Darkness encloses round about the entire surrounding except inside the bedroom and the only sound one can hear are those coming from crickets who’d chosen the cold night to render their sonorous national anthems. Rhoda Badmus had slept off earlier while working on her desk. There’s a deadline to meet, always a deadline to catch up with and of course, her husband had reluctantly come to get used to it. A loud buzz on the desk her head is leaning against, and her iPhone begins to ring.
At first it comes through her ears like hearing sounds in the dream, but as the vibration persists, she jerks up to consciousness.
“Hi babe…” She mouths after tapping the screen.
Noma smirks as she rotates on her office chair, bringing it to face the wide window showing a beautiful view of the ever busy city expressway.
“You’re working up late again, I’m sure.”
Rhoda, her friend and confidant of nine years, smiles broadly as though Noma could see her.
“You wouldn’t believe it if I told you, Noma. I slept off on the desk while working.” A yawn escapes her mouth.
Noma doesn’t know whether to laugh or frown. “You wait until Donald leaves…”
That’s Rhoda’s boyfriend now turned husband. He’s been so passionate about her all the time, right from when they were both in the university.
Noma first met Rhoda already occupying the bed space allocated to her when she resumed her first year. It was not the best first encounter to have with anyone, as Rhoda had no manners at all, according to Noma. It had taken the intervention of the hostel porters to sort out the intense argument and verbal exchange that ensued between both girls and in the end, Rhoda was found out to be the wrong person – she’d bought the space from a fraudulent seller who’s not even the owner. By the time Rhoda was asked to get off Noma’s space, she had nowhere else to go to.
“I came in from Abuja yesterday…” Rhoda had started that afternoon after the porters left and Noma wondered what her business was with where the girl came in from. They all came in from somewhere anyway, no one permanently resides in the school’s fresher’s hall of residence, whether it be from Abuja – several hours journey away, like Rhoda or, from staff Quarters which was just a stone throw away as in Noma’s own case, it didn’t give anyone a right to claim another’s bed space. Noma allowed her to talk all the same.
Words turned into phrases, phrases into sentences, and Noma’s emotional side was stimulated. Her parents would never have agreed to what she did. They were reluctant about letting her come live in the hostel in the first place but she’d insisted, stating emphatically that she needed the feel of hostel life as much as the rapport between students, which she wouldn’t really maximize if she were to come all the way from staff quarters every day. And after that her folks let her have her way, she wasn’t sure if they will agree to her plans of squatting a total stranger, someone she’d never known all her life.
But she did. She’s grateful up till now that she did because that was the beginning of a long-lasting beautiful friendship she’s enjoyed with Rhoda.
“Donald ain’t going anywhere, baby.” Rhoda giggles with a tone of absolute confidence. Noma hears a door open and close. “Sorry, I had to step out of the bedroom so I don’t wake him.
Noma feigns a look of pity. “The poor man!” She says and Rhoda begins laughing hysterically.
“So why are you calling your boss at this time, Miss Noma.”
Noma clenches her fist playfully. She’d have nudged Rhoda at the sides if she were here. They played like two babies stuck in an adult’s body and that became even worse in their second year when they got an accommodation off campus. Noma’s parents actually paid for the whole room. It’s a self-contain in a luxurious hostel with constant light and water. It had taken just a visit for the whole of Noma’s family to become fond of Rhoda and they took her as one of them in no time.
“You are high, Rhoda.” Noma frowns lightly. “Now we know the boss, because she’s right here in her office.” She flings her hair to the back, rocking the chair back and forth.
Rhoda is laughing uncontrollably. They may not talk every day, every time, but whenever, the few times in a month they do, they always know where to pick up the conversation from.
“How’s Hallie?” Rhoda’s voice is lower now, sober.
“She’s kicking. I feared I’d lose her last week, but thank God.”
Rhoda takes in a deep breath. “You have been hardworking Noma. You are the most hardworking mother I’ve ever met, and I’m sure God won’t just take your joy away from you just like that.”
Noma blinks her eyes. “And you are the least hardworking mother of two I know. Goes to work so early, returns late yet stay awake all night working at home.” She jeers. “Thank God Donald chose not to work at the moment, only God knows what would have become the fate of those beautiful kids.”
Rhoda smiles. “That’s why Donald is my prince charming forever. The knight in a shining armor.”
Noma smirks again. Her friend is always so full of her husband. Rhoda makes married life sound like fun; like it’s an entire kingdom of bliss on its own. How else can one explain being married to a man that’s been in love with you right from those earlier days as a fresher. Noma remembers how Rhoda came back home to discuss Donald’s every new attempt at drawing nearer, how much more irritating and provoking his advances were getting her. Noma had laughed herself to stupor, jeered and of course, advised her friend to give him a chance at several instances.
“A chance? I can’t believe this.” Rhoda spat out disgusted one afternoon, when they had this conversation. “The boy should just leave me alone; I didn’t come to school for a relationship.”
Frankly, Noma wished herself and Rhoda could change roles when it came to Donald. She had a puppy crush on the young man, but you know how it is. Love always goes to the person that least needs it.
“Noma,” Rhoda started and Noma could bet she knows what her friend was going to talk about. “How is it going with getting Hallie a dad, sweetie. It’s about time.”
It’s about time.
It’s been about time since five years ago. It’s been about time every day after Hallie was born. ‘Cos Rhoda never fails to remind her. And unlike those days when the reminder sounded like opening up a healing wound in her ears, she finds it extremely true and amusing today. Perhaps Akoji would… could become her own prince charming. Perhaps Akoji meant what he’d said to her yesterday in his house. He was no prince; her fantasy dreams may have to step aside, but he was ready to be more than a prince; a prince charming for her, for Hallie.
“That’s why I’m calling you so early, Rhodess.”
Rhoda sits up awaiting what’s about to hit her and prays it’s a good news after such a long time.
Noma clears her throat, shifting uncomfortably in her seat for several minutes. She’s not sure about what she’s about to say, never has been sure of anything else in her life in the past few years, but who else does she share her uncertainties with? Who else doesn’t judge her actions or tries to talk her down?
“I think I’ve found him, Rhodess.” Noma gasps her few words.
Mr P waits as the phone rings out for the umpteenth time before throwing the phone onto one of the benches.
“He’s not picking up.”
Agefu swallows. She didn’t think it would be so serious for Akoji not to pick up his friend’s calls.
“It’s that witch. That girl I don’t even know what her stupid name is…” She cursed bitterly.
“Noma.” Mr P says with a calm tone, defeated.
“Noma. Which kind name be that sef? Noma?” Agefu jests, raising an eyebrow. The anger welling up on her insides can snap irons in two. “Mr P, your friend humiliated me yesterday at his house. Kai.” She scatters her braids with her right hand. “Akoji look me for face say make I commot hin house. Haba. You sef check this thing.” She rattles in Pidgin English as Patrick walks over to take his seat where he’d thrown his phone onto earlier.
Agefu worries that the young man is extremely quiet today, but she takes no much thought of it.
“After all these attempts and hard work, then one girl comes from nowhere to… to .. to…” Agefu rattles on, her words barely audible.
“Let Akoji be.” Mr P yells, with the loudest voice he could mutter. Agefu is taken aback. She’s tempted to believe that something is wrong with her auditory function right now. It has to be. “Yes. Leave Akoji alone.” Patrick reaffirms his statement. “One cannot force love. You said you have done all you can and Akoji still doesn’t have the slightest interest in you? Then move the hell on, girl.”
Agefu feels her heart sink as Patrick speaks. He’s been her right hand man; how could he sound as though tired of her right now?
“Look here, Agefu…” Patrick calls her attention. “I know I aided and abated all the bullshits you were doing. Akoji had warned me times and again to stop giving you access to his apartment but I wouldn’t listen.” He sounds remorseful.
“Patrick, so you are regretting helping me right now?” Agefu couldn’t believe she’s truly witnessing this awkward situation.
“Akoji warned me.” Patrick continues, ignoring her. “The young man may be all gentle and slow to anger, but whenever he’s angry, mehn!” He pulls his phone nearer reflexively. “Akoji is probably done with me.”
“This is all because of that black slender bitch. Girl wey no even fine from here to there.”
“Monkey wey no fine, him mama like am.” Patrick interrupts. “Whether she’s fine to you or not, Akoji sees her as celestial and that’s all that matter to him.” He swallows against a lump in his throat. “And you wey think say you fine, de dash men your body upandan, how many don engage you?”
A nut loses in Agefu’s head.
“Patrick, you open your dustbin of a mouth de follow insult me?”
“It’s a question. Answer it.” He sits up to stay on the defensive. “Men cannot commit to girls like you. Nobody go see orange wey dem don suck suck finish buy for market na. Nobody.”
Agefu uses her right hand to scatter her hair again. “Omí? Na your mama…” she points her right hand. “Na your mama for village, your sister dem and every girl wey commot for your lineage be orange wey dem don suck suck. Idiot.” She draws a loud and long hiss.
Patrick smiles dryly. “You know the kind men wey you deserve. No be posh banker like Akoji. Na those agberos for Anyigba garage wey go fit knack you akpako you suppose follow. Shameless lady.”
“Patrick I de warn you. I swear to God…” Agefu uses her first finger to touch her tongue before directing it to the sky. “I swear to God, if you no carry that your mouth go for baptism, I go destroy things for you. You know say I no well before.”
“I know o.” Patrick is on his feet now. Staying at a safe distance away from the lady raging with anger like a wounded tigress. “You no well. I don’t just know why I was arranging a mad babe like you for my dear friend.” He notices the deeper rage setting lose in Agefu’s eyes, but wouldn’t give her any chance to speak. “Na to scatter things you know na. what else do you know? Friendship that I’ve managed to build with a high profile young man like Akoji, you carry your devilish sef come pour sand sand for my garri. Abeg, get out of this place.”
Agefu stands unshaken for some minutes, looking coldly at Patrick. If her eyes carried gun, the young man would have been deader than dead by now. Patrick seems unconcerned. He’s bitter, she could tell. His friendship to Akoji means a lot to him. Look at the facelift in this gym since they became friends. Akoji actually supported his hustle with money to buy new equipment and even brought a couple of those his banker friends to come register in Patrick’s gym. Now that same Akoji is not picking up his call and Agefu expects him to still be smiling?
“Patrick… Patrick… Patrick…” Agefu yells. “How many times did I call you?”
Patrick smirks. “If you had gone to school when your mates did, you for sabi simple mathematics.”
Agefu swallows the harsh words, trying not to completely lose her mind.
“Patrick, your own matter no concern me, ègbò?” She holds her ears. “Òlà wè chíyànyí mí no. At all, at all.”
Patrick scoffs, distracting himself by fixing a machine to the wall socket.
“Tell that witch of a girl, that Noma, tell her that I’m coming for her. Òmà Anyigba ù che o. I be full Anyigba babe. Nobody can come to my own land and steal my man.”
“Akoji is not and was never your man. Can’t you let that sink into your dull skull, Agefu? Leave the innocent lady out of this.”
Agefu stamps her feet hard against the floor. “Tell her to watch her back o, Patrick. Warn her. If I don’t have Akoji, nobody will.” She spills and charges out of the room with anger consuming the entirety of her being.
Patrick would normally have said ‘to hell with her’ but he knows what Agefu can do. They both are indigenes of Anyigba and grew up together in this same city. A heart is not the organ situated between Agefu’s lungs. No. Not at all.
Is he afraid?
Yes, for innocent Noma, he is.
The only way now is to warn and arm her in advance for Agefu’s eventual strike. But how was he going to go about that when Akoji wouldn’t even pick up his call?
Noma tries to fix her second earing but the continuous beeps coming from her phone wouldn’t let her concentrate. She finally yields to the temptation, drops the golden piece and picks up her phone. A genuine smile dances around her lips, getting to her face. She hurriedly drops the phone like it burnt her hand, but in no time, picks it back up.
…I love you in the way a puppy loves – devoted, playful, trusting. I guess I should be ashamed of that somehow…
She reads the text message out loud, blushing away carelessly.
Noma glances at the mirror in front of her. Akoji is activating every single fiber of emotions left in her system. It’s getting to a very great degree that she doesn’t know if it’s still safe or sane. She tries to concentrate on styling her hair when her phone buzzes and begins to ring.
It could only be one person.
“Someone gave this Igbo man the notorious Ogugu girl charm…”
Noma bursts into laughter. “By right, you too are Ogugu man somehow na. Didn’t you say your mum is from Ofabo?”
Akoji clears his throat. “I’m an Igbo man, Finest girl. Don’t even try to brother-zone me.”
This cracks both him and Noma up and they hold onto that laughter for another minute before Noma finally catches her breath.
“I didn’t know you are gifted in poetry.” She jeers.
“I didn’t realize that my lines are getting our Finest girl at the right sides.”
Finest girl, that’s what Akoji has been calling her since yesterday. Even though she doesn’t see so much truth in that phrase, she loves the sound of it, especially when it’s coming from Akoji’s lips.
“Aren’t you at work, young man?” she waves their initial line of conversation away, not wanting him to get her deeper than his words are already doing for him.
“I’m at work.” He says politely.
“And making love calls, huh?” Noma couldn’t help scoffing.
“It’s a good thing you affirm what it is…” She feels Akoji readjust. “Love is the word. Love is…”
“You know what?” Noma interrupts. She’s not going through those deep lines again this morning. “I have to go now. We’ll talk later. Take care of yourself.”
She suspects the young man wants to ask her more questions, like, where are you going to? When are you returning? And what time later should we talk? Because left to Akoji, they would be on this same call in the next three hours. The guy doesn’t seem to use airtime to make calls or even if he does, he must be on a very special package from his network providers.
“Be good, finest girl.” He says on a note of finality and drops the call.
Noma removes the phone from her ear and places it firmly against her chest. She’d asked to end the call, now the call is ended and she feels like it shouldn’t have. But how can one need something, yet act as though she doesn’t? She quarrels herself deep within. Still in her moments of retrospect, the door flings open.
Mrs. Gina walks in calmly, still in her nighties and not looking like she has plans to move out today at any point. Noma greets and walks over to hug her.
“Uhmmmm… what a nice cologne.” The older woman tilts her nose upwards, absorbing in the air.
Noma chuckles. “You bought this for me, Mummy. Stop acting like you suddenly don’t know.”
Mrs. Gina smiles. “I didn’t test it on when buying it for you nau. You think I’ll give it to you if I knew it smelt this heavenly?”
Noma begins to laugh, turning back to finish up the styling of her hair.
She searches for something in a box-like bag placed on her makeup table and pulls out a glistering yellow pin.
“Where are you going to?” Mrs. Gina asks as Noma places the pin through her hair.
Noma, for some weird reasons, feels like she’s been caught unawares. She’s going out. Yes. But didn’t think she would have to discuss her destination with anyone else. No.
And as she takes a moment to think through whether the woman requires truth from her or she simply say what she wants to hear, she turns over to face Mrs. Gina squarely.
“Guys, guys, guys, you are not putting your energy into this. I want to feel your passion, your energy. I want to feel it from ten meters away.”
“We’re trying director.”, “These steps are too difficult.”, “Our legs are hurting.”, “Can we not even have an hour break? Which kind of rigorous rehearsal is this?” and many more makes up the indistinct murmurs coming from the dancers.
Sweats, like clumps of ice water, fall down their faces, and drenching their body-fitted T-shirts and shorts.
“There is so much expectation being laid on us, and we cannot afford to fail.”
“Director…” one of the dancers raises his hand and the director urges her to go on. “Sir, we’ve been on the dance rehearsal since 10pm last night. Here we still are, sir. Please can we have a recess. At least an hour.”
The director shakes his head from side to side. “Dami! I told you we’re having eighteen hours long straight rehearsals. If you are hungry, go and take from the snacks and fall back inline before I change my mind about your participation.”
The other students shift uncomfortably on their feet. The director is harsh and mean, they know but no one could voice out any more thing. They’ve come too far to be thrown out of the dance now.
“Now, at the countdown from four, we go…” He shows them the style from where they should pick up. “Four… three… two… one… go…” The music blares out, so loud, one would think it’ll bring down the roof of the dance studio. “Yeah… go on. Right there. Go down. Yeah. Come up.” The director calls out, moving in between the dancers and pushing some downwards with his right hand on their backs.
“Keep it up. Music is the bread of the soul…” His voice is loud. High above the music. “Dancing is therapy. Dance with your soul. Connect…” He continues, and it seems the dance got more and more intense with his motivational statements. “Yeah… go…”
The abrupt stop of the music takes his – everyone’s – attention there immediately.
“Haaa! HOD sir.” The director hurries over to Gbenga Lawani standing at the door of the studio. As he gets very close, the HOD gives way for the VC to come in.
“Ah… VC sir.” The director prostrated.
“Get up. Get up.” Professor Akpa calls out, many thanks to his newly found love for culture. Other times, he’d have found it rather appalling for a man, a gentleman, to soil his well ironed clothes on the dirty floor of a studio room just because he wants to show respect.
“Students…” the HOD calls out and like a plan, they chorus,
“Good morning, professor. We are so honored to have you here.”
Professor Akpa smiles as he assesses the crowd of dancers in less than thirty seconds. The studio is AC tight but these guys are drenched in their own sweats.
“Well done, guys. I see you are doing better by far as our university is known for.”
The students blush shyly, everyone careful and afraid of saying something at the same time.
“Well done, director.” Prof turns to the director. “Perhaps, I’d come learn some dancing steps myself. Isn’t that good, students?”
The students burst into loud cheers and clatter.
Professor Akpa waits for the cheers to go down before continuing. “How far have you gone on a scale of ten?”
“I should say 2.5, sir.” The director is quick to respond, smiling in a fashion that the prof considers inappropriate for this situation.
“2.5? HOD?” Prof turns scared eyes to the HOD standing to his right hand side.
“Prof, I think he means they are working hard not to be complacent or comfortable with where they’ve gotten to.”
That sounds a little more soothing to hear. “Is that so, Mr Director?”
The director, now afraid, “Yes. Yes. Yes, prof. We’ve gone far but we are still pushing ourselves against all limits. We are working harder by the day, sir.”
“Better be.” Professor Akpa lets out a sigh of relief.
“Students, I hope you have been told that you are joining my train to Onitsha for this very festival. You have to give your best shots, OK?”
“Yes sir.” The students chorused at the top of their lungs.
“We must wow the people that invited us, and make them know that Unilorin isn’t just better than all other tertiary institutions in Nigeria put together, it’s better by far. What did I say?”
“Unilorin is better by far.” The students respond, tired yet excited to have the VC at such a close range.
“Good morning!” Professor Akpa turns back and heads out of the studio in flashes of a second.
Her head turns towards the door as it opens presenting Dr Ebiloma who hurries over to his seat on the other side of the large table. She’s been waiting here in the consulting room for nothing less than forty-five minutes.
“I’m sorry, dear. You know how our work is.” He removes his ward coat, hangs it on a nail firmly fixed to a cabinet just behind him before taking his seat. He looks unsettled for some minutes, then, “So, what brings you here today, young woman.”
She smiles. There’s only one thing that brings her to this part of the hospital.
“Oh.” Dr Ebiloma suddenly feels a worrisome pang dance around his head. “Is everything OK, Noma?”
Noma sits up, shrugging. “Of course, of course, sir.” She dashes him her warmest smiles, only that it’s more genuine now that at other times in the past.
Dr Ebiloma reflexively lets out hot air before realizing he’s been holding onto his breath in the last minutes since he sat down. “So, can you talk to me already? Your silence is scary.”
Noma clamps her palms together. They feel really warm as she rubs them slowly against each other, with her face to the ground. Dr Ebiloma swallows and if It’s possible to go down in there and pull the words off Noma’s throat, he will. But he’s got to be patient.
Easy does it, man, he admonishes himself.
Noma clears her throat for the umpteenth time. “Doctor, I…” she searches for the most appropriate words. “I came to let you know that I… we… we are ready.”
Dr Ebiloma, not convinced, holds her gaze, “Are you sure about this, dear?”
Noma shakes her head. “At least, I have enough money to foot the bills now. I got a grant and mummy…” she glances up at the doctor. “Mrs. Gina offered to pay for the surgery. So, that’s pretty much it, right? I think am ready.” She rubs her palm against her thigh.
“You remember all I told you about this surgery. The pros and cons. The thousand and one risks and all we’d be doing. I guess I went ahead to show you a video clip of the procedure we want to perform?”
Noma nods in the affirmative.
“Are you sure you are ready for this? At this time?”
Noma doesn’t seem to get the doctor anymore and it reflects in her voice. “Is there anything you are not telling me, doctor? Are you not ready for…?
“No no no.” Dr Ebiloma interrupts. “Far from it. So long as you are ready, we were born ready for things like this.” He lets out a half-faced smile. “Look, I know there are a couple of things we need to set up here and there in preparation for the surgery, but that wouldn’t take eternity to prepare. It is you I’m most concerned about.”
Noma tightens the air in her lungs. She hates someone making her feel like she doesn’t know what she’s doing and that’s exactly what the doctor is doing to her right now. “I am ready, doctor. I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m ready!”
“Alright then.” He pulls out something from the drawer. “Put things in order and come on admission tomorrow.”
“We’re coming back today, doctor.”
Something feels wrong and Dr Ebiloma is finding it difficult to lay his hands on it. Something, everything. Especially Noma’s last statement. She sounds desperate, like she can’t wait to get this done and over with. But the truth is that it would be done quite alright, but getting over with it as easily as it’s said is what he cannot guarantee.
“We are here, madam.” One of the two men sitting in a black jeep with completely tinted glasses says into the Bluetooth device hanging down his ears. Their dark shades and all black attire add to the dread laden in their faces. The one on the wheels is chewing gum out so loudly one would think he’s been paid for it.
“Madam, everything de under control. You no trust us?” He sounds rather provoked. “See ehn, madam…” but the tap from his partner makes him look out the window.
“She don de comot for the hospital compound now. We have to go.” He ends the call as the driver steps on the accelerator right behind the Nissan car moving at close distance in front of them.
Noma struggles to keep her attention on the road. She had just consented to what she dreaded the most. The time has come and the time is now. She need to relieve her only daughter of all her sufferings, somehow, anyhow. Akoji is giving her shrills. There’s this feeling deep down her heart that makes her feel she’s standing really tall against the world with him by her side. He’d said so. He’d said he doesn’t ever see a day she would fall and he won’t be there to catch her.
One should dare to jump with assurance of being caught, right?
Well, whether right or wrong, she’s chosen to jump down a high cliff. Hopefully, Akoji would be somewhere right there at the bottom to catch her.
As she tries to relish on Akoji’s kind words and seemingly sincere promises to her, both face-to-face during the day and over the phone at night, and even this morning, she seems unable to get her mind past that girl – the girl she’d met in his house. Noma could feel her pain and rage, yet it’s not her fault that Akoji choses her a thousand times over. What Noma fears the most however is the thought that one day, Akoji would find her uninteresting, at least compared to Agefu, and go back for her. She’s trying not to picture Akoji hurting her but she couldn’t help it.
At the junction, she turns off the expressway into the road on the right hand side leading to Mrs. Gina’s house. The street is always deserted at times like this. People ought to have gone out to work, and even houses are literally empty. It’s rather unfortunate that her own house is far down the street, after which it’s a closed end.
Noma increases the volume of the music ‘Little things’ by one direction, one of her favorites and she shakes her head to the rhythm of its blaring through chambers and occluding every single pore in her heart.
A black jeep had been following her. It’s been taking every turn she took, waited for traffic with her, made sure there’s not more than a car between them and now, it’s just her car and the jeep left on this deserted street. Alarm rings in her head and her heart suddenly begins to pound in a fashion that scared her own eyes. Glancing down her side mirror, she could barely see through the blackness of the car to the persons sited therein.
She mutters a short prayer and tries to step on the accelerator. That would be her greatest mistake yet, because for whatever reason, her car fired up loudly and jerked back to a halt.
“Jesus! Not now!” Thick sweats cover everywhere on her body as she tries to start the car.
The jeep seems to slow down its pace but still approaching anyway.
The closer it gets to her, the more cells die in her heart.
A thousand and one thoughts go through her head as she’s helplessly stuck in a car that’s not moving. She thought to get down and run but how far can she go? What if they carried guns? There’s no sign of life in any of the giant gated duplexes on the street and even if there is, who would respond to the bangs of a stranger with the current security situation in the state.
So, in less than a second, all her life replayed right in front of her.
Her Hallie? What would happen to the little girl?
God. No. please. Don’t let this happen to me.
She sits transfixed to her seat as the jeep comes to park directly beside her. As soon as one of the doors flies open, and a hefty deadly looking man steps out of it, she knows she’s done for.
To be continued.