The alarm blared shrilly; cutting through the dawn silence of the house and making Meg abruptly jump up in bed. ‘Whoa, this thing sure is loud!’ She sat up and pressed her palm to her chest, trying to get her erratic heart to calm down.
‘What the hell was that?’ Ok, good, Chioma was up. And pissed. ‘It’s my alarm,’ she called back, grabbing her phone to check for messages. There were a bunch from some old friends. She decided to read them later.
Chioma wasn't placated. ‘By 5.30? Who is awake at 5.30 in the middle of the night?’ Meg rolled her eyes, ‘Chioma, its morning. I have to be at work before 8am.’ ‘Well, that’s your problem, lady, keep it down!’
Meg came into her room. ‘You should wake up early too, don’t you have work?’ The other girl peered out warily at her from half-closed lids. ‘What are you doing?’ ‘The heater is in your bathroom and I want a hot shower.’ ‘Put it on and go away.’ She did and came out, then, ‘you have to get up too, I was hoping you’d drive me to work in that fancy car of yours.’ Chioma took a pillow and put it over her head, but Meg laughed. ‘Please, I have a special skill in torment, I can make you hate that bed.’ ‘Wild horses are not dragging me out of this bed before 7.30.’ ‘We’ll see about that,’ she said before she left the room.
Thirty minutes later, Meg was bathed. With a housecoat wrapped around her, she came back to Chioma's room and put on the lights. ‘Rise and shine, Princess!’ Chioma sat up, enraged. ‘For the love of..!’ ‘It's just easier for you to give in.’ ‘Just...fuck off, ok? I wake up whenever I want and go to work whenever I want to.’ ‘I'm sure you did.’ She pointed at her emphatically. ‘Hey, you are not my mother! If I wanted someone to tell me what to do I would have stayed in my father’s house, but I didn’t because this is my life, and my rules.’
Meg shrugged. ‘fine, suit yourself.’
Ten minutes later, the aroma of freshly made coffee, toast and eggs dragged Chioma out of bed. She came into the kitchen with bleary eyes and made a beeline for the coffee pot. ‘I hate you. Using food to bait me out of bed? Well played, lady, well played.’ Meg smiled smugly and passed her a plate. ‘What’s this?’ ‘Toast and omelet. The omelet is a special one I make with mushrooms and tomatoes and other stuff...just try it, it’s really good. My younger ones love it.’
Chioma took a fork from the cutlery container-which Meg had designated and labelled: she’d organised the kitchen into a beautiful, homely place and Chioma had to admit she liked it. She took a bit of the eggs and her eyes widened. ‘Wow, this is good. This is really good.’ ‘Yeah, well, some girls get all the attention, I am a good cook.’ ‘Come on, don’t say that. you’re beautiful!’ ‘More like I'the girl next door.’ ‘Meg, you are beautiful. Take it from me.’ ‘Well, if you said it then of course it has to be true.’Chioma laughed at her sarcastic tone.
Halfway into her breakfast, she gave Meg a sulky look. ‘By this time last week I was in bed, sleeping.’ Meg smiled and poured a cup of coffee for herself and sat opposite her at the kitchen table. ‘Get with the program, things are going to change around here. And talking of things changing, we have to have a house allowance, like an amount of money we both contribute for upkeep and provisions and stuff: maybe weekly, maybe monthly but weekly will be more prudent. From the look of things I'll be mostly the one doing the house chores around here, but I don’t want that. I find that things are...less tense if a roster of chores are made and we abide by that. I don’t want to feel used.’
Chioma gaped at her in incredulous horror. ‘Oh my God, what have I done?' 'What o you mean?' 'I think I’ve let my mother move in with me.’ ‘Don’t be a grump, you’ll see that my way is always better.’ ‘I have let my mother move in with me,’ she moaned, aghast, her head in her hands.
The other girl rolled her eyes. ‘Ok, when the theatrics are over, you might want to take a shower and get ready for work.’ She started her breakfast while Chioma watched her like she’d just told her she was adopted. ‘you are the most...anal person I’ve ever met! Don’t you just let things...hang sometimes? Go with the flow?’ She gestured with her fork, ‘sOf course I do, but that’s only when I know what the flow is and I'm prepared for it.’ ‘So, no.’ ‘I just told you I do.’ ‘But you’re prepared for it, so you actually don’t.’ ‘This deposition is making my head hurt, is there a purpose to it?’
Chioma shook her head, ‘you’re hopeless, girl, you need to loosen up,’ then left the kitchen.
‘First year interns, this way please,’ a pleasant-looking girl wearing a smart, charcoal-gray pants suit called. Her tone brockered no argument and Meg surmised that she’d been here a long time and had to be a valuable member of staff to garner that kind of confidence. She got up and straightened her black pencil skirt nervously, checking to see that her blue shirt was properly tucked in. She and some other people who she assumed were also interns like her had been sitting in the expansive waiting room of the laboratory complex, and they got up and gathered in front of the girl. She did a quick head count and came up with thirty-ish. Thirty interns? Wow, that was a slim margin.
‘My name is Vera, I am the secretary to the Chief Medical Laboratory Scientist and I will be your guide today. You are very fortunate to be here, interns. This is the best medical laboratory facility in the country and beyond-this building alone is evidence of that. As you have already seen, there are five floors: administration, haematology and immunology , microbiology, clinical chemistry and histopathology-according to their levels. Suffice it to say, this is the ground floor, thus it’s the administrative floor. This is where all the non-medical paper-pushing is done, leaving our scientists to focus on research and diagnosis. Don’t be deceived, though, every intern does an admin rotation. We believe in producing scientists who are well rounded in all aspects of the field-clerical included.
'Today, we will be getting familiar with the workings of this place. You have been assigned rotations which will last ten weeks in each division. Your supervisors in each division have also been assigned. At the end of the day you can check your postings at the notice board.’ She paused and swept a look over them, then smiled. ‘Don’t look so nervous, you’ll love it here! So far as you know what you’re doing-or are willing to learn if you don’t-and don’t become a liability to your supervisor, you will fit here like Fischer's enzyme lock in it's substrate key.' They were a few nervous laughs at that.
She continued, with an indulgent smile. 'So let’s start with introductions. You say your name, the school you graduated from and your major. Let’s start with you,’ she gestured to a rail-thin bespectacled girl wearing over-sized pants and shirt. She looked rather frazzled, fussing with the notepad and pen she held. ‘Er...ok. I'm Efe Elogho. I'm a clinical chemistry major from Lars University.’
The introductions went round. There were two people from Lars, about ten from Legon University of Science and Technology, she and four other girls were from National University while the rest were from private universities all over the country.
The next three hours were spent learning dress codes, rules, guidelines, names of top scientists, general procedures and what not. It was utterly exhausting.
Vera let them take a thirty-minute lunch break in the canteen-which was on the ground floor. She noticed as she bought a meat-pie & coke that friendships were already been formed among the new interns; particularly the ones that came from the same school. She was a loner by nature, so while she and the other girls from her school knew each other by sight, they weren’t particularly friendly. They sat together at another table while she took one alone.
She noticed Efe looking around for where to sit and motioned her over. She came, looking gratefully relieved. ‘Hi, thanks for letting me sit with you.’ ‘o biggie. I'm...’ ‘Margaret Umeh, from NU. Yeah, I heard during the...introductions.’ Meg raised a brow. ‘Ok...well. how are you finding Legon?’ ‘It’s ok. I have a brother here, he works in a bank so I’ve been staying with him. Checked your postings yet?’ ‘I'm dreading that, actually. I was never very good with chemical pathology so if I get that first...it won’t be a hurrah moment for me. It’ll mean marathon reading up sessions and all nighters.’ ‘I'm sure you’re better at it than you think,’ Efe bit into her coleslaw, ‘you look like you come out on top of every situation.’ Meg smiled, ‘that’s very kind of you.’ ‘Well, I'm in haematology first. You should check yours, really, before lunch is over.’
They talked till the lunch hour ran out and they gathered at the ground floor reception once again to resume the tour. That didn’t last long, though, because, soon they had to go and meet their supervisors. Which meant checking her rotation.
It was in microbiology. She smiled; not a bad place to begin.
She and four other interns: two males and two females-took the elevator to the third floor. Vera wasn’t with them, but they’d been on that floor earlier that morning so Meg made a beeline for the reception. An older woman was behind the desk. ‘First office on the left, the plate on the door says Dr. Okah,’ she said without looking up. Meg nodded, ‘thank you,’ then headed for the office. She turned around to see that the others were following her. They’d made her their leader by proxy. She shrugged mentally and knocked on the door. She heard a muffled ‘come in’ and opened the door.
The man in the extensive, comfortable looking office was not behind his desk. To the left end of his office there was a work area and a table with slides and microscopes, and he was behind one. They piled in nervously, no one wanting to be in the front. Meg rolled her eyes, ‘bunch of babies,’ she muttered to herself and took the lead. It wasn't like she wasn’t nervous, she just believed in getting things over with. The man motioned forward with a hand. ‘come here, you in front.’ She did, steeling herself against the sudden onslaught of panic. He made way for her to take his place at the microscope. ‘look at this. Tell me what you see.’ She peered into the microscope, adjusting it’s focus slightly. Phew, thank God, this was one she knew. ‘there are motile Plasmodium organisms in the blood film-I'll say about 3 plus.’ When she looked up, he was smiling and she got to really look at him. He was...
She’d expected a man with at least greying temples-this man was not even into his forties yet. As she gaped at him in shock, he turned to the others. ‘the lady is right, it is malaria-a very heavy infestation too. I'm Dr. Obinna Okah-and just so you guys don’t spend the next two months speculating and manufacturing gossip-yes, I am a doctor. Yes, I am also a microbiologist. Yes, I was a doctor before I went to do microbiology. Any other questions about my personal life you might have, you can sit on.
'We’re here to work, people, but there’s no reason we can’t have fun doing it. Medicine is a very interesting course-it’s been said that in no other way is man closer to gods than in being able to heal...and...' he sighed self-deprecatingly, 'ok, I don’t remember exactly what that saying is so let’s just coast past it and forget I tried to impress you guys.’
They all chuckled nervously and he nodded. ‘I believe in making this the best experience for you, but don’t think for one second that it means slacking will be tolerated. Do not,’ he swept them with a suddenly cutting gaze, ‘underestimate me. I will address any insubordination, laziness or any other misdemeanour with swift and decisive action-in plain English, I can have you kicked off the program in a heartbeat.
'I can also make sure your career after this year progresses with supernova-like success. We have many programs that give our best and brightest the chance to get permanent positions in laboratories and research facilities both in this country and out of it, so I urge you to maximise this opportunity. Believe me when I say that you will not find any other like it.
'That being said, you are welcome. Let’s get to work, people. Pick up your standard operating procedure files from Maxine at the reception and go through them thoroughly. Tomorrow, you begin-and I expect you to be prepared. Your different bench rotations are on our notice board. Good afternoon.’
She was walking to the taxi bay, her lab-coat draped over an arm and her battle bag heavier from all the files she had to read up on before the next day. She was exhausted, but exhilarated at the same time-she couldn’t wait to start. In as much as change scared her, when she did come to terms with it, it was exciting.
She faltered and looked around, then saw Dr. Okah waving to her from his car. She was puzzled but walked towards him. ‘Good afternoon, sir, sorry I didn’t see you there.’ He smiled, a surprisingly open and warm smile. He was good-looking-with clean, honest features but that smile transformed him to a strikingly handsome man. She couldn’t help but smile back. ‘So, how did you find today?’ ‘It was illuminating, I certainly learnt a lot. Can’t wait to start tomorrow, sir.’ ‘First of all-you can just call me Obinna.’
She shook her head, ‘no, I couldn’t...you’re my boss.’ he nodded, ‘I thought you’d say that. How about Dr. Okah then? No more of the ‘sir’ stuff, it makes me feel 60.’ ‘Only if you call me Margaret.’ ‘That’s a beautiful name,’ he put his hands in the pockets of his brown slacks and rocked slightly on his heels.
Meg’s brow furrowed. At that moment, he looked nothing like the man who could make or mar her life. He looked like a nervous guy talking to an attractive girl.
She was the attractive girl.
She was suddenly overcome with...shyness.
He shrugged one shoulder. ‘So...er...if you’re free for an early dinner, there’s this really good place I know off-campus.’ She looked at her watch, ‘I don’t think so, it’s almost seven pm.’ ‘I'll drop you off at home, after, consider it a personal favour. I really don't like eating alone,’ he pressed on.
With another look at him, she gave in. He was nice to offer and there was no harm in accepting.
‘Well, when you put it like that what can I say. I am hungry.’ ‘Dinner it is, then!,’ he opened the passenger seat of his car for her with a flourish, ‘you know, you’re the first person to sit in this car apart from me. I just bought it about a week ago.’ ‘Wow, that’s cool! In that case, congratulations are in order, how about I buy you a drink at dinner today?’ ‘It’s the least you can do.’ They chuckled, getting more comfortable with each other.
When she came home, Chioma came out of her room to meet her in the living room. ‘Thank God you’re back! Where on God's green earth have you been, Meg? It’s past nine.’ ‘Really? I didn’t notice.’ ‘Your phone was off, you weren’t replying my chats...you’re new to this town, I was worried! This is Legon, you don’t just wander off however you want or it will eat you alive.’ ‘Quit the drama, I was just having dinner.’ ‘Dinner? As in a date? Already? Girl, you work fast! With whom?’
She pulled off her shoes and rubbed one aching foot. ‘It wasn’t a date, my supervisor just wanted to welcome me and took me to this nice, family-owned place...’ ‘You mean some old doctor or something is after you? And you’re encouraging him? That’s sexual harassment, Maggie.’ She sighed, ‘again with the drama! He was just trying to be nice.’
Chioma finally relented. She sank into a couch and grabbed the remote, ‘uh huh. He wants to be a lot of things, I'm sure, nice ain’t one of ‘em. He likes you.’ ‘he’s my boss,’ Meg shook her head and bent to retrieve her shoes.
‘...and here I was, the concerned roommate, thinking you’d been mugged, or killed. Or worse.’ Meg’s brows rose. ‘There’s something worse than being killed?’ ‘Shut up, smartass, this is not Coal City. In Legon, you snooze, you lose. This is the most populated, busiest city in this country, it’s not a place for slackers.’
The other girl, who was on her way to her room paused and smiled in amused irony. ‘Actually, Ibadan is the most populated city in the country...’ Chioma turned to her with a menacing look and she shrugged with a chuckle. ‘Sorry.’ ‘Stop interrupting me when I'm trying to be concerned for you! Did he...make any moves? You know?’ ‘No!! He wouldn’t dare, he was a gentleman throughout. And like I said before, he’s...’ ‘Your boss, yeah. Like that has ever stopped anyone before. What’s his name?’ ‘Dr. Obinna Okah.’ ‘Look, honey, if he ever begins to lech, tell me and I'll fix him.’ She faced the television, tuning to a horror movie.
Meg made her way to her room, muttering, ‘I'm afraid to ask what that means.’
After she showered and wore her pyjamas, she came back to the parlour with a steaming mug of cereal and sat with Chioma. ‘Do I have to watch this? I’ve missed more episodes of Royal Pains than I'm comfortable with.’ ‘On the plus side, Supernatural is up in five minutes.’ She perked up. ‘Oh goody, I want to know what happened with Castiel!’
That earned her a surprised look. ‘You, a Supernatural fan? I would have agreed if you had said Vampire Diaries or Gossip Girl, But Supernatural?' 'For your information, I am not a fan of either of those shows. The drama is just too much.' 'Nice! You know, being around me is bound to earn you some cool points, I'm already rubbing off on you.’ Meg raised a brow and spoke in a deadpan voice, ‘gee, thanks Chioma, that’s very benevolent of you. What would have become of me if we hadn’t met?’
Oblivious to the sarcasm, the other girl gave her a solicitous smile, ‘you’re welcome, sweetie. It’s the duty of us cool people to help out your kind.’
Meg shook her head. Unbelievable!
Twenty minutes into the episode, she noticed that her roommate was silent, which was grossly unusual. She turned to her, ‘how was work, by the way? Everything ok?’ ‘Yeah, yeah, work is great.’ ‘So why the glum?’
Chioma shrugged, her silky kimono-housecoat slipping slightly off her shoulder in the process. ‘Nothing serious. A guy I was seeing broke up with me today. He says and I quote- ‘Chioma, you are too cold’-what on earth does that even mean?’
Meg didn't know how to react to this new level of intimacy. She felt bad for her, though. ‘Oh no. I'm so sorry. I didn’t even know you had a boyfriend.’ 'Its not like we were all serious and in love or anything. He was a lot of fun, he had a lot of money to spend...I’m not beat up about the whole thing. It’s just,’ she sat up and looked at her, ‘I'm twenty-four years old and I’ve never had anything real. I feel like I'm ready for something that lasts, you know. The thing is-where is he?’
Her roommate shrugged. ‘Don’t ask me, I'm the wrong person to ask for philosophical help. My social and emotional life was almost non-existent when I was in school. I had a particular group of friends, I’m not really comfortable with new people...I’ve had only one serious boyfriend and we only dated for seven months so...’ she put down her mug on a coaster on the centre table, ‘I can tell you though that the things we want are usually not what we need. Maybe you don’t need a man right now. Maybe what you need is to...get to know yourself better, grow, you know. Don’t worry, Chi. You’ll find what you’re looking for, sooner or later.’
She smiled at her gratefully, then glance back at the television.
‘Oh my God, we were too busy mooning over our lives to notice that this episode is almost over!’ she was horrified. Meg smiled and picked up the remote. ‘don’t fret, I TIVOed it.’
Again, the surprised look. Then Chioma pouted. ‘you were supposed to be comforting me, not TIVOing Supernatural episodes!’ ‘girl, I'm sympathetic, not brain-dead! Who misses an episode of Supernatural? On purpose?’
Their laughter rang through the house.