(How an eleven year-old boy fell in love with a female nurse)
By Tikum Mbah Azonga
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
I met Nurse Naomi when I was admitted at the Acha Presbyterian Hospital at Acha Tugi in Momo Division of Cameroon. This was during the long holidays that for me marked the transition between Classes Five and Six of the primary school.
A CHILD ON HIS DYING BED
I think it was pneumonia and all efforts to reverse the situation at the Bambili Dispensary and the Cameroon College of Arts (CCAST) infirmary had failed. This was despite the very best of efforts deployed By Pa Ntaribo-Tataw, the infirmarian who was a friend of my father’s. In fact, so strong was this friendship that later, when I was already at Sacred Heart College in Mankon-Bamenda and Pa Tataw had to send his son, Raymond to the same school, he threw a house-warming party during which he officially “handed over” Raymond to me, so that as senior student, I could look after him.
As my illness was not showing any signs of surrender, I was taken to the Bamenda General Hospital and admitted for a month after which there was still no improvement in my situation. Someone recommended a “good” traditional doctor to my father but he dismissed the idea. Nonetheless, when the hospital doctor discharged me the following week and prescribed drugs to be taken at home, my father felt relieved. But even after we got home, the situation deteriorated still. My father had no choice than to send for the traditional doctor. I found his treatment to be user-unfriendly and humiliating. It consisted of me being bathed in an old smoke-coated earthen traditional pot in which tree leaves had been boiled with palm wine. That was the liquid with which my mother was asked to bathe me every morning. Poor woman! After the bath, she had to wipe me with my own towel and then rub my entire body with a paste made of some strange smelling blackish powder mixed with palm oil.
DAD`S DEEP WORRY
My family was very anxious. My father who was a night watchman at the Bambui Agric. Farm (today known as IRAD Bambui) would steal some time from work at night out of curiosity, just to see if I was still alive or I had passed away after he left. Nevertheless, he kept his faith. As he put it, he was surrendering his will to God.
I could not lie down. If I attempted to do so, I would cough until I sat back up. So it was as if I was being commanded by the whooping cough. It was as if it had now become my master, and I its slave. When I went through this spasm of coughing, I would be out of breath and start panting and sweating profusely. My eyes would go red and I would look weak and desperate. This was because it took tremendous effort to withstand the bout.
SLEEPLESS NIGHTS FOR SISTER AND MUM
Sometimes, my elder sister would ask in our language, Ngamambo, what part of my body it was that pained to make me groan so much. I would say it was my chest and sides. Faced with such a debilitating situation, my sister and mother became restless and inconsolable. They were like moving shadows.
THE CHOICE OF ACHA TUGI HOSPITAL
Since all else had failed us, including the much vaunted traditional doctor, a friend advised my father to take me to the Acha Tugi Hospital. I think it was either Pa Tumaah of Bambili or Pa Forba of Ntambang-Bambui. Those were the two best friends of my father I knew in his lifetime.
Finally we left Baforkum. This is a small village of the Baforchu family that settled in Bambui and is today one of two sub villages under the Fondom of Bambui. The other one is Finge, a group that came from the Kom family. Since Acha vehicles left very early from Bamenda, the provincial headquarters, we had to spend the night in the town. We were hosted for the night by my maternal aunt, Mrs Balgah and her husband, in their large and beautiful compound at the Bamenda City Chemist Roundabout. My aunt was popularly known as “Engonwei” or “Engo”, for short, because she was a mother of twins. I felt sorry for her as she must have grieved at the sight of me, a beloved nephew who was so far gone that he might be buried before her. I could read that thought on her face.
THE JOURNEY TO THE HOSPITAL
When my mother and I arrived at the Bamenda Motor Park, one park loader looked at me and told his mates to my hearing that my mother’s hopeful looks would soon be dashed because he was not sure I would reach Acha alive. I felt peeved by his death wish but immediately got distracted by a spell of coughing that seized me like an old car engine. I stopped and stooped, holding my chest. My mother dropped her luggage and ran to me, crying out: “My child! My child!”
The man who had made the dirty comment started jumping up and clapping: “You see! I told you people!”
Just then, his mates turned on him like a pack of angry wolves and drove him away in Pidgin: “No make that your thing for here!”
He moved away saying, “I dey go! I dey go me!”
The others shouted: “Carry your bad luck go! No come back for here again!”
AT THE HOSPITAL AT LAST
When we got there I was immediately taken to outpatients`. After the nurses on duty examined me they quickly sent me to the doctor. I was privileged to be examined by up to three other, all whites. I describe their colour because most doctors at the time were white and few in the country. For some reason too, back in the village, when you returned from the hospital the first thing everyone would want to know is whether it was a white doctor who attended to you. If it was a black one, then it was not welcomed news. The next question was whether he actually gave you and injection or he “only” prescribed drugs. It was believed in the village that drugs administered through injection were better than those administered by other means.
After examining me, especially my chest and sides, by using bare hands and then the stethoscope, the three doctors – one woman and two men – conferred in their language which sounded to me like German or Dutch or a cross between the two, I heard them saying as they nodded, “Ya! Ya! Ya!”
I was admitted in the children`s ward and immediately made to change into my hospital clothes which consisted of a pair of trousers and some kind of gown which I abhorred but could not avoid. A few hours later, the doctor and two nurses examined me again after which the doctor wrote drugs and one of the nurses administered them.
ENTER NURSE NAOMI
The nurses were resplendent and smart in their uniforms which consisted of a blouse and a skirt. I liked their headscarves and admired the erudition in the read and blue pens sticking out of their chest pockets. All of them did a good job. However, the one who impressed me most was Nurse Naomi. She was so different from the others. She was clearly the most beautiful and the most caring. To me, she was the girl of my dreams and the woman of my life. Surely, I was not thinking age here.
I got attracted to Nurse Naomi from the first day she walked into our ward to take our pulses and administer drugs. I fell in love with her. I liked her gap teeth and I loved the beauty of her angelic voice, especially when she hummed. Each time she held my wrist to take my temperature, I would close my eyes and fantasise about her and me, somewhere, anywhere and just the two of us. I longed for that moment when we would be just the two of us. I was sure I would have a lot to tell her. It did not matter to me that I was eleven and she was older. I just loved her.
MY LOVE FOR HER INTENSIFIES
I grew very fond of Nurse Naomi. In fact, whenever a different nurse turned up to attend to us children patients, I would feel very disillusioned. I would turn my back to her and pretend that I did not know she was there. If Nurse Naomi was away for a whole week, I was sick to the core until she came back. Sometimes I would lose appetite and when my mother asked what was wrong, I would say, “Nothing, mother!” When my nurse came back, my countenance would change back greatly. Looking at it all today, I wonder why nobody seemed to have known the cause of my mood swings.
NURSE NAOMI ON DUTY
When she was on duty and I saw her coming into the ward, I would quickly cover my head with my blanked and pretend to be completely asleep, just so that in her attempt to wake me, she would touch me and I would once more feel that magic touch of her hand. Perhaps without knowing it, Nurse Naomi contributed in no small way in keeping my spirits alive and thereby sped up my recuperation and revitalization.
THE DRAMATIC TURN-AROUND
After being admitted for only six weeks, I staged a dramatic recovery. In fact, when my father paid me his first visit, he alighted from the taxi and bypassed me without recognizing me. I ran after him, shouting with great joy: “Baba! Baba!”
When he turned round he could not believe his eyes, for I had put on so much weight and looked so different. I said it was mean. Bending down to my height, he picked me up and turning heavenward, he praised God: “Lord, you are great! You are the Almighty! May your holy name be praised!” I took him to my mother in the ward.
THE ANGUISHING AND EXCRUTIATING SEPARATION
This was very brutally done, I must say. The doctor turned up one morning for his usual rounds accompanied by three nurses, but without my favorite Naomi. I was disillusioned. When the doctor finished examining me, he cheerfully declared to my mother that I was well and could now go home. On hearing that, my mother lept for joy. But she stopped when she found that I had instead burst into tears. I threw myself back into my bed and covered my head with the blanket. The doctor was embarrassed and asked me whether there was a problem. I said there was. When he asked what it was, I became tongue-tied. However, he examined me again and this time he said I was alright but could stay for another night. Just before he walked away, he told the senior nurse: “And don`t Charge him for the extra night!” I was so overjoyed I rushed out of bed and thanked the doctor profusely.
LAST ENCOUNTER WITH NURSE NAOMI
Fortunately for me, Nurse Naomi turned up for work that evening. You can imagine the level of my ecstasy and elation. When she came to my bed, I informed her I was leaving the following day. She took it very calmly and told me she had seen the information in the service notes her colleague handed her.
“Nurse, Naomi, what shall you give me?”
“What would you like me to give you?”
“A handkerchief. I want your handkerchief with your own perfume on it.”
“What? My handkerchief? You are so funny!”
“And what would you do with the handkerchief?”
“Nurse Naomi, I will use it everyday and never wash it. I want to keep your smell with me for ever.”
Just then my mother came in and our conversation stopped abruptly. When my mother had packed our things and it was time to go, I realized Nurse Naomi was not there. My mother urged me towards the waiting vehicle at the hospital entrance. Reluctantly, I picked up the bag I had to carry and started walking along with her, Suddenly, I swung round, put down the bag and told her I had forgotten something in the ward.
“Hurry then and get it!”
I ran off. My intention was to get a last ditch chance to see Nurse Naomi before leaving. Fortunately, this time around she was there.
I ran straight to her and throwing my arms around her, I started to cry.
“It`s okay. You`ll be alright! You`ll be alright. Don`t cry!” she comforted me as she picked me up and pressed me against her chest. An irresistibly sweet sensation seized my entire body as her breasts rubbed themselves against my body. I took advantage of that glorious moment of luck and clung to her even more tightly in order to increase body contact. She too pressed me harder against her body. I closed my eyes and felt as if I was on my way to heaven without dying.
“Ndi!” came the sharp and angry voice of my mother as she emerged from the hospital entrance to see what had kept me so long. Just then Nurse Naomi was putting me down. I ran towards my mother. Then Nurse Naomi called me. When I turned round, she was waving a piece of cloth from that distance. As I got nearer, I realized it was a handkerchief.
“The handkerchief!” she shouted.
When I took it from her, I held it to my nose and what an aromatic scent. I was mesmerised and felt like Jesus must have felt on the day of the transfiguration. I felt as if I was now directly connected to heaven. I felt God himself must be nearby.
“Go! Go quickly so that your mother does not get angry!”
When I made a few steps, she said, “Stop! Promise you’ll write to me from your school!”
Then she waved. And I waved and hurried away.
After resuming school, I wrote to Nurse Naomi in the very first week. My father bought the envelopes and postage stamps but did not ask any. I didn’t tell my mother I was writing to the nurse for fear that she might frown at the idea.
Three weeks later, while we were at school assembly, I got a letter from Nurse Naomi. It was like a dream. I was elated. I read it over and over. She asked me how I was, how school was, how my mother was and all that. But I wanted her to tell me more about herself. For the next one year, I continued to top the list of pupils who received letters at our school. But all of mine were from Nurse Naomi, and I as very happy about it. After about a year, though, Nurse Naomi stopped answering my letters. I felt very bad. When she failed to answer the fifth consecutive letter, I cried for weeks. After that I decided not to write to her any more. Many years have now passed without any of us writing to the other. I do not know what might have happened to her. Did she die or did she fall in the hands of another man?
Even so, I still have the handkerchief she gave me. I use it often. Although the perfume smell has gone, I still douse it with other types of perfumes, just to keep up the tradition and rekindle the flame of love. I read her letters over and over again. I love you, Nurse Naomi.
TIKUM MBAH AZONGA © 2013
More of my stories can be read in either, The Wooden Bicycle and other Stories (2004) or Cupman and Other Stories (2009). Both are published by Langaa and are available in good bookshops around the world and online through