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NOMA’S DREAM – 17

NOMA’S DREAM – GRACE OCHIGBO

EPISODE SEVENTEEN

             Mr. P. walks through the door into the VIP section of his well-equipped gym. He notices the wall socket isn’t switched off and he bends over to press it when his eyes meet something on the floor. It’s a beaded bangle and that makes him remember what he’d been postponing all day. Rushing for his phone, he taps on it before placing it against his ears.

“Pick up, mehn!” He mutters almost underneath his breath and then, “Ehen! AK my guy, how far mehn?”

He waits to listen to the response before continuing,

“Guy, you no de come house? The yam wey I boil since morning remain for you don cold pass ice fish o.” He smiles at his own jokes.

It’s amazing how a crowned prince would choose a low life outside the palace. They’d told Mr. P. love was a strong force that can make a sick man well and a well man sick but it took until Akoji and Noma to really understand the extent and depth of that statement.

“Who is missing you?” He feigns a frown. “I’m just checking up on you so that the police will not come after me later on.” A loud hysteric laughter escapes him. “But on a serious note, where are you?”

He pauses to listen and his pupils dilates so widely, a nation can conveniently slide in through it.

*****

             Joyce moves out from the bathroom and shuts the door gently behind her. Her father is laying down completely weak and it appears as though life is leaving him as time progresses. Strangely though, she doesn’t have any pain coursing through her on the inside. Her family has given her enough pain to deal with for a lifetime; the pain of losing her older sister, her only sibling, and so whatever the pain that’s supposed to come with her parents ongoing separation, she couldn’t feel it. Dad and mum had told her their individual versions of dad’s infidelity and inasmuch as everything looks bleak right now, she’s excited about the prospect of having one more person to call a sibling after all – a younger brother.

             The doctor had told her something hurtful. She knows her mother to be a disciplinarian; what she never could have guessed in her wildest imaginations is for the woman to become this cold; so stone-cold she could tell the doctor over the phone not to call her regarding anything linked to Prof Akpa again.

“She said she knows the gimmicks your father is capable of pulling and none of those would change her mind again. Regretting being a fool enough times for the same man.”

              Joyce bent her head over in shame as the doctor recalled her mother’s statements out to her hearing. How could the woman feel her father would feign collapsing in his office just to get her attention back? How?

The thought of it all wants to make Joyce dislike her mother but no, the woman is going through a lot now, enough to be excused.

“Don’t worry, doctor. I would be here with daddy.”

“Please, don’t let it get out.”

Joyce frowned at that annoying line coming again. She’s not one to run her mouth around for crying out loud.

                The doctors, as at earlier times, said Prof’s case was pretty serious, later they said it’s not as serious, and now, after the oxygen mask has been removed and he’s still laying tiredly on the bed, struggling to breath, Joyce has resigned to fate. There’s no worse thing that can happen.

“Dad?” she calls out softly, touching his hand. The man’s breath comes out even louder now than before.

                She thinks of Nick and how that she needs someone to talk to; someone to distract her, to hold her down now before she explodes. But because of the doctor’s ‘don’t tell anyone else’, she would just go get fresh air in the lobby. The room is beginning to suffocate her.

****

               Akoji and Lolo tried to console Noma for nothing less than half an hour before she managed to stop her body from vibrating. She’d looked like death itself, with color of eyeballs red as scarlet. Rhoda had announced that on their class page on WhatsApp, someone posted an unconfirmed news about the incumbent VC’s death, saying that he’d collapsed in his office earlier in the day. When Noma asked if she was sure about that, Rhoda said the person who posted it said it was from a reliable yet undisclosed source. By the time Lolo and Akoji could consider thinking out something, Noma already got up saying she was on her way to Ilorin to find things out for herself. They said several words that dropped on deaf ears and by the time Lolo saw how unmoving their words were to Noma, she decides,

“OK, girl, we would take you to Ilorin. Guess it’s less than 5hours from here.”

“No Lolo, you don’t have to bother yourself. I would be fine.”

“I know. Let’s go.” Lolo said simply, dismissing her hesitations.

                  They’d gotten into this city not long ago and immediately drove to the University of Ilorin Teaching hospital where Rhoda said her father should be. They’re at the reception. They’ve been at the reception for so long now. The nurse here is not helping matters and inasmuch as Noma rightly introduced herself as Prof’s first daughter, the woman’s ears seem to be clouded with other things.

Noma gets off the waiting seat where she’s been sitting in between Lolo and Akoji.

“Matron…” she calls out, subduing the provocations welling up on her insides. The woman casually brings her eyes to Noma. “Matron, please, I know it’s a private VIP ward and all but it’s my dad in there and I want to see him.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about, young woman!” The woman’s voice is harsh, more provocative. “Please, if you don’t mind, you are disturbing the peace of this hospital.”

“What do you mean by disturbing the peace?” Noma yells at the top of her lungs, throwing caution to the winds. “What the hell do you mean by disturbing the peace godamnit? I demand to see my father now…” She bangs on the table hard.

Akoji hurries over and tries to catch her hand that’s waving around the whole place and almost poking into the matron’s eyes.

“Calm down, finest girl.”

“Finee… what?” The matron scorns. Akoji gives her a deadening look and she readjusts before he turns soft eyes to Noma

“Please calm down, my love.”

“Don’t tell me to calm down!” Noma yells, struggling to get off Akoji’s firm grip. “Don’t tell me to calm down. I want to see my father. If he’s dead, let them just tell me. I want to still see him. I want…” She breaks down and Akoji draws her in for a tight hug. She sobs like every bone in her system is breaking in pieces yet Akoji tries to hold her down from falling onto the floor whenever she attempts to. Then,

“Matron, please I just want to get fresh air outside.” A voice, somewhat familiar, comes through Noma’s voice.

“By all means, miss.”

Akoji couldn’t believe that the matron woman could smile.

Noma withdraws from the hug so as to confirm the owner of the voice she just heard. The young lady is walking in the direction of the elevator’s door.  Noma is not sure but something is telling her to try her luck. What does she have to lose anyway?

“Joy… Joyce?” Noma’s voice is so faint, almost a whisper. She gathers a little more energy and calls out louder, “Joyce?”

Like magic, the lady turns back and their eyes meet. Nothing much has changed in her appearance and Noma is in awe as she moves from Akoji’s arms towards the lady whose eyes look so glazed they could flavor a thousand doughnuts.

“Joyce!”

“Noma?” Joyce says, afraid. “Big sis, is this you?”

Noma nods her head in the affirmative and Joyce runs into her arms. The latter grabs her sister so close to her there’s no space for air between them.

“Big sis?” she couldn’t believe her eyes.

“Joyce, my darling.”

“Sis, I missed you. I missed you, sis. I missed you so much. We are sorry.”

             Before Joyce knows it, she is hugging Noma tightly, her tears dripping from her cheeks onto Noma’s shirt. Her arms encircle around Noma, making her forget where she is. “Dad and mum are sorry, sis. They are. Even though they are no longer together.” She lowers her voice, as though careful not to involve the other persons in the room in their conversation and somehow it’s working. Lolo is busy holding her son’s hands and they are smiling from their end as the sisters reunite while the matron can see them but she’s too far to make meanings out of the murmurs she’s hearing.

“How do you mean, Joyce?” Noma has shock in her voice.

Joyce withdraws enough to see her face. “Yes, sis. Dad put a woman in the family way and mum asked for a divorce.”

“Oh my God! That’s bad.” Noma exclaims.

“Yeah, mum has moved back to the house in Tanke. You remember we moved into quarters from there after dad’s first appointment?”

               Noma nods in the affirmative. She could remember that fateful night her mother walked into her room to tell her of their decision to send her to her grandmother’s place in the village. They said it’s for the good of the entire family as they want to save everyone’s head from the shame. Noma had cried her eyes out and begged her mother to help her convince her father that she didn’t mind remaining indoors and being on house arrest permanently throughout the time of her pregnancy if seeing her in public is what ‘shame’ is. She was ready to remain in the house, not go to school, not go to church, nowhere. But her mother looked at her with pain in her eyes,

“You will be fine, baby girl. I want you to know that this is a phase in your life and it shall pass sooner than you think.”
The resounding manner with which Noma’s heart had broken in pieces that day was beyond description. Her parents couldn’t protect her and worst still, her own mother couldn’t stand up for her.

As these thoughts flash back, Noma’s eyes water.

“Mum and dad are sorry, sis. We all are. We all are, sis. Please!”

Noma pats her sister on the back as she vibrates in her arms. “Where’s dad now and how is he?”

Joyce immediately pulls Noma’s hand towards the matrons table. “Matron, this is my big sis, Noma.”

Noma frowns at the woman whose smiles come across like a slap on her face. So much for waste of time.

“Oh! I didn’t know that. You are welcome, my sister. Your father is recuperating.”

Noma eyeballs her coldly. She wants to give her a piece of her mind but decides against it as Joyce is really pulling her hand away from the matron’s table.

“Finest girl.”

Noma jerks back as Akoji’s voice calls out to her. She’s completely forgotten that they were still there. “I’m so sorry.” Noma pulls Joyce towards the seats. “Lolo, this is Joyce, my younger and only sister.”

Joyce bends a little. “Lolo?” her British accent comes out strongly this time.

“Yes, Joyce. She’s the queen of Onitsha and this is Akoji her son who happens to be my best friend.”

Akoji smiles at that mode of introduction and he’s about to jest about being ‘bestfriend zoned’ when he sees the frown on Joyce’s face as she stretches out her hand to him.

“Not too excited to meet me, right?” He asks, giving a smile that makes him cuter than Gun Jun Pyo.

Joyce turns her head from side to side. “Cos I used to be her best friend.”

“Joyce, come on!” Noma groans, drawing her back in for a hug. “You are still my best friend.”

“And he?” Joyce asks with a tone of jealousy.

“I don’t think we should come in with you yet, daughter.” Lolo helps with the about-to-become-messy situation. Noma smiles.

“But mother…” Akoji tries to protest but sees the signal on his mother’s face. “OK, Finest girl. Safe. If you need us, we would be right here, OK?”

“She’s with her best friend, and won’t be needing you.” Joyce calls out, pulling Noma until she almost staggers. Noma glances backwards to look at Akoji who is standing as though in his opinion, she’s been led towards the slaughter. She gives him a reassuring wink and feels fulfilment wash down her chest when he lets out a deep calming breath.

In the end, it would make sense. If it doesn’t make sense yet, then it’s not the end.

****

A tap on the door and it opens.

“Father!”

Chief Mbah walks in, holding his robe off the floor. Hitting his golden staff on the tiled floor, he moves until he takes his seat on the bed.

“Father, this house is empty without mother.” Clinton says, pained.

Chief Mbah nods his head sadly. He’s been trying to wipe out a lot of things from his head; trying to stay a hard man as Mazi Amadi has advised but it’s not working. His wife is an integral part of his life and nothing has remained the same since she left the palace to go after her son – their son, the crowned prince.

“It’s even more painful that I didn’t get to meet bro when I returned. I deliberately came back unannounced to give him a surprise visit. I miss my brother, father. Why did you have to chase him away a second time?”

                Chief Mbah clears his throat. The torment ongoing in his head is too unbearable. Over the night, he’d barely slept two hours. His head ran around a lot of things and he came to a conclusion. Today’s meeting is statutory. Plans are still ongoing regarding the fast approaching festival. Yes. But more plans are ongoing in the Obi’s head than anywhere else. If he’s going to make amends, he has to start somewhere.

“Son, I’m sorry for all the times I’ve failed in my duties as a father.” He holds Clinton’s gaze. “I’m sorry for times when I was supposed to speak out for the family but refused to do so.” He sits up straighter. “The axe doesn’t hit the same place twice, Nwam. All my errors would be corrected today.”

Now, his statement makes Clinton scared. “Father, today? What do you plan to do?” He asks out of curiosity.

“Just sit back and watch.” Chief Mbah says boldly before exiting the room, leaving Clinton standing with eyes wide open.

*****

“He only opens his eyes once in a day. and that’s around noon. He would say, ‘God, please fix back my family’. After that, he shuts them back.” Joyce begins, holding onto her father’s weak hands. “He’s going through a lot of trauma at the moment, Noma.”

“And mum?”

Joyce leaves her father’s hand and moves to whisper to Noma’s ears. “You know when mum is done, she’s done.”

“Even when her husband is dying?” Noma couldn’t believe her ears. She turns to look at her father for longer than a minute before returning her gaze to Joyce. “I’ll be right back?”

Joyce clings onto her hand. “Noma, please, don’t leave me again. Please, I need you, perhaps you are all our parents’ marriage need right now.”

Noma swallows against a tightening on her throat. “I know baby. I’ll be right back.”

Joyce steps back dispirited. “Where are you going to?”

*****

The rowdiness in the chamber increasingly progresses until Chief Mbah steps in and everywhere becomes as silent as a graveyard.

“My ichies,” Chief Mbah starts, after clearing his throat. “Our people say that onye hui he ka ubi ore oba.” He looks around and sees some elders nodding their heads, including Mazi Amadi. “When one experiences a problem that is greater than the value of his farm, he sells the yam barns.”

Some elders laugh, some simply smile, others hit their staff on the floor lightly. “You have spoken well, your highness’, others say.

Chief Mbah rubs his tongue over his lips. “But I believe my elders that, a young man cannot be stronger than the one that supports him. Okolo anghi akari onye kuru ya aka. Mbanu!”

Mbanu!”, “It cannot happen.” Fills the entire atmosphere and Chief Mbah smiles. He’s heading somewhere.

“Your highness,” Mazi Amadi cuts in and all eyes turn in his direction. “We all are here to be your supporters with strong supports that will never make you fail. Isn’t that so, my elders?”

“It is so.”, “It has to be so.”, “The obi is a very kind man, very very kind.”, “He always has our support.” And many more are the responses of the elders as Mazi Amadi takes back his seat.

              Chief Mbah feels refueled now and decides to rest his back against the seat. “My elders, tomorrow is pregnant, no one knows what it will give birth to. And our people say that fall a valiant man on the ground and the sound will be tremendous. May God not allow our valiant men fall.”

“Amen!” comes the chorus answers.

Chief Mbah blinks his eyes and clears his throat again. These words won’t come easy. “Mberede njiri dike ma o bu mberede ka eji ama dike. A sudden event may be too much for a strong man but that is what determines his strength.”

“Igwe, what is bothering this strong man that is you? We want to know.” One of the elders speaks out, unable to bear up with the suspense anymore.

Chief Mbah takes in a deep breath. “It is when something is discussed in the absence of an influential person that it will be discussed for a second time. Now that all the influential persons in my kingdom are here with me, I bet I have confidence to discuss this thing that gives me sleepless nights.”

“Go ahead, your highness.” They all echo as though planned.

“Nwanna, the crowned prince found a fair maiden, one with whom they can both lead this kingdom and take it to the next level.”

“It’s a thing of joy.”, “O bu okponku”, “Are we not all excited?”, “When a child makes us all proud.”

Everyone except Mazi Amadi shows excitement and Chief Mbah wonders what’s saddening to the latter. Notwithstanding, he speaks on.

“However, this perfect maiden has a single dent on her white garment and I don’t think we can let go a great treasure because of a minor dent?”

Mazi Okigwe stands up and adjusts the edges of his shirt. “Your highness, a dent can be cleaned, a dent can be overlooked but a treasure, once lost, cannot be regained. Have I spoken your mind, my elders?”

“Yes.” they chorus.

               Chief Mbah’s eyes is firmly on Mazi Amadi who is muttering something inaudibly underneath his breath. Is it because he hadn’t sought his counsel over this matter before bringing it before the ichies that the former is this cold? Chief Mbah cannot pinpoint clearly. He’s about to say something when some loud exchange of words at the entrance door takes everyone’s attention there.

“Boni…” Mazi Amadi jerks up as Chief Boniface stamps his feet hard against the floor until he comes to stand in the center.

“Your highness.” He makes obeisance and Chief Mbah lifts his staff in response. “My elders, my apologies for barging in on your meeting like this.” Mazi Amadi furrows his face into a deeper frown. God help the man before them to say nonsense.

“I just came to let everyone know that I recommend the prince as the next rightful owner of this throne.”

“What? Abomination!” Mazi Amadi exclaims, jumping onto his feet before realizing that everyone is staring at him with bewilderment. In shame, he manages to take back his seat.

“My elders, the prince has been working for some years now in my bank. There’s never been a false record to his name. None whatsoever. He’s so hardworking, diligent and loyal. In fact, when I ordered the state manager to find something incriminating for me on the demand of my father here and the Igwe…”

Chief Mbah bows his head in shame as the other elders turn questioning eyes from one person to another.

“I know all those were my father’s idea anyway.” Chief Boniface clears the air, pointing them to where Mazi Amadi is sitting. “Unfortunately for prince Akoji, he had taken some money out of our safe at the time. We usually give managers the rare privilege to access that fund however fixed it should be, but since I was working on strict orders, and in my authority as the chairman of the board, I influenced the relieve of his duties.”

“What?” Everyone screams out in shock.

“One night, we were going to use the ATM and there was a cabdriver withdrawing. My men confirmed that it was the prince on the other seat beside the driver who said he was heading to Kogi state and that got me interested.”

                  He talks about how he had his men dig to the root of it only to realize that Akoji was leaving the house again and damning everything else in pursuit of the one he loves. That made chief Boniface go back to his workplace and somehow realized that the money Akoji allegedly stole was given to one Noma’s bake shop as grant. That’s one thing the bank had hoped to do – help SMEs increase their business – the only mistake was that the young man didn’t follow due process.

“As far as I am concerned, your highness and chiefs, that man prince Akoji is a deep lover, he can go any mile to save the head of his people. I have interest in this throne, or better still, my father put…” he couldn’t finish that statement before Mazi Amadi pulls him by the hand out of the chamber. He is reluctant at first but the older man isn’t leaving him and the other elders are so shocked they couldn’t utter a word.

Outside,

“What’s the meaning of all the rubbish you were spilling from that gutter you call a mouth inside?”

“I was just telling them my findings, Nna. Let’s face it, papa, we both know I cannot handle the throne of our fathers.”

Mazi Amadi turns his head with pain and utter disappointment filling his heart. “I curse the day your mother gave birth to such a chicken-hearted person like you as a son for me.” He raises his staff. “After all the plans, after all we’ve strategized and everything is working and you come out to embarrass me like this? I don’t think you are my son, Boniface. I don’t…” He’s still speaking when he notices Chief Mbah standing right behind him. The latter obviously has heard all their conversation.

“Uncle…” Chief Mbah calls out, shocked to his bones. “I run to you for advise all the time, Uncle. I tell you what goes on even in my bedroom. I trusted you with everything in me. Uncle?”
Mazi Amadi draws a long hiss. “What is the difference between my brother, your father, and I, that tradition would say his family will produce the king while mine would remain kingmakers forever?” He spills out the words like they burnt his mouth and a line appears between his brows.

Chief Mbah is taken aback and his face whitens as though all blood had been drained from it.

“Yes, tell me.” Mazi Amadi comes to face him squarely. “Yes. I gave you wrong advice. 95% of the time, I convinced you to do the wrong things. I thought sacking your son would make him run farther from you, but unfortunately he returned home and when I saw that was a threat to my plans, I made sure you capitalize on his leaving the girl he wants to marry, knowing fully well he wouldn’t do that. Your son loves his woman and he’s a great man.” Mazi Amadi affirms, defeated.

Chief Mbah stands transfixed, his jaw almost dropping to the floor. “You mean…?”

“You are the king, Calistus.” Mazi Amadi sizes him up. “You are the Obi of Onitsha. Don’t you know what the word ‘Obi’ means? By right, you should be unquestionable. All traditions are made by men and can be changed by another man who knows his place of authority as the king. Thankfully, and because of this idiot I gave birth to,” he points his staff at Chief Boniface again. “Now I know that having money is not equal to being wise.” He gives his son a cold glare. “Thank your God it’s not too late before you realize the power exclusive to your position as the Obi and all the changes you are capable of.”

His eyes burn with anger as he walks away from the palace.

Chief Mbah just remains on a fix position. He looks heavenwards and squints.

The bug that eats the crop is in the crop. Same way, the enemies of a man’s life are the members of his own household.

*****

             Prof Iye could bet she heard a knock on her door but waits to be sure. The whole area is too serene so much so that if a pin drops, one would hear it. She’s refused to go near the master’s bedroom in this house because it’s where herself and her husband shared. She wants to avoid anything that reminds her of Audu; because one who desecrated their marriage bed is not worthy of a second in her thoughts. She fumbles with the sheets as the knock comes again, this time louder.

“Yes. come in.” she calls out as a yawn escapes her. There are just the two of them in this house so it cannot be any other person.

Expectedly, the door opens, presenting,

“Yeah. What’s the problem?” Iye asks, her eyes reflexively looking at the time on the wall clock. Whatever is making her drowsy when it’s not near her usual bedtime yet marvels her. But then, nothing in her life is usual again. Nothing. Since the divorce processes began, everything appears pretty unusual.

“Madam, someone is here to see you.”

“Do you know the person? What’s the nam…” then on a second thought. “You know what? I would be downstairs shortly.” She says on a dismissive note and the lady closes the door gently behind her. 

              Iye moves towards her wardrobe and pulls a maxi gown from there. Wearing it over her head and slipping her legs in a pair of white slippers, she trudges out of the room. The stairs appear to reecho every step she places on them these days and it’s rather depressing to be too sensitive. Audu has dealt a big blow on her; taking her daughter away from her first and now her entire home. She would stop at nothing to make the man taste out of the soar food he’d dished out to her. Her thoughts are cut short as soon as she sees the person sitting on the couch. She rubs the back of her palm against her eyes to be sure she’s not daydreaming.

                 Noma sits courteously as though afraid to wrinkle the fabric or stain the couch with something on her pants she doesn’t know about. The couch is brown, as they’ve always been. Nothing has changed much in the structure of the house neither in its design and content. The only noticeable difference Noma saw immediately she entered through the door was that there were no pictures on the wall; their individual and family pictures. She sees her mother is really determined to move past her husband.

Noma stands to her feet immediately her mother steps into the sitting room. The woman looks so dazed, her lower lip trembles. Confusion and shock colors her expression while Noma’s face is completely expressionless except for the vein popping out in her neck.

“Mummy…” she breaks the deafening silence standing tall between them.

Iye swallows against a ball in her throat before closing up the little gap between them. She lifts her face onto Noma’s smooth cheeks,

“My baby, is this really you?”

              Noma nods in the affirmative, a tear dropping down her eyes. The grey hairs on her mother’s head have become really numerous she doesn’t have to struggle to count them like it used to be before six years ago. For beauty, the woman still looks as delectable as ever because she ages like wine – the older, the sweeter – but underneath those eyebrows are wells of pain; pains so deep it cannot be converted to words. Noma moves forward and hugs her tightly. Iye looks too astonished to even move her hand and that’s OK, because the hug isn’t long before Noma withdraws to look at her mother.

“Noma, you are alive? You are not dead?” she couldn’t believe it. “We sent people in search of you. The police ransacked, or they claimed they ransacked everywhere on the normal route from here to the village we intended you to go.” Her voice breaks and she begins to cry.

Noma moves forward and grabs her mother’s trembling body in hers. “It’s OK, mum.” She pats the older woman’s back lovingly. “I didn’t get to Ofabo. The pain of rejection and separation made me swore not to have anything to do with this family anymore.”

                 Noma reels out everything from how she’d stopped at Anyigba; a place she’s never been to before and didn’t know or have anyone there. She talked about how she slept under the sun and sometimes rain with her pregnancy. At a time, a pastor let her stay in his uncompleted church building because there was no room for a stranger in his house or any of his church member’s. They, at least, brought her meal once in a day but as the pregnancy progressed and her appetite increased, she’d to go out in search of a job, anything that can give her little money to feed enough for her baby to grow in her properly. It was in her rigmaroles and search she found the notification of vacancy for a house-help on Mrs. Gina’s giant gate. Noma told her mother how God had placed Mrs. Gina in Anyigba the way he strategically kept the widow of Zarephath there for Elijah.

“Your forcing us to bake in this house came in handy there, mum.” She manages a smile amidst her pain and Prof Iye on her own hand couldn’t control the tears rolling down her cheeks.

Noma talked about how Mrs. Gina set up a bake shop for her immediately after Hallie, her daughter, was born. The bake shop has grown so big she now has twenty staff in all and partnership with three other companies including one which is the state government’s main event organizing company.

“Mum, I could have died…”

“Don’t say that, baby…” Iye tries to shut her up but Noma isn’t done yet,

“I could have died while moving helter-skelter in search of what to sustain myself and my child. I could have committed suicide at a point because of so much pain. I could have done so many things but God kept me up to this time, mummy.”

Iye pulls her in for a tight hug. “I’m so sorry, my baby. I’m so sorry for all I put you through. I should have stood up for you, defended and protected you like a mother should, but I failed you, baby. I’m so sorry.” She lets the tears drop on Noma’s shoulders. “Now that God has given me a second chance, now that God has brought my daughter home to me, baby, I promise, by his grace I’ll make up for the past six years. I will. I will. I will not waste this second chance.”

“Yes mummy, we will not waste this second chance. We have to make up for all the things this family has lost, and take the family back.”

“Yes baby, yes. we need that.” Iye concurred but something hits her and she stops abruptly, withdrawing from the hug.

Noma watches her mother move to and collapse into a seat. She takes in a deep breath and comes to sit on the handle of the chair, placing her hand across the woman’s shoulders.

“As kids, mum, you always read out the story of Jesus who was crucified unjustly yet asked God not to count the sin of his killers on them. He said that the father should forgive them for they do not know what they were doing. You’d tell us that it’s only called forgiveness when it’s not deserved.”

Iye is literally sobbing loudly now. “Noma, you don’t understand.”

Noma sits up, urging her to explain.

                  Iye talks about how Audu had hurt her feelings once when they were still in a relationship. She was a post graduate student quite alright but they were both deeply in love and she didn’t mind the gap between them. However, there was this girl in Audu’s class who had eyes on him, always has. Audu had told her about the girl too and they’d promised to be open enough not to be led into temptation. She had a lot of ready suitors approaching her for marriage then, including young single lecturers who were comfortable and had some money to show for it, but she insisted on waiting for Audu. One day, when she was about entering her room in the post graduate hall, a lady calls out to her and she stops to wait. The lady introduces herself as Audu’s girlfriend, saying that he’d even slept with her and that gives her an edge. She went ahead to threaten that if Iye knows what is good for her, she should let them be.

                    It was in tears and bitterness Iye confronted Audu and the latter reluctantly agreed. He said he overestimated his self-control potential and made the mistake of visiting the lady on invitation in her hostel off campus. Iye felt a dagger cut through her heart and decided to damn the love and affection she had for the ‘boy’. Audu cried and repented sincerely. He apologized and stayed on her case until she came around again. However, he had to promise her that he would never have anything to do with another woman ever again. And if he falls for that trap, she’d better not know because the day she would know would be the end of their relationship or marriage as the case may be.

“So how am I supposed to handle that your father has a four-year-old boy? Ehn? Tell me?”

With sorrowful tears, Noma buries her mother’s head as the latter cries in her chest.

Indeed, to err is human but to forgive is divine.

*****

******

Noma opens the door to the wardroom gently and Joyce hastens quickly towards her.

“Where did you go?” she queries but continues. “He woke up saying he heard your voice and demanded to see you.” The smile initially disappears and her sadness redraws every line on her face. “Now he’s shut his eyes again.”

               Noma presses her lips together and walks into the room proper. Her upper lip quivers. Perhaps, God has kept her alive for such a time as this and she’s really grateful for all; because through the pain and the shame, she learnt. She could hear Joyce follow gently behind her and that is reassuring enough. The battle for this family must be fought and won, she reaffirms in her mind.

“Daddy” Noma mutters, taking her father’s right hand.

The man opens his weak eyes. Waves of heat courses through his blood, a cold sweat glisten in his features. His eyes are sunken and skin sallow. Everything aches, everything sags. Initially, the figure before him appears blurry but as strength returns gradually into his system, he sees clearer.

“God, please fix my family.”

Noma reflexively turns her face to her sister and Joyce scrunches up her face giving the ‘I told you’ look. Noma returns her face to her father. “You will be fine now, daddy. Yes, you will. God has fixed your family now.”

Joyce scowls, not understanding what her elder sister is saying.

“Ojonoma, my daughter.” Prof Audu manages to say. “I… I..” he stammers. “I’m sorry for everything I’ve done to you, my princess.” He feels a warm feeling rising up his chest and begins to cough.

Joyce hurries over to the stool to pick his bottle of water. Holding it out towards him but he refuses it. Noma gestures to Joyce to just let the man cough his pain away.

“Daddy, it’s alright, OK? I forgive you. I forgive mum. I forgive whatever you have done to me.” Her mouth curves into a smile now. “All we need from you now is to be fine because all your girls are here.”

Joyce draws her lip beneath her teeth. “What do you mean, sis.”

Noma lifts an eyebrow. “Please open the door for mum.”

               Tears run down Joyce’s cheek as she collapses in the warm embrace of her mother at the door. They are both crying but Iye’s is much more. She drags her legs sluggishly into the room proper and the corners of her heart cricks when her eyes meet her husband’s. The man looks so emaciated, like one who’d not eaten in four years.

              Prof Akpa watches his wife approaches the bed and like magic, strength comes into his bones enough to sit upright on the bed. Joyce is surprised at that but it’s a good thing. Love heals anyway. Noma gets off the side of her father she’s sitting to give way for her mother who sadness clouds her features.

“Audu mi.”

“Iye mi.” and they both fall into each other’s arms in a warm embrace.

               In her embrace, the world stops still on its axis. There is no time, no wind, no rain. Prof Akpa’s mind is at peace. How could it be that he deserted this pure love at home in search of vain comfort somewhere else? Pure. Unselfish. Undemanding. Giving. Free. He feels her body press in, soft and warm. This is what he’s wished for in the past weeks, prayed for. He inwardly thanked God and hugs all the tighter. A love like this is to be cherished for life. Finally, she is home.

“God, thank you for fixing my home.” Prof Akpa prays out loudly.

“God, we thank you for fixing our home.” Iye reaffirms.

                  Noma stands on her feet smiling from ear to ear. It’s indeed a beautiful and good beginning. On their way back from the house, Iye told her she plans to receive her husband’s son into the home and the girls should be ready to embrace their new and younger brother. It sounded like melody to Noma’s ears to hear her mother talk about taking up the welfare of a child that has caused her family so much pain. She even said, they’d put the boy’s mother on monthly allowances and she’s permitted to come visit her son in the house whenever she deemed fit. And in the event where she refuses to release the boy to them, they’d still take full responsibilities of his welfare and Iye would be available to follow her husband to go see his son at any time T. Whatever strategy they need to rebuild their family, they’d employ.

“Ojonoma Theresa Audu, I’m sorry for ever hurting you, my baby.” Prof Akpa says soberly. It’s true that blame keeps wounds open, only forgiveness heals. So, on behalf of your mother and I, we ask you to forgive us from the bottom of your heart. We are sorry for hurting you.”

“We are sorry, baby. We are truly sorry.” Iye adds, holding her husband tighter.

Noma and them seem to have a silent conversation as she stares at them. She finally looks away, tears threatening to blur her vision, when a hand encircles hers. It’s soft and warm, reassuring almost as if the owner of the hand sensed her deep desperation. Her eyes burn with hot tears as she opens them and she and Akoji looks into each other’s eyes.  Joyce had gone out to the reception to call Akoji and his mother in. Prof Iye and Audu, from their end looks on in utter amazement because what’s going on is unclear to them.

“Finest girl,” Akoji starts pursing his lips. “I hope you now see that I’m intentional about loving you?”

Noma gaps and suddenly feels as though she could hear everyone’s thought.

“I will love you patiently and consistently, Finest girl. With everything in me and all I own.” He grins and Noma’s jaw drops open. “So now that the coast is clear, you are back with dad and mum now. Only that I don’t know if you’ll marry someone that gave up the throne for you.”

Noma’s face goes blank immediately and she seeks confirmation from Lolo who nods in the affirmative. Akoji then dips his hand in his pocket and brings out what Noma recognizes very well – the ring from the other day in her bedroom – and terror overtakes her face.

“Even if you don’t get to be queen of any kingdom…” sarcasm is all over his voice and Noma punches him on the chest. He plays too much. But is that why she loves him much more? “Finest girl, please, officially now, jokes apart,” he winks. “…please, become the queen of my heart and mother to Joshua and Grace, my unborn kids!”

To be continued…

Hey guys, it’s 31st Dec and I feel God telling someone to let go of a particular hurt (like Noma, who was thrown away from home when she needed them most, or Iye, whose husband’s infidelity came round back to slap her in the face). If your heart tells you, you owe anyone forgiveness, please don’t let the day end before putting a call across. If you need help with this, please send me a mail on gemstonescat@gmail.com You know we all are enjoying an undeserving forgiveness from God. May God heal our hearts of all hurts in Jesus name.

Yippee! One more episode to go. It’s really been an amazing ride through NOMA’S DREAM. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Let’s await the end. If you can guess, go ahead… �’4vu�

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About Grace Ochigbo

Grace Ochigbo
Grace Ochigbo is a Christian, storyteller, inspirational speaker and the Founder of Gemstone Sickle Cell Aid Team, a non-profit organizations working to end Sickle Cell Disease.

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    Thanks for this piece….God bless you ma’m…#kisses

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