I’m a worst case scenario imaginer. It is not that I’m a pessimist. It is that I have a wildly hyperbolic imagination. It can take anything, however innocuous, and blow it up into a catastrophe that would make the stoutest heart quiver. For instance if I call someone important to me four or five times in one evening without getting a response, I break out in a deep fear that something horrible has happened to them; they have had an accident or are alone and unconscious in their car by the wayside or in a bush. It could never be simply that they were asleep, though it was only eight or that they just didn’t feel like talking to me.
I had a boyfriend once who cheated on me. After a good deal of brouhaha and cartloads of hurtful words in both directions, I decided to give him another chance. Only, thenceforth every time he didn’t pick up his phone I envisioned him with the other woman telling her how much he loved her and asking her to be patient; he would dump me he just needed time to break it to me gently. Within twenty minutes of dialing his number I would be furious with him, and poised to leave him. When we met or spoke, I would bring up the ignored calls, looking for signs of deception, so I could walk. Often he would respond with something like ‘I was still in that meeting’. –the presentation of which I had helped him work on -or ‘O sorry baby I was asleep.’ Then whoosh out would go all the hot air and I’d be weak from the pent up anger, but would play it cool so he would have no inkling what had just happened. If he went out of town I imagined they were hosting a first anniversary party at a hotel and all his friends were there. I was the only one who didn’t know about them in all Accra and was therefore a standard joke. Again I’d plan some elegant yet melodramatic way to dump him that would make the list of the ‘top ten ways to dump your man.’ Eventually the tension of such a high adrenaline life got to me and I got out.
The point I’m endeavouring to illustrate is what a James Bond my imagination is. Imagine then, if you can, my utter horror and the madly spinning flight my mind went into when early Tuesday morning last week, I came back into my bedroom from a quick dash to the car to find Veronica –my help- taking half a 500mg tab of Tylenol from a smiling Dovie’s mouth. To this day I do not know how it is I didn’t go into cardiac arrest. He was sitting sprawled on the floor with the bottle of easily a hundred pills lying scattered around him. I grabbed him and, in a most un-first-aidy move, held him tightly to my heart crying ‘o Dovie, o God.’ When I remembered the urgency of time, I stopped squashing him and looked into his mouth. I considered giving him water, then decided against it. Some poisons require water but others milk, and yet others orange juice, I recalled foggily from a long ago Girl Guide Camp. I didn’t want to complicate things so I left it alone.
Kofi came back from the cafe and I told him. He said quietly that that was how a childhood buddy of his had lost his hearing. ‘he’s little o, he’s so little’ he said in sad grave tones looking at Dovie. I don’t have to tell anyone who knows me even a little that I promptly started crying. ‘Dovie.’ I called. He ignored me. ‘Dovie! Dovie!’ I started freaking out and went to him shook him ‘Dovie’. He looked up puzzled touched a hand to my teary cheek and smiled. ‘tja’ he shouted and went back to his game.
The boys had a weighing appointment so I had planned to make one trip of it. Dovie would see the doctor then we’d go and see the nurses for the weighing. After learning about the hearing loss incident, I began worrying that it had been the wrong thing to do; that I should have left with him immediately and come back later for Vini. I said a quick furious prayer that it be not too late.
Poor Veronica. I called for her. She didn’t respond, I called again, no response. I yelled her name out like a drumroll and when she got there I turned to her, a volunteer for the weight and stress of my fear. ‘why do you always make me shout for you, do you think I’ve nothing better to do with my energy. Who told you our neighbours like to dance to your name. Ah I’m sick of you.’ I yelled. I rushed us through the dressing up and hopped in to the car and driving a little too fast, a subdued Veronica, worried me, sleeping Vini and a happily playing Dovie set off for the clinic.
There was nothing the matter with him. It seemed he hadn’t eaten any. He had only just managed to put that half in his mouth when Veronica came in. A baby reacting to a drug, I was told, did so within seconds of consuming it and left one in no doubt as to what was happening. I was so relieved I had to sit down. My knees were weak.
It is true that I had left the bottle on the dresser but he really shouldn’t have been able to reach it. I’m willing to swear a week ago he couldn’t have. That’s the trouble with babies, they grow so fast that some of the changes are nearly imperceptible to one in constant contact. It was not physical development that gave him access to the pill bottle; it was an increase in mental capacity. The bottle was indeed too far out for him to reach. But the bottom drawer was slightly open and his smarter-this-week-than-last brain told him that if he used it to climb up he would get to it. And it was right.
Practically everyone in the clinic, nurses, the doctor, the pharmacist, the receptionist, other mothers, ventured to tell me not to put bottles on low shelves; to construct a wooden cabinet box and put it high up on a wall, never to leave him alone in a room with pills or bottles. It grated; all that admonition, it burnt. I could feel me get prickly inside as people gave me how to be a good mother advice. As if I didn’t know how. I already have a medicine box alright. Mchew. But I couldn’t say a word. If I were doing it so right, why were we there? How did he end up with Tylenol in his mouth. So I stood by smiling through gritted teeth and saying ‘o I say. Children; take your eyes off them for a minute…’
I was happy to get home. He was fine. It was over. I sent Veronica to buy me a coke with more money than she needed and when she came back, I sheepishly told her to keep the change. It was my way of apologizing. She had had such a bewildered look on her face. And indeed, what had she done? Had it not been for her, Dovie might actually have had time to bite into the pill. She really hadn’t deserved the yelling. Though she is in the habit of pretending deafness, she knew we were going to the hospital so had packed the boys’ bag and gone to change when she was summoned with the bellow.
Dovie, like they promised at the clinic, is right as rain; full of energy and joy and hearing complete. Veronica has since been restored to glory, I’ve outlived my shame and all is quiet on this front. Lately the exaggerator is being put to better use. No longer am I wasting energy worrying that Kofi has had a flat on a deserted road when his phone’s off. These days me and my imagination expend our energies exploring the possible dangerousness of every little thing invented by man; matchsticks, pens, pen tops, even padlocks. When Kofi tried to take my lip gloss from him the other day I nearly said ‘o let him have it what harm can it do.’ At once my imagination answered. An event flash of Dovie with my lip gloss thick on his eyelids holding one eye shut, and being prepped for emergency surgery and I quickly agreed with him. ‘Give me that you’, I said, swooping down to snatch it. All his protests and tears didn’t so much as move a cord in me. How could they, filled as I was with smug satisfaction that I had thwarted the eye disaster that had surely been coming.