By Mac-Edwin Obi (Nigeria)
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[Two friends -Okoro and Dimgba are outside Dimgba`s home chatting; it's early evening and the two men are catching up on events in the village while Dimgba was away to a nearby city on duty.]
Dimgba: My brother, I almost forgot. How is the election campaign going? [He takes a deep breath and coughs loudly but garners enough energy to continue] I hope Chidi is doing well? [He concludes with obvious difficulty.]
Okoro: Look, most of you tend to forget something very important. In fact, the most important issue about this election. Yes, it seems you forget the eligibility issue.
Dimgba: What has eligibility got to do with the Community Development Association election? It seems that you do not realise that this is the 21st century, a world of freedom! By the way, what eligibility are you talking about? Is he not... [coughs again, this time with signs of weakness. This draws his friend’s attention but he ignores it to continue the discussion.]
Okoro: Have you forgotten? He is not our son, shh... Don’t say I told you. He is an `osu`, an outcast!
[Dimgba cuts in rudely]
Dimgba: Shut up! And if he is an `osu`, so what? I’m asking you. Why do our people like destroying people with their mouths? Why? Chidi wasn’t an `osu` when he was building schools, roads, water projects. He only became a scum, an outcast, because he wants to be president of our association, a position he will certainly use to lift our people. Okoro, you’re an ingrate!
Okoro: But his mother is... [Dimgba doesn’t allow him to finish]
Dimgba: His mother is what? Okoro what... [At this point, Dimgba succumbs to coughing. Okoro is now compelled to ask what his problem is.]
Okoro: Hey Dimgba, don’t tell me you have contracted it in the city. I mean [He laughs] those bad diseases. [Dimgba, still tired, looks at him in anger, Okoro continues jokingly] My friend, you know I’m not a kid. Yes, I`m not! I know you very well and I know you enjoyed yourself there; city life can be very interesting you know. City girls can be very irresistible! I wish I were you!
Dimgba: What are you saying? [With clear signs of weakness]
Okoro: The sign is obvious. You think I don’t know that your weakness is as a result of disease you got form enjoying yourself with those pretty chics in the city? [Meanwhile
Dimgba is simmering but is too tired to react, Okoro continues] There is no need hiding it. I know my friend won’t get that very bad one they call AIDS. I`m your friend. I will help you get drugs for the one you have contracted; it’s a small matter since it is not AIDS. My friend will never get AIDS, God forbid!
[At this, Dimgba summons enough strength to express his anger at his friend’s ranting]
Dimgba: Idiot! Fool! Come on - get out of here. Out! Out! City girls did this, bad diseases did that, and AIDS did the other one, are you mad? What is wrong with you? Get out of here now before I chase you out with my gun! Get... [He gets very tired; falls into a seat and a startled Okoro goes to his help.]
Okoro: Dimgba, I’m sorry. God, what came over me? Dimgba forgive me .You know you’re my best friend, why will you send me away. No, don’t do it. I’m really sorry.
Dimgba: [A much relieved Dimgba hearkens to his friend's plea] Okoro, I`m worried about your character lately. Sometimes I wonder if you are the friend I have known for over forty years, my childhood friend, the only person I shared my breakfast, lunch and supper with. Okoro, have you forgotten how we stole other people’s fruits as school kids, went to the river together and even shared secrets our wives don’t know of. Since I came back, to be frank with you, I haven’t understood you. [He concludes and still gives signs of difficulty and weakness.]
Okoro: Dimgba, I’m very sorry. You see, we`ve been so close that we’re like blood brothers, even stronger than most biological siblings! [They both laugh at this. Okoro continues] Nothing, I repeat nothing will come between us! I`m surprised by my conduct today. I cannot even explain it! Maybeit is this palm wine that has intoxicated me. [There is louder laughter this time and Okoro takes more palm wine from the keg on the table. After some time, Dimgba starts a conversation somewhat related to the first one]
Dimgba: Okoro, do you know when you made me mad?
Dimgba: When you said you have slept with city girls, you have got bad diseases, and I hope it’s not AIDS.
Okoro: [Laughs before reacting] I told you that this palm wine is my problem. Have I ever seen anybody who got bad disease? I have never seen anybody who got a bad disease from sleeping with women. How can God make us sick from what he Himself instructed us to do - marry and multiply! [thunderous laughter from both of them] Dimgba, I forgot to tell you. On my way to this place, I met one of those health centre workers. Trust them, she preached to me about AIDS and sleeping with women causes this and that. Here now, your overnight palm wine has added its own problems and I’m talking like an idiot! You called me a fool. That is exactly what I have been today or how will you explain that a sensible human being is saying that fun given to us by God now causes diseases. If it were to be so, all our forefathers would have died because they didn’t know what condoms were but they enjoyed themselves. Most of them live longer than us. [Apparently happy with what he was hearing from his friend, Dimgba joined Okoro in a wild laughter]
[In a hospital, Chimezie, a young medical doctor, has just resumed to work. He goes around the wards to attend to inpatients.]
Dr. Chimezie: Good morning madam. How are you today?
Madam (an inpatient): Ah, Good morning doc. I’m okay. How are you?
Dr. Chimezie: I`m fine. Do you still feel dizzy?
Madam (Inpatient): No, after I rested for an hour as you advised, I regained full consciousness. Thank you doc.
Dr. Chimezie: You`re welcome madam.
[As he makes for the door, the patient calls him back]
Madam (Inpatient): But doc, I have a small problem that is bothering me. It has nothing to do with my health but it is a medical problem anyway.
Dr. Chimezie: A medical problem? How can I be of help to you?
Madam (Inpatient): [She sobs and then finally pulls herself together to talk] When a person coughs, has watery stool, and sweats profusely mostly at night, isn`t he suffering from AIDS?
Dr. Chimezie: Madam but you can’t just conclude this.These can be symptoms of other diseases as well. Coughing can be as a result of plain tuberculosis. It may not be caused by HIV. In the same vein, sweating at night can be due to poor ventilation. So madam, you don’t just say a person has HIV/AIDS until it is confirmed in a reputable laboratory.
Madam (Inpatient) [Starts crying] God, why are you punishing me with this boy? God why? Haven`t I served you faithfully all these years? God why...
Dr. Chimezie: Madam, I don’t get it, what is the matter?
Madam (Inpatient): Sit down doc. I will tell you everything. Emeka is my first son. He will be 30 next month. [Sobs and continue] Emeka used to be a lion, very strong, huge and energetic. But now he is a stick, wafer-thin! Sometimes, I can’t even believe he is the Emeka I had. [crying]
Madam (Inpatient): He has all the symptoms I described.
Dr. Chimezie: As I told you before, you can’t conclude that a person has HIV or even AIDS until an approved laboratory confirms it through a test.
Madam (Inpatient): [Reaches for her hand bag at the corner of her bed and hands over a sheet of paper to Dr. Chimezie; she continues crying.]
Dr. Cimezie: [After perusing the paper] Madam I’m afraid this result confirms the owner has HIV indeed and ... [Continue after a moment] he has low CD4 count, clearly less than 200.And this is quite reliable as it is from the biggest teaching hospital in this region. But madam, you don’t have to worry. He will get admitted immediately. Place him on appropriate medication. He will be alright. It's not too late to do something to help him. The ailment was discovered late but all the same, he can get medical help.
[Just as he is concluding, a nurse calls him to take a telephone call.]
Dr. Chimezie: Dr. Chimezie of Obioma Hospital, who`s there?
President’s Chief of Staff: Hello Dr. Chimezie.You are speaking with the Chief of Staff, Presidential palace. You see, the President needs a new health minister.
The reason should be well known to you if you have followed the news recently. Our nation has been in the grip of epidemics. People are dying. There is so much ignorance that even minor ailments kill people.
Dr. Chimezie: I know all that.
Chief of Staff: To make the long story short, the President of the Republic has chosen you to be the new Health Minister. He...
Dr. Chimezie: But sir, I wasn’t contacted before the decision was made. I`m sorry I can’t take it.
Chief of Staff: Young man, you must accept this job. The President’s decision was born out of very strong recommendation by prominent citizens in this country. This is a critical national assignment and the President believes you are the only one who can help out in this very trying time - child and maternal mortality rate is high. Primary health facilities are dead. The HIV prevalence rate has hit the roof.
Dr. Chimezie: Sir, I’ll think about it and get back to you.
Chief of Staff: There is nothing to think about, my dear doctor.You just have to accept it fast and save millions of our people from hardship.
Dr. Chimezie: Okay, I`ve accepted it, for the sake of our people and nothing more.
Chief of Staff: Thank you, my dear. You`re assuming your new position Monday morning, 8 am. Presidency officials will be in your office to help you settle into your new job. Congratulations!
Dr. Chimezie: Alright sir. Bye.
[Inside Dimgba`s sitting room, Dr. Chimezie has visited his uncle]
Dimgba: It has always been in our blood. We have produced high-flyers all our history. Your late father, Igwe, oh death! Death is cruel! [Shows signs of weakness but continues.]
Dimgba: Your father was the first man to attain standard six education in our village; he did that when he was barely twenty! Your other late uncle Ikem was the first person to receive a white man in his house. It’s not a surprise that the government found you worthy of being the country’s health minister, moreso now that our nation is in the firm grip of a major epidemic...Well done, my son.
Dr. Chimezie: Thank you uncle. I’m also aware of what all our forebears have achieved. This family produced the first court clerk in the whole of the district. We were the first to live in the capital, so we have always been achievers - it flows in the blood. And uncle, it is with the knowledge of the good name we have that I will discharge my duties as minister. I will... [Dimgba cuts in]
Dimgba: I know you will do well. And who knows - when next you visit me, it will be to tell me you are the President! Yes my son. If you can be minister, work from an office in the Capital and oversee such an all-important sector as health, the life of our people, then you can as well rule the nation.
Dr. Chimezie: Amen! Ah I didn’t ask you. Where is Ngozi?
Dimgba: Oh she’s fine.Today is the district market. She went to the market.
Dr. Chimezie: And the children?
Dimgba: They`re all fine.
Dr. Chimezie: I must be leaving now. Having your blessing, which is just like heavenly and fatherly approval, I'll now go to my work and make sure I make my mark. I'll be dauntless in the face of our numerous health challenges...
Dimgba: I`ve never doubted your competence.
Dr. Chimezie: Even the chief health quagmire will be battled head-long.
[At the mention of AIDS, Dimgba becomes agitated, sighs and interrupts Dr. Chimezie]
Dimgba: My son, I`ll advise you to face malaria,TB, leprosy and all other diseases that are killing our people. AIDS doesn’t exist! My son...
Dr. Chimezie: Uncle! What did you just say? Did I hear you well? I can’t believe you are saying this - an educated man like you. Uncle, are you alright?
Dimgba: I should be asking you that. Are you alright? AIDS is just a ploy whites are using to decrease our number in Africa. We are growing at an alarming rate and they are not happy! Our population is higher than theirs...
Dr. Chimezie: [cuts in rudely] What population? Do you have hard facts to back this wild claim up? Uncle listen and listen real good. China alone is over two times the whole of Africa in population. US has 300 million, India one billion. Our behemoth of a continent, Africa has only 690 million. Now which has more people, Africa or the `whites`? Eh Uncle? So you tell this cheap propaganda that is making the rounds in beer parlours across the country? Uncle I’m disappointed!
Dimgba: Those of you who went to school abroad always behave like them when you come back. The figures you just reeled out are what they gave you. Isn`t it true? It`s part of the whole game...
Dr. Chimezie: [Angry] Uncle I’m going. You just want to spoil the approval and support you just gave me. [He storms out of the room]
Dimgba: I`ve told you. If you want to succeed on that job, face other problems because there is nothing known as AIDS! Any time or resource you spend on your AIDS is a white elephant, a big waste! [On his way out, he gets a call] Dr. Chimezie: Hello, hello, good morning madam. How are you?
Madam (Inpatient) Doc I’m okay. And how are you settling into your new job?
Dr. Chimezie: Not bad my dear. It`s challenging but we are doing our best. How is Emeka?
Madam (Inpatient): Oh, he`s fine. He`s responding to treatment and I’ve been discharged. We kind of swapped places. Doc, I`m so grateful for your kindness and care all through. More importantly for your advice that has saved Emeka!
Dr. Chimezie: Madam, I only did my job and will always do if I have the opportunity.Thank you for calling madam.
[Dimgba is critically ill in a hospital, It`s six weeks since Dr. Chimezie visited him and Dr. Chimezie rushes in]
Doctor: Good morning, Hon.Minister.
Dr. Chimezie: Good morning. How is he doing? What is his problem?
Doctor: [He takes Dr. Chimezie away from Dimgba`s bed and breaks the news to him] Hon. Minister, it is a pity but your uncle has full blown AIDS. He... [Dr. Chimezie cuts in]
Dr. Chimezie: What? AIDS? Oh my God! [This draws Okoro`s attention]
Okoro: I told him but he didn’t listen; he didn’t believe AIDS exists.
Dr. Chimezie: Doctor, are you sure? I was with him six weeks ago; he didn’t show signs of sickness.
Okoro: He has been showing signs of illness since he came back from the city. [Turning to Dr. Chimezie] On the day you visited him, he took some herbs from a native doctor. Those subdued the symptoms on the day you came. He feared that you’d force him to go to a laboratory test and even take him to hospital. He has never liked drugs, you are aware of that.
Doctor: Hon. Minister, it is most unfortunate but your uncle has only 48 hours to live, 2 days...
Dr. Chimezie: [Turning to his aides and the medical personnel outside the room] If it can happen to the minister’s blood relative, then everyone must realise it is real and anyone can be a victim. AIDS kills!
It has been 28 years since AIDS was discovered, yet even well-educated people in Africa don’t believe it exists and use all manner of notions to dismiss it. Even if the world were to pump in all of the US government’s annual over US$2 trillion budget into combating AIDS, there would be no corresponding character reorientation towards sex and use of piercing instruments. We will go nowhere!
This is the message of `Enemy Within`