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It was a quarter past twelve; according to the clock against the wall above the bed.
Frank could hear what the old man was saying, but he wasn’t listening. His gaze; all of his attention was on the figure lying on the bed with eyes closed, looking pale as a faded red dress.
He wasn’t thinking anything. He wasn’t even capable of thought.
“…was high but nobody noticed anything; not even when we said goodbye to mummy. I just came home; she asked him to bring her to you, said a friend of yours had an accident and she needed to be with you. How is your friend by the way?”
The older man noticed Frank’s fixed stare, nodded and continued speaking.
“As far as I was concerned, they were with you. All I expected to hear was how your friend is doing and when they were coming home. The next thing I know my phone is ringing and it’s a Road Safety Marshall asking if I know so and so…” his voice broke. “Oh God. How do I tell her mother?”
The spell that held Frank immobile finally let him go. His gaze was steely; his jaw clenched as he faced the man. “Where is she?”
The mortuary was cold; colder than Frank imagined. He walked behind the girl leading him, trying not to think about what was waiting, what he was about to go see. He didn’t bother telling himself it wasn’t real; the smell of chemicals that stung his nose and made his eyes water were real enough.
Their footsteps rang loudly in the enclosed space, and Frank wanted to tell the girl to hurry it up. Finally, she stopped in front of a set of drawers and consulted the pad in her hands. Nodding to herself, she flexed her fingers in the gloves, snapped the gum she was chewing sloppily and pulled the lower of the drawers out.
There she was. Sofia.
But for the flaccid whiteness of her skin and an angry gash above her left eye, she could as well as have been sleeping. The calm, relaxed looseness he kissed whenever he woke before her was very present –
He shuddered. He had suddenly wanted to hug her.
“Something – maybe the car engine block or something crushed her chest. She had to have died immediately. Em…sorry sir, who are you to her?”
“Why?” He didn’t look away from Sofia.
He could hear the girl fidgeting. “Well, the doctor didn’t tell her daddy because he thought it might not go down well – “
“They know she’s pregnant. Actually, it’s my baby she’s carrying. We were about to get married.” He turned away.
“Oh. Sir, I’m so sorry sir.”
He was almost at the door before he answered; “Me too.”
“Frank! I have been calling…are you okay? What’s wrong?”
“I…think I just hit someone…something…I don’t know…”
“Okay, calm down. Where are you?”
“I don’t know…I’m just…” Silence. “Somewhere in Palm Groove…I was trying to get home…”
“Can you be a bit more specific?”
“I think I’m somewhere around Larex hotel…”
“Okay, stay there. I’m on my way.”
What am I doing beside this river?
Where was I before? Where am I coming from? Where am I going?
God I’m cold.
This cannot still be Lagos; all this fog. The harmattan is not that bad na.
Wait. Who is that? Who are…
Sofia?! What are you doing over there? Whose that little girl with…wait.
Is that my child? I have a girl?
Don’t wave at me like that. Where….where are you going?
WHERE ARE YOU GOING?!
Don’t take her! Don’t take my girl with you!
I’m coming! I’m – YEEEEEEE! This water is burning!
“Frank! Frank!! You’re dreaming! Hey, it’s a dream!”
He sat up, naked torso glistening. He could feel cold air on his arms and chest; at the same time he could feel the wetness of sweat. There was someone sitting beside him, and he reached out with clutching hands.
“No o, this is Igo.”
Frank swallowed. “I’m – I’m sorry. I’m…” he paused and looked around. “What’s going on? Where are we and how did we get here?”
“We’re in my house, and I brought you here – drove you here actually.” It was dark but he could feel her eyes boring into him. “What happened, Frank? What’s going on? Who is Sofia, what happened to her and how come you drove into a parked car? You’re not drunk – or is it drugs?”
Frank swung his feet off the sofa and onto the floor, and buried his head in his hands.
“Could I have some water please?”
Igo scrambled to her feet wordlessly and left the room. Moments later, the lights flicked on and she came in bearing a bottle of water and a glass.
“Thanks,” Frank mumbled softly, taking the bottle and glass from her. Quickly, he poured himself a glass full and gulped it down almost immediately. And then, he put the glass down and looked at his hand. It was trembling violently.
“Oh God,” he began, “Sofia is…Sofia is the girl I was going to marry. She was carrying my baby…and now she’s…” he couldn’t continue, instead he kept repeating “Oh God.”
Igo cradled him against her t-shirt-covered bosom, her tears mingling with his.
Sometime later, a much-calmer Frank finished narrating the tale to the listening Igo seated a settee away, long legs tucked under her, her chin in her hands, hair held back with a hairnet, tears glistening in her eyes. Frank himself was rather dry-eyed and steady; something that could be attributed to the colorless liquid in the glass he was carrying, a glass different from the one Igo handed him a few minutes before.
Of course, the colorless liquid wasn’t water.
“It’s just like okada accidents; very rarely do the riders get hurt, but the passengers barely escape with their lives. He was barely scratched; at least from what I could see.” He sighed. “The idiot ran into a parked trailer.”
Igo wiped her eyes slowly. “I don’t know what to say. ‘Sorry’ doesn’t begin to cover it.”
“I’m just confused. What is going on? Why now – why is everything falling apart all of a sudden? I would ask God but all I have done lately is to blame Him for everything including my own nonsense.” He raised the glass to his lips and swallowed. “The person I feel most sorry for is Sofia’s father. How is he going to tell his wife?”
“I’m sorry Frank,” Igo said, sniffing. “I can’t help but wonder why you didn’t tell me about Sofia sha. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“We are just becoming friends again, Igo. I wasn’t ready to lose that. And then, it just never seemed like the right time. I’m sorry.”
She wiped her eyes. “It’s okay, Frank. I would have liked to meet her.”
Frank set the cup down and fished for his phone. It wasn’t where he expected it to be; his hip pocket so he started to pat around him.
“That’s strange,” he mumbled.
“What are you looking for?”
“Eh…my phone, wallet and…” his voice trailed off, his eyes followed Igo’s pointing finger to a side table, on top of which lay the things he was looking for.
“You need to tell me how you got me and my car here – or did you leave it there?”
She chuckled dryly. “I’ll tell you as soon as you’re done with your phone.”
He took the phone off the side table and unlocked it, and then rose and walked to Igo’s side of the room to squat beside her. “This is Sofia,” he said, his voice breaking.
Igo leaned forward and looked at the picture Frank was showing her. It was of a smiling Sofia, playing with her hair and laughing at something beyond the camera.
“She’s beautiful,” Igo said softly – barely catching the phone in time as Frank suddenly let go of it. Placing the phone beside her, she pulled him to herself.
“It was Sunny drove me to where you were. When we found you, I just moved you to the passenger seat and drove. Sunny followed me. We also carried you in.”
“‘Sunny’ would be…” Frank’s waving hand hung the question in the air.
“The gateman,” Igo said simply. “He’s a good driver.”
“Well, my thanks to Sunny. And to you,” he continued, looking at her warmly. “I’m thankful, Igo.”
She waved away his thanks. “You would do the same for me.” There was a moment of silence, a moment in which she glared at him, daring him to disagree. “What happens now?”
“I can’t go home – at least not yet. She did all the décor, the painting – “He broke off and sighed. “I can’t handle that…”
She cradled his face. “You know that’s not what I’m talking about, Frank. What happens with Sofia?”
Resting his head against her chest, he closed his eyes. “I don’t know, Igo. Maybe they would wait till her mother gets back before proceeding with funeral arrangements or something. I think that’s just going to be a private ceremony – I don’t even know.”
“What a time,” she sighed. “And your parents? Do they know? I mean, if she’s pregnant they must have met her, right?”
Frank groaned. “I can’t even tell mama. Not yet o, ha. The woman will kill me or something.”
Igo sighed. “What a time,” she said.
“Ah….haba na. No be so we talk am o,” Priye’s lamentations sounded like an auto-tuned artist’s voice.
“What am I supposed to do, ehn Priye? The matter no tire you reach me.”
“E no suppose tire me reach you na. And then, Folly bin tell me say she don carry for you sef.”
At that moment, Frank realized he hadn’t even spared a thought for the baby Sofia had been carrying.
He wiped his eyes and sighed. “It’s almost as though she just came to play briefly in my life, Priye. I mean, what was the point of it all? Is she dead for the sake of a story or what? My guy, I tire.”
“I tire join you. I bin wan talk say God know how far, but you no believe in God. To say you send am now, you for see pessin blame. Abi na my fault?”
Frank’s chuckle lacked humor. “Actually na her brother fault. The guy bin dey alright when e dey drive am – e don high go far. The guy no come get any injury.”
“Guy – “ Priye started, and then kept quiet. There really weren’t words. “Una don find Folly wife?”
“There was nobody looking for her – well I wasn’t, but Folly’s dad was just telling me she’s with her parents in PH. The man requested for a meeting, so she might be showing up sometime soon.”
“Abeg when she show, just break one of her legs. I go do thanksgiving.” The friends’ laughter filled the semi-abandoned hall of the hospital before Priye continued. “How Fola himself sef?”
“Some of the wounds don dey dry, but im face man, im face don dey wrecked beyond recognition. Im left eye no get hope, dat one don blind. But dem get hope say im body go still dey alright.”
“I know say nothing go change whether I do Stella anything or not – but man, e go help me feel better small.” He coughed. “You see why me I dey maintain say marriage no be for mi?”
“Dat one na just excuse jo. How your people for dat side?”
“Ol boi!” Excitement suddenly jumped back into Priye’s voice. “De mosquitos wey dis side man, dem no get part two! As a soji guy I arrange mosquito repellant for hand, but dem militant pass the ones wey dey Lag. I swear, dem dey enjoy the tin!”
“Hehehehehehe! Shey una don dey settle di matta sha?”
“I no even care jare. Konji wan kill me for hia. All the gehls ehn, either dem too old or dem too young. I no even understand…”
“Priye, nothing do you. I go follow you talk later.”
Frank pocketed his phone and walked towards Ward 9.