THE WIFE I NEVER MARRIED – GRACE OCHIGBO
Udale opened the bathroom door halfway again and handed Laibe a milk silky towel without looking in.
“Be faster, let me show you how to fix this,” she added as Laibe’s wet hands collected the towel. She moved backwards to sit on the bed. Her eyes scanned through the room in quick successions, only then did she realise that she hasn’t really been in this room in a really long time. She can however give kudos to this little girl’s sense of neatness. Everything in the room looks very tidy, and her laundry bag beside the door was even empty. When did she do this laundry? Udale questioned herself. She knew she hasn’t been performing optimally in her duties as a mother after all and it bothered her a lot. She has solace in a little fact though, Laibe and Matthew had gotten very much along. So much so that at times, she feels jealous of Matthew’s attention to the little girl. Laibe can’t possibly become promiscuous, not when she is always in the house and under the close watch of Matthew and her.
“Girl, be a bit fast dear!” she said calmly but loud enough for Laibe who was tarrying in the bathroom to hear.
“I’ll soon be out aunty” came her sharp response
Udale sighed. She is tired; tired of the journey down from Enugu this evening; tired of her childless condition; and more tired of her husband’s resistance in conceding to a procedure that would salvage the situation. Stretching her hand, she pulled one of the pillows closer to her. She was taken aback as a paper drop from it. Alarm rang in her head but she calmed herself down. Picking up the white paper and turning to the other side, her jaw almost dropped to the ground at what she saw – a teenage girl was struggling with dragging a heavy stone from a bushy, wet and slippery area towards a rickety Peugeot car standing some distance away. The drawing was so perfect, it looked like a camera captured it but then it was pencil drawing. The girl in the picture looked exactly like Laibe and the area looked familiar to her but her brain couldn’t fathom it just yet. As though, that painting she saw opened her eyes afresh, she began to notice some other things in the room. First, Laibe’s dressing table contained different expensive skin care products. Yes, she bought some for her, but the other brands of body cream with perfume and face cleanser of the same product, she didn’t buy that. Her curiosity increased even more and she stretched to open the bed side drawers, unconsciously hoping Laibe wouldn’t come out yet. A little sparkling red box shone on her eyes from the inside of it. Udale dipped her hand and brought out the box, opened it and lo, a dazzling silver wristwatch shone brightly on her eyes. This is incredible, she thought! Not as incredible as another medium sized greeting card underneath the wristwatch.
Those are the words on the card. Turning the card hurriedly back and forth, she was disappointed there was no name neither was there any identity of the sender on the card. Hearing the door knob move, Udale took a deep breath and sat down beside all the things she had seen and arranged beside her on the bed awaiting Laibe. The girl sure has so many explanations to make.
Laibe had actually finished bathing and was about to come out when a thought came to her mind to peep through the door hole. Thank God she did. Her aunty was opening her drawer. She saw her pillow had also shifted from where it should be. Right there and then she knew she was done for. Hell might let lose tonight if she is not choosy and extremely careful with her response. And of course, she is still praying Sis Jane hadn’t related the ordeals of the day with her aunt as it would only add to the numerous explanations she would have to give when she gets out. Peeping from there all through her aunt’s movement in the room, she decided to come out immediately the older woman sat back on the bed. Laibe cannot afford her aunt calling her again. All the incidents of today are like terrible accidents waiting to happen and it’s just so unfortunate she is wrapped in it again. She felt her mind racing. Cautioning herself, she needed to be strong if she must give any explanation at all and of course, she prayed that horrible scene doesn’t flash back in her mind in front of her aunty as well tonight.
She opened the door and her slippers was still making slap slap sound against the carpeted floor even when she was walking really slow, almost crawling. Her knees were shaking and she couldn’t guarantee any faster pace than this. Her aunt’s eyes kept staring at her right from the door till she got to her front. It took extra caution for her not to drop to the floor from those eyes piercing her soft chocolate skin. She is gradually becoming an adolescent.
Udale brought out one from the packet of new panties she bought.
“Where did you keep it?” She asked Laibe.
Laibe, knowing what her aunty was asking for, quickly hurried over to her dressing table and brought the sanitary pad aunty gave her some minutes ago before going to the bathroom.
“Once you know how to wear it, you can be sure of going about your normal activities without fear of getting stained. Do you understand?” Aunty Udale spoke while collecting the pack from Laibe’s hands. She took one from it and tore it open before picking back up the pant she held earlier,
“Now, cleanliness is the rule of the game henceforth. Make sure to have your bath, dry up and change the pad regularly, OK? It is not earring that you would wear twenty four hours. Change it after six hours max, full or not. Is that clear?” She got a quick nod from Laibe and continued, “This is how to fix it…” she pointed Laibe’s eyes to every step she took and Laibe paid rapt attention with her eyes as well, though her mind was running somewhere around the house. Her aunt asked her to go put on something loose before they’ll go have their dinner. As she moved to her wardrobe, she was even in much more confusion than before. It is utterly impossible for her aunty not to say anything about the strange things she had seen in her room, not when those things were sitting beside her on the bed also.
“So you now follow boys, Laibe”
The question didn’t take her unawares, she has been expecting it since she got out of the bathroom.
“No ma” she responded politely, pulling one of her flowery flare night gowns from the wardrobe.
“Who drew this and why is it under your pillow? Oh! It helps you sleep well, right?” sarcasm filled Udale’s tone as she asked the question like a statement.
“That drawing was the day Ocholi brought me from Ofabo. When we got back the next day and Uncle had a visitor and you asked us to pack loads from the car into the kitchen, Ocholi told me he had a surprise for me in my room…” she paused
“Eheeen!!!” Udale interjected curiously
“ He gave me the drawing as a gift. A time during our journey that I went to get a stone from the bush to use as wedge for the car that broke down.” she explained, pointing at the bush and the stone in the picture.
Udale heaved a sigh of relief. It’s an insider, it should be easier dealing with this. If there is anything she could vouch for in Ocholi was his photographic memory as he only needs to see it to reproduce it back on paper.
“So the both of you are in a relationship under my roof and under my very nose, is that so?”
This one took Laibe unawares, more so that her aunt’s voice was beginning to rise now. In a relationship is a relative term if you asked her. She could go with being in love with him, or having a crush on him as it were, but she couldn’t understand what her aunty meant by that question.
“Don’t play dumb on me Laibe. Why is he buying you all of these…” she raised each item on the bed as she spoke, “…a greeting card, beautiful wristwatch and Diva skin care products, if you both are not in any relationship?”
The merciless torment was beginning to roll back in Laibe’s mind as her aunt spoke. She clenched her fist tightly, so tight that it feels as though she could lock everything up in her palm. The AC in the room was on, aside that she just had her bath but she had begun to sweat profusely. She kept mopping blankly at her impatient aunt and the woman wasn’t finding the whole scenario peaceful anymore.
Udale got up and walked angrily to where Laibe was standing beside the wardrobe. Holding onto her hand roughly, Udale dragged her till she fell onto the bed.
“Did you hear me or not? Who bought all these for you? Why would Ocholi buy all these for you?” Udale yelled at the top of her lungs now.
Laibe’s silence was killing her. Laibe on her own side was shivering and fidgeting like a weed blown by hot Northern wind. She could barely raise her head up.
“I think I should inform your Uncle about this. You cannot give me high BP in my own house.” Udale threatened and made angrily for the door.
“It’s not Ocholi, aunty. Uncle bought them for me. He said they are gifts from the both of you.”
Udale got stuck at the door and unable to move any further. She turned to stare at Laibe for a whole long while not knowing what exactly to tell the little girl.
“Don’t let me call you to the dining table.” she said quickly and walked out at the drop of a hat.
“You ladies don’t want me to eat today, is that?”
“I’m sorry Honey, she is seeing her menses for the first time, I needed to put her through some things.”
Matthew sighed and dug his fork into the plate of rice in front of him. He had served himself immediately his wife came, after waiting for them for over twenty minutes.
“Where is my baby?”
And as though Laibe was following their discussion, she walked in and pulled a seat out.
“Good evening Sir.” She greeted without raising her head.
Matthew smiled as he ran his eyes over her petite body. Apart from the other early signs of puberty that the young girl has been manifesting in the past few months, he was unusually excited that she is ultimately becoming a woman now.
“I know you are clean, you have to be even cleaner now, OK? You are now a mini woman.” He added
Laibe nodded her head in the affirmative, again without raising it. She picked up her fork and also tried to move some drops of rice into her mouth.
“Jane said you were crying in school this morning when asked to narrate your holiday experience. Why was that?” Udale’s calm voice came.
Rice spilled from Matthew’s mouth as he heard his wife. He dashed a questioning look at Laibe who did everything possible not to get an eye contact with him.
Laibe cursed her luck in her heart. She just knew this would happen after all.
“Why can’t Sis Jane keep a simple thing to herself?” she muttered with disappointment underneath her breath.
“Laibe… Laibe, is it a newly found habit not to respond to questions when asked now?” Her aunty asked, sounding provoked again.
Laibe quickly shook her head from side to side… “No aunty!”
“So why have you been playing dumb since? It was as simple as saying your uncle bought those things for you earlier…” Matthew’s eyes opened wide immediately, but he tried to not show his growing level of discomfort, “… you waited till I threatened to report you. Now, I’ll ask you for the last time, why were you crying in class today?” Her aunt’s voice came in screams this time. Obviously the woman has lost all her cool.
She should. Laibe’s silence was deafening and painful, and if there was any way she could pull the words off this little girls throat right now, she would.
“Sweets, I guess it’s all linked to her menarche. You people in the health sector always say there are many changes in the body and the hormonal flux at the beginning of menstruation can get one overtly emotional, isn’t that?” Matthew asked.
“This doesn’t look like hormonal effects to me Honey, crying instead of narrating her holiday experience is absolutely…”
“Baby you are over flogging this issue really. She hasn’t been crying ever since, so it’s just so normal to relate her over emotional reactions to this new development in her life. Isn’t it obvious?” Matthew interrupted before putting another spoon of rice in his mouth. He is as collected as always.
Laibe was grateful her uncle had come to her aid and she nodded her head as though the question was directed to her.
Udale kept quiet to think for a while. Why didn’t this occur to her since? She had rained all kinds of assumption on the innocent poor girl. Oh no! She didn’t just transfer her aggression and frustrations from the doctor’s visit on little Laibe, did she? The thought of this tortured her. If she cannot be so observant and considerate towards a teenager under her care, how was she going to cope with a bouncing baby who wouldn’t be able to give any explanations. She felt so horrible that she lost appetite immediately.
“Honey I think I should rest.” Udale said, getting up from the table.
“Be sure to rest well darling wife.” Matthew responded before turning to Laibe immediately Udale was up the stairs.
“We are sorry, OK?” He rubbed her thin shoulders lovingly.
Laibe quickly wiped at the lone tear dropping down her cheek. There was rice in her mouth, the same she had had all these while. The lumen of her throat had become blocked all of a sudden. She forced the rice down and quickly ate up the remaining in her plate in silence, though praying Uncle Matthew finishes his meal soon enough to. She needed to be left alone. To groom, to think and most importantly, to cry. Her eyes must never meet with her Uncle’s.
The room was extremely dark and as he rubbed his hand against the wall to find the wall switch, it seems the switch was running farther away. When he finally found it, he didn’t know if he should press it down or not. He will still do this after all, so why not do it now. If it would make the already bad situation any worse or better, that’s left to fate. Udale didn’t go to their bedroom, it’s usual for her to behave like that whenever she feels so horrible about anything. He would leave her to herself most times like that till she comes around and gets over the ill feeling. Tonight was different, lying on his bed all alone he had thoughts already creeping up in his mind. Getting all-a-Gog over the recent developmental stage, he felt even more compelled to do it. Running his mind over thousands of ways he could go about it, he encouraged himself to act notwithstanding.
Taking in five calming breaths, he pressed down the switch. The bright white light brought everything into clear view. He rubbed his tongue against his lips as though savouring in some invisible aroma. He was also trying to calm nervousness. She is deep asleep. He stood there for nothing less than ten minutes, staring and gazing at the whole form on the bed before he started walking gently towards that direction. He was so gentle that one would hear it if a mice walked through. And as it’s believed to happen when one is staring at you for so long, she turned and opened her eyes just when he barely got to the bedside. He felt her struggling and trying to recognise who it was. He watched quietly, imagining the possible struggles up her medulla at the moment; the way sleep usually clouds one’s vision most times.
To be continued…