"Next!" the stout nurse yelled.
The woman next in line made for the counter, dragging her feet and pulling her kids. She carried a baby on her back and held two toddlers in each hand, one of whom was wailing, his face covered in a mixture of tears and phlegm. She handed her cards to the nurse who feverishly took her vitals and sent her on the way.
Chialuka's number in line was two hundred and one, which she got early in the morning when she arrived. She was exhausted from the procedure and could not wait to get it over with. St Mark's hospital was the only functioning hospital between two villages, little wonder the daily mass of invalids, pregnant women and sick children.
The hospital waiting room was dinky and crowded and felt rather claustrophobic. The standing fan by the left blew hot air and the woman nearest to the fan snored passionately. The room was filled with people, mostly impatient and tired women. An elderly woman in the front row was making snide comments on the nurse’s somewhat boorish attitude. Another woman on the right was having a phone conversation about a man who had run mad after an alluded money ritual gone wrong. The pot-bellied man beside her heaved and sighed and grumbled about the poor hospital services. Babies wailed in the arms of their mothers, toddlers ran to and fro, crashing into chairs and equipments, shrieking and giggling and throwing tantrums.
Her turn came at noon, finally. She said a short prayer under her breath and walked to the doctor’s cubicle. He gestured for her to sit across from him and continued to rummage through the dirty brown files littered on his table.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Okoro,” He said and took off his glasses. A bead of sweat clung to his forehead.
“Good afternoon doctor.”
“I’m afraid I may have unpleasant news,” He said, and her chest tightened. “From the results of the ultrasound and other tests taken, it’s confirmed that. . .” He paused, hesitated. “You lost the baby.”
She gulped. Emotions boiled in her chest.
“However,” He continued, a small, sad smile forming on his face. “You are in perfect shape and you can try again. This is not the end, Mrs. Okoro. Your womb is intact, and you are sound and healthy.”
“Thank you doctor,” She stood up and put the test results in her handbag.
“Did you follow my instructions?” He asked when she reached the door. “Did you avoid pineapples, coffee, aloe vera and the other food items I asked you to?”
“Yes doctor,” she replied.
He nodded, offered some other suggestions and said goodbye.
Chialuka dreaded the gates leading to her husband’s house - or her house as people called it. She was not ready for the outrage that would ensue after the announcement of her fourth miscarriage, she was not ready for the laments and curses and unsolicited advice from her mother-in-law, and she most definitely was not ready to resume the miserable union.
On entering the living room, Chialuka sent the kids off to their playroom, greeted Nnanna and asked about his day. He ignored her and went straight for the kill.
“What did the doctor say, Chi?” He bellowed. “Are you pregnant? What did the test results say?”
She handed him the test results knowing fully well he would not understand what it said. He took a cursory glance and flung them on the side stool.
“Are you still pregnant, Chukwualuka?” His countenance dulled. Odd.
“No,” She said, and tears trickled down her cheeks. They were not sad tears.
He looked away from his young wife and gazed into space, his fists clenched and color drained from his contorted face.
Mama walked into the sitting room minutes later and stared at both of them for a while. “It has happened again, okwa ya?” She finally wailed, harshly, unnecessarily, as if they would not hear her if she didn’t.
“I will ask your uncles to summon a meeting tomorrow. It is enough! Ozugo!” She parted the curtains and stomped out.
Chialuka looked up at Nnanna. His silence was deafening but silence was far better than his only other reaction, and for this silence she was grateful. With solemn steps and a head bowed low, she retired to her bedroom and locked the door.
The refrigerator stood adjacent to her queen-sized bed. She opened it and retrieved a blue plastic bowl intended for storing leftover soup and emptied the fresh pineapple medley outside the window.
It had served its purpose.
She made a mental note to be more careful next time, and for the first time in weeks, Chialuka smiled.
It was not a sad smile.
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