So, I was going through my old manuscript notes and came across a deleted scene from Starting Over again. I loved this flashback scene, but my beta readers and my editor felt it was unnecessary and the story could be better told not as a flashback but in conversation.
I struggled with letting go, but I eventually deleted this scene. This is the conversation between Efe and Onome when she discovered they both carried the sickle cell gene that they could pass on to their children if they had kids.
It’s not edited, so be gentle. Since I couldn’t share it in the novel, I’ll share it here. I hope you enjoy it.
Do you agree it should have been deleted?
Fejiro lay in the hospital bed grunting in pain. Two catheters, hanging on each side of the bed, transferred saline from drip bags into each of her arms. Onome glanced at her daughter helplessly and then turned to watch the nurse draw up a liquid medication slowly into a syringe. The nurse had a bland and bored facial expression.
“Ahhhh!” Fejiro groaned as another jolt of pain travelled through her bones.
“Nurse, please hurry up!” Onome cried, her own body quaking as if she was also experiencing the pain her daughter felt.
The nurse neither looked up nor hastened her movements. Onome sighed and held tightly onto Fejiro’s hand.
“Shhhh, darling, soon you’ll have your morphine…soon,” she crooned, tears clouding her vision. She had been through this with her daughter so many times. Bone-pain crises. Fejiro groaned again and Onome felt her stomach twist. She watched her daughter writhe in bed, her eyes slightly yellow and rolled to the back, her face contorted in pain.
“Nurse, please,” Onome pleaded.
“Madam, please… I don’t want to make a mistake,” the nurse admonished Onome, taking another smaller bottle from the top of a silver table beside the bed and drawing up clear fluid into another syringe as slowly as she did the first time.
Onome glanced at the overweight middle-aged nurse in a tight white uniform that threatened to burst with any sudden movement. The woman was so stoic and emotionless. As if a little girl was not in severe pain beside her. Onome hated this hospital. The consultant doctors were rarely present and only showed up in the mornings for short ward rounds with a few naive looking trainee doctors hovering around them as if they were gods. And the nurses were downright mean. Detached and sluggish. Like the one standing beside her now.
A few seconds later, the nurse held the syringe towards Fejiro. Onome watched as the nurse took Fejiro’s limp hand in hers. She opened the cannula at the end of the tube attached to Fejiro’s arm and pushed the drug into the cannula with the syringe. Picking up the other syringe containing clear fluid, she flushed the fluid through the tube before she shut the cannula. Onome sighed with relief; soon her daughter will be pain free and asleep. Even if it lasted for only two hours.
“I’ll come back to check on her in an hour,” the nurse said to Onome as she disposed of the contents of the table into a yellow bin with a tight white lid.
“Thanks,” Onome muttered, although she didn’t feel thankful. It had taken an hour for Fejiro to be admitted because of all the paperwork involved and they had wanted Onome to pay the deposit first before providing the bed for admission. All the while, Fejiro sat in the waiting room grunting in pain.
“No problem, it is well,” the nurse said as she waddled out of the room.
Onome drew the curtains to the cubicle to provide some privacy for her and Fejiro.
“It is well.” Onome loathed that phrase. Everybody used it these days. No, it was not well; her daughter was lying in bed riddled with pain. Tears burned the back of her eyes but she pushed them in. She wouldn’t cry. Fejiro needed to see her in control and not falling apart.
“Mummy, I’m sleepy,” Fejiro mumbled, her eyes glazed and unfocused.
“Yes, baby, that’s a good sign,” Onome responded, squeezing her hand. “It’s a good sign, my princess. No more pain.”
“No more pain,” Fejiro repeated slowly, and seconds later, she was fast asleep. Onome sat there by the bed, still holding Fejiro’s frail hand, watching the slow rise and fall of her chest as she slept.
This was Fejiro’s third bone pain crisis this year. Onome felt a sense of guilt. Just like she did every time Fejiro was in hospital attached to drips and groaning in pain. Pain from the blood in her veins crumpling and starving her bones of nourishment. This was no life for a seven-year-old, she should be out there playing with her friends, exploring the world, being a child.
Onome drew in a short breath and fought back tears. It was all her fault. She knew this was a possibility when she married Efe. But she was so in love, and so hopeful, and so blind. Everyone else saw this coming, but at the time, she couldn’t see past the love she had for Efe.
“No more pain,” Onome whispered, stroking Fejiro’s hand. “I’ll give up everything so you have no more pain.” Onome sighed and reclined into her seat, her mind drifting off to the time when she and Efe discovered that they both carried the sickle cell gene.
“What is it?” Onome asked, immediately concerned. Onome was watching TV in the sitting room of Efe’s rented two-bedroom apartment at Ring Road in Benin City, when he walked in with a bleak look on his face. They had been engaged for two weeks, and although Onome was elated at being engaged to Efe, she had kept the news from everyone in her family. She was afraid of how her father would react if she married someone who did not share his religious beliefs
“What is it?” Onome asked again, when Efe did not respond. The worried expression on his face caused Onome’s gut to tighten.
“We are both sickle cell carriers, Onome,” he muttered, handing her two pieces of paper.
Onome’s heart skipped a beat. She stared at the blood test results in shock. She and Efe had never talked about their genotypes before. It was a topic that never came up. They had only done the blood tests because it was a compulsory practice in the catholic church which Efe attended. It was to ensure the intending bride and groom were healthy and to check for their genotype. Since she had decided to marry in the Catholic Church so that Efe didn’t have to face her father’s religious bigotry, she had readily complied. Never in a million years had she anticipated this.
“There is a chance that we could have a very sick child, a child with sickle cell disease. We can’t get married, Onome.” Efe went on, obviously distraught.
“No,” Onome cried, fear gripping her insides. “Please don’t say that. Let’s think …please…”
“Onome, we can’t… we could have a sick child if we do…”
“That’s just a possibility… we could also have healthy children!”
She broke out into a cold sweat. “We can’t throw our love away just because of the possibility that we may have a sick child… I love you!”
“I’m sorry, I can’t… I have a cousin who is a sickler… I can’t put someone else through that.”
With that statement left hanging, Efe ran out as fast as he could, leaving Onome in his sitting room with tears in her eyes.
A week later, Efe visited Onome in her family home for the first time in the four years that they had been dating.
“I tried to keep away from you, Onome, but I can’t. I love you,” he said, as soon as she opened the door.
“Oh, Efe, I was so scared that I had lost you!” Onome cried, jumping into his arms. They kissed passionately by the front door.
When Onome finally broke the news to her family that she was engaged to Efe, all hell broke loose. Her father yelled and her mother pleaded with her to see reason.
“God himself doesn’t want you to be together! Not only is he not a member of the true faith, Cherubim and Seraphim, but you both also carry the sickle cell gene!” Onome’s father yelled. “I will not support this marriage! If you marry him, you are not my daughter anymore!”
“I don’t care,” Onome retorted.
“Please, Onome, listen to your father,” her mother pleaded, dropping to her knees and begging Onome. “You are my only daughter… please.” Onome looked away from her mother. She couldn’t afford to lose Efe. She just couldn’t.
“Shut up!” her father thundered, standing up from the sofa. “What do you know about love? Is that what I sent you to University to do? Parade yourself like a prostitute?” His eyes sparked and his nostrils flared. “If you marry that man, you are not my daughter!”
“I love Efe, I can’t live without him.”
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that… but I have made up my mind.”
Onome packed her belongings and moved into Efe’s small rented flat that night. Her mother and brother called her phone repeatedly that entire week, pleading with her to reconsider her decision. But Onome couldn’t see past her love for Efe. She had devoted five whole years to him. She couldn’t suddenly stop loving him just because they both carried a faulty sickle cell gene that they could or could not pass on to their children.
“Onome, please listen to dad and mum,” Tobore, her brother, said to her two weeks later. He had taken a night bus from his University at Port Harcourt to reason with her.
“Tobore, I love Efe. We love each other. I can’t live without him.”
“Even though you know you may have a sick child if you marry him?”
“We could both do IVF, or maybe not even have children.”
“Listen to what you are saying, Onome. This time, I agree with daddy. This is not about his usual religious bullshit. This is about a very important decision. You are making a decision that may affect an unborn child. A child that has no say in the matter. Born to be sick and suffer with pain, just because of decisions you have made.” Onome silently considered her brother’s statement.
“I’ll think about it,” she said, sorrow choking her throat.
She did. She really did. However, that night when Efe came home from work, she took one look at him and realised she didn’t want to spend her life without him next to her. Even if it meant not having a baby.
They eloped to get married two weeks later. It was a small court wedding with Voke as a witness. They also moved to Lagos a few weeks after that. True to her father’s words, he cut her off from his life and threatened to disown any of her siblings who kept in contact with her or Efe. He did not soften his stance even after Fejiro was born. Tobore, her only sibling bold enough to defy their father to keep in touch with her, told her that their father often referred to Fejiro as a cursed child.
Onome held Fejiro’s hand as she slept. She could not help but feel responsible for her child’s illness. She had researched frantically for a cure. Although she knew about bone marrow transplant and had gone as far as checking to see if she was a match for Fejiro, she worried about Fejiro going through such a dangerous medical treatment. That plan had abruptly come to an end. Apart from finding out that she was not a match, the procedure was also very expensive and Onome simply could not afford it. Nonetheless, she still hoped that sometime in the future, there would be a cure for the disease, something that did not involve having to transplant blood cells from a donor and medications for life to prevent the body rejecting those cells.
Onome was active on sickle cell websites and always keen on getting new information about the disease. One day, she vowed, Fejiro would be free of this disease. There was still hope.
“Mummy, I’m hungry.” Fejiro’s soft voice alerted Onome. She glanced at her daughter and saw her eyes had fluttered open.
“Oh, my baby. You are awake,” she muttered, squeezing Fejiro’s hand. “I’m glad you are hungry. It’s a good sign.”
Fejiro smiled weakly. “I want ice-cream.” Onome laughed. Fejiro always loved to have Strawberry ice-cream whenever she was ill.
“Okay, baby, I’ll get some from the shop opposite the hospital,” Onome said, standing up from the chair. She stretched, attempting to soothe the kinks in her muscles caused by sitting in one position for so long. She had been sitting by Fejiro’s bedside for three hours without rising to do anything.
“Thanks, mum.” Fejiro quipped, and Onome’s chest constricted. She was happy to hear the excitement in Fejiro’s voice.
“Will be back in less than thirty minutes.” Onome left the ward and headed towards the nurse’s station to inform them that she was leaving Fejiro for a few minutes. There was a young female nurse seated in the small cubicle, reading a romance novel with half-dressed models on the cover.
“I am headed to the shop to get something for my daughter Fejiro. She is in bed nine,” Onome informed the nurse, who acknowledged her statement with a barely audible mumble without looking up from her novel.
Swallowing back the irritated retort that threatened to burst from her throat, Onome added, “Please ring my mobile phone if she needs me before I’m back.”
“Okay, ma,” the nurse responded nonchalantly, still not bothering to look up from her book.
Onome shook her head as she walked out of the hospital. She really wanted to give the nurse a piece of her mind, force some compassion into her. However, she resisted that impulse. There was no point in antagonizing the staff, it would only make them much more difficult. And Onome didn’t want that for Fejiro.
As she walked into the sunshine, Onome inhaled deeply as she glanced at the InlandGovernmenthospital sign hoisted boldly on the top of the white three story-building complex. One day, she hoped, Fejiro wouldn’t have to be stuck in hospitals. One day, she wouldn’t have to deal with rude nurses. One day, there would be a cure for sickle cell disease.
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