(The next lines you will read are inspired by true events that transpired in the final few hours of January 31st, 2016.)
“Bros, abeg help me check time. ”
“It’s eight-thirty right now. ”
He nods in acknowledgment of your response and places his foot a little more firmly on the throttle. It’s Sunday night in Lagos, few hours separating you from that month in the year where everyone becomes a poet and the prices of flowers and chocolates skyrocket. Lekki is the destination, and the roads look free enough to conduct a Grand Prix…..except for the Ajah axis, that is; you could end up in a traffic jam at eleven forty-five p.m in that part of town. In any case, you both are sure of getting to her place in less than forty minutes, where same would have taken one hour and a half on either of the five days of certain gridlock.
Yes, you and your friend Dave are both on a rescue mission, and while it is not exactly a hostage situation, she had sounded no less distressed on the phone. She had called Dave at seven-thirty p.m, citing severe weakness amidst body pangs, and when he asked for your opinion, you had suggested that he go help out. Dave had never been one to play the role of a knight in shining armour, but he, unwilling to have the probable death of a lady on his conscience, decides to listen to you. Your advice comes with a price however; you have to go with him.
Sundays have never been your favourite days for leaving the house, you would rather see out the whole day in bed after (the occasional) church service, sometimes even resorting to switching off your phone, but you choose to deny your body the pleasure this time. Beyond the fact that you are more or less Dave’s wingman, your neighbourhood is at the receiving end of a lingering power outage, and besides, the ride would provide a welcome distraction from the sadness that comes with the impending arrival of yet another Monday.
You both get to Lekki a few minutes shy of nine o’ clock, though a series of wrong descriptions by the damsel in distress means that you arrive at her gate fourteen minutes later. You see her walk slowly out of her apartment, not looking half as much in danger as she sounded in that phone call. She introduces herself as Itohan – you had been told by Dave earlier, but you were too preoccupied with intense arguments in your head to remember. She is accompanied by a friend, Jennifer, lighter in complexion though equally slender, and even though they are only few inches away, you find yourself opening the doors of the back seat. After more than a few moments of indecision, you all opt to take Itohan to a hospital somewhere at Jakande, an area which lies three roundabouts and a number of U-turns away.
Dave puts his foot on the throttle again and begins to drive out of Lekki, Itohan’s groans influencing alterations in the car’s speedometer. A motorcyclist pops up on the right, and Dave swerves a bit to the left, reckoning without the black Honda SUV coming from the opposite direction. You on your part are distracted, punching away at your phone’s keypad as you try to set up an indoor date the following week with one of the females on your Blackberry contact list. You look up just in time however to behold the looming disaster, and you quickly scream “Dave, look”, but he can only steer to the right a little, and what follows is the forceful brushing of two large piles of metal against each other. The night’s silence suffers interruption, and the world stops for a few seconds.
There isn’t enough time for you to recover from the shock though, as the owner of the SUV alights from the back seat, and his driver from his position. They both walk towards your car with clenched fists, and you, being very much out of self-defensive shape, silently pray that things do not escalate. You and Dave get down in unison, and while he goes to confront them, you assess the extent of the damage (to your car) with your eyes and fingers.
From his cologne, accent and demeanour, you deduce that the owner of the SUV belongs to the city’s upper middle class. He speaks in a threatening voice about how he sprayed the car only the week before, and how he is running late for an international flight. His driver insinuates that you and Dave are both intoxicated, but you retort quickly, telling him to watch his language. One unwritten rule about vehicular collisions in these parts is that he who takes to begging places himself at the mercy of the other guy, and so the shouting match intensifies, neither of you willing to concede. Bystanders take sides, giving varying accounts of the crash, and the motorcyclist whom Dave was trying to avoid has long disappeared. Jennifer even tries to join the party, but you tell her to get back into the car, knowing all too well the inflammatory tendency of a lady’s tongue. You all eventually realise that verbal onslaughts do not effect vehicle repairs, and hop back into your respective automobiles, driving off in different directions.
Itohan begins to groan again, and it takes about fifteen minutes and multiple requests for road descriptions before Dave gets you all to the hospital at Jakande. The name, St. Kizito, suggests that it was built by missionaries, and you suddenly feel a strange sense of affinity, which immediately evaporates as soon as you hear one of the two men sitting outside say, “sorry, but this hospital does not work on Sundays.”
You let the words sink in, and you wonder what has become of the country’s health care providers, now choosing when to open their doors, not bothered about life-threatening emergencies. Deflation is the general feeling, but Dave starts the car again in between deep sighs, and after further pleas to passers-by, locates another hospital on the next street, but Itohan objects.
“This one is not well-equipped enough”, she says, her voice a far cry from that of the dying lady you picked up at Lekki. “See how the building looks like, it’s not fine. Even the name says it all. Milkose! Who in their right mind comes here? ”
“But it’s a specialist hospital, IT”, Jennifers cut in. (IT is a short way of calling Itohan by name.) “Let’s just try, besides it’s pretty late, past ten already.”
“No o, it’s not my body these quacks will use for experiment”, Itohan maintains.
“So where do we go now? ” Dave demands, in a tone which manages to suppress the fact that his patience is running out.
“Erm, let’s try Germaine’s Hospital, at Ikate”, Jennifer replies.
Ikate is closer to Lekki than Jakande, and you roll your eyes repeatedly, stopping short of asking the girls why that was not suggested from the very beginning. You get there in another ten minutes, and the security guard on duty addresses you like he is contemplating whether or not to open the gate. The confusing signpost suggesting that the hospital only operates from Mondays to Saturdays does not help matters either.
“Oh God, I should have just called my doctor friend. He would have come to check out what’s wrong with me. This is all just crap”, you hear Itohan whine from behind.
You are tempted to ask her why she called Dave when she could have easily beckoned on her doctor friend, you are tempted to pull her by the hair and throw her out of the car….but you take too deep breaths instead and open the door of the back seat, never mind that you are farther from it than she is. The security guard confirms that the signpost is a mix-up, and slowly opens the gate.
While at the lobby, you ask Dave how he came to know Itohan, but he doesnt give a concrete answer. You feel that the question is necessary, you need to know the level of familiarity that exists to warrant such an experience as this. You are further incensed when the doctor reveals that Itohan’s problem is a mild case of gastroenteritis, and recommends simple prescription drugs such as Panadol, Flagil and Boscopan – items she could have purchased at any pharmacy close to her residence!
“Eww, I dont like taking Panadol”, Itohan reacts.
You do not want to hit her, so you head to the corridor outside, pacing up and down, surfing the internet for sports news with what is left of your smartphone’s battery. Jennifer takes care of the hospital bill, and you all head out to the car. Once inside, you steal glances at Jennifer through the rear view mirror and find that she is easy on the eye, but you are not in the mood to establish any kind of contact. Dave stops in front of Itohan’s gate, and the girls alight, Jennifer’s words of gratitude sounding more sincere than those of the sick lady she accompanied.
The return journey to your apartment at Ajah is a long one. The car begins to jerk unsteadily, signifying a drop in the volume of available petrol, and you both manage to make it home with what is left in the tank. It’s eleven-fifty p.m when you get to your door, not exactly ample time to sleep before taking on a new working week. Well, it’s not like you fall asleep so quickly – you reflect on the events of the past few hours, you wonder if you were wrong in electing to be nice, you examine the possibility of you and Dave having been hypnotized (her home state was famed for fetish practices afterall), and you take consolation in the fact that the collision with the SUV could have turned out a lot worse….not that the mosquitoes would care. They capitalise on your failure to apply insecticides, and they feast on your’s and Dave’s skins that night.
Your other phone (there is always that smaller phone whose battery lasts longer) beeps at six-thirty the following morning. Your eyes are still laden with sleep, but you reach for the phone nonetheless. It’s a text message from Brenda, an old friend of yours, requesting for financial assistance. The events of the night before play out in your head, you think of the costs to be incurred in fixing the dents on the car, and you toss the poor Nokia device angrily as you make for the bathroom.