PLEASE MARRY ME – GRACE OCHIGBO
I don’t know what whoever called said to Ayegba enough to make him smash his expensive phone hard on the floor. Many thanks to nano screen guards, there’s not a single scratch as I pick the device back up. Luke tries to stabilize Ayegba onto a seat before hurrying over to me. We dial the last number on the call log and wait for it to ring.
“Hello,” the person on the other end sounds very calm, polite. “Yes, she’s demanding to see her son any moment from now.”
When the call goes dead, Luke and I find ourselves letting out hot air we didn’t know we’d been holding onto the entire time.
On the drive to the airport, Luke asks Ayegba to relax for the umpteenth time but I know it’s not possible. How’s that even possible? He is going to board the next available flight to Abuja. He needs to be with mummy as soon as he can.
Ayegba’s feeling is understandable. There’s no living with the guilt of knowing he killed his own mother because of his unwillingness to forgive her all these long years. He sits quietly and only continues to mutter, ‘God, please help me’ over and again on the drive. As he proceeds to the check in counter, I assure him that Attah and I would be right behind him. Luke talked about a private jet of his father’s, so we are hopeful that the passing of time wouldn’t be an issue.
As Luke and I head towards his car in the parking lot, I feel my heart slamming hard against its cage like the blow of an angry water against the rocks. Dialing Anibe’s number after all these times is the hardest task yet. I admit to not being a good friend in the last month, but on the other hand, I couldn’t bring myself to face her. Hurting her brother the way I did was enough reason to break any bond of friendship that ever existed between us.
“What do you want?” She demands harshly upon answering the phone on the second ring.
“Please, I’m in a tight situation and you’re the only one that can help. Please.”
My voice is pathetic and Luke casts questioning gaze on me before starting the car. In a few seconds, I am reeling out what I need Anibe to help with. She should go to the children boot camp in church right away and let me speak with the pastor in charge. Afterwards, I need her to chatter a car and bring Attah to me in Lagos. We both need to join Ayegba and his mum in Abuja. I am certain that the sight of her grandson will do a lot to the weak bones of the older woman.
Anibe grumbles a few words of hesitation at first but with a little more persuasion, she promises to help me.
Three hours later, I am losing all the calm on my insides.
“There are almost here, Victory. You have to calm down.” Luke says kindly, handing me a cup of coffee. I collect it and force a small quantity down my dry throat.
The phone on my lap buzzes and begins to ring. Anibe.
“We are here.” She announces.
I could jump down the floors with the feeling gushing through my system. Luke quickly directs me to the elevator and we arrive the reception at the drop of a hat.
Attah rushes towards me and I bend to become his height.
“Mum, is this dad’s office?”
I nod in the affirmative, making a mental note to give my boy tutorials on guiding his tongue and taming his curiosity after all these.
“Let me try to get our stuff ready.” Luke announces from behind me. By ‘our stuff’ I am hoping he means the private jet.
Attah is blown away by antique paintings on the wall, paintings of magnificent buildings and homes. In the lad’s unguided excitement, he hurries after Luke and when I hear the door close behind them, my heart rate increases. If Anibe’s eyes carried guns, they could knock me down with the way she’s staring coldly at me.
“I am sorry, sis.” I mutter with the last energy left in me.
“Sorry about what exactly?” she shrugs and stares at her fingers. “You did the right thing, if you asked me. I know big bro hurts badly now but sooner or later, he would come to understand you made the right decision for the both of you.”
I look at her and realize she’s lost a lot of weight. I have been too engrossed in my own issues to remember her. Such a terrible friend.
“How’s the doctor?”
Anibe rolls her eyes. “Somewhere in his hometown preparing for his wedding this weekend, I guess.”
I couldn’t hide the shock in my voice. “Wait, what? What do you mean by he is preparing for his wedding this weekend?”
My friend’s eyes fill up with tears as she narrates her most recent unfortunate ordeals. Exactly two weeks ago today, she saw a post by Uche, one of her colleagues while serving the country as a youth corp member three years ago on Instagram. Uche’s close female friend was getting married and so said the post. However, what struck Anibe was the face of the man in the pre-wedding photo Uche posted. He looked really familiar – same features as her doctor – and she tried so hard to convince her mind that he was only a lookalike until she read the next post bearing the wedding invitation card.
“Wait…” I shush Anibe in my bid to try to digest what she’s saying. “You mean that the doctor had been engaged all these times he was with you? Like you were his girlfriend in Ibadan and there’s the girl he’s planning marriage with somewhere else? You mean you never suspected anything?”
Anibe swallows against a thick ball on her throat. A few times while together, she’d noticed some creepy calls but the doctor always got around with it, giving an excuse or the other. Sometimes he would say it was a clingy patient or at other times, an over-demanding patient relative. Either ways, Anibe never saw a reason he should lie to her.
“I just believed him blindly, Ile. I just let him use my brain at will” The tap in Anibe’s eyes broke and hot searing tears gush down uncontrollably.
I hurry to grab her now shaking body in my hands and hug her tightly.
“Did you confront him?”
“There was no need. My corper girl said the couple she posted have been together for as long as she knows. And that she finished from the same school with the bride-to-be. Apparently, she’d known them together that long.”
“But how could he have such a blossoming relationship, a relationship with marriage plans already ongoing and still come after you? What was he trying to prove? His ability to win a girl’s heart regardless? Why are some men so callous?” I reel out the questions in no particular order, unable to hide my frustration
Anibe begins to weep bitterly again. “He came after me o, Ile. He pursued me so badly. You know I’m not one to get overtly fond of someone but this guy showed me all I needed to see to make me believe he was for real. I have been searching my mind the whole time to see if there was a point I pressured him into pursuing me but no… I can’t find any. None whatsoever.”
“Did you have sex with him?” I ask, bearing no expression whatsoever on my face. I know that’s an insensitive question but I couldn’t help it.
Anibe nods with shame covering her entire existence. Well, that says a lot about how she’s feeling right now – used and abused. When God says not to have sex before marriage, people misunderstand it to mean he’s just being a mean father. Probably, she would have been able to keep her eyes wide open in the relationship if it wasn’t mixed with the uncontrollable bolts of emotions that came with sex. Maybe, her emotions wouldn’t have mingled with her better judgment. Maybe things wouldn’t have gotten this messy. Maybe, just maybe.
I know better than to make her feel worse in her already low state so I just draw her in for a tighter hug,
“God will bring your own man, Anibe. The doctor is not yours. Severally, I’ve asked you to bring him into the house but he’s always giving an excuse or the other. He wanted the relationship shredded in secrecy.” I dab her tears with my fingers. “Just look at how he was able to keep a marriage-driven relationship away from you despite you giving him everything. The doctor deceived you. I want you to look on the bright side, baby. That kind of man could as well be married somewhere and deceive you into marrying him here. What would you have done?”
“But he is a Christian, Ile. A strong believer. He is even a past leader in an internationally recognized Christian body of doctors. How can people serve God so much and lie to the same degree?”
I take in a deep breath. “The heart of a man is desperately wicked, babe. Who can know it?” I raise her chin to look at me. “There are a lot of unbelieving believers working tirelessly in our churches. One just have to be very sensitive. A man of God is also a son of man. Anyone can lie, babe. Please pull…”
The door opens abruptly and we jerk back. Anibe quickly wipes her face with the edge of her shirt as Attah crawls up onto her laps.
“Aunty, why are you crying?”
Oh! Attaah!! What am I ever going to do with this boy? I groan.
Luke acts like he doesn’t notice anything. Perhaps, he doesn’t. He simply tells me that everything is set and he’s ready when we are.
I spring up immediately and motion to Attah. He climbs down from his aunty’s body and tugs at my palm.
“Won’t you tell your aunty to join us?”
He turns to glance at Anibe and faces forward again without uttering a word. Drama king indeed.
“Babe, you should come with us. This is a way to clear your head.”
Anibe hesitates. “You know that’s not possible. Moreover, I am certain Ayegba only wants to see his wife and son, not other attachments.”
“That means I should sit back too then.” Luke cuts in, smiling. “Because I’m neither his wife nor son.”
“Oh no! No. That’s not what I mean.” Anibe tries to defend her statement. She attempts to explain what she means in vain but Luke isn’t bulging. “Alright, you win. Obviously, you’re looking for someone to keep you company in the waiting room when they are having family time.”
“Whatever makes you tag along, ma’am!” Luke gives a cowboy bow and leads the way, Attah and I following behind him and Anibe behind us.
Ayegba meets us at the hospital reception and collapses right into my open arms. For a few minutes, we forget the other persons with us. I want to live in these arms. They make me feel secure, loved, needed, as his hands hold me tighter to his body.
Anibe clears her throat. “We are still here, guys, and with a minor too. Plus, it’s a hospital.”
Ayegba and I chuckle lightly as we withdraw enough to see each other’s faces. “How is she?” I ask. My voice, a whisper.
“Stable. It was a minor issue according to the doctor.”
I feel my entire body relax, heaving a deep sigh of relief.
Ayegba soon lets go of me and walks over to Luke. “Thank you, man. You’re my rock.”
Luke hugs him like a brother. “You deserve everything. And congratulations on your mother.”
Ayegba smiles broadly and even broader as he sees Anibe.
“Our hot handsome boo. You didn’t tell me you were for Ile na, allowing me to be shooting shots in vain.” Anibe’s characteristic jovial voice is back and I’m grateful for it. Only that I get uncomfortable whenever she’s talking to Ayegba like this. My Ayegba.
“Who says it’s in vain? If Ile is not shooting well, you can overtake her o.” Ayegba jeers and everyone laughs. Everyone, except me.
“You guys are not hitting on each other right in front of me, are you?” I ask.
“Not when I am right here.” Luke cuts in and we all turn our attention to him, giving him the “What did he just say?” look.
I think the way our eyes are staring at Luke is beginning to make him a bit uncomfortable.
“What?” he demands and Ayegba and I shrug knowingly. “Thing is I am actually seeing Anibe and I having an argument 13years from now. The argument is about where we first met on our first date…” he turns subtle eyes to Anibe, “you’re saying it was a hospital in Abuja and I’m saying it’s our office space in Lagos. So I am back here in time to actually know where we first went for our first date.”
“It’s definitely at the cinema. I was dying to watch Mulan.”
“Oh yeah! I remember vividly now. You wore a polo on jean and a face cap. Who wears that to a date?”
“Anything goes for a cinema date, except the face cap anyway. I think that was a little bit to the extreme.” Anibe titters lightly.
Ayegba moves a foot forward and claps his hand. “I’m sorry to interrupt your time travel moment but some of us came here to see our sick mother.” he says with a tone full of sarcasm.
Luke eyeballs him coldly in a playful fashion. “Bro, I didn’t interrupt your first date plans with Victory, so don’t try to interrupt mine, please.”
“Wait, is this you asking me on a date?” Anibe is caught up now and we all begin to laugh in an embarrassingly loud manner.
It’s even funnier to think that she doesn’t know what Luke had been up to the whole time?
“Our Uber will arrive in a few minutes. You don’t want to feel like a third wheel in a family reunion, would you?” Luke casts questioning looks on Anibe. His eyes are flirtatious and that bothers me in a strange way. I have to be on the lookout for my friend henceforth. Once beaten, twice shy.
Anibe just giggles on without saying anymore word.
“Please take care of my pretty woman.” Ayegba warns Luke. “And be like daddy.”
“You de craze.” Luke jeers, punching his friend in the arm. Only the two of them understand whatever that ‘be like daddy’ means and I’m not even curious. The only thing I want to do now is see mummy.
I tiptoe beside Ayegba on the hospital walkway as though I stepped on eggshells. The entire environment is quiet, sparkling clean and relaxing. Little wonder patients recover very quickly here.
“Are you ready to meet grandma?” Ayegba squats to ask Attah who’s been unusually quiet and observant in the last few minutes.
Attah nods excitedly, shifting his entire weight from one foot to another.
My heart skips several heartbeats when Ayegba turns the knob of the door leading to mummy’s room. A pine flavoured room freshener greets my nose at the entrance and I let myself take in every bit of it. Mummy is sitting up on her bed with a straw coloured line fixed to the back of her palm. She looks tired and pale but not any less beautiful than I’ve always known her. Her hair is fixed and neatly packed in a light green hairnet. She’s also in the hospital admission green coloured robe.
We exclaim at the same time as though planned. I hurry over and collapse into her open arms and she hugs me warmly. Tears drop down my face as all the memories from those times years back comes wetting the soil of my mind.
“I didn’t know why you left, Victory. And my son had been mad at me since then.”
“I am sorry, mum.” Ayegba says, almost on his knees as he trudges forward. “I am deeply sorry.”
“It’s okay, my child.” Mummy turns to me again. “Did you ever think I was going to throw away a girl with my son’s child?”
I lay my head on her breast. “I was afraid, mummy. I was a little girl you cleaned up, I didn’t want to be the reason you’d go at loggerhead with Ayegba.”
“Is this him?” Mummy makes to push herself straighter on the bed. I let go of her, allowing room for Attah to climb onto her laps. “My little prince!” mama rubs her frail palm on Attah’s face. “I never thought I would see this day in my entire life.”
A lone tear drops down her face.
Ayegba and I move closer, flanging her on both sides. “Lord, I thank you. I thank you for keeping me alive till this day.”
Mummy raise her hand and wave in the air, thanking God, praying and saying so many other things. She places a hand on Attah and rains blessings on him.
“Little prince, what is your name?” she asks after finding her voice.
“My name is Attah Ojonugwa Monday.” Attah’s sharp mouth is active again.
“Monday?” mummy turns questioning eyes on us.
“He’s bearing my surname, mummy. I didn’t think it was right to bear Ayegba’s back then.”
Mummy’s eyes leave me to face Ayegba. “You have been mad at me consistently for over eleven years now because of a girl you love so much. You have now met your love, seeing you have a handsome boy and you have not asked her to marry your yeye life yet?”
We both laugh at the way mummy says the ‘yeye’.
Ayegba looks from me to Mummy and back again.
“You’re right.” He stands to his feet. “Hey Vee.”
“What do you want, Ocheme?” I answer back playfully. I love how some things haven’t changed.
“Will you marry me?”
Mummy holds onto Attah enough for me to stand up too. “If you’re going to ask me, you better do it proper.”
“Yes ma’am.” He says and makes his way round to the side of the bed I’m standing.
He walks gently and carefully, as if trying to avoid something on the ground. A few inches from me, he pats his pocket for a ring that I’m assuming he’s been carrying for a long time and pull it out, keeping it in his palm. He’s probably just been waiting for the right moment. This must be it.
My hands are still on my hips, my eyes wide as he draws nearer me. I am not expecting this.
He bends on one knee in front of me. My hand goes to my mouth and there’s a collection of gasps from mummy and Attah.
“Victory Ileanwa Monday, I have loved you since you were our little girl in the house. I know things got messed up at a point but I promise to make it up to you every day. So now, I want to ask if you would do me the immense honour of wearing my ring, taking my name and becoming my only wife in life. Please, marry me.”
I nod. There are tears in my eyes and I want to pull him up and hug him right away. “Yes, Ayegba. Yes a million times over, I’ll marry you.”
He pulls my hand forward and slide the ring on, kissing my finger before drawing me in for a tight hug. There’s an applause from mum and Attah behind us but that’s not all I hear. There’s applause coming from the entrance door too. Luke and Anibe are clapping loudly. My eyes look intently in that direction. I’m not sure if I’m seeing a figure but as Luke gives way for him to come in proper, I affirm I’m not dreaming.
The bouquet of flowers in his hands are shining and beautiful. He walks gently towards us and Ayegba leaves hugging me to face him squarely. Not in a combative form but with the demeanor of a helpless soldier. Mona comes to a standstill a few steps away from Ayegba.
“Being with Ile these past few years made me understand why you sacrificed everything to go find her. Some ladies are not mere humans. The depth and genuineness of their love makes one want to believe that God must be a woman. The truth is no one knows why love picks some more than others.” He sniffs in and gives Ayegba a shoulder to shoulder hug. “Still… Congratulations, Man.”
The applause that mellowed down earlier goes up again and I just stand there, hand-in-hand with Ayegba grateful for how everything has turned out. Ayegba brings his face so close to mine there’s not much space for air to pass.
“I love you, Vee. Let me love you with a love that is more than love.”
PLEASE MARRY ME – GRACE OCHIGBO
- What is(are) your most salient lesson(s) from this story?
- Who is your favourite character and who would you never forget?
Today, I complete my ninth story series and I must admit through it all that to God alone be all the glory for creativity, concepts and ideas. It’s one thing to have a story idea and another to wrap them all together before putting them on paper. God has been super faithful.
As you must have seen rummaging all around my stories, I make deliberate efforts to show you that love is real. You see, because God is real, and God is love, hence love is real.
As a writer, I’ve come to realize these three things;
- No one has a perfect story.
- No story has a perfect ending.
- And it’s never too late for any story to have a better ending.
We all are striving towards perfection. In the course of my writing journey, I’ve transited beautifully from love, happiness, joy, sorrow, pain, betrayal, lies and deceit in my own personal life. I can say I’ve had my fair share of the two extreme fates of love and relationships. If you’ve ever thought my life was full, know today that my life is not full inspite of disappointments, it’s full because of them.
We have so much love to give.
May the world be a better place because love beings like us still exist.
Let me drop by greeting you in Igala Language; Agbá o!!!