When we saw it on the news, everyone said it was shocking, that they couldn’t believe. “He seemed so attentive and caring,” ADN Adebayo said. “He was always the one that brought her for her appointments. You know most fathers don’t follow their children here. I thought he was a good man,” the nursing student added, clutching her neck daintly. I don’t think she meant for it to look pretty but it did and my guilt-ridden mind latched on to that. I wasn’t sure why I was here. I had no reason to be. To distract myself from looking closely at why I had left the surgery wards to come to paediatrics, I focused on the fingernails flatteringly draped across her throat. They were even, well-trimmed and a good length for a medical personnel. Even from a distance, they appeared glossy. I couldn’t help but wonder how often she painted it. At least twice a week, my brain suggested. On closer inspection, I realised it wasn’t clear nail polish like I had immediately assumed. No, these were painstakingly buffed to a shine.

I had one of those nail buffers. I distinctly remember Mum got it for me in junior secondary school when all the girls had been obsessed with having glossy henna-painted nails. I think I badgered her into getting it for me. I’m not sure. However, I distinctly remember that I hardly, if ever, used it. I had no idea why though. I had always liked pretty nails. I wanted it. On principle, I liked people who had it. It was why I felt tempted to tell her that I had known.

Well, more accurately, I had guessed. I had no real evidence after all but I doubt that mattered now that things had turned out this way. It had been so clear to me and I had done nothing. It hadn’t been my business so I had ignored it. Perhaps, I should have made it my business so like everybody else I could say that I would have done something to get her away from him if I had known. People like to say by the way; “If only I had known…” I’ve heard it a nauseating amount in the last 3 hours since the news broke. It scrapes against my ears. Even just thinking it feels like sandpaper against my brain. I can’t explain why but it makes me furious and sad all at once. Guilty too, but I deserve that since unlike everyone else, I knew.

Photo credit: Himanshu Singh Gurjar

I remember the first time I saw her. It was in clinic, paediatric neurology clinic. I remember looking at her and thinking, ‘She has such long, full lashes.’  Sometimes, I take in people that way; I notice specifics before I take in the whole person. I had a patient’s case to present so I was understandably distracted. Luckily, I got to present early and got a B+ for it. Afterwards, while I was performing house officer duties, they came in for her consultation. It was her, a petite 8-year-old girl and her tall, lean jalabiya-wearing father. Hausa, I thought instantly and smiled. I liked running into Hausa people. It was like finding a piece of home away from home. I finished filling the prescription sheet for the previous patient and handed it off to a colleague to go give the patient. Then I looked at her, for real this time. She was beautiful, in that way that beautiful Hausa girls were beautiful; clear skin, perfect brows, captivatingly large eyes and thin perfect lips. I probably sighed. I had too much of my Igbo father’s features to ever be Hausa girl pretty -I had my father’s big, elaborate nose, and his chubby, manly hands– but I loved seeing girls who were daintly pretty the way she was. I had grown up surrounded by them back home in Zaria. It was familiar.

But even I as I admired her, I could tell something was wrong. She was too quiet and not in the way the other patients were quiet. She was being managed for cerebral palsy with intelluctual disability but she was so distinct from the other patients with that diagnosis that I found myself wondering if she had been misdiagnosed. To my mind’s eye, she had intelligent eyes, curious and wandering. She did not look like she had nothing to say. Rather, it looked like she was choosing not to learn to speak. It seemed like a learned reflex and for the life of me, I could not put a finger on why I had that thought. Her eyes were saying a lot however. They were large, inquisitive and expressive. I couldn’t help wondering why she seemed so different from the others. Well, until it was time for the physical examinations.

She had been quiet all through, watching us keenly, curiously. I remember thinking she was so well behaved. She hadn’t even been playing fixatedly with anything as was common with most patients in the unit. She was so prim and proper it bordered on withdrawn. One of my colleagues gestured for her to get on the examination couch but by the time she stood next to it, it became clear she couldn’t get on it on her own. She was too short. Her father stood up and reached for her to lay her on it and that was when I knew. Her eyes had widened in fear and she immediately began crying and thrashing, resisting his efforts. I heard terror, undiluted and raw, in her wails. I remember feeling sick to my stomach. I had looked at my colleagues and the consultant. They had all worn unaffected expressions. My insides turned.

I remember wondering if I was reading the signs wrong, seeing things where they weren’t any. I wasn’t sure. There had been no way of knowing for sure and I could not think of a thing I could have done if I had known. If I told anyone of my suspicion, they would have asked the other 4 observers in the consulting room to corroborate and it was clear none of them had thought anything was amiss. I chalked it up to an overactive imagination even though for six days straight, I kept thinking about it.

I forgot eventually of course. I moved on. I wrote tests, changed postings and carried on with my life. Until today. Someone mentioned it on our WhatsApp group. Someone else asked who he was talking about. Another someone forwarded a broadcast message with a picture of father and daughter. One deceased, sexual assault and violence. The other responsible. Apparently, it had been on the news last night. My first thought was, ‘I hope he’s in jail.’ My second was, ‘I had known.’ My third was, ‘I had known, I had known, I had known,’ on an unending loop.

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