Title: The Waiting Room
AUTHOR: Bolatito Adebayo
Publisher: Prima, Narrative Landscape, Lagos
REVIEWER: Henry Akubuiro
The cover page of Bolatito Adebayo’s debut novel, The Waiting Room, is a fortoken of what lay on the bond pages, minus the calm exterior of the pregnant woman. The joys of motherhood don’t come cheap like a dog’s breakfast, especially in this part of the world where a couple without a child is at the mercy of heckling onlookers. The Waiting Room depicts anguish, hopelessness and desperation that go with the search for a baby. It also illuminates an uncommon tenacity in the midst of adversity.
A novel in three parts, Adebayo’s The Waiting Room is an exposé on our contemporary society and its familial dilemmas. Here, we see a threatened marriage institution riven by external forces, from religious charlatans to overbearing mother-in-laws, superstitions and cultural trammels. These factors, we notice, are more overwhelming than the pangs of parturition.
The author demonstrates a remarkable vision for contemporary realistic fiction and plotting adroisity by coalescing the travails of three wives —Nkechi, Yeni, and Tale — to tell a story of marital crises. The scapegoat here isn’t, per se, the much maligned masculinist in feminist fiction as you would find in a Flora Nwapa or a Buchi Emecheta — Adebayo looks beyond stereotypes and catcalls, and lays the blame on infertility and, by extension, the doorstep of the society and its larger than life expectations from couples.
The author of this intriguing novel does not leave anybody in doubt that this fiction isn’t just a product of a imagination; The Waiting Room seems to have enjoyed a painstaking research, which shows in the medical terminologies deployed, the consultation details of faithealers, pressures of intertribal marriage, familial discords and psychological traumas associated with childlessness. She, in addition, invites us to scrutinise the existence or otherwise of paranormal activities in infertility issues, especially as regards the role of the invisible, sly incubus. Above all, this fiction tells us that, no matter the problems associated with childlessness, there is a way out if you can persevere.
The Waiting Room tees off with a prologue and ends with an epilogue. These elements are carefully woven around anxiety and bliss; empathy and eureka. Nkechi, an Igbo, is married to Shola, a Yoruba. Their marriage seems to be made in heaven until it dawns on the couple that children aren’t coming anytime soon. Desperation sets in, and they start running from pillar to post. We meet Nkechi first at the Womb Assembly (what a name!), a “Pentecostal church in the sprawling suburb of Igando” where Pastor Abraham, holds sway, the so-called “Father of Many Nations” who claimed “God had given him special powers to get women pregnant with twins, triplets and quadruplets”. But this and similar encounters only make us bend double with laughter as we follow the guiles of a dubious man of God and his strange “spirit of the most High”. Shola discovers, to his surprise, too, that he is sterile, but is keen to reverse the shortcoming.
Yeni is another lady struggling with getting pregnant. She is married to Tunde. The third embattled couple are Tale and Kunle Thompson. Having stayed for years without a child, the latter proceeds for IVF at a Lagos clinic, but succour doesn’t come their way immediately as expected. “Kunle desperately wanted to father a child. He needed the IVF to prove he was not a failure,” writes the author. Meanwhile, a flashback reveals how Tale was compelled to abort a baby while dating Kunle years ago as a student, and that abortion has turned out to be one mistake too many.
Yeni’s problem is complicated, because she has a “spiritual husband” named Alhaji who comes to make love to her, causing her to have miscarriages, no matter the medical efforts made by the doctors to ensure she conceives. This spiritual angle, the author warns, can’t be wished away as mere fantasy in our peculiar clime.
Adebayo’s fiction offers a blow by blow account of what couples like this go through. We see infidelity rearing its ugly head; we see failed IVs and failed prophecies. Sometimes money can’t buy happiness. But this book tells us: never lose hope, even when there seems to be no hope.
In the third part of The Waiting Room, the author calms the frayed nerves of the readers by putting smiles on the faces of the desperate couples. After many tries and trials in churches and hospitals, Nkechi, Yeni, and Tale all hear the cries of babies in their houses, but that of the Tale twins leaves much to be desired. Tell you what —you have to read this compelling book. It is therapeutic.