By Tony Nwaka
continues from last week
Their children stomped into the sitting room. He had slumped to the floor and was becoming inaudible. Amina turned toward Amuebie and urged her to quickly get a tricycle to take them to the health centre in the village.
By the time they got to the place, he had become unconscious. The nurse on duty said the only doctor attached to the center had closed for work and gone back to Akeh. She advised that they quickly take Udoka there. The driver of the tricycle complained that he did not have enough fuel to take them on the trip. Amuebie immediately dashed to the village square to get another tricycle. Her mother had started wailing loudly, attracting curious passersby who began to gather in their numbers at the front of the clinic.
Nkiru learnt about the ordeal of her beloved in-laws and rushed to the clinic. She tried to calm Amina, encouraging her on the prospects of a successful treatment at Akeh. Amuebie eventually returned to the clinic with two tricycles. Amina, the nurse and some of the on-looking sympathizers managed to lift Udoka into one of the vehicles. Amina and the nurse rode with him while Nkiru and Amuebie hopped on the other tricycle. They all headed for Akeh.
They arrived at Akeh and rushed him to the emergency ward of the General Hospital at Amawbia Street. It was the same health centre they had first taken Amina in her moments of labour during the delivery of Amuebie. But the clinic had been expanded and upgraded to a full-fledged hospital. Amina was requested to make some payments for his treatment, but being that the money she had taken along as she hurried out of the house was not enough, she deposited all she had and asked Amuebie to return to Ubo for more money. For hours the doctors battled to save the life of Udoka.
It was close to midnight when the doctors called Nkiru to inform her of the situation: Udoka was dead. He had died of food poisoning. Nkiru stood speechless, rooted to the spot. She folded her hands, as had become habitual to her, and stared at the doctors in disbelief. She cast a backward glance at the door she had just stepped out from. Amina was in there still sobbing and praying for divine intervention. How am I going to break the news to her? No, I can’t handle this. Where is Nna anyi?
She looked at the doctors for the umpteenth time, as though to extract from them a reversal of their pronouncement and, as the futility of her expectations began to sink in, she turned and quietly stepped out of the hospital. It was pitch-dark. No vehicles were on the road. Her eyes roved over the place as leaves rustled in the dry and dusty harmattan wind. She walked back into the hospital building, and gradually made her way to the waiting room.
Amina and Amuebie gazed at her as tears dropped from her eyes. She could not look them in the face. As she walked toward the chair at the corner of the room, she slumped to the floor. Amuebie screamed and dashed toward her. A nervous Amina managed to her feet and moved unsteadily in their direction.
Two nurses stamped into the room and stared pitifully at Amina. Looking in their eyes, she knew the worst had happened. She stood transfixed on the spot. The wailing of her daughter and condolences of the nurses seemed like a distant echo. Then she made slowly and quietly for the door. One of the nurses instinctively followed her.
Amina ran out of the door and gave a loud cry, “Ewohhhhhhhh.”
She tore loose her wrapper and ran half naked out of the building. Swiftly, the nurse picked up the wrapper and chased after her. The wailing of Amina reverberated across the dark and cold night.
By the next morning the news of Udoka’s death had hit the village. Ubo was thrown into mourning. In spite of the peculiar relationship he had had with his kinsmen, it began to dawn on all that they had indeed lost a prominent and supportive son of the community. Amina, Nkiru and Amuebie returned to Ubo, while the body of Udoka was kept at the mortuary in Akeh General Hospital. Nkiru was always with Amina. She stayed around to help her out with all her personal needs.
Although Nkiru informed her that she would henceforth be wearing black clothes, Amina had long known it was the traditional requirement for any woman who had just lost her husband in the community. Amina was also to shave off her hair completely and stay away from her tailoring trade and refrain from making other public appearances for three months.
Amuebie and her two younger ones would also shave their heads and be out of school until days after the burial of their father. Intermittently, Uncle Madu would come around to see how they were doing and to brief Amina on the funeral preparations as drawn up by elders of the family.
One Friday afternoon, Amina was in the sitting room alone with her children, dressed in a black top and black wrapper, with her hair completely shaven. From the mat at the far corner of the floor where she was seated, she watched Nkiru step in.
The usually cheerful Nkiru was looking crestfallen. Amina knew this was beyond the gloom of the bereavement, being that they had cried and the tears of calamity had given way to a numbing resignation to the stark realities that lay ahead. She was convinced there was much more to the discomfort written on the face of Nkiru that afternoon.
“What’s the matter, Nkiru? You’re looking worried,” she said. Nkiru took a seat near Amina and told her she needed to have a private discussion with her. Amina’s eyes roamed across to her children. They all rose and headed for their room.
Nkiru looked around the room to ensure the children had exited. She stood to shut the door leading to the rooms, after which she returned to join Amina.
“An issue has come up, Amina,” Nkiru said.
“What is it?” Amina replied and gazed wearily at her.
Uncle Madu had returned from a family meeting at the residence of Chief Obodo and had promptly sent Nkiru to notify Amina about the decisions of the elders of the family. Arrangements for the burial of Udoka had reached the concluding stage and virtually all traditional requirements had been met. The levies and attires to be worn on the occasion by family members had been communicated to them. The only thing left was for the date of interment to be fixed.
But before that could be done, there was a crucial ritual that had to be performed by Amina.
Nkiru tightened her lips and, with folded arms, glared at the floor. “I’m sorry I never told you about this. I actually thought it would not come up again because of the disagreements among the elders the last time a man died in the family,” Nkiru said.
Memories of a bitter past flooded Amina’s thoughts. She remembered the crisis over the community’s insistence on the incision of her daughter. She stared at Nkiru. “What is it they are asking for this time, my sister?” Amina asked in dejected tone. She managed to sit up. She was feeling weak.
continues next week…