The days slowly rolled by. There were long days, longer nights. Less smiles, more tears. Less calm, more turmoil… Bola was always on the run, moving from one ward to another, not resting until Timothy was attended to. She shunned that screaming voice in her head; the one that repeated consistently that Tim wasn’t going to make it. Together, they built their faith. George’s faith was high, Bola’s faith was higher. The struggles helped to reinforce her faith; ‘God couldn’t watch them go through this immense struggle and still allow Timothy to die’. She told herself repeatedly.
Bola told herself this as she watched one pack of blood go empty, only to be replaced with another. Bola told herself this when Tim had the hair on head shaved completely. Bola told herself this when Tim’s weakness had George consistently carrying him to the toilet. Bola told herself this when George had to walk the long distance to the blood bank at midnight, just to get blood for Timothy. Bola told herself this when she and George had to collectively donate blood to Tim because there was no money to buy even a pint of blood. She told herself this when the student doctors didn’t have the slightest idea what to do with Tim; when they seemed clueless while Tim had a crisis. She knew that God was there; she knew that God couldn’t be blind to their struggles. And even when the faith of her husband seemed to be descending, she was the rock to keep him on his feet. She traded fear for faith, fear had nothing to offer her, with faith, she at least had a chance; a ray of hope in the thick darkness that engulfed her soul.
Doctor Felix arrived after two weeks in the hospital. They were all relieved to finally have a competent doctor attend to Timothy. Chemotherapy commenced in earnest. The first days were the worst, seeing Timothy in great pain and struggle brought tears to both the eyes of Bola and George, but after a week, Timothy was much better. He went to the toilet himself for the first time in weeks; he even played with some of the children there in the hospital. The relief George and Bola felt was incomparable; too great to quantify. There was finally light at the end of the tunnel. It is only a matter of time before he is declared hale and hearty, then we can go back to being one big happy family; they thought. So when the doctor called George in on Saturday evening, George was expecting to hear something different. The blow came so unexpectedly, he didn’t see it coming…
George entered the doctor’s office with a smile on his face. “Doctor Felix, you sent for me” he said as he dropped into a seat opposite George.
Doctor Felix smiled faintly as he closed the file on his table. “Yes, Mr. Rogers, I… I need to discuss something important with you, I hope you don’t mind”
George’s smile waned. “Of course, what is it, doctor? Is everything okay?”
Doctor Felix shifted and nodded briefly. “How many children do you have, Mr. Rogers, if you don’t mind my asking”
“Four. Two girls and two boys” he blinked, looking curious. “What does that have to do with anything, doctor?”
Doctor Felix leaned forward, bracing his forearms on the large office table. “Ever since I arrived, I have been seeing you and your wife run helter skelter; I actually thought Timothy was your only child”
George smiled faintly. “He isn’t” for an unknown reason, he felt the doctor was about to say something really terrible.
Doctor Felix swallowed and took a deep breath. “Do you mind me giving you a piece of advice, Mr. Rogers?” George swallowed, staring at the doctor with apt attention. “Forget about Timothy” Doctor Felix dropped.
Heavy silence hung in the air as George stared at the doctor like he had no idea whatsoever about what the doctor was blabbing about. “Forget what?”
Doctor Felix sighed audibly, leaning against the backrest of his leather chair. “Listen, I know this must be hard for you, and honestly, it is against my ethics to tell you this but I have watched you and your wife push yourselves day in day out to keep your son alive, and I really feel bad for you.” George stared on, looking really pale. His facial expression said vividly that he definitely thought the doctor was out of his mind. “What I am trying to say in essence is… your son’s illness is incurable. I know, being a pastor, you believe in miracles, but the fact is that your son’s case is a hopeless one, and I’m sorry, but he can’t survive it. Thank God you have other children,”
George jumped to his feet. He laughed humorlessly as he shook his head vigorously. “What nonsense are you blabbing, doctor? Why does this hospital have so many satanic agents, all bent on destroying whatever joy and hope we have?” he shook his head continuously as he snarled at the doctor. “For two days now, Timothy has been livelier than he has been for weeks, and what… you call me in here to tell me this rubbish? How dare you?”
“Calm down, Mr. Rogers; I only meant to help”
“Help? Don’t you dare tell me to calm down” he shook his head, staring at the doctor. “How dare you tell me to give up my son? My son!” he emphasized. “So, what if I have three other children, ehn? So what? Because of that, I should give up on the one that is sick, like he is just a mere stray chicken, ehn?” George yelled. “The nerve! I’m sure you don’t have children of your own; if you did, you wouldn’t open your mouth to tell me this rubbish. Now, let me warn you; don’t you ever repeat this nonsense to my hearing ever again and don’t even think of insinuating it to my wife. Do you understand me?”
Doctor Felix seemed to have anticipated George’s reaction because he didn’t seem surprised. He shrugged. “I wasn’t going to, I called you in to tell you this because you are a man and are more mature, but if you are willing to ignore the truth, it is entirely your cross. I must tell you though, if Timothy suffers another crisis, I might have to refer you to the teaching hospital.”
George swallowed, turned and exited the office as fast as his legs could carry him. The slam of the door echoed in his ears as he stood just outside the doctor’s office. His wobbly legs threatened to give way under his weight as he moved to a wall and leaned against it. “Oh God! Why? Why did you choose to test me this way?” he murmured shakily. His eyes watered. He couldn’t bear this; no, God couldn’t give him more than bear. George had never been so shattered in his life; it felt like the walls were closing in on him and ‘give up’ was near… so near.
All this while, he had kept faith, believing that things would turn out differently, but now, George didn’t know what to believe anymore. How could he give up his son and watch death snatch him away? How could he give up a child as sweet, loving and caring as Timothy?
George took a deep breath and rubbed at his eyes. He pushed away from the wall and walked the distance to Timothy’s ward. His legs weighed heavier than a thousand blocks combined. With his legs he had trekked unimaginable distances in search for money; he had trekked more in three weeks than he had done in his over forty years of existence. Now, the doctor was telling him that he would use the same legs to walk to Timothy’s grave? George shook his head vigorously as he walked. He couldn’t accept that.
George got to Tim’s door and saw Tim and Bola smiling to each other, through the open door. Bola talked on; she was probably narrating a story to Tim. the scene was as touching as it was heartbreaking. Dread kept George rooted at the entrance. He feared he might just break down in tears if he entered the room. Timothy looked healthier than he had, several weeks back, even days back. Bola looked happy and more relaxed. They were smiling now; there was absolutely no reason to smile, several days back. How could the doctor be so cruel as to dash his hopes when he started having one?
Tim lifted his eyes and saw George. George managed a shaky smile. Tim’s eyes seemed to see into George’s soul. A tiny frown flashed through Tim’s face, and then it was gone, replaced with a big smile. George swallowed hard, forcing himself to walk into the room. Bola stood and met him midway. Her face registered a frown. “George, what is it?”
George saw panic enter her eyes. He smiled. “Nothing. How is Tim?”
Bola hesitated slightly, and then smiled. “He is getting better by the minute, George. He even said he wants to speak with his siblings on phone. The treatment is working, George”
Her excitement was so livid. George finally smiled at her, feeling himself die inside. “Yes, it is.”
Bola’s smile vanished. “What’s wrong honey?” she placed her hand against his cheek and alarm flashed in her eyes. “God! Your temperature is so high. The stress is getting to you”
George shook his head. “No, I’m fine, really”
“Your temperature says something different. You should see the doctor”
“No” George said sharply. Bola frowned and George managed to put a smile on his face. “Bola, I don’t need you worrying yourself over me; just focus on Tim, I can take care of myself”
Bola was about to object when George’s phone rang. Bola walked back to Tim as George picked the call. “Hello”
“Hello pastor” George identified the voice instantly as the voice of one of the brothers in the church. “It’s Brother Isaac. Oh pastor, I have been to your house several times until I finally got your number. I want to thank you pastor for your prayers for my daughter. She is perfectly okay now, if not for you and your prayers, I don’t know what would have happened to my daughter. Thank you sir”
George swallowed hard. “Only God deserves the thanks, I am just an instrument” he managed.
He took the phone away from his ear and stared at it, looking perplexed. Times without number, he had prayed for the sick and they had recovered. He always felt that God would always listen to him whenever he prayed. Then why? Why couldn’t his prayers save his own son? If people only know the trials and temptation their spiritual leaders go through, they’d be shocked. God seemed so far away and George was fast losing the will to hold on.
Bola looked at him with worry and walked up to him again. “Won’t you tell me what’s wrong, George? Did the doctor say anything to you?”
Geirge swallowed with a shaky smile. “Nothing.” He walked up to Tim and sat on the edge of the bed. George willed himself to look happy and somewhat succeeded. Bola wasn’t fooled, she knew George enough to know that he was hiding something. “How are you, Tim? Feeling better?”
Tim smiled openly. “Yes dad, I feel very strong today. I told mummy that I want to walk around the hospital”
“And I told you that you are not strong enough” Bola put in.
“Your mother is right. Don’t expend the strength you have now, you need to gather more strength, not lose the one you already have.” Tim nodded reluctantly. “But… if you want, I can push you around the hospital in a wheelchair; would you like that?” George smiled as Tim’s face broke into an enthusiastic grin.
“Yes daddy, I would like that a lot”
“Tomorrow, okay” he rubbed his palm affectionately on Tim’s cheek.
George’s phone rang. It was an unknown number. He picked up. “Hello”
“Is this Pastor George Rogers?”
George frowned and stood up from the bed. Bola had her eyes on him. “Yes, that’s me”
“Okay sir, we are at your office and your attention is needed here. We got your number from the landlord, is it possible we see you here in less than an hour?”
“I am currently not close to the office. Is there a problem? Who is this?”
“No, there is no problem sir, I am just a client” the masculine voice said.
“Well, someone should be at the office to attend to you” George said.
“There is no one in your office, and I am really in need of an apartment”
George frowned. Where on earth was Fred? He had a bad feeling about this, something wasn’t right somewhere. “Okay, give me an hour”
George hung up. “What is it?” Bola asked.
“I have to go to the office. Apparently, Fred is not in the office and there is a client waiting there. Where could he be?”
Bola smiled. “Fred also has a family, George; he probably had to do one thing or the other. You can’t blame him.”
“Of course. I have to go, I just hope this brings in money, we’ve not gotten any money from that office since Fred took over” George walked to Tim and kissed his forehead. “Be a good boy, okay?” Tim nodded.
Bola gave George a brief hug; her brows drew together in worry. “Take care, okay? You need rest, the stress is telling on you”
“I’ll be fine. Take care of yourself and Tim, okay? I’ll make a stop at Pastor Peter’s place to check on the kids” he said and kissed Bola’s forehead.
“Give them a big kiss for me”
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George climbed the stairs to his office. There was a curious frown on his face as he turned to the passage and saw Mr. and Mrs. Haruna, the landlord and two other men. His office was closed. “Mr. Haruna” he called as he drew nearer. “You should have told me it was you; what’s going on?” he asked the unsmiling men in confusion. He needed no human being or spirit to tell him something was obviously amiss.
Mr. Lawal looked very uncomfortable. “Pastor, we can’t find Fred anywhere”
“What do you mean, sir? Where did he go to? Isn’t he at home?” And why were they searching for him. Now, George couldn’t even understand a thing.
“We have checked his house; his wife does not know anything about his whereabouts. He errr…”
“Let me talk” Mr. Haruna cut in, looking very angry. “Your cousin, Fred, the one you put in your office, has vanished with my money – the money I paid for the new apartment. He didn’t give the money to the landlord, and right now, we have no idea where Fred is. I need my money”
“Calm down, darling” Mrs. Haruna chipped.
“Don’t tell me to calm down” her husband snapped. “It is three hundred thousand Naira we are talking about here; where would I get another one from?”
George stared long at the people before him, like he was in a trance. He seemed to be having trouble grasping exactly what they were talking about. He blinked and shook his head. “What… what are you saying?” he stuttered.
“Have you suddenly gone deaf?” Mr. Haruna bellowed. “I said, you people have embezzled my three hundred thousand Naira”
“Calm down, sir” one of the men said. He stepped forward and brought out a police ID card. “I am Inspector Yusuf, Mr. Rogers; you have to follow us to the station for questioning”
Alarm bells rang in George’s head as his eyes widened. “Police? I don’t know anything about this. I never knew Fred collected any money from him, please understand me”. What on earth was going on? What has Fred done?
“Mr. Haruna, please I beg you” the landlord pleaded. “This man has been battling with the life of his son in the hospital, that’s why he put his brother here. You can’t do this, please”
“Ehen… so you decided to use my own money to foot the hospital bills ehn?”
“Haruna! Be compassionate, c’mon. Stop this, please” Mrs. Haruna put in.
“Oh God! What is this?” George murmured, looking around, perplexed. What in the world could make Fred do this to him at such a crucial moment in his life? How could he be so callous and wicked?
“I did not ask for your input, woman.”Mr. Haruna snapped. “By the time you and that pregnant wife of his spends a few nights in the cell, you’d produce my money.”
The policemen advanced towards George. “Please move, sir”
“You can’t do this, please” Mr. Lawal pleaded. “He is a pastor, please”
“Move” one of the policemen said louder.
George swallowed and turned. “It is okay, sir. I’ll be fine; God is in control”
“I’m coming with you” Mr. Lawal said as they walked down the stairs, the policemen keeping a close eye on George.
Bola stared at the wall clock nervously. It was already dark, yet George was nowhere to be seen. She hid her worry from Tim, but now that he was asleep, she couldn’t mask her worry anymore. She checked to be sure Tim was soundly asleep, then walked out of the ward and out of the hospital to find a call centre. Thankfully, she had a bit of change with her. She just hoped that her husband was okay, if not…
She found one call centre and hurriedly punched in her husband’s phone number. ‘The number you have dialed is switched off’. “No! This is not happening” she muttered out loud as several thoughts played in her head. She never should have allowed him to leave. She had noticed his temperature! What if he was really ill? “George, where are you?” She dialed the number again and got the same message. Bola dropped the phone carelessly and walked back to the hospital, her face etched with deep worry. “George, where are you?!”
“If you make them lock up this man here, you can as well forget about me and my baby. I would not let my child grow up with such a heartless man, do you hear me?” Mrs. Haruna yelled at her husband as they stood just outside the police station.
Mr. Haruna wiped beads of sweat off his forehead as he shifted nervously. “What else do you want me to do? The police has refused to leave him. They said he would have to at least spend the night in cell”
“That is Nigerian police for you; they latch onto the slightest opportunity. If you had listened to me earlier, that wouldn’t happen” she snapped.
“What did you expect? Do you want me to just forget about three hundred thousand naira? Just like that?” his eyes flashed.
“Well, no. but now that you have him locked up, is he supposed to produce the money in cell?” she shook her head. “I did not expect this from you. The man’s kid is in the hospital, for God’s sake. We would have our own children too o” she put her hand on her swollen belly as her eyes misted.
Mr. Haruna swallowed, looking distraught. “Listen, tomorrow, I’ll make sure he is released. I have tried my best.” His wife turned her head away. “Aishat” he tried to touch her but she shrugged his hand off. “Come and take me home”
George leaned his head against the wall, staring unseeing at the four walls of the cell. There were about three other people in his cell, but really, he had never felt more alone in his life. What did he do to deserve such torment in his life. All he had ever done was serve God and do good to the men that crossed his path. Why should he be the one to shoulder such a heavy burden? Was there a sin he committed unknowingly that was barring God from coming to his rescue. Why are you so silent, God? Why are you not coming to my rescue?
Thoughts ran through his head until he was sure he was about to go insane. The rattle of padlocks made him turn his head as the iron bar opened and a police officer came in. “Mr. Rogers” he called. George bolted away from the wall and followed the officer. The officer locked up the cell and walked towards the counter. He turned to look at George with a compassionate look in his eyes. “I saw all happened and my conscience would not allow me to leave you in that cell. “Why don’t you stay at the counter with me till morning”?
George nodded. “Thank you very much” a pained smile flashed through George’s face.
“When it is almost daybreak, I’ll have to take you back before the others arrive” he explained.
“That is okay. God bless you” George located the bench behind the counter and sat on it. His legs felt like they were on fire. He leaned his head back with a deep sigh and stared at the ceiling blankly. He would have happily surrendered to the nothingness of sleep, but no… as well as everything, sleep deserted him.
STARLESS NIGHTS continues