He looked disturbed as he lay on the bed watching his family. His wife was reading Psalms, while his two children were flipping through Ebony. His boss had still not visited him, but had sent him a card and some beverages. Every other person Caje worked with had called on him. Even the spiteful secretary to his boss who felt he was more of a rival than a colleague had also visited him.
You think he would be missing you?
Caje couldn’t find any reason why his boss had not yet shown up.
“Mum, Ike is teasing me,” his daughter, Winnie, said.
“You started it,” his son, Ike, said.
“Shush,” his wife, Adaobi, said. She squeezed her husband’s hand.
Caje wanted to smile at her, but an insect crawled on his face. He shook it off with a finger, and raised his head at the sound of footsteps.
“Good morning, Mr Caje,” the doctor said, walking in.
“Morning, doc,” Caje replied.
“How are you faring today? Better?”
“I guess I’ll survive.”
The doctor’s eyes glimmered as he turned to Adaobi. “How’re you, madam?”
“Fine,” she said.
“Hello kids!” The doctor waved a hand at the boy and the girl.
“Hi doctor,” they chorused.
“The physiotherapist called last night. He will be here before midday,” the doctor told Caje.
“Thank God,” Adaobi said with a sigh.
“That’s encouraging. I can’t wait to get out of here,” Caje said and then glanced at the table-clock. The A.M. News would soon begin. As he turned on the radio beside his bed, he suddenly realised that his children had grown older. They looked bigger as if they had been injected with growth hormones. They used to jump on him. Daddy! Daddy! Winnie should be six, while Ike was four then. Time seemed to have flown. He tried to work out their ages, but his wife’s statement interrupted him:
“…useless believing one is indispensable…” She sounded a little amused. And the doctor wore a smile on his boyish face. Caje began feeling laughed at; but another thought soon made him feel the doctor was flirting with his wife. He now recalled that most times the doctor had come in to take his blood pressure he spent more time chatting with her, as if she was the one who needed attention, comfort. He’d heard of doctors who took advantage of their patients, especially females. It was, however, common with young doctors, who were still burning with too much warmth in their loins. He wondered if his wife would ever fall prey to that. She was obviously older than the doctor, and was too prayerful to think of infidelity anyway. As a steadfast member of a Pentecostal church, Adaobi had been appointed as the leader of the Zion’s Daughters Committee. Her husband had attended her inauguration two years ago. Every now and then she invited her husband to service; he said he was too tied to his job to even consider spiritual matters.
He was thinking how the doctor would react if he was kicked in the groin when he heard: “… get him a wheelchair…” and his thoughts stilled. He didn’t hear the doctor add: “…only for now,” but he saw him pat Adaobi on the shoulder. A single, morbid picture came to Caje’s mind; he saw himself being driven around in a wheelchair. And his bones melted to pulp.
How could a man of your calibre be moved around from the house to the office, and back and forth, like a helpless baby in a pram?
His face furrowed as the doctor moved out of the room. The grey door strangely appeared like the corridor to darkness.
You wish you’d died in that accident on the Expressway?
Caje had gone on a tour, yet again, to appease another civil rights group that had been calling for the dismissal of his boss from the State House, who they claimed ‘pandered himself into power’. As the Press Secretary, he was always travelling within and outside the state, soliciting support, and laundering the image of his boss.
Why did you even agree to work for a man who only called your wife to inquire how soon you’d be discharged from the hospital?
The job had appeared stimulating. Caje knew he had a gift: he could easily win people over, polish up any scandal. Also, he’d empathised with the man because critics had often berated him. His boss had an ugly past. Once, he was an infamous hooligan. Thereafter, he became mysteriously rich – during the era of ritual killings. Most of the good-for-nothing in town then had become so wealthy that in parties they sprayed dollars and pounds like confetti. They bought chieftaincy titles, became knighted, wined and dined with the elite, and took as many wives as they could possess. Although people regarded him as a ritual murderer, his boss was a man of benevolence who had won the gubernatorial position of his state simply because of his donations to the president.
Presently, the Press nicknamed Caje The Launderer – since he had radiantly dressed up his boss, and transformed the felon into a gentleman.
He regarded Adaobi, grateful for her compassion, yet feeling angry with himself. For a long time he hadn’t enjoyed any intimacy with her. Unlike when he was still a self-employed PR/Media consultant and they both shared jokes. After his appointment with the government, he spared no time for leisure anymore. When he did come back home late and worn out, sliding into bed next to his wife, he was capable of staying atop her only long enough to release a winded moan. Then, he would burst into a bout of nerve-racking snores. He stared at her, wondering if she was worried that he was now a shadow of the virile man whom she used to know.
She had once asked: “So, you’ve a mistress?”
“What?” he had answered.
“The governor – isn’t ‘she’ rather insatiable!”
He no longer spent time with their children. Now he remembered the old days when they all played Ludo or Monopoly like equals. He had gone on so many tours and yet he had not considered inviting his family once. Instead, he had used up all his time serving his boss like a valet, and accompanying him everywhere like a bodyguard. Now, bedridden for almost four days, his boss just went about his affairs as if Caje was dead.
How could you have sacrificed six of your forty years for a man who’s refused to visit you?
His shoulders drooped. Why was the damn physiotherapist taking ages to turn up? He flung off the blanket and frowned at his legs. They were numb.
It appears you might not walk again? You’d now be treated exactly as a disabled, you know?
His teeth almost bit into his lower lip, as he recalled one of his elaborate visits, with his boss, to the Disabled Citizens. This was one of the very few NGOs that benefited from his boss’s largess and hyped goodwill every year. And it was his Press Secretary, Caje, who promoted this special occasion and gave it all the needed fanfare and media coverage, as though the Head of State was visiting. Indeed, those who graced this occasion had more food and drinks than their stomachs could contain. But cash and other necessities went only to the handicapped.
Well, you’ve gained quite a lot from him. Look around you. Your family and your in-laws have benefited immensely from the exalted position you occupy in his cabinet. You’re now a man of wealth and repute. You can’t doubt that, can you?
His mind became a troubled, dark sea. Damn those files piling high on his mahogany desk, needing his attention. His wife had told him many times that it little profited a man to carry the world in his hands. He began feeling he’d pawned his soul to the devil, doubting if he would ever feel the same passion for his job again. He would sort things out with his boss as soon as he returned; re-prioritize his objectives; spend more time with his family; take them overseas for vacation.
A sigh broke out from his lips.
You really think you have relieved yourself of an unseen weight?
As Caje tried to sit up his back ached. He winced as if an arrow pierced through his arm. He would have tried again, but the radio announced: “…His Excellency, the Governor… travelled to Trinidad… attend Miss Caribbean…” and he clutched a pillow “…new Press Secretary has been…”
“No-o-o-o!” Caje screamed, smashing the radio with his fist.