PLEASE MARRY ME – GRACE OCHIGBO
“I am coming, ma’am.” I screamed out loud as I ran up the fleet of stairs.
Mum was sitting on the edge of the bed and the way I opened the door must have jerked dad up from sleep.
“I am here, mum. What’s up?” I asked, giggling.
The smiles on my face soon disappeared when I saw the seriousness on mum’s face. The make-up on her face appeared a little bit smeared and I wondered whether she planned on sleeping in that. With her eyes, she motioned me to draw the chair in front of the reading desk closer and take a seat. My mind began to race as it tried to figure out what could be so important and couldn’t wait till morning.
Mum pushed her entire weight more into the bed so as to get a straighter view of my face and I swallowed a fearful feeling pushing up my gut.
“Why is there so much noise downstairs you couldn’t even hear me call you until I dialed your number?” She asked with a stern tone.
I let out a shaky laugh. Victory and I had been playing video games all evening and because she won this last round – I just had to let her win anyway – she’s been screaming in excitement continuously.
“We are sorry, mum. Vee just won the…”
“Vee?” Mum cut in, raised her right eyebrow and lowered the other one.
“Victory!” I corrected myself immediately. “Victory won her first round of the game and we were just being excited about that feat.”
Mum scoffed. “Oh! You now have a special name for her? Vee?” She asked the question like she needed a response but didn’t wait for one.
“You look nice.” She said and sized me up from head to toe with her wide eyeballs.
That complement took me aback and I reflexively sized myself up too in one straight glance.
“You should wear T-shirts more often.” She added.
I shifted uncomfortably on my seat. “Thanks, mum.” I replied, unsure of where all those were headed.
“What do you think you’re doing, son?”
Alarm went off in my brain that instant and I hesitated a bit before answering. “I am playing video games with Victory, mum.”
Mum scoffed louder and contorted her face in a rather pitiful manner. “Isn’t that exciting?”
Mum had her way around sarcasm and it can be heard clearly even in the market square.
I simply took in a deep breath and tried to keep a straight face. “We should do better, I know. We are sorry for doing the right thing at the wrong time, mum. I promise we are going into our different rooms right after this round.”
A warm smile of satisfaction danced around mum’s face. The type on the face of a mother watching her baby walk for the first time. She squared her shoulder and drew in more air through her nose.
“You know, Victory is just like her parents.” She voiced out with sympathy in her tone.
I furrowed my forehead in confusion. “Mum, Victory lost her parents at age two. Even she doesn’t know her parents, let alone you.”
Mum smiled broader now, a rather sarcastic smile that never quite got to her face. “Yeah, true. But I know one thing for sure about them though. The fact that they’d got nothing…”
My eyeballs widened in their sockets at that rather demeaning statement but mum wasn’t done yet.
“And I know she’s got nothing too.” She added and held my gaze. “Victory is not your type, Ayegba and can never be. How many times do I have to tell you that?”
I swallowed a bowl of anger and willed myself to stay calm.
“We are just friends.” I said slowly.
“Just friends.” Mum said with an unbelieving tone.
She got up and walked over to her dressing table. Different uncountable sizes and types of creams stood neatly arranged on it.
My eyes followed her the entire distance.
“Just friends.” She muttered again, almost inaudibly.
I carefully turned my entire form on the seat to face her properly as she picked up a bottle filled with misty brown liquid. She poured some of the liquid on a piece of clean white clothing material and began dabbing the material on her face.
“Just friends. Aren’t you sick of telling that sad story?” She asked.
I sighed and placed my two already sweaty palms on my hips. “What is so sad about being friends with Victory, mum?” I asked with my voice slightly raised.
Mum dropped the bottle in her hand and stared at me. “Are you being rude to your mum?”
“NO, ma’am.” I replied calmly, nodding my head from side to side.
“Wifey!” Dad’s voice dragged our both attentions to his place on the bed.
I am not sure if he’s been awake the whole time while mum and I talked but he squinted his eyes to avoid the bright lights.
“You aren’t leaving just me in bed tonight, are you?”
Mum smacked her lips. “I am talking to my son.” She said mindlessly, turned to face me and I felt a trembling sensation in my upper body. “I am trying to teach him something.”
Dad just sank back into the bed without uttering another word. Mum left off her dressing table and headed in my direction, my heart in my mouth the whole time. She drew so close to me like she planned to penetrate my skin if possible. She leaned in and placed a peck on my right cheek.
“Night, baby boy!” she said with a dismissive tone as she headed to the bed.
It took me half a minute to catch myself enough to enable me trudge out of my parents’ bedroom, my legs trembled underneath me the whole time. Mum had this intimidating aura around her that made you naturally want to take her words as final in your best interest.
Outside the door, I stood for a few minutes ruminating over her words. Then, I clutched my long fingers around the railings on the stairs as I pushed my still trembling self downwards. There was no sound coming from the sitting room. That meant the video game was still paused and Victory was still waiting for me. I paused a moment to get a grip on myself, forced a smile on my face like a mask before proceeding.
From the center of the sitting room, Victory looked up in my direction with eager eyes. She got up and hurried over to meet me halfway.
“What did mum say?”
I ensured the fake smile was firmly plastered on my face before speaking.
“Dad just took his diabetes medications and needs to sleep but our noise is not helping.” I lied.
Victory flashed her eyeballs in a manner that made her look even more beautiful. “Oh oh! So sorry. We have to pack up now but I promise you, I am going to win all the rounds tomorrow…” she said, poked me playfully and continued to unplug the game pads from the television.
I stood glued to one spot, wondering how much of an innocent girl Victory was. Never suspecting that anyone meant or would intentionally do wrong to her.
“Ayegba, please come help me…”
Her pleading voice jerked me from my thoughts as she’s struggling to pull one of the cables from the socket. I dashed over to her but as I bent to look closer at the cable she’s motioning me to, my eyes caught something. So not to make her feel uncomfortable, I simply refocused and pulled the cable out first.
“Thank you!” she giggled with excitement. “I don’t know why this thing always refuses to come off in my own hands every time.” She groaned.
I let out a genuine smile, completely forgetting the odd feelings I had battled with a moment ago.
“Maybe you should eat akpu more. Like me.” I said, tightened my fist and stretched my well-built hands out.
She giggled at that gesture and tried to do the same. She tightened her fist and stretched out her two hands and right there, even clearer than earlier, my eyes caught the deep scar on her right hand. When she found my eyes staring at it, she withdrew the hand immediately but it was too late.
I drew nearer her, cupped her face in my palm with my right hand and with my other hand, I pulled her right hand out from where she’d hidden it at her back. My eyes looked into hers searchingly.
“What happened to you here?” I asked.
She blinked and tried to snap her face but my hands gripped onto it tighter. I heard her heartbeat loud in my ears and saw how the blood drained from her face as I demanded an answer.
“Victory, what burnt you here?” I asked again and this time, she broke down and began to cry.
She took the next few minutes to narrate an experience she claimed to have never told anyone before. It was her aunt who pressed a hot knife on her hand when she unintentionally burnt a pot of food.
“I deserved it sha. I should never have dozed off while cooking.” She said, forcing herself to giggle.
I sighed deeply. “Hmmm. I am glad you find this funny, Vee.”
“Tragedy is funny, Ayegba.” She cut in. “Sometimes you got to laugh to keep from crying.”
“Right.” I concurred.
I moved backwards a bit to watch her more intensely. “I know you love the stars and the galaxies, and the Milky Way and all those…”
Victory began to laugh now, although careful not to attract mum’s attention. “I do love them very much.”
“Yea.” I slipped my palms into my jean. “I love you.” I said slowly. “Very much.”
Her eyeballs popped out so much so that they almost dropped to the floor. She looked at my face and I nodded in the affirmative.
“I love you, Vee and I want to bring the galaxy to you.” I took in deep calming breaths, closed the little distance between us and took her scarred right hand. “The scars make you even more beautiful and I want you to know that whatever this is, wherever this takes us, I am with you.”
She gasped and I smiled reassuringly.
“Every step, every moment, I am with you, Vee. I am in. I am so in.”
She chuckled softly, still finding it hard to believe her ears.
“And uhm…” I paused, rubbed my tongue over my lower lips and continued. “I figured if we’re going to get married, we have a lot to talk about.”
Her face brightened with genuine affection colouring her eyes.
“Married?” She asked.
“Yeah.” I nodded. “So no more secrets between us, Vee, okay?” I gave her a questioning look.
She chucked more and nodded shyly, all smiles. “No more secrets, Ayegba.”
I looked on at her with my eyes bearing the full weight of the skyscraper height of affection my heart had built for her. “I love you, Vee. I love you, I do. Madly.”
The continuous ringing on my phone is deafening me right now. It’s dragging my thoughts back into my body at all cost as I lay tiredly with my back against the bed. I deliberately didn’t join in for dinner at the table tonight. I am still pissed at Vee over her attitude this afternoon and have avoided her since she came into the house earlier in the evening. She’d tried to start conversations about irrelevant things like her choice of colour for the toaster but I could really care less at that point. Mona and Attah arrived much later and that was enough distraction for the two of us.
Thankfully, Attah has been sleeping all evening, long before dinner was served. Guess he’s jetlagged and it’s very sensitive of Vee to have tucked him into bed in Mona’s room instead. I don’t think I can bear any question and answer session from the poor boy with my shattered mood right now.
I am hoping Vee will do the needful tonight considering the fact that she’s alone with Mona at the dining table. However we see it, she’s still in the best position to open up to him. I still love her today as much as I did back then even amidst the growing opposition from mum. Every fibre in me still wants to marry her, but I may have to let go even though that means I will suffer for the rest of my life. I’ve learned that suffering doesn’t destroy faith, it refines it.
My phone buzzes and begins to ring again and I groan loudly. I tap my hands on the corner of the bed the sound is coming from without looking, grab the device and bring it to my face. Seeing the caller’s ID, I clear my throat and swipe the receive icon.
“You are going to damage my phone’s battery if you continue like this.” I yell.
“AY baby, where are you and why have you been avoiding my calls?”
I roll my eyeballs. “I have been busy.”
The person on the other side of the phone takes in a deep breath and I hear it. “I miss you, baby.”
“Is that what you’ve been calling my phone incessantly to say or there is something more important?” I ask. The conversation is already pissing me off.
“There’s nothing more important than my feelings for you, baby. I miss you so much. When are you coming home?”
I press my sweaty palm to my forehead to wipe off the little trickles of sweat already forming there.
The voice courses through my ears again.
“Are you there?”
“Eh… mmmm…” I stammer, unsure of what’s best to say.
A loud tap on my door makes me jump to a sitting position. “I got to go now, talk to you later.” I say hurriedly and end the call amidst grunts and rants from the other side.
I readjust myself properly, rub my palm over my hair, and pull my T-shirt down before croaking out.
“Yes, come in.”
The door flings open and Mona walks in. Honestly, my heart is skipping several beats at the mere sight of him. He suddenly looks taller, larger and fatter than usual. I know it’s my eyes deceiving me but I couldn’t help it.
“Buddy, wondering why you didn’t join us for dinner.” He says smiling and offers me a hand.
I take it politely, not sure whether what he just said is a question or not.
“Sorry man! Having this unfinished business to catch up with.” I lie.
Well, yes, my mind has been catching up with businesses from the past and even the last call is huge enough business, so technically speaking, I am not lying.
Mona chuckles, revealing his perfect dentition.
“Look man, I am sorry things have been somehow since you arrived…” He starts.
What’s he talking about? My mind is struggling to stay calm.
“…you know sometimes you cannot decide how these things go in our line of work.” He adds in an apologetic tone.
I catch myself letting out a deep breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding onto.
“Are you okay?” Mona asks, curiosity building in his eyes for the first time since he stepped in here.
“Ah! Perfect!” I cut in, clapping my hands in the air. “I can be better though but I am okay. Perfect.” A smile is playing around my lips, I’m guessing it’s convincing enough.
“Up for a drive?” Mona asks. “I haven’t had time to show you the city since you arrived.”
I try to wave off the idea with my hands.
“Oh! Not to worry, man. I am not so new to Ibadan, plus it’s already past 8pm. I doubt if Ibadan is a 24/7 city too like Lagos. Moreover, you need to rest from a long day.” I shrug, motioning a look of concern to him.
Mona smiles and pats me on the shoulder. “Let’s go, man.”
He gets up and exits the room.
I hesitate for a moment, wondering whether I am just supposed to stand up too and follow him. I am wondering why he’s suddenly interested in going for a drive. Maybe, just maybe, Vee has finally opened up to him. So in his wisdom, he wants us to talk outside the house where we can probably exchange blows like man-to-man without drawing undue attention.
I laugh at my own thoughts, forcefully push my legs into a pair of leather slippers and joins Mona outside.
The drive is quiet for the first ten minutes. It’s like both of us are struggling to find a starting point for our much needed conversation. I relax more into my seat and let the soothing sounds of YOU ARE THE REASON by Calum Scott feat Leona Lewis coming from the DVD player of the car fill my ears. The cool breeze from the air conditioner saturates my skin and gives me a rather refreshing feeling that makes my life envy my skin in this very moment. If only my life could feel just an iota of this refreshment.
“So how’s it been all these years?” Mona asks, finally tearing apart the blanket of silence covering us the whole time.
I swallow and shrug. “Well. Well. Well. Too much time done past, man. I don’t recommend getting older. Less people to talk to, more time to go over every regret.”
“Hmmm.” Mona says as he takes the right turn from the express.
The road here is a quiet long stretch in front of us. The only sounds are from the angry barks of security dogs, and a soft distant sound from a club house just ahead. Looks like this side of town shuts down earlier than most.
“So how’s it been going for you too?” I return his question. It’s okay to share the spotlight, sometimes.
Mona shrugs and divides his attention between me and the road. I doubt if he has any destination in mind, we are just driving straight ahead.
“Well, work, work, work.” He says, gripping the steering wheel firmer. “Sometimes I wonder if this job is truly worth all the risks. Remember we used to talk about it back then. How did we even tag it again?” He places one hand on his chin and drives on with the other.
I chuckle lightly. “Risk assessment survey?”
“Yes!” He hits the steering hard and begins to laugh out loud. “Kai, we were just two naughty boys, kowe!”
The way he ends his statement with an exclamation in Hausa language makes me laugh.
Yeah. I remember.
Back then, we loved to talk about the risk that came with being in the Nigerian army a lot and if it was worth losing one’s life serving this country. We soon came to a conclusion that if loyalty was a colour, it would have meant different shades to different people. For us, loyalty meant no retreat, no surrender.
“Papa no de o.
Mama no de o.
If you want to kill me, kill me make I die,
I will forever be loyal to this country.”
Was one of our heartfelt parade anthems.
After our enlistment into the army, we were to undergo a compulsory six-months training. This was usually the hardest part for everyone as you’d not be allowed to go out of the base, neither can you make or receive calls. So many boys withdrew at this stage after a few life-and-death rudiments but something kept me going. The mere thought that each new day drew me nearer to when I’ll go home and see Vee again was enough motivation for me. But by the fourth month, I couldn’t sustain the drive anymore and that was when Mona was really helpful.
His father was a major general in the army so he had his way around some top officials. Somehow, he managed to get a weekend off for me and I dashed to Ankpa from Kaduna as fast as I could. I got home with excitement only to meet the rudest shock of my life.
Vee was nowhere to be found.
“Mum, what do you mean nowhere to be found?” I yelled at the top of my lungs.
“It’s been two months since I last set my eyes on her, son.”
Mum was sitting on the settee with her feet raised onto a sidestool in front of her. Her nonchalant responses infuriated me so much so that all the blood in me boiled red hot.
“Mum, I am talking to you. Did she leave a message for me? A note? Anything? Her phone number is not going through.” I barked.
Mum shrugged. “Mmmm. Yes. Eh… She left her phone. Yes. It’s on her bed.”
I dashed into where used to be Victory’s room. The paintings on the walls were the same, the room brought back so many memories but instead of soothing me as they used to, they tortured me. I found the said phone on her bed, picked it up and powered it. Unable to sit, I remained standing as I scanned through the phone only to discover it was empty.
No text messages, no call records, no contacts, nothing.
The Nokia 3310 was as good as brand new.
I stormed into the sitting room to face mum.
“Mum, don’t tell me you sent the girl away.” I couldn’t control my anger at this point anymore.
Mum chuckled lightly. “Isn’t it just exciting that my son is not in the least concerned about the wellbeing of his poor widow of a mother instead, about a total stranger?”
I slammed the cushion hard. “Vee is not a stranger, mum, and you know it.”
She smiled again and it killed me. She told me something about ‘all these girls not knowing how to sit their ass in one place’. That no matter how well you took them in, their eyes were always outside, looking for one boy or the other to deceive them into disappearing with him.
“No. No.” I rebuffed that idea. “Vee could never have run away with any man, mum. We both know it.”
Mum smacked her lips and rose to her feet. “Well, I thought she would be different and that was why I took her in as a daughter. But it’s obvious you cannot take a pig from the mud. She would always find her way back in.”
The analogy she gave broke my heart and only God knew what I would have done to her if she was not my mother. She told me that after a month of intense search, her friend Mrs. Ogobia advised her not to worry herself, because two of her own former house-helps have disappeared with a man like that.
“Vee didn’t run after a man.” I yelled and shushed mum. “I am her man. I am the only man in her life. Where did you drive her off to, mum?” I held her shoulder and shook her vigorously.
Her jaw dropped as she looked on at me unable to believe my attempt at violating her.
“I am sorry, mum!” I apologized and let go of her. “She promised me she would be here when I got back, mum. She did.” I broke down as tears clouded my vision.
Mum tiptoed until she was only an inch away from me and drew me in for a tight hug.
“I have always told you she was not your type, son.”
And as though those words were a flame dropped in a field of dry grasses, I withdrew from mum and stared back at her with blood shot eyes. She swallowed nervously.
“So you drove her away to prove your point, didn’t you?” I confronted mum and the way she blinked her eyes in fear gave me just about the answer I needed. “Mum, you took the home for my heart out the day you threw Vee out. This place can only remain a cocoon without her.” I stressed.
Mum tried to speak but I stopped her.
“Good bye, mum!” I screamed, picked my back pack and exited the house, the door banging hard in mum’s face.
By the time I returned to the base the next day, I’d been completely spent. My brain tried to figure out where Vee may be, if she was safe. I hated my mother with every fibre in me and swore on my father’s grave that she was never going to see me again. My training routine expectedly took a turn for the worse. I was always flogged out from the dorm by senior soldiers and arrived late at parade ground only to receive more punishment. I got more and more frustrated by the day as I tried to move past the new reality that I was never going to set my eyes on Victory again.
Mona tried to his best to know what changed in me. I was no longer the vibrant young soldier everyone looked up to in the platoon, I was chickening out. I had become becoming weak.
“I guess this is payback for helping you get an exit to see your lover, huh?” Mona showed his displeasure when he found me sitting by myself under a tree dead in the night.
I turned to look at him. “No, Man.”
He hesitated and came to sit beside me on the wooden bench. He placed his hand on my shoulder, looked in the direction I was looking at for a long time before saying anything.
“What happened at home?” He asked with concern in his voice.
“My mother sent my girl out of the house.” I spilt out like liquid fire from my gut.
Mona took in a deep breath. I felt his sympathy for me oozing out of him.
“Oh, how mum just made me hate her. Why would she do that to me? And then she comes up with this lame story that my girl could have ran away with another man.”
“It could be the true story too, you know?” Mona cut in.
I shot him a look that could have pieced him instantly if my eyes carried bombs. How dared him?
“Well, I am sorry but why do you trust the girl more than you believe your mum.” He started and I honestly subdued the temptation to punch him in the nose. “You have been completely incommunicado with this girl for a whole four months. What if she couldn’t bear it any longer?”
I took in a deep breath and held it. That too was an angle to consider, I agreed.
“But I never knew she was unhappy.” I voiced out my frustration. “She promised me she would wait for me.”
Mona cleared his throat and grabbed the edge of the bench with his hand. “She probably wasn’t unhappy, man. Most times you’re happy until someone comes around and shows you something different.”
I titter slightly as Mona’s voice jerks me back from my thoughts.
“Why do you easily get carried away? You haven’t changed, huh?” He asks, smiling.
“Eh… uh…” I stammer.
He shakes his head to mean ‘don’t bother explaining’ before continuing.
“So I was asking, did you find her?”
My brain stutters for a moment and my eyes take in more light than it is healthy.
“Her, who?” I ask
Mona bits his lips hard. “Your girl from the army days. The one you couldn’t get over. Did you eventually find her?”
Every part of me pauses while my thoughts try to catch up with the possible answers for the question.
TO BE CONTINUED.
Longest read today, isn’t it?
- Do you still think Ayegba had been too harsh on his mother all these years?
- Who could that person that called Ayegba be?
- Do you think Ileanwa had told Mona anything yet?
- Do you think Ayegba should just spill it at this point?