Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

A form of pain

Ifediba Nzube
Port Harcourt, Nigeria


Èsù the trickster by Onyeji Prince.

For Yewande, pain is Èsù slapping her head like a bata drum. But no one sees that; they see only a tumor pushing out her left eye, up her palate, and through her nostrils. Most days she smells like meat gone green. The other patients can tolerate the smell but they can’t tolerate her screams.

Yewande shrieks rhythmically, magnificently, like she is offering her screams to something bigger than herself. Her great-grandmother used to be a priestess of Yemoja, before the missionaries got her saved. Just last year her uncle announced it was time for her to serve Yemoja, too. Maybe it is because of the light skin she inherited from her great-grandmother, but she dreams of oceans all the time.

“The tumor is inoperable,” the surgeons announce.

They offer palliative care and pain relief: paracetamol tablets, morphine syrup, diclofenac suppositories, intravenous pentazocine.

Still she screams.

“Intravenous morphine?” suggests the nurse on night duty, more exasperated than worried.

The doctor scratches his head.

“Pain doesn’t kill,” he says. And for good measure, “And she’s getting addicted to the pentazocine.”

No one sees Èsù, straddled on her shoulder, thumping her head with zest.

Yewande sings in time to the drum:

“Mami, help me.”

“Doctor, help me.”

“Jesu, help me.”

Always in that order. A chant, a rabbit foot, a prayer.

This morning Yewande runs straight into a wall and breaks her neck; a sickening crack as her body crumples like a rag doll.

This is what people see. No one sees her victory; Èsù, spread-eagled on the floor, his head leaking dark fury.



IFEDIBA NZUBE, MBBS, writes from the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital Nigeria. When she is not neck deep in clinical postings she is in hiding with a good book. She has been published in Expound Magazine of Arts and Aesthetics, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Bella Naija, Kalahari Review, Windmill Journal, Bridge Journal, and Hektoen International.


Spring 2019  |  Sections  |  Fiction

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