We passed through the poorly lit passage a into a dark spacious but vacated foyer. My giant escorts stopped and I wondered if they were up to any mischief.
The light came on and a uniformed lady, hastened out from a fully stuffed room, holding a neatly folded towel and some room supplies. She walked towards us and smiled welcome to me, took my bag and led us all towards a closed door.
At the the door, my escorts both turned back to take their leave after a brief glare at my lower abdomen and face. It’s no fault of theirs, I was too young to be caught up in an adult life.
The lady opened the door, took my bag inside, searched it thoroughly and introduced herself as my nurse and care giver.
“Is this a hospital?”
” Special Maternity Home”
I looked at her steadily, waiting for more explanations but none came.
“Is there anywhere I can buy something to eat? I’m very hungry.” I was so tired an famished.
She studied me.
“Call me auntie,” she said as if she didn’t hear my question.
“Okay. Any canteen around here….?”
“Please go through this. First thing before anything.” she handed a booklet to me, THE RULES. I looked at it and made to open it,
“Do not read it in my presence,” she extended her hand to close the booklet as if it’s a secret diary she wasn’t allowed to read.
” If you have any complaint, please come talk to me- straight to” she emphasized
“Am I staying alone?”
“Yes, for security purpose. But I’ll always be around, so you won’t be left alone. Medical tests will be done in the morning.”
“Call me if you need anything.” she said.
When ‘auntie’ left me and my luggage and the furniture to mingle, I took time to admired the simple neat room. Everything was shipshape. Two neatly dressed beds with mosquito net secured above them with four stands, two side stools, a two in one wardrobe stood a distance from the foot of the bed , a master bathroom, a reading table having a reading lamp and two chairs, a black two sitter sofa with two dark red throw-pillows on it, a rectangular wall mirror with dark brown frame, a painting of a pregnant mother and another nursing her child hung on the wall both sides of the beds. I thought it was too good to be free.
Abnormally excited, I chose the bed close to the window, lay on it for a while, stood up and walked to the window to have a view of nothing but a vegetable garden close to a narrow pathway in the backyard and suddenly recalled I was pregnant when the urge to pew came. I ran, fast, to the basin in the small room to do the necessary before settling down to unpack my little luggage.
I flinched when I saw my parents, my mum and dad staring at me through the framed picture taken in the early time of their married life I forgot was in my bag, I flinched again as I imagined they were really there in my bag. I recovered in time and slowly picked up the frame as its an egg – carefree couple – happiness painted all over them in their photo vicinity, laughing and looking at each other forehead to forehead with mom’s hand around dads neck and dads hands around her waist.
I realized how much that same photo meant to mum when I had to grow up seeing it in every room in the house.
I nursed the small framed photo gently, smiled at their happy faces and there came a flash in my mind – not a longing but a picture in which Uche and I were in place of them, same poise, same happiness, same loveliness, same married bliss.
But Uche is far gone, I reminded myself and placed my mum and dad tightly to my chest, raised the picture to my face, gave it one full lip kiss before extending my right hand to keep it on the small side stool.
I looked at wall clock which stared at me, ticking away time towards the ninth month; it said 6:30 pm. I quickly finished up, had my bath and waited for what my dinner which was taking ages to arrive.
I lay on my bed, on back my back and felt my lower abdomen, and wished nothing was there.
“Chetachi! How on earth did I reach here?” I exclaimed and turned on my side.
As the evening dragged by to embraced the dark night and as I got tired of calling for something to eat, I looked through the slit in the thick dark brown curtains in my room to focus on the tiny square hole in the burglary proof and saw my home. My home -best place- so peaceful, so safe.
I missed my dad and the funny way he talked about every event of the day as we all sat round the table after meal waiting for the food to complete its journey to the intestine.
I missed my mum, the way she took care to find out everything that took place in my life while she was away.
I missed our new house help. Even though she just came She was younger, a sister I never had.
I missed my best friend, Nkiru. The funny parrot who talked about everything else but people. Shes no good at gossip and that’s why I picked her as my best.
I didn’t miss Uche. Why should I. I should as well miss the mosquitoes.
“I miss my bed…my pillows…Oh.”
My whole being was engulfed in a a strong feeling – to go home.
I thought about how sad and worried my mum could be to have had her only child gone and missing. The case could have been reported to the police and search resumed.
I was angry with myself, that I had to put them through all that.
I stood up, paced around and then then sat down quickly and hit the bed hard. ‘ I’m such a parent joy killer.
I felt something squeeze and harden. I held my lower abdomen and gave out an ouch as if it was anywhere close to the labor pain my mum had always talked about.
She told the terrible story of how she nearly died giving birth to me.
She said in her days, real women did not want what they called child delivery by stomach cutting, but would fight for two, three, four days through a hellhole to bring forth their babies.
But she had always assured me that I was going to have my children like the Biblical Hebrew women. Safe and Sound.
I had agreed but thought I would be better off a nun.
I sat there all by myself and was tickled by bitter joy when the door opened and it was the cook with my meal. A look at her I knew she was a mother like mine, in her 50’s.
“Welcome! I”m Madam. It’s almost time for night gathering, hurry up! I will be in time to clear the dishes” she said and hurried away.
“Why doesn’t anyone have a real name around here?” I asked my meal as I settled down to it and thought about The Night Gathering and The Rules’ and wondered about what they both harbored.
I needed to read The Rules quick before The Night Gathering, I thought as I scraped the last scoop of my meal off the china plate and suddenly realized it wasn’t as delicious and as satisfying as my mama’s meals.
I sighed and settled down to rush through The Rules.