PLEASE MARRY ME – GRACE OCHIGBO
My ten year old self had been extremely grateful at the opportunity to leave my uncle’s house. Back then, it felt like the best thing that happened to me, even when I didn’t know the way ahead. There was a consolation in finally breaking free from Aunty’s ravaging anger and bitter tongue. At least, I was free from long days of running endless errands, long unrestful nights from the pangs of hunger biting hard against my intestines.
It was Uncle himself who drove me to Anyigba; to a house with purple gate. I especially remember that landmark fondly because it made me laugh hard that very day.
Who paints a gate purple?
As we entered, uncle made me sit on the cemented floor in front of him while he took his seat on the couch. The couches were patterned brown in colour and the smell of old urine filled the sitting room. In what seemed like an entire year, a round and short woman finally pushed herself through a door that looked too narrow for her. Uncle greeted her fondly as she took a seat opposite us.
“This is the girl, Ma. She’s healthy and ready to do whatever work you assign to her.” Uncle said, grinning from ear to ear.
I strapped my Ghana-must-go bag to my chest tighter and pushed my legs more inwards until I am only a round ball sitting on a small area of the room. The big woman, I later got to know as mummy Sarah, looked at me with her wide eyeballs, as though sizing me up from head to toe. She didn’t look pleased to see me in the very least and never made the slightest effort to hide that. Without uttering a word, I watched her count four pieces of hundred naira notes before dropping them in Uncle’s eager hands.
“Thank you, madam. You’ll enjoy her, I promise.” He said with excitement before turning to me. “Be a good girl, okay? This is your new home.”
Shortly after Uncle left, mummy Sarah spelt out some sets of rules and ensured my two hands held tightly to my ears as she spoke. The rules were so many that I didn’t even assimilate up to three. I was, however, determined to stay loyal to her.
Exactly three years of dutifully serving her, mummy Sarah summoned me into her bedroom one early morning. I left my Uncle’s house in primary four and had been unable to go to school since then. Mummy Sarah owned a buka and I doubled as house help and salesgirl. She needed me around every time and so it was unrealistic for her to put me in school. She hardly called me into her bedroom let alone to hold any discussion with me. So I was sore scared to say the least as I watched Mummy Sarah struggle to speak up. It looked as if someone was pushing his entire weight down her throat, making it impossible for her to breathe. She was very weak from the crown of her head to the sole of her feet and the tiny part of her that felt a ray of life, she held onto it.
“I have called my sister to come take you this morning. I want you to pack your things and be ready before she arrives. Please take good care of yourself.” She said dismissively.
Sorrowful tears streamed down my face as I watched my ever energetic Mummy Sarah draw in her last streams of breath, slow and easy.
Less than an hour later, her sister arrived. Mrs. Ogobia, she introduced herself. She was also on the big side but not as round as mummy Sarah. She bolted the door behind her as she went in to talk to Mummy Sarah after urging me to wait for her in the car. I couldn’t understand a thing in all that was going on but a part of me knew something was not right. Several minutes later, Mrs. Ogobia walked out of the room with her head bent to the right and her eyeballs as red as tatashe. When she saw my curious eyes, she forced an unconvincing smile on her lips and motioned me towards the car.
Two days after my arrival at Mrs. Ogobia’s house, she called me into her kitchen to inform me about Mummy Sarah’s passing on. I cried uncontrollably that day. Mummy Sarah may not have given me formal education but she taught me so many things in her own little way. I learnt hardwork, smiling through pain and strength from her. Because she let me keep some part of our sales from the buka every week and demanded for the aggregate every three months, I learnt how to safeguard money.
Soon enough, I settled into Mrs. Ogobia’s house properly. The house is nothing like mummy Sarah’s. Mrs. Ogobia’s house is bigger; five rooms with each room having a bathroom, compared to Mummy Sarah’s two bedroom apartment. There’s a large vegetable garden at the back of the house and Mrs. Ogobia had two other ladies working for her aside me. She enrolled me in the local government primary school a walking distance from the house but unfortunately, I had to begin from primary two because the teachers there felt my command of English language wasn’t good enough. There was no reason to complain or hesitate as I was even much more grateful at my new madam’s thoughtfulness. I took every day as it came, like a new fresh page of a note opened up to me and me having so much power to make it just slid past like the ones in the past or make it count.
After working for two years in Mrs. Ogobia’s house, she called me very early in the morning one fateful Saturday. A ball of fear crept up my feet until it found a home in my pounding chest. I ran into our bathroom to say a short word of prayer underneath my breath; begging God not to let the cold hands of death take my new madam again. I begged him fervently to heal Mrs Ogobia if she was also sick like her sister, Mummy Sarah. I prayed almost to the point of tears and when Mrs. Ogobia’s voice came sharply through my ears, I knew there was no running away.
“Ma??” I replied, loud enough for her to hear, pushed my legs into my bathroom slippers and hurried over to her room.
Mrs. Ogobia’s room looked like heaven to me back then. Everything had the touch of gold, down to her bed frame. Chief Ogobia, her husband, was a very wealthy man but never around much. He was always off to this business trip or the other.
“You want me to call you until my brain snaps, huh?” Mrs. Ogobia barked, as soon as I pushed her door open.
“I am sorry, Mummy.” I said, getting down on my knees right at the door frame.
As if my response provoked her even more, she frowned. “Who is your mummy? C’mon, would you come in properly and close my door for me? Nonsense girl. Do you pack cotton buds in your ears or something?”
I wanted to reply “no” or just nod my head from side to side, anything to let her know that my delayed response to her was because I was praying. I was praying away the possibility that maybe she was about to die also. I just knelt there, glued to the floor in silence.
“Now, I want you to listen to me and listen well.” She said, got up and headed in my direction.
The minutes following that time had Mrs. Ogobia explaining some things to me; things that arranged my entire life into mere pairs of coins in an angry man’s pocket. The coins flipped from one side to the other at will with so much speed that there’s no time to seek anyone’s consent.
I’ve learnt that life throws curves at you. You think it’s moving one way, and suddenly realize it’s heading back in the opposite direction. Growing up, it was difficult for me to know, let alone say what I will want to be in five years. A curve of life or the other ever so frequently came flying at me and in all those times, I wasn’t sure whether I should try to hit it, catch it or just step out of the way.
Not much has changed till now.
The sun is quick to push herself out this morning. My gut tells me that the sun is female; a bright, noisy and attention-seeking female. Perhaps, like me, she was unable to sleep the entire night too.
Insomnia moved in with me pretty much in the past three days but last night would conveniently be the official housewarming party of our cohabitation. I exhausted all the sleep-inducing techniques I know, still to no avail. There’s an ill feeling coursing through my lower abdomen, like my gut is ever so ready to spill out its entire content. For a notorious glutton, it’s been a state of emergency with no food appealing to my appetite. And although it felt like death the entire time, I guess I succeeded in not stepping foot in Mona’s house since the morning I left three days ago.
My white lie being that we’ve been having so many photo sessions at the studio and that they all must all be edited and delivered within two to three days.
I only needed some time to myself.
I needed to reflect on my life and every single ounce of flesh left covering my weak bones.
I kill my car’s engine and draw in a deep breath before unstrapping the seat belt that feels like cuffs on my body. Picking my blue coloured pair of block-heeled shoe from the backseat, I slide my big feet into them and push my weight out of the car, dragging my laptop bag and hand bag with me. Gracefully, my legs push me towards the short fleet of stairs until I open the door to my studio.
“Oh. We thought you’re not coming anywhere around here today.”
“Anibe! Oh my God, you startled me.” I groan, clamping onto the laptop bag that nearly dropped off my hand.
Anibe smirks and begins to walk towards my office, shaking her buttocks to my face. I bit my lips in a bid to subdue the feeling of lashing out on my receptionist who is just standing behind her desk and smiling at God-knows-what.
“Are you coming to get this bag or not?” I say, raising my voice some.
The young lady jumps from her position behind the front desk to where I am standing in less than a second.
“I am sorry, Madam. Good morning, Ma.”
“Ile!” I correct, eyeballing her coldly as I hand her the laptop bag and head into my office behind Anibe.
She’s sitting on my chair and if I didn’t know her better, I would fall for her trap today.
“So you’re not serious with your work anymore, huh?” She asks, waving her right hand carelessly in my direction.
“I am not serious with my work? Says who?” curiosity fills my eyes.
“Ify, your receptionist, said that this morning.” Anibe casts a daring gaze at Ify, as if daring her to deny it.
“Ah Madam!” Ify is almost on her knees. “I didn’t say you’re not serious with your work, Ma o. Madam Anibe asked when last we saw you around here and I said three days ago.” Her voice begins to break.
“Eheh? And what’s the difference between my statement and yours? Someone who doesn’t come to work for three whole days is not serious with her work na, abi?” Anibe swirls herself victoriously on my seat.
I smile at first and then, begin to laugh. If you don’t know Anibe well enough, you’re never going to tell her jokes from her seriousness. I turn to Ify with a smile to cheer her up.
“Go back to your desk, dear. Don’t mind this trouble maker.”
Anibe burst in a loud round of laughter that breaks into the still air and soon enough, Ify and I join her until the scenery resembles three college old friends chatting away and having fun.
“Where are Chuks and Dayo?” I ask as Ify finally turns to leave.
The young lady presses her hands on her hips and smacks her lips hard. “Ehm… Chuks called in sick earlier this morning. Dayo just went out to get lunch, Ma.”
“Lunch at this time?” the exclamation drastically reduces as my eyes meet the wall clock. Slowly, I let my lips close back until I am able to replace the initial shock on my face with a smile. “Oh! It’s past noon already?” my voice is inaudible. “Alright. Go ahead, Ify. Well… mmmm… Tell Dayo to see me when he gets back.”
Ify quickly disappears behind the door and I take in a deep breath. My seat is being occupied by the bigger madam so I drop myself in one of the two seats facing her.
“Aside time, what else are you not oriented in?” Anibe calls out, tapping her long neatly manicured nails on the screen of her Samsung Galaxy tab.
“Person. I am not oriented in person, ‘cause, you’re so negligible right now.” I say, rolling my eyes. “Who is teaching you all these medical things by the way?”
A blush appears on Anibe’s cheeks and that makes me even more curious. She stares at the screen of her phone for a while before finally summoning the courage to speak.
“I met a man.” She says,
“You meet men every day, Anibe. So?”
“No. No, Ile. This one is different.” She buries her face in her two palms shyly. Anibe wears these fashion rings, about five of them on her fingers per time. She can be that vain. “Let’s rephrase it. I met the man.”
Unbelievable. “We’ve not seen or spoken in just three days and you already met the man? How so?”
“Sometimes all we have is a single day.” Anibe says, clearly inspired by her own seemingly wise words.
I shrug, waiting for her to get over herself and continue.
She swallows and clears her throat. “Thing is, I met him more than a week ago. You and Mona were very busy preparing for the arrival of his handsome friend, so I didn’t want to bug you with it.
“Everything is getting more intense by the day with this guy though and, believe me, I tried to call you but you’ve been unreachable for the past three days. I am sure that your selfish meditation coach has instructed you to stay away from all of us again.”
Again, I roll my eyeballs. Anibe is making me do that a lot today. Ever since she found out about my paid meditation therapy, she never stops taunting me. Meditation has become my only way to pick the pieces of my shattered mind together so as to concentrate on one thing at a time. And with everything going on around me these days, meditation has to be my dearest friend.
“You have not said anything, Anibe. You know right?” I say, furrowing my forehead
Anibe waves her hand carelessly in my face again. “Okay fine. He is a doctor. Just recently graduated from UI, due to start his housemanship but for the pandemic and all the lockdown saga.”
A beaming smile appears on my face. “And our doctor is already teaching you orientation in time, places and persons? Interesting. You must really like this one.”
“He uses that phrase all the time. Like dour!!” Anibe pokes her tongue out and I just nod from side to side, smiling. “And yeah! I do really like him. I have one concern though. Turns out our doctor is such a church boy.”
Confusion fills my expression. “Church boy? How do you mean?”
Anibe shrugs. Her demeanour suddenly changes to an unrecognizable sort. “Ehmm… He goes to church almost every day, having this online conference or the other. Says he’s something…” she places her finger on her chin, trying to remember. “Something… CDA or MCDA or CMDA doctor, I cannot even remember but I know he’s having a lot of online conferences and virtual church meetings these period.”
I burst into laughter. “I think that’s good for you though.”
If eyes carry guns, I should be dead from the way Anibe is staring at me. “What do you mean, Ile?”
“You need some measure of God in your life right now.” I say, trying not to choke from my incessant laughter.
Anibe comes round the table and grabs my neck in her hands, shaking it vigorously in her futile effort to stop me from laughing but I wouldn’t bulge. I laugh and laugh until she is tired of pushing me.
“I hate you.” She curses, jokingly.
“I love you more, Baby!” I say.
She clamps her long hands around my shoulder, letting my head rest soothingly on her flat belly.
“So did you remember to add spiderman ribbon on Attah’s box of cupcakes this time?” she asks.
I jerk up in a hurry, in a manner that makes my head almost hit Anibe’s jaw. “Oh my God!” I exclaim, walking from one end of the office to another. My feet thump hard on the tiled floor. I am done for. How on earth did I forget this? What is happening to me? I ask these questions simultaneously without demanding an answer from anyone in particular.
“Don’t tell me you completely forgot to order Attah’s box of cupcakes?” Anibe couldn’t believe the possibility of that.
Alarm goes off in my head and my heart races faster than an intoxicated horse. Mona reminded me yesterday for crying out loud. My eyes goes to the wall clock again. They will be here anytime from now. We’re going to get Attah from his school. His midterm break is coinciding with the Sallah holidays, so my boy will be staying with us a whole week this time. Our ‘welcome home’ tradition has always been a box of cupcakes. He always looks forward to it.
How on earth did I forget?
The gentle opening of the entrance door drags my attention back into the room. Outside, I hear Mona’s cheerful exchange of pleasantries with Ify. The racing in my heart doubles this time. I feel Anibe’s stabbing eyes shooting so many knives at me. As the door to this office finally opens, I feel like the floor should just open and swallow me.
“Look who we have here?” Anibe says with excitement. “Our very handsome best man, Ayegba. Such a pity the bride is taking forever to give us a date.” She walks past me to give Ayegba a warm embrace and my heart sinks at the sight of it.
Mona walks over to me and hugs me tightly but all my attention is on Anibe and Ayegba.
Thank God there’s the doctor, I think in my mind reflexively, hoping it doesn’t spill out for everyone to hear.
“You know I am Ile’s chief bridesmaid. What a perfect combo we will be that day. I only hope we don’t steal the show from the couple.” Anibe is laughing loudly amidst her statements and Ayegba joins in. There’s something about the way Ayegba spreads out his lips in a broad smile-like laughter. Matured. Leering.
“How are you, baby? You feel better now?” Mona asks, holding my chin up until my lips are barely an inch away from his.
I blink and withdraw immediately. “Eh. Yes. I am fine, Babe. How is the hosting going?” I ask, turning an uneasy smile to Ayegba.
“Believe me he’s the best host yet. Mona has always been quite the domestic guy anyway, so I am not surprised.” Ayegba winks at me and I find it really discomforting.
“Hosting is boring without you around, baby, forget Ayegba. He is just whining me.” Mona says in his characteristic whispery tone. “Now that Attah is coming home, I am sure we would have you around us more often.” He draws nearer.
“Alright loverbirds.” Anibe screams at the top of her lungs, interrupting something that may have happened if Mona had just a single minute more. “You don’t want the little boy thinking no one is coming to get him. Get going guys.” She comes to stand between Mona and I. We laugh and I push my weight backwards to grab my handbag.
Over my shoulders, I notice Ayegba staring at the photo frames on the wall and that makes my heart skip more and more beats in rapid succession.
Attah is running over to us. I detach from Mona’s firm grip to pick up my boy into my arms.
“I have missed you so much, Mummy.” He says as soon as his feet are off the ground.
“I have missed you too, my sunshine.” I push my pouted lips into his cheeks, laughing while at it. “You will be with me for the next one week and I will make it up to you.”
“No.” Attah says, wriggling himself until I let him down gently.
“What do you mean by No, honey?” I ask, turning to seek answers from the two hefty men behind us.
Attah hurries over to Mona and hugs him tightly before doing same thing with Ayegba. “I will stay at Uncle Mona’s place the whole time so Uncle Ayegba here can coach me on basketball.”
“What? No. your holiday is for you to…”
“It’s okay, baby. You can move in with us too. We would be one big family, don’t you think so?” Mona places a hand on my shoulder and draws me into his arms for an embrace.
I let my nerves calm in this position. That my son will choose staying with a total stranger over me for his midterm break isn’t as hurting as the look of satisfaction in Ayegba’s eyes. There’s the look of entitlement in his eyes as he kneels to become same height with Attah and that, for some weird reasons, pisses me off even more.
“Mummy, where’s my box of cupcakes? And hope you made the baker add my spiderman ribbon this time?” Attah calls out to me, his sonorous voice renting the air around us.
“Eh… ehm…” I seek for the best way to break this news. Attah would be distraught, I am sure. My boy hates whenever I give him excuses. He would ask what was so important to make me forget about him. He will be utterly disappointed, I am sure.
“Listen, honey, I …” I stammer.
“It’s in the car, Attah boy!” Mona cuts in. “Ordered this one directly from Paris bakery.”
“Yes!!!” Attah screams out in excitement. “You are the best, Uncle Mona!” he leaves Ayegba to come hug Mona tightly while I just look on in awe.
Mona always knows how to fill in for me, cover me up and not leave me embarrassed before my child.
“Let’s go get your cupcakes, Attah Boy!” Mona announces and hand in hand, they both run towards the car we came in; Ayegba’s.
Standing alone with him feels really awkward. I try to distract myself by looking in the opposite direction. If I am lucky, he would just keep quiet and let the moment slide without drama. But I think I know better so I turn my face away. There’s a woman to the far left. She’s dragging her crying daughter with her, makes me wonder whether the girl is afraid to go home. How’s that?
“He turned ten last month, huh?” Ayegba’s voice courses through my ears, sending sharp signals to my brain. I feel weak at the ankles. As I turn around, I bump into him. Never knew he’d moved this close.
I count one to ten to calm myself before speaking. “I… I … ehm… I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“And the letters you make him write to his father on his birthdays?”
My eyeballs widen as he says that. I lock my hands and tighten them until they turn white at the knuckles.
With the way my chest is beating, I worry it might throw Ayegba into the tree behind him in another second. I try to steady my breath and put on my boldest look yet.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Ayegba.” His name sounds weird coming off my lips. I could taste it on my tongue, the rawness of it. “If you’d excuse me, I want to join my son and his dad.” I walk away immediately without waiting for his response.
I could feel him smiling victoriously as I walk on but I am not going to let that bother me. When the curve of life comes flying at you and you’re not sure whether you should try to hit it, or catch it, sometimes you just step out of the way. And that’s exactly what I am doing – stepping out of the way.
To be continued.
I see a battle line being drawn and my heart goes out to our lady of words, Ileanwa. God will help you o. Lol.
How are you? Hope you’re enjoying the discussion community?
- Do you think Ileanwa can wriggle herself out of this mess? And how?
- What is your opinion on meditation therapies? E.g. Yoga, mindfulness meditation, etc.