THE WIFE I NEVER MARRIED – GRACE OCHIGBO
At any point the car shook, it felt like nuts loosened up in her head. But the car has to shake. In fact, it must. The road to Ofabo is both hilly, rocky and dusty. So much combination for a road that this black Ford Endeavour SUV had to take this morning, in addition to embarking on an unnecessary and unplanned journey. Well, isn’t it called Ford Endeavour? It’s Endeavour, after all. It’s yet another time for the car to display its usual doggedness. Arguments and misunderstandings are normal. Yeah! Everyone nags and we all forget something ever happened once those eyes are shut to sleep. This has always been the trend, she didn’t know yesterday would still spill into today but she had a premonition of danger anyway. Right from the time Nurse Ephraim came to tell her that someone was looking for her; the way she felt scared, the way she got jittery and overtly nervous, she had this feeling that something was going to go wrong. How wrong? Was the only thing she really couldn’t tell as Ocholi walked tiredly behind Ephraim into her office. Apart from how unusually dirty he looked, he succeeded in worsening the condition of her already elevated heart rate by starting his statements with an unsolicited apology. Whatever he was apologising for, beats her imagination.
“Sincerely Sis, Faruna serviced that car yesterday. I don’t know what went wrong. I was just about taking it back to his workshop now but it broke down again just beside the secretariat. I got underneath it, to check some things and all, in trying to see if I could fix it in a manageable way. All to no avail. I had to trek down here hurriedly when there was no other way out. Sis, it stopped very close to security’s ‘no parking’ order and I need move it out as soon as possible before they deflate the tires or do worse things to it” Those were Ocholi’s chain of words. He didn’t say them all out together like this, he said one word after the other, in a manner that seemed the next words got stuck in his throat. Udale was patient though or better still, she wasn’t really paying attention to all his stories. Look at her here, almost scared to death that her niece was kidnapped or in some form of danger, only to find out the so called urgency was their Peugeot 504. She felt like holding Ocholi’s ears and telling him never to scare her like that again, but Jane was still sited there, glaring at them like she was seeing an episode from the much talked about Jennifer’s diary. It wasn’t absolutely that he scared her. Perhaps, she scared herself by having that agreement with Ocholi to have him bring in Laibe against her husband’s instructions in the first place. She would have done something to Ocholi’s ears – pull, wriggle, tickle, anything – if it was just the both of them in the office though. They are quite close. She had to hand over her own car keys to Ocholi since it was almost close of work. They both drove to the mechanic garage, picked Faruna and brought him back to the mess of a car he claimed to have serviced the day before. The mechanic was left there to figure out how to move the broken down car from the front of the local government secretariat back to his shop and get it fixed as soon as possible. That done, Ocholi drove them home. Their house is at Olubojo, Enokpoli road, just a few distance away yet on the same lane with the secretariat. So it took barely ten minutes to get into her sitting room that had become overridden with smoke. Ocholi hurriedly picked up her bag and jacket from the car, joining her just before she opened the kitchen door. Laibe, already burning their dinner on her first night in the house was a call for concern but that in itself wasn’t as scary as her husband’s impromptu arrival.
All her plans washed down the drain that moment she saw him on entering the master’s bedroom and when he gave her only one condition that would save her from choking under his tenacious grip earlier this morning, she was compelled to adhere strictly to the core. Even after telling Matthew that Baba was in full support of Laibe’s movement from the village, he insisted his condition was that they all go back to see Baba for reasons best known to only him. To worsen the whole matter, he made Laibe pack back her bag alongside.
“Oh! Oh!” she exclaimed when Matthew entered into another gulp hole carved out as aftermath of erosion. If her eyes carried a sword, Matthew’s head would probably be rolling off somewhere across the road with the angry look she shot at him. She drew a long frustrated hiss, murmuring some inaudible words to herself, as she bent to pick back her phone that slipped off her hand when the car vibrated vigorously. It is true that the road was horrible, but Matthew’s little expertise made the journey even more stressful than it normally should. He didn’t know, perhaps because he wasn’t used to the road, how to navigate and dodge holes yet he changed his mind abruptly about Ocholi driving, after making the younger man dress all up in haste. Everyone knows Ocholi can drive conveniently through any type of road. Much wonder the distinct differences even when from the same loins. One can vouch how brown the exterior of the car would look now from accumulated dust.
Matthew didn’t mind. He was enjoying the deafening silence in the car. Something within him kept convicting his actions this morning. Him? Holding Udale’s neck? What if he had killed her? A subtle captivating headline for the media: ‘Woman killed by husband for bringing her niece to the house’ or ‘Wicked man kills wife over 13-year old niece’. How disgraceful it would be for a high placed statesman like him to fall into the hands of these eager journalists. It would worsen his already bad situation and maybe add psychiatrist or psychotherapist visitation to his long and clumsy list of schedules. All these thoughts tortured the part of peace left in his brain as tiny drops of sweat appeared on his forehead. He couldn’t believe he did all those. Wherever that destructive anger came from, thinking about it over and over again was maybe the reason why he almost doesn’t see any gulp hole till he was midway into it. Sometimes, it is just perfect to be ignorant as what you’ll find out ends up tormenting you. Surely, all these are courtesy of the confirmation he got recently. Maybe he shouldn’t have sought for a confirmation. Now he has and everything is going haywire in his head.
“Damn!” He hit his hand lightly against the wheel, so light that it would go unnoticeable if any music was streaming from the music player of the car at the lowest volume. He rose his head and saw Laibe through the mirror. The little girl’s face clearly reveals sorrow and sadness, and he couldn’t help rebuking himself for becoming a cause of sorrow to an innocent lad. But… he had to do this.
Laibe had kept her head constantly against the window on her own side of the car all through the journey. Even when the car’s rough movement shook her head mercilessly, she left it there with her chin cupped in her left hand. She didn’t understand what was going on around her since the day before. The only thing Ocholi said or rather, whispered to her ears was that she should pray as they were about to take her back to the village. She didn’t really understand him at that instant. Making that kind of emergency prayers might require some institutional training. Of course, apart from burning dinner yesterday night, she can’t place her mind on anything else she had done wrong to warrant returning her home this early – barely a day ago. They all didn’t starve last night even. Her aunty got back into the kitchen and quickly boiled some rice because there was stew left in the freezer and that was what they had as dinner instead. Though, she didn’t think she would eat anything again yesterday night because if she had burnt soup back at Ofabo, she would starve a whole household of one round of meal which she must have to receive the due punishment for few more days later. When her aunty came into the room Ocholi said was hers, with a well covered plate neatly arranged in a tray, she knew the starvation since morning was just about to be pulled off. Aunty Udale warmly smiled while handing her the food which she bent her knees courteously to collect. The older woman welcomed her and Laibe apologised for ruining the first food as well
Laibe was happy. Her aunt’s calm and nice words made her felt a lot better as the events of the whole day kept replaying in her head till she lay to sleep and that was how sound she slept until the violent opening of the door jolted her up. She wouldn’t have believed Ocholi’s whispers if her aunty hadn’t rushed in few minutes later, asking her to get her clothes in order. Aunty Udale’s voice sounded cracked when she made that statement and by the time Laibe looked at her aunty, she saw someone as shaken, frightened and frustrated as a chicken beaten under the rain for decades, that’s aside the pints of sweat dripping down the fat woman’s face. Perhaps, if she had heeded grandfather’s elderly advice, she wouldn’t be tossed up and down the same road again by this time.
Here it is; A journey out of Ofabo yesterday, another into Ofabo today.
“Mé wòlà ùlè o, welcome o, wólà o, well done o, welcome o” were the welcome chants reigning in the air right from when the car entered the settlement area in the village. Some women followed down till the car finally came to a halt in front of Baba’s house. It is a normal behaviour in the village and Laibe knew uncountable numbers of big cars she particularly had followed, only to get some twenty naira notes from the owners of the big rides in the end. Aunty Udale got down and started greeting all the women that were welcoming them. Some she hugged, others she knelt to greet and shook hands with the rest. The women looked so elated with their different designs of wrapper loosely tied round their waist till it formed a round knot at one of the sides. Majority of them wore this white velvet T-shirt with inscriptions on them. Their sagging breasts danced within the partially transparent shirts, most common being that from the last crusade held in the village primary school field. Life could have taken aware many things from these women; money, affluence, clothes, some their husbands but it hasn’t been able… and may never be able to take away joy from them. Their faces lit in an adorable glow as they all exchanged pleasantries.
The children were there as well, they never disappoint. It was because the journey was unplanned for, else each one would have, as always, gotten a yoghurt, sachet of biscuit and some other little things including money. The only thing Udale could do right now was to give the children one of the new five hundred naira notes in her purse. She handed it over to the boy that looked oldest among them with a stern instruction to buy biscuit for every one of them. The children were happy and grateful. The effect of harmattan was so prominent on their faces that they all looked white, pale and even more malnourished with extremely dried lips. That is aside the breaks on the sole of their feet; some looked like the sores were healing up already while those on others felt like the cracks had become permanent landmarks on their legs. One thing was common to all of them though as they ran off: they were joyful. There is this depth of peace that accompanies innocence and that’s what the children had that aunty Udale wished she could have too. One mustn’t have to be living in the village to participate in such depth of peace, right?
By the time she turned to face Baba’s house, the elderly man had already come to stand at the veranda. She saw how her husband was hurrying to finish up with the women who left her own side of the car to go greet him immediately he got down. Even after asking after their husbands and children and it was obvious the discussion was over, they still stood looking on at him expectantly and it was at that point he knew he needed to give them something.
Indeed, it’s really been a long while he stepped his foot in this village, or any other village at that, and must have forgotten how these things work.
Laibe, amidst the noise from her aunty and the children, her uncle and the women, ran off into her grandfather’s sitting room after the car barely came to a halt. Just yesterday and she missed him this indisputably. Baba missed her as well with the way he held her close for so long. Somehow though Laibe felt Baba’s hug wasn’t just about missing her alone. Judging from the questions he repeatedly asked about – how she was doing, how yesterday’s journey went, when she got to see her aunty – she knew that what was coming out from Baba’s within was mixed with fear and not exclusively care as it were. He didn’t seem to believe her even when she continually said everything was fine and well.
Baba was obviously surprised to see Matthew much more than anyone else. When one say it’s been a really long while, it sounds like an under estimation to how long they‘ve both seen each other.
Matthew partially prostrated to greet baba and the elderly man held him up into a warm hug. The old man’s sense of vision is confusing – this time, he can almost see nothing and at another time, he can describe the tiniest details on someone’s face. Matthew’s height and hugeness always reminds Baba of how he used to be when he was his age and that sort of endeared him to his son-in-law a great deal.
Laibe started running off to either of Ebi or Umali’s house expectedly before the twinkling of an eye. She can’t let what happened yesterday morning that she wasn’t able to see them before leaving happen again today. Whether she would still go back to Ankpa, or be made to remain here in the village, she cared less right now as she ran. In fact, she had given up on her dreams as reality seem to be denying her of every opportunity to draw closer to it.
Udale greeted her father as well by going down on her knees. Baba held her up and hugged her lightly. He asked her why she didn’t let him know when he called earlier in the morning that they all were coming over to the village to see him and she involuntarily flashed a glimpse at her husband who took away his face. She now decided to just smile and twist an answer out to suit the question regardless. She started trying to explain to Baba how she was at the middle of sleep and consciousness because it was too early in the morning then and wouldn’t have been able to remember their plans. Baba didn’t look convinced, it was clearly written all over his face. Right from time, Udale knew her father to be so perceptive when it comes to almost anything, and can differentiate absolute truthfulness from ‘covering up’.
“Ókó wè à?” Baba questioned just when she left off her last statement. She didn’t understand Baba’s question because Matthew was standing right before him, in fact Baba’s hands was interlocked in his, so why would he be asking ‘What of your husband’ from her any longer. She kept quiet for a while trying to know where to commence from. The question had another meaning, which she thought to be ‘if you were so drowsy, wasn’t your husband there’. That was another explanation her brain came up with but she was interrupted immediately she gathered the energy to open her mouth.
“That’s why we are here Baba” Matthew responded to the question before who it was directed to did.
Another reason why Baba is so fond of Matthew is that, the older man always enjoy Matthew’s own expression of the English language and can connect to it faster. Maybe because Matthew is soft spoken and takes his time when he speaks; so slow. He is the strong-silent type.
Baba asked them to come in and they did. Hurriedly. Except for Udale, the two men bent before passing the doorway, though Matthew’s was lower than Baba’s. Baba impulsively pulled off his slippers and just when Matthew was about to do same, the elderly man stopped him, urging him to walk in like that. That was strange. No one ever wore a footwear into Baba’s sitting room for whatever reason. In there, Baba took his customary seat, followed by Matthew and Udale sat somewhere opposite the two men. She was as curious to hear why they were here as much as Baba and when Matthew didn’t hesitate to start talking as soon as they were sited, she heaved a sigh of relief which was cut midway.
“I am taking another wife” Matthew announced after clearing his throat lightly.
Udale raised her head to stare at her husband in the face. So stern that she wished, for the umpteenth time in her life, that it is her auditory canal that have issues not her reproductive system.
To be continued
The Wife I Never Married – Episode Eight
THE WIFE I NEVER MARRIED – GRACE OCHIGBO