Mama Kola was running. She’d run forward and then stopped, indecisive on what direction to take. She looked crazy with her hair spiky, eyes bloodshot and face lined with dried tears.
The road was unusually quiet; not a single car drove by. Mama Kola was frantic. She was praying and beckoning on God to help save her son, Kola.
Earlier that day, Kola had gone out to deliver smoked fish to a few women in the neighbourhood who had paid for their order the previous day. After running the fish errand, his mother had instructed him to proceed to buy milk and sugar for the family’s breakfast. He was on his way home from the errand when he was run over by a hit-and-run driver trying to get away from the task force officers that ensured nobody violated the nationwide curfew and lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mama Kola had heard noise from the street; women wailing loudly and men snapping their fingers in disbelief. When she got where the mini crowd gathered, much to her horror she saw Kola lying seemingly lifeless, with his legs twisted at an impossible angle. She screamed like a banshee as she held her boy. He breathed heavily and suddenly passed out.
The crowd was getting thicker and the air hotter. The sun shone like it was out on a vendetta. Ropes of sweat ran down the sides of her face. Her throat was hoarse from screaming. Her mouth was unusually dry. Heart making two beats at a time, she felt lightheaded.
A good Samaritan offered to take him to the hospital. They went through roadblocks with ease because the task force officers saw that it was really an emergency.
They barged into the hospital screaming and asking for a doctor. Nurses approached but wouldn’t touch him because of the fear of COVID-19.
“Please at least give him some first aid”, other patients joined in pleading with the nurses.
The doctor had been summoned that there was an emergency. “Can you at least admit him so he would lie on the bed instead of leaving us here in the lobby?” Mama Kola croaked as her throat was sore from all the screaming.
“No oh, we cannot admit you now oh, you may have to check another hospital” one of the nurses replied.
“Do I look like I have COVID-19? Does he look like he’s infected?” Mama Kola pleaded, getting angry. She was shocked at the treatment they were receiving. If this much stigma is meted to an accident victim owing to the dreaded virus, she wondered what her fate would have been if she had come with symptoms of the virus. The thought alone made her shudder.
The doctor arrived an hour later.
“Why is this young man not admitted? Why is he out here?” Doctor Bola was irritated at the insensitivity of the nurses. Soon Kola was given a bed. The nurses made sure they had no physical contact with Kola or his mother.
“What sort of rubbish is this?” Mama Kola cursed under her breath.
“Your son needs immediate surgery ma’am” The doctor said to Mama Kola in private.
“Okay? Please get on with it”.
“Hmm, that’s the problem”. Doctor Bola bit his lower lips as he normally did when nervous. Mama Kola couldn’t help but notice how young he looked. Kola was seeking admission to study medicine at the state university. She had so much faith in the boy. The one who was now struggling for his life.
“Your son’s blood group is O negative. He can only receive blood from O negative,” he paused gauging Mama Kola’s expression. “We have run out of O negative blood type in the hospital’s blood bank,” he said, taking a deep breath.
Mama Kola was too shocked to scream. Her heart raced, thumping noisily in her chest. She looked away and closed her eyes, hoping she would snap out of this nightmare.
“So- so- so you mean you cannot operate on him? Look at him, he’s dying, do something,” she stuttered.
“Help my son, help my son. Okay, okay, take my blood and use it for the surgery or can you operate on him without the blood?”
“Madam you were tested. Your blood is compatible with his, but you are low on blood right now yourself. Taking even a pint from you would kill you, I’m so sorry.”
He paused, waiting for his words to sink in. The blank stare from Mama Kola worried him. Had she heard him? She should at least say something. Mama Kola, as if reading his mind, nodded slowly.
“So, what are you saying? We should watch him die?” Her eyes widened, popping out look like a saucer.
“O negative isn’t rare, find someone to donate and we will get on with the surgery,” the doctor advised.
She ran out like a mad woman but couldn’t find anybody in the streets. Nobody wanted to defy the curfew. She walked from street to street with no purpose. She didn’t know what she was looking for. If the town were as busy as it used to be, she would have pleaded with everyone in sight till someone helped.
The hospital wasn’t in a residential area, she would have knocked on every door. She remembered her colleague in fish business, Mama Jumoke, once mentioned she was O negative when her daughter had to be transfused whilst birthing her twins. If only she could find her way to Mama Jumoke’s house, she would probably get some help to save her only child’s life. But there was no way to get to Mama Jumoke’s place right now.
She sat in the middle of the road, beckoning on God to make her wake up from this nightmare. Her son, her only son, her only child was dying.
A patrol van full of task force officers drove towards her. It screeched to a halt just a few inches short of hitting her.
“Madam, are you crazy, won’t you get yourself out of the way?” a tall dark man from the van spat at her, nostrils flaring. He had unusually wide nostrils for someone as slender as he was. They stretched across his face. He could easily breathe for two persons.
“Quit shouting at her, she’s old enough to be your mother,” a second officer said.
Mama Kola muttered inaudibly to herself.
“Madam, what is it?” the second one asked, genuinely concerned.
Mama Kola explained what was wrong, in between sobs.
“Madam I am actually O negative,” the first officer informed her.
“I can be of help, where is the hospital located?”
Mama Kola couldn’t believe it.
She jumped up excitedly, pulling him for a hug. She later realized his name was Wale. Social distancing was far off her mind. It was a bear hug crushing the tall man with her unbelievable strength. So much energy in an old woman, he thought. She jumped into the van and they were on their way to the hospital.
Mama Kola was all smiles as she rushed into the hospital to brandish her trophy. The atmosphere seemed tense. The nurses looked at her sadly. She didn’t mind, after all, she has gotten someone to donate some blood.
She called for the doctor while going to her son’s bed space. He wasn’t there. Did they go through with the surgery without blood? Or maybe someone donated. She was glad, at least he was in surgery. The next few months would be hell, she thought to herself. Kola would have to learn how to start walking all over again. Saddening but she was grateful.
“Madam,” Doctor Bola whispered, walking towards her.
“Doctor, aren’t you supposed to be in the theatre?” She was visibly angry. Why would they delay?
“Madam, I’m sorry, we have tried our best. I just heard you are back. We don’t need the blood anymore.”
Mama Kola slumped into a chair, too dazed to scream. She stared blankly at the wall. She suddenly found herself in a trance, happily and impatiently awaiting the fishers returning to the beach with boats loaded with tons of big fish. Other women dashed into the water to ensure they had the first right of purchase. She succeeds; literally drags the boat ashore with thoughts of huge profits and sumptuous meals.
She saw herself paying Kola’s fees as he gained admission into the university to read medicine. He graduates in brilliant colours and settles down with a beautiful wife. His elaborate wedding made an internet sensation. Then suddenly she wakes up on the hospital bed. Where Kola had laid. She was being transfused. The slim officer’s face hovered over her. His flared nostrils breathing for her…
“You will be okay,” he whispered.
But why was she in the hospital? She squinted at the little crowd around her. “What am I doing here? I should be at the waterside selling fish. Right? Where is the boat? Why am I being transfused? Where is Kola? Kola? Kola!”
“Calm down, madam,” the doctor urged Mama Kola. “The surgery was successful. Kola is out of danger. Someone came in as soon as you went out and donated the blood we needed.”
“That’s wonderful news. Thanks be to God,” Mama Kola gasped. “Where is my fish?”
Okpuwara is a writer with a deep love for nature and all her elements
“Echoes of Pain” is extracted from “A Walk in a Curfew and other Pandemic Tales”, a 2020 publication of HOMEF
Readers can download the full eBook at www.homef.org