NOT HIM by Peace Adzo Medie

Peter’s grip on the wheel tightened when the front left tire of the ambulance slammed into a pothole, which was large enough to swallow a baby. He veered sharply to the right to spare his back tire the impact, but he was moving too fast. The ambulance bucked and the woman and child in the back cried out as their bodies banged against the sides.

“Sorry’o!” Peter said, but he knew they couldn’t hear him over the siren. The best thing he could do for them was get to Blessed Cross in the next five minutes. But now the morning traffic was barely moving.

He sighed heavily when he spotted the broken-down minibus that was causing the congestion. Black smoke pouring out of the exhaust pipe and the broken taillight told him the owner had probably never cared 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. But he didn’t blame the man driving the bus. He blamed the police who were always more than happy to take bribes and allow cars that belonged in junkyards to ply the roads. Then when these abused vehicles broke down or caused accidents, these same officers appeared on the scene to bring order, as though they were not as guilty as the drivers.

His face twisted again as he turned onto a stretch of dirt road that could pass for a roller coaster. He slowed to a crawl and thought about the woman and her daughter in the back. No matter how slowly he drove, he knew they were going to feel like they were trapped in a football that was being kicked around.

“Why can’t the useless government tar this road?” he muttered, driving carefully through the mud on the edge of gullies 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, or on Land Cruisers that could handle these terrible roads.

He hadn’t always been the kind of man who complained about all that was wrong with the country. But seven months of ambulance driving had changed him. Just the week before, the hospital’s electricity was cut while surgeons were operating. When the maintenance man went to switch on the generator, he had found the fuel tank empty.

Everybody knew the accountant had shared half of the fuel coupons among the managers and kept the other half for himself. A three-year old boy and a young woman died on the operating table, but Peter knew no one would be held responsible for their deaths. What happened had left him feeling so angry that he started thinking about going back to his brother’s store where he had worked before. He could do it at Christmas time when his brother would need the help and 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, stopped in front of him, confused.

“Eh,” he snapped, and stepped on the brake. He heard a loud thud in the back. The poor woman and her child must have fallen down again.

“We will soon reach!” 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 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 if a call came in, he always found a way to get everyone to where they were going on time.

He began pulling out but stopped when a silver Land Cruiser with government plates glided into the parking lot. It looked like it had just been driven out of the showroom. Two children, 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 sneered at the sight. He thanked God that he was nothing like such men and sped away.

This piece was originally published in SIN/GIN. Photography by James Alexander Harding.