BITTER PERCEPTIONS: CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

PART III

Doris

I pictured my family clustered around our TV, Mum playing and replaying every moment captured on DVD until the disc wore out, and Dad marvelling at how far his daughter had come. I now practised in different hospital, the highbrow Future Hope General, Ikeja—guaranteed job security, excellent pay packet, and you couldn’t beat the thrill of saving a life and making a difference. Today, however, marked another milestone. I stroked the crisp white garment specially made for the occasion, breathing in the newly-tailored freshness. Andrew and I had experienced more than our fair share of strife in our five-year relationship (That’s right, Mr. Grumpy and me now an item. Who knew?), but we’d managed to stay together. The makeup artist hired for the day brushed a neutral shade onto my quivering lips, and I prayed I’d get through the day without my knees buckling in front of the hundred-and-so people waiting for this moment.

“Nervous?” The makeup artist dusted translucent powder in cocoa onto my shiny t-zone, noticing my jitters. This contouring craze beauty magazines and YouTubers raved over 24/7… Who on earth had enough time to learn which brush did what? I couldn’t deny the stunning transformation though—highlighter strobes imitated chiselled features I owned before I became a late-night ice cream feast devotee, and once again I vowed to cut down on the calories by cutting out the junk. Good luck with that. I nodded, and my makeup artist patted my shoulder. “Don’t worry, it happens. Just take a deep breath, step out with a spring in your step and a massive smile, you’ll be fine.”

“Yep. Just relax, dah-ling, and it’ll be over before you know it,” drawled Femi, the flamboyant hairstylist-to-the-stars, running his manicured fingers between his platinum blonde cornrows. I’d already met him a couple of times through Anna as he was the one person she trusted to keep her unruly curls in place, although my loyalty to the girls under the Ikeja flyover prevented me from visiting his glitzy salon on Victoria Island. He didn’t have much to do with my braids apart from shaping them into a doughnut mould above my head, and gelling down any stray ends. “My, don’t we look faaaabulous? Good luck dah-ling, not that you’ll need it.” He gave me an ultra-white grin, straightened his hot pink floral shirt, sashayed out of the room with the makeup girl, and I secretly envied his ability to squeeze his pert behind into those tight white jeans.

I’d waited ages for Andrew to commit exclusively and officially, but his countless trips abroad always meant we never came round to reaching the next level. I’d grown tired of friends and family asking me when our day will come, and my mother couldn’t understand why he still hadn’t put a ring on it after five years. I’d even suggested moving to America with him, and Andrew hadn’t shared my enthusiasm, but refused to listen when I suggested we parted for good. After slipping into the white garment with great care, I opened the door for some fresh air to find three anxious faces.

“Good, you’re ready now,” remarked the oldest in the group, a silvery-headed man who must have fought off tonnes of females in his salad days. Despite a receding hairline and a few wrinkles, he could still charm a nun if he tried hard enough.

“Yes, I’m finally ready, but I’m so nervous. You’d think someone who did some catwalk shows during university would burst with confidence, but that happened ages ago,” I groaned.

“You used to be a model?” inquired the only other female in the group, a pretty lady whose brightly-patterned hijab matched her blue blouse. “You were in a print commercial for Afro Sheen back in the day, weren’t you?” she asked the older man who nodded. “Wow, that’s one thing you both have in common. You should Google those pictures, he could have been a Blaxploitation actor in the 70’s, a black James Bond!” she added with a giggle.

“Yes, that was when I studied in America, and owned a full head of hair,” lamented the balding man, running his hand down what was left of his locks. Poor guy, he probably had trouble accepting his fate.

“Don’t worry sir, the two of us could pass for peas in a pod, so you’re not alone!” The other man in the group, a tall, mahogany-dark man a few decades younger than Dr. Bayo, tapped his own shaven dome and grinned, not that he suffered any sleepless nights over the baldness that enhanced his already stunning looks. Apart from the deep keloid on his sculpted jawline and a smaller groove running down his left eyebrow, every detail on this chocolate Adonis screamed perfection. He should have been the model. Enrique who?  

     “Hollywood’s loss is medicine’s gain,” he joked. We all laughed in agreement, and I was about to contribute when a small man wearing a black shirt with a white collar interrupted.

“One minute,” he announced. “Ready to make your entrance, Dr. Doris?”

This is it, I thought nervously. I breathed deeply until an amplified announcement provided my cue.

“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to The Doctors…with your hosts Dr. Bayo Olumide…Dr. Zainab Saheed…guest host Dr. Doris Duru…and Dr. Chidiebere James!”

The audience went wild at the sight of their favourite TV presenter who flashed his immaculate pearly whites and gave a little wave, driving his fans into massive hysteria, driving the floor manager mad, and I could see why Chidiebere had countless fans of the fairer sex, an accomplishment responsible for the show’s high ratings. The other doctors chuckled at the embarrassment on our colleague’s face, but like a true professional he remained calm as the floor manager attempted to silence the lust-struck ladies. The excitement died down, albeit briefly, and Chidiebere looked into Camera 2.

“Thanks for keeping your appointment with The Doctors…” The ladies squealed again, nearly drowning out Chidiebere’s voice, and he struggled to finish the introduction, but who could blame those red-blooded females swooning over rippling muscles in blue scrubs? Dr. Bayo had dressed to impress in a smart pinstripe suit, looking more like a legal eagle than a medic, while Dr. Zainab and myself donned specially-tailored white surgical coats emblazoned with the show’s logo. The four of us sat behind the long desk facing the audience, and I doubted myself for the hundredth time, asking what I was doing on this show with more experienced professionals, but continued to smile for the camera, taking care not to overdo it. No need to compete with the Mr. Macleans dude seated next to me.

“You may have noticed our guest host,” continued Chidiebere in his dulcet baritone voice. “She’s Doris Duru, a graduate of the University of Enugu City, and she works at Future Hope Hospital, Ikeja…” I smiled and gave a little wave to the audience and sipped from the small glass the runner kept topping up during breaks. “She also volunteers with Cherry Blossoms Women Crisis Centre, been with them five years. As we’re discussing sexual violence today, we couldn’t think of anyone better to appear on our panel today. Dr. Doris, you’ve seen some really disturbing cases at Cherry Blossoms, haven’t you?”“

“Unfortunately, I have. I’ve come across countless harrowing cases in the five years I’ve volunteered with Cherry Blossoms, and it’s really sad seeing these once vibrant females suffer through no fault of their own. Rape is humiliating, dehumanising, and no respecter of persons. It could happen to anybody, usually when they least expect. It could take years for the victim to recover, but the truth is they never truly recover, and most times they are forced to go through it alone, mainly because sexual violence is among the least reported crimes in the country. It comes in different forms, too. If a minor is forced into marriage against her will, how is that not rape?”

I faced Camera 2, deliberately staring straight into the lens. With any luck, those EU rumour-mongers would tune in when the episode aired.

“If a girl is drugged into bed by a man who can’t keep it zipped in his trousers, exactly how is that not rape? No means no. And there are certain men out there who use the classic ‘boys will be boys’ excuse…how original. The fear of disbelief and retribution lingers, but at Cherry Blossoms, you are never alone. We do our very best to turn victims into survivors with the help of support and counselling, but we can’t forget the thousands out there too traumatised to come forward, and I’m glad you invited me here today…”

“You’re very welcome,” Dr. Zainab smiled.

“I want to use my appearance here to reach out to anyone in that situation and tell them one thing: it’s not your fault. We are here for you, just reach out…”

The mostly female audience applauded wildly, and I coiled back at the attention. At least let me finish. I reached into my pocket and wiped my face with a serviette I’d taken from the box in the dressing room. The bright studio lights above caused me to sweat buckets, smudging my makeup which also needed attention when the camera stopped rolling. What exactly was the show’s topic that day, rape or dehydration? I found myself relaxing more, taking questions from the audience and giving my own opinion during the doctors’ discussion. Why had I felt jittery earlier? TV was a blast, and I only had to be myself, smiling through the perspiration. Granted, I lacked the pores for show business, but as long as the makeup girl kept me shine-free during the breaks, who cared? I just prayed recording would round up soon; who knew it took three whole hours to record a one-hour show?

“That’s it for now, folks. Thanks for joining us on The Doctors, please make an appointment next time!” Chidiebere finally closed the show, and once again the floor manager frowned at the ladies screaming their admiration for the country’s hottest doctor.

Over at last, thank God, but I enjoyed presenting more than I’d imagined. Zainab and I mingled and shook hands with the show’s die-hard fans, while Dr. Bayo chatted with the director. Chidiebere had disappeared, and I didn’t blame him—those crazy ladies would have torn him apart, no question. After the audience left, Olivia Ntuk, the persuasive lady from the Cherry Blossoms charity fund raiser who begged me to join her upcoming project, shook my hand.       

“Well done Doris, that was bloody marvellous! Are you sure you’ve never worked in TV before?”     

“Me? Not at all, in fact I never watch TV these days,” I replied truthfully. The day’s experience brought back memories of my appearance on the NTA Port Harcourt kids show Think Fast hosted by a pretty but overly animated lady we affectionately called Auntie Dolly. The stuffy studio had us sweating pellets like fattened dogs in a Calabar restaurant, but after the recording ended she sent us home empty-handed. Not even a glass of water.

“Really? Could have fooled me, you’re a natural. It’s true you’re standing in for Dr. Gyang, but we don’t know if she’s returning yet, and we all think you’d make a great replacement after your six-week run ends. Permanently, that is.”      

“Are you serious?” Me, a regular on The Doctors? Olivia assured me she meant business, and we chatted for a few more minutes before she rushed down to the control room.

“Just so you know, the hosts usually have refreshments after the show, so don’t leave until you’ve had a drink and a bite. There’s sandwiches, ‘minerals’, tea and coffee…”      

“No… no tea!” I exclaimed loudly, and Olivia flinched in shock. “Sorry, I meant I can’t drink tea in this heat.” History didn’t always have to repeat every detail, but I couldn’t pour myself a mug. For obvious reasons. “You know, that’s the best thing I’ve heard all day. I enjoyed working with the other doctors today, but those lights!” I moaned, mopping my beaded brow yet again.      

“Yes, I’m so sorry about that,” sympathised Olivia. “They have a problem with the silent AC’s today, and we can’t use normal ones because the boom mics pick up the noise. The man in charge hates it when the audio sounds like a low-budget Nollywood production, but he’s also responsible for the spread he’s laid out for you and the other doctors in Studio 4. Be sure to treat yourselves, you’ve all earned it!”      

“Right now I’d do anything for an ice-cold lemonade, thank you so much,” I gushed. Three hours of getting baked may have landed me a new side career, but not without its drawbacks!       

“You’re welcome, and think about what I said. We’d really love to have you on board permanently.”  

“Okay, thanks, Liv.”      

I found the other doctors in Studio 4 where Chidiebere greeted me, and we both chatted between sips of Sprite.       

“You were terrific today, Dr. Doris. You put me to shame, in fact. Where did all that come from?”       

“Are you kidding me?” I replied in mock horror, asking myself how someone’s teeth could be that perfect, like the blonde dude in my favourite pop band. “You’re the real star of the show, the ladies loved you out there!”       

Chidiebere shook his head in frustration. “As much as I appreciate our audience, that was so annoying. I love this presenting job, but I hated how they cheered every single time I breathed.” His colleagues chuckled. “It’s not funny, guys.”       

“To be fair, you do have a point,” Zainab chipped in. “We weren’t able to answer all their questions because of all that noise. Maybe we should have a smaller audience next time.     

“Like that would make a difference. Maybe I could borrow one of your scarves and cover my face next time, not that I can see what those women are crazy about. Besides, we all know the real heartthrob here is Dr. Bayo.” Chidiebere nodded towards our older colleague who feigned embarrassment.

“Don’t even think of calling me a heartthrob, who wants to look at an oldie like me, apart from my wife?” argued Dr. Bayo, taking a bite of his sandwich. “There’s no way those women would ever have the hots for me, unless of course they’re going through menopausal hot flashes.”

I nearly spat out my Sprite. Who said doctors had no sense of humour? I hadn’t known these guys that long, but they’d made me feel welcome, almost like family. I admired Dr. Chidiebere’s perfect smile for the hundredth time and was about to ask for his dentist’s details when the door swung open. Thinking Olivia or another crew member had joined us, I turned. My glass dropped to the floor, my hand shaking violently, attracting the other doctors’ attention.

“Doris, are you okay?” Zainab placed her hand on my shoulder, but I continued to stare at the new arrival I hadn’t expected to encounter.

“What’s going on?” Chidiebere inquired nervously.

“What is he doing here? What the hell is he doing here?” I finally blurted between clenched teeth, glaring with contempt. “I said what the hell are you doing here?”

“He works here,” Zainab answered for him, still as confused as the others, and I nearly vomited. Dear God, what did I ever do to you?

“Why are you here? To laugh at me? To torment me?” I demanded fiercely.

“I only came to borrow some studio equipment…”  he began, but I scowled with disgust and bitterness, the memories flooding back. The pain and anguish I endured for months, the taunts and rumours still echoing in my head, the nights I spent huddled in a corner crying my heart out… The last time I bumped into him at the National Theatre he twisted the knife already lodged in my bruised heart, and I’d just stood there. Not this time. No more Dr. Nice Gal, the time had come to give this piece of trash a taste of medicine no other doctor could prescribe.

“Jesus Christ!” Jide shouted in agony, grabbing his nether regions in pain. I let out a wild cackle, ecstatic at finally gaining the upper hand. Finally.

“Take that, you sick bastard, eat shit in hell!” Chidiebere and Zainab quickly held me back, but not before I clawed deeply into his face with my fingernails. Man, revenge feels good…

“Dr. Duru, are you out of your mind?” Dr. Bayo exclaimed. “What is wrong with you?”

“He deserves it, I don’t care what anyone says, he deserves it. I hate this bastard. Somebody get him out of here before I commit murder!”

“Murder? What are you talking about?” asked Zainab.

“He’s a rapist!” I screamed, not caring how audible my voice sounded outside Studio 4. “He drugged and raped me when we were students at EU.” Oh no, did I just reveal personal information to three people I had only met that morning? I spent the last eleven years bottling my distress and desolation, and seeing Jide again made that hatred bubble to the surface. Thank God I wasn’t at work holding a scalpel, or there would have been a fatal ending. The type he promised years ago when he’d warned me to keep my mouth shut. Now I didn’t care what happened as long as I gave him a piece of my mind—and my fist.

“Pretty ironic, huh?” I clapped my hands in his face. “I come here to talk about rape victims, and who should I run into other than my very own rapist? Wow, isn’t today jam-packed with surprises!”

“Is this true?” Chidiebere asked Jide. Zainab and Dr. Bayo stood behind him, looking at their new colleague, and at each other. “Because that’s a serious crime you committed.”

“Not that we can go to the police now, it’s too late to do anything. His friend even threatened to kill me if I went public. Well, here I am, go ahead and kill me,” I sneered, daring him to carry out his threat, but he stood in front of us, trying to stop the blood flowing heavily from his injuries. “I said go ahead, you wimp!”

“My face!” Jide whimpered without looking at me. “You crazy bitch, you crazy, crazy bitch, you scratched my face…”

“Good!” I goaded.

“How am I going to explain this to my son at home?” The rest of us exchanged glances in disbelief, amazed at how he hadn’t attempted to apologise for his past sins—not that an apology would have made a difference at that stage—only showing concern over his miserable face.

“You’d have to explain even more to your wife if I castrated you, bastard. You have a son? Wow, was he a product of rape? Well done, round of applause!”

“No, no,” Dr. Bayo chided. “Come on, that’s too harsh…”

“What, we’re all going to stand here are pretend he never raped me?” I answered back.

“She’s lying!” Jide retorted. “I never did anything, everyone knows she had threesomes with multiple men on campus…”

I kicked at least seven bells out of his testicles again, prompting Chidiebere to pull me to the other side of the room. “You’re calling me a liar? The guy who forged his WAEC results to enter EU calling me a liar? The same guy who circulated that threesome rumour calling me a liar? Are you going to deny you raped me?” No answer came, and I resorted to a different tactic. “Look me in the eye, and swear on your son’s life you didn’t drug-rape me.”

“Come on Dr. Duru, there’s no need for that.” Dr. Bayo persuaded me to calm down. No way, I’d had enough of remaining calm. No more.

“No, I want him to look me in the eye and swear on his son’s life he’s never been a rapist,” I insisted fiercely. “I want him to swear he never raped me. I want him to admit he made up those threesome tales. I want him to confess I’m not the bad guy here…”

© Okoro Dedeh, Tami, 2019 All rights reserved

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