Alex was really excited! His favourite uncle just arrived. He ran towards him, gave him a big hug and dragged him to the sofa.
“What do you have for me Uncle Tope?” Alex said, looking at him with bright eyes. Alex wasn’t referring to sweets or biscuits but a story. They both shared a special love for stories.
Uncle Tope leaned back in his typical story telling stance and began.
“One time, when I was a young boy, I was so sick that I couldn’t get out of bed. When my dad got home, he came straight to my room and started yelling. “Get up my friend! Are you the first person to have malaria? I said get up…”
Because dad was old school and very tough, he believed that the true test of a man was being able to keep things inside, no matter what. He considered lying down when sick to be a sign of weakness.
“Get up! Be a man!” he shouted again.
I truly, desperately wanted to get up but was just too weak to move.
Eventually, I couldn’t even hear him because I was drifting in and out of consciousness. It was like I was floating, but not in a good way.
Mum stood by silently at first but then decided to intervene.
“Baba Jimi, let me help him.” she said, moving towards me as fast as her large pregnant belly allowed.
“I knew it! You will spoil this children! You cannot let a father discipline his children right?”
She ignored his tantrum, re-tying her wrapper around her chest, and after a struggle to bend down, she placed her hand on my head. Immediately, she jerked it away.
“Baba Jimi, this boy is burning!” she cried out.
“And so what? Common malaria? Ordinary malaria? Nonsense!”
“Please take him to the hospital.” Mum said with tears streaming down her face, her arms closely wrapped around her as though she was consoling herself. Mum was a strong woman that was usually able to accommodate Dad’s excesses but on rare occasions she cried. And though Dad was tough, that one thing had the power to make him melt: mum’s tears. It seemed to always signal to him that he had gone overboard.
Those precious tears saved me that day.
Dad carried me in his old brown Peugeot car to the hospital that evening, just before the golden sun set, and he didn’t say a word all the way.
When we arrived the hospital, the health team asked questions, assessed me and ran tests. That confirmed everyone’s suspicions. It was malaria and I was going to be admitted because the malaria parasite count was high.
Dad was given an estimate of the admission bill and blurted out, “You want me to pay so much for ordinary malaria treatment?” He was clearly upset.
The doctor faced him squarely and said, “There is nothing ordinary about malaria. It kills thousands of people every year, even unborn children.”
Dad’s eyes misted with tears as he remembered the two pregnancies his wife lost. Could this have been the reason? He remembered that the health workers who came to talk to the community about preventing malaria told everyone to always clear the bushes and drainages around their houses because those were the places that mosquitoes loved to hide and multiply. While other people cleaned up their backyards and drainages, he scorned and was nonchalant. He could clearly visualize the broken paint buckets that were still in his backyard, half-filled with dirty water since the rains last week.
Oh how his wife had begged him to repair the torn window nets of their house but because he was trying to save money, he didn’t. She had used pieces of cloth to plug the rent but it wasn’t efficient. Alas, penny wise, pound foolish, he was now going to spend up to three times the cost of net repairs on admission fees alone.
That day, Dad became a new man. He cleared the surroundings and fixed the window nets. Then he ensured his wife got tested for malaria and made sure she took the drugs that prevent malaria in pregnant women. Best of all, he became an advocate for eradicating malaria. He would always tell people that having a world free of malaria begins by each of us doing our part.”
“Thank you Uncle Tope, I loved the story.”
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