To anyone looking at them from without, they seemed like strange bedfellows. She was small and when he stood beside her, she seemed smaller still. When I first met them, before the great trial of their lives began, and laughter had become a stranger, he used to joke about how he was her tree, providing shade from the sun. She would respond by rolling her eyes and mumbling about trees without leaves.It was not only the difference in height that made them seem so incongruous. There was also the fact that she was round like a ball and he was thin and spare. He wore glasses but her eyes shone and when she laid them on you, you felt like she could see your secrets.The mis-match didn’t stop there.
The first time they walked into my office I immediately knew who was boss. She talked a mile a minute but he was a man of few words and they became even fewer after the great trial started.
They are sitting in the same seats they had sat on the day that I had first met them. It has been four years. She is still as beautiful and as round as she was back then. She has weathered the storm better. Only her eyes and the lines on her face tell tales. Everything else is instructable. I turn my gaze to the man but even before I do I can feel his pain. It enters the room before him, announcing his presence. It enfolds him like a shell but unlike shells, it does nothing to protect him.
He only comes here for her, to be the tree that towers over her and shade her from disappointments, to be the one she can lean on after hope has failed.I smile at him but he does not smile back. We share a moment while his wife continues to talk about everything except why we are here. I know he blames me for his wife and her continuous effort at hope – he has said as much. I am the reason Adannaya continues to hope. I am the reason she finds her way here faithfully every third Thursday of the month. I am the reason she drags him here for this charade, this dance that starts with hope and ends with disappointment.But not this time. This time, the dance will continue long into the night and when it ends, it will leave behind joy. I wait for her to miss a beat before interrupting
“The results are in.” I say.
Adannaya nods her head and I can see the beginning of fresh hope in her eyes. Her husband frowns at me. He folds his arms, protecting himself from a heart that has been broken too many times.
“Zee, what is it? Tell us; it can’t be worse than anything we have been through these past three years.” Adannaya says. She is sitting on the edge of her seat now and I can see the excitement coursing through her.
“I don’t know what you are excited about Adannaya. It has been four years actually and not three, four years Adannnaya, since Zee and his friends in Europe and America and Singapore started poking us like lab rats. I don’t know what is different this time.” Dike sneers.
“Dike Okoli!!!” Adannaya scolds. She turns to me and her fair face is flush. I am not sure if it is from anger at her husband or from hope. Her hands are trembling and I am glad I am not Dike.
“I am sorry, Zee. It has been hard on all of us, especially with Uju gone and all. Dike doesn’t mean any of it. He appreciates all you have been doing for us. Even when we couldn’t afford the procedures, you did them for free. And Uju’s gift; we can never thank you enough. Dike is just having a hard time at work, that is all.”
“I am still in the room and can speak for myself.” Dike says but I can tell the fight is gone out of him. He loves her with a love that is like the love I once had. He would give her the world if he could. He would fight his way into that place in heaven where the children were kept and steal her one if he could.
It is their love that has kept me going these five months.
“Adannaya is pregnant. Two months pregnant. It worked guys, the last procedure worked.” I say calmly even though I have wanted to jump and dance ever since the lab called me this morning.
They are both quiet; Adannaya holding her hand to a heart that must have been going a mile a minute, Dike staring at the floor, shaking his gray head, as if, if he shook it long enough, he would wake up from this reality that casts him as a father.
They say nothing for the longest time. I don’t know whose tear is the first to fall but soon it is a free-fall. I don’t know when or how they find their way to my side of the table and wrap their arms around me. In four years, we have never hugged. It occurs to me that even with all the knowledge I have amassed over four years about these bodies that now embrace me, I do not have the slightest clue about what it feels like to hug them. I feel their tears mix with mine and water the marble tiled floor of my office. Someone reaches out for the tissue box on my table. I am not surprised that it is Adannaya. She takes her time; wiping away mine and Dike’s tears like we are children. She will make a great mother. I have always known this.
“We will name her Uju.” Adannaya declares when we finally pull ourselves together. They are leaning on my table while I sit in my chair.
I nod and smile.
“She will be your daughter as much as she is ours.” Dike tells me and I nod again.
I don’t know if it is the tears or the fact that Uju is still gone, but I suddenly feel very tired. I don’t know what I was hoping for, but it wasn’t for the emptiness that still assails me as I stare at the picture on my desk.
“You both should go home.” I tell them.
They share a look and say “No!” at the same time.
We all laugh.
“Well you have to go home sometime. Besides, Eloho has a ballet show that I need to go see.”
“Can we come?” Dike asks. I look at him, amazed at how quickly good news can change a man. “We need to practice at being parents anyway for little Uju.”
“You both don’t even know if it is a girl.”
“She will be.” Adannaya says. The fire is back in her eyes and she winks at me.
I laugh and the emptiness isn’t as bad as before.
“No, you guys. I need some time alone, really. I will be fine. Go home and celebrate.”
They finally leave. I had lied about the ballet show and they knew it. Eloho in a tutu? That would be the day, I smile, thinking of my rotund child.
The bottle of cognac hidden in my drawer is almost empty but it will do.
“They seem happy, don’t they?” I ask my wife.
“We did a great thing, Zee.”
“You did a great thing, Uju. I just did my job.”
A year ago, my wife found out she was dying. As a her final laugh in the face of death, she asked me to harvest her eggs for Adannnaya. We had all become friends somewhere along this road.“You should go home.” My wife tells me.
I haven’t been home since Uju died in this hospital. I am afraid that if I leave, I will leave her behind. My daughter lives with her maternal grandparents, orphaned by death and by grief. I see her often but retreat to my rehab as soon as she starts to remind me of her mother.
“It feels like you never left, Mrs Eburu. You were always on my case to stop working and come home.” I tease my wife.
She smiles and moves closer to kiss me.
“Maybe that is because I never left. Maybe that’s because I will always be with you wherever you are-whether in this hospital or at home.” She whispers in my ear.
“I love you.” I say to her as I let myself breathe in her scent.
“And I, you. Go home, Zee. Go home and be a father to Eloho. Go home and help Dike be a good father to Uju. You have spent yourself healing others. It is time to heal thyself, o physician.” My wife says to me, her lips lifted in a teasing smile.
I squeeze her hand and she squeezes back. When I wake up, it is dark and raining but I take my wife’s advice and go home anyway.
Song of the day: Lagbaja – Never Far Away