Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away | Chapter 22 of 45

Author: Christie Watson | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 4353 Views | Add a Review

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SEVENTEEN

Government Hospital was a giant gray stone building with six lifts, but only one was working. The other five had notices taped to them: ENGINEER CALLED.

“We’ll wait,” said Mama.

“It is taking a long time,” I said. “Shall we use the stairs?” It was the first time I had been allowed to visit. I had spent two days walking around the compound pressing Ezikiel’s stinking Chelsea shirt to my nose.

“I said we will wait. The floor he’s on is too high up.”

The lift took fifteen minutes to arrive. It was the longest fifteen minutes of my life. I tried to find the courage to disobey Mama and run up the stairs, but my legs would not move. I watched the people come to each lift, press each button, read each sign, and tut before moving away. My stomach felt so heavy. Mama had told me that Ezikiel was getting better, but I needed to see him for myself. When it did arrive, the lift was full. I thought we might not make it.

“Move down, please,” said Mama. Something about her voice made people move backward. People always did as she asked. We pushed our way in. A woman’s arm was held high above my nose; the smell of her sweat made me retch. By the time the lift door opened, I had sick in my mouth.

“What’s wrong with you?” asked Mama. She said the words through her teeth. “I told you, he’s fine.”

I swallowed the sick. Everyone kept telling me that Ezikiel was fine, but I could not believe their words. The picture that was printed inside my head would not go away. It was Ezikiel with blood pouring from his shoulder. The blood would not stop even when Alhaji pressed down on it with the scarf he pulled from Grandma’s head, or when Grandma laid Ezikiel flat on the ground and stuck her finger straight into the bullet hole.

We walked past rows and rows of skinny men and women who had hollow faces and eyes that came away from their heads. I wanted to run to Ezikiel and see with my own eyes, and check that his face was not hollow, but I walked in time with Mama, two of my steps to one of hers.

Ezikiel’s bed was squeezed between other men’s beds. The men asleep on either side of him looked as old as Alhaji. They wore pajamas buttoned to the top and had jugs of water on tiny cabinets next to their heads. As we walked toward Ezikiel, the smell of urine made my eyes fill with water.

Ezikiel was sitting up in bed with his closed eyes, supported by a pillow. He looked waxy. A large wet gray bandage covered his head and shoulder. He was naked from the waist up, and I noticed that his shape had changed, lost some puffiness, gained muscles. Three tiny hairs stuck out from his chest. I blushed.

“Ezikiel, my baby. Good to see you’re better today. Every day there’s a small improvement.” Mama’s voice sounded happier than usual. It was higher and softer. She must have been so happy to see Ezikiel getting better.

Mama leaned across his bed and kissed him on his cheek. So I did the same. We sat on the edge of his bed. Mama opened a book.

“Hello.” Ezikiel opened one eye and lifted one hand and waved. He was smiling. Smiling and talking and sitting up and waving.

It felt better than drinking clean water.

“I got shot.”

“I know.” My voice sounded quiet and strange. I wished Mama would move from the bed so I could sit closer to Ezikiel.

“Picking snails. I got three before I heard the guns. Big ones. With lots of slime. I was in the line of fire. First I heard shouting and then I saw boys, my age, can you believe, running around with guns. Some of them had machine guns.”

I opened my eyes wide.

“I felt the bullet go into me. Actually go inside me. Inside my skin.” He pointed to his shoulder with his chin. I looked closely at the bandage. I could not see any blood at all. There had been a lot of blood. Almost as much as a woman giving birth. I wondered which thing hurt more, giving life or having it taken.

“Did it hurt bad?”

“Oh! At first it was like fire had gone through me, and then it felt like a knife that kept stabbing me again and again in the same place.”

“Ezikiel,” said Mama, “that’s a bit much, thank you.”

I wanted to see what it looked like underneath the bandage. I tried to imagine what the scar would grow like. It was strange to think that Ezikiel’s shoulder, which I knew so well, would be different.

“They saw me on the ground,” continued Ezikiel. “They thought I was dead. I didn’t move a single muscle. I couldn’t move. Actually, I probably was dying, right then! This boy took a bracelet from his own arm and put it around my wrist and said, ‘Sorry.’ ” Ezikiel flashed his arm. A thin piece of red string was tied around his wrist. It was made from plaits of cotton. “And he had a rifle and a jar of fireflies. A whole jar flashing. At first I thought it was my eyes playing tricks, but then this boy opened the jar and caught one. I don’t know why he was carrying the fireflies. He put it in my mouth. A firefly! It tasted disgusting, like iru. Anyway, I ate it, I swallowed the whole thing, and the boy said, ‘You will survive. The magic power of these fireflies will save you,’ and then he ran.”

“You were very lucky,” I said. “Praise be to Allah.” I don’t know why I said that, but it felt like I should thank someone.

Mama lifted her eyes from her book, gave me a sideways glance, and rolled her eyes back down.

“Lucky!” Ezikiel opened the other eye. He waved his arm. He sat up straighter. “I am like a superhero.”

Mama snapped her book shut suddenly, and the man in the next bed woke up and cried out. “These boys are Sibeye Boys,” said Mama. “And they belong to a cult. You stay away from them, do you hear me? Those boys are trouble. Worshipping deities, performing black magic, juju. Poorly educated boys who don’t understand anything of life. Those boys are dangerous, Ezikiel. Blessing is right, you were very lucky. I don’t want to hear any more silly talk.” She stood up. “I’m going to get some drinks.”

She patted Ezikiel on the knee. She even patted me on the head. Mama had said that I was right.

“I’ll get you both something nice and cold. I won’t be long.”

Ezikiel and I looked at Mama as she left, with the same raised eyebrows. “She must be very happy that you are alive,” I said.

“So am I. And there are not many boys my age who have survived a shooting. I’m telling you, Blessing, this bracelet must be magic.”

The string on Ezikiel’s arm did not look magic. I smiled anyway and got up from the bed and went to the curtain at the side. I pulled the curtain around the bed until there was no gap. Then I climbed onto the bed and curled myself around Ezikiel’s body. He lay down and pushed his fingers through mine. I put my hand gently onto his shoulder.

“I am happy that you are alive,” I said. “I am glad the bracelet is magic.” And I let my eyes cry into Ezikiel’s bandage.

Since Ezikiel had been shot, Alhaji had not slept and had eaten rice only once, when Grandma stood over him with the spoon. His neck skin was getting looser and looser. Even though he knew that Ezikiel was getting better, and would be home soon, he seemed angrier and angrier. He walked around the compound shouting into a telephone that he had borrowed from the owner of the borehole in the village. “Chief of police, please, this is Alhaji Amir Sotonye Hassan Arepamone Kentabe. I need to speak urgently with the chief of police, about important business matters.” He paced around the house. His voice was high-pitched. “No, I cannot wait. It is most urgent. My grandson has been shot!” Alhaji stopped pacing and walked toward the gate. “Hello. Hello. Hello, are you there?” He shook the telephone and pressed it to his good ear. “HELLO.”

Later Alhaji dictated an identical letter to the prime minister of the United Kingdom and president of the USA, which he had me write on airmail paper.

I did not change any of the words, even if I knew that they were wrong.

I was using the outhouse when I overheard Alhaji talking to Youseff about the Mercedes. I did not dare come out; I did not want them to think I had been listening. I stood so long near the smell of the soak-away that I could no longer smell anything at all. It is amazing, I thought, what you can get used to.

“That old car is fine for a driver like Zafi, sah, but I am a driver of Mercedes cars.”

“There is nothing to be done.” Alhaji’s words came out at the same time as a sigh.

“All drivers who have job with poor family drive the Peugeot, sah, but I have always been with you, sah, a good family. I am a Mercedes driver.”

“The car has to go.” Alhaji’s voice was louder now and sharper.

“But the other drivers, sah. I should be moving up in my job, sah, not down. Peugeot is down, sah. And your own status, sah. You cannot go to Executive Club in the Peugeot, sah, they will laugh at us. That old car fine for blind, one-footed driver, sah, but not for man like me with seventeen children.”

I could hear the air come out of Alhaji’s nose. “You dare to talk to me in this way? You dare after all I do for you and your family? How many men would let you keep all those wives and kids? Eh? Only Alhaji! If you dare to speak to me this way again I will put you all out. You see? All. Out.”

The next time I visited Ezikiel he was playing chess by himself. He was back to his usual color and his bandage had been removed. A tiny circle of red was all that remained of the bullet. He stood as I approached his bed and hugged me tightly. He smelled of sweat and custard powder. I told him of Alhaji’s attempts to write to the president.

I did not tell him that Alhaji had sold the Mercedes.

“Do you think he’ll go and wait at the post office for a reply?” Ezikiel asked, laughing.

It was good to hear the sound of his laugh. I had not heard it in a long time.

“He has been so worried,” I said.

“There is no need. Anyway, I’m better now. I can go home next week. The doctors have told me. And return to school the week after that.”

I smiled from my toes to my head.

“They say I’m the fittest patient on the ward.”

I looked around quickly at the other patients. They were all lying flat and had hollow faces. Ezikiel’s cheeks were rounder once more. He had been eating a special nut-free diet. I wondered if the hospital had fridges to keep the meat and fish fresh, so that it would not have to be fried, or whether they had vegetable oil. He did not belong there. I could not wait for him to come home.

“I’ll make you something good to eat,” I said.

“Like Maggi cube soup,” said Ezikiel. “I enjoy crunchy food.”

I laughed with him. He was normal. It was as if he had never been shot at all.

The following week, Mama and I traveled to the hospital together. It was unusual to see Mama. She had been working all the time at the Highlife Bar. She looked happy. Her face was smiling; even her eyes were smiling. I thought it was because we were taking Ezikiel home. Ezikiel was sitting on the corner of his bed when we arrived. He was wearing a shirt and trousers that belonged to a much taller and fatter person. A plastic bag was open on his lap, containing a toothbrush, comb, and pot of Vaseline.

“There you are.” He jumped up and knocked over the bag onto the bed. “I thought you were never coming.”

Mama smiled. She sat on the bed.

“We don’t need to wait for TTOs,” said Ezikiel. “I don’t need meds any longer.”

I wondered what TTOs were and why he said meds instead of medicines. I wondered why Mama was sitting down.

“What do you mean?” asked Mama. Her eyes flicked from left to right.

I looked at her face.

“Home,” said Ezikiel, having the same thought. He sat down slowly on the bed next to her. “I’m going home today.”

My stomach knew what was coming next. It had worked it out and was churning already.

Mama smiled. “Not quite yet,” she said.

What was wrong? Was Ezikiel still sick? Had they left some of the bullet in his shoulder?

Mama smiled again. “There is a slight delay. Nothing for you to worry about.”

Ezikiel picked up his plastic bag and held it tightly in his hand. “What, Mama? Just tell me.”

“The hospital won’t release you quite yet,” she said.

“But I’m fine. I’m much better. All the doctors have said it. I’m the fittest person in here. I need to get back to school. Please, Mama. I’ve missed too much already. I can’t miss any more school. I have exams in two weeks!”

“Don’t worry about the exams,” said Mama. “Just read your books.”

“But I’ve missed so much school, Mama. Months! What if I don’t pass my exams?” Ezikiel’s face had swollen up.

“We need to pay the hospital fees,” said Mama. Her voice fell to a whisper. “Otherwise they won’t release you. And the fees are expensive. We’re doing our best, Ezikiel. I have borrowed the money, but I can’t get it today. The, friend, er, my colleague, is away for a few days.”

I felt the frown cross my forehead. Won’t release you. Ezikiel was not coming home, after all. Then why was Mama smiling?

“You just concentrate on resting and getting better.”

“But I am better, Mama.”

“We just need a little bit more money when my colleague returns next week. The treatment’s been very expensive.” Mama laughed. “But worth every penny. Thank God you’re okay! Anyway, I think we are going to be fine. Just fine.”

The hospital would not discharge Ezikiel until his bill was paid in full. Everyone helped to raise the money. I had spent all day by the road selling corn. Grandma, as well as attending births, had started selling monkey tail, the kai-kai laced with hashish from the creeks. Mama worked every hour, day and night. Alhaji used some of the Mercedes money to buy equipment, such as copper wire and net, for his snail farm. “You have to speculate to accumulate,” he said. “Did you know that a snail will not pass through copper?”

Celestine walked around the hospital looking for people with extra-hollow faces. She had business cards printed, which she left by the bedsides:

PROFESSIONAL TOWN MOURNING SERVICES
BY CELESTINE.

THE VOICE THAT REACHES GOD’S EARS.
CONTACT ALHAJI KENTABE FOR ADVANCE BOOKINGS.
EXECUTIVE CLUB. 222-3462

The next week when I visited Ezikiel he was standing behind a group of doctors and he was wearing a white coat. He had a serious look on his face, but his mouth was smiling widely. He came over to me and sat down on his bed. He did not remove his white coat. I laughed. Ezikiel looked like a grown-up man. I imagined what it would be like to be Ezikiel’s patient.

“The doctor in charge has let me follow ward rounds,” he said. “He knows that I want to study medicine and he’s been helping me.” Ezikiel’s face was round and well. His eyes were shining like Celestine’s English fifty-pence coin.

“I’m coming home tomorrow,” he continued. “They’ve got the hospital fees! Mama said she got the rest of the money from her friend. I’m going to miss hospital. I’ve learned so much from the doctors!”

“What friend? I did not know Mama had any friends. I thought she was borrowing from a colleague. When are the exams?”

“Next week! I’ll be back just in time. But I’m not worried anymore. I’m ahead! How many boys in my class have been on real ward rounds learning from real doctors? Imagine, Blessing, when I am a real doctor and we can talk together. You will be able to ask me if you get stuck with your birth attending. And I bet that Father will hear, even from Lagos, when I’m studying medicine.”

I turned my head to Ezikiel. It was the first time he had mentioned anything about Father. The words had come out of his mouth without him meaning them to. He was clenching his teeth to prevent any more. I put my hand onto his arm. “Tell me,” I said, “about the different patients.”

Ezikiel smiled at me for a long time before speaking. “That one,” he said, pointing across the ward, “in bed five. Bowel cancer, advanced stages. He’s had surgery to remove …”

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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