NOMA’S DREAM – Grace Ochigbo
One of the 4 inches’ heels, particularly the one on her left foot, slips off course. She’d stepped on a deep sandy surface, making her left leg hit a little stone right in front of her. The stone is little, but big enough to tipple her off an initial firm stance, and even worse so, scatter the numerous paper bags in her hand all over the entire circumference of the seemingly lonely street.
Yeah right! She breathes in heavily.
Getting herself up first, she drags down the edges of her shirt before bending to gather the bags. She hisses severally, as though that would remove the tiredness, frustration and provocation she feels right here.
Today would legit be her craziest day yet.
Perhaps she shouldn’t have gone for the meeting, after all. A normal and sane person would go home to a cosy room, warm shower and good dinner with friends and family – if any – after such a hectic day at work, considering her kind of job. But no! Ojonoma Audu would never have any of that. She will never agree the(her) body needs rest at all.
“Resting when the day isn’t over yet is the same as doing a right thing at the wrong time.” She would tell her staff, her subordinates, her workers, her team, anyone – just anyone who cared to listen to anything Noma had to say at any time before must have heard this line from her enough times to write a book on it.
It wasn’t a bad idea going for that meeting after all. The ladies were glad to have her, as always.
This is it.
One of her female mentors here started a forum for ladies sometimes ago. In fact, Noma was supposed to be the overall coordinator of activities in the forum, but as much as she tried and wished to, she knew she wouldn’t be of any good if made the head. Whether rejecting that leadership role was a good way to help her commitment level or not, she couldn’t say anything other than the fact that today was just her third appearance at the once-in-a-week meeting since it started two years ago.
“I’m busy. Not my fault.” She would always say.
“Everyone is busy, Noma. Everyone. Even those that look like they are jobless may shock you with their tight busy schedules. Everyone is busy, my dear. We all just have to create time for what we value – what is important to us.”
These and many more were the rebukes of her mother back then. The beautiful old lady always said this.
Perhaps, if the woman hadn’t been so lucky as to marry a perfect man such as her father who’s a combination of ‘fine, brain, and money’, she’d have understood the meaning of the word, ‘hustle’, the fact that ladies… women in this generation – in Noma’s generation, have their own lives and career they chose to pursue, with or without a man in it.
The meeting took quite some time. Mrs Gina took out time to recount the enormous achievements of the forum in recent times and most particularly, commended Noma’s ‘behind the scene’ efforts.
Behind the scene!
That’s literally all Noma does for everyone, for every team she belongs to, everywhere she is. She just wants to stay behind the scene. No one should worry about bringing her face out in the public. It isn’t her thing. Never would be.
That’s probably why she hates the malls so much. She hates anywhere rowdy. It feels as though cameras and eyes are mounted all over in those places with the sole aim of watching out for something incriminating about her. Watching only her. And once, she’d asked herself the sincere question about why anyone would be watching her. Why anyone would want to watch her, to start with. She isn’t political neither is she royalty.
Noma swipes a strand of the long hair from her face while picking up the last nylon bag on the floor. They’ve all been dirtied in the sand and she feels the temptation to leave them there. If only what’s inside were not important, she’d have let some go.
“Not today… oh God!” she grinds her teeth against each other in a progressive state of anger.
Everything is happening at the wrong time. Her car stopped working at the wrong time, and at the wrong place too. She’d bought all these stuffs and carefully arranged them in the trunk of her car only to get in and the engine denied her a ride. The only option for her was to abandon the car there and find her way. It’d be rather embarrassing to open the bonnet of a car right in front of the largest mall in the heart of the city. It’s embarrassing, really, really, and embarrassments are not her thing at all. She cannot even take any little dose. She can’t deal with it.
As she flags down the third motorcycle, who’s also unwilling to go her way, she makes up her mind to walk the remaining pretty long distance to the expressway. She is aware that this particular route is very lonely and at the same time the shortest to the road. It’s lonely because it’s bad and drivers love to abandon it and stay on the rowdy, hold-up-laden road to the left of the mall.
“I must get suya by the time I get to that express!” she mutters inaudibly.
That should console her for the stress of walking down such a distance. Suya would win her most go-to favourite any day and however the frustration, she could use the relief from just imagining the taste of the salty-peperish-meaty aroma that comes from Nigerian specialised barbeque.
“Are you going to the express?” A voice startles her.
She must have given so much attention to the feeling of frustration deep within to notice the sound of a car coming behind her until now that this one is half an inch beside her.
Noma glances up the road and returns her face down the opposite direction.
“At least pull off the middle of the road, sir.” She couldn’t place how she’s sounding but the person… whoever he is, is asking her to come into a car parked right in the middle of the road and that’s pretty weird.
“How many minutes would it take you to get in here?” The man’s voice comes harshly and unyielding.
Noma shrugs. Moreover, there are usually no vehicles on this road in the first instance but that still doesn’t give him a right to be ‘mean-nice’. It doesn’t follow.
“Hello…” The man behind the wheels says into a phone he’s holding firmly against his ears with one hand as Noma takes her seat.
She initially eavesdrops on their conversation but seeing no use of it, she pulls out her phone to check messages; particularly WhatsApp messages. She has a thousand and one friends on social media – so numerous you’d think her social life is so lit in real life.
Not at all.
Noma could win the most boring lady under heaven when dragged into a conversation. She does nothing other than work, eat and eat. Thankfully, she doesn’t belong to the class of persons, persons like Joyce, her kid sister, who need to put in much effort so as not to gain a lot of weight. Noma has no issues with her weight. In fact, Joyce used to think Noma was the perfect picture of an ideal lady; a beautiful face to an adorable name, Ojonoma which means God’s own child, a beautiful career choice all the way from a happy family. You could ask if Noma feels that way. Noma actually feels as though she has a lot to cover in her one life and that time is always against her.
“Hey, I would stop to buy fuel here, please!”
Noma nods in the affirmative without taking her eyes off her phone. It’s a good thing the young man finally notices someone sitting beside him because he’s been driving with such rapt attention on the road as though it’s his first time behind the wheels. It’s not like Noma expects otherwise, but as it’s usual for a young man picking up a lady, one would expect an attempt from the man at knowing even a slightest bit about the lady.
As he steps out to direct the workers at the fuel stand, Noma notices a bright light fall on him, revealing his entire face. He is fair, much more than her, but fair enough to still remain a real African man. And then he’s pretty tall too. He looks like one of those models on the cover of Genevieve Magazine and Noma literally cautions herself against getting too carried away by the man’s looks.
“Shall we?” He asks, starting the engine.
Noma doesn’t know how to respond to him. He’d already turned her off by the harsh way he sounded initially and if she’s to go by that, she would not give him any of those her beautiful and charming killer-smiles. Not after the several issues she’s had trying to explain herself to people in times past that smiling at someone doesn’t translate to being taken by the person or anything of such. To her, it’s courtesy to smile cheerfully at people. However, since people chose not to understand, the straight face would do.
“Where exactly are you alighting?” The man leaves facing the road to glance at her now and their eyes meets and holds for few seconds.
“Over there…” Noma points to a large compound.
“You live inside the hospital or you want to see someone?”
Noma gives an uncomfortable smile. This is only meant to be a drive, not some sort of interview or questioning session. But for ‘courtesy’, she’d just answer.
“I live in there.” She notices the young man about to say something more but she is faster this time. “Eerhmm… Mr?”
“Akoji… Akoji is my name. And you?” He continues smiling sheepishly.
Noma scoffs. Thankfully, her face is away from the glistering light. It’s a good thing the man didn’t see it.
“Thanks so much, Mr Akoji. You were an answer to prayers.” She opens the door, and barely puts out her right leg when he holds onto her hand.
“The pleasure is mine.” His voice sounds jittery. “Why did I pick you in the first place?”
Noma returns a look full of surprise. Isn’t it normal for a young man to give a young lady a ride? A dashing one for that matter. Isn’t it normal to give a young lady a lift?
“Yeah… I remember.” He claps his hands in excitement. “I considered the distance you would trek before getting anything called a cab in that area. And with the way you looked and walked, it was as though you would faint the next second!”
Noma doesn’t know whether to smile or not. His statement makes her realise she’d forgotten to buy suya after all the warm ups.
“So what do you do?”
Noma hears his voice from her thoughts and she sits upright.
“What do you do?” She repeats after him. Her eyes involuntarily run down from his face to his chest. He’s still quite corporately dressed and that can only mean he’s just going home from work.
Akoji places his right hand on the headrest of Noma’s chair. “It’s a ‘lady’s-first’ world and moreover, I asked first.”
Noma blinks. “It’s lady’s first in that I must ask my question first and not that I must answer first.”
Akoji falls into a long trail of laughter. The lady is really impressing him.
“Well, I’m Akoji. I’m from Anambra state…”
A loud sarcastic laughter escapes Noma’s lips. “So you are an Igbo man bearing Igala name, huh?” She couldn’t believe her ears
“My mum is actually Igala from Ofabo, dad is Igbo, from Anambra state.”
“Wow!” Noma feels awestruck.
She’d wanted to argue about his name when he mentioned it some minutes ago, seeing the young man looks so much like someone from the east, but then, there’s no need to. Moreover, people refer to her as an Igbo lady more often than not till now. So, it’s possible to be from a particular tribe and look exactly like another.
“Yeah. What else? Yeah. My degrees up till doctorate level read English Language but I work with First Bank. That’s Nigeria for you.” He winks.
Noma blushes carelessly. The young man’s face, voice and approach to conversations make shudders run down her spine. She watches as Akoji slowly moves his hand from the headrest above her to come rest on her left shoulder. She wants to shrug and let his hand slip off, but decides against it.
“So tell me, beautiful woman, that those are not shopping bags in preparation for your upcoming wedding.” His eyeballs hold her gaze. It looks as though the evening moonlight resides right there in his eyes. They look really lovely.
“What!” Noma gasps. “Who told you I’m getting married soon?”
Akoji shrugs. “Well, I will sincerely love to hear, more than anything else right now, that you are single.”
Noma couldn’t believe her ears or the fact that someone is making her blush effortlessly. What sort of straightforward guts is this that doesn’t even care or worry to know a little more about her first before wishing she’s single? She tries to open the door but he holds firmly to her left hand, bringing her back onto the chair.
“Now… this is not funny, Mr Akoji.” Her demeanour looks really serious this time. “It’s getting pretty too dark to stay out here.”
She could slap herself in the head for that lame excuse. They’re directly in front of a well-lit hospital. The lights beaming into the car makes everywhere appear like daytime. Aside that, the hospital is just a turn off the main garage expressway in the city. How could she be saying that it’s too late when hawkers, drivers, akara sellers, and ‘mesuyas’ are still all out their businesses as though they took no thought for time?
“You are delaying your leaving time, my dear lady.” He sounds playfully stern.
Noma feels somehow comfortable with the fact that she’d not told him her name. The man doesn’t even seem interested in knowing her name as much as he really wants to know her relationship status anyway.
“You are thinking about your relationship status?” Akoji calls out, seeing Noma is getting lost in thoughts again. “Alright. You can go. I’ll come take you out by 7pm tomorrow. Item 7 restaurant sells really good pizzas you would love.” He pulls her left hand he’s holding onto closer his chin, leans down and kisses it. “Good night!”
Noma looks morose; like someone stricken by an invisible ghost as Akoji collects her phone with subtle care. He taps on the screen and she watches on helplessly until his own phone begins to ring. He gently hands the phone back to her. This time, she pushes the door open and he doesn’t stop her.
As she walks the short distance to the gate, she could feel his eyes literally watching her from behind but she needs to concentrate so as not to miss a step. Everything is happening so fast and by the time she walks through the gate into the hospital compound proper, only one question is taking merciless turns to ring in her mind.
“Who is Akoji?”
“Yeah, you are here just in time.”
Noma steadies herself against the handle of the door to the private ward she’s still holding on to.
“What happened, doctor?”
Her heart beats hard against her own chest while her eyes try to find an answer in the expressionless face of the doctor approaching her side of the room. She moves her eyes gradually and for some uncontrollable reasons finds herself thanking God for the blinking green light coming from the life support machine.
“Just wanted to ask again if you are ready for this, Noma!”
Noma blinked her eyes. To say that she was born ready would be the closely appropriate response right now.
“Should I be scared, sir?”
The doctor, a mid-aged man with characteristic deep voice probably meant to scare only diseases away, picked something from his jaw.
“Well, you already got the explanations I gave before now. I…” The ringing on Noma’s phone interrupts him.
Noma quickly reaches for her clutch amidst the several nylon bags in her hand. By the time she brings out the phone, it’s finished ringing and her eyes urges the doctor to go on.
The doctor places a comforting hand on her shoulders, still looking straight in her eyes.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Noma.”
With that, he walks out straight ahead into the adjoining veranda without looking back or saying more words.
Noma stands frozen in fear on her feet.
Did something go wrong? She couldn’t move through the fear in her thoughts to the real life. She reflexively glances at the machine on the left side of the room again, it’s still blinking green light. Is that having a separate implication other than what was told her earlier? She couldn’t have been more worried sore at any time than now.
She jerks as the phone in her hand buzzes and begins to ring. She’s almost getting lost in thoughts so she quickly cleans perspiration off her forehead before tapping on the ‘receive’ icon.
“Guess what? I almost burnt down the house.”
A giggling and cheerful voice comes loudly through the speaker of the phone. Noma raises an eyebrow.
“Burn a house, where and how?”
“I was hoping you’d ask for ‘who’s on the line?’”
Noma scoffs. “I know your voice, c’mon!”
And as it is with being a sole and single winner of a multibillion dollar lottery, the statement sets Akoji into a long trail of giggles, interrupted by few seconds Noma could feel him smiling and at other times, he laughs out really loud.
“She knows my voice. Am I not blessed?”
Noma let a smile slip through her tightly closed lips.
“By the way, I was saying that I sat down on the couch while waiting for the food in the microwave to get hot, only for me to doze off.”
“Jeez!” Noma screams before she could stop herself.
“Yes Darling.” Akoji interrupts her. “It had gone round an extra ten minutes and it took only the continuous racking sounds from the exhausted microwave to wake me up. Boy! I was that tired.”
Noma finds herself taking a deep breath and holding it. “You are in luck tonight.”
“Yeah. I am in so much luck… so much luck.” He emphasizes. “In one night the heavens grant me the rare privilege of meeting an angel on her way through the earth. It’s just a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Noma couldn’t help the blushes turning her cheeks into a raspberry pink colour.
“Are you always like this or you just enjoy flattering ladies?” She asks out of curiosity, smiling.
“Babe… couldn’t you…” came a feminine voice from the other side of the call.
“Hey, keep quiet, I’m on a call.” Akoji yells with a jittery voice.
“Babe, I want to…”
The call goes dead.
Noma’s eyes burst wide open as she couldn’t wrap her head around what just happened now. She holds the phone tightly, resisting the inner part that’s putting her under undue compulsion to call Akoji back. Her eyes go to the wall clock.
She needs an explanation. Yeah! She may be underserving of one at the moment, considering the fact that he doesn’t really owe her so much, sure, perhaps he owes her none at all but she needs an explanation and she must get it – at all cost.
With that she taps away on her phone.
To be continued next Saturday.
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