Eyes in the sky….
ABOUT TEN MONTHS LATER
Slowly. I came awake from deep sleep slowly.
When I opened my eyes and became aware of my surroundings, I was completely confused. I expected to find myself lying on the high bed of the private hospital room in which I had spent the last two weeks, but instead, I lay in the big cozy bed of a pleasantly lit, air-conditioned bedroom.
Where the hell was I?
I pushed myself up on my elbows and looked around carefully, saw yellow walls, shiny dark marble floor, to the left yellow and gold curtains with brown overhanging which cuts out daylight from a window, leaving the room filled with soft golden light from side lamps, a large floor-to-ceiling wardrobe was to the right and directly across the room was an empty dressing table, its wide mirror, a reflection of the room and the bed in which I lay.
Something clicked in my mind and I suddenly realized that this was the guest bedroom of my own house, and then all the memories came flooding back.
I lay back against the pillows and closed my eyes.
After eight horrible days at the hospital, two of them in a coma, I had been discharged yesterday evening and Ajuna brought me home. The first thing I did on stepping into the house was to gather up the last of Estella’s belonging, that which she had left behind, and every other thing that reminded me of her, framed photographs, whole albums and even decorative items. I piled them up in a heap at the back of the house, put fire to them and watched them burn. Afterwards, I ate a little food and took my medications, then Ajuna helped me upstairs to bed. But I had chosen to sleep in this bedroom, the guest bedroom, instead of the master bedroom where Estella and I had lived together as man and wife for almost a year.
I lay very still in the bed a while, fighting to keep the memories at bay and control the flood of emotions – the anguish, the pain, the emptiness, the frustration, the rage. I finally gave up trying to accomplish the impossible, threw aside the covers and climbed out of the bed. A wave of dizziness hit me as soon as I gained my feet and I stood still a moment for it to pass then crossed the room and went into the bathroom.
After relieving myself, I brushed my teeth with the new toothbrush and toothpaste I found there, washed my face and toweled dry with the big new white towel on the rack, then stood and studied my pajama-clad figure in the floor to ceiling mirrors.
I looked like hell and felt worse. My eyes were sore red and there were new lines in between my brows. These last two weeks had taken a heavy toll on me. I now looked older and haggard.
I went back into the bedroom and out through the other door into the wide hallway. There was no one about and the house was very quiet, too quiet. I walked the short distance to the stairs and right as I got to it, my hypersensitive nose picked up a whiff of Estella’s perfume that stopped me cold in my tracks and my stomach turned in revolt.
Involuntarily, I glanced over at the big door on the other side of the entrance to the stairwell. Set back from the hallways in a wide corridor of its own beyond an archway, was the door to the master bedroom of the duplex. The room Estella and I had lived in as man and wife. It was the only door in that section of the hallway and it was closed.
I gathered myself together with some effort and went on downstairs.
The strength hadn’t returned completely to my legs so I had to lean on the railings a bit. Downstairs in the living room, the large wall-mounted plasma TV was on, but set to mute and Ajuna, in jeans and T-shirt was sitting on one of the long white leather sofas, more interested in his cell phone. He became aware of me as I got to the bottom of the stairs and got quickly to his feet, coming forward as if to assist me, but stopped as I waved him aside.
“Good morning boss,” he said, watching me carefully like a hawk.
I walked past him without responding, went straight to the nearest armchair and sank down into it with a sigh of relief. I sat back, relaxing and closed my eyes, breathing deeply.
“A little tired?” sounded Ajuna’s voice close by my side after a moment.
“Yeah,” I replied weakly without opening my eyes.
“You didn’t eat well at all yesterday. Let me instruct Mary to prepare your favorite breakfast immediately.”
I opened my eyes to look at him. So dependable, loyal and ever-present when I was helpless, Ajuna stood close by now, watching me with a worried frown.
“Lots of onions,” I said.
The frown cleared at once and he nodded. He brought the remote controls over to me and hurried off to the kitchen.
I closed my eyes again and sat very quietly for a long while, still breathing deeply.
“They found her jeep last night,” came Ajuna’s voice suddenly.
My eyes snapped open and I sat up at once. Ajuna stood leaning on the back of a sofa close by. I hadn’t even heard him return.
“Where?” I demanded.
“At a used car dealership in Ikeja. The owner of the place claimed to have bought it from the original owner.”
“Hope they arrested his lying ass?”
“Actually, they couldn’t. He produced all the right documents and a camera video of her actually doing the deal. You apparently bought the jeep in her name so it was her property to do with as she wished.”
Dark rage started to build swiftly within me and I forced my mind to dwell on something else. The doctors had specifically instructed I avoid anger in my delicate condition.
“What progress have the lawyers made?” I asked.
“None. Her family is denying any knowledge of her actions or whereabouts, but strangely enough, they don’t seem too worried. I’ve been talking quietly on the phone to their driver with whom I have a connection and he swears they’ve been communicating regularly with her and she’s somewhere overseas. He also said her jobless youngest brother seems to have suddenly come into a lot of money, he just bought a new car.”
I sat back again struggling helplessly to control the rage as it flooded my brain. After a long minute, I began to calm down a bit.
“Transfer my things to the guest bedroom, I’ll be there a while,” I began quietly then looked directly at him. “Have this entire house cleaned out thoroughly to get rid of Estella’s smell completely. Have that bedroom cleaned out again, see to it yourself this time and make sure it is done with lots of bleach and powerful liquid detergent. Repaint every wall in this house, throw away anything that cannot be washed out properly, curtains, bed sheets, furniture, I don’t care what, but when you’re done, I don’t want to smell Estella anywhere in this house again. Do you understand?”
“I understand perfectly, boss,” he said firmly, nodding. “Just leave it to me.”
I turned to the TV and stared at it with sightless eyes.
Ajuna went away.
By the time I sat down to breakfast at the dining table my appetite had evaporated completely. I ate very little of the fried eggs, touched the tomato and onions studded noodles a bit then used the tea to drink down my morning drugs and went back to sit in the living room.
I sat quietly for a long time, wallowing in anguish and self-pity, unable to concentrate on any program on the TV. Finally, I picked up one of the newspapers Ajuna had set out for me and was trying to concentrate when, suddenly, the high-pitched sound of my son’s cries reached my ears from somewhere off to the kitchen where Mary was.
The baby Estella abandoned.
My control finally snapped.
I crumpled the newspaper furiously and hurled it across the room, getting swiftly to my feet in the same motion. I crossed over to the bar, went in behind the counter and took down a fresh bottle of Cognac from the well-stocked shelves, got a glass and took them into the second living room, pushing the sliding glass doors firmly closed behind me. The room was well lit and the central air conditioning system kept it cool. I went to sit down in an armchair, pulling up the low side table to place the bottle and glass. I worked the bottle open and poured myself a stiff drink, knocked it down in a few gulps and poured another which disappeared with equal swiftness. I poured a third and sat back as the warmth of the strong French brandy flooded my body. I drank steadily for a while and the alcohol took hold fast, relaxing and calming my nerves, making it easier for me to suppress the troubling thoughts and emotions.
I was on the fourth glass when my tipsy gaze fell on the large painting occupying the middle of one wall and something clicked in my mind.
It was the lovely gold-framed painting of an African village beside a beautiful waterfall. I had acquired it for a tidy amount of money at an art exhibition Estella dragged me off to just after we got married, and then she had it hung up here in my private domain. And I didn’t even like paintings that much, even less African paintings.
I lifted the glass in my hand to the painting in a silent toast to the woman who, in the space of less than a year, had lifted my heart to high heavens, and then brought it shattering down to earth again in a million pieces. I tried to drink, but the damned glass was as empty as my bank accounts which Estella had looted dry. In a sudden rage, I hurled the glass at the painting, but it exploded against the wall clean to one side. I jumped to my feet with utter destruction in my heart for that painting, but only made it a few steps before my legs turned to water and I was falling… falling… then blackness.
Slowly. I surfaced slowly from the blackness.
When I opened my eyes, I found Dr. Franca Olutayo with two nurses and Ajuna starring down at me. I realized instantly that I was back in the hospital and it was even the same private room.
I closed my eyes against the pain in my head and lay still.
“How are you feeling?” asked Dr. Olutayo gently.
“Tired… and… bad headache,” I managed hoarsely. My throat was sore and my dry mouth tasted like hell.
Dr. Olutayo gave me some syrup to drink, then set about a thorough checkup of my body while one of the nurses emptied the contents of two syringes into the drip attached to my arm then began to prepare yet another. Ajuna stood silently at the foot of the bed, looking grim as death and the doctor wasn’t looking any better.
A deep feeling of unease suddenly gripped me.
“Whats wrong with me, doctor?” I asked. The syrup had made my throat feel better.
Dr. Olutayo didn’t answer as she listened carefully to my heartbeat with her stethoscope then hung it away around her neck and bent closer to examine each of my eyes with a thin flashlight from her pocket.
“Do you remember who I am?” she asked, frowning as she straightened up.
“What is my name?”
“Dr. Franca Olutayo,” I replied a bit confused.
“Do you recognize any of these two nurses?” she asked, pointing.
“Both,” I replied, more than a bit scared now. My brain seemed slow in reasoning.
She pointed at Ajuna. “Him, what is his name?”
“Please, doctor, what in God’s name is wrong with me?”
The frown cleared off her face and she relaxed. “Well, the only thing I can see wrong with you, for now, is that you don’t listen to instructions. Do you remember my warning you repeatedly to abstain completely from alcohol?”
Understanding dawned on me instantly and I looked away from her.
“I explained clearly to you myself, the dangers of mixing alcohol with the drugs in your system and the moment I discharge you, what do you do? You go and drink a gallon of the thing like you are trying to commit suicide,” there was anger in her gentle voice. “If your man here hadn’t found you so quickly and rushed you here, I would be filling out a death certificate by now or you would be brain-damaged at the least.”
I stared fixedly at the ceiling and said nothing.
She touched my arm gently and her voice softened. “Mr. Nzeribe, I cannot even begin to imagine your grief or pain, I can only feel compassion. But as your doctor, I must warn that your mind and body have undergone too much stress too recently and cannot take any more. If you don’t pull yourself together and quickly your health will worsen beyond repair. Think of your son, he too is a victim here. If he could speak, he would tell you he needs his father now more than ever.”
I sighed heavily, feeling horrible.
“I have watched you cheat death twice now in as many weeks. No one is that lucky except God still has some purpose for them in this world. You are a fighter, not a quitter! Pull yourself together! God almighty in heaven who has seen your troubles and pain will surely help you and bless you again. You’re relatively young and good-looking so there are ample opportunities for Him to put your life in order again and bring you a worthy woman to fill the vacuum that exists now, but all that can only happen if you are alive and well tomorrow. Pull yourself together!”
I looked at her then. Dr. Franca Olutayo was a well-built, motherly woman in her forties, fairly pretty, but with a warm nature and a ready smile that made her a wonderful doctor.
“Thank you,” I said quietly.
She gave my arm a comforting rub and smiled down at me. The nurse stepped up with the last syringe, but she took it from her and injected it into my arm herself.
“To ease your pains and help you sleep some more. When you wake again, you will feel better,” she smiled gently. “I’ve ordered you some special foods for today. They may be a little watery, but you have to eat all of it to soften your digestive system and then by tomorrow you will be able to eat whatever you want.”
I was surprised. I’d heard that line before and very recently too. It was when I had awakened from the coma just about a week ago.
“How long have I been unconscious?” I asked.
Dr. Olutayo seemed to hesitate. “You have been unconscious for three days.”
“Three days and this morning,” put in Ajuna grimly.
I stared at them stunned. It seemed like only yesterday that I had been drinking in my own house.
A wave of dizziness suddenly washed over me, and then another. I closed my eyes and allowed the sleep take me.
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