Music, they say, is balm to the soul. A soothing one at that, with respect to the traffic conditions in town.. or…hasn’t it been said, that to survive the hours of crawling traffic in the Metropolitan city of Lagos, every car owner needed music? …well, looks like somebody lied!
In times past, all it would have taken was the sultry voice of Tiwa Savage crooning over the airwaves, to calm the nerves of the girl,the one in the blue sedan.
Today, however was not such a day.
It must have been the call from her gynecologist that rendered the Tiwa effect powerless, it probably also was the call that made the taxi driver behind her honk his horn endlessly,head thrust out of his driver side window and exclaim in annoyance.
“Abeg who get this yeye moto?, i go scratch you oo… All dis nonsense people wey dey manage get ac for car na so dem dey stop anyhow-anyhow make we no dey see road move… ”
He went on and on, ranting to no one in particular, receiving the occasional nod or smile of agreement from a passerby or two- she never did get why people chose to trek in the middle of a hold-up, zig-zag-ing through the horde of paused cars, as though it were a maze. Pedestrian walk for a reason? She ignored them as they passed, throwing snide looks her way – the angry driver was the least of her problems.
Three hours ago, she had been holed up in her small cubicle at the Akinwumi Associates mainland office, putting finishing touches to a case file that would be needed in court in a matter of minutes. This was a high profile case and although she was just the girl behind the scenes and not the one handling it directly, it could be her claim to fame which for a 23 year old wasn’t so bad. Kanmi’s voice mail still rang in her head, he wanted to know the outcome of the tests and needed her to call him immediately which she was about to do when her office line rang.
“Tejumola Daniels for Akinwumi Associates, how may i help you? ”
There was a strained giggle on the line. One she knew too well.
” Girl, chill! It’s Lola. I know i shouldn’t be calling the office but your cell is unreachable, we need to talk ”
It was the way she said it, the strain in her giggle and the ensuing silence that confirmed all of her fears. Yet,at that moment, all she could think of was Kanmi.
“…in conclusion, the evoking of this rule shifts the burden of proof on the defendant to show that either the accident was due to specific cause or he had used reasonable care. Gentlemen, that will be the end of today’s lecture. Have a nice day.”
I breathed in hot, stuffy air preceded by shuffling feet, excited chatter and girls readjusting their make up, getting set to leave the class. I stretched in my seat, searching for Nnenna with my eyes, glad that the four-hour long lecture was finally over. It was weird that she didn’t turn to look at me when Dr. Muomah left the class, she always looked at me after every class, a giggle on her lips and laughter in her eyes.
I found her standing at the crowded doorway, seemingly detached from the know-it-alls in my class who unanimously decided that the best place to argue a case the lecturer had mentioned in class was the doorway of the lecture hall and not the lecturer’s office,denying well-meaning individuals like me, right of way and leaving my best friend stranded. I pushed at a girl whose hands found their way to my eyes as she gesticulated wildly why the defendant did not deserve the sentence he got .
“Ahn, ahn, biko what is it for you sef. So you carry new bag come school make we for notice you shey? Na im you come push me, make i see you, ontop bag wey you borrow… ”
She transferred the vigor she had used in addressing the case to me. I didn’t bother telling her she had tried to claw my eyes out with her talons- waste of valuable time. I left her instead, ranting to whoever cared to listen, while i rushed to my best friend.
“Nene! Gini kwa? What is it? See how you’re looking sad. Is it because of that boring lecture? ”
The smile she gave me was forced,and i could tell something was wrong. I steered her off the busy passage in front of our class, and headed for the entrance of the faculty. She needed to go home and rest.
” Ada, you know that stuff i told you about? The one mumsi called me to come to Lagos for? ”
I nodded in rhythm with my heart which was beating rapidly,watching her closely for a sign. – Nothing! It must have been that bad.
” Ada,the doctor ran the sonogram or whatever it is they call it and said they discovered something funny and tested again, mumsi emailed me the results this morning… ”
She reached in her bag for her phone and flipped it on.
” It’s stage one ductal carcinoma, triple negative breast cancer. Ada, I’m going to die… ”
“… but trust my word that it would be okay. I would suggest, once you’re ready and soon enough, a bilateral mastectomy complete with chemotherapy for about six months, to ensure it doesn’t come back and doesn’t spread… Tejumola Daniels, are you listening to me at all? ”
The young lady shook her head vigorously, her ear had stopped ringing. She finally acknowledged the fact that her friend wasn’t celebrating April Fools day early.
” You mean I’m going to like… Die? Like you’re going to cut it off, everything? Oh, and the chemo, I’ll lose all this my fine hair? God! These eyebrows I’ve been suffering to carve? Kanmi and i are set to get married in three months, he is expecting, in fact to know the details of the test results as soon as possible, what do i tell him? Will i be out of surgery in time for the wedding? This big career move I’m about to make… God! Lola, how can i have cancer? I’m only 23…”
Lola sighed. This was the reason she drove down to Teju’s office to deliver the news in person. This was probably why she was advised as soon as she left medical school, not to attend to family or close friends.
“Teju, it is never easy for anybody, and cancer doesn’t choose who it wants or how old you’ll be. Yesterday, i had the results of one of my patients sent to me, she’s only eighteen, at least you’ve gone to law school, she’s in her 200 level and she has the exact diagnosis as you, it’s not the end of the world, and treatment will help it not come back, you will go on living the life you’ve always dreamt of, it will be fine… ”
Three hours later, in the background, the taxi driver is still ranting and Tiwa Savage – singing, taking the chords higher, one pitch at a time,calling on her mother to get dressed to meet her mystery lover,yet, all that the girl in the blue sedan could think of was Kanmi.
He had been like this for the past hour, on the couch, head held in his hands. The silence, stifling.
“Lola said it would be fine, that there is no cause for alarm, we would be working with the best doctors in the teaching hospital… The wedding can still hold… ”
“… but Teju you know those cancer treatments affect fertility…”
Typical of Kanmi to interrupt her when she’s talking. He’d been like that from the day they met – that freshers night party in Unilag. Other women would find such behavior domineering and evident of a control freak. She found it endearing.
“There’s this egg recovery thing they want to try, we’re… ”
” See, baby, i want the best for us, our future… ”
He went again, taking her statements and making them his.
” I can’t plan a wedding while you’re in hospital, i want to be there for you, every step of the way, if you want, I’ll go on leave during the time of your chemo, it would be in our best interests to put the wedding on hold for now, till everything is settled. I can’t wait to say i do, but now isn’t the time, you know how much i love you? ”
He wanted her.
He would be there for her.
They would make it together.
Inasmuch as it made no sense.
She believed him.
I can hear the bleep-bleep of the machine from the anteroom,the doctor had told us to wait. I watch Nnenna’s mother shuffle noisily to the seat beside me, a pained smile on her face, one we had all learned to smile over the past months, the type of smile that shows you’re not happy, yet at the same time cannot show that you’re sad, lest God revisited you with a plague worse than the one you already got. So, you’re left with the unchanging stupid expression on your face,the lingering hope that things would be fine, eventually.
I return the smile and we hug – she, tapping my back fondly, reassuringly.
“The doctor said she’s strong and that’s a good sign. My Nene will make it, we won’t let cancer win, just watch! ”
I could tell, she was reassuring herself more than me. We both knew Nene had stopped responding to treatment. This was her thirty third chemotherapy session. They had already removed the tissues of her breasts and replaced them with the Silicon bits Nene hated. Her head now as bald as an egg, her eyes – dark and sunken,barely visible. Yet, we clung to the shred of hope that she would pull through eventually.
The woman selling peppers at the junction smiled and waved, showing solidarity for her fellow woman driving into the street in her blue sedan. It was a year today that the doctors certified her cancer free, her appointment with Akinwumi Associates had been terminated – of course, but she was strong-willed, she had gotten a different job with the Attorney General’s office and things were looking up, her eyebrows slowly growing back, her hair – still it’s three inches of tuft. Yet, as the girl in the blue sedan turned the key to her fourth floor apartment, facing the busy street, all she could think of was Kanmi.
Today is his wedding day, and the girl he’s marrying is not her. It had started with little excuses why he had to miss the chemotherapy sessions, to short business trips abroad she suspected was a ruse to be as far away from her as possible. Then, the events manager had called to say her contract was terminated prematurely, the woman in charge of the cake had stopped calling every now and then, there was no incessant stream of missed calls from Mother-in-law-to-be either,it was then,she knew.
The gold trimmed invitation card still lay unopened on the side table as she reached to turn on the radio. Tiwa Savage sounded mournful today as she begged her lover to take his time in leaving her, so her heart would break one piece at a time and not all at once. The girl in the blue sedan smiled a pained smile in acquiescence and walked slowly to the window sill, sitting there, watching the busy people of Lagos carry on with their lives. It had become her favorite pastime. Mother had said she should be grateful to have survived, the prophets called in for prayers had echoed it, that God had a reason for everything, as people die of cancer everyday. Yet, all that the girl in the blue sedan could think of was Kanmi.
Nene died on the fourth of July,three years ago. It was a rainy morning, that one, when she succumbed to the pain. The doctors had done their best, she wasn’t responding to any of the drugs administered on her. Her mother reasurred me endlessly that her daughter would make it, she was still young, only eighteen, all i had to do was watch.
I believed her.
I smile the pained smile for the photographer in the dirty jacket. Father asks why i am not excited, did i not know my graduation would come only once in a lifetime? Have i quickly forgotten that i would be the first and youngest lawyer in our extended family?
I shake my head and tell him to be grateful i am here to graduate in the first place. Nene’s parents started with a matriculant and are getting no graduate at the end of the day. He laughs and says it is not our problem, bad things happen to good people all the time, and that we should move on. Stop making their problems yours, he says.
I am no longer listening to him,i feel too drained to remind him that Nene had been my best friend for as long as i could remember, how then could her problem not be mine? My mind flashes instead back to the day she pulled out her phone from her bag and said to me
“Ada, I’m going to die… ”
I believed her.