Idara watched her silent husband while they ate. He hadn’t looked up from his plate once since they’d started on their dinner. She turned and glanced back at Pamela who sat in the living room, cradled by her nurse as she watched cartoons.
“Mrs. Obi, please did Pam do her homework before TV?”
As expected by all the adults in the room, before the older woman could respond, a high pitched voice piped up and both Frank and Idara smiled as Pamela sat up, turned and wrapped her arms around her nurse’s neck so she could see them.
“Yes! I finished them all even before dinner. My tutor said I might get to teach her at the next math lesson because I’m getting so good at calculation about sums and division.”
“You’re getting so good at calculating sums and at division.” Her mother corrected gently.
Pamela grinned. “Yes.” And once again got comfortable in her cocoon of arms as Fred Flintstone and his family gave their best to amuse her.
As they both turned away from Pamela to face their meals once again, their eyes locked. Idara’s held concern, Frank’s held indecision and she maintained her gaze whilst he quickly feigned heightened interest in the barbecued fish, jollof spaghetti and vegetable salad that stared up at him.
Idara sighed. This was getting ridiculous. She started. “Frank -.”
“Uhm, Pamela’s next appointment is when again?” he asked, stuffing his mouth full with fish.
Idara couldn’t help smirking. Could you be any less subtle? “It’s on Monday. The hospital called to give a reminder earlier this evening actually. We still have about seventy five thousand naira to balance for her last session though. I wanted to head to the bank early yesterday to talk with that our person about a future loan – you know, since our safety basket is getting lighter and lighter – and to check if there’s any interest from those investment people. But I ran quite late for work and you know how Fridays usually are at the bank. I’ll see to it after Pamela’s appointment I guess.”
Frank glanced at her. “Yeah, well, hasn’t work been rather tedious for you? Let me do them bank runs and what not. It’s on my route anyway.” He shrugged, as though to emphasize how little a deal doing the runs would be.
“That would be nice. I was hoping I’d get to squeeze out some time to go see Maureen to encourage her. She had a miscarriage last week and her husband hasn’t been able to get a flight back from Houston.” Frank paused and gave her a surprised look. “Yeah it’s rather sad. We friends have been rotating so she wouldn’t get too lonely with her thoughts. We need to keep her upped on the word and encouragement right now. Letting depression set in would be such a wrong move.”
Frank nodded. “Definitely. You want to go visit after church tomorrow? I’ll stay home with Pam, I don’t really have other plans and if you go on Monday the visit might be rushed because there’s just so much. I’ll call Seyi too. Maybe I could talk to a few people who’d be able to help with those flight issues.” He ate another bite of his meal and shook his head after swallowing. “Please send her my condolences. We’ll be praying for them.”
Idara nodded. “Sure.” She poked at her spaghetti and said quietly. “And I’ll be praying extra for us.”
Frank’s head snapped up and he met her eyes. Although he was pretty certain about the answer, his raised eyebrow still asked the question; What does that mean?
“Because I don’t know what’s going on and I’m exhausted trying to figure it out.” She said in response to his gaze before glancing back at the living room, trying to keep her voice down and tone even. “It’s been four days. You’ve been weird since Wednesday and it’s not getting any better.” Idara looked sadly at him. “What’s going on boo? Why won’t you talk to me anymore?”
Frank looked away from her and back to his own food. The dishes already knew they were abandoned. He’d just lost the last shred of his appetite. He felt like a guilty child who’d ruined his parent’s favorite piece of furniture or something. He sighed. “Because I’ve messed up big time Dar. You’d even find it difficult believing me. I think—no, I know I’ve done some serious damage.”
Idara nodded. “Okay. And you’re certain this particular damage can be undone with secrecy? Hmm?”
He shook his head. “No.”
“Then will you end this silliness and just talk to me? I’m going nuts because I keep trying to guess what it could be and it’s not fair.”
Frank looked at her for several long moments. She was right. He hadn’t noticed – mostly because he’d been avoiding looking her in the face all week long – but she had begun to look strained. Work just made her look tired sometimes and generally irritated on occasions. But these lines, this strain – they seemed to be his doing. “Okay. After the nurse leaves I’ll-.”
Idara shot up from her chair. “Come on Pam, it’s time for bed.”
Frank looked up at his wife, his eyes widened in surprise. “Babe -.”
“I don’t want to hear it miss.” She walked quickly to where Pamela sat in the living room, cuddled by her nurse. “Hug nanny goodnight. She has a home and family to be with too.” Idara nodded at Mrs. Obi’s grateful but surprised smile.
Pamela was pouting as she flung herself on the woman’s fleshy frame. “Goodnight ma’am. Go to your home and sweet dreams.”
Mrs. Obi smiled and planted a large kiss on Pamela’s cheek that made her giggle. “I’ll do just that my angel. Goodnight.” She set the child down and walked Pamela to her mother, pushing the IV stand and guiding her. To Idara she said; “She’s already taken her medication so she won’t be up for much longer.”
Idara nodded. “Thank you so much. Enjoy your night and regards to your children.” She carried Pamela and held the stand in her free hand as she headed upstairs. Frank got up to see Mrs. Obi out.
“Sure you don’t need me to drop you off?”
Mrs. Obi laughed. “Sir, there are days when I’ve left later than this. Saturday’s are supposed to be my stay in days – by at least an hour – but madam has given me a pleasant surprise so please don’t bother yourself.” She gave him a pleased smile. “By the way, Pamela has actually been doing so well and seems more relaxed these days even with the unpredictability of this December harmattan, so I must commend you two for your care with her, in spite of your schedules.”
Frank chuckled. “Daughters over schedules. Any day. But thank you.”
When they were outside, Frank instructed one of the security men to escort Mrs. Obi and wait until she’d gotten into a cab before leaving. They said goodnight and he went back inside.
Idara was already clearing up the dishes and packaging their hardly touched dinner to preserve. “I’ll only be a minute. Should we talk in the living room?”
Frank nodded and just went to the sofa after securing the locks on the door. As he sat and waited for her, he sent up a silent prayer.
I’ve done more worrying than asking these past few days. I’m rectifying that now. May this conversation yield more good for Pamela, and us, than just extra guilt for me. Thank you. Amen. Please…just, please. Amen.
Idara sat quietly beside Frank and waited for him to begin. She sat to her side so she was looking directly at his face and her arm was stretched behind him on the back of the sofa. Frank stared at the muted television, his mind far from the images displayed on it. After a few seconds he cleared his throat.
“Well, remember about two weeks ago we’d gone over the required costs for Pamela’s treatments over the next six months and everything. Then we calculated how much we had available after cutting down all our domestic expenses to the barest minimum yeah?”
Idara nodded. “We agreed I’d extend my contract with those renewable energy folks and finally apply for that promotion with the Director at our firm.” She cocked her head to the side and winked. “And that’s why you’ve been doing enough overtime work for like four people, no?” she asked, smiling.
Frank tried to return it, but shrugging was easier. “Yeah well, I figured even with all that – even if we worked from then right through till the New Year – we’d still only make just enough to cater to Pamela’s needs till, maybe early February. And that’s minus feeding and medication and other house stuff.” He glanced at her and she nodded, keeping a soft smile on her lips to encourage him. “So, I’m sitting at work on the 28th of November, trying to figure out what else we could do that would yield quicker profit and this dude that often comes every week to inspect and carry out machine maintenance, comes over to say hello. We get talking for a bit and then he tells me-.”
Idara suddenly raised a finger to her lips, causing him to pause. He raised a questioning brow. “What? What’s wrong?”
“Don’t you hear something?” She was looking up and Frank guessed she thought whatever she heard was coming from upstairs. “I’m hearing–it sounds like P-.”
Just then the sound of their daughter’s wail filtered through to the living room from upstairs. Frank was on his feet and on the first landing of the staircase before Idara had put on her slippers.
“Pamela! Pam baby, are you okay?”
Pamela’s voice came through clearly now. Her room was just opposite theirs but closer to the stairs and her door was always left slightly ajar. “Daddeeeeee! It huuuuurts!”
Frank leaped up the few steps left and was at his daughter’s room shortly. He stood in her doorway and switched on the light. The moment the room was illuminated, it took every cell in his body to fight the urge to panic. Pamela was seated upright in bad, clutching her abdomen. Her face was contorted into a blend of pain and fear. There was blood trailing from her lips down her jaw and her baby pink nightgown had ugly smears of dark red all over the front. Frank was kneeling beside her in a matter of seconds and cradling her face in his hands. She looked up at her Father, a glint of hope outlining the pain brimming her eyes.
“Daddy…can you make it…please make it stop!?”
“We’ll make it stop baby, just – ahh – just tell Daddy how it fee — IDARA!”
Idara stood frozen at the door. He hadn’t any need to yell, she thought. She knew what she needed to do but—her body — she couldn’t seem to get her body to move. She stared at her child. Why—Jesus. Why was there so much blood!?
Frank glanced back at her. “Idara, please call Dr. Osho. Call him now.” He was trying his best to sound calm.
Idara was still staring at Pamela’s pain-twisted face and the little arms she used to clutch her tummy. How long had she been coughing? Or did she throw up all of this blood? How come they hadn’t heard anything? Of all the times to be deaf…
“Idara! Woman, snap out of it and move now!” Frank unhooked the bag of fluids from the stand, bundled his daughter in his arms and frowned at his unmoving wife. “Come on Dar, help me out here.”
Idara blinked and pulled out her phone from her pocket, her eyes never leaving her daughter. Pamela’s eyes were squeezed tightly shut and she bit her lower lip as she clutched the front of her father’s shirt. Frank paced the room slowly, trying not to jolt or shake her in the slightest. The doctor was on her speed dial and Idara set the call on speaker. She almost growled at the automated voice daft enough to suggest she copy a caller tune at this time, and murmured a plea to the doctor to pick up.
“Hello? Mrs. Foye?”
“Oh yes, hi Dr. Osho. I–it’s me. Good evening. S-s-sir my daughter is, Pamela, Pamela my daughter is hurting right now. It’s Pamela sir.” Idara struggled to pull her thoughts together but they insisted on quarrelling with each other. She scratched her head and almost as soon as she raised the hand, she let it fall heavily to her side again. “Sir she-she’s crying and she’s in pain and—there’s blood everywhere sir. There’s so much blood! What do we do? We–we really don’t know what to do sir.” She looked from Pamela to her husband helplessly, her eyes were already glistening and her voice broke.
“What do we do Frank? What are we going to do?” She still held the phone but her shaky whisper was for her husband.
What should I say? She didn’t even know what was wrong. She didn’t know if moving her would help or worsen things. What if—oh God, what if she dies?
Frank could see his wife’s thoughts dancing on her face; as she escalated from one level of fear to the next, her eyes told of the progression. Frank walked up to her and looked her straight in the eye for a few seconds before instructing firmly; “Stop it now.” Sobs escaped Idara’s quivering lips as she tried to nod. “She will live Idara. Our daughter will live.”
Idara nodded in between sobs, using her free hand to cover her mouth while the other still held on to the phone.
“Hello, Mrs. Foye? What did you say happened? I just heard a male voice, is your husband there with you? Okay. You know what, just get her here. You need to get her over here right now madam. I’ll wait for you. Hello? Hello, Mrs. Foye?”
Frank was still staring hard into her eyes and encouraged calmly. “Go ahead. Say it. Mean it.” Calm was the farthest thing from what he felt as he held his tense daughter in his arms, but he’d learned long ago that feelings shouldn’t be trusted. Several thoughts kept pounding at his mind but he zeroed in on Psalm 118:17 and blurred everything else. Idara had helped to teach him this skill early in their marriage, now it was his turn to return the favor by reminding her of what she knew was best to do.
Idara swiped at her tears and nodded. Her eyes moved to her daughter’s face. She had dozed off but just barely, still clinging to her Father and wincing ever so slightly if his movement was too abrupt. Idara exhaled. Frank was right. Her fear was worthless.
I am feeding the wrong team, she thought, suddenly irritated with herself.
“She will live Idara.” She shut her eyes and said softly, nodding slowly. “Our daughter will live.” She repeated it thrice before opening her eyes and looking up at her husband. He nodded. Her eyes were steady. She looked sane again.
Frank bent slightly so he could speak into the phone. “Hello Dr. Osho. We’ll be there shortly.”
Frank and Idara sat holding hands in the brightly lit hospital corridor, praying under their breaths. They had both agreed that neither would pace, else that would just leave them both even further agitated…and possibly more inclined to barge in through the swinging doors the doctors had shut over thirty minutes ago, to check on their daughter.
Idara’s mind wandered briefly to what had been happening before Pamela’s crisis. Frank had just been about to confess to her what he’d been hiding for the past week and she mulled over the unfinished conversation for a few minutes. She stopped praying and turned to look at her husband.
“Hmm?” he didn’t turn to look at her, using his right hand to pat the one he held beside him reassuringly. He assumed she was still a bit unsettled and needed encouragement.
“Did you…did you by any chance get into one of these ponzi schemes?”
Idara blinked in shock as he froze in mid-pat and the hand that held hers tensed. So that was it? Frank bent his head and sighed. It took him about two minutes before he finally nodded. Idara smirked in spite of herself. My sweet husband – is that why he was making such a fuss? She suddenly paused in her thoughts and recalled the conversation she had had with Tejiri. Tejiri had speculated about Frank’s moodiness possibly being linked to a failed investment. She didn’t follow all these trends and usually ignored all the Whatsapp broadcast messages she received concerning them. But earlier in the week she’d received a message about one popular one that crashed or something…
Idara reached up and gently turned his face so that he was looking at her directly. “Which one Frank?”
Frank swallowed and sighed. “MMM. It got frozen on Tuesday or so.”
Idara fought the panic that was slowly rising in her stomach. She knew her husband. He was a prudent man. He didn’t do rash things and he didn’t follow trends easily. He always studied things carefully if he was to participate even a little in them. She refused to believe his reaction was a hint as to how much loss he had incurred from this.
“Okay. But you didn’t lose too much right? Did you take out from your profits from your wristwatch gigs or what? Please tell me you didn’t touch your tithe though.”
Frank’s jaw hardened and he looked away, and the panic in Idara rose even higher. That was his body language for guilt. He wouldn’t be so guilty if it didn’t majorly affect us. But it’s his own side hustle so why… “I didn’t use any of those.” He whispered. She had to strain to even hear him. “I just wanted to do one big one and then back out. My profits weren’t enough.”
“Okay, okay.” Her mind was working overtime now. “So…so what, you had your friends raise money and they’re mad at you now or–.” Frank shook his head. “But you said a ‘big one’ now. We don’t have ‘big money’.” Idara stared at him, confused.
“I used our savings Idara.”
Idara paused. She stared at him hard. What did he mean by that? They had agreed they wouldn’t touch it. Those savings were strictly for Pamela’s treatments and they still needed a lot more to stay above water for a few months. “We agreed not to-.”
“I know.” Frank released her hand and stood up, covering his face with both hands and pushing them back until they covered his head. He sighed heavily. “I know.”
Idara watched his back as he stood in the middle of the hallway. The bright fluorescents all around them were a stark contrast to the dark panic that was filling her mind slowly.
“How much Frank?” she repeated, but her voice was much lower. It was either that or she’d give into the urge to scream.
His hands dropped to his sides and he bent his head far back, so he was staring directly at the light above him. “All of it.”
Idara’s mind went blank. She looked like she’d been tazed; stiff and expressionless. At that very moment, the swinging doors opened and a doctor walked out briskly with a smile, looking first at Idara and then at Frank.
“She’s awake now. Her system’s been stabilized. You may both come in to see her.”
To be continued…