Frances drove home in the early hours of Friday, smacking her heart for answers. She was trying to process what happened last night during the ward check. There had been an intense connection with a patient she was seeing for the first time, but who reminded her of her first love – James. James and Frances had shared something special. While the popular acceptance of love-at-first-sight had waned with time, theirs was an abiding exception to the validity of that fact.
The friendship was so intense in the first week that a month of friendship seemed like an eternity of marital bliss. James and Frances shared something special, and when he asked her out on the eve of joining the army, she didn’t tell him to check back. She didn’t put him on the promissory notice of getting back after prayers. Her response was as swift as their initial connection. But a few months later, James was sent to Maiduguri, the hotbed of Boko-Haram insurgency in Nigeria. Two months later, he was declared missing. Eight years later, the narrative hasn’t changed.
She parked at the garage, came down and felt like puking. The routine touch of sadness every time she gets home had overwhelmed her again. She was now married to a monster, a pretentious brother who had managed to deceive her in fellowship with religious innuendos. She was gullible too.
She opened the door and the smell of smoked cigarette wafted past her nose. Her husband lay on the floor in the sitting room, naked, surrounded by his vomits. He was drunk again. She sighted bras and scattered dresses. Three half-naked women, sprawled on the chairs, with tattooed boobs, were snoring heavily.
Then the usual scene. Tears. Tears. And Tears.
She went to her personal room and locked the door behind her. She slept, woke up and went through the day with the usual silence in her matrimonial home. When she busied with domestic chores, her husband had left for work and the sex workers had vanished too.
She thought about John. When the night comes, she was going back to see him. To do what, she doesn’t know. What was she going back to? To his blue eyes? To his harmless stares? To his sense of humour? Night came and she went again, to South East Three. She went to see John.
“Hey…” John’s voice was faint tonight. “I knew you’d come back. I knew you couldn’t resist my charm last night.” Even in his out-of-element-self, he was still slaying.
Frances felt stupid. She felt sinful.
O God! What am I doing here? I am a married woman. I am a believer. Jesus, what’s happening to me?
She stared at him for a while, perhaps into him. She was searching for something ethereal, however faint, something to make sense of how her life is changing too quickly, too soon.
“I forgot to mention my name yesterday.” She poorly attempted at breaking the silence.
“I know right,” John replied. “You are Dr. Frances….” He said weakly and coughed heavily. “I…I…I saw your name tag yesterday.” He was struggling to speak. The veins on his face were bulging with so much fierceness it seemed they wanted to make themselves visible. His skin had taken on the bland, cheerless yellow of winter sun. He was in a sorry state. He was in pains.
Frances closed her eyes briefly. She felt the devil was leading her through a sinful, mazy, labyrinth path of an unending affection. You have to go now, her mind kept screaming but her feet weren’t moving. She opened her eyes and exhaled deeply. She turned and made to leave, but John caught her hand as she backed him; even in his pains, his grip was firm.
“Pleas—s—e, don’t go. Don’t leave me.” That soft, pleading voice sent shivers through her that sizzled like electricity. Oh Jesus, I am in trouble, she was saying between breaths. She reluctantly considered turning back or walking away. Confronted with that choice of staying there or going back home, she turned to John and said, “I wasn’t going anywhere. I am staying with you tonight.”
John shot her a genuine smile of gratitude which in her mind looked like the bait at Eden. She moved few steps closer and, in what seemed to have astounded her herself, asked if they could share the bed together. John’s teary-smile reply was, “Nice.” He shifted and she joined him momentarily on his sick bed. While she sat across the railing trails of the bed, John slipped quietly into her arms and for once, in recent days, thought about what a divine hug would feel like. This has to be it. He said in his mind. She felt his tears slipped from his face into her hands. They were hot with pains, hot with gratitude.
South East Three assumed a curious aura. It was in the look of the nurses and patients. Was this some new kind of therapy or treatment? Every patient won’t mind a female doctor doing same for them. For even in their pains, mind perversion was still active.
Friday wasn’t ending with the boisterous laughter and emotional confusion of Thursday. It wasn’t ending with the weird feelings of lust, perhaps love, and gross contradictions. Maybe it was. It wasn’t ending with the worries at home, but that of a stranger she only met twenty-four hours ago. It wasn’t ending with the usual short-breath prayer for her man and her marriage. It was ending, not in her matrimonial bed but, on a patient’s bed. It was ending where she had slipped into the warmth of a new friend who had shown everything she misses in her marriage – sobriety, vulnerability, humour, honesty, guts, fiery anger at status quo, and openness. It was ending in the silent, quiet moments of piercing stares at South East Three, with a self-confessed sinner, who she feels she equally is, connected by their grief and sinfulness, shared fear, and the looming haze of death. He awaits the death of life. She awaits the death of love. Friday was ending just as it started – with tears.
She didn’t know what she was getting herself into. She didn’t care. No, she did care. She was just tired of trying. Her heart was beating now. Eyes were “codedly” feasting from different corners of the room. She stroked his hair like a baby, wishing he was really one, hummed the Amazing Grace Hymn, assuring her heart that only the message of grace can pierce through the heavy weight of sinfulness sitting over her conscience right now. Yeah, she did care.
“Please, don’t let me die.” John whispered faintly, weeping like a child, in her trembling arms.