I am careful not to use statements such as ‘I know how you feel’, ‘I can relate’ cos in real terms I may not know exactly how you feel. But one thing I know is that it is a trying time for all of us. Seems like all our lives are boxed and thrown into a utility vehicle to be taken far away from reach. In all this, we must remember that we are more than conquerors.
Don’t stop praying for the world. Don’t stop praying for doctors and all health workers at the frontline of combating this pandemic. Don’t stop praying for our leaders. In the end, it will make sense. If it doesn’t make sense yet, it’s not the end.
I enjoin you to check the blog and/or my Facebook page ‘Grace Ochigbo’ every weekday 8pm for new updates of this short series. I want to engage your mind for a little while as you stay safe and stay home.
I love you.
LOVE In A Photograph – Grace Ochigbo
19th March, 2020
Editors sat quietly at their desks in the center of the newsroom and Ajuma Itodo, back from a morning of interviews worked intently at her computer several feet away.
“Dede, tell me there’s something more to this corona virus.” She held up a wire cord and strained to see Dede Fawari.
Dede sat in the cubicle immediately in front of her and worked the political beat, dealing with issues and reports from various government houses around the country. He wasn’t interested in reporting medically-related issues until the onset of the novel corona virus that’s turned every attention on itself.
“Sounds calculated to me.” His eyes remained focused on his own computer screen and the story he was writing.
Ajuma stared for a moment, stunned by his neatly arranged notes, his clean desk and the way he typed using his last two fingers.
“I still think it’s more than calculated.” She picked her juice and took a sip, wiping the moist condensation off the notepad where the flask had been sitting. Her eyes traveled across her desk, searching for a clear spot. Her work area was always a disaster. Somewhere, buried under layers of rumpled notes was a picture of her and Linus on their wedding day and a framed photograph he had given her some years ago. It was dusty now buthad remained dear to her heart much as it had been when she received it.
Ajuma studied the heap of papers and, as she had done several times over in the past year, made a mental note to get organized. For now, she pushed a chunk of notepads back and set the chilled flask in the space it created.
She looked at Dede again. “Guy experiments in a laband virus results. Next thing the whole world is thrown into panic battling with a microorganism looking like a biological weapon of mass destruction?”
“Everywhere is being locked down.”
“And from same country, we’re hearing about Hangavirus.”
“Not to mention the events insinuating that they know the cure and wouldn’t just bring it forward.”
“Very fishy and somewhat calculated.”
“Know what I think?”
Dede sighed. “What?”
“It’s high time we faced them.”
“Hmm, yes.” Dede continued to type.
“And…” a sharp pain cut through her tummy and her words stopped in her throat. She squeezed her tummy slightly.
Dede sighed. “Are you alright?” his fingers froze in place as he looked up from his work. “Have the results been sent in yet?”
Ajuma nodded from side to side and became quiet for a moment. She had felt same way yesterday and the day before and the day before the day before that. She mentioned her intention to drop by the hospital before work to Dede yesterday. She didn’t just think he would remember.
“I should check my mail. The doctor must have sent them in.”
Dede nodded, continued typing and the conversation stalled. Ajuma settled back into her chair and glanced around the office. The newsroom may as well be termed a micro segment of the outside world. If a story was breaking anywhere – from Lagos to Warri, Sokoto to Jalingo – it was breaking at the office of the Channels Television headquarters in the FCT.
The room held fifty-six centers, each with twelve computer stations manned by hungry reporters. Most of the reporters were on their desk typing out whatever information they had collected earlier today. Stories from around the world poured in through computer services while editors sorted through the information and argued about whether the killing of Agatu dwellers by Fulani herdsmen was a better lead story for the Nigeria Today news hour than the President’s trip to an undisclosed foreign country for medical attention. Whatever was deemed worthy forairing was passed on to the other reporters.
Reporting has become Ajuma’s life. It took all her time yet she loved it with all her heart. For all the immense pressure and grief she took from some of her bosses, especially Mr. Arnold, Ajuma knew the position she held at the office. She’d heard it too often to doubt it: she was unquestionably Channel’s TV best reporter.
Ajuma smiled and stared at the screen of her computer, refreshing to see what’s new in her mailbox. She scrolled through several mails from some of her correspondents, her office, some bills receipt here and there before stumbling on what she was looking for. She had left home early enough today so as to make her appointment with the doctor at Cedar Crest Hospitals Ltd.
Top notch hospitality, good health care services, she must say.
The only clause was the doctor insisting she ran a pregnancy test after hearing her complaints.
Something about “pregnancy being a differential for a woman in her reproductive age with all the symptoms she’d mentioned”.
She couldn’t be pregnant.
Well, not as though she never wish and pray the test comes out positive, she wasn’t going to let her mind go on that wish trip that always ended in rude and painful disappointment.
For three years, Linus and her have been trying. Once,she got this close to it but…
She tapped on the mouse of her computer and waited for it to load.
“Itodo!” Arnold’s loud voice came loudly from his office. “Get over here.” His voice rose her to her full height of five feet, two inches and into his office in split seconds.
Arnold’s face didn’t match the voice that just summoned her. Ajuma thought she saw a smile somewhere around his lips but she wouldn’t jump the gun yet. She waited as he rested his back, pulled a white envelope and stretched it towards her.
Ajuma felt blood dry up on her face. Everyone thought her too bold and daring for comfort. She’d even had confrontations once or twice with her bosses but now wasn’t the time to sack her.
Not with every wrong thing going on right now.
Her fingers jittered as she opened the envelope slowly before bringing out the paper. Gently, she unfolded and for no reason at all, her eyes caught the letterhead first. So it’s an official letter.
“Well, congratulations, Mrs. Itodo.” Arnold called out just when her eyes caught the title.
Ajuma wanted to scream, she wanted to drop on the floor in spite of herself and roll. She wanted to do many things but her tongue felt tight and only a tear drop rolled down her powdered face.
“Sir,” she finally found her voice after reading the body of the letter and all the juicy benefits due her new position. “Sir, you mean, I am…”
“A well deserving promotion I must say, Itodo. I expect nothing but the best from this establishment under your leadership.”
“Thank you so much, sir. I would not disappoint sir.” She tried to contain her joy now as a broad smile spread across her lips. If she can, she would be hugging Mr. Arnold tightly right now out of excitement.
She folded the paper neatly into the envelope, seeing that Mr. Arnold’s attention had returned to his computer. She slowly walked back to the newsroom as other reporters seem to be buried in their work. There was no need distracting them. She walked like she stepped on eggshells and was only an inch nearer her cubicle when she heard an uproar,
She turned to see all the reporters on their feet now, cheering excitedly with empty glass cups in their hands.
Oh! They knew?
“Congratulations, A-jay!” Dede called from behind her and she jerked back.
“You knew too?”
He gave a mischievous smile as he handed over a glass cup to her. He then brought out a big wine bottle and popped it open.
Loud cheers came from the other reporters.
“To the newest and youngest GM…” Dede started and everyone made a toast to her.
The mini celebration continued for a few minutes before she was allowed to finally go into her cubicle. The new promotion is in effect from Monday, four days away. She felt mesmerized as she took her seat in front of the computer whose black screen stared back at her. She didn’t know how to sink into the news. It felt like a dream come true. Like it was too good to be true.
Not sure of what was best to do, she picked her phone and tapped on it.
“…currently switched off, please try again la…” she ended the call willing herself not to worry about Linus’phone being switched off in the afternoon. She would just complete the story she’s working on and go…
She dragged the mouse until the computer woke up. She’d completely forgotten about the mail that was now open before her. Her eyes traveled through the letter from the doctor. As she saw the reported results of the test, particularly the pregnancy test, her eyes glimmered with watery tears and she felt the whole world spin round about her. She tried not to scream as the water rushed down from her face like a waterfall. She hoped no one noticed her.
“A-jay…” she heard Dede’s voice calling her from his cubicle.
She needed to act fast before he walked to her so she pulled her handbag and put a notepad in it.
It was time to go home, she affirmed, dabbing her tears with a face wipe.
“Yes, Dede!” she tried to sound as normal as possible while placing her sunglasses and rising up. “I need to go home now.”
He shrugged. “You are the GM.”
She smiled faintly and dashed out through the back door at the drop of a hat.
She was home in no distant time but the loud music oozing out from her building made her wonder if she was in the right place or not. She got down from the car and picked her bag. The drive from the office down here helped her sort her feelings and she even called Ezinne but as she approached the building, her phone beeped loudly. She moved forward, enough for the building to cast a shadow over the dark screen on her phone before opening the new message in her inbox. The screen light, even at its maximum, was suddenly not illumination enough ‘cosshe couldn’t believe what her eyes saw on the device.
With a bowl of anger firmly seated in her throat, she dashed into the house, stumping her feet hard against the tiled floor. Linus didn’t notice when she entered. He was sitting on the couch backing the entrance door, a glass of red wine in hand. Two bottles lay carelessly around the centre table on which one of the throw pillows sat. The room stank with smells of hard liquor and smoke but Linus wasn’t perturbed. With two feet resting on a side stool in front of him, he was nodding to the sound of a hip hop jam.
Ajuma stared at the man with disgust, trying to suppress the anger burning in her system. Looking to the side, she spotted the remote control and in a jiffy, dead silence filled the entire room. Then did he notice her and he arose to face her with bloodshot eyes.
“What did you do that for?” he yelled, drawing nearer while attempting to collect back the remote from her hand.
“Your number has been switched off.” She counted her words, afraid. “I wondered if there was no light even when I know there’s always light in the estate.”
“And…” Linus collected the remote from her now but didn’t move away.
Ajuma swallowed. “I was rushing back home to share some good news with you.” She feigned a smile that disappeared as quickly as it came. “…but at the door, I got this debit alert from our joint savings account,Linus.” She pointed her phone’s screen in his direction.
Linus shrugged and turned his back against her.
“I thought we agreed never to touch the money in our joint safe?” she struggled to keep her voice low. “Linus, if you’re out of cash, you could let me know at least before taking money from our savings.”
“Because you own almost all the money in the savings account?” He turned to face her and fear gripped her. He was drunk… again. “No! Tell me! You’re the man of the house now, so I must take permission from you whenever I need money.”
Ajuma knew better than not to be careful at this point. Debit of six hundred thousand naira shouldn’t be carelessly termed ‘whenever I need money’. She scanned the sitting room. Worst of all was that he does nothing substantial with all the huge amounts he withdraws from their joint account. If left to continue this way, he would ruin them… her.
“Tell me…” He screamed at the top of his lungs, making shivers run down her spine.
“No Linus, I was only sayi…” she started when his hand connected with her face.
The slap was as loud as a clap and stung her face. It was an open-handed smack and left red colours on her cheek. Just below her eye was a small cut where his wedding ring had caught her. She staggered backwards, clutching her face, eyes watering.
“So I have to tell you when I need money? Because I am jobless, right? You now run this house. You are the man here. Not so?”
Linus’ rage had a cold burn that scared Ajumato her bones. She had seen that look in his eye before. Not once, not twice. It was how Linus showed hatred, dominance and imparted fear. One step forward, he was in her space and she knew a kiss wasn’t coming next. The impact of another slap confused her brain as it rapidly flew to the right. Ajuma stumbled backward, falling into the ceramic vase by the front door, tears pouring down her pleading eyes, hand raised to shield her face. The broken ceramic vase tore through her clothes to the skin on her back but he wasn’t done yet. In another stride he was over her, hand rolled in a fist, face contorted into a version of him Ajuma knew she’d never forget.
Her eyesight blurred, but not because tears were welling up. Everything became fuzzy, then she saw nothing at all. Her consciousness was slipping far below reach. Her heartbeat faded with pleas for help. The impact from Linus’ punch lessened. Feelings in her body drained away until finally all was black.
When Linus noticed she wasn’t giving anymore usual responses, he picked up her hand and it dropped weakly back to the floor. It was then alarm rang in his head as every drop of drunkenness cleared out of his eyes. He shook her shoulders vigorously,
But she collapsed onto the floor like a sack of potatoes. Blood oozed out of her nose, mouth and skin. Linus jumped off her immediately and tried to explain what had just happened to himself.
He beat his wife to death.
Ajuma was out cold, that was the proof.
To be continued tomorrow 8pm.
Please stay home, stay safe.
God keep us all.
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