By Adesina Ajala
When my white-bodied Samsung phone slipped into the toilet bowl for the second time, I did not know how things would change for me that night. I dipped my bare hand into the toilet bowl, my palm feeling the coolness of the water pooled in the bowl again, held my breath and squeezed my nostrils to an imagined smell of feces and urine to pick the phone out. I cleaned its surfaces with tissue paper, split the back cover open, but couldn’t detach the battery to air-dry the phone properly. I let out a long hiss.
A thought refused to leave my mind, “Nosa, how will you survive this night?”
I was the doctor on call in a local hospital that day and I was to attend to every child who was brought into the Children Emergency Unit overnight. I packed my dying phone carefully and rushed downstairs where there was a shop for phone accessories. I was lucky; I found a phone technician there too.
I showed my phone to the technician. He examined it, blew some water from the panel of the phone with several puffs of his mouth and explained, “I’m going to heat it for you.”
I looked curiously. Will it work again?
Insha Allah. He nodded.
A wary frown crested my face. I lifted my eyes up to the sky, to the dark evening, to my looming doom. It was dark, so I couldn’t take my phone to the place in town known for phone repairs. I had to make do with what I have: this technician downstairs.
* * *
I needed a phone to cope with the night. I was the one on call in the hospital. I had to sleep at home because there were no provisions for me in the hospital. So, I needed a phone to accompany me through the night, to enable me to respond to any emergency and to allow the driver of the hospital van to keep track of me if he needed to come and pick me up at home.
I dragged myself to my housemate’s door and gave it a soft knock. His girlfriend opened.
Please, is Okam around? I managed to whisper after I had recovered from my shock. I did not expect a lady to be at the door.
No, he traveled to Okene.
Do you have a small phone, please? My phone fell into water and I’m on duty in the hospital.
She scanned my face for minutes before she replied with empathy, I can’t lend you my only phone. I don’t have a spare.
I appreciated her kindness and went into my room disappointed.
That night, I had to make do with a couch in the hospital. One mother rushed into the Children Emergency in the middle of the night. She cradled her gasping daughter in her arms. I moved myself from the couch, eyes heavy with sleep. I yawned as I fumbled with her cold wrist and felt feeble pulses. A nurse and I began CPR. I pressed tiny chest and she pumped the air. Another nurse scampered for a pulse oximeter to assess her oxygen level. She didn’t make it.
I lurched down on the couch again. My sleep was broken, and I couldn’t get back to it. I hissed.
Morning came to me with a seething anxiety: what would become of my cherished phone. We had bonded; I had become fond of it in the last three years. I went to the technician to check my phone first thing when I left the hospital. My phone’s broken screen still couldn’t display anything by morning. A thin film of water had partitioned its face into two and a dull light flashed across the screen.
I cleaned tears from my eyes, not wanting the technician to see me cry. I allowed the pulp of my finger roll on the broken screen.
Maybe it would still work. It still has some life in it.
* * *
I walked to the place where phone repairers usually gather in the town. That was where I intended to take my phone had it not been dark when the incident happened. The plaza was still locked. I lurked around till the place opened for business.
My phone spent close to a week with the repairer. I went there multiple times to check the phone, but he kept giving me excuses: There’s no electricity; my generator is faulty. I’ve ordered a screen. I’m charging the battery now, so come back later.
My friend, Chollom, saw my frustration and counseled me. Nosa, tell him you want to travel tomorrow. If he defaults tomorrow, collect your phone and take it to another technician.
I was forced to take my phone away from him and went to a third repairer, longing for a miracle; for healing to anything that troubled my phone. It was this phone that had kept me company for three years.
The third repairer checked the phone and said, Go get another phone, bro. This is condemned.
I allowed my mind to process what he had just told me. I felt like a part of me had died. Like what parents feel when I have to look into their misty eyes to break the news of losses all of us have known, but are unwilling to accept. I was numbed and broken. That day, I craved empathy. I understood its worth.
Adesina Ajala is a Nigerian writer/poet, medical doctor and intending surgeon. His works have appeared in Libretto, Parousia, Eboquills, The Nigeria Review, The Quills, Featiler Rays, The Wild Word, Praxis, AFAS Review, Nantygreens, Ngiga Review, and elsewhere. He was winner of the Shuzia Creative Writing Contest (4th edition) and two-time winner, Fodio Data Stipend for Poetry. Twitter/IG: @adesina_ajala.