From a work-in-progress-and-fated-to-be-in-progress-for-a-while(2011)
By Tolu Ogunlesi
Baba Luku woke up that morning feeling ill. The nauseous feeling seemed to spring from hidden crevices, hitherto unmapped, within his stomach. He rolled to the edge of the bed, and slowly hoisted himself onto his feet, feeling for his Dunlop slippers.
He groaned. He was hypertensive and diabetic, but it had always been well managed. He never joked with his health. After three of his friends died in quick succession during a three-month period two years ago – all victims of undiagnosed ailments – he decided that there was no way he was going to watch death claim him without a fight.
He couldn’t afford to travel to Europe for a check-up, but decided he’d get the best Nigeria had to offer. His inbuilt sense of syncretism kicked in, so that he sought refuge in both orthodox and traditional medicine. Every morning he would throw a handful of coloured pills into his mouth, and wash them down with a herbs-and-roots sludge that otherwise lay comatose in a Seaman’s Aromatic Schnapps bottle.
Neither his wife nor his children approved of his combination therapy – much warning had been issued to him about the potentials of toxic side effects and incompatibilities – but it was easy for him to argue that it was his life, and not theirs, and that his dearly beloved one-hundred-and-ten-year-old father had taken a similar self-medicating path before him, and had nothing but a dramatically-lengthened life to show for it.
And then once a month Baba Luku would lie on a white, rusty-legged examination table in the consulting room of Dr. Gbogboayo, Medical Director of AlphaMedicalCenter, in Mushin. He had helped Gbogboayo bury both parents, as well as his wife’s mother, and was poised to extend his services to them whenever the wife’s father decided to kick the bucket.
Had Baba Luku’s knowledge of science extended that far he’d have described their relationship as a “symbiotic” one: ‘I take care of your dead, you take care of my life.’
Baba Luku did a great job taking care of the dead. “You should see him preparing a corpse for burial; for a brief moment you’d fantasise joyously about being dead and stone-cold,” a client once said, while introducing him to a friend whose elderly father had recently passed away. And it was true.
Taking care of the dead compelled Baba Luku to be undertaker, fashion stylist, make-up artist, event planner, gravedigger, psychologist, pretend-psychic and counsellor all at once. He never complained.
So, on the whole, for one who worked closely with the dead, Baba Luku was a very alive person. He hardly ever fell ill, and not even his half-packet of cigarettes a day left any longstanding ill-effects in his body.
But today, this particular morning, he felt different. His hands were cold and clammy, his skin drained of blood, the strings of his heart out of tune. Stuff crawled in his stomach, and he had no craving for cigarettes, which was odd because he normally kicked off the day with a stick or two, consumed while he stood on the ground-floor balcony of his room, staring at an unpainted, bird-shit-streaked stretch of fence.
He stumbled towards the nearest wall, and leaned against it. He tried to remember where his phone was. He’d better call Dr. Gbogboayo, he thought. This was strange, he’d been using all his drugs as prescribed, and had mostly stayed away from alcohol (there was some alcohol in the medicinal concoction, no doubt).
He made his way to the bathroom, to pour water on his face. He turned the tap-handle; the hiss of escaping air elicited cussing from him. He’d reminded Mufu the driver and handyman to pump water the night before, the idiot must have forgotten. Now there was no one at home who could operate the pump. There was a little water in the bucket in the corner. A bar of soap had fallen inside. It broke off in his hands when he tried to remove it, and made the water milky. He splashed some on his face, gritting his teeth as it stung his eyes.
He tried to imagine what would happen if he died there and then. Chief Alasoadura, the client for whom he would be working later that week, would be disappointed. Yes, not so much grief-stricken as disappointed. Alasoadura was a practical man; his practicality being as abundant as his wealth. He had paid for funeral services for his beloved elder brother; Baba Luku choosing to die before delivering on the agreed services would therefore be a huge, huge inconvenience.
Alasoadura, like many men of his social standing, didn’t like to be inconvenienced. He believed, and often rightly so, that given the right payment, even a Nigerian could live an inconvenience-free life.
When Baba Luku thought of this, he decided he had to get well with immediate effect. He would hold on to life for the next few days, and die quietly at home at the after Alasoadura’s father had been given a befitting burial. Who knew, Alasoadura might even notice his thoughtfulness, and decide to extend that privilege of a befitting burial to him. What a funeral it’d be.
So Baba Luku splashed soapy water on his face again, grimaced twice, and stamped his feet on the floor, the finest affirmation of life he could think of in that most distressing, most morbid, of moments.
Read a related (or perhaps unrelated) piece, HERE
Tolu Ogunlesi (c) 2011