05 Dec Alice Rushes Down From Canada To See Her Sick Mother
“Welcome home, Sir”, Ikomma said as Abel entered the house. “I’m sorry I missed you last night. You have been gone for so long. Had I known you would be coming in, I would have turned back your bed for you.”
“I appreciate that, Ikomma”, Abel replied. “I got in very late.”
“You should have awakened me.” Ikomma seemed disturbed Abel would not let him perform what he considered to be his duties. “Can I interest you in some lunch?” Ikomma seemed determined to do something for his employer.
“As a matter of fact, you can”, Abel answered. “My appetite is catching up with me.”
Before Ikomma headed for the kitchen he handed Abel a slip of paper. “I took this message this morning. I thought you would want it right away.”
Abel looked at the paper and felt a surge of adrenaline. “Mrs. Picketts called?”
Ikomma nodded. “She was very eager to speak with you. She said she is at her sister’s in Isolo. I wrote down the address”, he said.
“I thought she was in London.”
“She just arrived back. I don’t know if she has returned permanently. There was some grapevine talk that she might be planning to return to Europe for good. Word has it that she is having a difficult time adjusting to life without Tunde.”
Abel nodded. “Lola and Tunde were devoted to each other”, he said. “I’d better get back to her.”
Once Abel reached her, Lola Picketts immediately asked if he could come see her that afternoon. Ordinarily, Abel would have put off their meeting since his mind was very much on finishing the newspaper series. But this was Lola, Tunde’s widow and a woman to whom Abel was deeply attracted. Whatever was in their future, Abel wanted to see her.
Much to Ikomma’s distress, Abel snatched a sandwich off the side board and said he’d eat it on the way to Lola’s. Ikomma disapproved, not of the meeting with Lola, but of the hasty lunch. He felt his employer needed to begin taking care of himself. He was clearly exhausted from the past few weeks, and he had lost weight. But as Abel reminded him good naturedly when he had scolded, “You’re not my mother, Ikomma.” And he was out the door.
Abel and Lola hugged as they greeted each other on the doorstep of her sister’s flat. Lola led him inside.
“Would you like a cup of coffee?” she said.
“That sounds great. The stronger the better. Don’t take this personally, but I might need something to keep me awake. I have a lot of work ahead of me, and I’m already running a sleep deficit of more hours than I care to count.”
“Don’t apologise”, Lola insisted. “I remember what it was like when Tunde was wrapping up a story. It’s not surprising that you’re exhausted, given what’s happened to you the last few weeks.”
“Yes”, Abel said. “This series has taken a bigger toll on me than any story I’ve ever done. Perhaps it is because of the physical strain in the US.”
They sipped their coffee as Abel told her about his adventures in the United States and Canada.
“Wow, nice to have you back in one piece”, she said, genuinely impressed. “Now, I understand why you couldn’t call.”
“I’m glad to be back in once piece”, Abel said. “Did you enjoy London?”
“It was better when you were there”, she said. “You took my mind off my loss. When you left, I had nothing any more to distract me from thinking about Tunde. Worse still, when the calls didn’t come.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Things got better as time passed”, she said.
“You’re still a young woman, Lola, not to mention beautiful and smart. There are so many opportunities for you out there. You have so much to offer.”
Lola smiled and patted his forearm. “Bless you, Peter. You always know the right thing to say. All this time, I’ve been wondering what I should do next. Should I take on a new profession? Should I travel? Should I throw myself into volunteer work? I just don’t know.”
“Perhaps you could do a little of all three?” Abel suggested.
Lola nodded. “Like you said, there are so many opportunities out there.” She gently caressed his arm. “Peter, my heart belonged to Tunde for so long. The hardest part for me now is the loneliness. You live alone. Don’t you ever feel the desire to share your life with someone?”
Peter nodded. “I’ve struggled with that many times”, he said. “Then I get a new assignment, and I find myself married to The Zodiac. I’m not complaining, mind you. Every time I pursue a lead, I feel a burst of energy that just overwhelms me. I don’t know how to describe it.”
They gazed into each other’s eyes for a moment. There was an electrical charge between them, but it was broken a few seconds later when Abel dropped his eyes to the floor.
“Lola, I can’t be sure what’s going on between us, and I don’t want to guess for fear I might reach the wrong conclusion.”
A nervous smile appeared on Lola’s face. “I don’t want to sound forward”, she said, “but I was hoping you and I could see each other. Casually. But who knows what might develop between us.”
Abel was only slightly surprised. For as long as he had known her, Lola had always demonstrated a great deal of affection for him. It was all very sweet and endearing, and Abel had similar feelings toward her.
“I’ve had time to mourn for my husband”, she said. “I will always love Tunde, but I would like to have another man in my life. Tunde loved you like a brother. I think he would be very pleased if the two of us ended up together.”
Lola waited for Abel’s response. So many thoughts were racing through his mind that it took a moment to gather them. Lola suddenly dropped her head in her hands.
“My goodness”, she exclaimed, “I’ve made a complete fool of myself, haven’t I?”
“No, Lola”, Abel said. “You haven’t made a fool of yourself at all. On the contrary, I am enormously flattered. You are an amazing woman in so many different ways. I have no doubt that I could someday fall completely, hopelessly, head-over-heels in love with you.”
“Someday?” Lola questioned. “You mean not now?”
Abel noticed her eyes become watery with tears. She quickly turned away and wiped her face.
“Lola, you deserve a man who can be there for you”, he said, “one who can build his life around you. I simply cannot be that man right now. You said it yourself. My work is my passion. It demands all of my heart and soul, not to mention almost every waking hour of my days. I won’t make promises I already know I can’t keep. That wouldn’t be fair to either one of us.”
“But I know the life, Peter. I lived it with Tunde.”
“And maybe that’s where hope lies for us. There is already a level of understanding. We’re already friends. That part, the hard part of getting to know one another, we’ve already gotten past.”
Lola sat back and sighed. Abel thought she understood, but the revelation didn’t seem to provide her with much solace.
“Please don’t feel rejected, Lola”, Abel pleaded. “I’m not pushing you away. I’m trying to be honest and fair. Let’s continue to be good friends and see what happens as time goes by.”
She nodded and smiled through her tears. She said nothing more as she picked up their empty cups and carried them off into the kitchen.
As Abel watched her go, he wondered if he wasn’t making a mistake, throwing away a chance to spend the rest of his life with someone for whom he cared deeply and was attracted to on every level.
“Mr. Abel! Mr. Abel!”
Abel was jarred awake by Ikomma’s voice followed by his hand shaking Abel’s shoulder.
“What’s going on?” Abel groaned, barely half awake. “What time is it?”
“It is four o’clock, Oga”, Ikomma said. “I need you to wake up.”
“Four o’clock in the morning?” Abel said. “What in the world is happening, Ikomma?”
Ikomma held up Abel’s robe. “There is a telephone call for you, Sir”, he informed him. “It is your boss. He said it is an emergency and he must speak to you immediately.”
Abel threw the covers off of his legs. He slipped into his robe and walked down the hall to his study.
“What have you got, Boss?” Abel said into the telephone.
“Sorry to wake you, Peter”, the boss said, “but I knew you would want to know about this. Alice’s mother was admitted to hospital about two hours ago.”
“Admitted for what?” Abel said, feeling his chest tighten.
“I only spoke to an administrator, who didn’t know any details. She called the paper because Mary Udor named us as her emergency contact. It could be serious, Peter. They brought her through the casualty unit.”
“Damn!” Abel muttered. “I begged her to go to a doctor. In fact, I was going to make some calls tomorrow to arrange it.”
“She’s been sick?” the boss asked.
“I couldn’t tell if she is suffering with a specific illness”, Abel said, “but she looked very unhealthy the last time I saw her. And she acknowledged that she wasn’t well. I’d better get down to the hospital and find out what the story is.”
“Give me a call when you get some information.”
Abel hung up and ran back to his bedroom. Ikomma had already set out a suit of clothes for him.
“I had a feeling you wouldn’t be going back to bed”, Ikomma said.
The streets were almost empty at that dark hour of the morning, so Abel drove over the speed limit and even went the wrong way down a one-way street to get to the casualty unit as quickly as possible. He parked his car haphazardly and dashed through the automatic doors, searching for the duty nurse.
Abel found her at her station.
“I’m Peter Abel from The Zodiac. Mrs. Udor named our paper as emergency contact.”
The nurse looked at his press credentials and nodded.
“Apparently the police got a call from a neighbour who said Mrs. Udor was screaming very loudly. The neighbour was reluctant to go over and check on her, for fear there might be danger. The policeman who brought Mrs. Udor in said there was a history of violence with the husband and guessed the neighbour was afraid he would be there.”
Abel grimaced. He wasn’t sure how many of the neighbours knew Mr. Udor had syndicate connections. Some of them probably suspected it and didn’t want to risk getting on his bad side.
“The police found Mrs. Udor on the floor of her bedroom”, the nurse said. “They think she might have fallen out of bed. She was in a great deal of pain. She couldn’t walk. She could barely move at all.”
“Had she broken some bones?” Abel asked.
The nurse shook her head. “The attending physician ruled that out after examining her and sending her to X-Ray.”
“Do they have any idea what else it might be?” Abel said.
“You’ll have to ask the doctor, Mr. Abel.”
After a few minutes, Abel found the doctor. He introduced himself and asked about Mary Udor’s condition.
“Mrs. Udor is suffering from acute arthritis”, the physician explained. “It is present in most of her joints and even within the vertebrae. Frankly, from the photographs, I’m shocked that she hasn’t been admitted to casualty before. The pain would have to be excruciating. She must have a high tolerance for it.”
“Can she be cured?” Abel wondered.
“At this stage, I would say no”, the doctor answered. “At the moment, we have her resting comfortably with the help of morphine and other painkillers. That’s really all we can do for her. The condition will not reverse itself, and there are no treatments. Medication will only be given to provide some pain relief, but eventually, that will cease to be effective as well. This is a very tragic circumstance.”
Abel felt sick. “May I see her?”
The doctor led him to a room at the end of the long hall.
“She may be a little groggy”, he said. “She is very heavily medicated right now.”
Abel found Mary lying in a hospital bed, an oxygen tube clipped to her nose to assist her breathing and an IV attachment delivering fluids and medication. She opened her eyes when Abel approached her bedside.
“I said I was going to make a doctor’s appointment for you”, he said with a forced smile. “It looks like you went ahead and did it on your own.”
“Have you spoken with the doctor?” she said.
“Then you know there isn’t much hope for me”, she said softly.
“There is always hope”, Abel said, perhaps more so to convince himself than the woman before him.
“Mr. Abel”, Mary said, “I want to see Alice. I need to see her. Is there any way you can make that happen?”
“Of course, I can make that happen”, he assured her. “I will call Alice today, and my paper will arrange for her to fly to your side as soon as possible.”
Mrs. Udor closed her weary eyes and smiled. “Thank you, Sir. Thank you so much.”
Abel waited to call Alice until it was eight o’clock in the morning in Edmonton, Ontario.
“Dear Lord”, she said, “has it really gotten that bad? Mum has been in pain for so many years, but she has never complained. She never wanted to be a burden on anyone. I wish she had gotten help sooner.”
“You mum wants to see you, Alice”, Abel told her. “Right now, that’s the only thing she wants in the whole world. We’ll pay for your plane ticket.”
“Please tell her I will be there, Mr. Abel”, Alice said. “I will take the first available flight.”
“I will be at the airport to take you to Yaba Medical Centre”, Abel said assuredly.
“Thanks for being there for me, Mr. Abel”, Alice said
And so it was that Alice left Canada. The last leg of her long journey, and of Abel’s, was about to come to a close. And even though he had the ending for his series in mind already, subsequent events would force Abel to alter the last instalment radically.
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