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The Phone call

Procrastination is a terrible thing

All my deadlines had ganged up on me and I had started feeling the pressure. I was already feeling the beginning of a nasty headache sneaking up on me when I heard my name being called.

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‘What?’ I looked up from my computer. It was just after 3 pm and I was done with clinical. Hungry, tired and exhausted. It was a new doctor in the department, she needed help reviewing a patient. I groaned. The senior doctor on call was on his way and I was conveniently in the next office. I reluctantly got up and followed her into the consulting room.

The patient was Larai* a middle-aged woman in her early forties. She was weeping silently and appeared dishevelled. I winced internally. I did not have time to waste on weepy females, I had work to do. The junior doctor gave me a summary- the patient was having difficulty breathing. Her speech was incoherent. She was not sleeping and could not concentrate. She was neglecting her 6-month-old baby. Her brother, who accompanied her stood silently staring at us. I sensed there was more to the story. I glanced at my watch and sighed. My presentation would just have to wait.

I was able to persuade the brother to paint the whole picture. He started by asking us if we had heard about the man who was thrown out of the window by his wife 3 days ago. I replied in the affirmative. Freedom radio had aired it on their popular program “Inda ranka”. I remember being shocked and wondered to myself what the world was coming to.

The story was about a Lecturer who had two wives and lived together. Larai was his first wife and she lived with her 6 children on the ground floor. Her co-wife, Zara,* lived on the first floor with her three kids. On a fateful day, the husband had been in his bedroom on the first floor, whispering sweet nothings into his phone. The second wife overheard him talking to his girlfriend and went downstairs to report to her co-wife. Larai pacified her and asked her to ignore him.

‘He is just doing it to make you jealous. Relax, nothing is going to happen.’

‘But Larai, this is disrespect! How can he be talking to a girl in our room? I will show him pepper! I will let him know that I will not be disrespected in my matrimonial home! I will…..’

With that, the second wife bolted upstairs to her apartment. Larai, my patient, had at this time, composed herself enough to join in narrating the story.

She recounted how, after the second wife left, she had gone to her room to pray Isha, the night prayer. She marvelled at her co-wife’s foolishness. How did she think she felt when her husband was courting her, Zara? Or did she think that she, Larai, was without a heart? As she sat after praying, reciting her invocations, she heard a loud thud and children screaming. She rushed outside to see what the commotion was about.

Her co-wife rushed down screaming also. She saw the children gathered around her husband who had fallen from the balcony and lay crumpled in a heap with his head turned at an unusual angle. What happened next, was like a blur, she recalled. Her neighbours had taken their husband to the hospital. Her co-wife recounted that she had entered her room and snatched her husband’s phone from him while he was talking. He had become enraged and a quarrel had ensued. He had chased her to the balcony while trying to collect the phone, cornered and punched her. She had become livid and had shoved him with all her strength. The next thing she knew, he had toppled over the railing and was lying on the ground. Larai, described her co-wife, Zara, as a tall, obese woman.

I listened silently.

She had been called to the hospital. Her husband was pronounced dead on arrival. Life, as she knew it had changed forever.

Since then, she had not slept and the stress of talking to the police and media had taken its toll on her. Her co-wife was in police custody.

Larai, suffered from an acute stress reaction. I prescribed some sedatives and plenty of rest. I glanced at the clock; it was a few minutes to 5 pm. So much for my deadlines.

As I drove to pick up the kids from Islamiyya, my mind kept returning to the story. I had seen many cases of domestic violence, and in most cases, there was almost always a pattern. In this case, the patient had truthfully (even when she had the opportunity to malign her co-wife) said that Zara had never been violent and they had never engaged in any physical assault of any kind. Her husband had also never hit her.

I remembered my grandmother’s prayer every time we went visiting: ‘Allah ya rabamu da mugun gani, da mugun ji, da mugun nufi da mugun tsautsayi’.

This was most certainly ‘Mugun tsautsayi’

Zara’s case is still in court. Larai has recovered fully. She assured me that they are still friends.

*Names changed to protect identity.

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