“Miss. Edet? I want to confirm your availability on the 25th of October; the African Society of Atheists’ people are still waiting for a confirmation.” Itoro curses as her phone falls to the rug from beneath her ear and shoulder; the tiny bottle of pink nail polish tips over with her sudden movement and starts…
“Miss. Edet? I want to confirm your availability on the 25th of October; the African Society of Atheists’ people are still waiting for a confirmation.”
Itoro curses as her phone falls to the rug from beneath her ear and shoulder; the tiny bottle of pink nail polish tips over with her sudden movement and starts to create a bright tributary pattern across the stack of papers her hand had been resting on; a pink stream from a Disney story. “Shit! Alice, please hold on oh! My phone fell.” In reaching for the phone, her perfectly-done left hand smudges her white robe and loud expletives cause her secretary, on the other end of the phone, to recoil.
“You know what, Alice..ask me later. Shey I still have The Spot interview by 3 today? I’ll just run to Sade’s salon to do my nails first. Please call Yusuf; tell him to come an hour earlier..”
“Actually… The Spot interview isn’t till next week. You’re meeting Dr. Roberts in an hour. Although that’s odd..”
“Very. I’m sure we checked this thing together yesterday. Lemme check again.” Giving up on the mess being made, Itoro flings open her MTN journal, flipping till she gets to the present date. “Hmmn. It says Dr. Roberts here too. Maybe we were confused. Oh well, sha call me about the ASA people tonight. Lemme get dressed.”
“Koni da fun baba e! Omoburuku!” The angry woman’s voice reaches Itoro riding on waves of the Lagos heat. Up. Down. And smack- against her face through her open window. The bright red lipstick seems to brighten with each bitter word. Itoro imagines that it is blood, a physical manifestation of the woman’s spite and misguided fury.
“Aunty, please drive jare!” Itoro mutters; thinking the woman as just another typical example of everything wrong with Nigeria. Her eyes travel from the ‘My Year of Divine Encounter’ sticker on the woman’s windshield and back to her gaping mouth. “Bloody religion! Be deceiving yourself there…”
Attributing all her morning’s bad luck to the spilled nail polish, Itoro refuses to admit that she is the cause of this present standoff. The spilled coffee was all her fault; scratching her car against the gate was her fault too but hearing the loud “So, what if you now come and die now?!” that made her swerve was definitely because she’d inhaled all that acetate from the spilled polish. Hearing voices?Must be all the stress. She needed to talk about this to Dr. Roberts. Maybe.
It wouldn’t look good on her to be crazy right now. People are beginning to listen; to be enlightened! Sure, she had to handle her father disowning her and her mother’s warnings that no good Nigerian man would take a woman who was so vocal about her unbelief but how people could believe in a loving God, and spend every breathing moment alluding to his ‘goodness’, but still be the most callous unfeeling parents would always baffle Itoro; she was glad to be rid of them!
And although there are times when the studio lights at an interview are too bright; or when she looks over the growing crowds in a huge auditorium, that she feels like a fraud… someone saying the right words in the right pitch in the right power suit-she sometimes feels a questioning in her heart, a pesky fly buzzing around her certainties… when she just isn’t… sure. But there is no time to give in to such rubbish! People quote her! Listen to her! She has to ignore the condescending pity from the pious religious; she cares more about liberating the brainwashed.
If people would open their eyes to see there’s no god, then maybe there’d be nothing to hide their thieving, their corruption and poor services behind! People are beginning to recognize her on the streets now. “The one who doesn’t believe in God? Eeyaah. Hell is real o, sister!” Atheism is not a flighty movement borne out of boredom, it’s educated people refusing to be subjected to… to… ridiculousness!
“Madam, get out of my way!”
Itoro runs into the busy hospital, her chiffon shirt kissing the nave of her back despite just stepping out of her air-conditioned car. She is five minutes late and exasperated. Running despite her heels, one who hates to keep people waiting, she arrives and seeing no receptionist, is about to rap against Dr. Roberts’ door when a voice stops her.
Itoro’s brows furrow. She turns. “Yes?”
A short woman stands just outside the door, gesturing for her to follow. “Dr. Roberts says you should wait.”
“Oh? Are you new?” Itoro feels uneasy. There is something familiar about the woman, or her voice. She is buxom and her nurse’s hat seems to hover above her head like a halo.
“Yes. I. Am. Nurse. Perpetual!” The woman giggles into the files she is carrying. Itoro thinks it might have been a cough. “Na today today I resume. This way, please.” They climb up a flight of stairs then walk down a long depressing corridor flanked with pictures of smiling children someone thought might be uplifting.
At a door labelled 51, the woman steps, more like swooshes, aside for Itoro to go ahead of her. “Dr. Roberts says wait here. He’ll come pick you. Wait oh! Ehehn..”
Itoro steps into the room and the door shuts between the two of them. Itoro is startled when she turns to see a bed in the corner of the white room. But is more surprised when she finds a little girl staring at her from across the distance.
“Oh, I’m sorry. There must be a mistake. I was asked to wait here.” Discomfort aroused by the sight of one so small surrounded by huge pillows and tubes causes her to stutter.
“Who?” Her voice is small and flits out of her mouth like a surprised bird.
“Nurse Perpetual, she said.”
The girl giggles quietly. “Pepperchewal? That’s a funny name.”
Itoro relaxes. “I thought so too.” Her eyes drift over the little girl’s bandaged forehead to the cast surrounding the length of her right hand and leg. Itoro quells the urge to ask questions about the tube emerging from her stomach.
“Do you want to sit? My mummy will soon come back; she’s bringing ice cream.”
Itoro quietly deposits herself on the chair farthest from the girl, not wanting to deny her anything. About thirty minutes pass where the noises of a mischievous Jerry and frustrated Tom fill the room from the TV perched above them.
“So, um..how old are you?”Itoro finally breaks in.
“I’m 9. My birthday is next month. But I don’t know if I’ll be at home yet…”
“Do you read the news? I’ve seen you on TV.” Her voice is getting weaker, it seems to Itoro.
“Um, no. But I’m on TV sometimes.”Doing what? Itoro’s head lowers to her hands. There is something insistent on her chest; it is not unfamiliar but the pressure is more. Being here, in this room, so close to calamity… has heightened every emotion in her body.
“That’s so cool! I want to be on CNN when I grow up. If I survive sha… But mummy believes my chances might improve.” She coughs softly.
Where was Dr. Roberts? Itoro’s hands shake in her lap; slowly, then more visibly. She hides them under her bag. She squeezes her eyes shut. She is struggling against something but it is not until she breathes deeply once and twice and again that she hears what she has been screaming in her head.
“Heal her. Please, heal her.”
“Itoro?” A voice at the door raises her tear-stricken face sharply. As she stares at the doctor, she can swear he can read the thoughts in her head. He can see the ‘pastor’ of atheism… praying! She feels naked. Caught. She looks away. “What are you doing here? Are you okay?”
She stands to her feet unsteadily. “Nurse Perpetual asked me to wait here.”
“Huh? Who on earth is Nurse Perpetual? I didn’t expect to see you till next week… Are you sure you’re alright?”
But Itoro isn’t listening; she is distracted by her vibrating phone. Lifting it up to see a text from Alice: ‘Don’t forget to get back about the ASA, please’, her thumb vacillates between Reply and Delete; and it hovers and hovers…
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