PLEASE MARRY ME – GRACE OCHIGBO
I should not have stormed out of mum’s place this way. The woman is getting older by the day and my unforgiving unrepentant attitude towards her may kill her before her time. I reckon this, only that I don’t know what comes over me sometimes. Mum’s presence is not the way it used to be. As an only child, I grew up to adore my mum. I cherished all our moments and looked forward to the beautiful times spent with her alone.
So much changed in the past few years.
My room back there looked like a terrible nightmare, bringing back only memories that are more torments than goodness. With each new day in the last decade, I struggle; struggling through life and trying not to break apart. I pray to wake up one morning and find that I have moved on completely. At some point soonest, this man is going to have to take a chance on something. Only I don’t know when that point will be.
On my way to mum’s yesterday, I’d called my friend to schedule a long overdue visit to him. Mona effortlessly became that very special buddy in my days in the army. We were in the same platoon, same room, shared the same bed and did almost everything together. We were the best guys for almost all the undercover missions against insurgents and we spent most of our nights lying in-between the thick thorn-filled bushes in Sambisa forest than we did on any luxury bed. Overtime, the sun in the North Eastern part of Nigeria grew so accustomed to our skin that it soothed instead of burning any part our torn khaki army uniform was not covering.
It still feels like yesterday when a bomb exploded right underneath our military van. I was driving that fateful morning. I remember every single detail and it still brings silvery tears to my eyes. I recall how devastated Mona was when the council met and took their decision – the decision that changed the entire course of my life.
“Buddy!” He’d called from his position afar off, hanging onto the door frame as though afraid to draw nearer me. “Promise me you’d pick up!” the words sounded hard falling off his lips.
I looked at him with a tightening on my throat and saw tears welling up in his eyes. “I will. And… be good too.” I said, dragging my bag over the concrete floor.
That was the last time I set my eyes on him.
Last year, he called me out of the blues, saying he got my number from one of my clients who was a friend to a colleague of his. I was greatly delighted to hear from him again. Mona is still in the army. Nice. We talked about the possibility of meeting up and so far, four fixed appointments have failed at the very last minute. Mona now works in the Army headquarters in Ibadan, barely two hours away from Lagos where I live, but we’ve both been extremely busy on our ends.
That’s why he was beyond excited yesterday when I told him I was in Ankpa in Kogi state briefly to see my mum and would love to drop by his place a day or two on my way back to Lagos next week. The excitement in his tone was one to die for. He’s been constantly weakening the nerves in my ears all year with his constant doting on some girl who’s driving him crazy.
“She’s just a Godsent,” “When a soldier becomes lovesick, you know wahala de, bruv. But this girl is worth everything and more,” “You will understand all I am saying when you meet her. She’s an angel in human form.”
I am happy for him. Honestly. He is living the life of his dreams. First, he’s still living his army dream and now, there’s a sweetheart to write home about. Life couldn’t have been more perfect for a man. For me, I am stuck here, between reality, regrets and dreams.
Through the right side mirror, I notice a red Toyota corolla trying to overtake me like its driver is high on some cheap weeds so early in the morning. A bloody 2008 model. A smile forms on my face as a mischievous thought crosses my mind. Just a single swerve on my steering wheel and this animal will be dancing in the side gutters next minute. I disregard the thought and let him pass, refusing to return the continuous blaring of his horns. I don’t have time for all that crap.
Leaving Ankpa this soon means I am returning to the cocoon of ill feelings that is my house. I am not ready for that just yet and would gladly jump at any opportunity to avoid it for a long time.
Picking up my phone, I dial Mona.
He picks at first ring. “What’s up, man? How is home?”
“I am on my way back to Lagos.” I say and can feel the shock on his face from this distance. “Yea. Plans changed, man. It’s no longer next week. Hoping to still drop by to say hello before returning though. I know it’s kind of… eh… urgent now… uhm… but we can reschedule if you’re not…”
“Oh no!” Mona cuts in. “It’s totally fine, man. Where are you now?”
I glance around quickly in search of a signboard. None. Just bushes flanking me to the right, to the left, and the long infinite stretch of road in front of me.
“I can’t say but I am on my way.” I say, ending the call and picking up my speed.
I may not know exactly where I am right now, but I know where I am going. That is what’s most important, isn’t it? I wish this can be the case in my everyday real life.
The journey is not stressful at all considering the fact that I enjoy driving a lot. By the early hours of the evening, I am already in Ibadan. I know my way around a couple landmarks in this ancient city. If not any, I know ring road, I know challenge, and I know ojurin, bodija. Thankfully, Mona says to meet him at ojurin, right in front of Glory Tabernacle. I arrive just in time to see him alight from a taxi.
“I know you’re driving, so I didn’t want us riding in different cars.” He says, joining me.
“So this is you at long last?” I remove my dark sunglasses and hit his palm loudly before giving him a short shoulder-to-shoulder hug.
I should say ‘awwwn’, ‘I’ve missed you so much’, ‘Oh my gosh, so good to see you’, and all those petty things ladies say when they meet again after a long time but we are men and men will always be men around men.
“I thought you stay in the base?”
Mona nods in the affirmative before all the words leave my lips. “I want us to pick Ile on our way.” He says. Seeing the confusion on my face, he adjusts in his seat and faces me squarely. “My babe. She lives just up that street.” His fingers point forward.
“Oh. Okay!” I say, igniting the engine and swinging onto the express road.
In few minutes, we turn into a much smaller road, makes me wonder for a split seconds if they are no town planners or architects anywhere around here. I see a taxi dodging a pothole a few meters away and slow down my speed to wait on the side of the road as two cars cannot move side-by-side on this narrow road.
“Right there. Turn in there.” Mona’s fingers are talking more than his lips.
I kill the engine in front of a red gate that’s beginning to rust from constant exposure to rain. Mona pushes the Iron Gate and it opens way too easily. Shows he’s a regular on here. I quietly stand behind him, taking in the medium sized compound as he taps on the door. There’s a bigger building to the left of this one – a duplex with flowers surrounding it like the tomb of a cherished old man.
“We are coming!” A lady’s voice yells from inside. She doesn’t sound pleased in the least and I wonder if that’s what my friend would have to put up with for the rest of his life.
“That’s my Kid sister, Anibe. She loves to visit a lot.” Mona says.
I let out a sigh of relief. Better.
The sitting room is small and feminine. I wonder what it is with pink and girls, or is it girls and pink? She loved pink too. To a fault, even. She? My woman. I remember she once told me she would use pink couch in our sitting room when we get married.
I almost puked at that statement. “Who uses a pink couch, Victory?” I querried.
“Me. Victory.” She placed her right hand on her chest proudly. “And my Ayegba right here…” she placed her left hand on my shoulder, closing the little distance between us. “Because he loves me. Or, he doesn’t love me anymore?” Her eyes were filled with itching desire to hear me say it; her favourite line.
“I love you, Victory. And will love you for as long as I live.”
A broad smile courses over my face now.
“Ayegba?” Mona’s voice jerks me back. “What are you thinking about that’s making you smile so broad?” From his gaze, I can tell he wouldn’t mind tearing my mind open and picking every detail hastily himself.
I am thinking about pink. Pink couch and the woman it reminds me of. Victory. My lover. My friend. My everything. I am thinking about how much different my life would have been if she’s still in it, but…
“Nothing.” I respond, offering myself a seat, the pink couch cringing slightly as I sit on it.
“Meet my younger sister, Anibe. Remember I used to tell you about her a lot back then.” Mona is all smiles as he says this.
Telling me about her a lot back then is just an understatement. In our military hideout base then, Mona was always talking either about his kid sister Anibe or his dear mother. He joined the army, first of all to take on in the heavy shoes of his army General father and most importantly, to defend the two most important women in his life.
“Defend them right here in Sambisa forest, huh?” I asked once, when I got bored with his unending rants.
He took in a deep breath and angled his head to the left before talking. “Well, if I defend my beloved country against these wicked insurgents, I may as well be defending my immediate family by extension.”
His answer that night stayed with me for long. It’s good he had a diehard reason to carry on his passion; he had persons to defend. I didn’t have anyone.
Or, so I thought.
“Nice to meet you, Ayegba. Big bro has said so much about you.” Anibe stretches her right hand towards me and I take it with all pleasure, my eyes scanning her entire form in split seconds. Her skin is yellow-brown, the colour of caramel.
“Really? There isn’t so much about me, dear. Don’t listen to your brother. He’s actually everyone’s role model.”
She laughs and I see her gum is darker than most. Pretty strange. “He says you always say this.”
Mona is laughing loudly on his way to a corner of the room that looks like a dining area. I just leave the sweet smile on my face unsure of what else to say to Anibe. Mona must have told her everything about me before now so there’s nothing left. It’s not like I am some large Shakespeare-story-sized book to read anyway.
“Let me switch to your favourite channel… CNN.”
Alarm rings in my head. “Mona told you that too?” I ask. Her loud laughter tearing through the still air. “What else didn’t Mona tell you?”
Anibe giggles with excitement while pointing the remote towards the TV. “Well, that you host a show on that channel. Whether you are…” she starts responding to my question but that’s the last thing I hear when the long curtain separating this sitting room from whatever is behind it opens.
I watch a lady step into the room. The smile plastered on her face is the first to register with my memory cells. She’s approximately five inch seven now and her skin radiates as it catches the evening sun just right. The white in her eyes is in an unflinching communication with mine and I long for someone to wake me up if this is some form of dream. Reality doesn’t down on me until I watch her grow dizzy and collapse. Thankfully, Mona gets there right on time to catch her before she will hit her head against the wall. Unsure, I drag my weak and shivering legs towards the corner of the room where a mini commotion is now ongoing in a bid to resuscitate the lady.
“Wake up, Ile. Wake up.” Mona is tapping her face vigorously, afraid, while Anibe is sprinkling cold water on her face.
Soon enough, in what looks like eternity, she opens her eyes. The white in them are still holding an unflinching communication with mine, reminding me, even down to the slightest detail, of the unbreakable bond I once shared with Victory many years ago.
To be continued.
- WHY DO YOU THINK AYEGBA LEFT THE ARMY?
- WHO DO YOU THINK VICTORY IS?
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