A TALE OF FOUR WOMEN (ESTHER"S STORY)

Esther looked down with pity at the lifeless patient on the bed, she checked her pulse and confirmed that the cocktail of drugs in the drip attached to her veins was flowing properly, from experience she knew that one could not gauge when a patient would come out of a coma especially with a blood pressure rate this low, it was at times like this that she closed her nursing books and picked up what she knew best her faith.

Esther was a strong christian, she had grown up in a strict christian household, the middle child and only female child in a family of four males. Growing up with her parents had been tough, her parents believed that sacrifice was one of the greatest callings of a christian, so she was not allowed to watch "secular programs on TV", she was not allowed to wear makeup or jewelry or allowed to ask for extra pocket money to buy desserts after school, her fathers motto was "deny yourself and live within your means". she didn't really mind, she was extremely shy anyway and was too caught up in her choir practice to be envious of other children,



her friends were other church members who had similar upbringings like she did, life was simple , she concentrated on her studies, participated in church activities and was a good daughter at home, becoming a nurse was no surprise to anybody, she loved taking care of people. after her graduation from the university of calabar she received the news that her father had suffered a slight stroke, there was no question about it she went back home to nurse him back to health,her brother took over from her father as the active pastor in the church and as her father's health improved she felt no hurry to go back to calabar , she decided it would be best to continue with her certifications here in Lagos whilst she also oversaw the welfare department in her fathers church.The problem with pouring everything she had between the church and her education was that esther did not meet many suitors that were not family friends or members of her fathers church which she found disconcerting , she wanted something else for herself, she itched for something different, she felt as if her life was going in one single direction and at the age 27 she suddenly found herself alone and confused. she began to meditate and seek earnestly God's plan for her in her life, she applied for a position at the general hospital and was excited when she got the job, she tentatively began to take more care in her personal appearance, she began to experiment with make up and started wearing trousers around the house on her days off, if her parents noticed the change in her demeanor they said nothing, with the increased medication her father needed for his condition and her countless sacrifice for the church her parents felt that it was not in their place to control their daughters decisions anymore.

It was not until her 30th birthday that Esther began to fret about her single life, she couldn't understand why the men had stopped coming for her hand in marriage, she was by all means considered beautiful, with her dark chocolate skin and plump curvy figure, she had started wearing weaves and with her increased income had started wearing jewelry to complement her dressing, she was becoming tired of being in bridal trains for her friends and she had become increasingly desperate to settle down. It was on one of her days off sitting alone in the church waiting for the carpenters to finish working on the roof so she could lock up and head home when she saw him, He came in silently ,peering around as if in fright , the first thing she noticed was how dazed he looked, he carried a bag which loosely dangled from strong toned arms ,his clothes were neatly tucked in which contrasted sharply to a good looking face that seemed as if a razor had not touched it in weeks, her first instinct was to call out for help, she could not be sure that this was not some drugged deranged robber coming to rob the church, she stood up unsure of what to do but when he came closer she saw something in his eyes that made her stop "where is the pastor?" the man spoke in soft well spoken English, "erm can i help you sir?" she asked tentatively coming forward , it was if he didn't hear her because he continued "where is the pastor?? i need the pastor" as he came closer she could see him clearly now, he had a bandage on his right arm and his eyes were firmly fixed on the wooden cross placed on the altar " where is the pastor please" she noticed too late the discoloration that happened to the man's eyes suddenly before she could catch him he collapsed on the ground.

Nursing Desmond to health became Esther's side job as she took care of him daily, it turned out that He was an Ecomog soldier returning from the Liberian war, wounded physically and emotionally he left the barracks to look for some kind of peace after all the atrocities he had committed while at war, the church accepted him into their fold and she nursed him to health, she did not tell anyone of the sudden warmth she felt whenever she examined desmond's wounds with his shirt off, or of the dreams she had at night when darkness came. It was her mum that called her up one day "esther " she began walking into her room whilst she was preparing to go to work "i am becoming worried about you, this closeness with brother desmond , people in the church are beginning to talk," esther stopped mid way from applying her make up and looked up jokingly at her mum "mama i am a nurse, the man is injured this is what i do" " i know i know but don't forget you are not married and we do not know him very well..my advise is that you be careful and my advise is for you to also encourage a permanent you know.."her mum faltered not meeting her eyes, esther was shocked "mama which one is permanent you know ? " esther queried in surprise " look you are not getting any younger and most of the eligible bachelors have taken wives so if desmond is showing interest he should only be encouraged if the desire is permanent in nature if not you should not spend so much time with him that's all i am saying." her mum responded shortly walking away and banging her door whilst she muttered something under her breath in their native language she was shocked , what happened to the mother who would continuously extol on her the benefits of keeping your integrity, how not to be tempted into rushing to do things out of desperation what was she asking her to do now, she was becoming confused.

That week she avoided going to the boys quarters behind the church premises to check up on Desmond, his wounds had healed considerably and she did not think she needed to continue her daily check up, she needed to clear her head. coming out from evening service her heart skipped as she saw desmond deep in conversation with two of her brothers, "Esther come come its good you are here you need to hear this" her elder brother Akpan called out as she was looking for how to sneak off
unnoticed, "Desmond has just received a letter , he is returning to Kaduna for training, he leaves next week sunday, is that not good news." she felt a lump in her throat she couldn't speak she only nodded and muttered something unintelligible she walked slowly trying to hold back tears, she had almost gotten to the gate of the church when she heard her name "esther wait!" she stood in embarrassment, she did not want him to know she had been crying "did you forget something?" she asked with her back to him. "i cannot thank you enough for how you took care of me, you literally saved my life.." "it's my pleasure i am glad to have helped" she replied hastily cutting him off almost running off. " i also wondered if you would do me the honor" he continued almost running to keep up with her , she stopped suddenly not believing her ears "do you the honor?" she could not hide the excitement in her voice praying in her mind "God please let this be real" she thought. he looked straight into her eyes, with the improved health and grooming his boyish good looks were set straight and his adam apple trembled a bit from nervousness "i came here a damaged man, there are things i have done...i may not ever be able to tell you everything, but this past month in your care, waiting anxiously for your voice and touch everyday" esther began to blush seriously ,"i didn't know how to explain what i was feeling or if it would be reciprocated and receiving this letter i know deep down that i will never meet another woman like you and i was wondering if you would do me the honor esther okot, of being my wife." esther's scream was heard by people still in the church and they rushed out wondering what the commotion was all about but she did not care she was finally getting married,staring down at the beautiful unconscious face of the patient on the bed it occurred to her that she might have made the worst mistake of her life fifteen years ago.

She placed her hand on the Bible she had dropped by the patients bed, " how is she doing nurse?" the visitor had asked for the umpteenth time "as i said earlier miss benson we can only pray now, one never knows with patients who are unconscious, the best thing we can do is to try to administer as much help as we can but in truth at this point we can only hope for a miracle" "Miracle?" jumoke repeated quietly, "i was hoping perhaps you could join me in prayers for the patient, i wanted to wait until her family arrives but seeing that .." " i am a muslim so i wonder how that is possible nurse." jumoke responded angrily picking up her laptop to signify the conversation was over, in truth she was born a muslim but was actually an atheist , she believed in the power of knowledge, she found it difficult to put all her worries on an unseen deity and she was not ready to be dragged into a religious teaching so claiming she was a muslim was a good exit strategy. "i apologize ma'am i did not mean to push" " perhaps you should see to that bottle of water i requested 30mins ago then nurse" jumoke replied without looking up from her system, "of course i will confirm from the people downstairs" Esther could have replied that it was not within her job description to run errands for visitors who stayed even after visiting hours but she had received instructions from her boss to cater to this woman's every needs. she took the back staircase to avoid the swarm of reporters besieging the reception and the front door, she slipped out to the back and almost hit a man crouched at the foot of the staircase, she almost shouted in fright "i am sorry i didn't know anyone was here " she replied as she noticed that she sent his papers flying all over the place, he smiled and said nothing , she thought nothing of it as she made her way to the laboratory after discussing with some of the attendants on her patients blood work, she was deep in thought coming back that she almost knocked the guy down again "excuse me what are you doing here again?" she could not mask the annoyance in her voice, "erm i am sorry Mrs Ekong i am actually waiting for you." she looked at him thoughtfully, he looked harmless but she could not tell, she looked around warily , "how do you know my name??" "madam don't be startled, my name is Dike Lawson i work for Flash newspapers i just want to ask you a few questions.." esther did not even allow him finish, she gave a loud hiss and walked off, this reporters were like ants, she remembered when her boss called her to his office the day before yesterday to brief her on her new appointment, she had worked for five years in the general hospital before moving to the orthopedic hospital as an assistant chief nursing officer, she had applied for employment in this hospital five years ago when she had learnt through a mutual friend that a multi millionaire was desirous of operating an exclusive hospital that would cater strictly for the rich, after a series of grilling interviews she had eventually been offered employment here, even though most of her colleagues were now Chief nursing officers she did not mind being on the same level because her salary was much higher than all her senior colleagues still in the government hospitals, as a matter of fact the staff in this hospital were amongst the highest paid in the country, so being assigned this special assignment was an honor she was desperate to perform to the best of her ability, Her boss Dr Omisakin had insinuated that her performance of this task would be greatly appreciated and with her desire to be promoted she was not going to let any reporter quote her into wahala. as it was she was already feeling the brunt of being the sole bread winner of her family, with her husband being continuously away and her kids demands weighing on her she was not going to utter a word to any of the members of the press.

Ndidi listened quietly as her subordinate stammered incoherent explanations on the other side of the line, she was with the commissioner for Finance of Lagos state trying to get his statement on a controversial fraud allegation against the permanent secretaries for a number of ministries in the state, it was an interview she had had to squeeze a lot of palms to get and she had to pretend to be in high spirits even though Dike was sounding like a big fool on the other end of line,his inability to deliver on this case came as no surprise to her anyway, she was aware that she would have to personally handle the investigative aspect of this story. Dike was as adamant as ever "madam this esther lady she will not utter a word, all the people working here i have interviewed say the same thing, nurse ekong is the most loyal staff here, she does not participate in gossip or discuss her patients outside the official lines of communication, she is known to be a pious, faithful and unwavering christian.." Ndidi cut the phone she had heard enough, she made a mental note to deploy dike to their offices in Gombe state or somewhere else in the north when she was through with this story, it was bad enough that he could not take directions when she offered them but to look at an obstacle as insurmountable that aspect she was not going to tolerate . "sorry about that sir, you were on the phone yourself and i was anxious to receive feedback from my colleagues in the field." she explained after she cut dike off, placing her mobile phone back on the table, she forced a fake smile as  the man made polite gestures in agreement , and had to force a fake smile though the 30 long minutes it took to get this interview over with, as expected the commissioner had nothing concrete to add to the other players statements that the allegations were absurd and were the work of political opponents, her mind was already circling through her contacts before settling on who she would need to contact for this job, she suddenly smiled as her mind settled on Abbas, if anyone could get her information on Nurse Esther Ekong it was Abbas, she looked at her wristwatch impatiently indirectly bringing to an end this boring interview ,she was eager to begin to discover what skeletons esther ekong had in her cupboard it was time to take this into her own hands.....to be continued.

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