Breaching the Distance

by Hannah Onoguwe

The uncomfortable metal chairs were peeling to reveal what could be rust or dried blood. I had inched away from those suspicious bits earlier, but as time passed I made myself as comfortable as I could because, what did it really matter? Edem was going to take at least an hour and a half to get to Yenagoa from Port Harcourt and I was calling myself all sorts of names for encouraging him to travel in the first place.

I huffed out a breath as I disconnected the call. Then I felt a flutter over my fingers. The man beside me jerked his head towards the desk when I looked at him.

“Is that you?” he asked. I cocked an ear to hear, “Rayman Patience,” the nurse’s voice laced with irritation. At the back of my mind was the certainty that she had indeed called it a number of times.

“Yes!” I heaved myself out of the chair.

The nurse’s eyes narrowed on me with little sympathy as I approached. “Madam, help us to help you. I’ve been calling your name how many times now and you just dey on top phone.”

“Sorry,” I mumbled. “Na my husband I been dey talk to.”

Her colleague raked me up and down with a look. “Which EDD did they give you?” she asked.

“April 4.” Today was March 23.

“Hmm. About ten… eleven days early. The labour ward is full so you’ll have to wait a bit.”

“We had wanted a private room,” I said.

“And you didn’t pay for one?”

“We were told to wait until the renovations were over.”

“Who told you that?”

“One of the doctors.”

“Na wetin MD been tell us?” she asked the first nurse, forehead lined. The first nurse started to mumble something, but she overrode her. “No. He said payments could be made in advance.” As she spoke I could feel an impending contraction and braced myself for it.

She turned to me and said, “Madam, you will have to pay for the room in Accounts and then—”

“But…” was all I could manage before I gripped the edge of the desk to ride out the contraction, breathing through my mouth as I’d seen it done on TV. When it subsided, I took a minute to catch my breath.

The first nurse spoke. “This one that you are opening your mouth to breathe, you will get tired on time o. Close your mouth and breathe through your nose.”

I didn’t have the strength to argue about my YouTube findings. “Will the room be ready soon? I think this pain… baby will soon come.”

“Is it your first pregnancy?” Nurse Two asked.


She smiled. “Don’t worry, it will take a while. We’ll go and see what rooms are available and which you can pay for. Just go and sit down first.”

“But I don’t think…”

“Just wait, madam. As I dey see you so, the thing never serious yet. When e serious, you sef go know. You nor go dey speak Queen’s English like this.”

Nurse One laughed. As I shuffled back to my seat, I heard her say to the second, “You get mouth, sha.”

“Look who dey talk,” Nurse Two shot back as she left the desk, presumably to see what rooms were available. I rubbed my tummy and sighed as I resumed my seat. My mind was going in a hundred directions, but threaded through it all was a very robust fear. It had been building and ebbing over the past months but I had never given voice to it. Fear of the unknown, of my body’s capabilities. Of failure.

I never thought I would get married, let alone have a child. After growing up in a Christian home with the works—family devotions, full church membership, parents staunch church workers—it had been the greatest of shocks when my parents got divorced. The foundations of what I imagined to be a rock-steady life had crumbled and I had felt betrayed. How did two people who had counseled others for years allow their own marriage to break down irretrievably? At fifteen years of age, it had also been a huge embarrassment. The last year of boarding school had been a welcome escape but the wound was reopened when Rita and I returned to Abuja for the holidays and had to split our time between two homes. Rita had taken it all in stride eventually, holding tenaciously to her faith and marrying at twenty-five. However, it had all given me a jaundiced view, not only about marriage, but about the so-called Christian values I had been raised on.

I mean, everyone in Nigeria was a Christian. Or at least it seemed so. Every corrupt politician who gave tithes from monies which were supposed to be for their constituents, every university lecturer who collected bribes or, more commonly, slept with girls in exchange for grades, every shifty vendor who hummed gospel songs under their breath. I had a dozen churches on my street, with their public address systems advertising contemporary choirs and pastors with rousing sermons. And each year the country seemed to slide into even more decay. Where before I had gone with the masses and said, “God will help us,” or “We will keep praying,” the scales had seemingly fallen from my eyes and I determined to live the way I liked because what did it matter, after all? If people I looked up to could practice all sorts of atrocities both overtly and in secret, why bother?

Enter Edem: fifteen years older to my thirty-eight, a widower, two university-age kids. He was nothing like any man I’d ever known: optimistic even after a less than sterling marriage, he said he had prayed me into his life. Me, in my single, un-celibate state. But he had been so patient, so persuasive, so amusedly dismissive when I warned that I just might be looking at him as a father figure. He also wasn’t looking to have more kids. And then this had happened. And his delight over the news had floored me. I hadn’t been prepared, in any way really, but especially emotionally. I was also wary of what values I would pass on to my child. Honesty, hard work… Somehow I felt hollow at the thought.

Outwardly though, I had ticked all the boxes, especially this last trimester. Binged on Red Raspberry Tea, faithfully eaten dates daily, taken walks around the neighbourhood, done pelvic core exercises when I remembered, which I rarely had, to be honest. What was left was to see how effective it all would be. The only time I remembered talking to my child was early on in the bathroom one day when I had announced to my swelling stomach: “I’m sure you know I don’t really want you,” words that had plagued me with guilt ever since. And if I had felt none of the connection to him mothers were supposed to have as the date drew closer, the increasing excitement, I kept that to myself. But I needed Edem here. He was the one with the great faith. “It’s something you need to find and live out for yourself,” he always said. I had none, admittedly, but his was always a comfort somehow.

“Sorry, my sister,” my neighbour said, intruding on my thoughts. I peered at him. He was the one who had drawn my attention when my name had been called repeatedly.

“Thank you.”

“These nurses, if not for the situation in Nigeria, ehn… they would be sacked. So rude.”

I snorted softly, thinking about what the nurse had said about speaking English. She hadn’t talked to this man yet. I gave him a closer look. He was clean-shaven, maybe 45 years of age, but looked athletic in jeans and a T-shirt. I’d assumed he had a wife in labour, but he didn’t look anxious.

“You have someone here?” I asked.

“Yes. My sister just underwent a successful CS, so I’m waiting for when they allow me to see her.”

“Oh, great. Congrats.” I allowed myself a moment of envy for the mother whose baby was out already.

“Thanks. A girl, by the way.”

“That was my next question. Her husband couldn’t make it in time?”

“Oh, no husband,” he said cheerily. “She’s older than I am and decided to do this on her own.”

“Oh, wow.” I had the greatest admiration for her. I wanted to ask a dozen questions, but realized it was none of my business. IVF? Casual boyfriend?

“And you? I overheard you talking on the phone earlier?”

“Yes. Hopefully hubby should be here soon.”

“Someone should be with you, though.”

“My sister will be here next week. It’s just this baby’s timing.” I shrugged. He laughed, and when he didn’t ask about my mother, I was grateful. I expected she would show up for the omugwo, but I didn’t count on our relationship warming up significantly.

“Mrs. Patience.” It was Nurse Two with a piece of paper. “You can pay for the room at Accounts, then we’ll take you to it.”

“Thank you.” I hustled to my feet and found my way to Accounts, which was almost on the other side of the hospital. There were three people in line already, a woman with two children, an elderly man, and another woman with a small baby bump. I wasn’t going to wait. I didn’t have to. I let out a groan which made all eyes swing to me in surprise.

“Abeg, let me pay for my room. E be like say this pikin wan comot o.”

They scooted out of the way and I swallowed a laugh. They were probably afraid the baby would pop out right into their unprepared hands. Only the lady behind the mesh looked at me askance.

“You should have someone with you, madam.”

“Yes. But I haven’t even reached my EDD and my husband traveled…”

There was a hum of sympathy from the mother of two. “Did you say ‘room’?” she asked, peering over my shoulder at the piece of paper in my hand.

“Yes.” I scrunched my face up for good measure. “They say they’ve been renovated.”

I caught her frown. “Really? I thought the issue with those rooms was more than renovation.”

I gave a pained shrug as I handed over the slip of paper and my ATM card to the cashier. Clamped my lips between my teeth as she asked if it was Savings or Current. Narrowed my eyes like I was losing my vision as I tapped out the PIN. She ripped out the receipts and handed them to me and I hobbled away with a thank you.

“Safe delivery,” the mother of two said.

“Thank you,” I mouthed back at her. When I turned the corner, I resumed my usual waddle, and it was only then that I realized I hadn’t had another contraction in quite a while. Was this normal? Would they come back with a vengeance?

I submitted the receipts and after taking their copy, Nurse Two asked where my bag was. I pointed to where I’d been sitting only to see my neighbour rise to pick up the bag.

“You don’t have to do that,” I said.

“No worries. I’m not really doing anything.”

“Thank you.”

Nurse Two looked impressed. “Men like this still dey?”

He laughed. As I turned to fall into step behind Nurse Two, my eyes caught Nurse One’s. The expression on her face was unsettling and I looked away quickly. She reminded me of a dozen meddlesome church “aunts” I had growing up whose faces morphed into those very lines of judgment whenever they saw you standing too close to a boy, or caught you in town during the week wearing tight jeans. But she needn’t think too far: all I was after was a helping hand, not a flirtation.

Nurse Two didn’t slow on my account. In no time, I was panting and the armpits of my loose dress were damp.

“Nurse… take it easy.”

She didn’t even glance at me. “Exercise is good for labour,” she said. I looked back at my helper and he gave a small nod.

“I hope someone doesn’t come looking for you,” I said to him.

“I doubt it,” he said, and there was a smile on his face that didn’t quite sit right.

To take my mind off my growing fatigue, I said, “I never asked your name.”

“I didn’t ask yours.”

I glanced at him in surprise. That had sounded a bit rude, coming from someone who had been anything but earlier. I could have reminded him that he had inadvertently gotten to know mine from the nurse’s calls in the waiting room, but I was focusing on putting one foot in front of the other and looking forward to resting for a bit. Maybe he hadn’t bargained for the distance when he had offered to help with my bag. Too bad. If I weren’t lugging around an extra fifteen kilograms in baby, water and fat, I might have told him something.

I didn’t know the hospital was this big, I thought. We entered a wing and the smell of fresh paint made me wrinkle my nose. The walls seemed to stretch forever, and our footsteps echoed eerily. We seemed to be the only three people in this part of the hospital and I began to feel uneasy. What if I needed something urgently?

Finally, the nurse stopped and opened a door. She flipped a light switch and I followed her in, coughing as a wave of mustiness and the smell of new paint hit me. The room was spacious and relatively neat, although a few things were out of place, likely due to the renovations. As soon as she removed the plastic cover over the bed, I sank onto it with relief. The nurse bustled around, setting things straight while the man set my bag on the bed beside me.

“Thanks,” I said with a smile.

The nurse dusted off her hands as she came back towards me. “Sorry. I’ll send someone to clean the room. I’ll also come back to check you.”

I thought back to the long walk it had taken to get here. I also realized I hadn’t had a contraction since before paying for the room. I frowned and the nurse seemed to read my thoughts when she added, “Your labour doesn’t seem to be progressing for now.”

I opened my mouth, then shut it. The sooner she went, the sooner she would be back to check me properly. I thought about Edem. Surely twenty, thirty minutes must have passed? Hopefully he would be here soon. I didn’t relish the thought of trying to do this without a familiar face. “Okay,” I said finally.

She nodded and walked to the door. As the man moved aside for her, she stopped in surprise. “Aren’t you going back to the other ward?”

“In a few minutes, ma,” he said winsomely. “I’ll just stay to keep her company.”

She turned to me. “Are you all right with that?”

I suddenly felt the weirdest pressure on my chest as I looked into his eyes. He was smiling, but his eyes were darker than I remembered, watchful, with a clear message in them: he wanted me to say yes. I opened my mouth to agree, but a shaft of fear made me falter. I shook my head.

“I… not really,” I said, and the pure anger that streaked through his eyes like lightning made my heart beat faster, a heavy, throbbing rhythm. “I just met him there. He said he was waiting for his sister.”

“Eh-ehn. What’s your sister’s name?” she asked him. He mumbled something that could have been anything and she cocked her head. “Anyway, let’s go back. I’ll be back to check on her.”

She waited for him to precede her from the room and the look he flashed me just before he turned away made goose bumps break out on my skin. “Later,” he murmured as they left.

I took a deep gulp of air as they left, willing my heartrate to normalize. What on earth was that? For a moment there I wanted to snatch up my bag and sprint back to the waiting room I had left. I swallowed and shook my head. He had been so nice when we had struck up that first conversation. So helpful. Surely my imagination had gone into overdrive just now? He couldn’t have been as threatening as I had suddenly feared, could he?

As their footsteps faded away, the stillness of my surroundings settled over me like a scratchy blanket. Shaking off my unease, I unzipped my bag and took out a wrapper. I would just lie down for a bit. I knew I was supposed to walk around for as long as possible to speed things up, but no way was I doing that now. Besides, I needed to rest. I touched my belly and the familiar guilt swamped me, with a touch of nervousness.

“Don’t give me too much work, hmm?” I murmured, then froze on realizing I had spoken to my child for the second time. Taking off my slippers, I moved my bag to the side table and stretched out on the bed. Calm, the research said. Keep calm. I took deep breaths. Trust that your body knows what to do. Anxiety will only slow things down. I shut my eyes, took another breath. I want to love you, I told him. Help me.

As if in response, I felt an impending contraction and fought not to stiffen as I rode it out. My breath was puffing out audibly as I rooted for my phone in my bag. There were two missed calls, one from Edem and the other from my sister, Rita. I immediately pressed Redial, but it went off without connecting. I frowned. Damn. The network was near nonexistent. I waved my phone in a couple of directions, hoping for some improvement even as I thumbed Redial again. Nothing. Seemed this part of the hospital was out of the loop. I hoped it changed soon because how was I to contact anybody?

The nurse had opened the window, so the room was losing some of its mustiness, but it was still uncomfortably warm. I concentrated on not being anxious and hoped the nurse returned in a hurry. Sure enough, a few minutes later, I was relieved to hear footsteps approaching. The nurse opened the door, holding a steel tray aloft. I tried to tamp down my apprehension.

“Sorry. You know how busy we are over there.”

“I seem to be the only one in this part of the hospital,” I said as she placed the tray on the shelf at the foot of the bed. She asked me to sit up and then wrapped the blood pressure cuff around my arm, concentrating as she took my pulse. When she was done, she said, “You should have someone with you.”

“I tried calling. The network here is bad.” I wasn’t happy that it sounded like I was whining, but it was only just dawning on me what might happen if I was close to giving birth and there was no one with me. The contractions weren’t overwhelming yet, but…

The nurse was at the foot of the bed now, pulling on latex gloves. “Please lie down so I can check you.” I lay back and focused on the ceiling. When I felt the cold metal between my legs, I fought to remain relaxed but couldn’t prevent a small moan. That was the most uncomfortable shit ever.

“Two centimetres,” she said, stripping off her gloves. “Still some way to go. Please try and relax.”

I was disappointed. You heard of women who hardly felt a pinprick of pain and when they went for a routine checkup, they were 5 cm dilated and told not to leave the hospital. Not me, obviously.

The nurse left with a reassuring smile, promising to send someone to clean the room. I reached into my bag for my plastic bottle of water as the silence settled around me again. I was just placing it back on the table when I heard footsteps again. Goody. Even a cleaner with zero medical knowledge was preferable to being alone. I looked up expectantly as the door opened and felt every thought flee when I saw who it was.

My would-be helper, Mr. No Name, smiled at my frozen expression as he shut the door softly behind him. “I’m back,” he said softly.

I felt my whole body prickle with perspiration as my heart took a nosedive.

“Nothing to say?” He sounded a bit put out. As he spoke, he walked around the bed slowly, back and forth, eyes roaming all over my body. I watched him in fixed fascination.

“You didn’t have to,” I finally said, my voice strained from the struggle to sound normal.

He laughed. “Oh, I didn’t do it for you, but for…” Eyes gleaming, he gestured to my belly with something like glee.

I shook my head. Was he saying he had pitied me, being pregnant? “What—”

“I felt bad when you told the nurse that you didn’t really know me,” he said.

“I’m sorry.” The apology spilled out of my mouth. Anything to placate what I recognized as a growing anger. “Pregnancy makes one crazy.”

“Yes, but… You’ve had a relatively easy time, haven’t you?”

My breath was coming jerkily now. “How could you know that?”

When he giggled, I shivered involuntarily. I swear it had sounded like a chorus. “We know things,” he whispered, leaning towards me so I heard him perfectly.

His once-pleasant face seemed to morph into something sinister and not quite recognizable. Fear was a damp constriction in my throat and I fought to appear calm. This was surreal. I sat up with some effort, but when I tried to move my legs over the side of the bed, he seized my feet to stay me.

“Don’t move,” he said. His eyes bored into mine, his manner controlled. His hands against my feet felt eerily cool, almost cold, and they tightened for a moment before he let go. “You need to rest,” he added, as if by way of explanation.

“My husband and sister are on their way,” I said, scooting back so I could lean back against the headboard. It was uncomfortable, being more of an iron frame than anything else, but it gave me that much more distance from this man who I suspected was quite unbalanced. What did he want? To rape me, a bloated pregnant woman? My mind stuttered at the thought, but people were known to get off on all kinds of freaky shit. It also skittered away from considering any more sinister reason.

“Ah, your husband. Edem.”

My eyes rounded. “How—But…”

“Relax. I heard you on the phone, remember?”

His eyes crinkled in genuine amusement, a return to the man I had met in the waiting room. It made me wonder if, maybe, I was overreacting to him, his words. Maybe he only wanted some gratitude?

“Your sister. Hmmm…” He placed a finger against his chin. “Would that be Rita? Older, two children, the advertisement executive? She’s getting some leave, abi?”

I was shaking by now, tears close to the surface. When they came, my words didn’t sound at all like me. “I never discussed my sister with you.”

A smile slowly lengthened his lips. “No,” he said. “You didn’t. Only that she was coming next week.”

As if from far away, I heard footsteps. “Someone’s coming,” I said. Unnecessarily, as I saw from his cocked head that he had also heard. I couldn’t disguise the relief in my voice, but as I looked at him closely, I saw that the smile hadn’t disappeared completely and that he, in fact, looked anything but bothered.

I immediately broke into speech the moment the handle turned. “Please, please. I don’t want this man here. I…” My words trailed off as I saw who had come in. It appeared to be a nurse, but not any I recognized from the past hour or so. She was dressed in what, on closer inspection, appeared to be a nurse’s uniform, but the white having turned grey. She went by me without a word, smelling so rank that I gagged. She held a bag with some things in it which she immediately showed the man.

He frowned. “What’s that?”


“Are you mad? We don’t have time to induce labour!”

She looked me full in the face for the first time and I shrank back at the malevolence of her expression. Her face was twisted in parts, lips twitching in some sort of facial tic. One side of her mouth was pulled back in a permanent half-snarl, showing yellow, uneven teeth. When she spoke, her voice was gritty, saliva pooling at the corners of her mouth. “So, what do we do?”

He rummaged in the bag. “Get it out, of course. You obviously haven’t done this in a while.”

My heart was pounding so hard. “What are you talking about?” As I spoke, I edged my feet over the bed. Something told me this wasn’t a time to talk, but somehow I couldn’t stop myself from confirming in plain English what was the vilest of intentions.

His gaze snared mine. “We are going to relieve you of your baby.”

“That’s impossible! You said—Your sister was in… had just had surgery—that—”

The odd pair looked at each other and then broke into raucous laughter. “You, sef,” the woman said, her eyes at that moment appearing almost serpentine.

I didn’t wait to hear more. I jumped down from the bed and lunged towards the door. I didn’t make it, but then I really hadn’t thought I would. In a flash, the man had grabbed my shoulders and lifted me bodily back to the bed while I screamed, kicking out and tears sprouting. I expected to be knocked out by some chemical, indeed at that moment there was nothing I longed for more than to slide into oblivion. Instead, the man held me down while they spoke words over me in unison, words in an unfamiliar language that lifted every hair on my body. By the time they were rounding off he wasn’t subduing me any longer. He didn’t need to as my struggles had slowed until my limbs lay quiet. It crossed my mind half-hysterically that some knowledge of that spell they used could come in handy when dealing with certain in-laws, because although my body felt almost numb, I stayed conscious of everything happening around me. And everything happening to me, I discovered, as within minutes of their subduing me, I watched the woman cut through my clothing with scissors. She looked me over from neck to groin with cold eyes before stroking my bare nipple with her fingers.

“Your breast no bad o,” she said with something close to lust in her eyes. And that was the first time I realized I could still hear everything. I watched them go into the bathroom, drying their hands off as they came out. Saw the man lay surgical tools on the table the woman had drawn up beside the bed. Saw him raise a scalpel consideringly, testing the blade against his naked thumb.

“Sharp.” He smiled when there was a resulting welt of blood. “This might hurt a bit.” And then without hesitation he dug the scalpel into my abdomen, like he was gutting a fish, blood welling up everywhere. I couldn’t move, couldn’t utter a word, had hoped that the numbness I felt would be complete, but I felt that cut deep in my bones so that my body jerked from the agony, animal sounds struggling for release from my throat. Tears ran from the corner of my eyes unchecked.

“You have a steady hand,” the woman said admiringly. “But I think that technique is twenty years old.” The man ignored her.

From what I’d read about Caesarean sections, the cuts were made in layers. This man didn’t bother. He was in a hurry. I had also heard from women who’d undergone them that they took next to no time these days. He seemed to have that down pat, as in mere minutes he was holding aloft a wad of grey matter. A chill went over my skin as it seemed to be confirmation that there was something wrong with my baby, something else I had feared all these months.

But the woman had an expression on her face like she had seen an epiphany. “Madam will be so pleased,” she said, her voice throbbing with excitement. “En caul.”

“Don’t be stupid,” he said sharply. “There’s no way we can leave it like that. Sew her up.”

“Me?” she sputtered. “I thought you said—”

“Stop talking and just do it.”

My insides seemed to be a free-for-all as she reached in matter-of-factly for the placenta. My eyes widened as the man made a tiny incision on the grey mass and water dribbled down his arms. He peeled the mass aside and there was the most perfect little form I had ever seen. There he was! I barely noticed the woman’s fumbling attempts to stitch me back together.

The tears tracked faster down my face, my throat working with unintelligible sounds. I wished I could see my baby properly. My baby! Oh, please, don’t… Don’t take him from me. All the distance I’d felt in all the preceding months was breached in an instant as a rush of love drenched me. I wanted nothing more in that moment than to hold my baby in my arms. As if in response to my thoughts, a high-pitched wail came from his mouth.

“Keep quiet, my friend,” the man said in irritation. I couldn’t see clearly, but he seemed to be cutting the cord, clamping it and cleaning the small limbs. My heart railed at the combined injustice and irony. Soon, they would be gone. Soon, they would just walk out that door with my child. God, can you see this? There was nothing, no answer, but I hadn’t expected one. I wanted to slap myself for bothering, but deep down came the memories of all those antenatal mornings when the nurses led us in songs and prayers before the health talk. At first I had been annoyed at their taking for granted—in typical Nigerian style—that regardless of religious affiliation, no woman would mind. But later I had come to accept it with an inner smirk even as my lips learned the words of the songs and my hands clapped along with everyone else’s. One came to mind and I sang the words compulsively, in desperate silence: Do not allow me, do not allow me, Jesus, to go empty-handed. I want to be alive, I want to carry my baby, I don’t want to lose my baby. Oh Lord, see me through.

The woman’s hand dipped up and then down as she stitched me up. I fought to move an arm, my head, something, but nothing would respond to my impulses. My sounds of frustration were recognizable, though, and the woman paused to say, “Don’t worry. It will soon be over.”

Their concern about stitching me up seemed to mean they didn’t want me to die. But without my baby, wouldn’t I want to anyway? I was unable to visualize life beyond this, beyond coming into the hospital with a swollen belly and leaving with empty arms, arms made so in such a horrific, nightmarish manner. How would I live with that knowledge? I wasn’t certain I could. The wailing of the newborn went on and on, and I knew it would haunt me forever.

“Oya, do quick,” the man said to the woman. He was galvanized by a sudden energy as he hurried over to my bag and rummaged through it. I wondered fretfully where he had put my baby as he emerged with diapers and an outfit. He disappeared out of view and I guessed he was dressing him up. Was he okay? Without the preliminary checks needed for an accurate APGAR score, I fretted. What did they plan to do with him? The woman had mentioned a madam. Was this about trafficking? Were they going to sell my baby? I had a feeling it was something more diabolical.

The woman finished and as if in a dream, I watched them grab anything on hand to wipe their hands. The man emptied my bag and placed the wrapped bundle inside. Please, I tried to say, the word powerless in my mind. Please, don’t do this. With only a final glance at me, they were gone. Only the sounds issuing from my throat remained in the room. As if their departure galvanized feeling into my nerve endings, I was visited with a wave of pain so great the edges of my vision dimmed. I was going to pass out. I was going to pass out. Mucus clogged my throat and nose and I thought I might just die from asphyxiation, after all.

Things took on a fuzzy quality and my eyes drifted shut, then open. Something stirred on the fringes of my senses and it took a while to recognize the sound of footsteps, of maybe more than one person. I tried to work some sound from my throat, but nothing happened. When the door opened this time, I couldn’t even open my eyes to see who stood there.

“Jesus Christ,” someone said. And on the fervency and shock contained in those two words, I slid away from it all, thankfully. Time was only a word as I drifted in and out of consciousness, only bits of conversation coming to me.

“…like an abattoir in there…”

“…is she alive?”

“…stitched by a carpenter…”

“…find the man?”

“…terrible world…”

When I came to, it was in degrees. My body was screaming in protest, but it also recognized that I had received some heavy-duty painkillers. I felt a bit out of it, but despite the fight to keep my eyes open, I slipped away again.

The next time my eyes opened, there was a man sitting beside the bed. Good-looking, dressed in a wine-coloured native up and down, white in his beard. He leaned forward when he saw I was awake.

“Sweetheart, how are you feeling?”

Only then did I realize my limbs had twitched in response. I opened my mouth and a garbled sound escaped. I tried again and it was more a croak.

“Take it easy,” he said.

“Edem.” The splintered name finally emerged on the third try, and then I began to cry, great racking sobs that brought my pains and aches to flaring life. But all I could focus on was the sadness lurking in his eyes.

“Don’t say anything, love,” he murmured. “Just get your strength back.”

“I’m sorry,” was all I could say, over and over again. “I’m so sorry.”

“It wasn’t your fault. If I’d been here—”

“I’m sorry. Our baby. I didn’t want it, not really… I’m a horrible person, right? Horrible. And now this… just punishment. God must be punishing me—”

“You have to calm down, Pat.”

But I was getting more agitated, my breath choppy. “Admit it. I’m a devil. And it’s too late. Too late I realized I did want him, so much. And now—now… I’m so sorry, Edem. I’m going to carry this until I die, this guilt, I…”

I barely noticed when a nurse came in. “Mrs. Rayman, take it easy,” she crooned, a syringe in hand. She stuck it into the IV drip as she said, “It’s all right. You’re okay.”

I attempted a few more words from the host of my disjointed thoughts, foremost among them the certainty that I would never be okay.

The next time I woke up, I was in no hurry to open my eyes. Unbidden, my thoughts went over the nightmare I had experienced. Why hadn’t I just died? It didn’t make sense. I heard voices and was about to ask for water, but felt too parched to speak up. In the next few seconds I was glad I hadn’t. One nurse was right beside me, changing my drip from the sound of it, and another was near the door. They were speaking in semi-hushed tones as though not to disturb me.

The one near the door said, “This life, ehn. So, just like that, this woman for just die.”

“My sister. People are wicked o. Na God just save am.”

“I heard she was rambling about a woman in a nurse’s uniform? A dirty uniform, and the nurse’s face was somehow deformed…”

“There’s no one like that here,” the nurse beside me scoffed.

“But… I overheard Matron telling the M.D. that the only person by that description was one Nurse May who worked here but died some years back. That she hadn’t been cheated of some of her benefits by the management.”

There was a prickly, disbelieving pause after that rush of information. “You believe such stories, Ope?”

“In this Naija? Stranger things have happened. But you know that that part of the hospital used to be land belonging to a local deity?”

“Abeg-abeg-abeg. You’re the only one hearing stories. Let’s go.”

There were footsteps to the door, even as the other nurse said, “Haba. Maybe because you’re new here. It’s common knowledge na. My uncle had mentioned just yesterday, that…” and their voices faded as the door shut behind them.

I opened my eyes slowly, but they remained dry. I bit back a moan. Somehow, I was going to have to live through this. I wanted to ask God why, but felt I didn’t have the right. On the other hand, I was also afraid I might get an answer I wouldn’t be able to bear. I remembered how I’d lost it when Edem was here. He wasn’t here now, and who could blame him after everything I’d said? Would he even still want to be with me?

Later a nurse came to urge me out of bed. I wasn’t surprised as I had heard that with Caesarean sections, women were encouraged to move as soon as possible. I wanted to stay in that bed and mope, but one look at her determined face and I bit back my protest. No use making her think I was going crazy. I mean, I was, but only quietly, in my mind. With her help, I took a few steps around the room with great effort and excruciating pain. When I lay back, exhausted, I also felt a marginal sense of accomplishment.

Edem came later and I studied him surreptitiously, trying to gauge his mood. But he seemed open, kissing me gently, asking how I was. He made some small talk about work, his mother who he warned would be descending on me tomorrow, news from one of his kids who had called. I listened with half an ear, trying to look interested, picking at the corner of the sheet.

When there was a bit of a lull, I blurted, “About the other day―”

He shook his head. “Before you say anything more, I have a surprise for you.”

I sighed. This man really did mean well, so I didn’t want to tell him he shouldn’t have bothered. “What?” I asked instead.

“Just a minute.” He stood and dashed out the door. He returned some minutes later with a wheelchair, a male nurse trailing him.


“Just wait and see, okay?”

I gritted my teeth while they helped me into the wheelchair, and then Edem wheeled me out of the room. Maybe he wanted to take me for a walk of some kind, to lift my spirits. I doubted anything could do that, but I said nothing. My gaze skidded off the curious gazes of the medical personnel as we went by. I left it to Edem to respond to their greetings. I couldn’t handle the pity behind what were supposed to be clinical expressions. I kept my eyes straight ahead as we passed what appeared to be the children’s ward, but after a few metres, Edem stopped at a desk to talk to the nurse. I couldn’t hear what they said, but in a minute he was back and wheeled me down another hallway. I turned to give him a questioning look but he only raised his brows with a smile.

We pushed through a set of doors and if I had been on my feet, I would have halted in my tracks. I murmured Edem’s name, but he pushed me on. There were maybe half a dozen babies in incubators or under bili-lights. They looked so precious and fragile and I felt my eyes begin to moisten. I so did not want to be here. Besides another nurse who sat unobtrusively in one corner, three of the babies had a parent with them and it was hard not to feel overwhelmed by the palpable love and anxiety in the room. Edem stopped beside one of the babies.

I glanced around, but no one paid us any mind. “Should we be here?” I fought to sound normal but avoided looking at the baby before us. Dressed in nothing but a diaper and a woolen hat pulled low over the eyes, its skin took on an eerie hue from the bili-lights. Just being there made the weight in my chest that much heavier.

“Yes,” Edem said. He stilled my head with gentle hands so that I was face-to-face with the baby. “Read the tag, Pat.”

“Is this some kind of lesson, Eddie, is that it?”

“Not in the way you mean, I promise.”


He turned the wheelchair sideways and braced his hands on its arms so that our faces were inches apart. “Do you trust me, Pat?”

I searched his eyes swiftly. They were candid, his face bearing traces of the strain of recent events. This man was solid, dependable. And somehow, miraculously still mine. I let out a breath. “I do.”

“Have I ever hurt you?”

I cocked my head. Well, there were those couple of times, first when—

Edem caught my raised brows and quickly added, “On purpose, I mean.”

I couldn’t have stopped the beginnings of the smile that stretched my mouth. A beautiful feeling. “No.”

“Then, please.” He clasped my hands in his warm ones, rubbing them gently. “Please, read it. Okay?”

I nodded. “Okay.” I took a deep breath and forced myself to focus as he turned the wheelchair back towards the baby. It took a while to actually locate the tag, but when I did, I shook my head. “I don’t understand.”

“Don’t you?”

My heart was rushing to my chest, threatening to choke me. I leaned forward to read it again, although I was positive my eyes hadn’t lied the first time. Rayman Baby, it said. Rayman Baby.

“I don’t understand,” I said again. And this time, my voice shook. With the tears that had begun to descend, with disbelief and with hope.

Edem squatted beside me so that he looked into my eyes. “Your baby, Pat. Our baby.”

“How is this possible?” I was crying in earnest now. “I thought he was gone.”

He reached for my hand as if to soothe me. “One of the nurses was coming back to you with a cleaner and saw the man trying to escape. She called out for security and he panicked and dropped the bag.”

“They didn’t catch him?”

“They said he just disappeared.”

“What about the other person? The woman?”

He frowned. “The nurse didn’t mention anyone else.”

I nodded. I was fast accepting the fact that I was the only one who had seen her, whoever she was. I felt a chill when I thought back to the conversation the nurses had had in my room. Shaking the thought away, I peered at the miracle in front of me, feasting on the tiny limbs, the adorable wrinkly facial features, the fisted hands. I brushed my hands over my wet eyes.

“Our baby.” It sounded unreal. “How come no one told me?”

“I asked them to allow me do that,” Edem said slowly. “To show you when you were more… settled. Was this wise or…?”

I caught the uncertainty in his voice and considered. If anyone had told me earlier, wouldn’t I have assumed they were lying and only trying to make me feel momentarily better? I shook my head slightly, marveling at this incredible moment.

“God, I’m so sorry, Pat. I thought—”

“What? No, no. I think you did the right thing.” My senses seemed sharper, colours brighter as I stared at the tiny human before me. “Is he okay?”

“Perfect. Just a bit of jaundice got the doctor concerned, but everything else checked out okay. And, er, sweetheart… That’s not a he.”

I swiveled my head to gape at him, and then again at the baby. “What?”

“That’s what I said.”

I touched the back of a forefinger to her dewy cheek, smiling as she recoiled slightly, then to the skin just above the clamped umbilical cord. I couldn’t wait to look into her eyes. My heart was full to bursting with incredulity, with thanksgiving, with a cocktail of joy. I couldn’t speak for long minutes for the tears that started again. It was an amazing feeling to know that my silent prayers had been answered.

Something occurred to me, and meeting Edem’s gaze again, I asked, “Am I okay?” I braced myself as my husband seemed to steel himself.

“It was a botched job… the first time. They were able to get you to the theatre in time, but repairing everything…”

“I won’t be able to have more kids?”

“They… weren’t sure.”

I searched Edem’s eyes. I knew if it was an outright no he wouldn’t have hesitated to tell me. I nodded. I found I could face almost anything now. My eyes couldn’t stay off the baby for long. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

“I don’t deserve this,” I said.

He squeezed my shoulder and then bent to kiss me softly. He opened his mouth to speak and I forestalled him with a raised palm. “I know what you’re going to say. ‘All things work together’ and all that, right? Maybe for you. Because I haven’t loved God for a long time.” I couldn’t tell him just yet about the prayer I’d sung in my head when I thought I might die.

“No.” He smiled. “I was going to say, none of us does.”

I reached blindly for his hand and clutched it to me. “I don’t deserve you.”

“Well… on some days I’m inclined to agree with you,” he laughed, but his eyes were so soft and suspiciously shiny that I let it slide.


Hannah Onoguwe’s fiction and non-fiction have been published in the Imagine Africa 500 anthology, Adanna, AFREADA, PerVisions, The Drum Lit Mag, Eleven Eleven, Omenana, The Missing Slate, Litro, Brittle Paper, The Stockholm Review, Timeworn Lit Mag, and the Strange Lands Short Stories anthology by Flame Tree Press, among others. She was shortlisted for the 2020 Afritondo Short Story Prize, with “Yellow Means Stay” appearing as the title story in the anthology of longlisted works. She lives in Yenagoa with her family where she is eternally distracted by the Internet, but often finds time to bake.

“With this story, I was exploring how regardless of one’s background, certain situations will test and reveal your true beliefs. As a mom myself, I also explore some of the highs and lows of expecting and having a child.”

You can find Hannah on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @HannahOnoguwe.

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  1. It is insightful, emotional and sustained suspense. Ended as I wanted it to. Thank you Hannah Onoguwe for taking my time, and it's worth it👌🤣🤣🤣❤️

  2. I was even sure how I got here but I love this, you go girl ,so proud of you. Much love

  3. The opening of this first person narrative reveals that Patience would find herself in a dreadful situation. The use of metaphor throughout this fiction creates vivid pictures for the reader. It is full of suspense and I couldn’t have imagined how it would all end. It shows how as humans we tend to take what we have for granted until we loose, or nearly loose it, as in Patience’s case. Great work Hannah!
    Onome CSSJ...


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