The Kaduna Electricity had sunk the entire street into darkness; the street now seemed quieter than it was when there was light. Godiya turned the lantern up and then slid the louvers open to let fresh air. The room was quiet, just the fan squeaking to a halt. Her husband spread his legs apart on a mat woven with jute. Tuwo masara and miyan kuka sat between his legs. Runnels of sweat lined down his face as each bite diminished the mound of tuwo. Godiya fidgeted on the cushion, rolled the edge of her wrapper over protruding tummy and said “Dariya, the doctors have changed my antenatal schedule. My next visit will be one week to my expected date of delivery.”
“It’s the coronavirus,” he growled. “They want to keep safe, I suppose.”
“But my next visit is not even that long. It is in two weeks fa. Now, I have three weeks to go. I can’t just wait to deliver this baby.” She watched him bend and eat and thought he cared less.
The street had grown quieter and darker since Dariya returned from his vulcanizer workshop at Tanki Ruwa Junction. It had been three months since he went to work and had been surviving on the little jobs he did for customers who were already fond of him. They brought tyres down to his house for him to patch or fill with air.
That day, Dariya had stopped at Mama Tabitha’s shack close to his house, gulped a sachet gin before he strolled down home. The lockdown was recently relaxed and businesses opened during the day, but not in the night. All vehicular movements were to stop by eight in the evening too. The government said it was a phased relaxation. Schools were still closed. No domestic and international flights unless with special permit. Churches and mosques can congregate with less than thirty persons.
Dariya had thought of meeting his friend later in the week to hint him about his wife. If his wife falls into labour in the night, he would need his car to convey her to the maternity hospital.
Godiya’s estimated due date was quite far off, so they were completely nabbed when, one night, her waters broke. She writhed in bed, clasped the bedspread and yelled until Dariya woke from sleep; his sweet dream broken into smithereens of a scary thing. He fumbled in the darkness and felt the sheets soaked with the warm, slimy liquid.
“Wayo! The baby is coming! The Baby…” he cried.
He dashed into the street; it was empty and cold, just the streetlights beaming orange in the distance. He cocked his ear in many directions in the dark for a voice or a footstep, but all that returned to him was bland silence.
His wife’s voice echoed in his head as he stood there lonely by the road side. It was as if her whines were happening right inside his head. The echoes haunted him. He ran aimlessly.
A siren whirred from a distance and coloured lights shimmered in the dark. It was a patrol van. He flagged it down.
“Mmm-my wa-a- a- -i- i-fe. She’s-s-s in la-b-b-bour,” he stuttered. The police scanned him. It was just then he realized he had darted out of the house without his slippers and his T-shirt was worn inside-out.
He jostled between three suspicious officers in black and blue uniform while the van sped down Tudun Wada Street. His house was last on the street. He knew they had passed Mama Tabitha’s shack when he heard the wind displacing one loosed corrugated zinc or something like that. He was still tipsy from yesterday’s gin and was scared they could smell it in his breath.
One of the officers with an ugly scar Dariya suspected was from a knife stab fumed on his seat and croaked, “Nah ogogoro dey worry this man o, walahi.” Dariya tried to convince the other officers to disregard him. They were all dead drunk, Dariya could tell. Even the driver who drove the van sped into bumps and potholes that could split the car into two. They burgled him out just close to his house. “We are at my house,” he begged, “Please, don’t let my wife die. Help me. I’m not drunk.”
He tried all he could to convince them, they ignored his pleas and even threatened to break his head with their batons. He watched; teary eyed as the van zoomed off, blaring siren into the night. Then he clutched the moving van in the back, his sweaty palms slipped and he sprawled on the tarred road. He sobbed till the van disappeared out of his teary eyes.
He picked himself up and hurried towards the door, his mind replaying with images of Godiya writhing in bed and begging for his help. He felt helpless.
He mustered enough courage and pushed the door open. Godiya clasped a whimpering baby in her arms. Gripped by waning contractions and still afraid, she started to cry when she saw him. The umbilical cord sloped from the cover cloth lying partly over her thighs. Blood pooled in the middle of the bed. The baby grunted piercing sounds.
“Please don’t cry,” she muttered in a thin voice, over and over like a mantra between groans. He knelt beside her, worried and confused. A thought came into his head. A medical student lived downstairs. Everyone calls him Doctor. Dariya felt relieved for a moment. The doctor-student could be of help.
He crept out in the dark and banged Fidelis’ door until his knuckles became sore. When the door didn’t budge, he remembered that Fidelis had left for Jos some days ago after the ban on inter-state movement was lifted. He rushed back to the house; unsettling brooding hens snuggled between walls. They made serrated sounds and returned to their position.
He found her the same way he left her. After some minutes of starring at each other, she motioned him to cut the umbilical cord. He heaved a deep sigh as the placenta puddled out while he ripped the scissors into the cord. He wrapped the bloodied little baby in a gown Godiya had stiched some weeks back for the baby and used a thin quilt as swaddling bands. The baby’s eyelids unseamed and when Godiya looked at her baby’s eyes, her lips twitched.
The Muezzin’s voice pitched into the cold morning after the longest night of Dariya’s life. A woman clanged a bell and screamed, “Repent, the Kingdom of God is near.” A hen gave a shrill cock.
The goose bumps on Godiya’s skin vanished into the warmth of the Special Care Baby Unit. Dariya’s fears gradually faded away as they spent more time in the hospital. A young female doctor walked over to them and tickled the baby’s pink, chubby cheeks.
“What’s your baby’s name?” She asked, about to write on the tag. The tag was the identification protocol used for babies admitted to the SCBU.
The couple locked eyes. The baby is yet to have a name.
“Should we call her Dariya Baby or Corona girl,” the doctor asked jokingly. “Because this is the first baby girl we will be admitting in this ward since corona virus entered the country.”
The doctor smiled a weak smile.
Dariya chuckled and gleamed with joy.
“Oh, I know just what to write,” the doctor said as she scribbled on the tag.
Adesina Ajala is a writer, poet and medical doctor. His prose have appeared in Ngiga Review, Parousia, Nantygreens, Arts-Muse-Fair, MONUS Anthology, Dark Lagos, AFAS Review, Eboquills and elsewhere. He was shortlisted for 2018 League of Wordsmith Contest (Flash Fiction/Short story Category) and was co-winner 2018 TSWF Writers Prize.