THE WIFE I NEVER MARRIED- GRACE OCHIGBO
Laibe stared helplessly at the pot of soup on the cooking gas with fear and trembling. The smoke is beginning to stream out with greater intensity now. ‘Who would help me?’ She thought to herself in utter fright.
She bit her lips and cursed herself for not paying enough attention while Ocholi was explaining how to put off the cooking gas when the food eventually gets done in his absence. Maybe she should have asked him to show her instead. The three-stone firewall – ígbelí – she uses back at the village doesn’t require any special skill in putting off its fire; she most times scatters the firewood and allow the fire die down on its own accord or better still, those times when she wants to be stingy with the leftover firewood, peradventure market day was the next and the probability of going to fetch firewood was close to impossible, she just quickly pour water on the woods to extinguish it. She didn’t know what to do right now; she had tried fanning air underneath the pot but the fire flames from the gas cooker almost caught her eyes some hours ago, she waved off the option of pouring water because she feared that may put the whole house in flames.
Laibe kept watching with helplessness as the soup Ocholi was almost done with before dashing out burnt down before her very eyes. She couldn’t recall the last time she felt this helpless, the last time she felt like she was doing something of gross regret. She kept spanking her head whenever she remembered how she wasn’t paying keen attention to all Ocholi was saying before hurrying out of the house. How could she have? She muttered underneath her breath again. After locking the entrance door, the young man came bare-chested in her direction holding a knife firmly in his hand. Her mind had raced and beaten so fast that one may think she would collapse in on herself in no distant time. To her disappointment though, Ocholi only handed over the knife in his hand to her and asked that she followed him down to the kitchen so they both can prepare something to eat. That was supposed to relieve her, right? But her mind had gone too far initially, too far for it to consider coming back this early. She thought of the stories she heard about the use of children for money ritual when Ocholi approached her, she remembered all those horrible tales of children who got kidnapped and killed for many reasons best known to the perpetrators of the acts. Frankly, she was already convinced same thing had happened to her. That was why even when Ocholi brought the wooden board for her on which she would help him slice the vegetables he took out from the unusually wide white refrigerator at the left corner of the kitchen, it fell off her shivering hands in an attempt to collect it. Ocholi only smiled and kept the board on the kitchen locker instead before motioning her with his eyes to be quick with the slicing.
Laibe started slicing the vegetables carefully, almost as immediate as Ocholi gave her the speechless order. She was of course used to this at home, so much so that she could cut up to a basin full of ugwu leaves for her mum to use in cooking the usual delicious obo àpi she sells. One thing marvels Laibe though: the fact that a man was doing the cooking in her aunt’s house appeared extremely strange and ultimately too weird for her. Back in Ofabo, a man shouldn’t be seen anywhere near the kitchen, let alone allowed to go the extent of making fire and cooking. They should normally sit after a long day at the farm or for the irresponsible ones, a long day talking and drinking palm wine at the village square, to be served the food promptly prepared by their wives and girls in the home. Seeing a man cooking here now looks like the height of emasculation in her lifetime.
She stole a glance at him while he was mashing the àpí and some sliced onions in a big brown bowl. She kept on watching, even while slicing, till he opened one of the many maroon painted drawers to bring out a can of palm oil which he then poured into the hot steaming pot on the cooker. She immediately recognised that can. They would always give aunty Udale freshly prepared palm oil in it every year, just when she is about travelling back after Christmas. At least that has been a continuous gesture for as long as she could remember.
“Take care of this, I have to quickly take that car back to the mechanic and get some things for aunty before she return home from her office.”
Ocholi’s voice startled her and brought her back from all the places her mind had meandered to.
“Urhm?” she questioned dumbly, pointing Ocholi’s attention to the cooker and he got the message immediately. The tall young man smiled peevishly before turning back in the direction of the soup pot. The only thing left to add in there was the vegetable she was almost done slicing. Ocholi told her, pointing at the switch in front of the tall gas cooker, that she should turn the knob totally to her left whenever the food was done and that’d be all. That said, he dashed out of the house like someone was pursuing him. Well, Laibe could understand why; the kitchen time showed that it was about 3pm already and he needed to hurry down to enable him do what’s required of him. She smiled shyly at the thought that Ocholi smiled at her, but quickly hit her head off that thought almost at the same time. Why is she already beginning to like him? She does not even know.
He is very patient, very patient she affirmed. With the uncountable misbehaviours of the car on their way from the village, he still kept calm while trying to fix it at every point it broke down. He is humble, of course, because when she was outside, busy admiring the interlocked ground in the compound, Ocholi packed in everything from the trunk into the house, including the large bunch of plantain Baba sent down for his daughter. The biggest point of attraction for her is this fact; the fact that he could cook. The whole kitchen already diffused the aroma from the delicious soup he left under her watch.
‘People like Omachoko, the village champion would be claiming: I am a man and shouldn’t be seen in the kitchen at the village… Mtcheew’
She drew a long hiss after that thought flashed her mind while still admiring Ocholi in her head. She poured, after washing, the ugwu into the pot and mixed appropriately before sitting on one of the chairs in the semi dining room, somewhere near the entrance of the wide kitchen. She wondered, as she always have all the times she saw on the only wallpaper hanging above her mother’s bed, why there would be a dining room inside the kitchen again. It didn’t make any sense to her, unless they expected the food to be eaten while cooking concurrently.
But right now, that soup, that delicious and inviting-to-the-nose aroma soup is burning all down. She gave up trying and just stood staring at the smoke like someone awaiting execution. She could imagine the screams she would get from her aunty when they got back here. More so that it was only her first day. Hope they won’t send her back to the village after this and leave her heartbroken again. She also felt like crying as she imagined the disgusting look Ocholi would give her when he sees this mess as well, it can never be his usual smiling face, and he may not ever show her his usual kind face anymore. All these thoughts drowned her mind as tears involuntarily started flowing down her cheeks, that’s aside the large pints of sweat running down the back of her ear and soaking her dress. Fear had eaten almost half of her up.
Just then, the kitchen door opened, a tall and huge man walked in, he sneezed first at the door and brought out a handkerchief from his bag. The bag looked like a company’s official bag with the many inscriptions on it and with the way he held it firmly in his hand. The huge man walked quickly past her and towards the gas cooker on which the almost totally burnt soup sat, with the white handkerchief firmly covering his nose. He simply turned the cooker’s knob down to his left and the fire was put out. Laibe didn’t understand what just happened. She thought the gas cooker was programmed to function under the touch of specific persons – maybe normal members of this house – because she struggled to turn down that knob totally to the same left side but it got stuck at some point like it was going to even break.
“Ólànè sir” Laibe greeted the huge middle age man immediately he started walking back towards the door. He said nothing to her. Neither an angry scold nor an answer to her ‘good evening sir’. He just maintained the mean look he wore right through the door.
Laibe couldn’t decipher who he was. He walked with so much boldness and composure that if here were to be a party, he would perfectly fit in for a bouncer. Even underneath his kaftan, one could trace the edges of his well-built muscular body.
“What is happening here?”
Laibe quickly turned in fear again to see her aunty running into the kitchen and Ocholi following closely behind her. Her heart beat increased greatly as her eyes fell on Ocholi. They both walked like they were under the effect of same control centre to the cooker from which the smoke, that had filled the entire kitchen, came.
“L-A-I-B-E??” Her aunty stressed after opening the totally burnt pot of obo api.
Laibe didn’t know what to say, whether to cry or just leave her shivering body standing right there. She wished the ground could open and swallow her up right now. Ocholi opened the windows to enable some air in before moving to switch on the air conditioner, thankfully there was light.
“Why did you leave her alone Ocholi, what came over you?” Aunty Udale yelled at the young man that just walked to the AC switch and Laibe felt stabbed in the heart for it. She was the offender; every punishment, every scold and maybe every stroke of the cane should be directed at her not at Ocholi, her crush.
“Aunty, I showed her how to switch it off before I left” he replied calmly
“Don’t tell me that, my friend! How would you possibly show her how to use a gas cooker just on her first visit! She’s been used to ìgbelì all her life” she yelled again at the top of her voice.
“I’m sorry ma” Ocholi replied much more calmly and Laibe’s heart skipped a bit. Truly this Ocholi must be another specie of a man.
Men don’t apologise. Men shouldn’t be yelled at. Men are always right.
These and many more had always been her belief. She stared at her aunty and with the way her lips were squirting, Laibe knew the woman was extremely angry over the incidence she just met. Another big issue is that Laibe found herself tongue tied, she didn’t know exactly what to say. She was sore afraid, very much afraid.
“Take her to her room” Aunty Udale told Ocholi before storming out of the kitchen and heading towards the rooms, upstairs.
“Let us go to your room, Laibe”
She heard Ocholi’s voice come through her auditory canals calmly and it felt like icing was poured on her head. At least one person is speaking to her right now. Though she didn’t expect him to sound that nice anymore, not after he just got series of loud screams on her account. She quickly started walking out, back into the sitting room to pick up her bag.
Ocholi smiled at her fidgety walking steps before following her.
“You are disobeying me again Udale”
Udale stood still immediately she heard the voice, just when she was barely in the bedroom. She didn’t expect anyone to be in the bedroom. Matthew comes home only during Weekends since his official commitment in Lokoja, the state capital. Whatever brought him home today, she couldn’t place it.
“You want someone to burn down my house right? You have more than enough money in this economic recession to build or buy a new ideal house like this one?” he asked continuously without waiting for an answer, looking straight at his wife from the edge of the bed where he sat as though he had plans to get up soon.
Udale did not know what to say. She was caught in a web right now. They already discussed her intentions to let her niece come stay over at the house last month but Matthew was totally against that idea. She didn’t really understand why, because as much as she knew him, he used to be more receptive to even strangers and the needy than herself. This is not a case of a stranger, this was her niece, her late elder brother’s daughter for God’s sake. Matthew told her he would be coming home next week and that made her decide to bring Laibe down today, get her a bit presentable and used to the corners of their big house, before her husband gets back. He should like what he will see then. Right now, everything is messed up, she muttered underneath her breath.
“Ocholi is taking that little girl back to Ofabo tomorrow morning and that is final!” Matthew said firmly, puts his legs in his slippers and entered into the bathroom.
Udale stood for a long while, shocked, confused and unable to think before collapsing onto the bed like a big sack of potatoes.
To be continued
The Wife I Never Married – Episode Five
THE WIFE I NEVER MARRIED- GRACE OCHIGBO