BLINKERED- GRACE OCHIGBO
EPISODE TWENTY ONE
FLASHBACK; THAT FATEFUL SATURDAY EVENING
I don’t know why Tosin looked dazed that much, that long. I couldn’t place it if the exclamation he gave was from the Dr Bukky I just called or it was the vexations from Jerry’s harassment. I didn’t want to start any conversation and he as well was extremely quiet throughout the almost thirty minutes drive to Lokogoma phase 2 from the mall. There is a little holdup on our road today and that baffled me too, especially when I was certain the festive season was over. I didn’t like the holdup one bit; it prolonged the deafening silence already looming inside this car. The silence was only broken by the rants of hawkers of roasted corn, akara wrapped in used newspapers, hawkers of bottled water and drinks, taking advantage of the heavy traffic and almost thrusting their items down my face in a bid to convince me to buy. Tosin looked straight-faced, as though he could move the traffic by some more intense stare; I could tell he had something bothering his mind. Finally, the vehicles started moving and I heaved a sigh of relief. I wanted to open my mouth to ask him how it was so easy for him to navigate the streets in this area that myself am unfamiliar with and how he was able to locate No. 3 without so much stress but Tosin seemed to be concentrating fully from the tarred road to the steering. I wanted him to look for my trouble, to tease me, to do all those things that made me feel flattered around him, still, he obviously has forgotten the lady sitting beside him in his car.
We drove into the expansive compound. The interlocked driveway was adorned with scents emanating from the neatly trimmed hibiscus and rose flowers. Initially, I thought the cream with shades of white coloured house was a bungalow, like the American homes I see in televisions and soap operas but then it was a duplex, towards the back anyway. ‘Dr Bukky must have brought her White man’s building design along with her’, I thought to myself. The architectural design of the house was mind-blowing. A beautiful fountain in the centre of the compound doubles as a roundabout for cars as it formed a silver pleated arch with the water gushing from its top.
I removed my seatbelt immediately Tosin parked his car beside the other three cars in the parking lot and got down.
“Good afternoon second Oga, big madam has been expecting you.”
I saw Tosin smile at the gateman knowingly, without responding to him, before getting down from the car. I felt Tosin mumbled something to the gateman he called Faruna, but my attention was distracted. I couldn’t help but watch with admiration the three large puppies that were thrusting their head off their cage like they would soon push it open. The fur on their skin shone like the golden yellow colour of an extraordinarily sweet honey. I marvelled within me why a dentist would keep puppies like a veterinarian but I discarded the thought almost as fast as it came.
I don’t know what got my tongue tied all of a sudden. It was like an immobile ball was stuck firmly in my throat preventing free flow of air in and out through my vocal cords. I wanted to stop Tosin in his tracks and ask him how he got to know Dr Bukky’s gateman and why the elderly man referred to him as ‘second Oga’. I wanted to ask him, question his guts, why he was moving so briskly into another person’s home without knocking and waiting for response. I wanted to say all these as I hurried after him all the way, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t voice one of the words out before I heard a life time shocker,
Tosin screamed immediately he got to the centre of the sitting room.
I gave him a questioning look but he threw his face away from me, he had prevented eye contact between the both of us all along. He looked apprehensive, like he was nervous. I could see his plaid T-shirt becoming soaked in sweat, the vigorous movement, in and out, on his chest, as if he was preparing his mind for the worst.
“Good evening ma…” I greeted, bending courteously when I saw Dr Bukky coming out from where I assume must be the kitchen.
“Good evening my dear, I’ve been expecting you” She said with her lips forming a broad squeeze to the sides in a roguish smile.
She then turned towards Tosin’s direction before placing back her bold eyes on me. Tosin stood at the other end of the sitting room, very close to the dark large size Sony plasma television. His right hand rested on it while the left tried to pick some things from his almost empty jaw devoid of beards.
“Thank God he is back too. You will now meet not just my daughter but my son Tosin as well.” She said, letting out a croaky laughter, but as though something struck her all of a sudden, her smiles started diminishing, till her lips assumed back the straight line shape it was the first time I met her, that afternoon at mum’s boutique.
“Or did you both come together?” she asked looking straight at me with her eyebrow raised. She started nodding her head rhythmically. The shock my eyeballs bore within it spoke so loud I didn’t have to open my mouth to talk any further.
“Mum… she is… she is…” Tosin muttered with his lips partly closed.
I could feel his shaky voice like a large whir of thunder from where I stood looking from mother to son over and over again in confusion, still unable to understand what was going on
“What!” she exclaimed, so loud that I felt like the white walls should just hide me beneath them. “Is she the girl? The patient? Tonia?” She pointed her fingers at me as those questions spurred off her mouth.
I stood speechless the whole time trying to absorb the resounding echo from her voice into my system. She is which girl? I asked myself. Nobody seems ready to let me in on what the both of them were talking about. First, it was Tosin being Dr Wale’s son, then Toyosi’s brother and right now, Dr Bukky’s son. Incredible!
Tosin nodded to his mother in the affirmative. He looked like his breath was finishing, his eyes like he was held at gun point for reasons best known to only the both of them. Dr Bukky couldn’t hide her shock too. She stood motionless for some minutes, I watched her as she tried so hard to swallow the reality that just dawned on her. Was it more difficult for her now that she had become extremely fond of me? I questioned myself again
“You mean…” She started, dragging the ‘mean’ till it sounded like a question, mean? With her index finger pointing at me.
I opened my eyes wide, as though I would see her words. I wanted to hear her statement which would be more like a verdict, I still was curious to hear it. She disappointed me though. She didn’t complete it before dropping the kitchen towel in her hand on the handle of the chair quietly and climbing back upstairs so fast like there were hot coals littered everywhere on the deep brown tiled floor.
I kept my gaze on Tosin as I heard the door open and close upstairs. He felt like disappearing into thin air, he couldn’t say anything to me. Home was far, and I still had those items we bought at the mall in the trunk, else, I would run off to my compound, straight into my room as always and bolt up my door. I couldn’t do that right now, with all the haste I stormed out of the house with, I still had to use Tosin’s car home. He opened the doors with the remote control and I sat inside. I watched him drag himself sluggishly till he joined me in the car.
“Tonia, I can explain…” He tried talking to me for the first time. I quickly gave him a wicked stare, flipping my eyebrow open and close in a very quick succession and he knew better than to talk further.
He sighed and thrust the key into the ignition.
The silence during the drive back home was more deafening.
“I was thrown off balance that evening; I became very confused that I didn’t know what else to tell you. I am sorry I walked out that way” Dr Bukky explained, removing her back from the soft leather seats.
I took in a deep breath. Someone finally spoke up after the whooping fifty-five minutes of driving in silence, a journey that should normally take an hour and fifteen minutes, thanks or no thanks to Tosin’s unhealthy speed.
Many responses ran through my brains for her but, “I understand ma” were the only words that came out. Truly, her presence really intimidated me.
“Tosin can we pull over at Treasures? Are you in so much hurry, my dear?” she asked me. I quickly nodded my head from side to side. Even if I were to be, I wouldn’t agree, not when she came all the way down to our school for me.
He pulled over at the expansive space, just good enough to see the bright red, blinking inscription on a large metal board placed above the walls of the building reading boldly ‘Treasures’. I smiled immediately I sighted the children’s game spot to the left of where we walked through. Dad would always bring King David here while he was growing up to take chilled ice creams and play with other kids on the playing ground and I always tag along, of course.
“Nothing ma, am fine.” I responded firmly taking my seat opposite her.
She signalled Tosin with her eyes to order for drinks instead since I turned down the offer to eat something. Tosin came back to join us with two chilled Hollandia yoghurts and three cups in an orange tray before I could spell ‘Jack Robinson’. Hollandia yoghurt is my favourite and my normal impulsive action would have been to pour some into my cup as soon as it landed on the table in front of me, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t even move a limb as the elderly woman’s eyes seems to be piercing through my deep veins.
“I am not one to easily like people, maybe that’s how I was built up by God…” she started. Her wrinkles pulling out through her powdered face as she chuckled, “…but I couldn’t just resist your charm after you attended so well to me at your mum’s shop.”
She flashed her white teeth at me. Her dentition was too cute, at least for her age. Life of a beautiful dentist. I smiled back. Tosin only sat quietly.
“Tosin is the only one among my three children that have spent all his life with me. Unlike his sister that lived the most of her life with her dad here in Nigeria. And inasmuch as he hates to admit it, truth is he hasn’t been so fortunate with love.” She glanced at Tosin and he looked back angrily at her.
“My baby, I admire you so much, you are exactly like my daughter Toyosi. I’ve sat down and examined and cross examined even, this whole situation. Tosin himself had been so mad at me that he hardly responded to me at home since then. He said you almost no longer pick up his calls and rarely responded to his chats. He has been hurting badly.” She said, stealing a glimpse at Tosin again. He sat still, his hands across his chest and eyes darting from sides to sides as if searching for an unknown.
“Don’t get me wrong. I know you children of this generation would rather dare everything and try hard to turn the impossible into possible, but then is it sensible? That was what he did back then and found it difficult getting over Collette. Am sure he must have told you about her.” She said it like it was a question directed to me.
“Mum?” Tosin screamed, at least he said something for the first time.
She poured herself some drink and sipped before continuing…
“There was lots of sensitisation on cancer, on HIV/AIDS, on syphilis, on other diseases during our time. But the awareness for sickle cell disease was close to nothing. In fact, instead of our Biology teachers to caution us that the cross matching taught on the blackboards doesn’t happen that way in real life. They didn’t emphasis it was percentage chance per birth.”
She cited an example of how she and her friend who were both AS said they would stop at three kids if they married someone with same genotype, as the disease would only affect their fourth child according to the crossing the teacher drew on the blackboard. She told us that ignorance was not and can never be a defence. I took a deep breath in. I couldn’t even decode where she was going with all the sermons. And I really wished she could drop these preambles and get straight to the point. But she is elderly! You see why I have problems conversing with elderly people, right? It must be on their terms and at their pace.
“You are a strong lady, I love your spirit, you have fought well and beautifully well I must say…” she commended, looking at me like she needed a response.
“Thank you very much ma.” I replied quickly.
“Tosin’s genotype is AS,” She added, barely waiting for me to finish.
I swallowed as I looked in Tosin’s direction. He buried his chin in between his palms. His normally white eyes were turning red. I could imagine what was going on inside him while we spoke.
“Yes! I know he’ll not tell you for what you children of these age call ‘power of love’. You would say love can transcend any limit and overcome all challenges. But believe me darling, your child will not forgive you if he discovers he is suffering from what could have been avoided. The poor kid would live in gross bitterness forever if he gets to know how that you both had deliberately signed him into a lifetime of pain and torture…” she said emphatically, “… and don’t give me that line of, ‘marriage is not all about children, we could decide not to have babies’… we all know that things never work that way, children. We know!” she admonished with her motherly voice now.
Everywhere was quiet at this corner of the restaurant as she spoke. Her words made sense. I once thought about how all the sufferings I’ve been through in my over two decades of life would have been avoided if mum and dad knew their genotype status before marriage and if they had disregarded the sense in a marriage between two individuals with the sickle cell trait. I’ve caught mum feeling horrible countless times. I’ve seen hot burning tears pouring on her floor whenever she knelt to pray. I’ve seen guilt and regret hidden inside her eyes some of those nights she seats alone in the garden under the moonlight, just staring at our tennis court, as though addressing it. Those times, I had promised myself that never will I let anyone make such mistake again; Bringing a child into the world to live in perpetual pain and crisis like me. The scar that’ll be left on the memories of loved ones when the child eventually dies may never heal. We could let my parents’ case slide because of the shallow level of health information during their time but it would be sheer wickedness for anyone to repeat such in this dispensation where information about health are littered everywhere.
“I don’t want to start going all medical here children but you both as much as I do, the danger of matching genotypes AS and SS as well as AS and AS. You know the general result from cross matching two sickle cell disease traits, both AC and AS. I can’t emphasis this enough. Please Darlings, I know I can’t force you both against your will, moreover you are adults yourself, but seriously in the long run you’ll realise its wrong love. And then may be too late.” She said with a note of finality and got up. My eyes followed her up too
“Be reasonable about this. It can be painful, Tosin, I know Son. But it’s better to bear the hurt now than put a lot of persons in untold hardship and pain later on in life.” She said patting Tosin’s back lightly before coming over to me,
“You are now my daughter, Tonia. It’s amazing how you got wrapped up in our family. All of us met you on entirely different grounds and you were super good. Please keep up your warm spirit. I’ll check on you as often as you permit me to.” She said, smiling at me. I managed a smile too.
I got up and into her open arms as she embraced me dearly. I wiped out the already welling pool of tears off my face with the back of my hand.
“I love you daughter. You are free to call me mum” she said as my head rested on her breasts
“I love you too, Mum” I responded amidst my tears.
“Don’t worry, all will be well. There is a God that doesn’t forget his own. Miracles are still happening. The least we can do right now is to prevent children of the next generation from coming down with the disease.” She encouraged, touching my cheeks as she released me from the hug.
“I’ll leave you both now Darlings. I’ve spoken at length with Tosin, he may have to consider going back by January so he can get over you, my pretty daughter, and he told me how much he loves you already.” she said, nudging me in the arm. It sounded like a joke but her face was not loosened and she wasn’t smiling at all.
“I’ll take a cab home and leave the car. You both be quick and please, take her home as early as possible. Don’t keep her parents waiting.” She said and Tosin nodded in the affirmative before she took her handbag and gracefully walked out through the door. I sat back and buried my head in my hand as well. I couldn’t look at his eyes.
It was a long day with two extreme mixed feelings bubbling inside me. I have lost yet another friend. Am not surprised, am used to losing everything. At twenty three, I don’t have a spleen, I’ve had two grand mal seizures and getting unconscious has been one of the most frequent occurrences in my life, that’s aside the kidney donation am still praying for. I lose many things, friends, good and cherished moments, love, a lot. I guess people like me should count our lives in moments and not in years. A fake smile danced around my lips. I didn’t want to cry anymore. I needed to be strong right now.
“You delivered your assignment well, Tosin. Thanks a lot for coming into my life.” I said, drawing my face closer to his as he killed the engine right in front of my gate. He leaned his back against the seat dejectedly.
“I truly love you Tonia. Always know that.”
He said that in a very sober tone, his British accent like the first day at the hospital came up strongly. It was as if he was struggling to sniff out something that was pressing his voice back against his protruding Adam apple.
“And keep fighting, stay healthy for me.” He added quickly, drew my head onto his chest and placed a soft kiss on my forehead. I could feel his heart beat fast against my ears. It seemed to be racing and I could connect to the cause. We remained there for few minutes, not letting go. I didn’t know his chest was this soothing. I thought about how we met, how the closeness developed suddenly but strongly. I thought about my birthday, his long calls, his sweet reassuring voice…
“Gosh! Tosin…My guardian angel!” I exclaimed in pains. I will miss him. It was just about dawning on me that am about losing all those.
“Tonia, my daddy’s moppet,” He replied, trying to see if he could joke in the state he was.
“I’ll miss you so so much”
I smiled, “I’ll miss you too Sweetie. We’ll talk on phone and Skype plus I’m coming to your house on Christmas day. We could save goodbyes till then or later” I said, hitting his chest playfully, opened the car and got down. He got down rushed over to me and embraced me, so tight, even raising me off my feet. I giggled excitedly.
“Tosin, you are crazy, drop me!!!” I screamed, hitting him hard on the shoulders, “Lemme run along, my family must be worried by now, I called them when I left the hostel, Anyigba to Lokoja shouldn’t take forever.” I said gaining back my stance after he finally dropped me.
He hugged me again and watched me till I entered my gate before starting the car and zooming off.
“I haven’t ever really found a place that I call home. I never stick around quite long enough to make it, I apologise for once again I’m not in love…” came loudly the ringing of my phone from my handbag and I picked it up immediately
“Corper shoo!” I screamed mimicking salute as I excitedly placed the phone against my ear. “People go for youth service and forget their sisters, abi? Grace! Could this be life?” I asked
Grace laughed on the other side. “Forget abu ke? Was it not you I called last week?” she asked without hesitation
“So it’s only weekly they call from where you come from? Or, there is ‘call curfew’ in Enugu south?” I complained jokingly, “Ha! I don’t blame you; our Oga has taken my place in your heart”
Grace let out a light laughter, “Babe, I no call you for teases o. You know your space is irreplaceable”
I pouted, in a manner that explained that I didn’t believe her, “I know o. It is written in the scriptures.”
“Am serious jor…” She said, laughing again, “…how are you sweetie, how is your health? How are your studies? How are you generally?”
“I am as fine as you left me o. I know you are fine and Oga is taking good care of you. Greet him for us o” I jeered
“Or am the one taking care of him?” she asked rhetorically.
“Any which way o. Aren’t you coming to Kogi for Christmas? I wanna see you” I retorted
She paused before answering… “My dear am not coming o… where I work, the break is just for 3days, and I plan spending it here at Enugu.”
I started dancing in the middle of our compound. “Oyaaaa!!! That’s my Gracey. Oga over everything… See your hand o.” I rose up my hand in thumbs up fashion.
“Tonia, it’s like you are drunk this evening…””Yes o! I am. This kind of news intoxicates even the arch bishop. Who will believe that our Grace, ‘Miss prim and proper’, could ever be this romantic…? Abi na jazz?!!” I jeered, screaming even louder.
Grace’s laughter came up over the phone so loudly too that I had to hold my phone away from my ear.
“Tonia, bye bye, bye bye! You wan finish my credit” she continued ranting in Pidgin as well
“Say you wanna call Oga…” I teased on
She chuckled, “You are not serious. Stay out of trouble Darling. I love you”
“I love you, but he loves you more…” I screamed into the phone. I could hear her still laughing before hanging up.
I tried to use the excitement to cover up for the pain I was feeling about my ‘guardian angel’s retirement’. I turned down the knob of the entrance door to our house and pushed it open. What I saw startled me.
To be continued.