A snake flicking its tongue at a crab on Nat Geo Wild had replaced the African Magic Yoruba show on the television at the hospital’s reception when they walked in. She rushed to the seat she had previously occupied before going to get him, it was the coolest corner of the room with the standing AC directly opposite the seat.
He cringed at the snake, wondered how people stood to watch snakes and scary animals in their living rooms while she smiled against his right shoulder. He forgot about the snakes as she told him of her plans to shed her skin, he wanted to be sure she knew how to do it, to not get into trouble that no one could save her from, not even him.
He had walked with her through death, and life. No one knew her better, only perhaps God. But Bayo would be upset with her if she told him he knew her as well as God, he was touchy about blasphemy and that perhaps was his only flaw. But it would be impossible for him to walk beside her when she would go through this fire and he didn’t even know she had no intention of coming back.
This surgery is too experimental, what if you do not survive it? The question seared his tongue but the words wouldn’t leave his mouth and he wasn’t strong enough to battle her pseudo-omniscient attitude aka I too know. He talked about the trips they had never gone on because she had been too afraid to travel with him while she struggled with the weight of the question in his eyes. You see, she knew him as well as he knew her.
How will I live without you when if I die? she asked behind clenched lips and bit her cheek to hold the wry smile in, while her heart roamed her ribcage in an attempt to lie in her stomach and weep. He pulled her head to his chest and held it there, his heartbeat against her ear gave her the same peace it had given for years. They had never needed words to open their hearts and letting the torrents out. In the beginning, she had built walls, dams, anything to keep him out. In the end it was all a waste of time and emotional energy.
“Have you heard Beautiful People by Chike?” he asked suddenly.
“Ehen na, I love the song and most of all, it makes me think of you.”
“Scam! Washer mistress of the federal republic.” His eyes twinkled and his cheeks reddened slightly.
“You are my beautiful people, yes people! You are more than a person to me Bayo. Brother, friend, troubler of my soul, former lover, forever thorn in my flesh.”
“There’s a part that always brings you to mind and note that I smile too unlike you that only remembers me when you listen to Yvonne Chaka-Chaka”
“Oya tell me the part, swell my head well so it can be like ijebu garri after two hours soaking in water.” He said as he patted her hair
“Some people in your life
Are there to make you smile
Oh they will take your pain
And give you so much joy.”
“See your cockroach voice!”
“Have you heard a cockroach sing before? For all we know, it might sing better than you.”
“Me ke? I was the best singer in the whole Unilag, unlike you that cannot sing jack.”
“If your voice was half as good as mine, nobody for hear word again o” she countered and squealed when he pinched her neck.
She clung to him as fear rose up her throat, the nurse starring at them with such intensity that he turned to look at her.
“She was staring at us” she whispered, biting her cheek to keep her laughter in, to keep her joy restrained.
“I know! I felt it” he said softly as he squeezed her shoulder.
“Let’s look at her back like that”
“No jare, I’d rather not give her more attention than she deserves, the amebo.”
“She hasn’t seen this kind of love before,” he teased.
“Who loves in the reception of a hospital in Nigeria?” she punched his stomach as she replied
They burst into laughter and she filled her lungs with the scent of his cologne. They chattered about other things, laughter was the third partner in their relationship- an ever present friend. The nurse called her name and he hugged her tight before she went in to see the doctor.
“The doctor said I’d live after the procedure” she joked as she rejoined him.
“Seriously, how far?”
“Same old story”.
They walked out of the clinic in silence, her right hand entwined with his left.
“when you need me, I will be there, always,” he said when they got to his car.
“I know” she whispered and hugged him before she walked to her own car.
She slid into the car and did not start the engine, instead she reached for her phone and selected the song. Chike’s voice and the melodious clash of instruments soon filled the car and she drummed on the steering wheel as her thoughts ricocheted in her head, from fear about the procedure she would undertake in the future to meeting Bayo and loving him and not quite losing him but being too fearful to hold him and ultimately giving him up because she knew her life would end at midday.
Was this regret? She wondered.
Her phone beeped, it was a WhatsApp message from Bayo.
“Be strong, pray and know you have a multitude of people who love you and would not be the same if you were not here,” were the words on her screen.
She turned to the left front window of the car, and watched people walking on the corridors of the teaching hospital, they all seemed to carry pain on their heads and shoulders, gloom and despair were their shadows. She was thankful that all she had someone who threw her own pain out. For the few weeks she had left, she was glad she had him.
“Na why I hold, na why I hold my baby.” Chike’s voice wafted into her thoughts.
She smiled at that line, sadness powdering the edges of her smile with an ashen glow. In those minutes in the waiting room, he had been hers, her baby to hold and love. Now, the minutes that had morphed into memory and a dull ache in her heart.
“Ose dearie, you are one in a million. Greet your wife for me.” She typed on her phone which had his last message on the screen, clicked send, put the phone in the pigeonhole and covered her face with her palms.
The twang of the guitar and Chike’s humming as the song ended, finally tickled her tear ducts with enough force that her cheeks were soon wet. She took her handkerchief from her bag, dabbed her eyes, blew her nose, stretched to look at her face in the rearview mirror and wondered if Bayo had taken all the love she was born with. Dismissing the thought as silly, she winked at her reflection and started the engine.