Pink Ribbon by Adepetu Oluwalani was submitted in January 2022 to Challenging The Writers Writing Contest #1 based on the writing prompt: Begin your story with “Friday, the most celebrated day in the week” and end it with the word Monday.

Friday, the most celebrated day of the week, is when I’m supposed to be sitting on one of the many rows of blue chairs, eating sticky, yellow popcorn from a paper bag and watching Tom Holland – my celebrity crush who doesn’t know I exist – swing from building to building in his red and blue Spiderman suit. But instead, I’m in a hospital with my mother sitting beside me watching with eagle eyes, as the doctor with very pretty fingernails carefully unfolds the paper, containing results that would either make my mother say God forbid or make us sigh in relief. My nose tingles like I have inhaled too much Hypo and I know it might not be the smell of bleach. I sniff. Maybe it is bleach, mixed with antiseptic they use to mop the tiles here. I don’t know how to feel so all I do is wait with bated breath.

“I’m sorry madam, but you’ve got cancer.”

“God forbid,” my mother says, snapping her fingers over her head.

Cancer? She can’t have cancer…can she?

I guess God forbid won. My heart starts to pound and my palms are moist. I wipe them on my jeans. Once…twice and breath through my mouth. I don’t say anything. It’s funny how doctors say they’re sorry and then deliver the bomb of bad news. I can’t help but wonder if they’re really sorry, or it’s just something they are required to say. Something they learned in Doctoring 101. I just listen as she starts to talk again to the doctor with the pretty fingernails.

“Doctor, are you sure?” She asks with a bite in her tone. 

She hasn’t even turned to look at me since we entered his office.

“Yes madam, I am quite sure.” He says, sounding a bit amused like my mother is asking a silly question or doubting his ability to carry out a cancer test. “It is in its second stage, so there’s still a chance to cure it with chemotherapy. But we have to act as soon as possible before it progresses to the third stage or we might have to perform a mastectomy.”

 “It’s not my portion in Jesus name.” She spits as if the doctor gave her the disease.

Mummy,” I say rolling my eyes.

She turns to face me, her colourful headgear with prints of tiny, yellow, hand fans coming loose as she does so. But she ignores it. Her eyes flash at me, but I can’t read her expression. But I can tell she wants me to keep quiet. How can I?

“So, doctor, how soon can she start – “

“Start what? Since when did you start making decisions for me?”

This time, her eyes blaze and I lean back afraid that she might burn me with her gaze. 

What is wrong with this woman? 

“Thank you, Doctor. But you are not my God. You say I have cancer but that is not what God says. Gbemi, let’s go.”

You’ve got to be kidding me.

I don’t move. I’m glued to the chair and I can’t feel my legs. My mother has just been diagnosed with stage two breast cancer and doesn’t want to treat it. She has gone mad with denial. I literally cannot believe this.

“Gbemi, I said let’s go! Do you want me to drag you out of this office? “

“Madam”, the doctor is speaking again. “I understand that you believe your faith will make you whole but, this is a serious issue. There’s still hope now that it’s still early. You must reconsider.” He has an incredulous look on his face, eyes wide in surprise at my mother’s odd behaviour.

 “Thank you, doctor.” She says again. This time, it’s full of disdain.

   When I turn, she’s already walking out the door. I lick my lips and rise from the leather chair, wiping my hands on my jeans again. Before I leave, he stops me with a few words.

   “Talk to your mother. She’s making a mistake.”

   All I do is nod and walk out. I make it to the car, where my mother has already turned on the engine and is frowning at the steering wheel. She has adjusted her wayward headgear. I feel like a black viscous liquid is slowly worming and trickling through my mind and then my body feels hot and I clench my fists. A string of curse words escapes under my breath as I seat beside her.

“What did you say?” She asks eyes on the road.

I don’t answer.“Didn’t you hear me?”

“I don’t understand o. I don’t get it at all. Abi I did not hear the doctor well? You have cancer mummy, cancer! It’s in the second stage and you don’t want to treat it. Make it make sense”. My chest tightens and I rub the bridge of my nose till my finger feels warm.

“Don’t say that again, please. I don’t have cancer.” She pronounces it as cansah.

“Why are you acting like this is not real? Like we didn’t just come from the hospital. You were the one that complained about pain in your armpit and you were the one that spotted the lump. Now you’re hearing it’s cancer and it’s like the pain has stopped and the lump doesn’t exist anymore. Why did you even bother to get yourself checked out? Why didn’t you just pray the symptoms away as usual?”

She winces at my words and manoeuvres the car around a bend. “I just wanted to know, so I can be specific in my prayers.”

I laugh. It comes out short and rude. “The doctor says there’s still a chance we can treat it now. So please, treat it. Don’t be stubborn or scared. You know I will always be there for you. You don’t have to go alone if that’s what you’re thinking.”

I admit I shouldn’t have called her stubborn, but I just can’t help it. I’m terrified and she isn’t and the fact that she isn’t terrified is making me even more terrified.

“Me, your mother, is stubborn abi? Because I don’t want to put chemicals and radiation in my body in the name of treatment. I don’t want to hear another word from you. If you don’t believe Jesus will heal me, I believe. “

The rest of the ride home is engulfed in uncomfortable silence and my heart beats harder. Fridays were my best days of the week when I can finally relax and unwind from the accumulated stress. But now, it’s my worst.

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20 Responses

  1. I love this story so much……it portrays the different emotions of the MC well and how it’s so relatable.

    Most people would rather pray away the sickness than get help.

  2. The skill to follow the instruction to the letter is admirable. As one who has taken time to read this story, I would say she put her heart and soul as she wrote down every word. Not many writers of our generation are wiling to stick to the topic of the story and intertwine little detours. It is a marvel at the way we are educated about cancer and still encouraged to pray and support cancer patients or any one whom cancer has affected personally or by association. I am also impressed the way faith without works is addressed. It covers the old school of thought most of our Nigerian parents have and the friendship most Nigerian youth have today. A job well done.

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