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The Minor of the Hospital Ward (I)

Ahmad Habib received his neighbour, Abdu Tajo, in a hospital bed. The latter, dressed as nattily as was usual for him had brought his older…

Ahmad Habib received his neighbour, Abdu Tajo, in a hospital bed. The latter, dressed as nattily as was usual for him had brought his older brother, Haruna Tajo, in tow to pay the social call. The two brothers succeeded in bringing the convalescing newspaper journalist abreast of the latest fashion in menswear pertaining to a new kind of zanna cap sewn in gaudy thread. The older gentleman wore a blue-green cap superimposed with white and the younger yellow and brown chosen by the designers of the new apparel as a satisfactory finishing touch. Haruna’s headpiece matched his white gown and Abdu’s brighter type the dandy’s light-saffron get up both of which struck the recuperating newspaperman as resembling the artificiality of modern tailoring.

In the effort to act on the basis of objectivity, Ahmad nursed the fervent hope that the vagaries of fashion wouldn’t affect the callers’ private and otherworldly concerns as to justify the charge one could bring against them of being indeed simple-minded fools. His refusal to dress according to fashion could have a bearing on his style of financial management but not on those of the older brother and young. They were much more considerably endowed than him-so endowed as to reject his scepticism (it bordered, they would say, on the effort at the cultivation of asceticism) in favour of their optimism (the freedom to spend).

Yet, expenditure along the lines of popular fashion, in fairness to the two hospital visitors, would only mean the good life. But for a journalist leading the life of a prisoner serving a long sentence, the sentence of leading the life of a Nigerian, there was nothing to be had. There was no pleasure. There was only disappointment. Pleasure for the two well-to-do siblings was no more than the meal a vulture high up in the sky would swiftly descend to partake of if it were not to turn out to be a disappointment-the carapace of a burnt-out car. Still a carcass but not edible to the predatory bird. As for the bird, so for the bedridden invalid: the world was a disappointment. The hope was for Abdu Tajo and Haruna Tajo to realize that.

The convalescing journalist saw an indication of that freedom from the kind of titbits the visitors, bowing icy popular custom, which demands that one takes something to bedridden hospital patients he or she cares to visit, had brought along with them: apples in two colours the dark-red and the lime-green. The orange and the banana could have sufficed, yet oranges plucked before they reached their prime were no more than lemons-wholly green and bitter. They were hardly better than the other fare, which, because of an unusual style of advertisement, were displayed on their backsides, so that they quickly rotted away. The apples spelled edibility between them-hut edibility at a cost: they were foreign to the Nigerian soil.

Ahmad was deeply touched to be so honoured; he showed his gratitude with a profuse offer of thanks. On being dismissed by Haruna, it added another among the elements of the culture of bearing gifts. Charity in the offering and delight in the reception, both often led to self-deprecation on the pan of the giver and on the pail of the receiver. He was aware that the two brothers, as the local Imam had in a sermon given incontrovertible confirmation to the fact, would collect as recompense the even more delicious fruits of Paradise. Recompense not for going all the expense to secure the apples but for taking the trouble to go to the hospital in the first place.

Yet, the fruits would attract a heavenly reward for the older sibling as to the probability of his bearing the total cost of which the journalist had not the slightest inkling of a doubt, Ahmad was indeed touched for, as the eloquent among the Hausa people say, the offer ‘of food is much delectable than the meal itself. The social call consequently endeared the two visitors to him much more than the symbols of their charitable deed.

He made small talk, as he escorted them across the big, airy hospital ward to the door, about their declining to partake of the dilute-to-taste orange squash brought earlier to him by the fellow correspondents of ‘The Kano Times.’ Haruna had replied that it was nothing but his host, who was desirous, as demanded by decorum, to carry out his duties and obligations to the callers, said that they should have taken even a sip-on account of the rather hot afternoon weather. It was, again, nothing-Haruna’s very words. Yet, Ahmad found the words disturbing because of the import behind them-the dispensability of the offer of hospitality to visitors.

The import of the words worried him greatly. It painted a stark picture of the host as an uncultured barbarian, who did things “his own way”, “strut his own stuff’, without making due allowances to civility or tradition or perhaps even to propriety. He could have fair as fair called it a draw if he had the opportunity to have risen to the estimation of the gentle host by succeeding in pressing the refreshment on the two men.

Yet, he wasn’t competing with them. He was interacting with them on the basis of egalitarianism: to perform his role in concert with that of the callers was an element of beautiful manners. It occurred to him that their show of reserve, of abstemiousness, of humility resonated in equal fashion in him-reserve, in the way Haruna and Abdu showed concern about his wellbeing rather than their taste buds: abstemiousness, in the way they showed great self-control; and humility, in the way, unlike the average Nigerian, they thought of the other fellow.

The walk through the hospital ward to the car park was what alternatively eased the conscience of the journalist and calmed his agitated mind about his handling of the role of the gentle host.

Kamal lives and writes from the ruburban Ungogo of Kano. 08065438300 [email protected]

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