The Scourge

By Chijioke Emeh

 

A scourge besieged the land of Nkporo from Ndi Agbo to Ndi Elu, killing the villagers, both young and old, men and women. No one was spared. Once one was infected, it was a matter of days the person would die. Fear filled the minds of the villagers as they worried, “Where would our help come from?”

The herbalists and the medicine men of the land were not safe; as the plague attacked them and their families, too. Two sons of two different medicine men died of the scourge, defying the wise saying, “Instead of a child of an herbalist to die of diarrhea, let the herbs in the forest be exhausted.”

The last time such scourge besieged the land was more than half a century ago. The elders recalled the history of their community despite it was unwritten history – it was told from generation to generation. Then, the disease was defeated with an herb discovered by a medicine man named Nsi Agwu. He was the grandfather of Ime Agwu, the greatest herbalist of this generation of all the herbalists in the land.

But this time, herbs could not save the people. The hope of the people shifted from orthodox medicine to unorthodox medicine. The only man who could help the people was the light-skinned and tall medical doctor, Dr. Oji.

***

“Dum! Dum!! Dum!!!” Nurse Orie banged on the gate of Dr. Oji’s residence. The bang was like that of armed robbers but, one could still sense the desperation and plea in it.

Dr. Oji and his family sprang up from sleep for it’s about 11 PM. His wife held him not to go out. But he insisted he ought to check who was disturbing his family, and perhaps proved to the person he was cable to protect his family as a man. Dr. Oji wedded a year before now, and his wife had a baby boy a month ago.

“Who is that?” The physician shouted from the veranda of his one storey building. He stretched his neck to see if he would be able to see the person over the gate from the upstairs, as he flashed his touch light.

“It is I!”Nurse Orie said, stepping back so that her boss would see her.

“Who are you?”

“It is Orie. Orie Ji!”

Recognizing her voice, he asked in a calm but audible tone, “Orie!”

“Saah!”

“What’s it? Why are you disturbing my family by this time of the night? Do you know what the time is?”

“Taasie saah, I am sorry sir. It’s the patients, the villagers. They are many. They are dying.” As she was speaking, a clamor was closing her up. The families and parents of the patients were coming to Dr. Oji’s residence from his hospital.

“Dok! Dok!! Help us! We are dying.” The people chorused together, like Hallelujah song.

Chief Kalu took over. “It’s okay!” He calmed the villagers, numbering more than fifteen persons, made up of fathers, mothers and youths. Dr. Orji knew the voice of Chief Kalu, his paternal uncle, “Dokita Oji!”

“Ete Kalu! Is that you?” Dr. Orji asked.

“Yes!” Replied Kalu, “We are dying. You have to come to your hospital now; else, we will all die. It’s the disease, yurugboo, cholera.”

“But I warned the people. Did I not?” Dr. Orji said.

Ete Kalu pleaded with the physician to come right away. So, Dr. Oji told the people to go back to his clinic that he would join them later.

He talked to his wife who understood the nature of the job of the man she married. She permitted him to leave the house in the middle of the night. He drove to his clinic in his 505 Peugeot car 1989 model which he bought during his houseman three years before he married.

The time was 12:46 am. Nkporo had no electricity at then, no tarred road, and no pipe-borne water; the villagers drank the stream water. The community had only one primary and one secondary school. It had no health center or hospital except Dr. Oji’s hospital, Uka Memory Hospital, which he named after the memory of his father, the man who spent a lot to bring up his two boys and two girls.

***

Dr. Oji’s colleague at the medical school wondered why he chose to practice in the rural area instead of one of the big cities where there are opportunities to make money or a doctor to become rich. He told them, “It is the village that made me what I am today.” And that was the truth. “Besides, my people cannot have a son like me, and they are suffering.”

Chief UkaOji, the father of Dr. Oji, was born and bred in Nkporo. He did not spend a night outside Nkporo in eighty years of his life. He was a farmer from childhood, from the age of ten when his father died. He trained himself, out of farming, to standard six before he gave in fully to agriculture. He vowed to send his children to university. He would travel to the neighboring towns and villages during their market days to sell his farm produces, and in return he would buy the things his family needed.

Out of farming, he sent his four children to the university, bought a car, and built three bungalows. His wife and children helped him in his farm, and helped to sell the products in Nkporo markets, while Chief Uka Oji himself would travel outside Nkporo to sell.

Dr. Oji was born and grown up in Nkporo like his father. The only thing that took him out of the village was the higher institution. He still helped his father whenever he visited home during the holidays. When he became a medical doctor, he farmed in his spare time. He decided to give back to the community that gave so much to train him. By the time he graduated from the medical school, his father died. He converted his own inherited house from his father to his clinic.

***

When the disease out broke in the village, Dr. Oji warned the people. Also, he told his nurses to be battle ready, “The time has come to help our people.”

He visited the chiefs of the eight villages of Nkporo to sensitize them about the disease. But they did not heed to his voice, instead they insisted that “Ekwukwo Ofi,” Ofi leaves, would cure them. The Ofi leaves were used by Nsi Egwu, to cure the land of cholera when it scourged the village for the first time. Now, things had changed. “Ekwukwo Ofu” had over stayed its usefulness. The bacteria that carried the disease had grown strong resistance against the leaves.

Two herbalists contacted the disease while trying to cure the victims and died. The victims died, too. Fear gripped the community. They ran to Dr. Oji to save them. But Ime Agwu protested that the villagers had no faith in him again, in his concoctions and herbs. Then he swore to hurt Dr. Oji whom he saw as a rival.

Dr. Oji cured the patients and informed them of the causes of the plague. He hired town criers to go to the hamlets to gather the people for a town hall meeting. “It is the stream water that causes your woe.” He told the people to boil their drinking water, to stop defecating and washing in the stream since it was their only source of drinking water.

Ime Agwu, through his loyal disciples, preached to the people to abandon Dr. Oji’s drugs, saying that they were a temporary solution to a long term terminal disease. He told the villagers that he foresaw the scourge coming back in fury to wipe away the village. His predictions had been known to come true in the past several times. He also threatened to cast spell on them. The people panicked, returning to his shrine for treatment, and the fear that he might cast spell on them.

Dr. Oji laughed when he heard the rumors. He told the people to disregard the lies. So Ime Agwu confronted him in his hospital one sunny afternoon. He dressed in his herbalist full regalia with red ribbon charms wound around his head, waist, wrists, arms and ankles. He came to challenge the physician to a duel where the two would test their powers, casting spells and charms at each other, believing that Dr. Oji used power of sorcery. Ime Agwu stood on the center of the compound, calling Dr. Oji and challenging him to come out and face him like a man.

“Oji Uka! Come out here if you are a man. Come out and face me since you said that you know more herbs than I do. Come out, you son of a weakling. Come out and I will turn you into a pig, and send you to the swamp where you belong.”

He threw a charm of fireball on the ground, the fire bounced upward as it went off in few seconds. Everyone hid inside the rooms, locked the doors and windows, and peeping him through the holes on the windows. When nobody challenged him, he left, chanting incantation as he was going.

 

Two days later while he was curing a victim of the scourge who later died in his shrine, he contacted the disease. He suffered it for three days, defecating and vomiting on his sick bed. He became lean, weak and almost lifeless. His children wanted to carry him to Uka Memory Hospital. But he swore he would lay a curse on them if they dared to take him there. He said that he would be well in few days that he was undergoing spiritual metamorphosis. He died the next day.

And here comes the adage, “The herbalist that cures diarrhea should not assume that his own anus is safe, that he cannot be infected too.”

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