Tank top, bum shorts and dark glasses; it was not the most responsible look in the world but Whitney did not care. Her goal was not to look responsible, she just wanted to see her Dad. She looked in the rearview mirror; her eyeballs were still red and her eyes were puffy. She wiped off the lines her tears had made on her face. She cleared her throat and stepped out of the car. She slid her glasses on, slammed the door shut and headed for the entrance of Whitney Medical.
She had not seen the building since she left the house but it looked the same. Her father renovated the building every year when she was still around but it looked like it hadn’t been touched in years. The white paint was dirty, the blue paint was faded and the whole building looked old. Her heart ached at the sight. The only thing her father loved more than this hospital was her. Why had she been so cruel?
Be strong. This was not the time to show any weakness.
She walked into the reception and a lady, who had obviously been crying, looked up at her.
“Good morning ma,” the lady said. “We are not taking patients right now.”
Whitney walked closer to her. The atmosphere in the building was not good, it felt like grief hung in the air. She wanted to run out of the building and cry but she stilled herself.
“I am not a patient. My name is Whitney Daramola.”
The lady stared at her for a few seconds then she realized what the name meant.
“I’m so sorry,” she started then burst into tears.
Whitney stood, eyes unblinking, body unmoving and her expression unchanging. She waited till the receptionist got a hold of her emotions.
“Can I see him?” Whitney asked.
The lady nodded vigorously and led Whitney up a flight of stairs.
Whitney looked at the wall at the end of the stairs, it still held her picture and her mother’s. She had always believed she looked more like her father until the day she saw these two pictures beside each other. Her mother’s picture was taken a few months after their wedding and hers was taken at her graduation. They looked like they could have been twins. She took her eyes off the picture and followed the receptionist lady door a corridor.
The corridor connected so many rooms and as they walked by those rooms, Whitney could feel eyes turn to her. She knew what most of them were thinking. Her fight with her father wasn’t a secret. They all probably hated her. She couldn’t blame them, she hated herself too.
“This is the place,” the receptionist lady said and started another round of sobbing.
“You can go,” Whitney said and the lady scurried off.
Whitney stood in front of the door and wondered if she had any right to see her father’s body. She had several years to see him alive but she chose not to. She could not see him. Not now, not ever.
She turned around to walk away but stopped. A few feet away, looking at her with a blank stare, stood a rough-bearded man. She looked at him and for what looked like a thousand years, he held her gaze.
“You are not going in?” The man asked without breaking eye contact.
“Who are you?” Whitney asked.
He started moving towards her and Whitney looked away. There was something weird about this guy. His eyes had such intensity, she feared he saw beyond her dark glasses and bum shorts into her guilt-ridden soul.
“You have not answered my question.”
“No, I’m not going in,” Whitney said and quickly added, “not right now.”
“We can’t keep him here forever, we need to move him to the mortuary.”
“Do that then,” Whitney said and swallowed.
All these talking was building up a well of emotions in her. It was only a matter of time before she would break down.
“Will you be…?”
“I have to go,” Whitney said and started towards the stairs.
“I hope you found what you were looking for,” Doctor Okiki said and she stopped. “You broke his heart, hope it was worth it.”
Whitney bowed her head for a second as several angry retorts bounced around her brain. She could feel her lips shivering and tears welling in her eyes. If she broke down now, nobody would understand it was anger, not grief.
She lifted her head and walked away from the idiot who called himself a doctor. She went down the stairs two steps at a time. She got to the reception and headed for the door. She was a few feet away from it when the door opened and a lady entered. Whitney would have brushed past the lady except she was dressed exactly like her; tank tops and bum shorts.
“Whitney?” the lady said.
Whitney stopped, “Do I know you?”
“No, you don’t. I am Doctor Nengi, I’m sorry about your father.”
Whitney nodded, wondering how a doctor would dress like this. Except she was also a doctor and they were dressed the same.
The lady doctor must have noticed the look on her face because she said, “I was on my way to the gym when Nana called me.”
Whitney wanted to walk away but she also knew what she would spend her day and night doing if she did.
“Nengi… is it okay if I call you Nengi?”
“Sure,” Nengi said, “but I’m going to call you Whitney too.”
“You already did.”
“Great, we are on the same page.”
“Do you know any clubs?”
“Clubs? Like Manchester United and Arsenal?”
“No, clubs like nightclubs? Do you know any?”
Nengi paused for a second and Whitney expected a condemning look but instead she got a smile.
“Yes I know a few,” Nengi said.
“Good, can we go to one right now?”
“It’s not even noon yet, no clubs will open at this time”
“If they hear how much I’m ready to spend, they will.”
Nengi smiled, “I like you already.”
Whitney knew she was being stupid but stupid was what she needed right now. Her father was dead. She was alone in the world. Alone. By herself.
Soon all those thoughts would be drowned in liters of alcohol.
Whitney stumbled into the house with her head banging. She could barely see or walk or talk but her mind was still very active. She had gone on this drinking binge to forget about her father’s death but it was the one thing that stayed strong on her mind. She felt around the wall for the light switch but she found nothing. She groaned and dropped to the floor. She lay flat on the cold floor and writhed from the pain that wracked her mind.
The lights came on and she lifted her eyes to see Nengi standing next to her.
“What are you doing here?” Whitney asked.
“You think I was going to leave you alone? You could die.”
“Just go, I am fine,” the words came out slurred. “I appreciate the care but I’m fine.”
Nengi chuckled. “I’m not here because I care. I’m a doctor, I swore an oath that prevents me from watching people die, so please just stand up.”
Whitney looked at Nengi and smiled, this girl would have been an awesome friend if she was in Lagos. Nengi pulled Whitney up and held her steady.
“How come you are not drunk anyway?” Whitney asked.
“I never get drunk,” Nengi answered like it was a fact.
Whitney looked up at the wall in front of her; it had a large picture of her father receiving an award. She had never seen that picture. She was not even aware her father had received any sort of award recently but she was not surprised, he was a great man.
She turned around and looked at the living room, the only change was that picture. She hadn’t realized how much she missed this place. She had spent years and years rearranging the room without a word of protest from her father. She had even made him repaint it on a couple of occasions just because she saw a movie and she liked the colours of a character’s room. Her life had been entwined with her father, how did she survive without him in Lagos?
“Are you done reminiscing?”
Nengi’s voice brought her back to reality and she nodded.
“Good, let’s get you into the shower. You stink.”
Whitney dragged her feet as she walked towards her room. The room that held most of her favourite memories. She got to the door, took a deep breath and pushed it open. She entered the room and stopped. This was not her room, was it? The bed was the same, all her pictures were still on the wall, her pile of Karen Kingsbury novels was untouched. But her closet was filled with her father’s clothes. His shoes were everywhere in the room and one of his pyjamas – she could not believe he still had it – lay on the bed. Did he move into her room?
“Hey, come back to us.” It was Nengi again. “I’m going to the kitchen to fix something for you. Take a shower and meet me in the living room in ten minutes.”
“I’m serious Whitney.”
“Sure, I’ll do that now.”
Nengi walked out of the room and Whitney closed the door behind her. The room smelled like her father. Or maybe his Nivea roll on. He’d used the same roll on for years, it had become his scent. She got on the bed and lay her head on the pyjamas.
At first, the tears flowed down her cheeks slowly, then they began to pour in torrents. She bit her lips to stop herself from crying aloud. She had a feeling that Nengi girl would not take it well.
The door opened and Nengi walked in. Whitney looked up, how did she know?
“Are you serious Whitney?”
“I’m sorry,” Whitney said in between sobs. “You realize I lost my father today, right?”
Nengi paused and for a second Whitney saw compassion on her face but then it was gone.
“I know you want a hug but I can’t do that right now.”
“Okay, I’ll get in the bathroom now.”
“And please be done in one minute because there is a man in the living room asking for you.”
Whitney frowned, nobody was supposed to know she was around.
“Who is it?”
“I don’t know him but he is talking like he owns the house so I guess he is a relative.”
Whitney realized she wasn’t dressed to welcome visitors but she was not welcoming anybody. She needed her privacy and if the visitor was offended by her dressing, that was great.
Whitney walked into the living room, Nengi behind her. The man had his back to her so she couldn’t tell who it was.
“Hello, can I help you?”
The man turned around and stopped when he saw Whitney. She recognized him, he was her father’s cousin. He had once been close to her father once but they had drifted apart. Her father had shielded her from his family; there had to be a good reason for that.
“Is that how you greet your Uncle?” the man said.
Whitney was not in the mood for this at all. “I don’t know you.”
“You don’t know me? I am your father’s younger brother, how can you say you don’t know me?”
“My father was an only child, he had no younger brothers.”
“Are you not a Yoruba child? Your father has many younger brothers.”
Whitney sighed, arguing will only prolong this. “Okay sir, you are welcome.”
The man looked at Nengi then back at Whitney, “is this how you people dress in Lagos?”
Whitney held back a curse, “what can I do for you, sir?”
“Sit down, we need to talk.”
Whitney looked at Nengi and shook her head.
Nengi stepped forward, “Whitney just lost her father today, could you please come back?”
“Chai!” the man exclaimed like he had been slapped on the head. “I should come back?”
“It is a legitimate request,” Nengi continued. “She needs to mourn her father.”
“Mourn which father? The father she refused to talk to for years?”
It was Whitney’s turn to feel like she had been slapped. She walked to a chair and sat.
“What do you want?” Whitney asked.
“This is a family matter, she can’t be here.”
Nengi folded her arms across her chest and stood firm.
“She can stay,” Whitney said.
“No problem, it doesn’t matter. I’m here to talk about your father’s hospital.” Whitney frowned, she had no idea where this was going but she didn’t say a word. “Before your father died, he was planning to sell the hospital and he even found a buyer.”
Her father wanted to sell Whitney Medical? Why would he do that? More importantly, why was this man bringing it up now?
“I don’t understand what you are saying.”
“The buyer is ready to pay the money now.”
Whitney jumped to her feet, “are you crazy?” she screamed. “My father’s body is not even cold and you want to sell his hospital? You will have to kill me before I let that happen.”
The man just sat on his chair looking at her. “Are you done?”
Whitney looked at Nengi who had not moved. She had her eyes on the man like a predator watching its prey. Whitney was exhausted from her journey and with grief. It did not help that she had been drinking all day. She needed to get rid of this man.
“Sir, I think it’s time for you to leave,” Whitney said and started to pace.
“The buyer is traveling out of the country in three days and we have to decide if we want to sell the hospital or not.”
“Are you not listening to me? I said I am never going to sell that hospital.”
“It is not your call, it is your father’s. I am here so we can bring the reading of the will forward.”
“What?” Whitney whispered.
“Stop this self-righteous nonsense!” The man shouted. “Stop thinking with your emotions and use your head. Do you want the hospital to run down until it is taken over by rats? Or are you going to stay here and run it? Answer me.”
Whitney stopped pacing.
“That’s right,” the man continued. “I knew you will never leave the wayward life you are living in Lagos to come and run your father’s hospital.”
Nengi stepped forward and even though she wasn’t bigger than Whitney, she had an intimidating presence that affected the man.
“She said it was time to leave,” Nengi said.
“Are you going to beat me?” The man asked with a sneer, although Whitney could see the man believed it was a genuine possibility.
“Wait,” Whitney said and they both looked at her. “Bring the reading of the will forward, let us find out what Daddy wanted.”
The man stood and smiled triumphantly. “Now you are using your head. The lawyer will call you.”
Whitney and Nengi watched the man walk out of the room.
As soon as he was out, Nengi turned to Whitney, “what are you doing?”
“Let’s read the will and find out what will happen.”
“Your father just died today,” Nengi said, sighed and added, “what if your father leaves the decision to you?”
“Then I’m in trouble because I have no idea what to do.”