By Edward Eremugo Luka (Sudan)
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He was hurrying home to his family. The night was still young, as they say, but he never knew how it would end.
Tunda walked out of the clinic, his mind in a haze from the tiresome work he had been doing since early morning. His small surgical practice in the middle of town had become very busy of late. The patients came from far and wide looking for him. He had made a name for himself without knowing it. And now he began to hate it.
He had seen all kinds of patients in his 5 years of practice. There were the inquisitive and the psychotic; the silent and the talkative; the sick and those just malingering. It was always a task to differentiate one from the other. The fear had always been to make the wrong choices and he had his portion too.
And today wasn’t an exception either. He was still bothered by the last patient he saw, an elderly woman who had a rather vague complaint. He couldn’t make head or tail out of it. When all investigations are normal, convincing patients, that there is nothing wrong with them is always the hardest part. How could he tell an elderly woman that medicine had not yet found correct tools for diagnosis for all the ailments in the world?
For him, five years wasn’t long enough yet. He just passed 40 and he has many years to learn and perfect his skills.
He walked to his brand new white Toyota Camry. He placed his surgical briefcase in the backseat and got in behind the wheel. It gave him real pleasure every time he got into his car. It was comfortable being inside; the air-conditioner soothed his aching body. His new car flew like a dove. As he drove away from the clinic, the time was getting way past eleven.
Tunda liked driving fast, but that night was exceptional. He wanted to see his surroundings and feel the air, perhaps get another taste of life. Midway his journey, he had the air-conditioner off and lowered all the windows down. He savored the moments slowly. The street was empty except for few late night travelers like him hurrying home.
And then he saw her, a lone figure under the bright street light, frantically urging him to stop. Tunda wanted to fly past her but thought for a moment. Maybe she missed her bus, a student hurrying to the hostel before the doors were closed or maybe just a young female wanting help. He was overwhelmed by sense of charity he stopped his Toyota Camry.
The young lady walked up elegantly and looked into the car. She had the most beautiful face he had ever seen. As she came closer he saw that she was of African origin, probably from the west of the country. Her high cheekbones gave her the looks of Marilyn Monroe and she had the figure to go with it. The tight-fitting blouse she wore and an equally tight-fitting mini skirt accentuated her figure-of-eight shape. He took in all this in a second.
“Would you mind giving me a lift?” she asked. And she had the voice too, he thought.
“Not at all. Get in please,” he replied, nodding his head too, unsure that she heard him. She walked gracefully across the front seat, the very seat occasionally reserved for his wife. The car was suddenly overwhelmed with a strong perfume that could knock a newborn baby unconscious.
The glare of the headlights illuminated her like theater lights. Her place is on the catwalks, not the street corners, he thought. As he drove away, he looked at her from the corner of his eyes. Her silhouette against the streetlights was enhanced by the sharp facial features and curvy nose. She kept looking straight ahead. She was stunning.
“What do people call you, young lady,” Tunda asked. It was just an attempt to break the heavy silence surrounding them. He hated small talk. It made him so vulnerable, unsure where the whole conversation would go.
“Pamela”, she replied. “But my close friends call me Sunshine. You can call me that”. She giggled slightly, her soft voice colonizing the car.
There was another long space of silence that fell between them; he struggled to find appropriate words to continue their conversation. He checked himself quickly as his mind went to his wife and children waiting for him at home. There was no reason salivating as came across every fine work of nature.
The crowded street easing slowly to numerous cars, maneuvering away further from the city center. They crossed the bridge as cargo train rattled past them in the opposite direction. The old metal bridge was shaking. This structure needs servicing, he thought, otherwise one day it may collapse.
"And where are you going, my beauty", he asked at last, his eyes concentrating at the traffic ahead.
"Home", she answered, in a nonchalant attitude.
"Oh, fine. I mean where exactly? I . . . ahhh, I mean where should I drop you off?" Tunda stammered.
He was utterly angry with himself. It was not often that women had this effect on him. He cursed the moment he decided to pick her up.
She did not answer his question. It was as if no need for an answer. Maybe it sounded stupid for her. He started small talk about the weather and the traffic just to keep his mind from her. She spoke in monosyllables in her soft dreamy voice. Oh heck, he thought, she must be mad.
"Am turning off here, lady," Tunda said as he applied the brakes and the car slowed down. Since she had not given him any direction, he thought it best to drop her here. Tunda pulled up by the side of the road and tuned to her.
She just sat there, looking straight ahead and as if she hadn’t heard him.
"I am not getting out. I am going with you", she finally answered, without looking at him a moment.
Tunda was shocked! At first he thought he didn't hear her well enough. She must be crazy definitely.
"What do you mean? Look here, lady, whatever you are called. I just gave you a lift. I thought I was helping you out. Now what are you saying, ah? I am a married man and with children. Where do I take you in the middle of the night like this? Except to the police station? Maybe?”
As she made no move to get down, Tunda turned the car around and headed for the police station.
“I will scream; I will say you tried to rape me.” the girl warned.
He stopped the car and looked at the girl. He was now certain she was a lunatic. What would he do if she did what she had threatened? Who would anyone believe his version of the story? Would anyone understand him?
He turned around slowly to face her and looked at her for a long time. There were lots of things that could go wrong. His very reputation was at stake. He could already read the headlines in the tabloids in the coming days: “Surgeon caught raping a girl”, “A one night stand gone wrong: doctor in trouble” etc. His very career was doomed. He could not allow this to happen.
“Just what do you want, woman?” Tunda pleaded. His voice had lost its sternness. “Ask anything I can give and I will give. You need money?”
His time was running out. Without waiting for her answer, he rummaged through his wallet and fetched several notes amounting to five hundred pounds, his night worth at the clinic and handed them over.
She quietly grabbed the notes from his hands as if she were afraid he could take them back, and stashed them into her handbag. She got out of the car. Tunda gave a long sigh. He didn’t wait to see her go.
He quickly drove away from the scene, his mind swirling from the incident. Tunda couldn’t imagine what could have happened otherwise. But he knew exactly what he would never do again, day or night.
Edward Eremugo Luka, A Sudanese writer and physician. Specializing in public health. One time literary editor with Sudan Council of Churches (SCC). email@example.com