Noma’s Dream – Grace Ochigbo
The ringing comes out loudly again and this time it feels like he could hear it in the deepest part of his brain. How one cannot have a sound sleep in a house he single-handedly and completely paid for and owns, beats his imagination. He turns his body reluctantly, using his hand to check for his phone on the side-stool beside the bed. The phone rings out immediately he finds it.
Mtcheew. He hisses out in frustration.Just when he is about to shut his eyes tight again, the ringing comes out loud.
“See, Mr P…” He yells on placing the phone against his ears. “When you call me once and I don’t pick, don’t call again. I’m not the hell deaf. I’ll return your goddamn call as soon as I am able to.” He rattles on.
“Ehen?” A questioning and unbelieving voice shuts him up and he sits upright at that very instance.
“Oh my God! Lolo, I didn’t know it’s you!” He put on the bedside lamp and notices the time on the table top clock. “Lolo, why are you calling at this time? You should… you should be…”
“Should be on my way to first bank where I work as a manager, right?”
Akoji smiles at her sarcasm. “Very funny, Lolo! Lo…”
“Mum.” The woman corrects, cutting in abruptly. “Enough of these formalities and call me ‘mum’ for once, son. I’m your mother.”
Akoji rolls his eyeballs up and down. “No, Lolo. We’re not starting this argument this early.”
He waits as the woman pauses for several seconds like she’s weighing her next statement.
“My dear son, your father is…”
“No Lolo.” Akoji yells. “No Lolo. You see why I don’t call you guys?” He shrugs in self-defense, as though the woman could see him. “I don’t especially appreciate this your unending lines of sermon. OK? I’m a man. I’m fine. Very fine.”
“You are fine? Including your inability to go out to work today?”
“It’s not an inability, Lolo. No. it’s not an inability. It’s a decision. As a manager, you get monopoly of some decisions. I only need to call in sick, there’s no one I’m answerable to at this level.”
“Right!” The woman on the other side of the call wonders why he’s so much on the defensive. “So how about the other one?”
Akoji springs up in blazing anger now. “Look Lolo, I think you need to let me have my own life and live it, live it well. I still have a pretty long way to go.”
“Sincerely, Akoji, I don’t know why you choose this path. A lot…”
“Lolo, lolo…” Akoji interrupts again, sounding really stern even more now. “Life is a little different out here. And it’s no one’s fault that things are the way they are. Moreover, you would have completely fallen in love with some ladies only to learn that they are already mothers…” His voice goes down towards the end of the statement and by the time he’s through, he holds his mouth as if he could take back the words, but too late.
“Huh?” His mother raises alarm. “I don’t understand. You are in love with a mother? A sugar mummy kind of thing? C’mon, Akoji. You know who you are and…”
“Damn it!” Akoji yells, hitting his angry hand on the bed. “You know what, Lolo? I got to go now, Ok? Thanks for checking up on me. And I hope you don’t call often too.”
“But… but… but you have not…”
Akoji takes the phone off his ears and stares at it for few seconds while his mother tries to make out her next statement,
“Bye, Lolo!” He taps the ‘end call’ icon before throwing the phone to the far end of the bed.
He takes in exasperating breaths as his back lands tiredly on the bed. He tries to shut his eyes, tries to go back to his sleep and maybe drown his thoughts in that similar realm as he always does but unfortunately, like a downhill rushing water, the conversation with his mother keeps on replaying in the deep part of his brain needing no remote at all. He turns restlessly from the left side to the right, his head scanning through yesterday evening. How he’d felt his sinews disjoint from all bones when Mr P gave him the announcement of a lifetime. Quietly and gently, he’d walked back to his car only to see her handbag siting pretty on the seat right beside the driver’s. He considered for several moments on what to do. He wouldn’t be able to face her in that state; with what he’d just learnt about.
How could she? He’d screamed out his thoughts, banging the dashboard.
And ever since he got into the house, after gulping two cans of a drink called monster in a bid to clear his head to no avail, he sought for solace in sleep.
Suddenly, a thought drops in his subconscious and Akoji springs up. He remains on the bed weighing the possibilities and the risks. Taking everything into full perspective, he lets his weak legs hit the floor as he gently lifts his entire weight to the bathroom.
Noma shakes her head rigorously from side to side.
“How about calling…”
“No!” she screams her thoughts out loud without intending to. Her mind is beginning to play a smart one on her and she’s not going to fall for it. No. Never. She’s survived all these while, she would survive this time too, the next one and in all the times to come. She’s been long gone to retrace her steps now. She’s been long gone to look back now. Long gone. Long gone.
There is a giant hole in her heart and she knows nothing would ever be the same again. She looks like death and she didn’t care. She should have been crying, but she is too numb to even think about crying.
Her eyes are puffy from excessive crying already because she couldn’t stop crying since she got back in here yesterday. She is dehydrated and sore. Sobs rake her body; no one should be able to cry that hard. She hadn’t even cried this hard when it happened. Pained. Traumatized. Rejected. When she felt completely useless.
A faint ding dong comes through her ears, bringing her back from her thoughts. It’s one of Enya’s instrumentals, one of the songs from her favorite album. She drowns in some sort of weird and completely strange comfort those soft soothing songs provide her soul. Without looking, her hands move in the direction, picking up her phone.
“Lizzy?” It’s her secretary.
“Madam, good morning, ma.” She waits for Noma to respond and seeing none coming, she continues anyway, “I just wanted to remind you about the meeting with the events house this morning. They’ve been waiting here in the past thirty minutes and I am calling to confirm where you are now, if it’s traffic…”
Noma could literally slap herself in the head. How had she forgotten? It’d totally escaped her mind. A contract she’s put her very all into making sure that she gets it? Noma’s Bake Shop is on the verge of winning a contract as the sole cake distributor during events sponsored by Regius Dynasty Events. They are the biggest events house in the state and often have more than three jobs to handle per week. This venture would be a life changing one for Noma’s Bake Shop, for Noma more importantly, especially now that she needs as much money as she can get for what’s before her.
“OMG!” she exclaims before she could stop herself. She’s the boss and shouldn’t be sounding scared in the face of panic, right? She muscles up some courage to talk to the already panicking Lizzy. The lady can fret over just anything and if it mistakenly shows on her face, she’s going to spoil everything Noma toiled for.
“Listen Lizzy. Listen attentively.” Noma uses her most comforting voice yet. She hears the young lady take in deep breaths on the other side of the phone. “Alright. Now that I have your attention. I want to tell you that I’m not stuck in traffic anywhere?”
“What?” Lizzy freaks out.
“Calm down, Lizzy.” Noma dips her fingers into her full hair. “Where are you?”
“I’m in your office, ma’am. They are still at the reception.”
Noma takes in a deep breath. It’s a good thing this conversation and Lizzy’s intermittent loud exclamations are not going on right before the assessment team from her potential contractors.
“Lizzy, I’m not coming.” She’s searched for the best way to announce this but she needs to say notwithstanding. “I can’t leave here. Hallie is not any better; aside that, I can’t leave her here alone right now. In addition, I’m not even in the right state of mind to face the team.” She swallows against the lump in her throat, cursing the outcome of yesterday’s outing. “Can you do that for me… for us?”
“Ah! Madam!” Lizzy screams out her helplessness. Her words are laden with sore fear anyone listening would taste alongside her.
“Calm down, Lizzy! You know how much hard work went into getting those people down there today. You know how many trips I’ve made to their headquarters and the unending redirections until I finally got audience. Do you want all those to be a waste?”
“No… No, ma… but… just that…” Lizzy stammers. “But… I… I … can’t…”
“You can, Lizzy! You’ve been with me in times past at some of our presentations before other assessment teams. Just do likewise. Nothing to fear, just be yourself – confident, poise, bold and outspoken.”
Lizzy takes in a breath that’s so loud, Noma almost shifts from her seat in fear. “The lord Jesus will work it out for us, Lizzy. Just do what you can and leave the rest for Him. Alright?”
“Ye… yea… yes ma’am. I’ll phone to tell you the outcome. Just keep praying for me.”
“I will, darling. Go and do us proud.” She manages a smile as if Lizzy would see her. “Go, go, go, don’t keep them waiting any longer.”
A second and the call goes dead. Noma places the phone on her chest tightly.
A single tear rolls down her cheek. She feels like her heart had been ripped out. Suddenly, there’s this aura of grey around her. It’s a mist that wouldn’t rise. A state of depression that she couldn’t see herself through. She feels a terrible weight on her shoulders. It’s as if a giant boulder is laid on her and she couldn’t straighten up or catch her breath entirely.
Her eyes move slowly until they rest on Hallie. Poor Hallie. She seems to hear her daughter’s mind scream out as the pain drives through her back. Every thought of hers confused as the burning pain licks up her back like scorching fire. Perhaps the only thoughts the little girl has left is ‘like knife through butter’. Hallie often weeps at her own suffering. She rolls up in a ball of self-loathing and pain, wishing the world to end rather than this sea of endless current; some strong, some weak waves, but always crashing over her, permanently. Waves of heat courses through her blood, a cold sweat glistens in her gaunt features. Her eyes sunken and her skin sallow, everything aches, everything sags.
Another lone tear drops down as Noma rubs her hands lovingly over Hallie’s thinning hair. Then…
Noma quickly wipes at the lone tear already on her cheeks now. She dabs it off with the back of her palm, before turning in the direction of whoever opened the door. Relieved it’s one of the nurses until her eyes found the latter’s hands,
“Tell him I’m not seeing him. Not today. Not anytime soon.” Noma rattles, still feeling pain course through her heart as she says the words.
The nurse looks around and then backwards in confusion before speaking. “Him? Who?”
Noma quickly readjusts. What had she done?
“Oh. I’m so sorry, ma’am. Please drop the handbag on the chair. Thank you.”
The nurse quickly drops Noma’s handbag as though the latter’s words controlled her actions and vanished behind the door in no time.
Noma walks backwards to where her handbag is. She stares at it. Her heart in her mouth. Could it be that Akoji returned her bag without asking to see her in the very least? No. It couldn’t be. He could have sent someone, right? She tries to persuade herself. That has to be the case. There’s no way he would come around the hospital and not even ask to see her before she’d be left to accept to have the meeting or not. As these thoughts take merciless courses round her head, she feels her heart break strangely.
“What is it with this Akoji?” Her heart has utterly refused to give valuable answers to this repeated question.
The young man had gotten her angry yesterday. He sounded like an abuser. The kind of young men that aims solely for the sweet garden, eat the forbidden fruit therein and take the easiest way out. She hated him completely at that instance. She still hates him, right? Right! She shouldn’t be expecting to see him. It should be exciting that she’s just been saved the stress of having to say no to a persistent young man but here she is literally aching to have a meeting. Here she is feeling like she’s misjudged or not given him enough chance to explain himself. She really feels like seeing Akoji again, and as she picks the bag up to open it, she finds her heart praying silently for a note or a rose. A note – of apology; a rose – of love.
She takes her time, bringing out every single content in the bag. She must find something, anything… from Akoji.
“Seriously, guy tell me.”
“Tell you what?” Akoji, still lying straight on the bench, gradually takes up the heavy weight till it fits back into its hinge.
Patrick adjusts on his squatting position. “I mean…” He spreads out his fingers. “You know what I’m saying…”
“No o.” Akoji rolls his head from side to side. “I don’t know any of the damn things you are saying.” He sits upright now, bringing his face directly a little higher than Patrick’s. “Mr P, don’t forget that I’m a registered member of this your godforsaken gym.” He looks around, thankfully, the loud music blaring from a speaker at the entrance to the fully equipped gym drowns his voice. “Ehen! It’s a Thursday, so?”
“So you should be at work by mid-morning…”
“Mid-morning? Guy, can you even listen to yourself? What the hell is that?”
Patrick smiles cunningly. “The aim of communication is that we understand one another, if you understand what I mean.” He winks at Akoji and he scoffs. “Anyways, so tell me, what’s up?”
Akoji knows better than to use Patrick’s gym as a get away from his problems. Well, he has nowhere else to go. He’s stuck on Mr P, no matter the more-harm-than-good the guy had caused him. Akoji only knows his working area, the Living Faith church he attends once in a blue moon and then, this gym. It was actually the working out that brought himself and Mr P, who’s the owner and coach in this facility, close.
The first few months after Akoji had come into town, and he feels really weak for a man after being used to having everything done for him all his life, he immediately knew he needed to work out, to get energy and be a man… as people usually say. He was just driving around town one Saturday when he saw the signboard of the facility. By the time he got in here, and with the hospitality and grand welcome from Mr P, he knew he’s at the right place. But gradually, much more than they both expected or planned, their friendship rapidly increased, until now that they are like two individuals cut from the same loins.
“I came here to work out, Mr P. Please.” Akoji announces, trying not to raise his voice.
“Did Agefu defeat you last night? Oh… that girl is really baad, man…” Patrick rubs his tongue over his lower lip slowly. “I told you she’d win you. But guess what, AK my guy, I have the perfect workout program for you. See ehn? Just make sure your roof is intact because tonight, she’d be screaming he…”
“Shut your leaking mouth up, Mr P. Damn!” Akoji bangs his hand on his laps angrily.
“What na?” Patrick shrugs, seeing nothing unusual in his statements.
“Really? Will your mind remain unrepentantly dirty? Agefu! Seriously? The same stupid girl you keep sending into my apartment? The same one that’s making Noma hate me so bitterly?”
Patrick snorts. “Forget that Noma babe, jor!” He flings a hand carelessly; it almost meets Akoji’s eyes.
“Pardon?” Akoji raises an eyebrow.
“Forget the girl, Akoji. Forget that Noma girl.” He moves nearer, as if planning to whisper his next words. “She’d just be forming Holy virgin Mary. We know those type of babes, guy. Them be shoodis, Akoji. Serious confirm shoodies. No take their matter go bank o. I swear.” He readjusts on his squatting position again, showing clearly his ankles are beginning to ache but he must finish his line of thoughts. “Come to think of it, Akoji. Think this for one minute.”
Akoji’s face looks curious.
“The girl is forming holier than thou now, I hope it was while she held hands with a bro in prayers that he scored the lone goal that’s sick in that hospital right now?” The calmness on Akoji’s face is gone and replaced with gross provocation as Patrick speaks on. “My point is simple, Noma, or whatever her name is, is a pretender. Yes. Serious pretender. If she’s as holy as she wants you to believe, she shouldn’t be nursing a five-year-old girl outside a husband’s house.” He pauses to look up. “Wake up, guy, and smell the coffee.” He gets up and pats Akoji’s back before walking away.
Akoji takes in deep breaths and holds it.
“No, put it this way… yes… a little to your right… no… wait, push it forward a bit, Ok?” She tilts her head backwards to get a better view. “I think it’s OK this way. Just pull it a bit to the front. Ehen! Now we are getting nearer.” Beatrice Mba says, feeling good with their work so far.
She’d stopped over at China, on her way from the US to get all possible exterior and interior decor materials. She must make sure that this year’s festival is so remarkable, indelible prints would be left in the hearts of their beloved people.
“It’s alright this way, right?” She asks one of the maids.
The scantily dressed lady with only a wrapper tied round her breast and the other tied into a knot at the back of her waist as it’s usual of a typical maid, doesn’t look up at any time. Her beautiful fair-skinned body is well adorned with scanty beads also but in all, she’s gorgeous.
“Ufuoma, I’m talking to you.” Beatrice Mba calls out, adjusting the fallen hand of her bright purple maxi dress.
“Your hi…” The maid starts but loud ringing from a phone interrupts her.
She hurries over to the elevated table where three phones are resting and finds the one ringing. Beatrice keeps her curious eyes on Ufuoma until she gets the phone and hurries over to her side of the room. She sees the caller and hastily collects the phone before the maid would slide the ‘receive’ button and put it on speaker for her to hear, as it’s the norm. Her son, if nothing else, values his privacy and wants everyone to respect it.
“Lolo, I need to talk to you. I’m losing my mind.” Akoji’s words spill out helplessly and Beatrice immediately winks in the direction of the maids to excuse her.
“Lolo, are you there? Are you listening to me?” Akoji’s voice comes louder in her ears.
“Yes son. Go ahead. What’s the matter?”
Akoji takes his time to explain his ordeals from Monday evening when he gave an ‘angel’ a lift and how that he seems stuck on her even though this particular angel in his own words, ‘has quite an history with a child involved’.
Beatrice listens attentively, not interrupting, not interjecting or breaking her son’s line of thoughts. It feels good to know that Akoji still has this much confidence in her as at several years ago. She couldn’t describe the special feeling she’s having, but not to let that distract her, she makes sure to concentrate.
“But how could she do that?” Akoji’s frustration could be grossly felt in his tone of bitterness and defeat.
“Could she do what?” Beatrice asks for clarification and that makes Akoji hesitate. “Don’t think it, son. I listened attentively to your explanations. I wasn’t distracted, so if I’m asking a question, it’s not because I didn’t get it, but because I want to be sure we are thinking the same thing.”
“Thinking the same thing?” Akoji asks, confused.
Beatrice could bet on her last name that Akoji must have rolled his eyes before speaking. He usually does that, whenever he feels irritated. Well, nothing can succinctly describe how much she misses him.
“What do you mean ‘thinking the same thing’, Lolo?”
Beatrice spreads out her lips in a one-sided smile. “Well, I think that we both think you are in love with her.”
“Lolo!” Akoji exclaims, interrupting her. “Lolo, she has a daughter. A five-year old daughter, damn it! I can’t seem to deal with that.”
Beatrice let the smiles widen now. It’s good her son didn’t deny being in love with this particular lady. She must truly be magical to have charmed the heart of her seemingly unyielding gentleman of a first son.
“How come about the little princess, son?” She thinks through her next statement. “Is the lady a divorcee? Or she’s separated from spouse? Or, as you children of nowadays do, is she someone’s baby-mama?”
Akoji keeps quiet for half a minute. These are true possibilities, right? There are strong possibilities. He had, no thanks to Patrick, stayed on the lone assumption that Noma must have led a very promiscuous life that ultimately crowned in a baby outside wedlock. What if she’s actually married, and only separated from her husband at the moment? That would mean there are possibilities of getting reunited with the father of her child at a later time? Akoji’s hands scratches the back of his ear reflexively at the possibility that Noma may actually be out of reach.
“Hello, son. Are you still with me?”
“Uhm… ye… yes, ma.” Akoji stammers as his mother’s voice joggles him back to the present world.
“You sound to me like your heart goes out to her…” Beatrice’s voice is calm, soothing. “You’ve barely known her for three days and so, you don’t expect her to start reeling out her entire life’s secret, which of course involves a sick child, to you within that short time.” She walks over to a chair and takes it. “If you were privileged to get that revelation at this time, through your friend as you said, then it means that the almighty wants to arm you in advance, maybe to shape up your manner of approach.”
“You don’t get it, Lolo, do you? She made me feel like the worst sinner in the world when I tried to explain my fallen times to her. Believe me, I tried not to give in to that girl’s seduction, Lolo. I tri…”
“I believe you, son. You don’t have to explain anything to me. As God will help, you have to keep learning and trying to hold humans, men and women alike, with great values and respect and that must include their bodies because those are the persons you’ll come to lead.” She notices a still groan escape from the other side and she takes in a deep breath. “Surely, we’re not having that discussion, right? I know. So back to our wonder lady…”
She hears Akoji release the breath he’s been holding onto. It’s hard.
“Now, this is what you must know about getting across the layers shielding the heart of single mothers…” She starts, pausing to hear a sound from the other side to be sure she still has her son’s audience.
“First is to listen, son.”
She narrates with relevant illustrations how important listening to one another is. It’d erase unnecessary and erroneous assumptions as well as improve trust amongst both parties.
“You must also learn to be patient, and not only that, darling, be consistent.” She hesitates. “From the outside, all ladies appear the same but the insides of the lives of regular ladies and those who’s had a child at any point in their lives, whether the child is living or dead, their minds and hearts are vastly different. They are connected, interwoven with the lives of their children. They feel fully responsible for the wellbeing and daily survival of these kids but hidden under their layers of responsibilities lie the woman’s own needs. Deep needs and cravings you have to be extremely patient and consistent to reach through to.” She goes on and on with her admonishments, stating instances and bringing everything into practical glare.
By the time, Beatrice finishes, Akoji stays quiet for almost five minutes, his breathing out loud shows the depth of his thoughts.
“Thank you, sweet mother!”
This comes through the chambers of Beatrice’s heart like the feel of oxygen in a collapsing lung. Her heart leaps for joy and she wishes that with time, someday, all her heart desires concerning her boy would be granted.
“You are welcome, darling.” She stretches out her hand as though Akoji is right in front of her and she could touch his hair. “So go back. Be patient and be consistent, darling, and listen to our angel.”
Akoji lets out hot air as he ends the call.
Dr Ebiloma’s head goes up immediately the door flings open presenting his wife. They’d just had a set of twins, twenty years after marriage and the thrills from several congratulatory notes, cards, visits still pouring in, even two months afterwards, is really overwhelming. He knows how endearing a little child is to his or her parents and so could understand however succinctly the pains of the young woman whose five-year-old girl is his patient in the ward.
“He’s here!” The woman holding firmly to the handle of the door announces.
Dr Ebiloma’s eyes carries readable questions in them as he squeezes them a little.
“Your friend, the manager…” She puts her hand on her chin. “Yeah. Mr Akoji. First bank…”
“Oh!” Dr Ebiloma sounds really elated, getting on his feet almost immediately. He’s on a midi length jeans trouser and white vest. “I’ll see him right away…”
“Like this?” His wife raises an eyebrow, before letting her eyes circumvent him from head to toe.
Dr Ebiloma feels a little embarrassed, and looks at himself before facing the woman. “What’s wrong with this, honey?”
His wife burst into a loud laughter. “Nothing.” She tightens her body against his. “Somebody cannot play with the fine boy again?”
Dr Ebiloma curves his lips into a light smile as he blushes. The woman won’t like to make babies just yet, he’s sure. Looking down, he plants a kiss on her left cheeks before gently pulling her away from the road and heading downstairs.
“A very good evening to you, sir.” Akoji greets, standing up and stretching out a hand.
Dr Ebiloma takes it. “What a great honor to have the ever veracious and amiable youngest manager in my humble abode. To what do I owe this visit?”
Akoji tries not to show his flushed face.
“Sir, I owe the twin girls this visit.” He lies.
“Well, you’ve visited them about a month ago. You even did me the great honor of coming all the way for their church dedication and naming ceremony. So what other visit do you owe my girls?” Dr Ebiloma laughs boisterously. “My cuties are fine, really!” He announces with pride. “People rumored I lost them. But then, even if they die today, it’d be on record that I was once a father and that’s fulfilling enough for me. But in other news, I’ve not seen a healthier and bigger two-month old in my life and line of profession.”
Akoji, with hands clamped into each other, moves with the same degree of excitement as the doctor on his own seat.
“Honey, please bring a cold drink for my dear young man. He’s been hardworking and deserves all the accolades.” The older man calls out, hoping his voice would be heard by his wife upstairs. A confirmatory response comes from her and he sits back from his initial plan of going to get the drinks by himself.
Akoji sits back, smiling sheepishly from ear to ear.
“So…” Dr Ebiloma’s voice pulls his attention. “On a more serious note, what brings you here today?” His eyes burrows into the young man’s; almost offsetting his entire confidence level.
Akoji suddenly feels sweat drop down his back in this heavily ventilated sitting room. The last time he’d seen Dr Ebiloma was just two days ago, after the latter came out from the ICU to deliver Noma’s message to him. It wasn’t the best of times to hesitate or start up any conversation as the entire atmosphere had been humidly tensed. Here he is, sitting face to face with the older man. His palms suddenly feel wet as he rubs them against each other. He’d been sure he’s doing the most appropriate thing while driving down here. He’s considered his options and had chosen to take his chances however expensively risky and difficult it may seem. He’s had confidence, up until now when he’s required to speak.
He stares over the shoulders of the older man into a blank space. Seeing the possible implications, he opens his mouth but his voice sticks back inside. He takes a deep breath and swallows against a lump on his throat,
“Sir, I… I…” He stammers but Dr Ebiloma’s unblinking and curious eyes urge him to go ahead.
To be continued…
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