Fever: by Martin Egblewogbe

Yona was running late. He had already parried off a number of calls from Nana Ama, and had promised to be at the meeting at worst “in fifteen minutes”. It was now twenty minutes gone and he still had five minutes more to go. He crossed the road and stepped rapidly up the pavement.

The glare of the street lights fell off behind him, as did the sound of cars roaring up and down the Ring Road. He turned a corner, and was suddenly swamped in the gentle Sunday evening mood pervading the neighbourhood. A couple were strolling leisurely ahead, three men had set up a table on the porch outside their house and were playing draughts.

And here he was, rushing past them like a house on fire…

Up the street he could see the building where the meeting was being held. It was a classroom belonging to a small secretarial school; the proprietor had been all too happy to allow Nana Ama’s group to meet there twice a month.

The room was well lit: the neat rows of daylight-toned fluorescent blazed away, making the dingy little room with it’s off-white walls and aging plastic chairs look rather warm and inviting.

The members of the group had tried to arrange the chairs in concentric semicircles, without much success, being constrained by the unyielding rectangle of the floor.

Nana Ama was sitting, as usual, right in front of the blackboard. The seat beside her was reserved for Yona.

‘Well look who’s here,’ she remarked caustically when Yona entered the room. ‘The Vice-President himself, no less.’

Yona grinned, clasped his hands together and gave a little bow, in apology.

‘Hello folks,’ he said, ruefully. ‘I’m late. I’m sorry.’

There was nearly a full house, fifteen members in all. Ira was absent, but the new member, Jeremy, was there, sitting nervously at the edge of his seat in the back row. Yona waved at him but he did not seem to notice.

As he settled down Yona noted that the atmosphere was restive: it appeared that Nana Ama was in a combative mood, and, as often happened when she was like that, members poked fun at her, which made her irritated.

She shifted in her seat, uncrossing her legs and re-crossing them again. Yona noticed the gleam of a chain on her left ankle. Nana Ama was dressed in a red miniskirt and a black blouse with a generous cut sweeping across her capacious bosom; a fine gold chain hung around her neck. Her lips sprouted red with a luscious black border. Yona fought to clip the rising desire; it would have helped, he thought, if the seats were not so close to each other. He tried to keep his attention on the meeting.

‘Books,’ Nana Ama said. ‘Books and movies, that is the next item. We are going to order a set of books or films in the next month, so I would like you to contribute titles. Everyone can order at least four titles, but I suggest that we should try to avoid duplication.’

‘I think that’s a brilliant idea, Nana Ama. I have two questions, though.’ Allotey began. He was a stoutly built man in his early thirties, clean shaven and dressed in a white T-shirt and jeans.

‘They’ll be paid for by the club,’ Nana Ama interjected.

‘Well, that answers one question, at least,’ Allotey looked peeved. ‘Is there some sort of restriction as to title and subject matter?’

Nana Ama had obviously not considered that.

‘Aha,’ she said. ‘Yes. Certainly.’

‘Well, I would not want to order something on HIV. I would like something else.’ Allotey replied.

‘Why should the club order your … your pono for you?’ Nana Ama said.

Laughter rippled through the room.

‘Well, maybe because he likes pono,’ Honu suggested. ‘Don’t mess with Allotey.’

‘Yeah, but you see…’ some one else tried to chip in a comment.

‘But what is the relevance of other forms of literature to a group like this?’ Nana Ama asked.

‘Does having HIV preclude you from reading things that you want to read?’ Allotey replied.

‘Certainly not porn…’

‘Listen, let’s not make light of this matter.’ Ramatu said. Ramatu was the oldest person in the group. At forty-two, she was a mother of three and eight months a widow.

‘Could we vote, please?’ Yona said. ‘Let’s vote.’

The room quieted down. Yona went on:

‘Restriction to HIV topics, please raise your hands.’

No one raised their hands. Nana Ama glared at Yona.

‘No restriction?’

Several hands went up.

‘Allotey’s wish is granted,’ Honu chortled. ‘It is Sunday, after all.’ He raised a fist in the air and waved it about. Honu always seemed to have an extra share of happiness – sometimes he behaved as if he was drunk.

Jeremy had not voted. The young man was clearly discomfited and had been fidgeting for quite a while.

‘Jeremy?’ Yona asked. ‘How do you vote? Yes, or no?’

Jeremy just shrugged.

‘Well!’ Nana Ama interrupted. ‘If that’s the case, so be it. Free pono for all, and who cares. The club will still fund it. Just no extravagance, four titles per head.’

Then Jeremy stood up. Yona caught his breath – the young man looked like he was about to faint, or have some nervous breakdown.

Everyone waited, expectant. Wardrobe assistance required, Yona thought idly. Jeremy was wearing a brown jumper with hideous yellow circles and black corduroy trousers that gleamed oddly about the knees.

‘I…I…protest…’ Jeremy stammered. Then he fell silent. Nobody knew what to say.

Then – ‘And so what?’ Nana Ama said.

A spatter of laughter rippled through the gathering. Jeremy became more agitated, pointing a finger at Nana Ama.

‘You…should…not…’ he stuttered.

Yona came to his rescue. If Nana Ama was in a bad mood, the finger pointing would only make it so much worse, he thought.

‘Gently, Jeremy. Cool down. What do you wish to protest?’ Yona said.

Jeremy was clearly relieved by Yona’s intervention. He took a deep breath.

‘I suggest that Nana Ama… should… undress…’

Honu gave a hoot of laughter and laughter and others sniffed and giggled. Nana Ama raised her eyebrows.

‘Oh really,’ she said.

‘No…no…’ Jeremy struggled to speak.

‘Gently,’ Yona encouraged him.

Suddenly, Jeremy shouted in a determined burst: ‘Nana Ama should not dress like that!’

Then he sat down. The laughter vanished.

Nana Ama turned to Yona, slowly.

‘O se ma ye no den?’ she asked, disdainfully.

‘I think Jeremy requests that you change your style of dress.’ Yona said.

‘Na men hye den?’

‘Jeremy, what exactly do you suggest that Nana Ama does about her dressing?’

Jeremy stood up again.

‘I can see her breasts. I can see her…her…’

‘Wo…woa jimi paa,’ Nana Ama said to Jeremy.

There was another spatter of laughter; yet it was a cautious, uneasy sound.

Ramatu spoke up.

‘I appreciate the young man’s request. Nana Ama, you know that your clothes are enticing, at the very least…’ she said.

‘Look, it is not today I started dressing like this. Don’t bring yourself. I’m only 26 years old… how do you want me to dress?’ Nana Ama said. Yona could tell that she was annoyed by the way she spoke.

‘I’m just saying that Jeremy has a point.’ Ramatu insisted.

‘Why, Jeremy, do you feel like making love to me?’ Nana Ama said to the young man

‘Nana Ama, go easy on him,’ Yona cautioned.

Jeremy stepped away from his seat and walked out of the room. A stunned silence descended, and, moments later, Ramatu followed Jeremy.

‘What is all this!’ Nana Ama shouted.

‘Listen, Jeremy’s just a teenager…’ Allotey said.

‘Then what’s he doing here?’ Nana Ama retorted.

‘This is a support group…he’s qualified to be here.’

‘He sits there in the corner looking at my breasts!’

Outside, a stiff breeze was blowing, and there was the smell of wet earth in the air: an indication that it was raining somewhere not far off. Ramatu saw Jeremy walking slowly towards the gate. His head was bowed.

‘Jeremy!’ she called.

He did not seem to hear. She caught up with him easily.

‘Jeremy?’

She touched him gently on his arm. He shrank.

‘Are you all right?’

‘I want to go home,’ he said glumly.

‘Let’s go back to the meeting. Nana Ama is always like that, but she means no harm.’

‘This is not about Nana Ama.’

‘I see. Who is it about then?’

‘Myself.’

‘How so?’

Jeremy slowed down. His hands were thrust deep into his pockets. He was silent for so long that Ramata despaired of an answer. Then –

‘I don’t have a future.’

Ramatu’s reply was pre-packaged, insincere.

‘Oh come on…! You have the whole world before you…!’

‘Stop telling lies.’

Ramatu said nothing. She thought about the white patches in her mouth. In a way, he was right – he was just being brutally frank. Yet it was so sad to see him appear so utterly hopeless. They walked together down the driveway, and out through the gate. Ramatu struggled for something to say.

They stood beside the road.

‘Jeremy. Do you have a girlfriend?’

‘No.’ He replied glumly. ‘Now I can never get one.’

‘Of course you can get one. You are…’

‘I don’t want to talk about this…’ he said through gritted teeth.

Ramatu gave up. She didn’t know what to do.

‘How are you going home?’ she asked.

‘I’ll walk to the bus stop.’

‘Let me give you a ride in my car. Where do you stay?’

‘Madina.’

Ramatu considered. It was way off her route – she lived at McCarthy Hill. Jeremy stood there, shoulders hunched. The wind seemed to blow right through him.

Ramatu said: ‘Come with me. My car is parked at the other side.’

‘No thanks. I’ll go on my own.’

‘Sure?’

A flash of lightning lit up the sky, followed by a slow rumble of thunder.

‘Look, I’ll get you a taxi. You might be caught by the rain.’

She looked up the road. There was a taxi coming towards them. She flagged it down, and gave Jeremy money for the fare.

‘Thank you,’ he said.

‘Take care, Jeremy. Remember we are all here for each other.’

‘Goodbye.’ Jeremy said, and the taxi pulled away.

Ramatu stood staring at the tail-lights of the taxi until it went around the bend. Then she went back to join the meeting. Calm had been restored. Allotey was on his feet, apparently just concluding a speech. However, all attention turned to Ramatu upon her appearance.

‘Where’s he?’ Yona asked.

‘Gone home,’ Ramatu replied. ‘I put him in a taxi.’

Nana Ama bowed her head and covered her eyes with her left palm.

‘This meeting is closed.’ She said. ‘We’ll all go home. I’m tired.’

Ramatu said, ‘Listen people, we all have problems…lets go easy on each other, try to be more understanding. Nana Ama, I think that you made Jeremy very upset by your behaviour. He’s having sexual problems… you know how it is at that age… He doesn’t have a girlfriend. He wants a girlfriend. Probably a virgin, and all that. But now he’s HIV+. I mean, that’s stress!’

‘Why can’t he get a girlfriend? Na no awu anaa?’ Nana Ama asked.

‘Certainly you agree there are difficulties for someone in his position…’ Yona begun.

‘Don’t take that tone with me,’ Nana Ama shouted. ‘What do you think I am? Your headmistress? I also have the virus. I also don’t have a boyfriend. I also need sex. OK? So don’t give me grief.’

Then suddenly, her aggressive mood seemed to collapse, and she looked deflated. She shook her head.

‘I’m sorry about all this,’ she said. ‘Really sorry. You understand that I mean no harm, don’t you? I’ll call Jeremy and apologise.’

Yona put his arm around her shoulder.

‘We all mean no harm. Call Jeremy, talk to him.’

‘How’d he get infected?’ Allotey suddenly asked. Eyes swiveled towards Allotey, because no one knew who would answer the question.

It was Yona who finally spoke.

‘It’s not clear. Hypodermic injection? Barber? He’s one of the nought point one per-cent.’

‘Oh shit…’ Honu swore.

And after this interjection, the silence reigned again.

‘I want to say something,’ Honu finally broke the silence. ‘This group is lacking a critical ingredient…we need to look at our psychological needs…’

‘Nobody here is mad,’ Nana Ama said sharply.

‘I agree,’ Ramatu said. ‘Yet, this group is also supposed to provide every member with some emotional support. Shoulder to cry on and all that.’

‘Let’s all go and cry at home,’ Nana Ama said. ‘Let’s quit this session. It’s not been the best, thank you all for coming, goodnight and see you all in two weeks.’ She began gathering the documents she had placed on the table.

***

Yona was in the bus on the way to Remi’s place. The rain had started up soon after they dispersed from the meeting. It was not heavy, but it was steady. The temperature had dropped and a dismal air seemed to pervade the atmosphere inside the bus. It was quiet in the bus except for the muted roar of the engine. Yona wished the radio was on.

A blue light lit up in his breast pocket as a call came through on his phone. It was Nana Ama.

‘Yona. I’m now on the way to the Military Hospital. Yona, I need you there with me. There’s a crisis. Jeremy cut off his dick.’

‘What?’

‘He’s bleeding. He’s in shock. His father called me.’

Yona was at a loss for words, but it did not matter because Nana Ama had cut the line.

Yona called his flatmate, Remi.

‘Remi? There’s a problem. I have to go to the Military Hospital…’

‘Is it about Jeremy? Nana Ama called me. I’m just about leaving home.’ Remi replied.

‘OK. I guess we’ll meet there then.’

Yona got off the bus at Danquah Circle, crossed the road, and walked to the bus stop just opposite the Police Hospital. He was fortunate: a bus came along barely a minute later, and he was en-route to the Military Hospital.

Nana Ama was pacing up and down in the lounge when Yona arrived. Tears glinted in her eyes, and her breathing was not smooth.

‘He’s in the ER.’ She said, in reply to a question he had not asked.

‘Is his father here?’ he asked.

‘He’s gone back home to bring the dick. He left it there in his haste to get here… Doctors want to reattach it. They need blood. I can’t even donate…. God.’

She stood with her back to the wall. The brilliance of the fluorescent lighting mercilessly revealed every feature of her face, and her full sexy body was not spared. She looked like a weeping mannequin in a store window.

Her cell phone rang. In a deft move she glanced at the screen as she raised it to her ear.

‘Daddy.’ She said.

Her father had arrived at the hospital and wanted directions to where she was.

‘I’m in the ER waiting room. Come down the corridor and take the first turning to the left…’

A few minutes later her father appeared at the entrance of the lounge. Nana Ama rushed to embrace him.

‘How is the boy?’ he asked.

She shook her head violently.

‘He’s in the ER’ Yona said.

‘What’s the current situation?’

‘Earlier on they were asking for blood.’ Nana Ama said.

‘I’m sure he’ll be all right,’ Mr Opoku said, trying to sound cheerful. ‘Modern medicine does wonders.’

They were startled to hear someone say in relief: ‘Ah, there you are!’

Remi had joined them.

‘You said Jeremy had an accident?’ he asked Nana Ama. ‘What happened?’

‘Not now,’ she said sullenly.

Nobody said anything. A thick cloud of sadness was descending onto the little group.

‘It’s very bad?’ Remi asked.

‘He’s in the theatre,’ Yona said.

Before Remi could say anything else a young man in a ruffled shirt appeared at their side, accompanied by a nurse. His eyeglasses were askance. He looked very tired. The nurse had her hand on his elbow.

‘You came with the young man?’ the doctor asked.

‘Yes,’ Nana Ama said, her voice trembling.

‘Parents? Next of kin?’ the man asked.

‘His father’s gone home to retrieve the…rest of the…’

The doctor shook his head.

‘You are…’ he begun.

‘You can talk to us,’ Mr Opoku said. ‘We are like family.’

‘Would you kindly step with me into my office?’

‘It has happened, hasn’t it?’ Nana Ama demanded. ‘He’s dead.’

‘My dear,’ Mr Opoku remonstrated. ‘Allow the doctor to speak.’

‘Jeremy is dead,’ Nana Ama said. ‘And all because of me.’

‘I’m quite sorry. We lost the young man. Could you step into my office for a minute? We need to…’

Nana Ama sank slowly into the plastic bucket seat.

‘Certainly, certainly,’ Mr Opoku said. He put his hand on his daughter’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. ‘I’ll be back, my dear.’

Mr Opoku and the doctor disappeared down the corridor. Yona sat down and held his head in his hands. Nana Ama was sitting beside him. Her head was bowed, her hands crossed over her bosom. The sight was too painful for Remi to watch; he stepped out of the lounge, almost bumping into Jeremy’s father as he half run, half stumbled into the room. He was old: a shock of grey hair capped his head, and a straggly white beard adorned his chin. Once in the lounge Jeremy’s father stopped and stood still, staring at the wall. His scrawny neck was quivering. His arms were trembling, and the little white laboratory bag in his right hand seemed in danger of falling.

Then a nurse came up and took the translucent little bag from the old man.

The rest of Jeremy’s penis had arrived.

 


Martin Egblewogbe writes poetry and short stories. He lives in Accra, Ghana.

This story was published in collaboration with The Writers Project of Ghana (WPG); an international literary organization based in Ghana and the United States. By supporting a literary culture in this West African country, WPG advances the notion that a free exchange of ideas is essential to the health and prosperity of any community. Follow their work on Twitter: @writersPG

Related country: Ghana

All rights to this review remain with the author. Please do not repost or reproduce this material without permission.

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