Doing things people would consider stupid was not a problem for Whitney but even she could not excuse coming to this meeting drunk. Nobody except Nengi knew she was drunk but it was only a matter of time. She had dumped her bum shorts and was wearing an unflattering, oversized black dress and a pair of sneakers. She had caught a few people cast questioning glances at her sneakers but she didn’t care much. She just wanted the thing to be over.
Barrister Iranloye had been her father’s lawyer all her life and even though she never saw him much he’d always made an impression on her. He was a tall man with an afro most young guys would kill for. It was part of his modus operandi – and her father had complained about it – to always be the last person to enter the room. This usually meant his meetings never started on time if the participants weren’t on time.
Whitney knew most of the people in the conference room. Most of them were relatives and she recognized some people from the hospital. Maybe it was the alcohol but it felt like everybody in the room was doing their best not to make eye contact with her. Even those that sat across from her. She couldn’t care less, she probably would never see all of them again. Except maybe at the funeral.
She heard footsteps and voices at the door. Whoever these new people were, she hoped they were the last ones and the meeting could finally get started. The door opened and she saw the afro enter the room; it was Barrister Iranloye. The afro was still as high as the last time she saw it except now, it was grey in some places. The man had also grown a beard; a grey one. Barrister Iranloye looked like everybody’s dream grandfather.
He was not alone and he had broken is ‘last man’ rule; somebody was entering behind him. It was a woman. She wore a black dress like everybody in the room and she also wore a black scarf tied below her chin. She looked familiar but she sat on a chair closest to the door so Whitney could not see her face.
Whitney nudged Nengi and nodded in the woman’s direction. “Who is she?”
Nengi looked and shook her head.
Barrister Iranloye had taken his seat next to her, at the end of the table. He leaned close to her and placed a gentle palm on her arm.
“I’m so sorry Whitney,” he said.
“Thank you,” she replied.
Barrister Iranloye sat up straight and looked around the room. Whitney looked with him. Everybody looked at the lawyer, expectant. Her father was wealthy. He had made a lot of money from several investments outside his medical practice. He always said he made so much money so he could be a real doctor. He didn’t want money to decide who he could treat and who he couldn’t. All that money was about to be distributed. The people in the room wanted to know how much of it was about to become theirs. She saw Mr. Daramola; her father’s cousin who had come to the house before, he looked so desperate, it was pathetic.
“Good morning everybody,” Barrister Iranloye started. “You all know why we are here and by Doctor Daramola’s request, we will not spend more than ten minutes in this room.”
Whitney smiled, her father was still in control even after he was dead.
Barrister Iranloye brought out an envelope. “This envelope contains the last will and testament of Doctor Daramola, and Whitney will now confirm that it is sealed and has not been tampered with.”
Whitney nodded without even looking at the envelope. Barrister Iranloye opened the envelope and brought out a single sheet of paper. The room was silent. The tension in the room was almost physical. This was probably what it felt like in court for a criminal watching the judge read out his sentence.
Barrister Iranloye placed the sheet on the table and started to read.
“I, Adetayo Phillip Daramola, residing in Ilorin, Kwara State, being of sound mind and in contemplation of the certainty of death, do hereby declare this instrument to be my last will and testament.”
Barrister Iranloye read out some other legal jargons that did nothing to help the tension in the room. Then he stopped. Now he was at the part that mattered, the part everybody – except the woman with the scarf who still wasn’t looking up – was waiting for.
“Whitney Medical, my joy, and pride goes to the only person I love more than the hospital itself; my daughter. If she would have the hospital, she is to run it any way she sees fit with support from Doctor Okiki and every member of the Whitney Medical staff. If she would not have the hospital then my cousin, Niyi Daramola is free to sell it to any buyer of his choice.”
Whitney looked at the man and he was already looking at her. This was not what he wanted but he had nothing to worry about. She was not going to run the hospital.
Barrister Iranloye was not done.
“All my other assets have been put in a trust fund with Damilola Iranloye Chambers as the trustee. If my daughter, Whitney takes over Whitney Medical and runs it for a whole year to the satisfaction of Barrister Iranloye, she is to be named the beneficiary of the trust fund. If she fails to do this, the trust is to be liquidated and the money donated to the World Cancer Research Fund International.”
For a few seconds, nobody in the room moved. Whitney’s mind was blank, still, totally numb. And then the first thought dropped. Had her father left her everything he owned? No, he didn’t. He wanted her to earn everything that should already belong to her. Did they really belong to her? She didn’t speak to this man for the final five years of his life, he should have left her nothing.
Whitney felt every eye in the room on her, like they were waiting for her to say something. She knew what most of them felt for her was hate and she could not blame them. Most of them had given more for her father than she ever did but they had all gotten nothing.
Whitney felt Nengi’s head come close to hers. “Wanna bounce?”
Before Whitney could answer, Barrister Iranloye spoke.
“There is one last thing,” he said. “To Shade Oyeyipo, I leave my mother’s old ring. I never got to give you this ring and even though it means nothing now, I hope it reminds you of all we were and shows you all we could have been.”
What? Who was Shade Oyeyipo? Whitney followed everybody’s eyes to the woman with the scarf. Then she remembered. This was the woman her father brought home that night. She had not given any thoughts to the woman or what happened to her after she left for Lagos. Seeing the woman drove a sea of emotions through her that not even the alcohol in her system could stop.
Whitney looked at Nengi and without saying a word, her new friend understood what was happening. Nengi stood and pulled Whitney up with her.
“We will get back to you Barrister,” Nengi said.
Whitney kept her eyes on the floor and she put all her mind into putting one foot successfully in front of the other. She knew everyone in the room was looking at her and she hoped she made it to the door before collapsing or throwing up.
She was almost at the door when she felt a hand on hers. She looked in the direction of the hand and it was the Shade woman. For a second she thought about what to do. This woman had destroyed what she had with her father. But it looked like she was the only one in the room who genuinely loved her father. This was not helping her bid not to collapse or throw up.
The woman rose to her feet and wrapped Whitney in a soft embrace.
“I am so sorry Whitney,” she said.
Whitney wanted to respond but her brain did not form any words. The woman let her go and she ran out of the room with Nengi on her heels. She ran across the corridors and down the stairs and straight towards the front door. It was great she wore sneakers and not heels. She got to the front door but she didn’t stop running. She got to the gate outside the building and it was locked. She had gone as long as she could. She leaned on the fence, bent down and emptied the contents of her stomach on some poor flowers.
Nengi stood a few feet from her, watching.
“I’m fine,” Whitney said.
Nengi shrugged, “I didn’t ask. So what do you want to do now?”
Whitney stood up straight and said, “nothing.”
Wole stepped down from the motorcycle with a huge smile on this face. The bike-man gave him a questioning look, he probably thought he was crazy but he did not care. His day had been good and he rarely had good days. Even though he could not celebrate his good day with money he would celebrate it with a smile. He paid the bike-man and the man rode off. He turned around and faced his daughter’s school.
Somewhere inside this school, his daughter was breathing with a lot of difficulties but it would not be for long. He had finally sold ten of his paintings. The market price for each one was ten thousand naira but he had to sell them for four thousand each. It wasn’t a good deal but a bad deal was better than no deal at all. Now his daughter could have her CT scan.
He greeted the guard and walked into the school compound. He wasn’t used to coming into this school in the middle of the day. He always knew this was a good school but seeing it now when everything was in motion made him appreciate the luck he had. Bad or good, he could not decide. His daughter was attending the school on a scholarship because his late wife used to teach here. He shuddered at the thought of having to pay the fees they demanded here.
He got to April’s class and peeked in. The teacher in the class wasn’t Miss Lara. This could be a problem. He walked into the class and the man, whom he assumed was the teacher looked up. Wole glanced at the children and saw April looking down with so much concentration on something. He smiled.
“Hello sir,” the teacher said. “Can I help you?”
“Good afternoon sir, I am here to see Miss Lara.”
“She is not available today,” the teacher said. “Is there anything I can help you with?”
He had come to take April for the CT scan, he had to do it now before something else took the money from him. His plan had been to flirt with Miss Lara until she agreed to allow April out of the class. That plan was not going to work on this man.
“You see, I am Wole Best, April’s father.”
The man beamed a huge smile. “Oh wow, of course. You are here for her birthday.”
“What?” Wole asked. Her birthday? Her birthday was May 18th, today was… oh crap! How could he have forgotten?
“I was meaning to ask you, why name her April when she was born in May?”
“She was supposed to be born in April, there was a delay…” his voice faded out. How could he have forgotten?
He looked over at April, she was still concentrating on whatever she was doing. He needed to celebrate this birthday, his baby was five now. He shook his head, the money he had was for the CT scan.
“So what are your plans?” The teacher asked. “Other parents would just bring food and drinks to the class and we dedicate some time to celebrate with the child.”
There was no way he could do that. “That sounds like a good idea but I can’t do that right now.”
“Really? Why not?”
“Nothing much,” Wole said. “I’m not sure how much that would cost and…”
“I can arrange everything for you. We have somebody who takes care of things like this. It will cost only twenty-five thousand.”
Wole gasped. “Twenty-five?”
The teacher smiled. “Only.” Before Wole could figure out what to say the teacher turned to the class. “Hello Children, April’s Dad is here and we are going to have a party.”
The children cheered and for the first time April looked up. She saw her father and smiled. Wole expected her to run to him but she sat on her chair, but she didn’t take her eyes off him and she did not stop smiling. He was yet to understand the girl. She never did what he expected.
“Sir, can I have the money now so we can put everything in place?”
Wole looked at April and then at the teacher and back at April. He knew what he had to do.
“Can you give me a minute alone with April please?” Wole asked the teacher.
“Of course, you can take her outside.”
Wole beckoned to April. She stood, picked up a piece of paper of her table and walked towards him.
“Happy birthday baby,” Wole said.
She smiled and handed the piece of paper to her teacher. She returned to Wole and they walked towards the door.
“Mr. Best?” The teacher called and Wole looked back to see a surprised look on his face. Had the teacher figured out his plan? “You need to see this.”
Wole walked back to him and the teacher handed him the paper April had given him. Wole looked at the paper and he understood the man’s surprise. April had drawn a picture of a man and a little girl sitting under a tree with a rooster. The drawing was too good for a five-year-old. His daughter could draw, how did he not know this?
“Your daughter is talented sir. I have never seen even a ten-year-old who can draw this well.”
Wole nodded and looked down at his daughter, at least she got one good thing from him.
“Thank you,” Wole said. He held April’s hand and they walked out of the classroom and started towards the gate.
He was not coming back today and he was not spending twenty-five thousand Naira for a party. He could not give his daughter a party this year but he could give her a chance at health.
“Daddy?” April called. “Where are we going?”
“You’ll see baby, you’ll see.” For the first time in a while, everything looked like it would be alright.
But that was only until he got the result of the CT scan.
Whitney lay on the sofa in the living room. She had thought she would spend the day drinking and keeping her mind away from the big decision she had to make. Nengi, for the first time since they met, had prohibited her from drinking. She had tried to think of other things but she could not control her mind.
Every moment she spent with her father gone, she realized she loved him more than she knew. She had made several decisions without him but she needed him for this one. She had a thriving medical practice in Lagos and all her friends were there. None of those friends had called her since she got to Ilorin but that was probably because none of them knew her father was gone. She loved living in Lagos. She loved the fast life. But she also loved Whitney Medical. At least, she used to.
Her father never brought work home so she would not have known much about medicine if she had not spent time at Whitney Medical. It also helped that it was named after her or maybe they were both named after Whitney Houston. She smiled as she remembered all those years she spent learning the lyrics to “I will always love you” and “I’m every woman”. Whitney Medical was important to her, she could not imagine some strange person running the place.
There was also the matter of the money. Everybody assumed she was going to run Whitney Medical just so she could get the trust fund. They had a point. She was not sure how much her father was worth but she knew it was a lot. She was doing okay but okay was different from wealthy. She would finally be able to take that year off to travel the world. She would be able to attend all the film festivals she had always wanted to attend. That money would change her life. But at what cost?
Whatever the cost was, she should do this to honour her father. If he wanted her to run Whitney Medical after all the years of silence, then maybe she should honour his trust.
Her phone rang on the table beside her. The phone had been ringing all day and it had mostly been her father’s cousin calling. She knew what he wanted to say and it wasn’t going to help her. He wasn’t the one calling this time though; it was Doctor Okiki. He had not been at the reading of the will, she wondered why.
She answered the call. “Hello?”
“I heard what happened today,” he said.
Whitney frowned. “No ‘hello’?”
“I know you will probably take the hospital because of all the money attached to it,” he continued. “I want to remind you that the will said you must run it well. Can you do that?”
“What?” Whitney was not sure where he was going.
“You cannot. If you could not be loyal to your own father, how would you be loyal to a hospital? This may sound hurtful but it is the truth. You want to go back to Lagos, that’s what you want. I know this, you know this, everybody knows this. Don’t think the money will keep you happy here when everybody you work with hates you. Think well before…”
Whitney ended the call and sat up. She scrolled through her contacts and got to Barrister Iranloye’s number and dialed. He answered at first ring.
“Hello Whitney? You left early this morning.”
“I’ve made my decision.”
“Oh, are you sure you don’t need more time? This is not a…”
“Sell the hospital?”
There was a pause followed by Barrister Iranloye saying “what?”
“I have no interest in running Whitney Medical, sell it.”