By Peace Adzo Medie
Peter winced when the front left tire of his ambulance slammed into a pothole, which was large enough to ensconce a toddler. He veered right to spare his back tire the same fate but the vehicle was moving too fast. The ambulance bucked and the woman and child in the back cried out as their bodies hit its side.
“Sorry O,” Peter said, but he knew that they could not hear him above the vehicle’s blaring siren. The best thing he could do for them was arrive at Blessed Cross within the next five minutes. Unfortunately, the morning traffic had almost ceased to flow so that drivers were slower in moving out of his way. He sighed heavily when he spotted the broken-down bus that was the source of the congestion. The black smoke shooting out of the minibus’s exhaust pipe and its broken taillight told him that the owner had never before bothered to take it in for servicing. He shook his head like a disappointed parent; these were the kind of things that frustrated and saddened him about the country. But he didn’t blame the driver. He blamed the police officers who were always more than happy to accept bribes to allow cars that belonged in junkyards to ply the roads. And when these vehicles broke down, or worse, caused accidents, these same officers appeared on the scene to restore order, as though they were not as guilty as the drivers.
He winced again as he turned onto a stretch of dirt road that could substitute for a roller coaster. He stepped on the brake to bring the ambulance to a crawl and apologized again to the woman and her daughter in the back because he knew that no matter how slowly he drove, they were going to feel like they were sealed in a football that was being kicked around.
“Why can’t our useless government tar this road?” he muttered as he neared a gully that was being deepened daily by the rains. He imagined that a government official had stolen the money that was meant for the road construction and spent it on a family vacation in Dubai and a couple of Land Cruisers that could withstand the most abysmal conditions. He hadn’t always been the kind of man who talked to himself and complained about all that was wrong with the country. But seven months of driving this ambulance had changed him. Just the week before, the electricity company had turned off the hospital’s lights while surgeons were operating and when the maintenance man went to switch on the generator, he had found the fuel tank empty. The accountant had shared half of the fuel coupons among upper management and kept the other half. Two people died because of the man’s thievery, one of them a three-year old boy, but Peter knew that no one would be held responsible for their deaths.
That incident had left him feeling so angry that he had begun thinking about returning to his brother’s provision store where he had worked before. Maybe he would do that at the end of this year. The Christmas season was always the busiest and his brother would need the extra pair of hands and might even forget that he had discouraged Peter from taking the ambulance job in the first place. His thoughts were interrupted when a goat, its stomach almost grazing the ground, paused in front of him, confused.
“Ah,” he snapped and stepped on the brake. He heard a loud thud in the back, the poor woman and her child must have hit something again.
“We are almost there,” he called over his shoulder.
He turned off his siren as the green gates of Blessed Cross Primary School came into sight. He didn’t want to draw attention to himself and alarm the children who were arriving. He pulled into a parking space close to the gates and dashed to the rear of the ambulance. When he opened it, the little girl was standing at a ready.
“We are here O, Madam,” Peter announced unnecessarily to the girl’s mother, who was smoothing the child’s uniform.
“Thank you,” the woman said through glossy lips that always caused Peter to look at her twice.
He then lifted the child out of the ambulance and placed her on the ground. He looked to the mother to see if she would be accompanying the child into the school’s compound but the woman shook her head and waved goodbye instead. When the child disappeared through the school gates, the woman sat back down on the seat that was fixed onto the right side of the ambulance and Peter shut the door. He hurried back into the driver’s seat and started the engine. He had to drop the woman off at the bank where she worked and they were already late, late because she had overslept again. He had begun picking her up every weekday morning a month before. His supervisor at the hospital had made the arrangements in exchange for a thirty percent cut of what the woman paid. And she paid well, more than Peter earned a month at the hospital, all because she wanted to beat the morning traffic without having to wake up early. He figured that this arrangement didn’t affect his work because he rarely received calls to transport patients in the morning and when he did, he always found a way to get everyone to their destinations on time.
He began pulling out of the parking lot but stopped and sneered when he saw a silver Land Cruiser, which looked like it had just been driven out of the showroom, with government plates, glide into the parking lot. Two children, as bright as the car, hopped out, followed by a fellow in a suit that shone even brighter than the car and the children.
“Criminal politicians, God will destroy all of you,” Peter muttered at the sight. He thanked God that he was nothing like such men and drove away.