Nora feared it would come to this. Toni stared at her. Nora swallowed painfully as she watched Toni wipe her own tears. “We have talked about this before.” Nora said quietly.
“About me dying peacefully, right?” Toni asked as she approached her sister slowly. “I am afraid, Nora. I want to live.”
Nora firmed up as she tried to fight back her tears. “Stop it, Toni.”
Toni wanted to stop the tears but she couldn’t. “Nor…Nora.” She stuttered amidst her tears. “Nora…Nora.” Toni cried and broke down into her arms.
Nora shut her eyes as she hugged her sister close. “We can do this, Toni. We would.” She said and kissed her scalp. “Let’s do chemo, Toni.” She whispered to her.
Toni broke away from Nora. “NO! I don’t want it. I can’t afford to fade away before my own eyes.”
“Toni, listen, we can survive chemo. I know this. You are a fighter. You will survive it, you can’t take another surgery. You are too weak for it.” Nora replied.
Toni sniffed. “I want to love Jerry. I can’t do that in chemo.”
Nora sighed. “So, you are willing to risk everything for him? What about me, Toni? Toni, you can do this Chemotherapy once and for all, and come back and love your man. You do the surgery now, you have seizures, and you get weak, then stronger…then weaker again. Is that what you want?”
“That way I won’t have to fade away before his eyes.” Toni replied.
“That way you get to kill him inside. You would break everything that is left of him. Is that what you want and…and most importantly, he would never forgive you for doing this to him. Let’s live through this and never look back.” Nora pleaded.
Toni smiled faintly. “Let’s? There is only one person in this room with Cancer, Nora, and it isn’t you.”
Nora nodded. “Yes, it isn’t me and yes, most times, I wish it were me. I can’t watch you lose your spirit. I can’t watch you fade away.”
“Let me have the surgery.” Toni replied.
Nora shook her head. “No, Toni. I can’t.”
Toni sank into a chair. “What do you want, Nora?”
“Let’s go in for chemo. I will be with you every step of the way, I would never leave your side.” Nora said.
Toni smiled. “Is there a part where you get to share in my pain? Because sitting and watching my pain can be pretty useless, don’t you think?” she asked with a soft chuckle.
Nora didn’t understand how Toni did it. She had changed the whole situation in a flash with a laugh. Little wonder Jerry was enchanted by her, who wouldn’t be? Toni was a beauty. She ravished from the inside such that what people saw on the outside as beautiful was only a compliment. With thoughts in her heart, she snuggled up on Toni’s lap. For a split moment, she wondered who needed comforting…it should be Toni, but then, she knew she did too.
“Hi Doctor Jerry.” A nurse greeted as Jerry walked in with Emeka. “We have missed you around here.” She added as she turned into one of the private wards.
“I don’t get it.” Jerry started.
Emeka stared at him. “What?”
“How can people look into your eyes and lie?” Jerry asked.
Emeka chuckled. “That’s rich, coming from you.”
Jerry stopped. “Dude, that nurse just lied that she missed me. Clearly no one did. Survival rates have gone up, how could I be missed?”
Emeka smiled. “You are not the only problem that the Hospital has, besides, mentality is very important in saving a patient. Both from you and the patient, so sometimes, you might be doing your best and the patient isn’t. And most importantly, it is God who saves lives. We are just the tools.”
“I am such a faulty tool then.” Jerry said as he pushed his office door open. “So, the director wanted me back because the patients have increased here at the hospital or because you put in a good word for me?”
“Me? I had nothing to do with it. Why would I want to ruin your honeymoon?” Emeka asked as he took a seat. “Patients have increased. With all the happenings in town, casualty rate has gone up and as such, the tendency for mortality rate too is upped. This is where we as Doctors come in, we try to reduce the mortality rate.”
Jerry nodded. “Toni thinks I should join a help support group for my drinking issue.”
Emeka smiled. “Interesting. The fact that you think it is an issue means it is an issue. I am happy to learn that you are going to stop.”
“I just want to make her happy. I don’t want to do anything that would hurt her.” Jerry said.
Emeka shook his head. “You just missed a vital step to redemption.”
“And that would be?” Jerry asked.
Emeka sat up. “You are doing this because it is best for you. It is obviously going to be good for her too, but first, you are doing it because it is the right thing to do.”
Jerry sighed. “I guess you have a point.”
“I always have a point.” Emeka replied as he relaxed in his seat. “So, what is your plan for the new girl? When do I get to meet her?”
“Which of the questions should I answer first?” Jerry retorted.
Emeka grinned. “You would make a very jealous lover. So, when do I get to meet Miss?”
Jerry cleared his throat. “I don’t know. I am not ready to have you tell me that you saw her in your dream in a wedding gown and that you know she is for you.”
“Guy! I am not that kind of guy. I won’t do that to you, but if she is for me, you can’t put asunder.” Emeka replied with a smile.
“You are not her type.” Jerry replied as he hung his stethoscope around his neck.
Emeka smiled. “You are not a very good judge of character.”
“Case closed. You are not meeting her. About my plans? I really do want to be with her and I’d do everything to be the perfect man for her.”
“Jerry, you are a good guy. That I know. And I think you have found someone special but I must remind you, you are walking on a thin line with the little lies you have started building, you might want to break it all down, you still have the time.” Emeka said, standing up. “When I eventually meet her, I would introduce myself as a Doctor. At least that way, you won’t have told too many lies.” He said and gave Jerry a light tap.
Jerry swallowed at Emeka’s words. Emeka’s words had a way of turning into a nightmare for him from the little he had seen.
“Let’s go do some rounds, bro.” Emeka called as he walked out of the office.
Jerry took a deep breath and followed him.
Nora shot a wicked glance at Toni. “Are we really watching this?”
Toni chuckled. “We just finished the first half. A few minutes break and they will be up and running for the second forty five.”
“I don’t like football.” Nora replied angrily.
Toni nodded. “But Mommy, you said I can watch whatever I want and that you would be by my side all the way. Did you forget?”
Nora groaned. “This is cheap blackmail, Toni. It is ridiculously cheap.”
“Wrong. It isn’t cheap. If it was, it won’t be costing you this much discomfort.” She replied with a smile.
“I think you should learn to like football. I bet James likes football and if you want to warm your way into the heart of that guy, you should know a little more about the sport. Start by picking a team.” Toni advised.
Toni nudged her in the waist. “Dear Nora, this advice is priceless. I can assure you that most ladies that lose their guys to the sport don’t understand that they could actually enjoy the sport together. If she is so unwilling to love the game, she can love the boys.”
Nora stared at her with a raised eyebrow.
“I am being honest here. There are a lot of cute guys that play football.” Toni replied. “So, let me bring you up to speed with football. To start with, the team in the red jersey is Arsenal and the team in the blue jersey is Everton-”
“-Not interested.” Nora replied.
The doorbell went. Nora sprang to her feet in delight. “I’ll get it.”
“Why do you hate football so much?” Toni asked, laughing.
Nora ignored her and hurried to the door. Toni focused on the Television as the players from both teams returned to the field.
Toni turned round and smiled. “Hey! James! How are you?”
James smiled. “I made it in time for the second half, so I am great.” He said, taking a seat.
“What do I offer you?” Nora asked.
James shook his head. “Nothing. I just need to focus on my boys.”
“Arsenal.” Toni asked
James nodded with a smile. “We are the best.”
“Let me guess, Chelsea?” he asked.
Toni smiled. “Atta boy! Jose’s Army. The Roman empire!”
Nora fumed as she watched her sister bond with James. “I think Arsenal will win.” She said, jumping into the discussion.
Toni turned her head at Nora with a cynical smile. “I see…”
Nora nodded and took her seat beside James. “You know, the best thing about football is the passion. I think they put a lot of passion into it.”
James stared at Nora and then at Toni. “That was awkward.”
“Was it?” Toni asked.
James nodded and turned back to the Television.
“Goal!” Nora shouted as she watched the ball roll into the net.
James stared at her. “I thought you were in support of Arsenal?”
“They scored, right?” she asked, dumbly. “They are wearing the blue jersey, right?”
Toni stared at James with a smile. “Now that is Nora’s sense of humour. She knows that Everton scored, but she just wants to troll you.”
James stares at Nora. “You are mean.”
Nora nodded with a smile. “I know.”
Toni winked at her and walked away.
Nora watched the rest of the game in silence. Toni had just covered up for her. Once again, she found herself competing needlessly with Toni who was in no competition with her.
James was enjoying the game, but Nora’s silence was worrisome, so he turned to her. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah…sure.” She replied.
He shook his head. “You are lying to me.”
“No. I am fine.” She replied.
James stared at her. “I don’t care if you don’t know jack about football.”
“Really?” she asked.
James smiled. “For now… After a while, you can start supporting Arsenal, so we can tease Toni together.”
She smiled back. “It sounds like a good idea.”
“I want you to go out with me.” James said. He stared at Nora. “Officially, I want to be your boyfriend.”
Nora stared at him. “I don’t know about officially.”
“Is that a yes?” he asked.
She shrugged. “I think so.”
Jerry replaced his stethoscope around his neck as he took his seat beside a patient. “I heard you haven’t been taking your medications, ma’am.”
Mrs. Aiyenugba turned away from him. “Where have you been?”
Jerry smiled faintly at Emeka and then back at the woman. “I had to go away for a while. I am surprised you are still in the hospital.”
“I like it here.” She replied and then turned towards Jerry. “I really do.”
Emeka gestured to Jerry and walked out. Jerry stared at her. “Why would you love it here? You should be with your kids and grandkids.”
Mrs Aiyenugba scoffed. “They don’t care about me.”
“Why not? Your daughter brought you here, remember?” he asked.
She nodded. “I do, but, they don’t want me at home. I caught them saying they have booked me in at Victoria’s Homes. They are just waiting for me to feel better, so I would just stay here till I die. You would let me, right?”
Jerry hesitated. “I…I don’t think so.”
“Why not? I have my own room here, there is a Television too and I am sure you would visit me every day, right? Well…when you are not spending time with that cute girl.”
Jerry stared at her. “What girl?”
“Don’t think I haven’t noticed the smile on your face since you walked in here, you hardly smile like that. Who is she?” she asked with a smile.
Jerry smiled at his favourite patient. She was a comic relief and was known for pulling silly jokes, but then she was right about his smile. The thought of Toni made him happy. He was going to go home to see her no matter the time he closed from work. She really did light up his world.
“So, who is she?” she asked again.
Jerry drew closer to her. “Toni. And yes, she is amazing.”
Mrs. Aiyenugba nodded with a smile. “I know she is. My husband thought I was the most amazing woman in the world too…and I thought he was, until he left me. I then knew he was the most selfish man. He decided to cheat me by dying first.”
Jerry chuckled. “Come on…”
“I am serious, why would you leave anyone you love to suffer? The one who hurts is not the person who dies, it is the one they live behind.” She said.
Jerry nodded. “But won’t it be selfish of you if you had died first and left him behind?” he asked.
“I am the woman.” She replied with a smile.
Jerry smiled. “Seriously?”
She nodded. “Yes. Ladies first, it is.”
Jerry laughed. “You are unbelievable, Mrs. Aiyenugba.”
Jerry smiled. “I would never call you by your first name.”
“Why not? It is my name and I am giving you the right to call me by it.” She replied.
Jerry shrugged. “I choose not to. You could be my Mom.”
She nodded. “Speaking of families, how is your family?”
“They should be fine.” He replied.
She stared at him in a puzzling manner. “They should? When last did you phone them?”
He sighed. “I don’t know.”
“Your mom is going to end up in Victoria’s Home too.” She cooed as she picked up a newspaper. “Mothers are a gift from God. They are your first defence. She is the mother lion, she is ready to tear apart the hyenas for her cub. Why won’t the cub love her when he should?” she asked.
Jerry swallowed. “I…I love my mom.”
“Show it.” She replied.
He nodded. “I would call my family.” He said, standing up.
“You won’t. I know that look.” She replied.
He bit his lower lip, “I will prove you wrong.”
“This is not about me. This is about you, Jerry. It is about you. Just you and you alone, no one else.” She replied and dropped the newspaper by her bed. “Tell the Doctors I am not going home. I have no place to call my home. I will just stay here till I die. At least, I will have a casket to call my home when I am gone.” She said, sliding down to rest.
Jerry took a deep breath and walked out. He was lost in his thoughts about what Mrs. Aiyenugba had said that he didn’t see Emeka approaching him.
“Guy!” Emeka said as Jerry walked past him.
Jerry stopped and apologized. “I am sorry.”
“This Toni girl will be the death of you.” He said with a smile.
Jerry smiled faintly. “When last did you call your parents?”
Emeka shrugged. “I don’t know. My sister keeps in touch with them, so that should cover for both of us, right?” he asked with a grin.
“Love your parents when they are alive.” Jerry said.
“ Oshey, Aristotle!” Emeka mocked. “You shouldn’t spend too much time with Mrs. Aiyenugba, that woman pollutes the mind.”
Jerry frowned. “She is a good woman. She made me realise how unfair I have been to my parents.”
“We are busy, Jerry. We have a lot to do. Even our parents know that.” Emeka replied. “Please ignore that woman, besides, the hospital is tired of her consuming space. I think they are calling her family in tomorrow.”
Jerry blinked. “Her children don’t want her.”
“That’s understandable. Look at how quick she has poisoned your mood. She is a venom.” Emeka said with a smile.
Jerry ignored him and turned to walk away. Emeka hurried up to him. “What do you want, Emeka?” Jerry asked.
“Why are you so serious, Jerry?” Emeka retorted. “I think you are paying her too much attention.”
Jerry pushed his office door open. “Why shouldn’t I?”
“I don’t know. She is just a patient.” He replied. “You don’t owe her anything, do you?” Emeka asked.
“I know I don’t, but she has given me a reason to think about my family and myself too.” He replied.
“I think you should think more about the surgical cases that we have this night. From what I heard, you are leading a surgery.”
Jerry’s face fell. “No.”
“Look, man, I want you to believe in yourself. You have to save a life today. Save another tomorrow. And then, next tomorrow…and then, you won’t have to worry no more.” Emeka said with a smile.
Jerry swallowed. He had a lot to worry about. The nurses always looked defeated before any of his case. The mere sight of Jerry made them believe they were fighting a lost battle, he had never proven them wrong. They talked in groups in the hospital and he was sure he had a role to play in it. Emeka always inspired him, but then, he still felt defeated. The nightmare of his first case never let him be.
Toni struck the keys of her laptop as she typed. Nora stared at her. Toni had not said a word to her since James left.
“Are you not going to talk to me?” Nora asked. Toni had her headphones on, but Nora knew she could hear her. “Toni. Please.”
Toni turned at her. “How much longer?” she asked.
Nora swallowed. “I don’t know what came over me. I…I was jealous.”
Toni smiled. “Nora, I can never hurt you. I hope you know that.”
“I do. But what about James? He can hurt me.” She replied.
Toni shook her head. “No, he can’t hurt you. You have control over your heart, you decide what comes and what goes and in this situation, it is hard to decide because of the emotions, but still, you decide.”
Nora drew closer to her. “Forgive me.”
“I hold no grudge against you.” Toni replied. “I wish I knew how to, but I don’t.”
Nora grinned. “Thank God,”
“Yeah.” Toni replied. “I am going to church tomorrow. Are you coming?”
Nora stared at her. “Oh…no. I will just stay here.”
“Why? Still fighting with yourself?” Toni asked with a smile. “Because if you think you are fighting with God because we don’t have our parents with us, you are wasting your time. Job lost everyone and everything, yet, he trusted God and He didn’t fail. He never does.”
Nora turned her face away. She had avoided Church ever since their parents died. She was angry. Toni’s diagnosis gave her more reason to be angry, she didn’t understand why all these were happening to her. Toni never stopped praying. Nora quit.
Toni continued typing on her laptop. Nora stared at her. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“Writing.” Toni replied.
“Writing? When did you become a writer? I know you have always been one at heart, but when did you start putting it to some use?” Nora asked.
Toni smiled. “A week ago.”
“That’s recent. So, what are you writing?” Nora asked.
Toni stared at her. “My novel.”
Toni nodded. “My life is too much excitement to stay bottled in…I want the world to read.”
Nora smiled. “That’s lovely.”
“Thank you.” Toni replied and closed her laptop.
Nora stared at her. “James asked me out.”
“And you said yes?” Toni asked.
Nora nodded. “That’s what I want.”
Toni smiled. “I know.”
“Do you think I am right?” Nora asked.
Toni shrugged. “I really don’t know, but, I just think that you should be happy. If he makes you happy and you make him happy, then, it is fine.”
“You are not so convinced about James, are you? He is a great guy. He even sensed that I didn’t know jack about football .” She replied.
Toni smiled. “Still you should know.”
Toni took a deep breath. “Nora?”
“What is it, Toni?” she asked.
Toni stared at her. “I phoned the Hospital. I am starting Chemo.”