Walking out of the Pedestrian gate at the general hospital with two of my classmates in a smug cloud of white coat, oblivious to the throng of family and friends on the other side of the gate waiting for the clock to reach 10 AM, the beginning of visiting hours, anticipation etched haphazardly across their concerned faces, I am very aware of them but I stare at a spot above their heads. I am not sure about how I should put my face, the strange familiarity of harsh antiseptic and the air-conditioned chill of hospital environment still settling on my young shoulders. I am here to learn but these people see my coat and they answer “Yes please” when I speak to them, these people that the Nigerian daughter in me feels compelled to address as “Aunty” and “Uncle”, do they know how often I have to remind myself that I don’t need to slightly bend my knees in greeting as I approach them? All eyes are on us, the Security lady waves us through, she does a great job of acknowledging us with a simple tilt of her head and effusive swinging of the small gate and we swell in gratitude.
“Heyy Doctor Ijeoma! Nwa’m, kedu?”
I freeze. My classmates, Indian and Ghanaian, also stop in solidarity, the questions crossing their eyes are who knows her name? Is that her language? What is happening? The dark skinned lady in the crowd has a familiar voice, her teeth form a sharp contrast against red lips, her smile reminds me of the lady on cabin biscuit, I am impressed by the whiteness of her teeth and taken aback by the happiness starting from her kohl-lined eyes and radiating through her small frame. Is she this excited from seeing me? She sounds like home. Of course I know she is Igbo, I don’t recognize her and I immediately feel a rush of panic, guilt and shame. This feeling is unfamiliar, I try to smile but she sees past my weak smile and focuses on the contours that have formed above my eyebrows, I am confused. We have walked past the gate and are stood at the edge of the small crowd, the moment was picture perfect for some W.H.O sensitization images if you will, “Young Doctors Speak on HIV/AIDS” would’ve worked fine as a caption.
I move closer to My Igbo Aunty and reach out to hold her, maybe holding her will jog my memory. I have never seen this face in my life. Ijeoma say something, all eyes are on you now, you cannot afford to embarrass your Aunty like this in another man’s land, I tell myself. “O di mma Aunty, how do you know my name?” I smile at the awkwardness, wishing for both our sakes that I knew how to ask her the question in Igbo, the ears around us are too much. She is very kind, I can tell from her eyes that she is disappointed but not surprised at my inability to use our language to cement our bond, to wow the crowd. She simply says “I saw it on your body, it is written on your coat.” The relief washing over me deflates my apprehension, alas my parents did not send someone to watch me move around this hospital as if I know what I am doing, lol. We part ways with her “Jisike, o” tapping my shoulder.