Love In A Photograph – Grace Ochigbo
No amount of expensive equipment can make up for the lack of plot. Or, is it the story line? So many things are not adding up. The movie started like a snail and almost ending like a sick dog. Each actor delivered their lines with less feeling, unable to correctly sink into their roles. The special effects were really warped and if the guy tells the lady in front of him, ‘I am a man’ one more time, she would hit the power button on the remote.
Drawing a long dry hiss, she placed her legs on the side stool in front of her.
“Your drink, Ma.”
She turned sad eyes to the lady standing beside her, holding out a ceramic cup to her.
She collected the cup. “Thank you!”
The lady had barely turned when a splash sound drew back her attention.
“What did you put in my drink, Billi?” She barked.
“Nothing, Ma. I made it the same way as yesterday.”
“No!” She yelled even more. “You put something else. Maybe honey? Or? It tastes sour.”
Billi wore a puzzled expression.
“You go. I’ll take it up from here.” Ezinne’s voicecalmly intervened called as she ordered the help to go inside. “Maybe you should just have tea?” she moved close to Ajuma who was still spitting the remainder of the drink in her mouth.
“No. Tea makes me nauseated. I want only my drink but now it’s tasting sour. What’s all these?” she fumbled the words together as if about to tear up.
Ezinne drew her head unto her chest. “It’s alright, darling. We’ll keep trying until you get something perfect to drink. And you need to eat too.”
Ajuma nodded in the affirmative like a kindergartenbefore picking up the remote again. “These people’s movies are really wacky.”
Ezinne was astonished. “Thought that’s your favourite channel?”
“Well, not anymore.” Ajuma announced, searching for other channels. “If they continue this way, they would have no one watching them.”
A smile spread across Ezinne’s face. “The baby is really turning you into something else. Can you imagine not…”
She was still speaking when Ajuma’s loud voice interrupted her. She mimed the song playing on Trace TV. Her voice was smooth and clear and powerful. Soothing, in a way.
“Loving can heal
Loving can mend your soul
And it’s the only thing that I know
I swear it will get easier
Remember that with every piece of ya
And it’s the only thing we take with us when we die.”
Ajuma threw the remote in her hand onto the next seat and got up.
“We keep this love in a photograph
We made these memories for ourselves
Where our eyes are never closing
Hearts were never broken
Times forever frozen still.”
Ezinne turned her head from side to side. How Ed Sheeran’s photography gets the better of her friend all the time beats her imagination. She joined in anyway.
“So you can keep me
Inside the pocket
Of your ripped jeans
Holdin’ me closer
Till our eyes meet
You won’t ever be alone
And if you hurt me
That’s OK, baby only words bleed
Inside these pages you just hold me
And I won’t ever let you go”
Ajuma twirled her arms up in the air forgetting for a split seconds that her baby bump was almost dropping to her laps
“Wait for me to come home
Wait for me to come home
Wait for me to come home
Wait for me to come home…”
She moved her hand like someone playing the keyboard.
“Oh you can fit me
Inside the necklace you got when you were sixteen
Next to your heartbeat
Where I should be
Keep it deep within your soul”
“And if you hurt me,
Well, that’s OK, baby, only words bleed
Inside these pages you just hold me
And I won’t ever let you go.”
She was panting at this point and Ezinne held her hand until she collapsed back on her chair.
“When I’m away
I will remember how you kissed me
Under the lamppost
Back on 6th street
Hearing you whisper through the phone
“Wait for me to come home.”
Ajuma’s voice rolled over in sorrowful waves. Swells of pain rose up in her throat. Her voice became a haunting feeling brought out in a fit of rage, of pain. Her hand went to her heart and she sank tiredly into the chair, forcing out the last words.
“Wait for me to come home.”
All she could picture now was Linus. Linus screaming from miles and miles away, across rivers and mountains,
“A-jay, please wait for me to come home.”
Everyone must think her crazy by now.
They least expected she’d survive Linus’ deadly hit that fateful. After a couple hours in the surgical theatre and some days in ICU, she was good to go home. Her quick recovery wasn’t near as surprising as the unharmed pregnancy. She didn’t lose the pregnancy. She always remember fondly how the doctor affirmed it was a miracle the pregnancy was not affected considering the traumatic experience she had.
Dede had brought Arnold to her house a week later. The usual angry demeanour she’d always known on her boss turned into a calm fatherly warmth she’d never gotten from him in all her years of working at the Channels television.
“We need you to get as much rest as you can, Itodo.” Arnold had started, holding her hand. “I think you can take your sabbatical leave now. Take time to stay home, stay safe and have the baby then you can resumework thereafter.”
Shock was an understatement to what Ajuma felt. “Sir, how about…”
The smile on Arnold’s face clearly answered the question on her mind. “You can resume your new position when you return from the leave.”
Ajuma thanked him profusely and gave Dede a warm hug as she saw them to their car. She could bet Dede had a hand in all of these. One friend too many.
“You take care, A-jay!” he cautioned as he drove away.
The months following that have been the hardest in her entire life. Ezinne tried to be there for her at all times – take her on fun outings, sporadic eat-outs, dress up games, anything to make her smile – but no one could replace her husband.
“I can’t believe you’re sounding affectionate about that riff raff.” Her father thundered one afternoon, when she demanded for updates on the ongoing search for Linus.
“Dad, he’s still my husband.”
“He almost killed you, Ajuma!” The mere thought of itsounded too unbearable for the older man. “And incase you are under the illusion that I deployed so many detectives to look for and return him to his exalted position as your husband, then you lie, daughter. I will make him rot in jail.”
Ajuma swallowed against a ball of pain in her throat. She could understand the man’s grievances.
“I don’t want to hear anything from you, Ajuma. Over my dead body will you ever have anything to do with that murderer again!”
And before she could say any more thing, her father stormed out of the house, slamming the door hard against her face.
Ezinne too could not understand Ajuma even then.
“Why are you so bent on finding a man that almost killed you? A-jay, he beat you to stupor and ran away from town. What irresponsibility can be greater than that?”
“He is still my husband, Zeezy. I was sure God wantedme to marry him before I said yes.”
Ezinne took in a deep breath and came to place a soothing hand on her shoulders. “A-jay, we need you to be healthy now, for your daddy and for your unborn child.”
“My child needs his father too.”
“But he ran away before finding out.” Provocation appeared in Ezinne’s tone. “He doesn’t even know you’re still alive let alone carrying his child. No one has seen or heard from him. We don’t know where he is.”
The last line from their song sounded loud in Ajuma’s head that moment, “…wait for me to come home”
“God will bring him home, Zeezy!” she voiced out.
Ezinne saw no reason to speak further.
“You taught me to believe in prayers, didn’t you?” Ajuma’s question rang in the uttermost part of Ezinne’sheart.
How did she move from being the strong believing friend to a doubter?
How did she let the devil pile up hatred in her heart for Linus?
How could she write off someone the almighty hasn’t written off?
These questions and more begged for answers in her mind.
Ezinne and Ajuma had been praying ever since.
Some days, the weight of reality overshadowed Ajuma’s belief. Her apprehension especially grew when the third batch of detectives her father paid and sent out came back with the same report as the rest.
“We’re afraid, sir, we don’t have good news!” They’d told her father in her presence.
That night, Ajuma thought her tears would finish. Her tears burst forth like water from a dam, spilling down her face. Her tears kept her soul alive in the furnace of the excruciating pain. They could not extinguish what had been, yet they carried her forward.
She tried to keep her mind occupied by reading some novels from her favourite authors like Karen Kingsbury, Nicholas Sparks and a host of othersas well as Christian Literatures. She found a book Ezinne had gifted her those beginning times of her friendship, when it was just about praying for a change of heart for Linus. And even now, years after, that the prayer point for Linus had changed to ‘Lord, please bring him home’, she still found the book useful – ‘The Power of a PRAYING WIFE’ by Stormie Omartian. Ageless book. It helped strengthen her faith in God’s ability to bring her husband back to her.
Several nights when the waves came crashing in on her, she would play Ed Sheeran’s photograph loudly until she lull herself to sleep.
She was cleaning up her house one morning, her pregnancy was about six months old then when she spotted it. Underneath some rumpled notes she’d had them bring in from the office was a picture of her and Linus on their wedding day but that wasn’t the windbreaker for her. It was the framed photograph on top of it. Hearts shapes in each other of colours black and red, in a battered, pretty red coloured frame. The picture was a time machine. One glance and she was back in the evening at the NYSC camp.
“Alright.” Linus had said, coming to stare at her straight in the eyes. “You know what they say? Once in a lifetime, unintentionally you find a person who can make you laugh, make you question everything, and change you for the better. And, when you do find this person, cherish them, keep them forever safe in your love.”
Ajuma’s eyes looked on, flattered by the way he called out each word.
“So I intend to fight for this love all the rest of my days. And I will win, trust me!” He winked coyly and Ajuma chuckled out loud.
“A-jay!” His voice sounded stern. “We may just have known each other in this short time. And I may be unsure of so many things in life right now but I am not unsure about loving you. I want to love you. I want to live for you and even die for you. I want to keep you forever safe in my love.” Ajuma’s eyes lit up as he brought out the framed photograph.
“You see the bigger black heart?” he waited for her response and she nodded in the affirmative. “That’s my heart. The one it encircles is yours.” He held her gaze.“That’s how I always want it to be, A-jay. I want to keep you forever safe in my love. That’s why I’m giving you this frame and hope that whenever you see this photograph, it reminds you where you are… forever safe in my love.”
Ajuma’s silent weeping as she remembered that evening while staring at the photograph in her hand was worse than screaming. Her eyes welled up with sadness. They showed her soul. What would it take to mend a soul as damaged as hers and who will mend it?
She’d been returning to the photograph every week since then. Last week, she’d picked it up,walked to her bed and sank into it. Staring at the objectlike Linus was right there in front of her…
“Linus, you do remember your promise to keep me safe in your love, yea?” she smiled amidst her tears. “And every time I consider you I keep hearing you say, ‘wait for me to come home’. It’s six months and counting, Linus. Your child would love to see you on his arrival.” She smiled again, but her voice cracked. “Oh yeah! It’s a boy as you so much desired. He can’t wait for daddy to come home, Linus. Please, come home soon!”
As she said that, her eyes glimmered with watery tears and she felt as if the whole world was about to crumble. She dropped down on her knees and screamed with all her might. She sobbed and tears flooded like the waters rushing down from a waterfall and the only time she could stop was to fill her lungs with fresh air. She cried so much so that she didn’t notice anyone walk in until Ezinne touched her back and she jerked back in fear.
“A-jay, why are you doing this to yourself?”
“Zeezy, he is still not home. Linus is not coming back home…”
Ezinne swallowed hard.
“Zeezy, we prayed right? We’ve been praying. Even with my pregnant state, I fasted some days. Why is Linus not back yet?”
Ezinne studied the pain in her friends eyes and didn’t know what was the right thing to say. She only knew one thing – she was going to move into Ajuma’s house.
“Where’s Billi?” Ezinne inquired after the house help.
“Gave her some hours off duty.”
“So you can stay alone and cry your eyes out?” Ezinne could not believe her ears. “Do you remember at all that your date of delivery is almost due?”
“I won’t have this baby if Linus doesn’t come home.”
If eyes carried gun, Ajuma would have died from the look Ezinne shot at her.
“Just shut up and pull yourself together.” She yelled. “God is going to require you to brace up to your double responsibility as both a father and mother to your child.”
Ajuma’s eyes drip with hot tears as Ezinne continued.
“God’s got you, A-jay! And I am here for you. Full time.” She tried to console her friend. “In fact, I’m moving in with you today. Iheanyi is on a business trip. I have the next one month to be fully on ground as your mother that I am.”
That made Ajuma smile in spite of herself.
Now, the song had awakened that feeling in her again and she was sure Ezinne would do all within her power to alleviate the tension that was already building up in the atmosphere.
“You asked for rice earlier, when it was done, you said you didn’t want that anymore. Your tea suddenly tastes sour. You don’t want tea. What are you going to eat o, A-jay?”
“I am not hungry.”
Ezinne frowned. “Yeah. And inasmuch as I don’t care if you starve right now, I’m worried for my godson in there.”
Ajuma smiled, noticing the sarcasm in Ezinne’s voice. She must really be wearing them all outbut it’s not her fault. Cravings plus pain plus excitement over having a baby plus uncertainty.
The doorbell rang. Once. Again. It had a strangled sound, as though its battery was somewhat drained. Ajuma turned questioning eyes over to Ezinne who shrugged.
“I will get it.” she stood up and headed for the door.
Ajuma quickly readjusted on her seat on hearing Ezinne’s excited exchange of pleasantries at the door. She thought it was a prank until she heard her father’s voice approaching the living room. Her eyes turned to the large wall clock.
Why was her father here so late?
Why hadn’t he called her before coming as usual?
And what could be so urgent?
She cautioned her racing heart to slow down.
“That’s my angel!” Samson Itodo said excitedly as Ajuma drew closer for a hug. “Ouch! The tummy is pushing me away.” He jeered and the two women laughed out loud.
“Truth be told, you look even cuter with the pregnancy. Exactly like your mum.”
Ajuma cleared her throat, shifting her weight from one foot to another.
“Sorry, child. There’s no day I see you that I don’t remember your mother.”
“It’s Okay, daddy.” She snapped out of the cold mood. “Please take your seat. You came at the right time. Ezinne and I were just about to have dinner.” She lied, winking mischievously at Ezinne. It was a means of shutting the latter against any intention of reporting her lack of appetite and refusal to eat to her father.
“Is that so?” Samson Itodo glanced at Ezinne who gave a nervous nod.
Ajuma kept a fake smile plastered on her face.
“Let me call Billi to set the table.” Ajuma said, getting up when she noticed it. The look on her father’s face showed it all. “What’s wrong, daddy?” she slowly moved down until her buttocks hit the chair, watching her father as he tried by all means to keep a straight face.
Samson Itodo shifted uncomfortably on his seat. Since the meeting with the detective yesterday afternoon, he’d only been one thing – afraid. Sore fear had gripped him not just because of the information but the effect it would have on his daughter. He ran through his head, seeking a more subtle way to start.
“Remember the fourth batch of detectives we dispatched six weeks ago?”
Ajuma nodded anxiously. “Are they back? What did they say? Did they find him? Please tell me they found him, daddy.”
Samson looked sternly at the tiled floor as though he read his next statement from there. “They found…” He cleared his throat and sat up. “They found his car.”
“Oh Jesus! Thank you, Jesus.” Ajuma jumped up and hurried over to where her father sat. “That car tracker idea was helpful after all. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to us early enough.” She couldn’t bottle her joy but her father was not done.
“The car was found on a lonely deserted road and the closest village to the place was several miles away, Ipeo…” he tried not to twist his tongue. “Ipeodo. Yes. Ipeodo.”
He explained how the detectives discussed with a vendor that sells fruit in the village. The man affirmed Linus used to drive out of a particular area but he hadn’t seen him in over two months. They were directed to a bar afterwards. The bar woman also recalled Linus visiting her place because of his peculiarity – he took only bottles of water and spent the night there severally. There was a clause to it though. She hadn’t seen him too in over two months.
Alarm rang in Ajuma’s head at this point as her father stretched out an envelope to her. With trembling hands she tore it open and stared at the photo for a long time.
The picture of Linus’ car, bashed to almost anunrecognizable state. The metal object was compressed like a piece of folded clothing. She stared at the driver’s side. The impact there was so hard that it drove the door way inside. If Linus had been driving this vehicle, which was most likely, there’s no way he’d come out of it alive.
Alas! Linus was dead.
The thoughts were accelerating inside her head. She wanted them to slow so she could breathe but they won’t. Her breaths came in gasps and she felt like she would blank out. Her heart was hammering inside her chest. The room began to spin and she squat on the floor, trying to make everything slow to something her brain and body could cope with. She felt a contraction grip her and her loud scream brought Ezinne and her father to her place on the floor.
With each contraction came a pain that dominated Ajuma’s entire being. In those moments, for those seconds that stretched into infinity, there was nothing else. She could hear her father’s voice, howbeit faintly.
“Ajuma, I beg you in the name of God!”
And Ezinne. “Billi!!!! The car keys. Ajuma, please stay with me. Please.”
But her stomach tightened the more. She could hear her own scream without being aware of making it. The pain got more intense than anything Ajuma had ever imagined. Nothing could be more brutal.
Her voice slowly vanished as she breathed with closed eyes, unwilling to re-engage with life outside of her own body.
To be continued tomorrow.