NOMA’S DREAM – GRACE OCHIGBO
Noma smiles genuinely from ear-to-ear.
“So you would drop by Onitsha before proceeding to Ofabo, my girl?”
“What?” she exclaims before she could hold herself. “Who is your ‘girl’? Wha… how… how am I…” She stammers and Akoji’s continuous loud giggles doesn’t help at all.
“I was just joking, c’mon! Person no go fit follow you play again?” He hears Noma let out a deep breath. “Well, saying I’m just joking is relative though, because I miss you very much and do really want to see your adorable face.”
Noma rolls her eyes and is about to ask if they didn’t just part ways last two weeks and every moment of the day since then has been about communicating via phone calls and messages, but decides to say something else.
“Be there o. I can’t believe I’ve only been talking to my Hallie over the phone for two weeks now. My baby will now think I’ve left her alone. For man o. Man!”
Of course, Noma said ‘YES’. She said ‘Yes’ to marrying her prince charming who is not particularly a prince anymore. ‘Yes’ to becoming a worthy mother to Grace and Joshua and life partner to the one man that has encapsulated the entirety of her heart. She’d said ‘YES’ to Akoji and that defined a lot for her. She loves him. She knows it. She can’t deny it. It was right there in the hospital room she introduced Akoji officially to her parents and Lolo also did the needful. They blended in no time and the both families felt the blissful bond of happiness together.
One of the miraculous things that happened that day was Prof Akpa’s discharge from the hospital that very night. At first, the doctors were reluctant, but he insisted that he felt completely fine. They had no choice but to let him go in the end. It’d taken a lot of persuasion before Lolo agreed to come over to Prof Audu’s house. The former was bent on going to stay in a hotel; saying it would be rather inconvenient for the Akpas to host two, three perhaps, unplanned guests. Akoji, Noma and Joyce were on their own end catching up while their parents argued about where was best to stay. Lolo finally succumb after what appeared like an hour long of patronage. Akoji had whispered in Noma’s ears how stubbornness runs in their family and his mother was the prototype for everyone’s. They finally all came into the house in Tanke, the one her mother already started using amidst the entire divorce saga.
They had a warm dinner together that night. Lolo was impressed that Prof Akpa knew her father – the older man had been given a chieftaincy title in the village while she was much younger and went there every other year even though Lolo Beatrice didn’t step her foot in Ofabo until around her traditional marriage time. Even that also wasn’t enough to know anyone, let alone Audu Akpa who, at the time, was schooling in Ilorin already.
“Prof sir…” Akoji had broken the discussion between his mother and Noma’s father. “If you don’t mind, I would love Noma to have completely and officially become my wife at the end of this month. We must have our set of twins in less than a year’s time, thus saith the gods of the land.”
Everyone laughs at first and all-of-a-sudden raised their eyebrows. Lolo’s especially had concerns coloring it. ‘By the end of this month’ would be time for the long awaited festival they two may eventually be missing out of. That’s not particularly Lolo’s concern. Her concern should be the scandal? The hungry press would have a field day over the super story of a crowned prince marrying against the wish of his father and to make matters worse, on a sacred festival day in his own kingdom. Lolo is actually worried sick about not just the scandal, but her husband. How Calistus is going to take the pain of having his son marry against his wish, without his presence and worse still, giving up the throne of their fathers he’s been really trying to protect. All these took merciless turns round Lolo’s head as she held on tightly to a spoon filled with rice which never moved near her mouth
“Akoji…” Prof started, smiling while chewing up the rice in his mouth. “Your name was correctly given you. Akoji – Successor. You see how you succeeded me over the heart of my precious daughter?”
They all laughed at that jest before he continued.
“You have proven yourself to be a worthy man, Akoji. Judging from all our daughter said. We are not even worthy to be invited to her most glorious day…”
“C’mon, daddy!” Noma cut in before her father drowned in regret and pity. “You remain my father for as long as day and night exist.”
“She’s right, omaye.” Lolo found her voice and faced prof. “We all have our blames. My son was even mad at his father and I one time he stayed away from us and refused to talk to anybody for long. You can imagine? This same Akoji that was once my little boy…” she rubs his back and everyone smiles while Noma looks at her favorite young man in the world with admiration dripping from her eyes. “But today, we’re back together, stronger. And that’s why I can never allow any selfish reason to come between us again.”
“I love you, mother!”
“I love you too, dear son.” She takes up Akoji’s hand in hers.
“Awwwwn!” Joyce spoke out for the first time. “Give me some fresh doses of love, somebody!”
“Like the one Nick dishes out to you for free, huh?” Prof Iye commented and Joyce quickly tried to shush her mother but it was too late.
“Now, who is Nick?”, “Who is Nick, mum?” Noma and her father asked at the same time.
Joyce rose her hand in the air. “Please, we are planning Noma’s marriage here, let’s concentrate on it.”
Everybody laughed. Joyce dodged talking about Nick that evening but not for so long because Noma had barely turned in to bed beside her when she started reeling out everything about the young man that had caught her fancy lately. It meant a lot to Noma to be back with her kid sis – her god-daughter. She used to be minister of Boys affairs over Joyce’s life and now she’s grateful not just because her position is still intact, but that Joyce hadn’t soiled herself.
Iye Akpa had asked Lolo to come into her bedroom for a chit-chat, while Prof Audu Akpa took Akoji into the innermost part of his bedroom for a man-to-man conversation. Whatever went on inside there, Noma wouldn’t know but what she sure found out was that during devotion the next morning, – yes, Iye Akpa started a prayer call that woke everyone up and directed them downstairs to the general sitting room for devotion – Prof Akpa had said something about agreeing with Akoji’s request to take his daughter’s hand in marriage. However, the customs and due processes must be duly followed; starting from a formal introduction, then an engagement, before the church wedding. Noma wasn’t particularly shocked because she knew her parents really had no reason to disagree with her decision to marry the love of her life. She, however, thought she would have problem with the dates Akoji is proposing – quite sudden, if you asked her. But what else does she need a long time to do? It’s not as though she would be the event planner for her own wedding.
“Dad.” Akoji called out to Prof Akpa and Noma could see the fulfilment flashing all around her father’s face. The man had always wanted a son to call him ‘dad’ and now that a second one is here by marriage, he’s proud. “I appreciate you for trusting me with my finest girl, and you can count on me not to disappoint you.” He winks at Noma, who frowns playfully. “May I kindly ask that we go to the court later today and have a wedding done there too?”
Noma is amazed at Akoji’s pace. The man is really in a hurry to yank her off this house into his, isn’t he? She can see.
“Very well then. I’ll call the chief justice in the state court here and see what the outcome would be.” Prof Akpa said, bringing out his phone.
Noma was sure her mother would not let that slide. “Honey, you can make the call later, OK? We’re still having devotion.”
Prof Akpa smiled, tucking the phone back in his pajamas. “My apologies, priestess.” He nudges his wife on the side and she let out a light smile. Iye Akpa can be award winning most disciplined mother/wife in the world, her children can attest to that.
“Children, kneel and let’s all pray for you. We would commit the process of becoming one forever in God’s hands first before any justice would.”
Prof Akpa smiled at that statement. If he didn’t know his wife better, he would have given an answer. Noma and Akoji got down on their knees while their parents took turns to pray for them, starting from Iye to Lolo and finally, Prof Akpa.
The next day, on their way back from the court, they met a limousine with a royal plate number parked beside their fence. Joyce was curious and wondered whoever had come to see the ‘VC’ this time, because it’s meant to be ‘family time’. As their 7-seater 2017 Cadillac Escalade drove nearer the entrance to the gate, the front door of the limo opened and a sharply dressed middle-aged man came out waving them down. Lolo could feel the discomfort in her belly as the man approached. It’d be erroneous for her to wonder how they were found, because no one can hide from Calistus, that she’s always known. He’s the one that passively taught her the whole investigative modules she’s so gainfully employed.
“Nnaemeka, what is the matter?” Lolo started calling out to the man approaching them and Prof Akpa quickly brought down the window. Akoji maintained his chill. He wasn’t even in the least perturbed. He just got legally married to his heartthrob in court and not even an eventual news of his father’s death would tamper with the state of pure bliss his heart is in at the moment.
“Your majesty, the queen.” The man made obeisance and Joyce quickly brought out her phone. She’s captivated by everything going on right now. The man’s dressing was one of a kind, or, so she thought.
“Nnaemeka, hope nothing is wrong with Chief?”
“May the gods not turn us and ours into bearers of bad news, your highness.”
Lolo takes in a frustrated breath. The man had better hit the nail on the head.
“Lolo, the Igwe kindly request that we give you this and wait for you.” He stretches out a sealed envelope to Lolo who reluctantly accepted it. The other persons in the car only looked on with utter amazement as Lolo tears the note open to read whatever was inside. Her eyes suddenly watered and that made Akoji draw nearer from where he’s been holding tightly onto Noma to have a look. Then, Lolo turned to Prof Akpa.
“Omaye, do you mind if they come into the house?”
“By all means, Lolo.” Prof Akpa said, nodding his head cheerfully.
The limo drove in after them while Akoji read the letter his mother handed over to him. It was a letter full of emotions, written out by Calistus himself. The man, in his letter, explained the ordeals since they left and begged soberly that they please return to the palace and to his life. There was even a part where he said he feels empty without his wife who’s always been his inspiration to rule. The burden now feels like the entire world since she left the house, he said.
“Nnaemeka, you can go. We’ll think about it and return when we are ready.”
The housekeeper quickly went down on his knees on hearing that. Joyce felt the strong urge to open her camera and capture all the intriguing scenes but decided against it. She’s not about to make light of some people’s deep moments. As the housekeeper begs further and further, refusing to rise onto his feet, Akoji approaches his mother.
“We’ll go mother?” He says, almost a whisper. Lolo presses her lips together and raises her eyes to look at Akoji who nods reassuringly. “We’ll go to father, mother. He’s asked us to come. Isn’t this an answer to the prayers of your heart, mother?”
A lone burning tears dropped down Lolo’s face and Akoji drew her in for a hug.
The housekeeper joined them at the dining table for lunch after which he stepped out to wait for Lolo and the prince while they finalize discussions and arrangements with Noma and her parents. The traditional and church marriage would be done in Ofabo, Prof Akpa had announced to the amazement of everyone. When a reason was demanded, he told them that it was culturally right to have the first daughter at least, wed in her hometown. And in his case, Noma would be married in front of his aged mother and numerous uncles. Akoii had no objection to it. Be it in the moon or the deepest part of the Pacific, he didn’t mind. All he’s curious about is to get married to his beloved.
Akoji and his mother left with the housekeeper the next morning; that’s two weeks ago today and there’s been no hour Akoji didn’t call to ‘check on’ Noma.
“Baby, the plan is to drop by Anyigba, pick Hallie and Mrs Gina before proceeding to Ofabo to prepare the ground for the arrival of you and your kinsmen.” Noma smiles from ear to ear. “You know only Hallie’s pictures have met her grandparents. They are eager to meet her in person.”
Akoji nods on his side of the phone call as though Noma could see him. “Hmmm” he says. “Dad says the maids and members of the wedding planning committee can start going to Ofabo from the day after tomorrow when you’ve settled in.”
Noma scrunches up her face. “Wedding planning committee?” she rolls her eyeballs. “What the heck is that?”
Akoji begins to laugh out loud. “Well, the entire kingdom is eager to receive their next Lolo and you are surely not expecting that the prince would come to a village to take his woman away like a common man? I’m a prince, finest girl.”
It’s Noma’s turn to laugh. Akoji is saying all these intentionally to provoke a particular response from her. It feels so surreal that all had gone well and everything makes sense in the end. Akoji said his father had done something that had never been done in the history of the kingdom – he’d moved the festival date clashing with their wedding forward. So now, their wedding is next week and Akoji would be coronated as the next Obi of Onitsha exactly a week after that.
“Everything had…” Akoji begins but a voice interrupts him.
“You are still on the call?” Noma turns to face the door quickly as Iye walks into the room, holding two pieces of textile. She winks her eyes at her mother, asking for permission to end the call properly.
“Baby, I have to go now, OK? Your mother in-love, as you call her, wouldn’t let me stay on the phone in peace.” She winks in her mother’s direction again.
“I’m not disturbing you people o. What’s my own? Sebi I have husband?” Iye calls out loudly enough for Akoji to hear.
Noma quickly puts it on loudspeaker as Akoji laughs his air out before greeting Iye. They exchange warm pleasantries for another minute.
“Now, you and mummy are the ones on a long call.” Noma draws her lips beneath her teeth as her mother eyeballs her playfully. “I love you, Akoji, and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you.” Noma mouths into the phone, shutting her eyes tightly. She waits for Akoji to say his own part of the love confessions that’d become an anthem for them in the past days.
“Are you done loving up now?” Iye queries as soon as Noma comes to join her on the bed.
“Tell me you’re jealous, mum?” she curves her lips into a smile.
“What does that word even mean? I came to show you the textile I got for Mrs. Gina, your second mummy. Do you think she would love them?”
“Awwwn!” Noma covers her eyes first and opens them before collects the piece of beautiful clothing from her mother’s hands. She turns it round in admiration. “It’s so beautiful, mummy. Thank you so much.”
“Haaa!” Iye exclaims. “Thank me? Do you know how much gratitude I owe that woman? Forever would not be enough to thank her. I can’t wait to meet her in the evening”
Noma smiles now. “Mummy doesn’t like people thanking her. She’d say it was God who counted her worthy to be used for someone. Mummy is such an adorable woman.”
“Yes, mummy is.”
Noma turns to Iye quickly, noticing the emphasis on the word ‘mummy’. “You are jealous again, isn’t it?” She tickles her mother’s smooth cheeks. “I will have to start calling you mum and her mummy, how about that?”
Iye drags herself sluggishly onto her feet, taking a deep breath. “It’s time to start the journey, Noma. We shouldn’t be getting into Kogi state for the first time in several years in the night.”
Noma’s eyes brightens as she nods in the affirmative before reaching out for her phone.
“You want to make another long call?” The older woman couldn’t help her curiosity.
“C’mon mum! Yes. I mean, No. Well, not to Akoji anymore, mum. Before I get to that village where you guys said they would be no network, I need to call my Rhodess.”
“There’s Glo network there o, please. And that’s the same network provider you use on a norm.”
Noma rolls her eyes. “Still, I need to be sure my matron of honour has booked her flight. She told me she was going to the embassy today.”
“Matron of honor? I thought it’s maid of honor?” Iye asks immediately the words were off Noma’s lips.
The latter starts laughing out loudly. “When one’s married best friend becomes her chief bride’s maid, we call it ‘matron of honor’, mummy, not maid anymore.
“When I’m here, unmarried and available to be maid of honour jeje o.” Joyce barges in on them, dressed in a pink flowery gown.
“Joyce, we’ve had this conversation before. Don’t drag us back.” Noma sounds stern surprisingly after which she flashes a mischievous smile and continues immediately. “By the way, is all this gorgeous dress for someone going to Kogi for the first time or there’s more to it? I hope you know that there’s a lot of red sand in that place?”
Joyce allows a cocky smile stay plastered on her face. “I came to ask mum if I can go out for ten minutes. Ten minutes, I promise.” And before both Iye and Noma could ask further questions, “Nick is waiting for me at the gate already, mum. Please. I won’t be long.” She turns and exits the room quickly without waiting for a response.
“Do you… did you… did you see that?” Iye turns a look of displeasure to Noma as though reporting Joyce.
Noma smiles and begins to laugh.
The laughter rubs off on Iye and she joins in. “Why am I even reporting to this one that is buying time to call her matron of honor?” The sarcasm in that statement makes Noma laughs even louder. “I give you both fifteen minutes to be outside and in that car. All your loads are parked in there already. Don’t keep my beloved husband waiting.”
Noma continues laughing as her mother majestically walks out of the room. She doesn’t realize the call had been picked on the other end until Rhoda’s voice comes up. “Hey, our dream bride.”
Noma smiles shyly as she adjusts herself to have a proper talk with her covenant friend.
“Father!” Akoji makes obeisance as his father steps into his room, smiling from ear to ear as the older man pats his back with his royal fan.
“You are the next king of our land. Kings don’t bow to kings, Nwanna.”
Akoji starts pursing his lips. “What an elder sees while sitting in his recliner, a child may climb the tallest mountain and not still see it. Our people says to give honor to whom honor is due because we can never buy experience, father.”
“That’s so wise of you, son. I’m proud of you.”
Akoji hears a part of his head telling him he’s in trouble. He has to learn proverbs and adages as well as know suitable time to say each one of them. All these come with the throne. It’s at this point, he’s sure, like Solomon, he needs to ask God for divine wisdom.
“I hope our newest Lolo is ready to receive us?”
“Surely, father! I just finished talking to her now and they’re preparing to start the journey.”
Chief Mbah gives a kingly smile, “That’s good, good, really good, son.” He sounds like a proud father and everyone knows he’s so proud of his family lately. “I came to walk you to the elders in council meeting. We’re running late.”
Akoji’s mouth spreads out in a smile at the word ‘walk you’. He catches the older man sizing his traditional attire up from head to toe. The days of suits to work and polo on jean to outings with friends are almost over. At the door, he’s about to reach out for the knob, when the door flies open almost hitting him. Clinton bumps into them in his haste. He’s a typical Nigerian – always in a hurry.
“Sorry father, sorry Phil.” Clinton apologizes. “Didn’t know father was in here. I thought you were at the meeting.”
“We are on our way there now.” Chief Mbah announces with urgency in his voice, willing the young man to get off their way but the latter doesn’t get the memo.
“Phil, I brought some of the designs we made for the flex and ball wall decors. But…” he moves his eyes from father to son.
“Yes, your thought is right. We’re in a hurry now, and you both would look at it when Nwanna returns from the meeting. Moreover, the wedding is still in a week’s time. It’s the same event that’s on the first agenda of the elders in council meeting this morning.”
Clinton’s face falls and Akoji taps him smiling. “I don’t think I need to see the designs. You can go ahead and choose one for me. You already know my taste.”
That statement sort of lightens Clinton’s already dampening mood but he refuses to be patronized. “I’ll wait for you, Phil. Not in so much hurry anyway.” He shifts from the way and the two men walk out before following them and closing the door gently behind him.
“It’s only for a week and half or two, Nick. Why are you making a big deal of this?” Joyce removes her hands from Nick’s warm touch. The guy acts too emotional for comfort in her sight sometimes. “Moreover, you said you were coming for the wedding, didn’t you? I even gave you your part of the family’s Ankara.”
Nick swallows against a tightening on his throat. “I know, Jay. I know.” He takes her hand again. “It feels like a lifetime until next week already.”
Joyce had made up her mind not to blush at all today and she gives herself credit for doing great so far.
“Nick, I don’t like what you are doing o.” she warms and that makes Nick smile.
“What kind of human being are you? Can’t you be mushy for once?”
Joyce rolls her eyeballs. “I should be crying that I won’t be seeing Nick until he comes to join us at the village next week? Can you listen to yourself?”
“No Jay, can you listen to your heart?” Nick cuts in.
“My heart isn’t saying anything.”
“Listen!” Nick insists.
“I said, my heart isn’t saying anything, young man.” Joyce raises her voice, then lowers it again. “Don’t make me more emotional than the thought of my sister leaving me again is making me.”
Nick smiles. “I love you, Joyce. Never forget that.”
He draws her stiff body into his warm embrace.
Joyce beats his shoulders and herself away. “We’re in front of my father’s compound, Nick. Let’s be guided.”
“You are an adult, babe.” Nick couldn’t believe it.
“And you are corrupting me, Nick.”
They both burst into laughter at that outburst. What they have is pure and adorable, even the sky is jealous. Joyce is about to say something more when her phone beeps and begins to ring.
“It’s mum. My time is up.” She hurries back and into the compound before Nick could respond.
“My hug, please?” He calls out but she’s not turning back.
Nick takes in a deep breath with mixed feeling of pleasure and frustration before stepping into his car and driving off slowly.
“I’m sorry, mum. Didn’t know ten minutes was already up.” Joyce apologizes as she approaches where her parents and Noma are standing beside the car.
“I was calling you to inquire why Nick wasn’t coming in to greet me.” Iye says, putting her handbag in the car.
Joyce smiles. Isn’t her mother the best in the world?
“Isah!” Prof Akpa calls out to the driver. “Hope we are all good to go now?”
“Yes oga.” The man, in his 30s, answers in the affirmative.
“Where’s Peter? Heard from him?”
Isah nods too, responding that Peter is already at the fuel station. All the goods Iye went to buy at the market, sometimes with Noma and at other times alone, are in Prof’s motor home. They’d asked Peter, the motor home driver, to go ahead, since the Cardilac would still overtake it in the end. Peter knows Ofabo. He’s been there with Prof a number of times and while the others would still do a stop-over at Anyigba, he would just be going straight to the village.
“Honey, let’s start moving. Time is against us already.” Iye calls out, willing everyone to step into the car.
At the gate, Iye reminds the gateman of her numerous charges to him. In less than five minutes, Isah drives out through the heavy gate of the Akpa’s residence and begins the highly awaited journey to Kogi state.
“Grandma, you said mummy should be here by this time.”
Hallie takes Mrs. Gina’s face to the wall clock. 4PM!
“Yes baby. I’m sure they are almost on our street, OK.”
“OK, Grandma.” Hallie turns to go back to wherever she came out from, but stops and turns abruptly. “Grandma, I want to use the blue sandals mummy bought for me last month instead.”
Mrs. Gina is distracted and Hallie’s talks are not helping matters right now. “OK, baby. Do you know where it is?”
“You can go take it.” Mrs. Gina feels relieved as soon as Hallie exits the sitting room. She pulls her phone close and dials Noma’s number. The latter had called to inform her about their takeoff from Ilorin over seven hours ago. The journey shouldn’t be that long right? But that isn’t as worrisome as the continuous ‘switched off’ report all the times she’s dialed Noma’s line in the past two hours. First, she assumed it was the poor network on the road and then she’s sure Noma doesn’t travel with a low battery, never.
Mrs. Gina begs her heart to relax and calm down. Hallie is eager to see her mother, and so she is too, but their curiosity isn’t going to move the car faster than it’s already moving. She’s been in the know of all the events in recent times and her joy knew no bound when Noma announced that the entire family is coming home to make ample preparations for her traditional engagement and church wedding scheduled to hold next week.
Dropping the phone in frustration like it burnt her hand, she drags the remote closer to her. Perhaps listening to news report would distract her from seeing the time, she thought. The usual AIT Jiggle that Hallie loves so much begins to blare as soon as the TV comes on and Mrs. Gina reflexively reduces the volume to the minimum. She doesn’t want Hallie rushing into the sitting room now. She needs to be alone. Shutting her eyes tightly and opening them towards the bright screen makes her sit upright as she notices something. Her left hand immediately increases the volume on the remote while she wipes her face with the back of her right hand to be sure she’s seeing clearly. This doesn’t last long before her phone buzzes and begins to ring.
Mrs Gina feels a cloud closing in on her as she moves to pick up her phone from where she’d thrown it earlier. It’s Noma, she almost screams out.
“Hello daughter… hello… where are you? I have been trying to reach you? What’s going on.” She asks continuously without a break in-between. She’s about to further reel out more questions in her mind when an unfamiliar voice comes up. It isn’t Noma’s. It isn’t even a female’s voice. The race in Mrs. Gina’s heart could win a golden medal.
“Noma? Who’s this?” She asks, a tear dropping down her face without her knowing it. She waits for the person on the other side of the phone to speak.
“Yeeeeeeeeeeh!” she wails, collapsing onto the couch behind her.
2 YEARS LATER
The large portrait speaks volume to Akoji. His hand moves from her beautiful eyeballs to her smooth cheeks before tracing every single tooth put out on display through her wide smile. Her smile is always wide, pure and genuine. Akoji can still hear her laughter and giggle. The jokes they cracked while on the phone for hours, even that morning. Her heart is like a fragile piece of egg, too delicate to casually break through. He had to gently and consistently glide in until she overwhelmed his entire being. Yes, she did. Akoji’s eyes glances on the table underneath the portrait. On it are several newspapers littered all over the place. He picks up The Punch Newspaper,
“Lady, parents and younger sister, dies in a ghastly motor accident one week to her wedding.” He drops that and picks another one, “Wife-to-be of the crowned prince of Onitsha dies in a ghastly motor accident alongside her parents and younger sister, a week to their wedding.” He picks another paper and is about to read it when a groan escapes his throat and he breaks down in hot searing tears.
Akoji’s body trembles with pain gushing through every marrow in his bones. The tears burst forth like water from a dam, spilling down his face. He feels the muscles of his chin tremble like a small child and look towards the window as if the light could soothe him. Then he remembers the day Noma walked into this inner chamber of his. The room suddenly appears like her ghost is everywhere. There’s static in his head once more, the side effect of this constant fear, constant stress and agony he’s been living with since that black evening he was told that Noma, her parents and Joyce had all died in an accident, somewhere in Egbe, on their way to Anyigba from Ilorin. Akoji could hear her voice, like a distressed child hearing the soft voice of his mother, raw from the inside. It takes everything out of him, every damn thing.
The pain must have come in waves, minutes of sobbing broken apart by short pauses for recovering breaths, before hurling him back into the outstretched arms of his grief. He places his head on the floor and begins to let her heart yank in and out of her chest. Over and over, in and out. He is hollow. Noma had gone to the grave beyond with the entirety of his heart. His life crumbled in his fingertips and things can never remain the same again. His whole world has turned into a blur and everything in it.
“My finest girl.” He screams out in pain. Truthfully, he could feel her strong presence, only that he cannot see or hold her like he wishes to. Then, as though, someone tapped on his head, he stands up and faces the portrait again.
Akoji turns quickly. He didn’t hear anyone enter.
The girl has a voice that is like music under a summer breeze. Always, it takes hold of Akoji, making him want to listen all the more. There is a steadiness to her, as if all the storms in the world are a whispering breeze if she’s there. She is kind and clever. It’s as if she knows she’s born to be a queen of the earth, one who helps others, using her brain to fix whatever needed fixing. She is like Noma; she reminds Akoji of Noma… always.
“Baby, are you OK? You look really adorable in your dress.” Akoji moves to come kneel in front of her.
Hallie smiles, she doesn’t look sick anymore. She’s standing and walking upright without any pain hinging on her. Her hands touches Akoji’s eyes. “Daddy, have you been crying?”
Akoji quickly wipe at the tears threatening to come off his face. “Where’s grandma? Are you all ready to go in?”
“Yes daddy!” the girl giggles, forgetting her initial concern. “She told me to come say hello to you.”
Grandma is Mrs. Gina. It was a bone of contention to get the woman to allow Akoji take Hallie. It was really a tug of war. But thankfully, everyone saw Akoji’s point in the end. Noma is gone, with every piece of his heart. Keeping her daughter with him should pose a sort of comfort.
“As you can see, I’m fine, baby. And I will join you soon.” He pecks her cheek and the girl hurries out of the room.
“I hope you are happy with me, finest girl?” Akoji speaks to the portrait as soon as the door closes behind Hallie. “Because Hallie had no siblings, it had taken pretty long to get a match for her. But whatever the length of time it took, it was worth it, right?” He smiles amidst his tears. “Myself and Mrs. Gina literally relocated to the UK during the six months it took for the bone marrow transplant and recovery to take place. And good news, as I’ve told you before is that, Hallie no longer has the sickle cell disorder, finest girl. Yes, your daughter is completely cured. It was a successful bone marrow transplantation.”
Akoji sobs into his hands and the tears drip down onto floor. His breathing is ragged, gasping and the strength leaves his joints. His sobbing is the sound of a heart breaking.
“Remember always I tease you about your only dream being to marry a prince, finest girl?” He smiles amidst the tears, tracing the contours of her face with his fingers. “Today, finest girl, I’m sure you will be proud of me wherever you are.” He looks up as though he could view the sky by a longer stare on the ceiling. “I’m sure my mother in-love and dad in-love would be proud. And of course, Joyce the troubler of my soul… I’m sure… I’m sure… you all will be…” He clasps onto the table for support. The sobs are stifled at first as he attempts to lock it in now, then overcome by the wave of his emotions, he breaks down entirely again, all his defense washing away.
Lolo could bet she expected this as she walked down the hallway leading into Akoji’s chambers. She’s been standing at the door for several minutes and Akoji didn’t even notice. Her son, her poor son. Life had dealt a big blow on his heart, but who are they to blame? The lord kills and make alive. She moves and holds Akoji’s hands and as though that is a propeller, more tears gush down his face.
“Mother!” He calls her name like his heart is ripping out. “It’s two years today and she’s not coming back, mother. Is she ever going to come back at all?” Akoji’s tears shows the child underneath, the hurt has cut right back through the protective layers acquired in maturity.
“We’ll scale through, son.” Lolo’s voice breaks as she pats his shoulders.
“How will I scale through, mother? How?” Tears run down his face, like the water flowing through the drains. Rubbing salt into his open wounds.
“That’s why your father asked me to come check on you.” Lolo withdraws from the hug enough to see Akoji’s reddened face. “You have to be strong, son. For the over 2000 guests in there, the girls, your Hallie and us all. You have to be strong. You can do it, son.”
Akoji swallows painfully. He never thought the injury will be this fresh even after two years. He picks his dark glasses from the table and wears it after mopping the streams of tears off his eyes with a hand towel.
“Let’s go in there, mother.”
Lolo is taken aback a bit. “Are you ready, son?”
“To make sure my late wife fulfils all her life’s dream even after her demise? For that I was born ready.” He exits the room.
Lolo stands for a few seconds as the portrait of her beautiful Noma stands in her face but finally overcomes it and walks out right behind Akoji.
Loud applauses hitting Akoji from the crowd in the massive ultra-modern structure almost makes him miss his steps as the guards usher him to the podium. He learnt they’ve been waiting for him for some minutes now but they should understand, right? It’s an emotional day for him and he’s only trying to remain the man he is. Getting to the microphone, something tells him to remove his dark glasses, and he searches for his father in the audience. The man appears completely fine with him, in fact, everybody looks sober. So he smiles.
“Your excellency, sir, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, ably represented by our own very distinguished Vice President. The honorable minister of land and housing…” Akoji reads out the names of the dignitaries written out clearly in a paper that was handed him at the entrance. They were fifty-four of them and he takes his time to call out everyone, their office and names accordingly. He then moves over to call the traditional rulers and chiefs in attendance. “…the royal father of the day, His Royal majesty, the Emir of Kano, Alhaji…” Turning the paper, “also, His Royal Majesty, my own father, the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Callistus Mbah and his delectable wife, Lolo Beatrice Mbah.” He waits as usual for the applause to end before continuing. “The former deputy vice chancellor administrations, who’s now the sitting acting vice chancellor of the prestigious university of Ilorin, Prof…” he calls the name, as well as names of VC’s from universities across the country. “Permit me to introduce my younger brother, Prince Clinton Mbah. My mother by-extension,” Akoji smiles at that adjective, “Mrs. Gina. And my beautiful daughter, Hallie.” The applause grows louder by every new name. “…also, all the way from the US, my wife’s covenant friend, Rhoda and her beautiful family.” Applause goes on and camera picks the smiling Rhoda. Her smile, however bright, doesn’t get to her eyes though.
“It’s such an honor to stand before you today as we unveil O.T.A.I., Ojonoma Theresa Audu Initiative. This is the dream of my late wife, Ojonoma, who, alongside her parents and younger sister, was snatched by the cold hands of death exactly this time two years ago.”
A tensed sad cloud covers the atmosphere in the building and Akoji is sure at this point that Noma is sitting somewhere around.
“People say that one’s dream last only as long as the person is alive. But I make bold to say that dreams should stand tall and running long after the dreamer is long gone.” He swallows. “OTAI is one of Noma’s dreams. She wanted a place where she could accommodate girls who are going through the trauma of rejection, especially as an aftermath of what people would call ‘unplanned pregnancy’. She wanted a cover for such girls instead of leaving them out in the streets at the mercy of the dangers out there in the world.” It is getting more painful for Akoji but he’s willing himself not to cry on the stage. “Today, your excellency sir, I present a massive structure with two thousand capacity workbench areas. We have also mobilized seven hundred and twenty girls to be the pioneer batch of OTAI. OTAI would offer trainings in tailoring, bead and bag making, wig/hair making, Catering services and computer/technology for these young girls for free. At the end of this, your excellency, OTAI would set the girls up in their respective acquired skill so they can be self-sufficient and care for their wards.
I also want to say, your excellency sir, that OTAI is open to train young people of any category; whoever the federal government deems fit to train in the skills we have available for them. And we look forward to partnership both at home and internationally.” He waits for the applause to finish before he continues. “Finally, before I leave the stage. Ojonoma Theresa Audu, I know you are here and can hear me…” Now he lets the tear roll down his face, regardless of the flashlights from the numerous cameras. “I love you very much, even in death, my finest girl. Today is exactly 730 days since I got the news of your sad demise. We looked forward to the joys of spending forever with each other, but you left me with your dreams alone. For every day, every minute, every second you haven’t been with me in the past two years, is every day I miss. I miss you, finest girl. I love you today, and every day.” This said, he holds his already running nose and hurries out of the stage as the tears now comes out in streams like a mighty gushing wind.
NOMA’S DREAM – GRACE OCHIGBO
I dedicate my story, NOMA’S DREAM to my beloved friend, Dr Ijeoma Onwubalili who died on the 24th of Dec, 2017 alongside her younger sister, Gracious, and her parents on their way to the village for her traditional marriage which was scheduled to take place a week later. Dr Ijay, as we call her, has been a source of encouragement to me from my early days as a writer and whenever activities wants to drown me, I remember she would send me a reminder on Whatsapp asking why I’ve not updated my blog. She reads and sends comments to my inbox on every episode of my work she reads. Our last conversation before her death was her praying for me that I’d go places with my storytelling skills.
Dr. Ijay, I miss you.
While writing this episode, my heart skipped beats severally and deliberately, I didn’t want to upload it until I was sorted out emotionally. Tears are still dropping as I write this tribute to you. I hope you look down from heaven and be happy that I’m still writing, cos you told me never to stop writing. I miss you really and for the first time, I’ll say, REST IN PEACE till we meet again!