NOMA’S DREAMS – GRACE OCHIGBO
Akoji grabs his jacket from a hanger in what looks like a mini wardrobe at the right side of his office. Fixing the only button, he taps lightly on the screen of his phone and waits.
He barely waits for the call to ring out for the umpteenth time again before storming out of the glass office.
“Please clear my afternoon.”
“But sir…” his secretary tries to protest
“No buts. Just do as instructed. Thanks.” Akoji calls out to the young lady, while already opening the door leading into the elevator.
In the car, it feels as though a part of him is disjointed and truthfully, he’s been losing concentration at work all day. He picks up his phone from its holder at the side of the driver’s seat and stares at the screenshot he would use. He stares till it settles in his subconscious before stepping on the accelerator.
Ten minutes through the tarred, merely smooth yet congested expressway, he kills the break right in front of Jayus shopping plaza. It’s undoubtedly one of the biggest shopping plazas in town and it’s laid out in so much architectural masterpiece that he couldn’t help but notice as he heads towards the second floor. The glamour and glisters from lights and standard decorations, including the sweet smell emanating from the insides of his exact destination almost makes him forget the reason for coming all the way in the first place.
Keeping his head high up, he approaches the shade of lilac-and-orange-colored counter where a young lady is sweetly smiling back at him.
“Hello miss. I figure you run this place?”
“Oh, no. Madam Noma isn’t on seat today, sir, but you may please leave a message and I promise to get it across to her as soon as she gets back.” The polite attendant rattles on in a very professional way.
Akoji scoffs. He’s not interested in leaving any message. He needs, much more than anything right now, to see the girl from last night; the girl who has stolen his peace.
“Please, any information on where your madam would most probably be?”
The young lady takes in a deep breath and seems to be racking her brain for some minutes. “Actually sir, you may want to call the office before checking back on your next visit, sir.” The smart lady hands Akoji a complimentary card and the latter gets confused as to what next to say now that he’s been redirected abruptly.
Akoji collects the card slowly from the attendant’s hand, his eyes making sure to hold her gaze the whole time. He watches as the lady flickers, trying hard to still maintain a firm composure amidst the uncomfortable stares he’s dishing out to her. He applauds himself in his head. Sometimes, some ladies just have to understand that some things are as important as they are urgent. And now is definitely one of such times. These thoughts in his subconscious makes a wry smile dance around his lips but it didn’t get to his face.
“Look, ehm…” He thinks through a thousand suggestions running down his spine in split seconds before stretching out his official card to her. “We’re identifying young business owners. By we here, I mean, us at First bank.”
The young lady’s eyes shoot out broadly. They are so glazed they could flavor a dozen flour.
“Yeah! The bank would be giving out 5million naira grant each to two entrepreneurs within the ages of 18-40.” Akoji feels more comfortable now, seeing he’s winning the lady’s confidence somehow. “It’s been several months of secret recommendations from individuals, corporate bodies and some selected credible members of the public. The last screening phase is this one where we go out unannounced to have a chitchat with the owners of these businesses.” He keeps his attention focused on the lady in front of him. It’s so much risk he’s taking right now and he cannot afford to mess it all up with a wrong, long and unbelievable line.
“Actually, we were supposed to just barge in on our nominees like this to check for what we like to term ‘on-the-spot dedication, consistency and spirit of workmanship’. The rule is that whoever is not on seat as at the time of our visits should be automatically disqualified.”
“No sir. It’s not so.” The lady cuts him short. “Madam Noma is always at her duty post. She’s almost never absent from work…”
“Well, the situation right now negates your claims.”
“Yes, yes sir. Yes, sir. I know, sir. But we… she… I mean, we… we really need the grant, sir.” The lady stammers while trying to express herself. “Madam Noma has been praying and working hard, searching diligently for capital so we can expand our coast. If there’s anything you can do to help us, sir.”
Akoji applauds himself in his head. His A game always works on anyone.
He stays quiet for a while, his right hand picking something invisible from his jaw. The lady clamps her hands together as her heart prays earnestly that somehow, the man in front of her will consider giving her madam a much needed air of freedom-at-last.
“OK!” Akoji clears his throat. “For some reasons, I want to help this particular business. I really want your madam to watch it expand and become like a proud protégé of a hardworking mother. And there’s only one way to make sure of that.”
“What’s that, sir?” The lady asks, sounding really curious and frightened at the same time.
“First things first, I need to know where your madam Noma is at the moment. It’s as urgent as it’s important.” A tone of utter concern in his voice while saying this nearly gives him out but thankfully, the lady in front of him isn’t paying that much keenness on him.
“So, please where is Madam Noma right now?” He asks softly.
Noma breaks into a profuse sweat. Her heart pounds and her hands feel clammy against bouncing knees. She begins to pace back and forth, stomping her feet impatiently at each end of the room. The very act of endlessly waiting for the door to open up is hurting her eyes and her heart is still threatening to burst out from its ribcage. A minute, she’s calm and praying silently in her heart with this assurance that all will go well, another minute, she’s trembling and trying really hard to swallow the fear she tastes on the tip of her tongue.
The door opens and she jerks forward involuntarily, almost knocking down one of the operational nurses rushing out of the theatre suite.
“Ma’am, how’s it in there? Tell me what’s going on, please!” Noma could barely try to hold back her tears.
The operational nurse, who’s perhaps out on a seemingly serious errand, just nods her head in a carefree fashion as she hurries over to her point of assignment.
Noma feels like her legs couldn’t all-of-a-sudden carry the weight of her entire body, and so leans back against the wall, moving forward until her buttocks touch the tiled floor. A lone tear and groan escapes her throat before she could hold it back. She remembers seeing several calls from Akoji, the man from yesterday. The one she sheepishly dashed a smile he didn’t deserve – one he didn’t earn. How dare he try to play smart on her? He has a girlfriend, or maybe a wife for that matter, and he sits there in that God-forsaken car activating all her emotional sides? He must be very stupid.
Very stupid, she curses underneath her breath.
She couldn’t bring herself to calling him back last night as she’d thought to. Noma knows how irrational she could get when demanding explanations from anyone at all. Her father used to be the first receiver of all her tantrums in the past. She may start sounding really abusive and authoritative; something majority of men dislike to their bones. So most times, she lets all her anger cool off and thereafter give some justifiable explanation in her head for the person. She’d taken ample time to explain things to her heart over the dead silence of last night so much so that when Akoji started calling her first thing this morning, she knew she was done.
There’d be no date; definitely, no outing this evening, as well.
He dares decide one for the both of them yesterday?
There’d be no second seeing even.
There’d be no keeping in touch via phone calls let alone chats or messages.
Noma could be a snail at decision making, but when she’s done, she’s done.
Akoji had just proven himself to be one of them. One of those irresponsibility in a male physique that would have a good wife or working relationship at home yet too hungry to taste from outside edibles. And she regrets taking that trap in the form of lift from him yesterday evening.
Well, she has so many things to worry about. One and most importantly being her reason to be confined in the waiting room of a surgical theatre all day. There’s no space or time for boy troubles.
She jerks up as the doctor’s soft voice comes through her auditory canal.
“Doc… how was it? How is she? Tell me she’s fine, doc? Tell me she made it. Tell me…”
“Calm down, young woman!” He places a reassuring hand on her right shoulder as always. He had most likely seen, couple of times, how irrationally impatient and restless Noma can be – it can even give her an anxiety attack if proper care is not taken.
Noma swallows hard and tries to suppress the numerous questions struggling to find their way through her vocal cord. The doctor says to be calm and calm she shall be.
“She’s sleeping presently. She needs all the rest she can get… at least in the next few hours.”
Noma catches a smile on the face of the doctor and like magic, she feels her nerves completely relax. It is successful. Yes! It was successful! She wants to scream, but refrains herself.
“Can I go in and see her?”
“No, dear. We would strongly advice she be allowed to rest well for at least 4hours, after which you can go in and see her. But take my words for it that she is and much more will do just fine.”
Noma’s countenance falls. “So what am I supposed to be doing in the next four hours, doctor?”
“You could rest in the consultants’ lounge in my name.” The doctor says kindly, then… “Better still, you can go home, freshen up and get something while coming. Things she may demand for when she wakes.”
Noma mutters some inaudible statements as the doctor walks away. She is confused about which of the two options she should take. They had been admitted in the private ward the whole time, so she could go in there and take a rest instead of the consultants’ lounge or jumping taxi to get home, right? She could even freshen up and change into something different there too. And for the things, she may have to walk across the street into the shop there to get them.
Then she feels a sharp pinch on her stomach, reminding her how hungry she is and should be. She hasn’t eaten anything since yesterday afternoon. She didn’t even remember to call the mechanic to go take her car from where it broke down in front of the mall.
Jeez! She voices her frustration louder than she plans to.
“I can take you home.” A soft voice comes from behind her.
Noma wishes for her health’s sake that she’s not suddenly hallucinating or that things hadn’t so much gotten muddled up in her brain that she hears Akoji’s voice at will and at odd times now.
“I’ll wait till you freshen up, probably eat then we get the things before coming back.”
Confirmed! Noma screams in her head as she turns slowly to the completely exhausted handsome young man behind her. The plaid shirts whose sleeves are folded up to elbow length appears drenched in sweat and his face as well has little pints of sweat flowing down from the back of his head to his back.
Noma wants to ask how he got in here; how he’d found the exact suite in which she is.
“I called you enough times to be barred eternally from calling you by your network providers!” That’s supposed to be funny, but he doesn’t change the expression on his face and Noma tries not to smile too. “But you know your business address and summary pops up anytime I dial your line…”
“Oh damn!” Noma groans in her head. She never could have imagined the business advert plan she’s on with her network provider would implicate her in any form.
“So I ehm, and ehm…” Akoji studied her for some seconds. “Ehm… Don’t you think we should hit the road already, madam Noma?”
Noma wants to ask how he got to know her name but there’s no need. Only one person addresses her that way. And inasmuch as she’d severally told the young lady, with whom there’s not so much age difference between, not to add a ‘madam’ to her first name, she gave up when it was obvious the lady won’t oblige her request. So, only one person addresses her as ‘madam Noma’ and if Akoji now suddenly calls her that, then there must have been a contact between him and her girl, whether physically or by proxy.
“Perhaps, he called the shop.” Noma concludes as she walks in the direction leading to the door above which hangs a plastic piece that reads ‘exit’.
Akoji, at first forgets himself, looking with deep concern at the lady before whom he’s been misbehaving so much lately. Another few seconds and he’s caught pace with Noma as they descend down the stairs and towards the car park.
The roads, as usual, are busy. With every evening comes this aroma in the air; a mixture created by the robust-at-the-waist women that fry akara and the middle-aged Hausa men that roast suya. In not such an exact proportion, the atmosphere in the evenings is usually always thick with different aromas. The roads as usual are busy. Men and women, high class, low class – working class –are just returning from their offices. Trails and fleets of different models and generations of cars are on the road, not to forget the taxi systems and of course, the notorious bike men who speed across traffic with reckless abandon as though they’re just on their second out of nine lives and could afford to die a few more times before finally dying.
Everywhere is rowdy, bustling with ecstasy and carefreeness. Everywhere except inside this car. Noma is completely lost in thoughts as her head rests tiredly against the window on her own side. The traders who hold akara wrapped in papers, cooked maize, bottled drinks and sachet waters leverage on the slow traffic to market their product via the transparent window. Life seems to be happening and everywhere is happy except in Noma’s head, in Noma’s eyes. She’s so lost with such an intensity in her eyes that could roast a wet object. Severally, Akoji steals a glance in her direction and is thankful that the lady is not seeing him. She’s probably forgotten that there’s another being right here with her in the car.
“Whatever her source of fear, I’m willing to let it all go away. I’m ready to fight for and with her…” Akoji finds his head making unsolicited covenants. “Whatever her dreams, I’ll make come true, no matter the cost. If only she can trust me.”
“The next turn to your right, please.” Noma speaks out for the first time, with a long lost appearance and a voice of resignation.
Akoji nods in the affirmative. He’s grateful the traffic is now moving. Perhaps, the roads make Noma think too deeply. He couldn’t wait to get her into her house, get her in a cover, a shed, far away from the hustles and bustles of life.
“Doctor, doctor, doctor!” One of the operational nurses calls out while also hurrying into the doctor’s office. Her voice is cracked, deeply shaken and fearful, and the doctor immediately gets up as she enters.
“Doctor. Doctor. Doctor. The patient… the patient…” She stammers and that gets the doctor even more impatient.
“Calm down, sister and talk to me quickly.”
“Doctor…” The nurse holds tightly to her throat. “The patient, doctor, the patient. She’s gasping for air!”
And as the twitch of adrenaline rush, the doctor literally flies across the door of his office, heading to the ICU.
“I guess you should hasten up a little more.” Akoji checks the wall clock above his head.
Noma nods slowly, pulling herself against so much resistance. It feels like the entire world is resting on her shoulders and that everyone is in a conspiracy to wreck her. She has this intense feeling that something is not right somewhere, that something would go wrong, but she couldn’t place it.
Akoji stands in front of the large TV shelf staring at the younger version of Noma. The person in the framed picture looks so much like a marine goddess with such a celestial beauty that Akoji couldn’t comprehend. He reflexively finds his hand coursing down her face, her full bloated cheeks curved from a deep, intense and genuine laughter. His heart is completely drawn, he could tell.
Noma notices Akoji stare unblinkingly at the frame. It’s the only picture in the entire sitting room. Everywhere is colorful, no doubt. The entirely painted white walls scream cleanliness out loud first to anyone that visit. In addition to that are the beautiful art works hanging down the walls. Noma surely has a good taste for collections and most of them artworks have a theme and touch of nature on it.
“Do you know who that is?”
Akoji’s hands leave it reflexively as Noma’s voice jostles him back into the room. His eyes barely wear expressions and Noma feels he didn’t hear her initially.
“Do you know who that…”
“I heard you the first time, Madam Noma.” He cuts in, still wearing the expressionless face. “Who else would it be?” He raises his left eyebrow accompanied by a light smile.
Noma swallows. “It’s not who you think. It’s not me.”
Akoji feels like letting out a sarcastic laughter. Incredible.
“I think we should get going!” Noma grabs the little bag she’s packed and makes for the door.
Akoji runs over to her and collects it. “We still have two hours; you should rest a little. If possible, cook… I can help you cook something!”
Noma smiles. Very funny.
“Let’s get going, Akoji, I’ll rest in the hospital if need be.”
Akoji stands behind as she bolts the door before turning towards his already blinking car from a press on the remote in his hands. He opens the backdoor and drops the bag before coming to join Noma. It’s a good thing the lady is sitting up this time, not looking lost and distant… yet.
Akoji inserts the key into its hole and puts on the A.C. Noma closes her eyes, taking the air in deeply.
“So tell me,” Akoji calls her back before she gets lost in thoughts again. “…since she’s not you as I sincerely thought before, who’s that pretty person in the photo, madam Noma?”
Noma takes a deep breath, searching her mind. There’s so much to say, but it’s safest to start from the very beginning.
They’re meant to head straight to the private ward, or the consultants lounge or anywhere other than the path leading to the ICU. Akoji feels Noma is acting pretty weirdly, calling for concern. Starting from making them leave the house earlier than planned, refusing him from dropping by at any supermarket to get the few things she’s meant to buy and also refusing him from picking up, on their way into the hospital building, the bag she’d packed and he’d kept at the backseat from the house.
As he hurries to catch up with her pace, he couldn’t help but wonder what exactly all this is about. She didn’t tell him who the girl in the photo is because according to her, it’s a long story that can only be shared over dinner.
One of Noma’s familiar escape routes in words.
Noma’s walking steps become less swift as they approach the ICU. It’s as though the air suddenly feels damper at this end much more than the other places they walked through the whole time. Not a result of nonfunctional vents or A.C actually but heat generated by rage mixed with fear.
They both get to the door just in time for it to open up from the other side.
Noma looks through the glasses to her doctor’s face and this time, there’s no smile, none of the reassuring smiles that keeps her going. She tries to overlook him and stretch her face into the room to see, but the tiny door is completely covered by the huge doctor.
Noma takes in ten calming breaths. She tells her heart to calm down.
Calm, baby, calm.
The deafening silence from the doctor chokes breath out of her and a groan nearly escapes her throat. She looks at the huge man in front of her for the umpteenth time and like a wounded lioness, roars,
“What happened to her?”
Her thundering voice shakes the floor they’re standing on to its very foundation.
To be continued next Saturday.
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