Kamal was reclining on his couch, watching Discovery Channel and allowing his mind to wander here and there when he began to hear voices at his doorstep. He had recently relocated his wife and two kids to Ireland and he would soon be joining them in a few months. He had found that his kids would get better education at a cheaper cost than if he tried to give them the same quality here in Nigeria. He lived alone in the BQ of an apartment off University of Lagos Road pending the time he would finally move. The main building was an office and it was empty at night, so he was practically alone in the building. He wondered who it was that the mallam had let in without his prior instruction. He got up and padded towards the window that gave him a clear view of his doorway. He made out the familiar form of his friend of twenty years, Derin and his wife, with Derin carrying their son Isaac. They seemed to be having some argument but he caught none of what they were saying clearly because of the din of the neighborhood generators. He quickly went to open the door and then undid the burglary proof. The first thing he noticed in the light of the doorway which he hadn’t when looking through the window was how disheveled they both looked. The last they had spoken the night before, Derin had told him he would be visiting his mum in Ibadan.
“What happened in Ibadan?” he asked as he let them in without a greeting. Derin was his brother from another mother, and they had the kind of relationship where he could ask stuff like that. This time however, Derin didn’t answer him but went to sit on the edge of the L-shaped couch.
“Oga, I know you haven’t had plenty practice, but I’ve had more than you, and I at least know that sitting like that and holding a baby is atrocious. Now, Awazi, can you tell me…” Kamal was saying, when Derin cut in rather coldly
“The baby is dead.”
“What!” Kamal exclaimed, then turned to Awazi and asked with a shake of his head “he’s joking right?”
She turned away without an answer and the tears poured from her eyes once again. Kamal practically jumped over to Derin’s side and one look at Isaac told him that they weren’t joking. Rigor Mortis was already setting in on the little man’s body and it was obvious he had been dead for a while.
“When? How? Oh my God, Why?” Kamal asked, punching the couch to punctuate each question.
“Look, Kamal, you’re the only one I could come to for this. I cannot bury my child, it’s an eewo. You would have to oblige me with this. Tonight.”
“Kamal, I’ve told him, I don’t care if his Yoruba-ness means he cannot bury his own child, but I am not Yoruba, and I will bury my child!” Awazi thundered.
“Woman, will you be reasonable? Parents should not bury their own children!” Derin equally bellowed.
“Calm down, you two! You’ve obviously been through a lot today, and your nerves are frayed. But you shouldn’t be tearing each other apart, what you both need the most now is to comfort each other.” Kamal said, stepping in between the quarreling couple.
Facing Awazi, he continued in a much softer voice, “I understand how you feel dear, but you’ll also need to understand Derin. He’s not saying you cannot know where your child is buried to pay respects. But to be the one burying Isaac, your own child, is taboo here.”
His words seemed to calm them both down, and he simply took Isaac from Derin and then collected the death certificate.
“You guys cannot go home today, so you can have my place for the night. I’ll sleep out in a hotel.”
But Awazi shook her head firmly and said “I want to go home.”
And then she turned to Derin and said “Now”.
Together all three left the house, Derin and his wife for their Sabo apartment, and Kamal for Atan Cemetery. Kamal had done much for Derin in their career as friends, but this was yet the most painful he had to do.
Early the next morning, Dr. Haruna Ajanaku sat in a meeting he would rather not be having. But he was a shrewd business man and he knew that he could not afford to be unprepared for the possibility of legal action from the young Derin. He remembered the young man’s father well, and if the boy was anything like his father, he would be reasonable. Seated in the room to his right was his long time friend and lawyer, Rasheed Sanda. The young man that had ensured Hakeem’s coup didn’t work had been recruited by him. Also present were Hakeem, and the head matron of the hospital, Bintu. Bintu knew more about the actual running ofhospitals than most doctors and she had become a trusted confidant over the years. Prior to the meeting, she had interviewed the two front desk nurses extensively to get information on what had happened. He trusted her that much, he would not need to talk to them himself.
The lawyer was saying “from Bintu’s account of things, Otunba, there are two things that are clear immediately. The deceased was never your patient; hence, you cannot be accused of neglecting him in a court of law. Neglect is only technically possible if the individual is already a patient of your hospital, which isn’t the case here. Remember, I speak only of law here, not public opinion. I’ve examined your procedure book too, and it would seem there was no breech in your documented procedure. These two are strong points.”
“That’s what I’ve been saying sir,” Hakeem interjected.
“And a smart lawyer could bring up the fact that the baby’s father was in fact our patient, and that the baby died on our premises in front of two nurses,” and with obvious disdain, she added “a doctor who happened to be our Chief Medical Officer at that time.”
“What do you think about Bintu’s thoughts, Rasheed?” Dr. Haruna said.
Hakeem seethed. Even a mere matron’s thoughts seemed to carry more weight than his own words in these discussions.
“It’s a valid point. We can counter that however. The proof that he’s a patient is when he produces his card, which he did not. However, you’re A&E procedures would be called into question anyhow you want to look at it. A baby’s case should have been handled separate from regular patients, and I expected that even if the nurses did not know that, Hakeem here should have.” The lawyer’s voice was expressionless as he spoke in a well practiced professional monotone, but even that needled Hakeem.
“So the best bet for us would be?” Dr. Haruna asked, even though he knew the answer already.
“First, we do all we can to convince him not to go to court. That would be the most favorable outcome for us in this matter. Your offer to him through his mother will hopefully accomplish that. Where that fails, and he serves us notice of litigation, we will go to court and attempt to convince their lawyer and the judge that settling out of court will be the best course of action for all the parties involved. That can be kept quiet and easily managed to ensure there is no negative publicity and we can work a clause into the settlement to ensure that they do not speak to the press or public about the matter once they take the option.” Rasheed reeled out.
“And if he refuses to settle?” Bintu asked.
“Then we prepare for a court battle, the intensity of which will be determined by the quality of his legal representation. We might be able to blow a simpleton away, but if he gets a formidable lawyer, this will be a serious battle. That is what we have to wait and see.” Rasheed responded
“And, manage the media, Rasheed. We don’t want any of this getting out now, do we? In my long career, many men have died under my watch. But none of them has been because I chose not to treat them; all without exception were beyond my treatment. And now this debacle?” Otunba said more to himself than to the others. Then he dismissed the meeting with a sigh “we wait.”
Awazi’s night had been tumultuous. She had slept in fits, and watching Derin sleep so deeply annoyed her for quite no reason, even though her brain told her he should be tired after all of that driving. She managed to finally find sleep at about five in the morning. The sound of the doorbell woke her up, and when she checked the time, she realized she had slept for about three hours. Derin was already up, and she guessed he would get the door. She woke up with a banging headache, and it seemed the turmoil of the previous day just began to take its toll on her body. She sat up in the bed, and as she did, her eye caught something beside the pillow. It was the plastic bunch of keys toy they used to distract Isaac when he was being restless. The sight of the toy brought back a deluge of memories to her. He had just begun trying to move from his sitting position as he tried to follow the toy when he flung it forward. The tears formed in her eyes as they roamed the room, picking items that had been there only because of Isaac. Diapers. His bib. His tiny socks. She couldn’t take seeing them any longer and in spite of the pain in her head, she jumped up from the bed and raced to the living room. She almost ran back into the room. Seated in the living room was Kamal. That wasn’t the issue though. The real issue was her mother in-law who was also seated there. She could not phantom why the woman had come this early in the day, and she unconsciously scanned the living room for signs that the woman had brought some Yoruba damsel to come and audition for wifely roles. No signs. She steadied her breathing.
She stepped into the parlor and said hi to Kamal, mumbled something that was meant to be a greeting to Agatha, and then turned to her husband who was seated in one of the dining chairs with eyes that said “you better start explaining this to me right now.”
Derin got the question his wife was silently asking and he quickly began to explain “mum just came in with Kamal now and they say they have something important they would like to discuss with us.” He placed the emphasis on the “us” so she her apprehensions would at least be calmed down. They had not begun to say what they had come for, but it was obvious to him they had discussed and agreed on whatever they had come to say. He had just been about to go and wake Awazi up when she came out anyway, so it was all well and good. Awazi sat at the edge of the couch closer to him. He was still upset with his mum for her outburst the previous day, but then, she was his mum. It was unthinkable for him not to have let her in, and he was sure Awazi knew that.
“Derin, in Yorubaland, it is not the elder that makes peace with the younger. But this pain is one we all share, and I know no one would feel it deeper than your wife. So first, I would like to say sorry to her for yesterday…” Agatha began.
Awazi was incensed. She was sitting right here, and this woman was here in her own home talking about her as if she was not here, speaking only to Derin. She had had it!
“With all due respect ma,” she said “I am seated right here. Please talk to me, as a person in my own right, and not through Derin as some sort of proxy.”
Agatha opened her mouth to say something, and then she thought better of it. The thought of what the doctor had told her, and how she knew it would destroy her son if she didn’t succeed at this kept her.
Instead, she said “it is a habit, my dear, and it will take time to move beyond it. But to the crux of the matter, as to why I came into Lagos this early. I am sure you are wondering why. Look, Awazi, I will need your help in this one, and that is why you must listen to me now and forget the years past. If you love your husband, as much as I love him as my son, then we must do this for him.”
“What are you saying, mama?” Derin asked
“I know you very well Derin, and I know that all you want to do now is fight the hospital to the finish. You want to take them to court. You want to make them pay for your loss, for what they’ve done to you and your family. Your last words to the doctor yesterday evening said that clearly. And if you want all that, I don’t think anyone in their right senses would say you shouldn’t feel that way.” She paused and drank a bit of water.
Then she continued “But that legal battle would destroy you Derin. It would take your all to fight, and the hospital owners will not lie down. They will fight, fight hard and fight dirty. I do not want our pain to become the spectacle of the whole world. I do not want you to enter into a fight that will cost you more than you can afford.” She turned meaningfully to Awazi as she said the last line.
“I think it would be best if we all offered each other strength to move on from this, and leave all the fighting behind.”
It had taken all of Derin’s self control to allow his mum finish so that he would not set a bad precedence for Awazi by interrupting her. But now that she seemed to be done talking, he burst out
“So they should kill my child and get away with it? What kind of man would that make me? What is the difference between what they have done and if they actually put a gun to Isaac’s head and blew it away? Somebody has to make these people pay when they do things like this. And to make sure others like them are warned of consequences.”
“Look, Derin,” Kamal chipped in “why does that someone have to be you? You should be more interested in comforting your wife, and trying to pull your family together in this kind of time, rather than spending your energies on crusading against a behemoth!”
“Kamal! So if someone was to walk into your house to kill one of your kids… scratch that, both of them, you would simply try to move on and let them walk free?” Derin retorted
“Derin, those are two very DIFFERENT scenarios.” Kamal stood up and said with a wave of his hand.
“You see? Just the thought of it got you upset enough to stand up. See, Kamal, to me, they are the same! Someone else is responsible for the loss of my only child, and you people are asking me to let them go scot free.”
“Derin, we are asking you to do what is best for your family. It is the tougher decision to make, but ditch this vengefulness and think about your family!” Kamal returned to his chair as he said.
Agatha had been watching Awazi as the exchange ensued. She sensed that Derin would not agree to what she was going to propose, but Awazi might be her best ally to make this work. She addressed Awazi when she spoke next.
“Doctor Ajanaku deeply regrets what has happened, and is unwilling to fight. Look, I know a child is irreplaceable, hec Derin, I’m your mother. But more than ever, you need to begin to try for a child again.”
Awazi sat up at this. The suggestion of the Yoruba girl was about to come up. She said quietly
“Seeing that we don’t make children, and that it took us twelve years to have Isaac, what are you suggesting? That Derin should try to have a child with someone abi? So you can have your precious grandchild?”
“When I said you, I meant two of you, Awazi and Derin. The doctor is no stranger to the struggles to have Isaac, and his offer is that his hospital will sponsor the most advanced in-vitro fertilization therapy abroad for you. And he says though its expensive, it’s almost a hundred percent guaranteed to lead to conception. And then after conception, they will have a doctor and nurse dedicated to you when you return to Lagos until delivery.”
“Never!” Derin shouted, bolting up from the dining chair. “So they contrive to bribe me into being quiet and not dealing with them? Never, never, NEVER! We will try for a child by ourselves and still deal with them definitely. God who gave us Isaac will give us another child. But Dr. Omega and his ilk will be taught a lesson and made an example of.”
Awazi wasn’t flustered. “Did the doctor actually make this offer?” she addressed her question to Agatha.
“Yes, he did, after you people stormed out yesterday. He is an honorable man, and he will keep his word. If he had still been running the hospital and not that his excuse of a son, this unfortunate incident would never have happened.”
Derin looked at Awazi as if she had grown horns. He wanted to say something but Kamal caught him right before he spoke and stopped him “Derin, let’s hear her out abegi. No be by this your vexing and shouting.”
“If we were to take this offer,” Awazi queried “I would prefer to stay in the U.S. or whichever country the therapy is done throughout the pregnancy and deliver the child there, all at cost to the hospital. Travelling up and down can cause complications. No matter how dedicated the dedicated doctor and nurse are in Lagos, I’ll feel safer with their healthcare abroad than here.”
Agatha was happy that Awazi was on the same page with her. “I’m certain the doctor would be more than happy to accede to you requests once he is certain that you will be taking the offer up.”
Derin was livid with rage. “What stupid offer are you all talking about taking up? Awazi, you cannot be serious about allowing the people responsible for Isaac’s death to go scot free. I am not a party to this offer and will never be.”
Awazi stood up and went to her husband. “I miss Isaac, more than you can imagine. The sight of every little thing he used reminds me painfully of our loss. His socks. His bib. Everything. Every single little thing. But I want to move on from this pain, or it will drown me. If this treatment will give us a baby, please, I am begging you,” she went on her knees, “forget about this revenge and let us take it, and begin healing.”
Derin looked down at his wife. She seemed to be in so much pain as each word she spoke was obviously from depths of this pain. But he would not betray Isaac. He would fight to avenge his son.
He cupped her face in his hands, and told her “healing will only come when we have closure on this matter. I cannot betray my conscience and betray the memory of our son.”
“So you would rather hold on to a painful memory than let us move on?” Awazi inquired.
“You would rather we forgot our son in order to move on?” Derin asked right back.
He moved away from her, and faced his mother “tell him he will be hearing from my lawyers. And if he wants a fight, oh, he will get one hell of a fight.”
With that, he picked his keys and left the house.