BLINKERED- GRACE OCHIGBO
“Truly Jerry, you shouldn’t have bothered to drive me home” I said as Jerry pulled up in front of my gate. It was some minutes after 10pm. The ride has been quiet ever since, so I thought perhaps I could just break the deafening silence by saying something, anything!
Jerry gave me a shit-eating grin, “Don’t flatter you, Tonia. Apart from the fact that you and your mum came very late for the function, whatever made you not follow your parents home still baffles me. I know there were all the tactics of my mother. It’s bad enough she made the M.C announce we were already officially engaged at the party, why did she now have to insist I must take you home when I have a lot of running around to still do tonight?” He said with a slight provocation in his voice
I smiled. “You could have refused to bring me, if you didn’t want to. At least no one dragged your hands to the steering… who are you deceiving? Plus stop referring to the M.C’s announcement as though I was behind it. I didn’t know the Onuh’s in real life until tonight… I only remember speaking with Aunty Juliet over the phone sometimes alongside my mum, how was I supposed to know they were your parents? You are the one in the know of all their plans earlier because you’ve been back home for over a week now. Why didn’t you stop them? ”
“My dad begged me to at least see the lady in question just yesterday, how would I have known that it was you?” Jerry retorted, turning his face away from my direction. He started the engine of his car so I opened the door and made to leave.
“And one more thing,” Jerry started. I sat back to listen to him leaving the car door open “We will just make our parents happy for a little while longer, after then we can tell them it’s not working between us, right? Telling them now would only break their hearts” Jerry opined.
I stared at him showing no expression whatsoever on my face. “So you mean…?”
He killed the car engine again,
“Well, I meant, for us this is just as good as a game and we must play along for the main time… till we can end the game” He said.
I let out a loud long laughter that obviously got him pissed.
“Of course! I know it’s a game Jerry. Ooh ! You were thinking I’ll bring emotions into this? Far from it! Don’t worry about me, am doing this for dad alone as well.” I answered sarcastically amidst the laughter.
Jerry didn’t find my statement funny. He kept an indifferent facial expression and kept watching me till I was done.
“By the way, I should come pick you up to church in the morning tomorrow. We could start our acting from scene one.” He suggested to me.
I gently nodded my head from side to side,
“Sorry Jerry! I’ll be going with my friend for a child’s thanksgiving service tomorrow. One of mum’s business partners is dedicating her first child in years and Mum said we should represent her.” I said, excusing myself from Jerry’s offer.
“That’s good then!” He replied briefly as soon as I was done, “Wait, we? Your friend? Female or male?” Jerry mouthed as though he wasn’t in control of what he was saying.
I started laughing hard again. “Whoever my friend is? It’s none of your business Jerry” I replied arrogantly and stepped out of the car before he could say anymore word. I could feel his eyes continually trailing me as I walked with elegance into my compound.
Tosin and I tried to dwindle our way through the thousands of people coming out of the large St. Thomas Catholic church auditorium, holding each other hand in hand so we don’t miss ourselves in the crowd. The car blinked from Tosin’s press on the remote as we approached it. He opened my door as usual and I sat in majestically before he came in to join me.
“You know, people have a way of celebrating only good things with one. They don’t seem to care about the process, theirs is the product. Who would know poor Mrs Veronica had this much friends all the while she had believed God for a child for over twenty years now. Well am so happy for her” I said, fastening my seat belt.
“Yea, it is wonders of course that attracts the crowd. It needs to be intriguing to be inviting, you know? I enjoyed the service all the same, or is it mass now? Thanks for letting me come with you… ” Tosin replied, smiling at me
“C’mon already! I should be thanking you for agreeing to come! Thanks a lot dear”
“Anytime! You know am your guardian angel, remember?” He said proudly and I hissed but he continued almost immediately,
“Can we just hang out somewhere, Tonia? It’s Sunday; you shouldn’t be hurrying anywhere, right? Plus I really need us to talk about something very important.” Tosin demanded.
“You have said it all, are you still expecting my reply?” I asked him with a grin.
“Of course not, ma’am!” He said excitedly as he zoomed out of the church’s packing lot.
Grace quickly cleaned her wet hands with the kitchen towel when she saw the caller’s ID. She picked up the call with so much excitement
“Hello mummy, Happy Sunday ma”
“Hello Gracie, how are you? Since you graduated and left your sister there, we haven’t heard from each other.” Mrs Abigail Abuh said and Grace chuckled.
“Am so sorry mummy, I have been busy putting things together here in Ankpa while l await youth service ma. How is daddy, success and my king David?” Grace asked
Abigail dropped her legs from the stool and picked up the TV remote,
“They are fine; they have been resting in their rooms since we got back from church. Hope you still hear from your sister?” Abigail asked as she changed the dish channel
“Yes! Of course ma, we chat a lot and talk on phone too at times.” she replied
“OK then, that’s very good. I just felt I should hear from you since you have forgotten your mummy” Abigail said jokingly
“Ha! Thank you Ma. You know I can never forget you. Thanks a lot Mummy” Grace said
“Alright my dear. Take care of yourself.” Abigail said and hung up. She looked at the wall clock, it was already 2pm. She flipped down her contact to “My baby” and made to dial the number corresponding to that name but stopped on a second thought. She dropped the phone on the centre table and lay down on the settee.
We sat in Treasures bakery eating their Sunday special. It really tasted special and it was my favourite. In fact while I was growing up, I’d cry till dad takes us to Treasures Bakery every Sunday after service. Tosin seem to be getting in my mind a lot lately because he just knows the right cord to strike at the right time. And bringing me to eat my special meal meant bunches to me. We haven’t really been saying anything except the intermittent jokes he cracked at intervals so we ate the meal quietly, each of us having something serious on our minds.
“So what is the important thing we have to talk about Tosin?” I asked, calling him from his thoughts when I was already midway done with the food.
Tosin swallowed the rice in his mouth and wiped with a serviette, “I was actually taught table manners in grade 1 Darling, can someone let me adhere to it?” He responded jeeringly and shined his set of white teeth at me for the umpteenth time.
I didn’t say any further thing. I only picked up my fork and knife and dipped it into his food to carry the chicken therein. He watched without struggling with me… maybe he didn’t even know what I was up to yet.
“Will you talk or not?” I asked, raising my eyebrow while threatening to lift the animal part up from his plate into mine.
He laughed heartily. “You act exactly like Collette! God! You both are impossible. How can you threaten me with chicken? Just one lap of chicken?” He asked still unable to control his laughter.
“Who is Collette?”
He saw the questioning look on my face and stopped laughing immediately as though he was confused. It seems he mentioned that name unconsciously and wishes to withdraw it now but I guess it was too late. He seems not to know how to respond any further as he looked on at me.
“Yea! Who is Collette that I act exactly like?” I asked again, almost poking my eyes out of their lids.
Tosin for the first time wore a dour countenance I’ve never seen before. It’s like the question was cutting through his body like a double edged sword with the way he stared at me for a little while before attempting to respond.
“She is Philippine girl; I met her while in College at North Columbia University…” He started, very slowly, “She is the first lady I’ve ever loved in my entire life and I loved her like she wore my own skin.” He swallowed painfully as he spoke.
I could feel his plight already even when I didn’t know the whole story yet. Love is indeed one mysterious thing that can make a well man sick and make a sick man feel well.
“So, where is she? And why did you leave her?” I asked with an unusual quiet tone.
He smiled even in his bitter state and nodded his head gently,
“I didn’t leave her Dear, she left me” His voice shook as he uttered the last sentence with pangs of pain I literally felt railing over me as I cowed in front of him.
“O! Where is she now?” I pressed further.
“She left me. Collette left me and followed the cold hands of death just three months after we were both done with college.” He said bitterly as he quickly wiped a tear dropping from one eye hoping I didn’t see it. Shudders ran down my spine immediately he mentioned death. The atmosphere around our table became so tensed that I had to hold his right hand soothingly.
“Am sorry Tosin, I understand this must be very difficult for you” I said while massaging his hand lightly. “What happened to her? What killed her?”
“Collette died of cancer.” He replied.
I withdrew my hand immediately unable to say anything because my eyes opened wide in shock.
He continued, “My mum got to love her so much especially after she discovered how much I was in love with her. Everybody, including my elder brother and his wife, who was his fiancée then, loved Collette as theirs. She was charming and adorable…” He sighed dolefully, “… and we planned to spend the rest of our lives together until death did its worst to me”
I swallowed as I struggled to fight back the tears already welling up on my eyes. Tosin’s normal soft voice altogether with the pain he feels right now could even dissolve the strongest iron rod.
“Am really sorry Tosin. I don’t know what more to say. I may not understand the depth of the Vacuum Collette’s death created in your heart, I can only imagine. Am very sorry dear.” I said sympathetically, patting his hand again in a soft loving manner.
Tosin smiled amidst his grief. He has a way of doing it to show he is a real man.
“That was two years ago, Tonia. Initially, I became shattered. I felt as though my whole world had crumbled into pieces. Her death tore deep through the skin of my soul, cutting into shreds my happiness and joy. I understood more than the letters, the true meaning of the word sorrow… But I managed to pull through the whole situation. At least, I didn’t commit suicide…” He said, winking coyly at me, “My mum was also instrumental in comforting me. She has since then, even taken the extra job of finding out whoever I hang out with, just so the event doesn’t occur again. It even came to a point I promised myself not to love again” He broadened his closed lips widely to the two sides.
I took a deep breath. “I can understand, Tosin. I know how hard this is for you but with time you will come around” was the only thing I managed to say
“I couldn’t keep that promise for as long as I planned to anyway!” He replied and I raised my head up to look at him with baffled eyes. “What do you mean by that Tosin?”
He faced me squarely, picking my hand and holding it in his. My heart started skipping beats so much so that one may think I will soon faint with the way I looked on at him.
“I never told you… but you are the virtue my eyeballs ever since I met you have been longing to gaze upon… Am deeply in-love with you Tonia…” He uttered slowly. His eyes were like swords that cut deep through me with every stare as though penetrating my cells.
“Tosin… I- I-” I stammered.
“Shhh!…” He said, using his fingers to close my lips together softly, “…You are sick too? I know that. My dad is your family doctor and my sister took all your dialysis sessions back in school so I know all those…” I swallowed again. He smiled and continued
“But you know what? A real man studies only one woman in the flesh. Just one! one per time and one for a lifetime Tonia. I desire to love you in all ways. I believe there is a beautiful covenant waiting for us on the other side of this relationship. A new covenant, filled with love, joy, pain and sacrifice. And am prepared to go all out… from here to the moon and never coming back.” Tosin uttered with deep enthralling tone that has succeeded in melting me out as I returned his gaze in silence. He then placed my hand on the left side of his chest and I could feel his heartbeat against my hand loudly
“Tonia, people may think I haven’t been fortunate with love. Trust me, that is their opinion. My mum may never ever agree with me on this, in fact she threatened me already… but I don’t care, this is where you are…” He said, pointing to where my hand rested on his chest, “Whether sick or not, you are beautiful, sweet and adorable. Ever wondered why I don’t care how long I talk with you over the phone? When you speak, you speak like a gentle storm, calm enough to ease my tension yet violent enough to get my fragile heart longing for you as much as my lungs long for air. I plan to stick with you all through life even if the life is a fraction, I’ll convert it to a decimal and maximise the tiniest moments left with you, if you will let me…”
He cleared his throat and drew up nearer, “…Just to reiterate. I desire to love you this way, I want your embrace, I want your smile, I want to share your tears, I want to breathe your air, Tee…” He paused and smiled at me. This is the very first time he is calling me by that name.
“I don’t want to ever retire from being your guardian angel, ever!” He added
I sat glued to my chair in shock.