What went wrong?

Standing in the middle of the road, totally oblivious of the blaring horns and screams, people moved on. A few stopped by to have a proper glance, a few shook their heads, a few cared enough to call the emergency, but majority just moved on. This sort of scene was becoming more and more familiar on a daily basis. People losing the plot in life.  People getting scared and afraid to live. People wanting to put the cart before the horse.

I overheard a voice say “what a fine gentleman”. He was dressed in a navy blue blazer, burgundy cotton shirt, a pair of black loafers and a pair of well-tailored brown pants. He had an attaché case next to him and he stood in the middle of the road staring into the sky. People kept turning their heads into the skies.  What was he looking at?

By this time, the sirens were blaring, paramedics were arriving, and the cops were coming in full speed. Was it another case of attempted suicide?

Othman was a Bath university graduate, an Eton graduate, an aeronautical engineer by profession. He studied at Bristol University and was a young man with prominence. Life had dealt a real blow to him. He had been married for eight years to Zainab. They wanted a child so badly. It was always a case of one miscarriage after the other. Finally it seemed like, God was smiling on them. This pregnancy stayed. Zai as she was fondly called by the husband, was delighted that this pregnancy had stayed. They had prayed the best they knew how to, been to the best clinic, seen the best gynecologist that was around and were looking forward to welcoming little Ethan to planet earth. They had prepared his room, painted it blue and posted lovely photos of babies crawling, singing, jumping and being happy, around the room. Excitement buzzed the air. Their parents in law were super excited and nothing mattered to Othman and Zai than Ethan’s arrival.

When Zai was rushed to the hospital; that packed bag, went with her. She was rushed to the theatre. Little Ethan was brought out. It was such a joy. He was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit of the pediatric ward. Zai was being stabilized. Othman was confused – joy on one hand for the arrival of Ethan and worry over the wife’s condition on the other.  Ethan was born with only testicles and no penis, a form of penile agenesis. What type of life would this be for Ethan? The doctors tried to explain this rare condition to him over and over and he could not hear anything. He could not process anything. He was just blank.

“Doctor, doctor, baby Ethan is ….” The nurse tried to explain.


Dr. Stuart shot off his seat and Othman dashed along. They went to the ward and they tried a few procedures on Ethan. Twenty five minutes later. Dr. Stuart had his hands over Othman’s shoulder, “we tried everything we could, we just couldn’t save him”.

It was like pouring ice water on Othman in a winter season. He froze.

Back at home, his biggest worry was how he would pass this message on to his dear wife. According to the custom of the Kanti tribe, the baby has to be buried within the next twelve hours. He would not have to be in attendance because as the father, you are supposed to be buried by your child and not you burying your child. He requested to see Ethan for the last time and wave him farewell. He took a photo of Ethan and said this will be for a memorial. Even if I had you for only three days, at least I was a father for three days.

Sleep vanished from him, solitude became his closest ally. Borsi, Chugga and Ret, were by his side and kept trying to play with him. It seemed like they sensed him and just let him be. They stayed quietly by his side.

“Honey but where is  Ethan?” Zai asked.

“Ethan is fine. He is in the ICU and once you are well enough, you will see him” Othman said.

“But I need to see my child. He needs to eat. I need to breastfeed him.”

“Yes, I know. He is on some tubes at the moment. There was a little complication and the doctors said that everything will be fine”.

“But I need to see him, can’t I?”

“Of course you can. He is your son”.

This conversation played over and over in his head.

“Come on boys, let’s go make a cuppa.”

Once at the kitchen, he forgot what he went there for.

Chugga went over to the kettle spot and barked.

“Oh yeah,” he sighed.

He turned on the kettle and stood at the window staring into space.

“How do I tell her, he is gone? When I have not been able to even tell myself that he is no more. How do I do such? The doctors had told him that he had better tell her the truth but her pressure was high enough already and they wanted to bring the pressure down before the news could be broken to her.

In Peace ward of the General Hospital, she seemed to be sleeping, as he went on with the narration.

The medical team arrived and they wheeled her into the theatre. One hour later, Dr. Stuart and Dr. Steam walked with Othman into the office.

“What’s going on doc?” Othman queried.

It was unusual for two doctors to within the spate of two days accompany him to the doctor’s office. What is it, that could not be discussed where they were. Was he oversensitive, he wandered.

“Calm down. Othman. We have some not too good news for you. We lost her. Your wife. We are so sorry. We did everything we could.”

That same feeling came back of pouring cold water on him in a wintry day. He broke into perspiration.

What crime had he committed? What did he do wrong? He had prayed, he had taken all the doctor’s advice. Life had been one hell of a roller coaster from misfortune to another. What was the matter? He couldn’t handle it anymore.

The police were saying stuff that didn’t make sense to him. They were approaching him with caution, they got him. The paramedics examined him and put him in an ambulance. They couldn’t get him to say a word. Only that blank stare.

Having been in that state for five days, without any food, any water, except drip. The hospital was confused. They did not diagnose anything. Then from way down inside Othman, a voice whispered to him “you have not lost anything. All what you think you have lost, will be restored”.

That voice sounded familiar. He had heard it once or so in his life.

He turned over to the folks around him and declared “everything is going to be alright.”

The first time he had spoken since being admitted into hospital.


Uwem Mbot Umana©2018

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  • Blessing Asher E. Posted July 12, 2020 2:35 pm

    The days of a man in grief are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and are spent without hope. For Othman, grief left him feeling isolated and cold inside his own emotions. “What went wrong”
    captures grief with simplicity.

    Othman’s experience can be exhausting, and while hope is always something to strive for, sometimes it will be temporarily out of reach. Although grief is a natural process, many of us were taught to contain our feelings and to act like we’re OK even when we’re not. Emotional pain and grief can be so frightening that we try to push it away and to distract ourselves to avoid truly feeling it. Reading about Othman’s grief can be confronting in that it reminds us of our own past losses or ones we will face in the future. By accepting our own grief we might find it easier to have empathy for another’s heartache. If we allow ourselves to experience the full impact of our grief, it has the power to heal the deepest of wounds like Othman’s experience.

    Shock is usually the first response to loss. It’s a protective transition into intense and overwhelming feelings that range from despair and anger to relief and joy.People sometimes try to pull themselves prematurely out of their grief. They resist it because they think that what they’re experiencing is perhaps not normal, and carry thoughts about grieving that prevent real healing from occurring.

    The most authentic and interesting thing about Othman’s experience was his capacity to create, overcome, endure, transform, and become greater than his suffering because real power is building something inside of you in times of distress.

    Life is so amazing until reality hits. Then, pain comes running towards us and the darkness of life crawling before dusk. if we’ve arrived at an obstacle and we feel we cannot bear it anymore, “what went wrong” will help us understand that there is strength from inside that can help us in such moments. Suicide should never be an option.

  • Marcus-Philemon Omotayo Posted July 12, 2020 12:40 pm

    Life is what you cannot imagine what can happen to you what can happen to you even when you try to do in your best things can still go bad for you. What worked well in the story was that Othman and he had time to see his child but not up to a day what caught my attention the most was that all through the time they were passing through order TOUGH times and when his wife was in the hospital there was no mention of anyone around him borsi, chigger and ret were not described as adults that could be of help in any way.
    I think the writer should have told us who Borsi, Chigga and Ret where and the role they had to play and how they were related and also told us who it was by the roadside at the beginning of the story.

  • Joel-Levi Omotayo Posted July 12, 2020 12:15 pm

    The story potrays how life can be really unfair no matter how one tries to live a good life and do the right things, sometimes things just don’t work out one can be faced with challenges almost all through their lives.
    What worked well in the story was that Othman was a graduate and was married which is an achievement any young man should have.
    The sudden shattered hopes for Othman caught my attention the most after rejoicing over his wife being pregnant and having a baby then the baby has a terrible condition and suddenly dies still trying to recover from the shock and thinking of to break the news to his wife,he is told that his wife is dead.This is very disappointing and sad for someone who has been doing his best to see that things worked out well for himself and his wife.
    The story is very touching and show’s that life sometimes doesn’t give back to you what you put in to it.
    What the writer should have done differently was to have ended the story by telling us how Othman ended up being on the side of the road and how he was taken to the hospital.

  • Yemi Adebiyi Posted July 12, 2020 11:23 am

    What makes the story unique is the authors application of deductive approach to prose writing: the closer at the first paragraph of the story.
    Othman attempting suicide after the catastrophic loss of his long awaited but deformed baby and the loss of his wife, Zainab, to afterbirth health complications.
    The long wait, the expectation, the preparation for baby’s arrival that culminated in the loss of baby and mother made Othman wanted to give up.
    He was rescued and on his hospital bed, while pondering what went wrong, he heard a reassuring voice that all will be well. Spiritual intervention, perhaps.
    The authors descriptions of the scene of suicide attempt, and the couple readiness for the baby that will erase their barrenness make a beautiful read.
    This style of narrative was employed by Chinua Achebe in NO LONGER AT EASE.
    Good story, short and sharp.

  • Dahunsi Samuel Posted July 11, 2020 5:35 pm

    Is life always fair? Definitely not. Can we do anything about it? Frankly, no. Things happen to people, good and bad, at different points in life. Oftentimes, when an unusual good happens, we do not reason much on why it had to be us, or wonder much whether we truly deserved it; but when the reverse is the case, a lot of ‘whys’ litter the unwitting air, melancholy sets in and wistful feelings if despair. Little wonder Job, one who had a very big share of misfortunes in life, said in the Christian Bible, “…What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?…” Such is the case here, as the story critically portrays the dismay of experiencing the unfairness of like; quite extreme, costing two and a ‘half’ innocent lives. A sad reality!

    Othman had just lost his long awaited son, and his loving wife, Zainab, with whom he stuck with through the thick and thin, despite her childlessness, for 8 years. He was totally devastated to the extent of roaming aimlessly into the middle of the road absent mindedly, questioning the universe on why she dealt with him so badly.

    I love the writer’s style of writing, always vivid, craftily described in toto, passing the right emotions. The introduction is captivating and suspense filled, keeping inquisitive readers glued. I also like the sagacity of Othman’s pets, Borsi, Chugga and Ret, in response to their owner’s sullen mental state. They stayed by his side, offering some quiet solace (unlike Job’s three friends in the Bible, saying gibberish).

    What caught my attention is that despite the alarming scenario witnessed in the middle a road, majority just moved on. Quite expected anyway, as they actually never understood his plight. Only few people truly cared. We can only excuse them with the assumptions of their busy schedules; nonetheless… I’m also greatly fascinated to the soothing of the inner voice. If we truly look deep inside, there is always something that gives us strength and hope, sometimes deeply buried in our soul by grief. We just have to painstakingly find it, that which makes life still worth living, even in the deepest of trying times. I’m happy Othman found it. Truly, when there is life, there is hope.

    I noticed a personalized character in the story, ‘pronoun-ced’ with “I” in the second paragraph. Who could have been the person? It couldn’t have been a mere passerby reporting the incidence that would know all the intricate details of Othman’s grief. The writer could have avoided that “I”, except if he had intended to tell the story from a passerby’s perspective, which wasn’t the case here, as this was more of a writer’s narration.

  • Bamidele Mary Posted July 11, 2020 4:42 pm

    The catch phrase “this life no balance” is what flashed through my mind as I read Othman’s unfortunate ordeal.

    There are harsh unexplainable moments in life when we are filled with so many questions, what did we do wrong? Where did we go wrong?
    One moment, our heart is aglow with happiness, fulfilment, and the next? We experience extreme heartbreak, agonizing happenings that make us question our own existence, and the cause of these ills.

    Amidst the trials and tribulations we encounter in life however, we are comforted by the source of life and light dwelling inside of us, the author of Creation, who sees all, who knows all, and the One who speaks to us through the storm that: “we have not lost anything. All what we think we have lost, will be restored”.

    This gives us strength anew, breathes life on our dying spirit and we find the courage to say: “Everything is going to be alright”.

  • Aimée Posted July 11, 2020 1:11 pm

    This is a lot to digest at one reading.

    What caught my attention was everything about Zainab. I literally shook while reading it. After waiting for eight years, you finally have a child and the child dies without you even holding him for a while. This is something no one would wish for a mother. Zainab’s death was very unexpected. One cannot imagine what Othman must have gone through; losing his baby and wife within a short period.

    What worked well was the way Othman handled everything. For someone who had been married for eight years, expecting a child, all the miscarriages, praying that every pregnancy would stay, one would have thought he would have left his wife, or his family would have brought up something about Zainab’s village people pursuing her (juju of some kind) but he stayed devoted to his wife and supported her through thick and thin. This should be a notice to couples out there, you are married for the good, bad and ugly. The joy the couple felt when Ethan’s pregnancy stayed is one that you can’t put a price on.

    What I liked was the way the writer was able to portray the solace Othman felt in an inexplicable manner. The story showed the effect of grief on a person. Othman had lost everything: his wife and child (less than a week old), no one could comfort him. He was still battling on how to break the news of the death of Ethan to his wife before the doctors could give him another sad news. In this life, everyone deals with grief in different ways. In Othman’s case, nothing could bring him out of the stage he was in. He went for days without eating, drinking or speaking, this showed how much the news affected him. Indeed, he was broken. Life had really dealt with him. If you have never experienced this gravity of grief, you will never understand.

    But the peace that came with the words spoken to him, “you have not lost anything. All what you think you have lost, will be restored”, only Othman could understand that. That was the only thing that brought him out of his sad state and after a few days, he spoke his first words.

    The writer could have told us what happened afterwards with Othman and how he handled life without his family.

    This story is one that no one should have to encounter in reality.
    Very emotional!

  • Ikanke Edet U. Posted July 9, 2020 5:32 pm

    The biggest power of death is not that it can make people die, but that it can make the people you left behind want to stop living. The death of Ethan had touched Othman, hurt him, and left him to deal with its disagreeable aftermath. He had hardly recovered, then came the news of Zainab’s death. The death of Zai was like an amputation, like a cold gray shroud. It laid heavy on his shoulders and wrapped him in comfortless embrace. The ground beneath Othman became fragile, his thoughts made his eyes unsure, some dead echo dragged his voice down that he didn’t speak for days. He was in a state where words have no confidence, his heart had grown heavily with loss. His life became a broken statue, a statue that was broken but still standing on the fake pillars of an unwanted and meaningless life. He became empty with broken pieces of heart, thrashed feelings and emotions. Hmm!!! Suicide was the only option left. This story is a mental portrayal of a sorrowful heart. I could literally feel Othman’s pain. It’s an experience that does not announce its arrival. The story of grief and depression cannot be captured better than this. Nicely written.

    Othman’s scars was a testament to the love and the relationship he had with his wife Zainab. The scar was deep, so was his love. I liked the fact that he stood by his wife through thick and thin and the story showed that against all odds and logic, there is still hope. Othman’s words of encouragement reminds me of a phrase in the Holy Book that: ” a living dog is better than a dead lion”.

    This story is synonymous to the story of Job in the Bible who lost everything. Othman committed no crime but life treated him this way. My attention is drawn to his sobriety, he never cursed God or mutter a word of offence against God but was silent for days just like Job in the Bible.

    Coming out of this experience, no hurt will be too much to bear again, no fight too tough to face, no night too dark to despair and no grief too deep to sink. This is a story of how a broken piece can become a master piece. Othman encouraged himself and others at the end. This is a thought provoking piece, although the writer should have added some good news after the tragedy.

  • Charles Adegoke Posted July 9, 2020 12:41 pm

    Caught up in the middle of nowhere in the journey of life. Great misfortune and an unfortunate circumstances are the words I can use to describe the tragedy that befell Othman. He has hopes to become a father, have a family of his own and move on with life but tragedy struck. The long awaited formation of coagulates that will eventually results into foetus took a long time, miscarriages are the results of every attempt. It was as if the whole world will fall when the foetus that stayed eventually came out as a deformed baby but refused to taste the water of life not to talk of unfolding what life has in stock for him. The death of the long awaited Ethan wouldn’t have taken too long a time to fade away in the memories of Othman if not for the death of Zainab fondly called Zai by her lovely husband. What a loss !!! What a tragedy!!!! What a experience. Othman to me could be seen as a homely well cultured traditional African man that looks forward towards having a glorious family he can call his own but tragedy struck along the way. Although He took the bold step of marrying , struggles for the wife to have a baby delivered after a long trial his course of life never tend to follow the trend he carefully chose to pass. Nevertheless a Yoruba proverbs goes thus ( Ori bibe ko ni Ogun ori fifo ) meaning “ cutting off ones head is not the solution to headaches “ . Othman be bold , face life squarely once again, give life another trial because the trouble you refuse to face today will face you tomorrow. Challenges are bread for champions, life demand courage and those who fight and run away lives to fight another day. Keep trying, keep trusting, keep believing and you will get there – – – – – – – – – – –

  • Paul Elakhe Posted July 7, 2020 3:47 pm

    Grief falls upon mortals like the rain, not selecting good or evil, visiting the innocent, condemning those who have done no wrong, this was the case of Othman. The certainty of death and the uncertainty of the hour is a source of grief itself. The despair and overwhelming sadness that accompanies the death of a child and a wife is indescribable. It cannot be imagined and explained, it just hurts. Zai and Ethan’s death was the least thing Othman expected. His experience is like an initiation into the mysteries of human life, an initiation more searching and profound than joy, hence the title, “what went wrong”? The writer portrayed a true picture of what grief is.

    Hmm!!! How terrible to love something that death can touch. I liked the fact that Othman absorbed his losses. His experience carved him into a different person, he turned out an encourager, a comforter, a consoler to himself and others by that inner voice. I also liked the fact that Borsi, Chugga and Ret, were by his side and when they sensed their play with him wasn’t bringing relief, they just let him be and stayed quietly because when someone is going through a storm, your silent presence is more powerful than a million empty words.

    My attention is drawn to Othman’s personality. He must be a man of virtue and character. He had waited for 8years without a child. One would have thought that picking a new wife should be an alternative which has become the norm in most African and non African families. The Kanti tribe would not be an exception. I could imagine the pressure from families and friends. He stood with his wife till the end, they had prayed the best they knew how to, been to the best clinic, seen the best gynecologist until they finally brought Ethan to the world. His patience, perseverance and fortitude finally earned him Ethan although his joy was short-lived.

    The story depicts what grief, pain, and hurt is, looks like a tragedy but also ended in how a person griefing can receive inner strength from an inexplicable source. It was a nice read, nevertheless more would have been said about Othman’s recovery and resurgence.

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