Noma’s Dream – Grace Ochigbo
Her eyes are dull and empty, yet they tell a story of sadness as tears slowly fall down her face. Her shoulders slump to the left side in dejection. Her breathing slows as her heart barely could breath. She rubs the back of her palm against the tears storming down her face like a flood.
“365th Inaugural lecture of…” she reads from the photo on the screen of her Hp revolve g810 laptop, words barely audible enough to hear her own voice.
“Hey!” The door flings open unannounced.
Noma hurriedly shuts the lid of her computer with such a force that it makes a loud sound enough to make fear grip her. Hopefully, she didn’t destroy the screen. She drags out a drawer and pulls handkerchief, wiping tears off her face in a hurry.
“Hey!” She responds calmly, still wiping tears off her face.
Akoji stands transfixed to the door. He ought to have knocked, right? He knocked. Knocked but maybe she didn’t hear him. It has to be that, for her not to have answered.
“Ehrm… I’m sorry… I … Hi… Good…” Noma stammers.
Akoji finally drags his legs weakly towards the side of the office Noma is sitting. Noma’s eyes look fixed at him, wondering what he’s up to and why he’s approaching her. Her heart miss beats in rapid successions as she urges herself to calm down.
Akoji gets very close to her and about to pick up Noma’s computer when the latter jumps to grab it. She holds tightly onto it for a moment, as will a winner of a gold medal, before finally opening the last drawer of her table and putting it in there.
“It’s nothing, really.” Noma fakes a smile she couldn’t relate with.
Akoji, not convinced, “You were crying while staring at something…”
Noma moves uncomfortably on her seat. “What brings you here at this time? It’s not close of work yet.”
The young man fixates his gaze on her lips as they move. He feels like there’s something… many things actually Noma is bottling inside and somehow, he prays to one day get down there in her soul and pull them all out – all her sorrows and pain.
“Yeah. I’m done.”
Noma’s nerves are a bit calm now and she raises an eyebrow. “Done? How do you mean? The first day we met, you were coming from the office at about 9pm, so how is it that you are done only few minutes to noon?”
Akoji smiles, removes the single button on his blue blazer before offering himself a seat.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t offer you a seat.”
“No worries.” He says. “I’m sorry, I barged in on you as well.”
Noma smiles through the tiredness on her long face.
“I see you need an alone time, maybe I should just excuse you? I’ll call you in the evening.” Akoji stands up and replaces the button.
“No… no…” Noma stands too. “Not to worry. It’s fine!” She takes in a deep breath. “Well, unless there’s somewhere you are rushing to.”
“Yes. There is actually.” Noma’s eyeballs pop out at the statement. “Yes, Noma, there’s just somewhere I’m rushing to. There’s somewhere I really need to get to, truly desire to be.”
Noma swallows. Here she is thinking someone finally comes to lighten her up and take off her now constant sober mood. Disappointed, she says. “Alright. You’d better get going then.”
Akoji smiles, taking a lone step forward and closing the gap between them. His eyes are fixated onto the floor like there’s something he’s reading from there. Another second, he steals a glance at Noma and she feels cold chills from his alluring stare.
“There’s a place I’m rushing to, Noma,” He takes another step, coming to stand very close to her. He lifts a finger and points to her chest. “Here.” He rubs his tongue on his lips. “I want to get in there, Noma. I want to share your thoughts. Those thoughts that keep you present in a place and absentminded at the same time. I want to get in, Noma. Please.”
The lady could feel her ankles weaken and suddenly the weight of her body becomes a heavy burden on her thin legs. The doctor couldn’t respond to her yesterday until they’d moved away from Akoji. In fact, Noma specifically demanded that Akoji stayed out while she and the doctor go into the ICU. In there, the older man slowly narrated the ordeals and situation at hand to her while hoping she would throw caution to the wind as usual. Surprisingly, Noma disappointed him. She didn’t cry, roll on the floor or look frightened to death like she would normally do. She only listened attentively to the doctor and when the latter was done, she asked him to tell Akoji to go home that she would talk or see him later.
Akoji had felt mixed feelings when the doctor came out of the ICU urging him to leave on Noma’s command. He, first of all, wondered if he had done something wrong or whether something terribly wrong had taken place in there with whoever she’s caring for in this hospital. He didn’t know if it was appropriate to argue with the doctor or dismiss the wish of his newly found ‘weakness’ and just storm into the room. Before leaving though, he picked the bag Noma had packed from the house and gave it to a nurse going in the direction of the ICU.
On his way back to the office, he ran his head over a thousand and one things that may have happened and unconsciously said a word of prayer for Noma and her sick other. When they talked later that night, Noma sounded a bit normal, voice clear and sharp as always and intermittently even let out some chuckles at his jokes. However, her number had been reporting switched off all morning and so he decided to call her office, just to be sure.
Noma slowly shrugs letting Akoji’s hand drop down her shoulders. She’s used to the doctor and the doctor only placing a hand on her shoulder. His feels encouraging, feels warm and energizing. Akoji’s feels draining, like he is successfully draining the sense out of her the organ stuck in her skull and she can’t afford that now.
“We barely know each other, Akoji. I don’t know you, neither do you know me. Moreover, there’s a girl from two nights ago.”
“Madam Noma,” he calls out and Noma smiles. She’s warned him not to refer to her that way again but he never stops. “I am ready to take my time to know you. You are like a closed book, with imported and hard padlocks. I don’t want to break through the locks, because I may tear out some portions of the book, some important parts of the story.” He pauses to catch his breath. “I want to slowly open up the locks, Noma. With your permission, I want to earn the key to this golden heart of yours.”
Noma swallows deeply. “Do you know Areli gardens?”
Akoji quickly curves his hand like a groom in waiting. “Shall we?”
“Shall we? Do what?” Noma giggles amidst her confusion.
“You know!” He moves to hold her hand and pulls her gently until she reluctantly walks behind him out of her office.
The maid drags out a side-stool on which she sets a tray containing glass of wine. Apple juice blended with coconut is Chief’s favorite and every single domestic staff in this mansion doesn’t just know this, but the chief chef had taught everyone how to make it, just in case. This sitting room has the tallest ceiling, ever. Lovely crown molding, a golden table in the center, two flights of spiral staircases going up to the second floor, the floor is like ceramic tile and there are pricey things all over the place.
“Thank you!” Chief Mba says, dropping the newspaper in his hand on the sofa before picking up the glass of juice. “When did…”
The sound of a car driving into the compound interrupts them. “I guess they are here already.” He says, elated.
The maid hurries over to get the door.
“My darling husband.” The robust woman calls out from the door as she rushes to fall into the open arms of Chief Mba in a warm embrace.
“Look at you, my queen, all glammed up from LA. Was that why you didn’t want to come back?”
Behind them, other maids and house staff push up the stairs loads and loads of boxes.
Beatrice Mba isn’t beautiful in the classical way, no flowing golden curls or ivory skin; no piercing eyes of green. She is even shorter than average and certainly very much larger than a catwalk model, but in her own way, she’s stunning. Something radiates from within her that renders her irresistible to her boys and much more so, her husband.
“You remember my holiday is three months, Chief. But I’m back. Today being the first week into the second month. I couldn’t bear to stay another day without my love.” She lets her full weight rest against chief’s chest now.
“Oh. That’s my baby girl.”
A light cough and the duo involuntarily disengage from each other’s arms.
“I see dad didn’t even notice me, huh?”
“Well, you had your time bringing her all the way from the airport, could you please let us have our time now?” Loud laughter thundered from chief and his wife after he said this.
Clinton looks at them bewildered. “Mum, is that so?”
“C’mon, my love!” The woman winks cheerfully at him. “You know you are my only second husband.”
“That’s ridiculous, mum.” Clinton yells jokingly. “How can I be both only and second at the same time?”
“That’s what you get when you want to steal your daddy’s wife.” Chief jests, drawing his wife closer.
Clinton smiles, falling tiredly onto the couch closest to him.
“When you are done, mum, you’ll offload and I get to select the things I want from the package before anyone else.” He says in feigned frustration, eyeballing his father coldly.
“You may as well have all the boxes, as long as I have my wife here…” Chief answers, placing a quick peck on his wife’s lips like he stole it. “Welcome home, my queen.”
“Thanks, my king!”
At the gate, Akoji winds down the glasses to greet.
“Oga, welcome o!” The gateman calls out excitedly, rattling in pidgin English. “This one wey you show this time, God don bless me today be that.”
Akoji smiles, pulling out something from his pocket.
“Oga! Oga!” The gateman claps his both hands together in a shy fashion. “Oga, I see say God don really bless you o.”
Akoji smiles broader as the man continues.
“See this your machine…” referring to the car. “Na only one I don see for Naija!”
Just when Akoji is about to ask him where and where in Nigeria he’s been to, he continues,
“And this your fresh tomato madam…” Akoji glances at his side and winks at Noma who frowns. “This your madam na raw gold o. The type wey go make man de alright forever.”
“Luke.” Akoji calls out, winding the glasses down even more before putting his hand across. “Use this to say me hi to your family.”
The gateman collects the money with so much excitement one would think the ground will open up with the much energy with which he’s stamping his feet on it.
“Oga, God go bless you well well, oga. Your pocket no go run dry. Evil eye no go see your madam…”
“Amen!” Akoji thunders loudly at the last prayer. He winds up and turns with a smile to Noma who couldn’t help but also smile now.
“Seriously?” She couldn’t believe Akoji is already placing her as ‘his madam’
“Yeah! Seriously.” He says, driving ahead until he finds a suitable place to park.
He kills the engine of the car and hurries over to the other side to open the door for Noma.
“Ladies and handbags.” He jeers. “You don’t want to carry load while walking in the garden, I can bet.”
Noma rolls her eyes while considering Akoji’s suggestion before placing a hand on his as he helped her onto her feet and out of the car.
Areli Garden is always a shade brighter in the rain. It is as if the gift of the skies isn’t water, but liquid magic, washing our world to show what is there all along, nature in her humble brilliance. The buttercups become gold, the grass the shade of every dreamer’s meadow, roots quenched, soil renewed. And after the patter of the rain come bursts of birdsong, their hearts rejoicing the occasion of rain. The flower beds are a riot of colors and even on close inspection, they are weed-free. The grass on the paths has been mown so short the ground shows through. The garden stretches up, winding like a black river through the bright party towers.
“It’s a good thing here looks deserted today.” Akoji starts, breaking the deafening silence between them.
“Yeah. Responsible people are and should be at work and not at Areli Gardens.”
Akoji smiles. “That makes the both of us then.”
“We are both each other’s responsibilities.” Akoji says calmly so much so that it cut through three of the seventy times seven chambers guarding Noma’s heart.
“That’s not what I mean, Akoji.” Noma defends.
“Listen, Madam Noma. Ehmm… about the night, two nights ago, I…”
“No, Akoji.” Noma interrupts. “You don’t have to. You owe me no explanations.”
“Right.” He says, feeling a tightening on his throat. “Listen, ehm… my guy, my friend, ehm… Patrick. He keeps bringing these girls over… I mean…” Akoji stammers further
“Oh, you run a hotel?” Noma could laugh at her own sarcasm.
“I’m not a saint, Noma. I agree. I swear, it was nothing that night. Patrick keeps wanting to set me up with some girl God knows where he got her from. I swear to you, Noma. It wasn’t what it seemed.”
Noma shakes her head, pushing her hair to the back of her head.
“Shhhh!’ Akoji shushed her when he notices she’s about to interrupt him again. “I know you think I don’t owe you an explanation, Noma, but I think I do. I know I do, please.”
Noma takes in a deep breath, inhaling the fresh fragrance from hibiscus flowers bounding the both sides of the walkway.
“Erhm… Patrick has a spare key into my house, and somehow gets her in. Mostly when I come in late like that day and I’m completely exhausted. Crazy, isn’t it? I… I know I’ve fallen for it… I’ve fallen for her body a time or two,” Noma’s eyeballs pop out widely, they could flavor a dozen doughnuts. “No, listen, Noma…” He holds onto her hand. “It’s her body, Noma. Just her body and that’s all there is. She means nothing to me.”
“Will you shut the hell up?” Noma yells, like a nut in her head is loosed.
She shifts her weight from one foot to another. Rigid with furry, clasped hands, clenched fists, flushed and mottled neck, red in the face, lost temper,
“You?” her finger almost pokes his nostrils.
Violent, self-disgust, clumsy aggression, disturbing “It’s her body? You enjoy her body, yet she still doesn’t mean anything to you?” An unbelievable sarcastic laughter escapes her. “You must be kidding me right now, Akoji. You all are the same.” She screams at the top of her lungs before turning her back and walking back where they came in through.
At first, Akoji stands perplexed, baffled, confused. He couldn’t place which of his statements enraged Noma so much. As he struggles to catch pace with her, he glances over at Noma’s face, still smoldering underneath her stony expression. Her rages seem pointless to him, although he never said this.
Noma stops abruptly, runs her hand through her hair three times in quick successions and fixes Akoji in a stare that could have frozen the Pacific. Red in the face with face of the color of an over ripe tomato, squinting meanly, eyes looking like they might pop out at any moment, fists clenched, hard staring eyes.
“Let today…” her voice with hard edge. “Let today be the very last day I ever set my eyes on you, Akoji.” Her breath brews anger like tea in a pot, as it boils up inside her. “I never want to see you again. You disgust me.” She draws a long hiss, lasting even two meters away as she literally jogs out of the compound.
Akoji stands transfixed. In an attempt to stay sincere, how’d he ruined it altogether?
“Wetin happen to madam, Oga?” The gateman jerks him back from his deep thoughts.
He looks back at him confused initially but gets the point even though he could barely answer when the other man continues.
“I see her de cry as she pass gate.” The gesticulations from the gateman is drawing closer to the comic side and Akoji would have none of that. Not now.
“Don’t worry, Luke. Go back to work.”
“Oga you sure?” He protested.
Akoji gives an unconvincing smile, bringing out his phone and tapping away on its screen. “Yeah!” He sounds as though he needed to be excused.
The gateman understands this in no time, and reluctantly moves back towards his duty post.
Akoji didn’t realize the person he’s calling had picked up the call until he hears inaudible voices coming from his device. Placing the phone carefully against his ears and taking in three calming breaths, he mutters, “Hello.”
Noma stretches her neck as though to be sure the taxi man isn’t driving her away to somewhere else. Anger still boils in her system, as hot as lava. It churns within, hungry for destruction, and she knows it’s too much for her to handle. The pressure of this raging sea of anger would force her to say things she does not mean, or perhaps had made her express thoughts she’d suppressed for months… years even. She knows she has to get out of Akoji’s way before she erupts in her furious state.
“There. Yeah. Right here!” Her first finger points the taxi to the turn right in front.
She’s thankful for dresses with pockets and for an old habit of not being able to put money in one place. She wouldn’t have been able to get out of that garden without Akoji obviously, because her handbag is locked in his car.
Or was that also a tactic of his to make her stay longer than she’d planned to?
How she’d given another devil of a male undeserving access. How she would have fallen into the hands of a man that sees a difference between loving the container and keeping the content. A man that doesn’t see anything wrong with abusing a lady’s body and shattering her emotions just for self-gratification.
Men are beasts after all, she’d always known.
They keep proving it to her each and every man. It’s like reiterating an ugly song in one’s ears.
Never again! She screams in her head as she pushes the door knob leading into the ICU.
Fear is as ubiquitous as the evening sun rays forcing their way through the cracked walls. She couldn’t breathe, it feels as if someone is choking her. Her heart is racing and all she wants to do is curl up into a ball and wait for someone to curdle her. But no one would, no one is here. A choked cry of pain forces itself up her throat, and she feels a drop run down her cheek. It seems as if this is the end of the road whenever she stares at the shadow of what the person used to be now laying on the bed in front of her.
Noma bends down slowly and another tear rolls down her face onto the bed. She couldn’t stop herself.
“Just stay alive for me, honey. Please. You are all I have left in this world.”
She strains her vocals but nothing more comes out, still she wails, hoping something will console her. Suddenly, her body wracks with raw sobs and she shakes like a leaf. Fright consumes every cell in her body, swelling them with terror. With every second, she practically feels the rise of her blood pressure and she knows something for sure – she must fight this to the very end.
Patrick hurries out of the car to the place his friend is standing. Akoji looks completely lost and out of synch with his environment so much so that he didn’t notice Patrick until the latter gave him a painful nudge on the side.
“C’mon man!” Akoji groans in pain. “You don’t have to inflict pain with your presence all the time you know?”
Patrick lets out a wicked laughter. “Why were you sounding over the phone like a helpless chicken beaten under the rain?”
Akoji takes a deep breath before moving towards the carpeted grass. “This place. Right here.”
Patrick sets confused eyes on his friend. “Right here? This is Areli Gardens.”
“I don’t know how everything got sour right in front of my very face, Mr P.” Akoji swallows against the tightening in his throat. “She looks pained, she looks tired, frustrated, sorrowful, name it,” He shrugs. “I want to be there for her, that’s all. I want to just be able to share in her thoughts, in her world, in her dreams. Is that too much to ask?”
Patrick officially is confused beyond repairs as he stares back at his friend. Akoji is sounding in a way he’d term as ridiculous because never for once has he heard the young man sound so broken, at least since the years since they met and became best of friends. The person making the grown up man sound this pathetic must empathize with him soon, else.
“Calm down, boy!” Patrick moves closer to place a comforting hand on Akoji’s shoulders. “Calm down.” When he’s sure Akoji let out the breath he’s been holding in for long, he continues. “If you can’t tell me the title of this new poem, may you at least say who the heroine is?”
Akoji chuckles lightly. “I told her about that your girl. Foolish me. I ran my mouth, Mr P. First outing, and I’m already reeling out my life’s secret.” He disgusts himself as he reaffirms this. “But I thought that’s how it’s supposed to be, right? Love. True love. It shouldn’t hide anything, right?”
Shhhhh! Patrick shushes him. “Man, I’m lost, please start from the beginning.”
Patrick heard about the girl his friend gave a ride three days earlier who alighted and apparently was thought to be residing in the hospital compound until the next day when Akoji confirmed she was a patient relative. Very early the next morning, Akoji had called to blast him over letting a girl enter his apartment again, reeling out the type of impression the ‘stupid gimmicks’ had created in the mind of a girl he just met and maybe fell in love with at first sight. While Akoji narrates the ordeals from yesterday to today when he had to go to her office unannounced to meet her in a sober mood and how they somehow got themselves in a car driving down to the garden, Patrick tries to link the missing dots.
“That’s it. Noma just picks that one statement and storms out on me erupting like an overheated volcano.”
Slowly and progressively, Patrick enters a long trail of rib cracking, mind blowing, self-inflicting laughter. He laughs so much his lungs ache and Akoji could only wonder why his friend would laugh him to stupor after sharing such a deep thing.
“Now, Mr P, this is ridiculous.” Akoji frowns. “What’s so funny?”
“It’s how you are so worried about the reactions of a lady laden and taunted about the deteriorating health of her daughter.” Ooops!! Patrick quickly closes his mouth with his left palm, as if with that he could take back the words he’s spoken.
Akoji closes the gap between them, eyes curious, burrowing into Patrick’s skin if he could pull answers from there. “What did you just say now, Mr P?” His voice is mild, urging.
Patrick turns his back away from Akoji’s firm stare. “Ehmm… I didn’t mean to say it like that…”
“Come off it, man.” Akoji taps him heavily on the back. “Go ahead and talk to me.”
Patrick looks away to a distance for a while. He swallows and tries to weigh his words deep within before finally opening his mouth.
“Look, Jossy is one of the operational nurses at the hospital…” Akoji raises an eyebrow as though to inquire who Jossy is or not, but decides against it, seeing no use. Patrick continues anyway. “Ehmm… actually… I… she…” Akoji ignores the sudden stammers and urges him to go on. “Jossy is one of those shoodies. Those ones wey we de use chill for bar.”
Akoji wishes in God’s name that his friend would be reasonable for once and just shoot the ball without beating around the bush any further.
“She told me she saw you come to one of the theatre suites. Out of curiosity, she followed you from afar only to see you talking with one lady at the veranda. Even though she didn’t get to hear what you both said, she said you two entered your car and drove away not long after that.”
“Yes. So?” Akoji’s curiosity could be felt in his voice.
“In Jossy’s own words, ‘out of all the numerous girls in this town, I don’t know why your friend Akoji will chose to follow that girl. After children finish doing prostitution all around, they’ll now bring babies with too many complications into the world’”
Akoji tries hard to still have his head resting on his neck.
“After series of questions, and remembering that you said something about the girl you gave a ride dropping at the General hospital, I put one and two together.”
“Which is?” Akoji dares him to reel out the truth he already figured out.
“Your newly found love is a mother of a five-year-old, who’s critically ill in the intensive care unit.”
Akoji limbs move as if some inexperienced person is controlling them remotely and his eyes are wide, looking right at Patrick but not really, he seems to be flashing through how his plans are shattering right before his very own eyes.
To be continued.
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