, about your son, is he around? I would like to see him,” he started.
“Now that you mention it, he’s supposed to have arrived from Lagos today. Last we spoke, he said he was in serious traffic on the express. But I’m sure he will be here anytime from now. He’s bringing my grandson to Ibadan for the first time today.” She chuckled as she said grandson, and Otunba felt a shiver run down his spine.
“Yorubas in our wisdom have said that no matter how big a message is, we do not require a knife to deliver it. I have some bad news, and I want you to be prepared for it.”
Agatha sat upright immediately “What happened? Was Derin in an accident? Did they rush him to your hospital? Doctor, talk to me now!”
“Derin is fine, Madam. In fact, I’m surprised he isn’t here. He was at my hospital about three hours ago, with his wife and baby. I’m sorry, but we lost the baby…”
Agatha felt her heart lurch into her mouth at the doctor’s words. “Ye! Mo gbe! How doctor, how? And where is my son?”
“He left the hospital in despair madam, with his wife. We were unable to stop him from leaving”
“Ah! Otunba!” the tears were flowing freely from her lined face now. She picked her phone and dialed Derin’s number from memory. All she got was the monotonic female voice telling her the phone was switched off. She tried three more times and then tried his second number. She still couldn’t get through. Then searched for Awazi’s number in her phonebook and tried it a couple of times. The number was unreachable too.
“Where is my baby? Where is my baby!” she kept mumbling repeatedly to herself as she tried the numbers. Her worst fear was that grief had driven him to do the ultimate – suicide. She shook her head through her tears at the thought.
“I have an idea I think we should explore to find him. When they left the hospital with the child’s body, they forgot to take this,” he said, handing the death certificate over to her and then continued “if he had tried to bury the child without this, or even unluckily ran into policemen and he didn’t have the certificate in his possession, he would be in serious police wahala.
She calmed down a bit, at the prospect that Derin was still alive “How do we find out for sure?” she asked him, using the back of her hands to wipe the tears from her eyes.
“In my line of work, I have vital contacts in the police. Let me make a few calls so they can check if my theory is correct.”
He stepped aside and made the calls briskly.
“Now,” he said gravely, “we wait”.
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