By Uche Peter Umez
Friday, April 10, 2009.
Chigbo ran barefoot to the hospital when he heard his wife had given birth to triplets. Clamping his mouth with a hand, he sank into the plastic chair by the cot in which the babies slept.
“Who will feed them?” Chigbo groaned.
He longed to wake Oluchi up when a nurse strolled in and leaned over the cot. She noticed him and said, “Three girls! You’re a rich man, sir.”
Chigbo grinned. The nurse left after a while.
Then he tapped Oluchi’s elbow, but she didn’t stir. “Three girls, sha?” he said, still incredulous, before darting to the counter to ask another nurse. “Is it the same bill?”
“I don’t understand,” the nurse replied.
“The amount, er, you charge for triplets is it, uh, different from single childbirth?”
Her eyes widened. “You’re the father. Congrats!”
Chigbo shambled away. The instant he sat on the old bench in the pavement, he felt an iciness in his buttocks.
Five children were a blessing if you were rich, but what could a struggling porter boast of?
This was January; everyone agreed it was difficult to lend money immediately after Christmas festivities. He tried to recollect how much he paid for his twins’ hospital bill and his head throbbed.
He shook Oluchi’s shoulder when he trudged back to the ward. “You are too fertile,” he mumbled.
“Not my fault,” she said, yawning.
“Whose fault? Tell me, which of us has a history of twins in their family?”
Chigbo remembered how he starved himself of sex for about two years and slumped back into the chair. He’d grovelled before his supervisor just to be placed on night duty; he didn’t want to touch his wife.
He felt lightheaded watching the babies doze so untroubled like lakes, and he saw himself sinking in a whirlpool.
Chigbo dragged himself out of his seat.
“Are you leaving?” Oluchi asked, sitting up.
“Watching you won’t pay the bills,” he replied.
“The doctor will discharge us tomorrow at .”
“I’ll be here,” he said.
“I’m hungry,” she whimpered.
Chigbo rummaged through his pockets. Oluchi took the loose change without meeting his gaze. Something nudged his heart, and guilt crushed him. He wanted to hug her and tell her, “You’re strong,” but his knees knocked against each other.
“You’ve not carried them,” Oluchi said. “Touch them, at least.”
“I know,” he said in a cracked voice.
What he’d decided to do was cruel, but that was the only option he could think of. All he needed was two weeks, and the hospital management would waive the bills and discharge Oluchi and his babies when they discovered he was missing. After all, he thought, what he planned to do was better than trading two of the triplets and using the cash for the upkeep of the other family members.
She would manage; the babies would survive. But would Oluchi ever forgive him?
Without looking back, Chigbo bounded out of the room. As he walked past the counter, two nurses stopped chatting and glanced over at him.
“How are your angels?” one of them asked.
“Fine,” he said.
Chigbo had almost turned a corner when he thought he overheard one of the nurses say: “…his type make a fuss when their wives give birth, but they can’t hold still at nights.”
“Don’t be shocked if he takes flight.”
Chigbo paused. He took a deep breath. Hesitant smiles quivered on the nurses’ faces as he turned around.
“I wouldn’t hurt her,” he said fiercely, and stepped through the hospital doors. The sunlight scalded his face, but the intense heat released him from his agony.
Uche Peter Umez is a Nigerian writer. He has won awards in poetry, short story and children novel. He is the author of Dark through the Delta (poems), Tears in her Eyes (short stories) and Aridity of Feelings (poems).
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