when itumeleng walks into the oncology waiting room, the nurse on duty says ‘long time’. itumeleng knows her from way back. she is still as fat as itumeleng recollects. curious greeting. do these people really expect people to be that sickly? can you imagine a coffin seller saying ‘please come back soon’?
just then itumeleng realizes the woman standing next to him at the registration desk is the doctor he has come to see. she is scruffy! she is walking about, looking tacky in her lint-besieged black jacket and black trousers. itumeleng suddenly feels sick. she looks like a sleep-walking patient from the psychiatric ward. what, with her chapped lips and stubborn latakia-like hair …
itumeleng looks at his watch, he has been sitting here since 08:30 (it is 10:39 now) and no one has either gone in or come out from seeing doctor madcap. the nurse at the registration desk calls itumeleng.
“your card please.”
itumeleng brings out a card – the card looks old, it is an old bomaid card. you know the ones they issued before they started putting names on cards? the nurse looks at it.
“do you have a bomaid card?”
“that’s a bomaid card.”
“rra, they stopped using this card about ten years ago. you will have to go and get a letter from the bomaid desk to confirm your status with bomaid.”
thinking he’d be late for his 11:00 o’clock appointment with doctor madcap, itumeleng tries to argue, but the nurse is unmoving.
itumeleng dashes to the bomaid desk, comes back breathless and hot, registers, and then he is told to sit down. itumeleng has been sitting down since then. when itumeleng enquires at 11:14 what was going on, he is told doctor madcap is busy doing chemotherapy, but itumeleng can see her through her slightly opened door, and she is doing absolutely nothing.
the smell in the place is beginning to bother itumeleng. a sickening mixture of unwashed mouths, unwashed bodies and festering body parts. even though itumeleng is sitting across from a pack of old women – a motley crew in coats and shawls of differnt distress and smell – he is finding it difficult to breath. oh, the curse of winter. most of the women are thin-legged, ugly-faced and shaggy-haired. some have scarves and hats covering their heads. the ones who know themselves are chattering away and stinking the room up with unbrushed mouths. the others look dead, that is, until the woman doing the general dogs-body brings tea, biscuits and paraphenalia for tea. they suddenly spring to life. a shona-speaking one brings out a plastic bag from her patent leather bag and loads it with biscuits, blatantly tucks the plastic away and grabs a saucer onto which she packs a handful of biscuits. she reclines in her seat and starts to munch away at her loot. a woman sitting next to her looks wide-eyed at her, looks around and then grabs numerous biscuits herself. she bites into the first one cautiously as if expecting someone to ask her to give it back, she looks around, no such order comes, she attacks the remainder of the biscuit… itumeleng looks at some of the old buzzards and imagine who their children might be…
moments later, a nurse with a black birth mark across her face, who looks generally sad, even in the way she speaks, walks in. she is carrying some file, itumeleng expects her to call his name – no luck. itumeleng loses his mind and starts to talk to himself.
“what am i doing here? how did i get here?”
another nurse comes out and calls a name. no one answers. she calls it three times before a woman in the act of making tea says “e he, that’s me” and goes after the nurse.
the remaining scavengers converge on the tea things, stooping over the biscuits and urns and talking excitedly – can the germs from human saliva survive the hot water in the urn? how does a biscuit, with someone else’s saliva taste? while this buzzardfest is going on, a large-arsed male nurse enters… walks to and fro carrying files, looking busy in a waistcoat that was once black, a red shirt (at least that’s what it looks like). he is wearing a brown pair of trousers, shiny with patina, and a pair of black shoes that are dog-eared. no, dog-heeled. is it possible for shoes to be dog-eared? well, these ones are. he calls no name and exits. the fat nurse from way back comes up to itumeleng to says he should be patient. can patience still be a virtue in a world on fast-forward? oh, the wigs on these old crows.
it is 12:05 now and still no reaction from doctor madcap. did they provide the tea and biscuits as a white flag? a diversion? oh,the smell from thes old hags. itumeleng is staring at one with two front teeth missing trying to bite on a biscuit with teeth on the side of her mouth like a dog on a bone. the old man sitting next to him is snoring – oblivious of the smell he is contributing to through his gaping rheumy mouth. he keeps rousing noisly from sleep and smacking his lips. his eyes are blood-shot, not from the sleep. itumeleng imagines him at a dogged beerhall all weekend… his breath is that bad. a squat man walks in and sits to the left of itumeleng. he is wearing a safari outfit, you know those off-khaki types? shoes with buckles on the sides, small toe peeping out of the right shoe – that is, the one itumeleng can see from where he is sitting beside him. he is shaggy-bearded… red-eyes is grinding those teeth again as itumeleng sits constipated from the smell in the trauma ward.
Copyright © Fani-Kayode Omoregie 2014