If there’s one thing you’ve always been afraid of ever since you turned nine is the ominous feeling of doom inside hospitals.
They give you jitters everytime you find yourself, in one way or another, in them. You don’t seem to forget the day your younger sister, Tumo, was impaled with a rusted nail when she was playing hopscotch.
You had to rush her to a dispensary – a lesser devil to a hospital – and watch in agony as she screamed from the administration of the tetanus shot.
Why are those hypodermic needles so huge? You wonder.
Right now, though, it’s not the hypodermic needles that are giving you jitters. It’s your friend, Chrissy, who collapsed in the nightclub you’d spent partying.
Well, she was the one who had partied. You were only there to make sure she didn’t do anything crazy.
But you’d let her drink way too much and now you have to stay awake at 2 p.m. thinking about her.
Even though right now you should be worrying about Chrissy and her situation, you can’t wait to step out of this hospital right now.
Only one hallway is lit up with a flickering fluorescent bulb which hums every now and then. Since you are alone in the waiting area, you decide it’s time you asked the nurse at the desk whether Chrissy is still fine.
“It’s been fifteen minutes,” she shoots back when you ask about Chrissy. “She’s barely even gotten assisted.”
You simmer up. This nurse must be the vilest of all. However, you remind yourself that this is a very lowly county hospital that Chrissy’s “friend”, John, took you to. You are lucky that he paid before leaving or else they wouldn’t let Chrissy out alive.
A shudder travels up your spine. You sigh and plunk back in the seat, grab the Playboy magazine in front of you and flip through it.
You don’t even question the fact that these are the kind of magazines in hospital waiting areas. A lot about this hospital has already irked you to the core.
It feels like a lifetime before the swing doors open up and a bespectacled man in a white coat walks out.
You spring up and rush to the doctor.
“Is she okay? Is she going to live?”
The doctor is very calm. That should mean good news. Or he’s trying to mask the bad news. Damn!
“Your friend is fine. A few cuts to her shin and a fractured collarbone,” the doctor states. Your heart sinks. “She’s going to stay here for a couple of days for checkup and surgery on Sunday.”
But that’s church day! You feel like screaming at the doctor but there are more grave issues to address. Chrissy is going through a lot of pain.
“Can I see her?” You plead. Tears are on the brink of your eyes.
The doctor scratches his neck and then sighs. “Um, yes you can. But don’t wake her up.”
You stagger inside and are led into her room. There’s no way you believe this is real. She has never been hospitalized. Not in a million times.
The machines attached to her keep on beeping and the steady beat of her heart is the first sound you hear as you enter. Tubes and needles go through her wrist and arms, feeding her some sort of painkiller, as the doctor says.
He slides out and gives you a minute. That’s all you get, but not what you need.
As you watch Chrissy’s chest inflate and deflated rhythmically, your legs give away and you slump to the ground in tears. You can’t believe that your friend is on the brink of life and death.
You yearn to talk to her, to shake her awake and convince her that she’s okay.
But the IV needles and the paleness in her face tell you more than you need to know. You can’t.
The door opens behind you and you feel two strong arms lift you up. It’s the doctor. He gets you to a chair and looks at you like a rained-on puppy.
“She’ll be okay,” the doctor affirms. He pats your shoulder. “Now go home and pray.”
You hate your alarm. It’s your biggest nemesis and if you could, you would surely beat the hell out of it.
It’s Wednesday and not the brightest of days. It’s been a day since you left the hospital and took a cab back to your hostel in despair and trauma. You thoroughly miss Chrissy.
Your other two roommates, Izzy and Ma, are dead-asleep on the bunk beside yours. You don’t even know a lot about them, but they do know that you are a depressed person.
When they saw you hunching over your bed in tears the previous night, they didn’t need further explanation to know you were fighting mental exhaustion and grief. It’s the story of your life.
Your phone lights up. It’s a text message. From Paul.
You push the phone under your pillow and shuffle to the bathroom. One look at your face confirms that you can’t be a Victoria Secrets model anymore. You need one of those Kylie make-up kits and an entire day to make your face glow once again.
You press the back of your neck lightly as you rub it gently and wince. It’s still as painful as shit. This is the reason you don’t want to talk with Paul, or even have a memory of him.
“Can I come in?”
Izzy’s tiny voice startles you at the door. She is wearing her Pink Panther pajamas and is clutching her crotch in mild pain.
“Sorry. Oh, yeah. I was just leaving,” you excuse yourself and let Izzy piss in peace. 😉
Your phone bings again and a text message flashes at the notifications bar. You grab the phone quick and then read out the message of which the sender is Sheila.
She says that she got your number from the university’s admission files and didn’t mean to seem intrusive. Somehow it doesn’t bother you that she got your number. At this moment, she seems like the most favorable person to speak to.
You text her back that you are willing to meet. Since she insists to pick you up, you text her your appropriate time and then heave a sigh of relief.
I need to talk with someone, you tell yourself, or I might just explode.
A quick shower and a rash change of clothes later, you are strolling towards the convocation hall where you and other sophomores are going to be addressed by the Vice Chancellor.
Your shyness naturally seeps in and you can’t help but cower as you find a seat at the extreme back. All those faces stare at you and your clutch-bag and immediately begin profiling you.
The seat you find empty is between two bulky guys who don’t even look up when you walk past them. You’d rather keep it that way. Almost everyone is either on their phone or laughing their lungs out in whimsical conversation.
Just stay low, don’t call attention to yourself.
You pull out your phone, which pales in comparison to those you have seen from other students. Heck, this is what you can afford. No need to compare yourself.
Paul’s text message is still pending on your notifications. You don’t need an invite to delete it as soon as you look at it. There’s no amount of calls or text messages will erase whatever happened.
The Vice-Chancellor arrives in stately fashion, dressed in long colorful overalls together with other deans. After uncountable speeches, the VC stands to address all of you. You don’t understand why you have to stand when he does, but you still do it obligingly.
Your phone buzzes in your pocket. You can’t pick it right now. And neither can you walk out, since you will be calling attention, and unwanted too, to yourself.
The VC talks at length and breadth about the pursuit of education, discipline and world-class caliber of the university. Those are all words you have heard Uncle Garry say about this university. You can’t beg to differ.
“But before I dismiss you, first years, I have to address a very grave situation that has threatened to cripple this institution for so many years now…”
Frustrated, you stab the volume button until Zahara’s Loliwe dies down. You don’t know who is this who keeps on calling at the worst possible time.
“Yesterday a case was brought forward about two first-year students who were spotted in a nightclub, drunk and disorderly. One of them was hospitalized and the other is yet to be heard from.”
The entire crowd breaks into murmurs and laughter. You can’t imagine! He is talking about you and Chrissy!
This is the sort of attention you didn’t want. You are so lucky that no names are disclosed.
“It is too early to start being waylaid by the temptations of the city under the sun. Take care, first years,” he says and waves as a wave of applause rants the air.
You are not clapping. You are dumbstruck.
Someone knows about you and Chrissy, and your plans to go out last night. And more importantly, they know about Chrissy’s situation.
Finally, you can pick the call. It’s Chrissy’s doctor!
“Hey. I’m sorry I couldn’t pick your call. What’s wrong?” You hastily launch into speak mode, beads of sweat trickling down your forehead.
“Hello. It’s about Chrissy,” the doctor says in the most impassive tone. You can’t tell whether it’s good or bad news.
“Why? Is she okay?” Your heart beats faster.
“She’s not in her hospital bed. Or anywhere around the hospital grounds. We’ve checked everywhere and we can’t find your friend,” the doctor relays in a solemn tone.
“What…do you mean? You can’t find her? How?” Your mood borders irate and worried at the same time.
“I’m sorry. So sorry,” the doctor says. It’s a tone of finality.
You are crushed. Deformed emotionally, and physically. Your best friend is missing. And you have no idea how to sort everything out.