Frank stood at the door to Pamela’s private ward and watched through the glass as his wife leaned over their daughter with her eyes closed, mouthing words. Frank knew she was praying. He sighed and moved away from the door, walking in the opposite direction down the corridor.
He pulled out his phone to place a call to his office, to notify them that he might not be back for the rest of the day. It was Wednesday afternoon. His lunch break would be over in a few minutes and he’d spent most of the time blaring his horn at inane persons he considered unfit to be behind a steering wheel. The mad humans had joined forces to build the mad traffic that had seen to it that he arrived at the hospital too late to do anything useful before he’d have to head back to the office. He couldn’t take it. Idara had been giving him the iciest silent treatment in the history of their marriage. He could count the total number of words she had spoken to him since Saturday night. She had spoken seven words in total. ‘Good morning’, was mostly it – except for Sunday. All she’d said was ‘Morning’ then.
“Yeah hello? Lanre? Man, please cover for me today. I really need to spend some time with Dar and Pamela this afternoon and the traffic out there is straight from the devil. Seriously.” He kicked the wall distractedly, looking through the window blinds at the gridlock of cars that lined the road on the other side of the fence surrounding the hospital building. “Yeah, yeah. She doesn’t seem to be better but we trust she is. We just have to keep our faith in there. There’s nothing else we can do right now. Thanks man. I appreciate it.”
Frank cut the call and sighed. After a few seconds he turned around to find his wife standing right behind him with a cold look on her face. He was startled and it showed on his face. “Idara. Hey. How’s Pam?”
Idara cleared her throat and looked away from him back towards the door she’d come out from without him knowing. “They say they can only keep her here one more day without payment. By Friday she’s out and the doctor says she really needs to be under close supervision.” She turned back to Frank, her eyes glistening with a lot of concern coated with barely contained frustration.
“They’re going to throw our baby out Mr. Foye. What do we do now?”
Pamela sat between her mother and father in the congregation, as the preacher gave his exhortation. She wanted to sneeze. It seemed the lady with the massive hat in front of them had decided oxygen was too mainstream for anyone to be breathing, especially when she had such strong designer perfume to bless the universe with on Christmas day. She pressed her lips together to discourage the sneeze from further pressing to escape, until the pressure in her nose abated slightly. Pamela drew her knees closer together and subtly glanced at her mother, as her socked feet and polished black shoes dangled over the floor. Her mother’s eyebrows were furrowed together, and she was looking straight towards the alter, giving intermittent slow nods whenever the keyboardist ran his hands over a few keys to put a little sparkle in buttressing the preacher’s currently profound point. Suddenly, the preacher infused humor into his sayings and her mother chuckled lowly, along with the rest of the congregation’s majority who were taken with the joke. Pamela smiled as she watched her mother’s face lighten up, as the smile momentarily rendered non-existent, the stress lines she had noticed had begun to visibly gather around her forehead, eyes and lips. Mommy is so pretty. Pamela thought in awe. As far as she was concerned, her mother was the most elegant and simultaneously fun woman to walk the face of the earth. She adored her. Suddenly, Pamela felt the sneeze rising from her chest, heavier this time, and her hand flew to her mouth involuntarily. But she winced at the force with which she’d moved. My hand is still wounded. Daddy will be mad. She didn’t want to look up at her father. The back of her hand still stung a little from all the IV pins they’d stuck in her so that careless movement hurt quite a bit and she knew her father wouldn’t find it funny if he knew. He was always worrying about her these days, both of them actually. Ever since that scary incident when she got really sick at home, they’d been walking on eggshells with her and she was getting tired of it. They spent less time playing with her, because the doctors said she needed to rest more, and Daddy seemed to be always working now. Before, he’d always made it home a little before or just by her bedtime at least two days a week, so he could tuck her in. But she hadn’t even seen him all week, until his office shut down for the Christmas break – and even then – he was almost always working on his computer at home, or talking on the phone. Pamela’s hand slowly left her mouth and she wasn’t even conscious of the heavy sigh that escaped from it.
The sickness was ruining everything.
She glanced up at her father to find him already watching her. He winked at her with a small smile on his lips. Are you okay? He mouthed to her, wiggling his bushy eyebrows that she loved so much in a funny way. Pamela grinned immediately and nodded, her eyes darting around to see if anyone else noticed her Daddy being so silly, but most eyes were glued to the preacher in front. Her father returned her grin, and then laid his arm on the back of the high polished wooden bench they were seated on, stroking her neatly woven corn-rows gently. Pamela was pleased. She slid her bum further into the seat, moving a bit more carefully once her mother glanced at her, so as not to rumple her skirt. When her back was resting on the wood, she leaned into her father, and briefly shut her eyes when after a few seconds, his left arm had completely surrounded her.
Pamela smiled and raised her head slightly to look up at the massive screen displaying the preacher’s image. It hung above the center aisle and those like her who were too small to see him directly – even when craning -, were always grateful for it. She snuggled in closer, her father’s cologne much more gentle and appealing to her nasal senses than the lady’s; her’s rudely ripped through her system like a dagger. Without warning, a loud sneeze suddenly escaped her mouth and Pamela’s eyes widened, even as several heads turned to glance back at her, looking positively irritated at the disturbance. She bit her lower lip and caught her mother’s gaze. Her mother smiled at her and shook her head. She didn’t have to feel bad. Pamela watched her rummage through her small purse and bring out her clean white handkerchief; reaching out, she first brushed off a few particles of snot and saliva from her Daddy’s blazer before dabbing away at the trickles from her own nose and mouth.
“Feel better honey?” Her mother whispered, tracing the length of Pamela’s nose gently. She gave a nervous smile and nodded. “Sorry mama.”
“Oh that’s okay honey.” She chucked her under the chin, replaced her hanky in her purse and resumed focus, not wanting to miss any more of the exhortation than she had to.
Pamela’s eyes moved from one parent to the other. It was almost imperceptible, but between their arriving in church that morning, about thirty minutes ago, and now, her parent’s features were distinctively more relaxed. Pamela even caught them exchange amused glances over her head, when the preacher had said something funny about families that she didn’t really understand. But if it made her parents happy, she was okay with it. It had been extra chilly at home, during the days that followed her being discharged from the hospital, and she knew she couldn’t blame it all on the Harmattan. She had been super glad to leave but her mother had been really angry that she had to be sent away from the hospital so soon, when she still had some tests to run. In spite of her mother’s reaction, Pamela wasn’t any less glad to be discharged but her Daddy seemed to have suffered mama’s displeasure most – because they were roomies.
Anyway, she could feel the cold air gradually warming up…and she loved it.
Now she could concentrate on what the preacher was saying.
The chatter at the dining table was none stop. Both Pamela’s grandparents from her mother and father’s sides had come in to spend Christmas with them. They sat in the living room over garden eggs and groundnuts, ignoring the muted recorded activities of several grown men chasing a ball all over a very large field.
At the dining table, Pamela sat between her mother and her friend, Aunty Tejiri. Across from them, her father talked with Uncle Onus and Uncle Seun, who had just come back from the US some days earlier. Another man from Daddy’s office – Mr. Lanre – was standing with his can of beer in his hand, watching the football game over her grandparents’ heads, and she could see her Daddy also intermittently glancing at the television during pauses in the conversation.
Aunty Maureen came out of the kitchen with a large tray of warmed samosa and spring rolls. Pamela’s eyes lit up. She loved samosa.
“Ah. Mau mau, you’ve come again with these your legendary rolls, isn’t it?” Uncle Onus exclaimed loudly, and Aunty Maureen shook her head in amusement and smiled. “Seun, see what we’ve been enjoying. If you like, don’t quickly take this woman with you on this your US movement next year. If you want us to enjoy all her skills alone, we won’t disappoint you. Please leave her and go.” Uncle Seun held up both hands immediately. “No sir! We shall not sir. We will take her sir.” Everyone at the table laughed and they all helped themselves to the contents of the tray. Aunty Maureen took a plateful to the grandparents in the living room.
Pamela munched happily on the warm and crispy samosa. She shut her eyes. It had been quite awhile since she’d been allowed to eat solids like this but the doctor had given her permission for a little indulgence on Christmas day – as long as she showed up at the hospital for a check up first thing tomorrow. The little freedom, this feeling of chewing actual food, was incredibly pleasant and satisfying.
Aunty Tejiri gestured with her hand to get her husband’s attention. “Awww, see her! She’s so happy. Pam sugar, you’ve missed solids haven’t you baby?”
Pamela tried to smile in mid-chew and nodded in agreement. Her eyes moved from one smiling face to the other. All the adults at the table were focused on her and she began to feel shy, almost wishing there was a friend closer to her age that could take some of the attention off her. She swallowed and smiled at Uncle Onus before turning to Aunty Tejiri, maintaining her smile. “Ma’am please when is Judith going to come back from school? I thought she would come for Christmas.”
“Oh we’d hoped so too baby. But your friend got an invitation from her grandparents there in Lagos, to spend this Christmas with them. She says she misses you a lot but those old people bribed her by getting her a puppy – that she can only see when she goes over – and now she’s forgotten the lot of us.” Aunty Tejiri shook her head, looking wounded by her daughter’s betrayal.
Pamela grinned excitedly. “Oh, how nice. I wish I could pet it too. Okay. Please tell her I say Merry Christmas, and she should remember we are supposed go to – to that new amusement park they’re making.” Her face brightened as she spoke. She’d been looking forward to going there since the start of the year, once she found out what it was supposed to be. “We have to go before school resumes though. I have a home tutor right now so if Mama and Daddy ask her, she may let me have any day off when Judith is free – if you and uncle would allow her.”
Everyone suddenly grew quiet and the friends exchanged glances with one another upon hearing Pamela’s request. Idara exchanged looks with Frank first; Tejiri and Onus looked at themselves before looking at the child’s parents, wondering if they would find a way to shatter her dreams in as gentle a way as possible, or if they would just opt to elude the issue for now.
“Uhm, honey, that might not be happening for quite awhile. I’m sorry.”
Pamela stared at her mother and searched her face for a clue as to what prompted her response. But, she thought it was a good idea in November. “Oh. But…okay. You don’t wa—did you just change your mind, Mama?”
Her mother looked at her with a sad smile and nodded. “Remember we’re trying to get you better darling. The doctor said you need a lot of rest.” She then glanced at her husband, cuing him in. He cleared his throat and smiled at Pamela. “How about Judith comes over when she’s back in town, and you two have a sleep over party, huh?”
Pamela was silent and stared sullenly at her empty plate for a few minutes. Her voice was quiet “I’m always at home. It would be really nice to go to the park Daddy.”
Tejiri looked at her friend’s helpless expression and tried to intervene. “See Pam baby, the thing is your body is not too strong now and if we’re not careful, you could get very sick again and-.”
“No it’s not.” Pamela’s expression showed she thought her mother’s friend didn’t know what she was saying. “My body is strong. I’m not sick anymore.” The grandparents had been distracted from their chitchat by the sudden quiet from the dining table. Frank’s mother stood up and craned to see them, but only Pamela was really visible from where she stood – Tejiri also, who was seated to her left.
“What’s going on? Why’s my baby girl looking so serious? You don’t like the – what do they call this thing – the ehn—meat pie aunty gave you baby girl?”
Pamela looked at her paternal grandmother and smiled. “Granny Daddy I like it. And the name is samosa.” She giggled and her grandmother shrugged before smiling at her. “Your daddy refused to teach me the name oh my dear.” She got up and walked over to join them at the dining table. “Then what’s the matter? Your face is looking some how.” She shot a suspicious glance at her son. “Did you go and scold her now for something?”
Frank feigned a look of hurt. “Ah ah. Do I just go around scolding innocent people?”
“Okay then, what is it?”
Pamela slid off her chair and Tejiri had to get up to give her room to go around the table to her grandmother. She hugged her legs and rested her head against her grandmother’s thigh. “Granny Daddy, daddy and mama keep treating me like I’m sick when I’m not.”
Everyone turned to Pamela in surprise; even Lanre heard and left the match, walking to the table. “Sorry, what?” He chuckled, amused. “What is she saying?”
Her grandmother raised an eyebrow. “You’re not sick Pamela?”
She shook her head against the fabric of her grandmother’s wrapper.
“Then why have you been going to visit the hospital and running tests and feeling pains in your chest and tummy?” her grandmother asked, a sad smile on her face as she stroked Pamela’s head.
“Because I didn’t know better.”
Idara cut in, getting impatient. “Honey, what exactly are you talking about?”
“Mama you said a lot of times that the only way we can make God happy is by trusting Him, right?” Her mother exchanged glances with others at the table. So that’s what she was on about, she thought. She looked back at her daughter and nodded. “Mmhmm.”
“And when I asked Jesus to come into my heart last year, I did it because I was believing He made me, loved me and wanted to take care of me and that I couldn’t make Him happy by doing things my own way every time, right?”
Idara nodded again watched her daughter curiously as Pamela turned back to her grandmother. “Granny Daddy, today at the big people’s church, the preacher said that Jesus came because He thinks all of us are worth loving and dying for, and that that’s why we have Christmas.” Her grandmother nodded in approval. The whole living room was silent; the others in the parlor had turned and were listening in on the conversation. “He said if we can trust Jesus enough to give us every next breath and wake us up each morning, then we have no right to doubt Him about anything else. Right?” Pamela looked around for a response and most of the adults in the room nodded one after the other, but Lanre just rolled his eyes and sighed.
“Mama and Daddy love me a lot but they keep treating me like I’m too sick to ever get better. The smiling man at the hospital said I should be good and eat as much as I can today so my body would get stronger quickly, since I don’t have that water bag to take around anymore. But mama won’t even let me have more than two samosa’s because she thinks it will hurt my tummy.”
Idara blinked and looked around the table incredulously. Am I being indirectly scolded right now? By my six-year-old?
“The pastor said we don’t have to put up with anything Jesus didn’t come to give to us. That we can fight bad things when we trust Him – just like mama said before. And being sick is bad because I never get to eat anything nice anymore, and mama and daddy are not happy with me all the time, and they’re always busy, and I can’t get any new toys because I’m always at the hospital.” Pamela paused and pouted heavily. “Granny Daddy, I hate being sick! So I’ve decided I won’t be sick anymore because I want to go to a normal school like Judith when I’m bigger, and play at the park, and eat what I want…and have daddy tuck me in, and see mama smiling again…” At the last sentence she teared up and buried her face in her grandmother’s wrapper as the dumbfounded woman rubbed the child’s back soothingly.
Everyone just sat there, staring at the sobbing Pamela and occasionally glancing at each other. No one could speak. After a few minutes, Idara got up and walked to her mother-in-law. She squatted so she was Pamela’s height and tapped on her shoulder. Pamela looked up and instantly flung her arms around her mother’s neck. Idara kissed hers and lifted her, heading for the staircase without uttering a word.
When they both left, everyone gravitated to the parlor quietly and the chatter decreased to a bare minimum as the commentators for the match helped to serve as background music to the solemn party.
Lanre sat beside Frank and shook his head. “See what you church people have caused now. You people should better help her understand that this faith thing doesn’t work for everybo-.”
Frank stopped him by raising his hand. “Says who?” he looked at his friend and smiled. “I think her understanding is just fine. Dar and I kind of needed her reminder actually.” He laughed at Lanre’s slightly miffed expression.
“What’s up with your face man?”
Lanre eyed him, annoyed. “You’re setting this child up for disappointment oh. This thing doesn’t work every time my brother.”
“What, faith? Faith doesn’t work? Says who?”
Frank peeped into his daughter’s room after sending off all their guests. His parents were still downstairs with his father-in-law but Idara’s mother had already retired to the room she was sharing with her husband. The room was mostly dark, with Christmas lights thrown over a large pink decorative butterfly that hung just above the head of Pamela’s bed. Idara lay on her side next to their daughter, propping her head up with her hand. Both of them were whispering and giggling when he walked in.
“May I join you ladies?” he asked in a loud whisper.
“Nope. Please, leave us!” He could see Idara raise her hand and give him the stop sign as she instructed him to leave in very fake cockney. Frank laughed. “Pam baby, please?”
Pamela giggled. “Of course Daddy can join us mama.” She poked her mother in the stomach and Idara sighed. “Alright fine. If you insist, what can I say?” She pulled her daughter closer and moved to the edge of the bed, to make room for Frank. “This was turning out to be a great mother-daughter bond time though.” Idara sighed again, exaggeratedly, and gained yet another giggle from Pamela.
Frank lay on his side as well, trying not to take up too much space. He and Idara were facing each other with Pamela looking up at them on either side of her. She smiled contentedly. “I think this is fun.” She said softly.
“Right? I should have come sooner then. Looks like mama has been boring you.” Frank stuck out his tongue at Idara and she rolled her eyes. Pamela shook her head at both of them, laughing. “Daddy stop, no. I mean it’s fun having you both. And it’s nice I don’t have to keep struggling with that wire and fluid thing all the time.” They all laughed at that and nodded in agreement. For several moments it was quiet.
“Do you both believe me when I say I’m not sick anymore? You and mama often tell me when you feel sick that you might feel bad in your body, but you aren’t really sick. Can’t that be me too?” she asked in a whisper, almost afraid she’d get a negative response. Frank bent and kissed her forehead. “Of course it can baby. Of course it is. We just forgot, thank you for reminding us.”
Pamela grinned up at him. “So I’ll just keep thanking Jesus for making me okay. And if I feel bad I’ll tell you, and I won’t fuss about my medicine if I have to take some. But I’m sure I won’t.” She turned to her mother. “And I’m sorry mama, but I ate like five samosa’s in the kitchen before aunty even brought it out. Which means I ate seven. And I still don’t feel ill at all.”
Idara widened her eyes in shock, cocked her head to the side and asked quietly. “You did…what?”
Pamela scooted closer to her father. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”
Frank sent her a look, interceding on Pamela’s behalf, and she sighed. “Fine. All right, get ready for bed. We’ll be back to tuck you in in ten minutes. Make sure you brush, madam seven samosa.” Pamela giggled and nodded as her parents got off her bed and exited the room.
Outside, Idara paused at the door and sighed again. “Wow. Who would have thought…?” she turned to look up at Frank, only to find him grinning widely at her.
“What is tickling you oga?”
“The fact that your daughter is such an old woman?” Idara laughed out loud as they crossed the hallway to their bedroom. “I know right? I couldn’t believe my ears when she went off this afternoon.” She looked at her husband again. “Frank, this your smile is not pure. What are you not saying?”
He shut their bedroom door before dramatically pulling out his phone. He scrolled a little and then held it up to Idara’s face. She squinted and looked at the screen for a few minutes, and Frank watched calmly as curiosity was replaced by confusion.
“I don’t get. Is this your account?”
“Is this from that bad-debt contract in August?”
He nodded again. “Ex-bad-debt contract you mean.”
Idara opened her mouth to scream and Frank swiftly placed his hand over it, laughing. “I just knew it. You want your mother to think I’ve killed her daughter right? Do you want to scare Pamela?” Idara shook off his hand and looked up at him. Her eyes were already glistening and he chucked her beneath the chin. “Cry cry.”
“Are you serious right now? Oh Jesus, wow.” She breathed. Frank nodded repeatedly, the grin still plastered on his face. “I got the message this evening and checked my account on that their app to confirm it. Apparently, there had been some error and it was only recently discovered that the person handling payment for that project was just too incompetent to cross check things and turn in accurate reports.”
“God bless him or her for their incompetence. God bless them! They will live long.” Idara raised both hands high and looked like she could jump any minute. “Oh Frankie, do you know what this means?”
He nodded. “Pay off our debts and get Pam a few new toys.”
She paused and let her arms fall to her sides. “Well, yes but, have you forgotten we’ll still need to keep paying for continued treatments next year-.”
Frank cocked an eyebrow and drew his wife in, circling her waist with both arms. “So much for your mother-daughter bond time. Did you hear nothing that child said?” he whispered, chuckling.
Idara frowned and looked up at him. “Yeah but, what if–.”
“—we get her tests results out tomorrow and find out she’s totally clean?”
Idara bit her lip for a moment, then sighed and rested on his chest. “You’re right. Doubting mom is at it again.”
“Pamela will be fighting this stupid sickness in 2017?” Frank asked softly, and laughed as he shook his head while resting his chin on the top of Idara’s head.