Ivie sq££zed to an edge of the bed. The door’s squeal pinched her ears. She managed to overcome the weight of her lids and raised them to the stranger, the intruder, the Richard, her victim. The nurse’s chair was empty, and Ivie realized she lived alone in the small room with an unwelcome guest. He walked further and positioned on the nurse’s chair. She directed her gaze to the ceilings. Its white surface did more good than the man’s round, tan face or his expensive-looking suit, the kind he wore on the day of her accident. He told her the doctor said she could leave today, his voice different from the last time she heard him speak.
Her nurse previously told her she had been discharged, but shouldn’t leave immediately; her body needed rest to return to its normal physiology. If she hadn’t listened to the nurse, she would have saved herself the plight of meeting this man. She would have left the hospital and go work for some money to pay for the broken perfume, so that the next time she would encounter him she would have his money in hand.
With a glance at him, the bottled perfume burgled into her mind. It must have broken during the accident. It had. Whatever the cost was, it would be hard gathering. Nothing in that place was cheap. “I’m leaving tomorrow,” she told him.
“The doctor recommends you go to a lab and run some tests. We could go there from here.”
He ought to be admonishing her, wagging his fore finger with a frown and not thinking of taking her to a lab. “No need for lab tests. They did a perfect work here,” she managed. The crack dividing her lips tore and tormented the flesh. The lower lip, she folded into her mouth and wetted with her tongue, scathing her tongue’s tip.
“It’s necessary,” he said. “What’s the essence of everything if you don’t get completely well?”
Seriousness bared in his face, the kind that showed she might not be paying for the perfume. It did not seem he would need it. But there would be no further treatment from him. Lest, her debt amassed. If a lab test was necessary, she would do it on her own. “A lab test is not necessary.”
He did not argue, allowing the room to return to its normal tranquillity.
“What are you doing about your illness?” he severed the quiet.
She swallowed the wound that rose from her throat. The doctor agreed to her discharge; it meant she was well. That shouldn’t be difficult for the man to understand.
“I’m not talking about your accident,” he said.
Her lower lip’s wound tore up itself, and the lip refused to fold into her mouth. If he meant her disorder, then someone must have informed him. People knew of it. That was the truth; people knew. And now, he knew. That explained his nice play ever since. No man would act nice or even pretend to act nice to a woman who stole from him and tried to run. “What illness do you mean?” She tried opening eyes wider, but the heft of her lids did not allow.
He gave no reply. “Was it klep—” he hung and transferred gaze to the floor.
He knew of it. The flesh lining her heart shredded. “How did you know of the dis—”
“I just thought so.” His gaze shifted to her. She tried not to maintain a contact.
“I don’t believe you.”
“Do I have a cause to lie?”
Tranquillity found its way back into the room, but this time it brought thorns along with it, thorns that hovered around the air she breathed, with their thin, sharp, slimy mouths pointing to her. “I need some time alone,” she muttered. “Please.”
“I’ve arranged with the doctor to take you out of here.”
“You are in no position to do that.” She coughed and the sore in her throat ruled.
“I brought you in. I signed.” His voice had an element of authority, as though she was one of his business transactions bound by his signature.
A thorn pierced her gorge as she managed to speak between coughs. “It was a voluntary service.”
“A little appreciation will do.”
The entire thorns poked through her and refused to leave. They pierced her to the mattress. He was right and he should not be. “Thank you,” she said. The hurt of her lips spread to all corners.
“That’s better. I should take you to a new hospital.”
“You’ve done enough. I’ll take it from here.”
Silence happened, one that amplified the noise occurring in her head.
“What were you doing at the store’s premises on the day of your accident?” he asked.
The rhythm of his voice triggered her tongue. It fluttered as it wanted, forming the words it pleased. “I-I was initially in the store, picked what I needed, paid and left the shop. I left the shop almost the same time with you. I saw you holding a shopping bag that was wide open, then I don’t know what happened next. The devil took over, and I just picked. I dipped my hand inside your bag and just picked.” She tried stopping her voice from diminishing. “The urge was there. It kept coming and coming. It happens every day. I try fighting, but it keeps coming. I’m sorry I destroyed your perfume. I was trying to find a way to put it in your car when you arrived.
I’m sorry I ran. I couldn’t think of anything else. I was afraid you might call the police or do something worse.”
“I’m sorry for your illness.” The only word he said, and it had no good effect. He should stop staring at her and walk through the exit. That might have a good effect.
“You’ve tried a psychiatric hospital?” he asked.
“What will it do?”
“They might help. That’s what they do.”
She rubbed her peeling thumb, shedding its skin off her palm, the same palm that conquered her.
“I’d do you the favour of taking you there,” he said. “Therapy is what you need right now.”
Therapy would do nothing. The disease of the fingers was something one was to learn to live with. “Why are you helping me?” She squinted into his eyes and tried releasing more words, not minding the hurt of her throat. “I damaged your item, and it must have cost you. Nothing in that place is cheap.”
“It didn’t cost me.”
She peeled off her thumb-skin, fingering off its first layer. “I shouldn’t have blamed you for my accident. I’m sorry.” The thorns gradually waned off her skin.
At the middle of the highway, he sought for space to reverse, twisting his head and glancing at the side mirror. With the nearest car a few distance away, he managed to swerve before the others began honking. The speed that followed almost jerked her off the chair, a speed similar to what caused her accident.
And now, she was dwelling in another accident, one she let happen, one which ridded her of the strength to say or do anything but ride with a stranger, a victim of the devil inside her. If only she knew how to talk to someone she stole from, object to someone she stole from and tell him to go about his business and stop being good. She stole from him; he was supposed to frown at her and demand for payback as that would be justice, a fair justice that wouldn’t render her powerless.
A signboard denoting the hospital stood left.
Punama hospital. Its name rang everywhere in Lagos but she had no knowledge of its location. He followed the direction and stopped front of the gate.
The gateman had his head bowed to a desk and did not raise it on their entering. No much noise spiked her ears except the slapping of their soles against the ground.
The spacious interior had a stench worse than that of a usual hospital. The usual hospitals smelled of drugs, different kinds that combine into one pricking smell. But the smell here was a different kind, not drugs, but something else that was difficult to ascertain, a stench she would not love to inhale every day. A man sat on an armchair, reading a newspaper lowered to his nose. Before his eyes could reach her, she flicked hers away from him. He waved to the stairs for the doctor’s office.
As she stepped into the office, cold air from the air conditioner bathed and froze her insides, icing and tearing up her stomach. The doctor’s round spectacles covered the whole of his eyes that bored into her.
Richard presented her case to the doctor, who then opened a file and brought out two white sheets. One, he placed at her front and the other at Richard’s. There were many things to fill. Some were not easy to write down but it was a mere form. She filled it and handed it to the doctor. He tagged the forms and other papers to a folder.
Her room was number forty-four. The doctor told Richard before he left.
She watched him leave and asked herself how she ended up in the hospital, how she ended up in a psychiatric hospital.
The form in the doctor’s hands accounted for a three months payment.
“Stop peeling that. Apply some Vaseline and the peeling will stop.” He touched her hands and set them apart.