Tainted Hearts

She looked at her thumb; the nail had chipped and was a little discoloured. She placed her hand on the page she was supposed to be reading and squinted at it; maybe now was the time to spoil herself a little. Elfreda would be in England in a week or less – she was an impatient person. She didn’t need another person picking on her about her looks. She made a mental note to go to the business park and see the beautician she had overheard Jackie recommend. But first, she’d have to find their voucher.
She sighed heavily wearing a thin smile; she had nothing on Jackie, her baby girl was a model-size adult now, tall as a giraffe, gait of a gazelle, but she was still sceptical about the modelling thing they had discussed.
Rogers adjusted the collar of his turtleneck shirt. She was oblivious to his change of mood. He wondered what she would do if she ever found out he was sleeping with Abella, her tenant; he hoped she would be more concerned with the girl being a drug addict than his being her bed mate. He grimaced. It was difficult concentrating on the news report with Jacinta sitting adjacent to him.

Catherine stared at her left arm after the nurse removed the blood pressure monitor, sighed and rubbed her forehead. The headache had disappeared by the time she got to the hospital like a shadow does when the sun hides behind the cloud. It always disappeared when she got to the hospital. She got up to stretch her legs but felt the wind in her eyes and abruptly sat back into the chair.
It didn’t help that she was feeling overtaxed lately, throwing up at every given opportunity. She hoped Aleruchi would be able to come and visit as she had requested in her letter. She couldn’t possibly tell Aleruchi what she was going through over the phone. Besides, she needed her best friend to be a shoulder for Amanda to lean on in case her medical report showed oddities that weren’t temporary.
She sighed again. Her to-do list was expanding rapidly. A few seconds later, she turned her wrist to check the time. She would have to do a walk-in, as she had forgotten to book an appointment to see the specialist twice already. She slanted her head to look at her reflection on the window just as the doctor excused himself. Her eyes had sunk and were embroidered with dark circles. She always wanted to be slender, she pulled her cheeks down with her hands and smirked. Gaunt.
The doctor walked in with various files. He set them on the table and sat down simultaneously before scratching the stubble on his chin. He paused then pursed his lips and he started with a small smile. “Mrs Osuji, we will have to reschedule you for another series of tests. We are not sure –”
“I’m a registered general nurse, so straight to the point will do perfectly.”
The doctor nodded politely. “There are too many false positives.”
“What’s wrong with me?” she asked a suppliant tone.
The doctor hesitated. He was young, new and exhausted. Catherine knew that doctors like him were easiest to whiplash into divulging information, especially to a senior nurse, and the best way was never to ask a long or complicated question. So, she looked at the doctor expectantly.
“It may be cancer.”
The doctor looked confused. He didn’t know if it was a question.
“What do the tests say?”
“It’s malignant.”
“Cervical cancer… stage 2B. It’s important that we rerun the tests to be sure and as soon as possible because you may need -”
“Radical surgery, yeah I know,” Catherine muttered. She got up abruptly, grabbing her bag, and was out of the doctor’s office quickly, leaving the doctor aghast.
“I have work to do,” she said quietly. She had to visit the pastor’s daughter, Ibitayo, to ensure the homebirth procedure was a success. She needed to get to Falguni’s house to take her mother in for her therapy session. She pondered on the easiest way to bring the woman down the stairs, she closed her eyes and she remembered the way the house stank of urine and rat faeces. The last time she had to get her car professionally cleant even though she had just had it done the day before. She had almost forgotten that she had a circumcision to undertake, as Jonathena couldn’t afford to pay the taxi fare for their Rabbi. She wondered if she would be back home on time to be well-rested before heading back to work.

On her way out of the hospital, she heard the sirens and saw an ambulance drive in, and her heart skipped a beat. She held her chest and leant on one of the columns as she tried to steady her breath. I’m strong. I’m strong. I’m strong. I can do this. I believe I can do this. O, God!
She rushed to the car, had to rush back to pay for a ticket, then hurried on back to the parked car. She stopped for a second to catch her breath, then scrambled to turn on the tom-tom. Her patience was worn, so she yanked the pigeonhole open and brushed out its contents, only to discover that she had fixed the tom-tom that morning to find her way to the hospital. It was right in front of her, she would have noticed it if she bothered to look up. I don’t seem to see anything these days.
She looked up to the roof of the car with her hands raised in surrender. Tears trickled down her face. “God help me!” She murmured. She opened her bag to retrieve a mirror, but her hands were jittery so she pulled down the visor She pulled down the sun visor to see her reflection, her mascara was plastered around her eyelids and had left a long hazy line down her cheeks she emptied the rest of her bag on the passenger seat and withdrew a wet wipe and used it to dab at the dampness of her face, blending the make-up with her fingertips. She could still see the streaks the mascara left on her cheeks and hoped it wouldn’t be noticed.
She hadn’t clicked her seat belt, but adjusted her weight in her seat with Amanda on her mind she drove a little above the speed limit to another hospital.

Is this punishment for what Alfred went through at my hands? All these years of self-sacrifice, I thought I had paid my dues with all the malicious, self-serving people I have worked with. I thought I would just fall asleep and then die I’ve always wanted to join my husband. If only I knew someone that could tell me of Amanda’s whereabouts. I don’t want to wait until it is too late; I don’t need her to hear this from someone else. I only wish to set eyes on my Pearl’s beautiful face. Well, either way, Aleruchi is a strong woman and will be able to step into Amanda’s life as a mother.
She yearned for her parents; the anger, pain and hurt were now a thing in her biographical history, but since her parents had disowned her and went their separate ways, she couldn’t find them. The last she’d heard of them was that they were back in Lagos two years after she left Nigeria, but that was twenty-five years ago. She was exhausted with worry. It didn’t help that Amanda had run away without giving an explanation. When she thought of how she was going to get in touch with her estranged parents and daughter, she let out a sigh of despairing hope.
On arriving at the hospital, she parked on the layby on the street that was close to it, reclined her chair and leant back, she couldn’t close her eyes. Feeling thirsty, she got out of the car and walked back the way she came to a grocery store she had seen earlier. She brushed past a woman who staggered hard into her.
“I’m so sorry!” the tear-stricken lady said.
“Are you okay?” Catherine asked as she pulled the lady out of another pedestrian’s path.
“I’m not drunk,” the woman snapped.
“Didn’t think you were,” Catherine said with a frown.
“Thank you. Excuse me!”
“I could help,” God knows I need a distraction.
The lady gave her a questioning look.
“Let’s go and sit down somewhere, I’ll drive –”
The lady shook her head.
“It can’t be that bad?”
The lady let out a sound somewhere between hissing and clucking.
Catherine smiled and shook her head.
The woman looked down at herself and back at Catherine. “What?”
“What you just did, I had a friend who always did the exact same thing.” Noticing the woman had stopped walking so she gestured to the bus stop which was a few footsteps away.
“She wasn’t actually a friend but a friend of a friend.”
When they got to the bus stop Catherine stretched a hand towards the lady. “I’m Mrs Catherine Alfred.”
“Jacinta –”
“Of course!”
They hugged each other, then Jacinta pulled away gently. “Spencer?”
Catherine nodded. “Nee. It’s Osuji now!”
They laughed in tandem.
“Wow, small world!” Jacinta murmured. Of all the people to cross paths with, it’s the cause of my problems. Mm, this world is really small. After all these years I can finally have my pound of flesh. “Wait o! You married batrachian?”
“Yes o!”
Jacinta suddenly seemed distracted. “This is good o! Long time –”
“No see.” Catherine completed the sentence with a giggle.
“What happened?”
Jacinta raised a brow “Hhm?”
“After JS1, you disappeared. I don’t even remember if you took exams with us sef.  Ruchi used to be so worried about you. She wrote to you every day, but you didn’t reply. It wasn’t until we were in class three that your mother said that you’d been out of the country and that she’d kept the letters for you.”
Trust that woman. “How’s Aleruchi?”
“Ruchi’s fine o! She should be in the country in a few days.”
Very good. Oh, how long I’ve waited! It’s time for the cat dance. Haha, let’s see who cries first. The glint in Jacinta’s eyes and the sparkle in her smile had nothing to do with meeting a long-lost friend. “Abeg, give me your phone number. We need to keep in touch.”
Abi?” Catherine dug into her pocket.
“It’s not easy to find friends in this big country o! Especially friends from school.”
“I agree.” Jacinta quickly dug into her bag in search of her phone.

………….To be continued