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Dying in silence 2: A story on tuberculosis

Dr. Akin-Onitolo A.

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continued from episode 1
It was definitely going to rain. I folded as much of myself as I could, my cotton wool head resting on my knees. The wooden benches we waited on sat squat in a large un-walled hall so the gusts of wind hit us directly. I had lost my usual night-time fever within the first few minutes I sat there watching people arrive. I was number two hundred and sixty-nine so mother went to speak with someone to see if I could be moved ahead. Forty one was a far distance from us and my shivering was becoming worse.
Coughing went round in sequence; I followed the elderly woman on the third bench in front of me with a tear in the left sleeve of her Ankara blouse. Before her was the boy at the edge of my bench with gross darkened patches on his face. The man beside me was the only one out of tune, jumping in before me at one time and after me at another. Thunder echoed and re-echoed in the distance with the perfect background for the music we already made.
“You’ve gotten your grandpa’s cough,” she said when I had coughed for two weeks non-stop. I soon caught a fever. I was not eating well and I always woke up soaked in sweat even when we had left the ceiling fan on all night. My other brother, Dele, was coughing too but not as bad.
“Feyi, come quickly!” mother called to me. She was standing next to the nurse who was calling the numbers. I hurried over to them.
I wonder how mother worked it as I was soon seated in a comfortable leather chair and staring at the white mask covering the nose and mouth of the man before me.
“What is your name?” he asked, his voice muffled.
“Feyi Shonde.”
“How old are you?”
What has that got to do with anything?
“Ten,” I replied with a frown, reminded of how I lost the bicycle I almost had. Brother Tiwa was yet to recover from the accident.
He then turned to mother who was standing by me. “When did she start coughing?”
I could have easily answered that one but mother was already narrating to him how I got the cough from grandpa and she was afraid that I would cough blood too. I was shocked speechless. How did I not know grandpa was coughing blood? When was anyone going to tell me? Was I going to die? I tugged at mother’s wrapper but neither of them looked my way. I had suddenly become invisible. I bit my nails to keep from crying out that I hated grandpa.
Mother reported Dele to him, the man with the mask did not even ask her. I always knew she did not like us. How was I to know I should not have collected grandpa’s cough? Maybe if I had not broken the phone, I would have not coughed. My eyes welled up, I had bitten too far into my finger. I had finished my nails and I wanted sorely to go home.
The man with the mask handed forms to us and we left. I would not let mother hold my hand so I trudged slowly after her, meaning to annoy her. We walked up stairs with chipped tiles. And I was number six this time. Mother did not tell me that they would prick me with a long scary needle. I cried and writhed like a snake in her arms but they were like iron bands. Then she removed my clothes despite my pleas to go home and made me stand before a cold screen. No one could rescue me.
At home, we met a small crowd outside the house.
“Why didn’t you call me?” mother queried brother Tiwa when we were informed that grandpa did not get up from his mat that morning. We had left home before dawn, before the others stirred from their sleep, in order to pick a good number. My eyes were dry like everyone else. Finally, the cough had gone away. Maybe mother would forgive me now…(to be continued)

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Dr. Akin-onitolo A. is a graduate of the University of Lagos whose mission is to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) using health promotion and improved health literacy. She is an MDCN (Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria) certified doctor who had her elective at King's College London. Hugely interested in travel, meeting people and generally being creative, reading and writing fiction are a few hobbies you could find her engaged in during her spare time. Catch up with her on Twitter @Akinonitolo and Instagram @t_onitolo