NOMA’S DREAM – GRACE OCHIGBO
“But why would you want to do that?” Prof Akpa shifts uncomfortably on his seat, trying hard to lock down the anger boiling up from his insides. He waits as the person on the other side of the phone speaks. The sharp movement of his eyes shows how important it is that no one sees or hear him.
“Look, you cannot do that. No no no…” He rolls his head vigorously, as though planning to pull it off. “You cannot do that.”
Swallowing deeply, he lifts his weight, pacing around the little space. He’s on a midi length jean trouser and T-shirt. “Look,” He yells, after impatiently listening for several minutes. “I’ll not want to warn you against igniting a fire you cannot quench, OK? Don’t do something you are going to regret.”
He pauses to listen then continues, “Oh yes, you are surely going to regret this. And kindly leave Audu out of this. Do I make myself clear?” He yells so loudly the ground he’s standing on shakes a bit.
“Have a good day!” He takes the phone off his ears and throw it onto the top of the closest furniture to him.
He dips his hand into the back pocket of his jean, hanging his neck up to stare at the ceiling. Alarm and several more alarms ring in his head. What to do? He has not the faintest idea. Why he didn’t think about the possibility of this prior to now, he cannot comprehend but he has to act fast. He must act fast.
The soft voice of his wife startles him so much so that he almost falls over. That action draws Prof Iye Akpa aback.
“What’s happening? Why are you so afraid in your own house?” Curiosity feels her eyes.
Prof Akpa manages a short unconvincing smile. “It’s nothing, Iye mi.” He takes a step forward to cover the little distance between them. Maybe he should go ahead and spill it now? Maybe not. “How are you?”
Iye smirks, squeezing her forehead. “Again I ask, husband, why is the VC jerking right in his own house?”
If only Iye could open his head to see how grossly inconveniencing her presence is to him right now, she would simply respond to his harmless ‘how are you’ question and get out of the room faster than the speed of light.
Prof Akpa swallows at the thoughts. “I’m not afraid in my house, Iye mi. I was just racking my head over something until your voice interrupted me. It’s OK to jerk when someone comes in a room unexpected, right?” He smiles like it’s a plaster pasted on his face.
Iye Akpa unconvinced, “What were you racking your head over then?”
Prof Akpa is pissed but trying his best not to show it. “Look, it’s not a problem, Iye mi. It all boils down to our final preparations for the festival and all. Nothing much.”
Iye smiles now but that, instead, unsettles Prof Akpa. He can tell when his wife is being sarcastic and now is one of those. “I hope the preparations are wrapping up fine? The festival is here already.”
“Uhmmm…” Prof places a finger on his jaw, picking nothing in the real sense of it. “It’s coming really well. The art students are giving me beautiful performances and I’m more than certain that the Obi would be impressed.”
Iye Akpa blinks and puts a hand on her husband’s shoulder, holding his gaze. “All will be fine, husband. And I’m here if you want to talk.” She moves her eyeballs to be sure he understood her and the latter snaps quickly from his initial confused look to an expressionless face. “If you know what I mean.” Iye says finally and walks out without looking back.
Prof Akpa stands with his jaw dropping to the floor. Of course, he has something to tell her. In fact, there are a lot of things actually. A whole lot that he isn’t just concerned about the manner to relate them to his wife but also where to start from exactly. It’s too late, he’d thought the last time he felt the deep urge to talk to Iye. It’s too late, he is saying now and probably will let the sleeping dog lie forever.
Once beaten, twice shy. Forget it!
“Doctor Ebiloma, I always lack words to express my gratitude to you for what you do for my daughter and her daughter.”
Dr Ebiloma shakes his head, all smiles. “I’m only doing my job, madam.”
“I know.” Mrs. Gina smiles weakly, supporting her stance by placing her left hand on the bonnet of the car they are standing beside. “You know it’s not everyone that know their job let alone how to do it well. So I must compliment one with both qualities in quantum.”
“It’s a pleasure, ma’am.” Doctor Ebiloma feels himself blushing carelessly and decides to take over the conversation before the woman would incite pride in him. “Hallie would be fine. About the pranks, that’s quite normal…”
“Normal?” Mrs. Gina exclaims. “That one is beyond normal o. The little girl will just roll up like a ball and cry in pains.”
Doctor Ebiloma keeps the confidence in his eyes, one that depicts clearly that he knows what he’s saying. “I understand. They are part of the expected post-operative complications of the surgery we did for her. I can assure you that she would be perfectly fine with time.”
Mrs. Gina swallows, trying not to say more things that are obviously craving passage out her vocal cords.
“I discussed the likelihood of these complications with her mother…” Doctor Ebiloma starts, then pauses. “Speaking of whom, where’s Noma? I haven’t seen her around. Busy at work?”
Mrs. Gina smiles like a proud mother whose ward emerged as the best graduating student of a big school. “Well, she went in search of the love of her life…”
Doctor Ebiloma raises an eyeball. “I thought she and the prince had become an item?”
Mrs. Gina feels startled. “Prince? Which prince?”
“Forgive me, madam, and pardon my assumptions but judging from the ordeals at my hospital, I only concluded Noma and Akoji had something special together.”
Mrs. Gina’s face brightens in excitement. “Yes yes yes, they did… they doooo… Wait, Akoji? Akoji is a prince?”
Doctor Ebiloma looks unbelieving. “Yes. and I don’t want to believe that you don’t know.”
“Come off it, doctor. Even Noma herself doesn’t know. The boy never told my girl anything personal. All they do with their time is to be professing love for each other like kids in kindergarten.”
That makes Doctor Ebiloma chuckle lightly. “Well, Akoji is a prince and if everything goes well, your daughter would be marrying into the most famous and well respected royal family in this country.”
Mrs. Gina smiles and returns her face back to normalcy so briskly one would not notice. “Seriously?” she raises an eyebrow in amusement and amazement. “What royal family can that be, doctor?”
Doctor Ebiloma mistakenly clicks on a button on his car’s remote and it makes a sound that startles Mrs. Gina a little.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. Didn’t mean to do that.”
Mrs. Gina shrugs, giving way for the man to draw nearer the driver’s corner of his car.
“Akoji is the first son of Chief Callistus Chukwuemeka Mbah, the obi of Onitsha and he’s the heir apparent to the throne.”
Mrs. Gina’s eyeballs pop wide open like she just saw a Nigerian ghost.
Odi hurries over to collect the phone from Uche who’s also walking towards him.
“Na Oga!” The latter mouths and Odi reflexively clears his throat to speak.
“Oga Clinton, I twale, baba.”
Clinton chuckles loudly over the phone. “Odi, how is the software operating room?”
“We de alright, baba. We de alright.”
Odi was Clinton’s classmate in the university who got rusticated in their third year. The young man was addicted to drugs and to make matters worse, joined a secret cult that was notorious for rampage, rape and robbery. Amidst all these ‘extracurricular activities’, Odi’s academics suffered greatly but the young man had hopes in sorting out lecturers and buying his way through the whole mess. Well, that was until the unexpected happened and he was found guilty enough to be expelled from the school completely by the school management. Clinton would have been a victim too but some names and powers are above the law. When Clinton set up this place and whoever told Odi about it, the latter came to ask, more-like, demand for a job. Clinton owed him one, surely, he did – for all Odi did to cover him up.
Odi got the job, of course, and the rest is history.
“Please my guy, I need the HM code on the left side of the power adaptor.” Clinton says.
Odi stands up immediately, heading into the inner room. “The brown one?”
“The adaptor, Odi. The adaptor.” Clinton interrupts, sounding provoked.
“Ehen… and I’m asking if it’s the brown adaptor you want or the black one?”
Clinton swallows his frustration. Giving a stack illiterate an employment just because you owe him is not the ideal. Odi would have been better off if he’d given him money to start up a business. By now it should have expanded. But the truth, however, is that Odi would use up all his savings on drugs and giving so much would only amount to waste.
“Unless you bought another adaptor in my absence…”
“Ah no, oga Clinton. Me na your boy na… I loyal pass Buhari girlfriend…” His voice is so loud.
“Keep quiet and listen.” Clinton yells, shutting the young man up. He pauses, feeling uncomfortable with the way he just screamed but Odi deserves it and more. “Behind the rotor at the back of that powering stuff… what’s the name? that tiny stuff… well, behind it is the adaptor.” He waits as Odi appears to be searching for it. “Have you found it?” Clinton waits but no response.
Akoji turns from the side of the window he’s holding onto its rod in the direction of the voice. He is on his ceremonial wear, isiagu on a patterned wrapper tied around his waist to form a knot on the left side. And on his head sits a very comfortable red cap. He’s holding onto a staff and standing with such an intimidating aura and majesty.
“Miss Nnonma, my prince.”
Akoji smiles. “It’s Noma, Ojonoma, not Nnonma. It’s not an Igbo name.”
“Miss Noma, my prince.” The housekeeper corrected himself and Akoji stretches out his staff indicating that she should be let in and the housekeeper disappeared behind the door almost immediately.
“My prince…” Akoji hears Noma’s sweet voice calling from the outer sitting room. A broad smile dances around his lips. “My prince…” the voice calls again, coming towards the room. “Can you hear me, Akoji? I was told you are inside, why can’t I find you anymore?”
Akoji stands still behind the door where he is, waiting and hoping Noma would walk right in.
Not long, the door creaks and Noma stands at the door post to sink in the room. The floors are marble, what else would they be? Beautiful artistic portraits are painted in oils and hung in gold frames. Furniture is all handmade by master craftsmen – from the king-sized bed, to the little sitting room at the left hand side, the wardrobe and reading table and chair. Nothing looks dirty, maybe never gets dirty. The room is big enough to conveniently house six persons and well equipped with an intercom system in case Akoji should need to call for service.
Noma lets her nose sink in the beautiful scent in the room. It’s expensive; it’s golden.
“Akoji! Akoji!” She calls out, daring. “I know you are there and can hear me. But I think you should stop this rough play, alright? I was told it’s a taboo to come into the prince’s bedroom without his summon.” She waits for response. None came.
Taking in a frustrated breath, she pulls up her long dress and moves a little into the room proper. The air in here could melt the heart, she thought. Moving slowly whilst still whispering ‘Akoji’ under her breath, she heads in the direction of the balcony in front of her.
Akoji tip toes behind her, closely but gently.
“Akoji!” Noma calls again and feels something move. Jerking, she turns backwards and bumps into Akoji. The latter catches her right on time, holds her up and into his warm embrace.
His body feels warm; the embellishments on his attire makes it even warmer. Akoji places his hand on Noma’s back, rocking it while Noma shuts her eyes tightly, taking in every bit of the moment. She withdraws a bit to see his face, his chiseled jaw lifts with a proud, pleasant smile. His eyes are sparkling, so much like his father’s. He’s charming and smart. His voice is that of any rich boy, honeyed and proud. Every word he says sounds beautiful.
“When were you going to come say Hi to me?” His voice a whisper.
Noma smirks, letting a smile dance around her face. “As?”
Akoji perks her quickly and withdraws like he’s stealing it. Noma hits him in a playful fashion on his chest and they both start laughing.
“I had important things to do. I was trying to have a discussion with Chinomso.” She says.
Akoji lifts an eyebrow. “Chinomso? Chinomso? The maid?” his eyes queries and Noma nods in the affirmative. Akoji smiles. “Noma!!!” he exclaims, raising his voice. “You don’t have to get into a conversation with a palace maid, your highness. She’s only there to wait on and take your orders.”
Noma frowns. “Why not? There are so many rules in this house, I guess? The housekeeper politely told me Chinomso would wait on me and take my orders. That’s more like my secretary Lizzy, right? If we are going to relate well, I should at least know something about her, however little.”
Akoji looks on at her in sheer admiration. The lady, the beautiful lady with a beautiful soul. Initially, he was tempted to think Noma was faking it and merely acting ‘all-righteous’ but as days turn into weeks and into months, he came to admit the fact that Noma is just ‘motherly’ and that’s who she is, Halie or no Halie. Akoji opens his mouth to talk but Noma isn’t done yet.
“Last night, a tap on my door and two maids pulled a big box in. They said it’s from Lolo, that she’s gotten me new dresses I can select from. I thought they were joking until they offloaded long adorable dresses and all forms and shades of jewelries. First I was worried about how the queen got to know my size but…”
“There are cameras in the palace, Noma, and the official tailor for female attires and embroidery too lives somewhere around.” Akoji says, still smiling.
Noma stares back at him bewildered. She cracks her head to link the surveillance system in the palace with her having new beautiful dresses. Then it clicked. Her photos were used to make dresses for her. That’s nice and scary at the same time. The tailor must be a badass expert. Tailor-made. A lot of rules around her makes it look like someone is tailoring her life towards something she never expected.
“You look so adorable, my queen!” Akoji says, drawing so close to her she could feel his breath on her skin. She reflexively shifts backwards.
“Don’t forget that it’s wrong to be here in the first place?” She raises an eyebrow.
“Impossibility is only a thing of the mind. When two people are good with ‘wrong’, it becomes right.” He lowers his head and plants a peck on her face.
Noma shrugs, punching him again. “Not at all. Whatever is wrong is wrong. By the way, why are you so seriously dressed, or is this how you do normally?”
Akoji shakes his head from left to right. “C’mon now, no. I need to be in a princely ceremonial robe whenever the ichies,” he notices a confusion on Noma’s face. “The chiefs. Dad’s cabinet. I need to be dressed just in case they get to that part of the meeting where they have to summon me in.”
“Oh!” Noma exclaims, relieved. A thought creeps into her mind and her cheerful face gradually wears out until a look of concern and fear completely engulfs her.
Akoji notices it and reaches out for her face with his royal beads-laden hand. Holding her chin in his palm and bringing her face squarely to face his, he starts. “What’s the matter, Finest girl?”
I thought I told you to stop calling me that name, she wants to yell but her strength is gone. So many things have gone north in her head since the moment she arrived here. The shock of realizing that Akoji is the crowned prince and not being good enough for someone like this; the unpleasant exclamation from his mother when she heard her son profess love to her right in the sitting room that very evening. All these formed a loop in her head. Although, the Lolo overcame her shock and came over to hug them excitedly, but something tells Noma that she’s not happy. She’s not completely convinced. She sure has her doubts and being overtly caring and loving to her amidst all those is one of the most unsettling things for Noma right in the palace.
“Prince Akoji…” she starts, dragging Akoji’s attention. “I saw Nkechi storm out in anger the very day I came looking for you. She’s the daughter of the king of the next town and the one you are expected to marry.”
Akoji smiles sweetly. “You are letting jealousy get the best of you, Finest girl. Since when?” He tries to jeer on but seeing Noma’s still serious expression, he mellows down and becomes serious as well. “You see why I frowned against relating with a maid?” he raises a disappointed eyebrow and Noma swallows. “Those ladies are so jobless and all they do here and there is poke nose; sharing what they don’t have full details on. In fact, that Chinomso girl must be transferred from waiting on you to the garden tonight. By the time she’s weathered the cold for three days, she would learn how to mind her business.”
Noma doesn’t know exactly how to feel about Akoji’s seemingly provoking statements, but she chose to be calm.
“You pulling Chinomso into all these only shows that you have not an idea of the gravity of what I’m about talking about.” She detaches herself completely from him and moves backwards. “Suit yourself.”
She tries to walk past him and out of the room but Akoji holds onto her hand, pulling her closer than before. They both seem to be having silent conversations as they stare into each other’s eyes. They stare at each other in an odd way, as if it is a silent argument. Their glances battles each other. Noma’s heart misses several beats and whether it be fear, anticipation or curiosity that’s keeping her, she’s not sure. Lowering his head, Akoji takes her lower lips, licking and drawing it into his mouth with such great intensity one would think that he wants to swallow it. Bringing his palms to stabilize her face, he kisses her with every single fiber left in his being and the whole world falls away. It is slow and soft, comforting in ways that words would never be. His hands rest below her ear, his thumb caressing her cheek as their breaths mingle. She runs her fingers down his back, pulling him closer until there is no space left between them and she could feel the beating of his heart against her chest.
“N.O.M.A…” he whispers slowly, prolonging each letter as if to savor them. Noma smiles, her heart fluttering at his voice as he clamps her finger on either sides of her face. Never before has her name ever felt so wonderful a one, she thinks as she moves her head closer. He stands frozen, from both fear and excitement. She leans in, so her forehead rests against his. They close their eyes. Both their breaths are shaking.
“Thank you.” He says in barely more than a whisper.
“For what?” Her voice low and husky.
“For coming in search of this coward.” His voice wavers, exhilarated from the tension between them.
Noma takes in a deep breath. “All those have become inconsequential in the end.”
Few seconds and Noma pulls away forcefully, leaving Akoji gasping for air. She walks towards the window. It opens in the direction of the city. The same Onitsha city famous for the word ‘hustle’. The roads are tight with shops lining both sides, and back and forth. Noma looks at how green the land is towards the beach and wonders how this beautiful side of the house is given to the prince and not the king. Well, she’s not been in the king’s chambers. Who knows? A gold plant may be working right in there.
Akoji takes calming breaths before walking to the part of the room Noma is standing, staring out through the large window. He wraps his hand around her shoulders and places a soft kiss on her head.
“How do you mean, Finest girl? What do you mean by inconsequential?”
Noma turns to look up at him with her tear stained face. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s just like the movies. For that single moment, time stops. There’s no death, no war, no suffering, just two people that are found to be holding tightly onto one another’s heart. Akoji stares deep into her brown eyes, cupping her cheeks that are slowly turning red. Noma smiles in spite of herself, her other hand shaking slightly and her mind repeating the same statement over and again. The sound of her heart is beating so loudly she can’t concentrate and it feels like it would explode sooner than later.
“The prince is required to marry any maiden, preferably from a royal family… even that can be bent.” She gives a mischievous smile. “However, the heir apparent to the throne is allowed to marry anyone but a woman with a five-year-old.”
Akoji feels a rip in his heart. “You have been listening to the wrong persons, Finest girl.” His soft voice calls out.
“Don’t patronize me, Akoji.” Noma yells, breaking fully into tears now. When tears come hot and endless, Akoji knows they are for him too. Pain enters their world without the decency to knock first.
“I am not, Finest girl. Believe me.” He lifts her face to meet his eyes. “Believe me.” He kisses tears off one of the eyes. “I’ve been a coward once, Noma. I’ve left you stranded at a time when you needed me most. I left, finest girl…” he lets his hand glide around her smooth cheeks. “But that once would be my very first and last, Finest girl. I swear to you. At this point, I already know I cannot do without you and I’m ready to fight for you. With everything in me…”
Noma sniffs. “If you think you are ready, Akoji, how about your parents? The royal family cannot rebel against the tradition of the land.”
“Well, my mother is aware about us and that you have Hallie.”
“What?” Noma’s eyebrows raise. “You told her?”
“A long time ago, Finest girl. Those times when you started slowly occupying my sleeping and waking thoughts.” He lets a sly smile that disappeared as fast as it came. Noma swallows.
“What about your father?”
“Our people say, Okuko mmanya na-egbu ahubeghi mmanwulu ara na-ayi. It’s because a drunken fowl has not met a mad fox that she’s…”
“Shut up your mouth, Mazi Okigwe!” Mazi Amadi yells. “Ah! Abomination, your highness. Aru!” he passes his hands over his head in gesticulation. “Nwa ovu na-eto, o di ka o ga-aka nne ya. Your highness, when the baby wren is growing, it looks like it would be bigger than its mother.” Anger fills the entirety of his tone.
“You cannot call me a child, Mazi Amadi! I refused to be insulted in my own land.” Mazi Okigwe stands up to confront the older man.
“Calm down”, “Easy!” “Elders”, “Ichies, please” and many more soothing words comes from the other members of elders in council but these two Ichies are not having any of it.
“Watch your mouth, boy!” Mazi Amadi threatens, pointing his staff angrily in Mazi Okigwe’s face.
Mazi Okigwe lets out a sarcastically long laugh that makes everyone else feel embarrassed. “Boy? He called me a boy, your highness…” He glances at the king and then back. “I’m not surprised anyway because at this age, everyone expects the aged ones to be retired from active service, especially the current chief kingmaker, but Mazi Amadi would not. My people, have we forgotten that blindness they say is what makes one calls a full grown man a boy?”
“Ah!” “Yeeeh!” the elders exclaim at that subtle insult at the same time as though planned. Some put their hands on their head, others raise their staff up in protest, the rest just stamp their feet angrily against the tiled floor.
Gradually and expectedly, the entire room turns into a heated chaos. Ichies with mottled faces, and unrestricted fury. Mazi Amadi’s cold fury burns with dangerous intensity. He hasn’t been so insulted in his entire life, he affirms and without requiring a special call to action, his brain is already wandering around the best way to deal with Mazi Okigwe. Yes! Surely! He would deal with him.
“Elders!!!” Chief Mbah finally gets up on his feet, raising his voice above the loud rantings and tension let loosed in the room. “My elders, this is uncalled for.”
“Totally uncalled for.” Someone affirms.
Chief Mbah mutters more courage to speak on. “Gidi gidi bu ugwu eze.”
“Yes.” Mazi Chibuzo, the quietest elder whom the others revere so much because of the wisdom he’s been proven to have over time, affirms, by clicking the tail of his staff on the floor.
“Unity is strength, Ichies. Unity!” Chief Mbah says, taking back his seat on the throne laden with real leopard skin. “It is only a fly that has no counsellor that follows the corpse to the grave.” He pauses to clear his throat. “We are here as counsellors and all is for the good of our kingdom. It doesn’t speak well of us to be fighting, Ichies. Mbanu!”
Silence, deafening silence fills the entire room now, except on Mazi Amadi’s end. The old man seems to be swelling from inwards out.
“The chicken frowns at the cooking pot, ignoring the knife that killed it.” Chief Mbah continues. “Elders, we cannot focus on distractions and forget about the great day that lies ahead of us, bikonu. Posterity will not forgive us if we do that.”
“We cannot do that!” Mazi Chibuozo affirms again.
That makes Chief Mbah’s confidence go so high up, one would not believe it.
“We would go on recess now, Ichies. Let’s eat and merry a little while before we continue our deliberations. If God permits, this would be my last festival as the Igwe. My son, Nwanna, would soon be required to enter into the shoes of his forefathers.”
Broad smiles curve around the faces of the elders. They shake hands and clap in sincere excitement but Mazi Amadi is still undecided about the best way to teach the ‘boy’ who just insulted him a big lesson.
“Let us have ourselves this break, Ichies. We would be back in an hour’s time.”
“Igwe!!!” The elders chorus, making obeisance as Chief Mbah exits the room through the door directly behind him, his guards making sure the road is cleared for the king.
While the other elders exchange pleasantries and laughs, trolleys containing different types and manner of Igbo soups are being pushed in by the maids. Seeing these even excited the elders the more, and loud and loud cheerful talks continue.
Mr Yusuf shifts uncomfortably on his seat. “Sir, we acted according to instructions. We did nothing in the contrary.”
“I asked you to audit account…”
“And we did sir,” Mr. Yusuf interrupts before the angry man could finish his statement. “We invited our external auditors who did a thorough yet fast enough job to meet up with your deadline. All protocols regarding auditing, suspension or outright expulsion of any member of this bank seen to be guilty of financial misappropriation were judiciously followed.”
Chief Boniface takes in a loud breath; Mr. Yusuf hears it. “You guys didn’t do what I said to do.”
Mr. Yusuf rolls his eyes. God knows he dislikes all these sort of back and forth movements. A call and action they took only few weeks ago is still very much fresh in his head. and if nothing, he can still remember the caller’s voice clearly as it sets fire of urgency on his buttocks that very day.
“Perhaps, we should invite Mr. Akoji to come back?”
“No. No. No.” Chief Boniface says aloud before the words were completely out of Mr. Yusuf’s mouth. The latter doesn’t know what else he’s expected to do.
“You know what, Yusuf? Never mind!”
Mr. Yusuf takes the phone from his ear as soon as he hears the disconnecting tone. The chairman had ended the call without waiting for them to get to a convincing conclusion. Taking deep calming breaths, he relaxes into his chair and letting his mind run around the reasons Chief Boniface suddenly has interest in the bank, particularly Akoji.
Chief Boniface drops onto a seat beside him. He’s already regretting ever placing that call. That’s not any helpful after all. He need help, anything or anyone that can help. He’s ready to pay as much as half of his blood for anyone with vital information as to what next to do. As it stands now, he’s confused and doesn’t want to admit it.
Chief Mbah hurries into his chamber, closing the door tightly behind him. The elders are about to ignite a fire, a devouring fire and the only way to sort that out would be to get Akoji married as soon as possible, preferably before the festival. His instincts tell him that there is an uprising commotion accompanied with serious battle for the throne and with the deteriorating way his health is going, he may not be able to keep up with it. His favorite apple juice is in a golden jug on the center table. He picks it, turns the remaining into a cup and gulps down its content in split seconds. He could literally feel his blood pressure rise and he takes a seat on his larger than life bed. Now is not the proper time to collapse.
A tap on his door.
“My king, you sent for me.” Lolo Beatrice says, sounding really concerned as she approaches her husband who’s laying tiredly on the bed.
Chief Mbah sits up, shifting to create enough space for the fat woman to sit. He doesn’t look up at her. His eyes are fixed on one of the several beads on his wrist the whole time and Beatrice feels more worried now than when she entered.
“Is everything alright, my husband?”
Chief Mbah swallows against a tightening on his throat. “You remember what the doctor told us the last time he came to check me?”
Beatrice blinks, more like blanking out Chief’s statement. “You will be fine, Callistus,” Chief looks at her immediately. He cannot remember the last time his wife called him by his first name. Doing that now must be very serious. “You are living and will be alive and well. Don’t let the doctor’s report bother you. I’m taking care of you, my husband,” Her voice breaks, what Chief Mbah really hoped to avoid from the start. “God will not put us to shame.”
She leans in, and places her head on his chest.
The man moves his hand through her long hair and whispering to her not to cry at all.
“But Lolo, I want to ask you a question and will demand a sincere answer.”
Beatrice pulls out enough to see his face, nodding in the affirmative.
Chief Mbah swallows. “Do you think Nwanna has forgiven me?”
Beatrice’s eyebrows raise. Not sure where the question is coming from. Chief looks pretty serious as he urges her to go ahead and respond. She sighs and sits up properly now. Glancing at her husband’s eyes, she could feel the curiosity bursting out like a spring. Slowly, she parts her lips to make a statement.
“Deny it all you like, but your actions are showing exact opposite of what your mouth is saying.”
Noma throws one of the chair pillows at Akoji. The latter catches and holds on to it.
“That?” Noma questions, raising her left eyebrow and lowering the other one.
“That you are crazy about this fine boy in front of you.” Akoji chuckles loudly.
“You wish!” Noma says aloud. “Now that I’m sure you are fine, I’m going home to my mum and daughter. I cannot be living with man at this age.”
That makes Akoji burst into laughter, and in few seconds, Noma joins in too. She’s missed talking, jesting and cracking jokes with Akoji who became her best friend within few days. Her lover, perhaps, but she doesn’t want to let the odds go regardless of Akoji’s assurance. He’s been a coward once, who says he won’t be another time and another time and another time. Moreover, it’s said that cowards die severally before they die.
A part of her is hopeful though. Not because he’s a prince. Come off it. She’s already grown affections for him long before knowing his princely title. Much more so that the position is more to their disadvantage now than otherwise.
“You won’t leave your baby, will you?” Akoji asks, feigning sober.
Noma burst into a long trail of laughter, so long it makes Akoji feels uncomfortable. “I have only one child, Akoji, not two. One.”
Akoji stands up, adjust the isiagu better over the wrapper as he approaches where she’s sitting, still giggling and laughing. He gets to her front and goes on both knees, eyes fixed unblinkingly on her. Noma flutters. She can’t wrap her head around what the young man is up to this time.
Akoji picks up her hand. “Finest girl, this is going to be very tough and tight.”
Noma blinks, almost voicing out a question but Akoji continues before she could say anything. “Yes. the tradition. My father. My mother. This is going to be really really tough.” Moving her soft dark hands towards his lips, he kisses them lovingly. “I’m asking you to stay strong for me, Finest girl. Please. Don’t give up on us.” Noma’s heart skips several beats. “Please, Finest girl. I love you because you make me laugh. I love you because you make me cry. I love you for every other thing in-between. I feel our hearts are destined and cannot afford to lose you.”
Noma takes in a deep breath and is about to speak when they hear the front door open without a knock. Akoji hurriedly gets onto his feet, knowing fully well only one person can barge in on him that way.
“No son. No. no. no.” Chief Mbah groans as soon as he gets into the bedroom and sights Noma sitting on one of the couches. Akoji feels uncomfortable, standing still like a child caught taking meat from a cooking pot. “Nwanna, you shouldn’t bring a maiden into your inner chamber for whatever reasons, son. Please.” Chief Mbah continues, trying hard not to raise his voice. “What if I’ve come in with one of the ichies? What impression of you would have been created today?”
Noma feels like the ground should disappear so she can go in. It’s Akoji who made her come in here and now that the king and Lolo look displeased, she feels something prick at her conscience.
“Come on, my dear, let’s leave.” Lolo speaks out for the first time since herself and her husband walked in. She tugs her hand in Noma’s and tries to move her.
“Mum, I’m still talking with her.” Akoji says, in spite of himself.
Lolo makes a sign with her eyes. Don’t make your father anymore angry, son, her eyes seem to be admonishing. Akoji swallows as he watches his mother lead Noma out.
“Look son, all these are for your own good. Your good son.”
Akoji is about to ask ‘what good’ his father is talking about. Good that he cannot spend precious time with his loved one alone without interruptions? That sort of good appears sour to him.
“You ought to be at the elders in council meeting, you know?”
Akoji blinks angrily. “The housekeeper brought your message to me that I’ll be summoned as soon as my presence is needed, father. And that’s why I’m on all these loads since morning.” He squeezes a part of his isiagu and wrapper, looking displeased.
“Oh!” Chief Mbah remembers. “I’m so sorry. I completely forgot. We’ve had more arguments and fights than a meeting today. Everyone seems to be on the edge.” He clears his throat. “That’s why I’m particular about you, Nwanna. We have to be sure not to give any of them our own armor to harm us with.”
Akoji shrugs carelessly and moves to sit. Chief Mbah stands for a while before joining him.
“Your mother and I appreciate your returning to us. In fact, it felt like pouring ice on my head the very day you arrived; the feeling of a dying father seeing his heir.”
“You are not dying, father. You are still going to be very much around.” Akoji counters the man’s statement.
Chief Mbah gives an unconvincing smile. “While we keep our hopes high and faith alive, we would prepare the ground for the inevitable.”
“How do you mean, father?”
Chief pats his son’s shoulders lovingly. “Your mother has always said you are the manager of a great bank in Anyigba. What happened to your job?”
Akoji raises an eyebrow but decides to deal softly with his father. The old man has suffered enough arrogance and rudeness from him that he feels bad about already.
“I was relieved of my duties, father.” He says calmly.
Chief’s eyeballs pop out. “Relieved? How? For what purpose?”
Akoji withdraws into his shell. He’s not sure if now is the best time to disclose this but for his father’s overcurious self.
“A friend’s daughter needed money for a life-determining surgery and I took money from the bank’s treasury against the rules.”
“She must be very special to you then, to risk your job to save her daughter.” Chief says with a tone of compassion. “Not to worry, you are home now. That’s all that matters.”
Akoji blinks. He’s started, he’s just going to conclude. “Yes. She’s very special to me, father. Noma is the love of my life.”
Chief Mbah turns to look at him immediately. For few seconds, he looks blank as the dots are taking so long to connect. Then, suddenly,
“Noma? The girl that just left here?”
Akoji doesn’t think this is a good idea but it’s happening all the same so he’d just let it continue.
“The girl is married with a daughter?” Chief sounds completely unbelievable seeing Akoji’s affirming nod.
The boy lies in the sand like he’s sleeping. He does this over and over. When his little sister comes to rouse him he acts no more alive than a sack of beans. He waits, cobra-like, until she gets right up close to his face. Then he jumps up, scattering the dust all over the place. The palace guards would have sent them away, but Lolo commanded against it. And thankfully so too for Noma because that’s the only scenario stopping her heart from stopping.
The sand around the beach is softly golden with just the right comforting warmth and with browning legs curled under, dusted with sand like flour on bread, she sits close to Lolo with her heart in her mouth. They’ve been here for ten minutes and words are not just forthcoming from the older woman’s lips. That’s what makes her more unsettled.
“How is Hallie?” Lolo finally says something.
Noma is taken aback but convinces herself that Akoji must have told the older woman about her daughter, in fact, Akoji affirmed it earlier. “She’s fine, Lolo. My mum is taking good care of her.”
Lolo smiles. “Which of your mums?”
Noma feels a tightening on her throat. What does the woman mean by ‘which of her mums’? How many mums can one possibly have? She decides to be polite. “If I understand you, ma?”
Lolo smiles again, this time, Noma can bet that there’s something mischievous dancing in her eyes but she doesn’t want to get ahead of herself. “You haven’t even called Rhodess since you got here. Is that how much my son effortlessly takes everyone’s space in your life.”
Now, it’s certain. The woman is up to something. Akoji couldn’t have told his mother about Rhodess because he doesn’t even know anyone like that. If at all Akoji knows by any other means, he would know her friend as ‘Rhoda’ not ‘Rhodess’. She’s the only one that calls that name.
“Young lady,” Lolo starts, still smiling. “Getting and staying married to one of the most prominent royal icons in this country requires much more than dreaming to be and eventually bearing the name Lolo. I hope you know that I’m not an Igbo woman?”
Noma nods hurriedly, curious to get to where the woman is leading her.
“I faced a lot of oppositions when Callistus wanted to marry me.” She says. “His father had a wife already for him and preparations were all on ground by the time he got back from the UK where we both had our second degrees. He was a year ahead of me.”
Noma looks wowed by the story as Lolo mentions some of the challenges she faced with gaining acceptance as wife to the first man in a land that’s not her motherland. And unintentionally, Noma could feel confidence building up on her insides, just listening to the woman’s story.
“A lot has threatened to break my home away in pieces. But I’m not one to watch helplessly and see what I’ve put so much hard work into wash down the drain just like that.
Noma blinks as the woman turns in her direction.
“Akoji needs to marry as soon as possible, Theresa!”
Theresa? Noma is alarmed. Even Mrs. Gina doesn’t know her by that name.
“Yes, Theresa. I know taking care of a baby with sickle cell disease is not easy, especially with the scar and hurtful memories of how the baby came about brings to your heart.” Lolo smiles at Noma’s surprised look. “Yeah. I’ve had your background check done the very day Akoji called to tell me about you.”
This is not good, Noma says in her mind.
“That’s why I’ve called you out here this afternoon. We are alone here.” The woman makes Noma’s eyes move from side to side. “Ojonoma Theresa, now that you know I know you more than you can even imagine, can you please help me so I also can help you?” Lolo says, the smiles gradually disappearing from her face until an expressionless look replaces it.
To be continued.
Maybe I should say it upfront that my schedules have become so tight and inasmuch as I want to quickly wrap up this story, I don’t want the intended lessons lost in the process. This is me saying that I may not post as regularly(Saturdays) as I used to. Please bear with me, my lovelies.
Have a great week ahead.
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