Hello everyone, thanks for clicking through to read. This is the fourth chapter of the Halima series. If you haven’t read them yet, you can find the previous chapters here: Chapter 1 – Chapter 2 – Chapter 3
Read today’s installment below …
I turned to see who was addressing me; it was an officious looking woman, probably in her middle age. She was nicely rounded, the way a lot of African women got after three or four babies. She had on an ill fitting grey skirt suit and a huge pair of glasses framed her pretty heart shaped face. I stood up from my place beside Halima’s bed.
“Are you Ms Tanko?” She asked again.
“Yes I am.” I replied in the affirmative “How may I help you?”
“I am Mrs. Kalif, sent here from the Department of Social Welfare. Do you mind if we step out?”
I nodded my acquiescence and followed her out of the Special Unit. So she had finally decided to show her face. I thought dourly. This was my third day at the General Hospital with Halima, each day I had practically felt my blood pressure rise with the anxiety, which waiting for her was causing and now that she had finally shown up, I was feeling very uncharitable towards her.
Out on one of the long white corridors, she turned to me and gave me a warm smile “Ms Tanko, I learnt you were the one who found the baby; your quick thinking saved it’s life. Thank you very much.”
Its’?? I thought incredibly even as I shook the hand she stretched out to me and gave an inane smile. She called my baby IT! “It was what any human being would do Mrs. Kalif.” I murmured
She arched a pair of bushy eyebrows, “I’m sorry to say that is not the case Ms Tanko; it’s mother threw it away didn’t she?”
There it was again; it. I wanted Halima, but I was not sure how long I could go on being polite to some woman who referred to her as it. Nevertheless, I had to pay attention to what she was saying.
“I also learnt you have been here since you brought the case in three days ago?” she queried.
“Case?” I could not help myself this time around. My Halima was no case, she was a person.
But the woman seemed oblivious. “Mmhmm.” She confirmed.
I reined in my temper and just nodded. I did not trust myself to speak and not insult her.
“How kind of you.” She turned and peered at me from her thick framed glasses. “Someone would be here to relieve you in a few hours. Thank you once again Ms Tanko, you are a noble citizen of this country.”
I ignored the hand she stretched out. This woman just did not get it. “You mistake the matter madam,” I began coolly, “I have no intention whatsoever, of leaving this baby here.”
She paused and then gently lowered her hands. Her expression softened “Ms Tanko, in cases such as this, it is normal for some emotional attachment to develop, after all it is a baby. But that baby is now a ward of the State, I’m afraid we cannot in all good conscience leave her in your care.”
“But Mrs. Kalif, surely the Department of Social Welfare is understaffed enough as it is, I’m sure you have somewhere else where the presence of the person sent to relieve me would be of better use.”
She frowned lightly. “Ms Tanko, we take our duties quite seriously. This baby is as important as any other.” She stated firmly.
Oh! So now you know it’s a baby. I thought. But I was not to proud to beg. “Please Mrs Kalif, just let me stay with this baby. She will not be in my care but in the hospital’s. You can instruct the doctors not to let me take the baby if that is what you are afraid of but I need to be here. You can come and check every day to be sure, just please don’t send me away.” There were tears in my eyes, I just could not be separated from that baby, I would not!
She rested a hand on her hip and sighed. “Ms Tanko,” she began gently “I cannot prevent you from staying if that is what you want but you need to realize that you cannot keep the baby.”
That’s what you think, I thought, but I just nodded. “Thank you Mrs Kalif.”
“Call me Hadijah.” She replied.
I just nodded again, “Thank you.”
“Well, I must be on my way. I’ll be back sometime tomorrow. Take care.” And she was gone.
I watched her walk away until she turned a corner, then I went back to Halima.
The last three days had been trying ones; I had come close to losing Halima several times and watching her peacefully asleep, I knew that it was nothing short of a miracle that she had survived. She had teetered on the brink so many times, but the doctor said she was now stable. He decided to keep on antibiotics but she was still being fed intravenously.
Sitting by Halima’s cot, I had a lot of time to think. For years, my life had been running without purpose…well, maybe not exactly without purpose it’s just that I had felt so much like a rudderless ship. Oh I did the usual stuff; I was active in Church, went every Saturday to clean up the church in time for Sunday service, was a good and dutiful daughter, helped my neighbours and had a fulfilling job. But for a very long time it had not been enough. I needed more. It seemed like I had lost all my dreams, or most of them anyway.
I dreamt of having a big family with a lot of children and pets running around. I dreamt of writing a bestseller, or even selling a romance novel to Mills and Boon or Steeple Hill, I guess I could still do that, only I had lost the motivation. I wanted to travel the world, to see the Taj Mahal and gaze upon the Pyramids. Maybe when I was eighty or something. My life had become so dreary lately and I had no one to blame but myself. I tried to take an honest look into the deepest recesses of my fears and yearnings; was my desire to take Halima home with me borne out of a desperate attempt to reclaim my life; to get hold of my sense of purpose in life? I was still pondering the question. I did not want to become one of those people who lived vicariously through their children, placing on their little shoulders the impossible undertaking of trying to fill the emptiness. I would not do that to any child. A child should be loved for his or her sake. My parents had given me unconditional love, were still giving me that in fact and I could not give any less to any child.
I sensed that where custody of Halima was concerned, I was going to have a big fight on my hands and I needed to get to the skeleton of my motives before I made any move.
These questions were still plaguing me the next day when I got a visit from Rosa.
“Darlin gal!” she exclaimed softly as I gave her a hug. “How you been dear?” she held me away from her a bit so she could get a good look at me.
“Rosa!” I whispered. “Come so we can talk better.” I led her out to the corridor. “How’s your Johnson?” I asked.
She smiled sadly “Johnson no good.” Then her eyes brightened “But I get hope.”
I smiled back “That’s good then. And how have you been?”
“Oh I be just fine gal; I be just fine.”
The hospital had a lovely garden just outside pediatrics’ and we both decided to take turn around the garden. We walked arm in arm content to just be silent in each other’s company. As usual, Rosa had a calming influence on me. We found a park bench in a hidden corner of the garden and sat down. Rosa was easy to talk to; she had such a dry sense of humour and took pleasure in the simple things of life. I learned about her son and daughter in law in South Africa. She had five grandchildren but had not seen them for five years – since she and her husband left everything they had and fled their country. Now they could not afford to jet set anymore and her son and his family could not afford the air fare to Nigeria.
She told me about her life before; I gained a healthy respect for the huge woman sitting beside me. As she spoke, I became aware that she had overcome a lot of adversity in her life. Oh not from anything she said in particular; she just had a way of making a lot of things comical. She told me how they had to hide out in the thick forests of West Africa for weeks, and how if she had not spent most of her childhood in her grandmother’s hut they would have starved to death for sure. Johnson who was always impeccably dressed had learned to climb trees to survive. She had me laughing till tears came out of my eyes, describing how he had fallen out of a tree one night. Before I knew it, an hour had passed and it was time for her to go back to her Johnson’s bedside. Before she left, she turned to me and asked if she could pray with me. As we bowed our heads together in that isolated part of the garden outside the paediatric ward of the General Hospital, I felt a stillness in my inner being. Once again, the waters inside me were at peace.