Oche had been in this position before, but he was a very confident man and was therefore prepared. He had faced several similar circumstances so though this was new in its own right, he remained calm. He even thought that being in control was very normal. Then, he looked at the three men beside him in the waiting room. They were sweating profusely despite the heavy air conditioning. Okay, so he was different. 
He wondered why they were so tense. The final hearing in any case was inevitable. It was either you were discharged and acquitted or convicted. So, what was the fuss? Anyway, they were first timers so he could understand them. With two girls behind, he was already a pro in the league.  He smiled as he engaged them in conversation and lightened the atmosphere. The tension reduced considerably but he could still notice the sweat. And to think that it was said men never cared or felt ruffled. The doctor entered the room as all the men rushed “Na my own!” Each one said claiming the smile on the doctor’s face for his personal good news.
 ‎

“Mr. Bernard Agera!” The smallish young man ran forward smiling, tears in his eyes: “Bouncing baby boy!”

 
“Jesus!” He shouted as he hugged everyone around. He started telling jokes and Oche had to wonder if this was the same man who had looked so sullen a few minutes ago. He danced around and then, remembering something, turned to the doctor whom he had forgotten in his ecstasy; “My wife, how is she?”

 

“She is very fine, Sir. She is sleeping and so is the baby.”‎

Without asking, Agera rushed to go and see his angels. “But Mr. Agera! Mr. Age…” but the energetic young man was long gone in the direction of the ward. After a while, he came back.
“Where are they?”

 

 “I was about to tell you where they were when you ran out.” The doctor said as he laughed and led Agera to his wife and child.

Oche smiled. Then, the waiting started all over again. He looked at his watch. The time was two in the afternoon. He had been here for six hours already. He turned to two of the three other remaining men who shivered. 

“Calm down, my brothers.” He tried to ease them. They looked at him from their seat as he smiled reassuringly at them.‎

 

“Thank you.” They muttered in turns, stretching a bit to reduce their continuing worry. One of the other two men who was a little less disturbed stole the interest of the men; talking about literature and politics. Why was the doctor taking so long? Three hours had now passed since they saw him last. Then, he entered with that beacon on his face.

 

“Na my own!” The four men each shouted as they rushed to the Doctor.‎

 

“Mr. Mas Udibago.” The tall bespectacled man who had been entertaining stepped forward.

 

“Yes! Shebi, I told you people.” He shook the three other men confidently as he accepted their congratulations and followed the doctor to see his wife and new child. A few minutes later, the Doctor came again and took another two men with him. Oche sat there watching as slowly sweat began to form on his body. What was happening? He looked at the remaining man beside him, questions in his eyes. The high rate of maternal deaths and infant mortality was something that no one could overlook. Most of the hospitals needed upgrading, and the staff better training. He had always wondered why this issue was on the Millennium Development Goals list. The money could be diverted into something more worthwhile, he had always argued.

 

“Even in those days before the white man, the rate had been low. With all the hospitals now, there is no need for such” he would be heard saying often to anyone who cared to listen. However, as he waited for his wife, his stance changed. It was seven o’clock when he stepped out to visit the toilet.

Oche came back to meet an empty room. The sweating now became intense accompanied with a level of tension that he had never thought possible. The praying started without any deliberate effort. All the prayers and special devotions that had long been unused came flooding  out in torrents. Though two nurses came at different times to encourage him, he kept wondering what was happening within. He asked every single person who wore a uniform. The latest person he asked, a security officer, looked at him in confusion. The officer tried to calm him for a while before disappearing. It was three o’clock. He said his Divine Mercy prayers which he had hitherto totally lost faith in. His eyes were wide and bloodshot but he had no clue of this – neither did he care. His mind was fixed on more important issues. Then, by four thirty on the dot as his watch proclaimed, the Doctor came in. Oche heaved a sigh of relief as he rushed to him.
“Doctor” That single word, sentence and question, in itself, holding all the expectation and suspense that had welled up in his body.
“We tried our best, Sir…”

 

“No!” Oche shouted, his entire world going dark and crashing all around him.

“Cool it, Sir. We tried at normal delivery but your wife is going to need a CS. We want you to sign some papers and we would also need some blood.” Oche experienced some relief and finished siging the forms quickly. His blood didn’t match his wife’s. He quickly gave a nurse, who had just come in, some money for the blood that would be bought from the blood bank for the transfusion. It had gone worse than he had ever imagined it would. Oche cried,, he remembered how he had often argued with his wife on the sex of the baby. She had said girl number three to which he had always vehemently refused, “Opposed!” He had even bought all the clothes for the baby boy and now… It was looking as if none of them would make it. He cried to himself. In his tears, a little slumber came. A hand tapped him as he woke up with a start. It was a doctor, though a different one from yesterday.
“We could not operate your on wife again.” The tension started mounting again as Oche opened his mouth about to scream. Then, he noticed the smile on the doctor’s face. 

“She delivered naturally, a beautiful baby boy.” Oche stood speechless as he looked at the Doctor in shock. The tears became of warmth and happiness as he shook the doctor’s hand vehemently. “Please, Sir, I still need my hand if I am to continue in this profession.”

 
“Oh, I am so sorry.” Oche said as he smiled his thanks. God! God! God! He opened his mouth to ask the doctor if he could see them when the doctor’s beeper came on.

“Sorry, Sir, there is an emergency. I have to run.” He rushed off.

 

“But… but… but…”‎

A nurse rushed to Oche after a while and explained everything. The wife of the last man who had been with Oche was having a shortage of blood. Unfortunately, her husband’s blood did not match hers too and to make matters worse, the blood bank was empty. She concluded that the blood he had earlier purchased was the only remedy to the pregnant woman’s life. Oche was irritated that they were wasting so much time. He did not need to think twice as he gave his permission for the blood to be used.

 

“It is little wonder there is a high level of maternal deaths.” What if he had been absent? That might have spelt another mother and child. He shuddered at the thought as he imagined the several mothers and might-have-been mothers who had lost their lives to such negligence and absence. So many children too! His mind went to the MDG item again and mentally noted that he ought to get involved as soon as possible. The operation proved successful as the woman was successfully delivered, too. Her husband came in and knelt before Oche;

 

“God bless you, Sir. This is your child, Sir. His name is yours. God bless you!”‎

Oche answered and charged him to be a bit quiet. Soon the doctor came in for the last time to take the two men to their respective loves. It was just then that Oche remembered that he hadn’t called to find out how his children at home were doing. Anything might have happened to them. And yes, how could he have forgotten how excruciatingly hungry he was? He yawned as he moved forward, and fell.
 ‎
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Su’eddie Vershima Agema won the Association of Nigerian Authors’ Joint Prize for Poetry 2014. He blogs at http://sueddie.wordpress.com, @sueddieagema on Twitter. He can be reached at eddieagema@yahoo.com.
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