“How bad is he?”
They were standing in the lobby of the hospital; same hospital he had come to meet her when Efe had gotten herself in trouble; same hospital he met Sophia in.
So long ago…
Igo, demure in red blouse and blue jeans, looked everywhere but at Frank as she answered. “I haven’t seen him – nobody has been allowed to see him. But the doctor says it’s real bad.” She gripped his arm and finally met his eyes, concern making hers darker. “Frank, she poured boiling oil on him!”
The floor swung up and hit Frank in the face with no apologies. He staggered and would have fallen if it wasn’t for Igo’s grip on his arm. She held him steady and led him to a bench set against the wall.
“Excuse me,” she said to a frowning woman who shifted grudgingly as though she had wet the bench. Igo set Frank down gently and touched his forehead.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m – I’m fine. I just…” Her palm felt soft and warm; her face glistened in spite of the worry that put wrinkles where they didn’t belong. The neck of her blouse fell loose; presenting a lighter shade of skin, lighter than her face and arms. He could also see two protuberances; two black-wrapped protuberances…
Hastily he looked away.
“Frank?” Igo said plaintively as she took her hand away from his head and straightened.
“Where is Stella now?” he asked through gritted teeth.
“Nobody knows. She called Efe and together they brought Fola to the hospital, and then she said she wanted to go see to her kids. She didn’t come back. Efe says the house was empty when she went by there on her way back home. She probably just took the kids and left for God knows where.”
Frank’s hand came up; he wanted to say something, but he changed his mind. Igo, who could tell what he was thinking said, “She’s at home with her family. She just waited for me to get here before leaving.”
Nodding gratefully, he rubbed his forehead. A small throb had begun somewhere in the back of his head and he felt overwhelmingly tired. He tried not to think of his friend, a few meters away…
“Which one of you is here for Fola – “ the woman, a doctor recognizable by the stethoscope hanging almost negligently around her neck, adjusted the reading glasses she was wearing and looked at the file open in her hand. “…Mr. Fola Akanji?” She looked up and squeezed her face.
“Here,” Frank rose and, with Igo hanging onto his arm, stepped away from the wall and towards the woman.
She met them halfway. “I’m Dr. Sheye.” Her handshake was firm. “Your friend is stable but in critical condition. He suffered third degree burns to his face, upper body and arms.” Frank’s ears started roaring; he heard the doctor through layer after layer of static. Beside him Igo tensed; her nails were cutting into his arm.
He struggled to focus on what the doctor was saying.
“…might lose sight in one eye, facial tissues are badly damaged, extensive surgery will be required and maybe some grafting, but for now, the focus is to keep him alive.”
Frank tried to talk; but for some reason, he couldn’t.
Igo asked; “When can we see him?”
Dr. Sheye shook her head. “It’ll be some time yet. But he’s okay, and we’ll do our best to care for him. You pray too, okay?”
Igo nodded. “Yes we will, thank you.”
The doctor turned to go – and then turned back. “Are you related to Mr. Fola?”
She removed her glasses – and he saw empathy in her eyes, something he would never have thought possible. “Who did this to him? His file says it was boiling oil.”
Frank swallowed. “It was his wife.”
She shook her head. “That is…that is horrifying.” Putting her glasses back on, she touched his arm lightly. “We’ll do our best.”
Her sensible shoes made almost no sound as she turned away and disappeared into the door she came out from.
“I appreciate your being here,” Frank said softly.
“Oh Frank,” Igo said, raising her head from his shoulder where it had been resting, “Of course. Efe called me in a panic after Stella called her. I’m sure you understand Stella wouldn’t call you herself.”
“She knows I’ll probably kill her or something.” He closed his eyes and leaned his head against hers, which she’d put back on his shoulder. “And he was telling me he was fixing things o, just last week or so.” He sighed. “This life sha.”
“I didn’t even know things were this bad between them,” Igo said softly. “Baby – I mean Frank, were we ever at this point? The point where you started to feel as though you had to hit me to make me listen or shut up?”
“I should be asking you that. She’s the one who’s been doing the beating na.”
There was a moment; a small pocket of time in which Igo looked at Frank with an I cannot believe you said that expression while trying not to laugh. But then Frank decided to top it with a wink.
Igo’s laughter was explosive – so explosive, dozing people in the lobby started awake and some nurses came running to see what the noise was about. The only thing they saw were a running couple; a man holding the arm of a woman as they ran towards the exit. Frenzied laughter followed the running figures; frenzied laughter and a drawn out hiss from a frowning woman seated on a bench.
“We aren’t supposed to be laughing about this,” Igo managed to choke out amidst spurts of laughter.
“So stop na,” Frank said, hands on knees gasping for breath. “Man, I haven’t run that hard in a while.”
Igo stopped laughing and looked at him. “And smoking and drinking – Frank, you don’t take care of yourself like you used to.”
The frown that colored his face made him look unfriendly. “Why would I? You left me, remember?”
“But I didn’t leave you Frank! I…you pushed me away, you asked for the divorce! I didn’t have a say in how the whole thing played out! I just stood and watched!”
He was suddenly subdued. “I know. And not a day goes by I don’t wish – “
His phone started to ring.
Cursing softly, he kept his gaze on Igo’s face as he struggled to pull out the device. After a few minutes of struggling he was able to get the phone out of his pocket. It was Priye calling.
“Guy where you dey?” Was his friend’s raucous salutation.
“Where I dey?” Frank intoned. “Which kain question be dat? Wetin happen?”
“Guy cool down na. We dey fight ni? I dey travel tomorrow – uncle say make I show villa na im I reason am say make we commot dis night. After I free you now, I go call Folly…”
The woman he hadn’t stopped looking at could see depression set on his features. Reaching out a hand, she rubbed his shoulder nearest her, sending some warmth into it. He nodded gratefully before speaking into the phone; “Guy, na hospital I dey so o. I dey hospital with Folly.”
There was a moment’s pause – and then, “Which hospital una dey?”
Frank told him which hospital it was. “I’m on my way,” was all Priye said and hung up.
“Priye?” Igo asked.
Frank nodded. “He can be annoying at times, but he’s a loyal friend. He didn’t even ask what happened, just said he’s on his way.”
“Well – “
Frank’s phone started to ring again. This time it was Sofia.
“Hi baby,” came the gushing reply. “You didn’t let me know you were home and I was getting worried. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Frank was grateful as he felt rather than saw Igo walk away to give him some space. “I just ran into a little traffic. How is everyone?”
She chuckled softly. “Ales is happy for me, mummy is using the age difference between us as an excuse to be grouchy; dad is…well; dad.” She laughed again. “Everything is fine! Stop worrying so much, you hear?”
“Okay,” Frank mumbled. “I’m glad at least they’re not fighting us.”
“No o,” she answered, sounding surprised that he would think such a thing. “Why would anyone want to do that?”
“I don’t know…maybe – “
“I already told you to stop worrying! Everything will be fine; I promise.”
“Okay.” He sighed.
“Goodnight, my darling.”
Frank looked at the warm phone, wondering why he didn’t tell her where he was. The first excuse that jumped into his mind was that he didn’t want her to worry; but as he looked at the red-blouse-wearing woman walking towards him, he wondered if it was something else.
“Can we got back inside?” she asked, hugging herself for warmth. “It’s cold here.”
“Okay,” Frank said, putting an arm around her.
Together they disappeared into the brightly-lit interior of the hospital.
Frank started awake suddenly; Igo was shaking him gently. “Frank, Fola is conscious. We can see him now.”
He raised his head from her thighs where it had been resting and stood up, stretching and yawning. She rubbed his shoulders lightly and smiled at him. “Are you okay?” she asked.
He nodded, querying the warm feeling he had from being around her. He wanted to touch her, he wanted to hold her and say nothing, just lose himself in the warmth that was her. He was actually stretching a hand to pull her back as she preceded him into the corridor that led to the ward
Why am I thinking these things now? Which kain wahala be dis now? Then guilt assailed him and he flinched. Igo saw the movement from the corner of her eye and stopped. “Are you sure you’re okay?” she asked him again.
He nodded. “I’m just, you know nervous. I don’t know what to expect.”
The nurse leading them turned and addressed them in a voice as stiff as her demeanor; “You will please be quiet; you will not agitate or stress the patient. Also you must; under no circumstances show any reaction when you see patient. He will be looking at your faces for a clue of how bad he looks; he must not know. Else, he might give up fighting and give up.”
Frank wanted to point out the absurdity of her closing sentence but thought the better of it. “We understand,” he said instead, rubbing his hand on Igo’s back in a circular motion.
She wriggled and looked at him over shoulder. “That feels nice, thank you.”
Instantly he took his hand away from her back.
Her face registered surprise. “Why are you stopping now?”
He shrugged. “You are not supposed to enjoy that. You’re supposed to take it as a matter of course. The money you paid does not include enjoying it.”
“Oh you – “ she swung her purse at his head; he ducked and she missed, almost slamming herself into the wall. The nurse turned and frowned at them; Frank waved an apology while trying not laugh as Igo righted herself. She frowned at him and slowly drew her forefinger across her throat. Frank started to laugh –
The nurse cleared her throat. “Come in quietly,” she said sternly.
In spite of the nurse’s warning and what they also knew, Igo couldn’t contain her gasp of horror at the sight that was once a healthy, handsome man of thirty-something years. Now, Fola looked like a survivor of the zombie apocalypse depicted in the Resident Evil game. His injuries were burns and so couldn’t be wrapped; the gory details were clear to see.
One side of his face and his entire chest were a mass of purpling flesh. His left eye streamed water, his undamaged right hand clenched and unclenched as though trying to grasp air. But for a few patches here and there along his left leg, his lower body was untouched.
There was strangled sob from behind him; Frank heard Igo rush out of the ward. He could barely hold his tears in himself; they crawled slowly from behind his eyes as he looked at what was left of his friend.
“He is in pain – a lot of pain but we’ve sedated him and he will go under soon enough. The Dr. just thought you would want to see him; to see for yourself how he’s doing.”
Frank nodded. “Thank you,” he said, swallowing painfully to get the words out. As he watched, his friend’s clutching hand slowed – and then dropped onto the bed. For a terrifying moment, Frank thought he’d died.
“He’s asleep. Let’s leave him alone for now.”
As he stepped outside the ward, the first thing he saw leaning against the opposite wall was a weeping Igo. She raised her head and looked at him.
“I’m so sorry. I just couldn’t….” she shuddered. “Frank, what sort of woman does this to her husband? What sort of woman?”
He opened his arms to her and she collapsed sobbing against his chest. Frank looked up, finally understanding why blaming God for things never made sense.