THE WIFE I NEVER MARRIED – GRACE OCHIGBO
He walked in, holding a grey file containing white papers. One could tell what was in the file because the doctor was flipping through them all the way from the door to his seat. He is a little advanced in age and it’s still quite amazing that he didn’t use eyeglasses even up till now or at least for the very many times Matthew and his wife had travelled down here to visit. He is quite nice as well, peradventure, that’s why Matthew stuck with him in helping with their issues. Else a typical Matthew would have been worn out with doing the same thing – seeing the same person – over and over again, but they had to come down here regardless of the distance from Ankpa in Kogi state to the University of Nigeria Teaching hospital, Nsukka, Enugu state. The distance meant nothing to them. In fact, they don’t mind going all the way out just to get a reasonable solution. They are both running out of time and if there is one thing that has been included in Udale’s daily itinerary; it is counting how closer to her menopause she gets by each passing day. The doctor told them the last time they visited, which was two months ago that things looked better, ‘there is hope’ was exactly what he said. Virtually everyone, including the blind, know that doctors would always find an iota of hope to hold onto in every situation, no matter how lethal and fatal. That, definitely, must be a part of their training at school. If not, Dr Nonso must be really doing a mighty job at still putting the soul and body of this couple in one piece.
“How has it been with Obaje?…”
Matthew gave a horrible look back at the doctor, his shocked eyes begging him to shut his mouth.
Dr Nonso got the message and changed the topic almost immediately.
“Have you considered the option?” He asked, raising his eyes from the papers in his hands and placing them on the duo sited in front of him. He scanned through their eyes and in no time got the answer to his question from there.
“Who is ‘Obaje’ or what did you say now, Doc” Udale asked, looking all curious.
“Look, I strongly suggest that you try to consider this as the best available option. You have almost nothing to lose. We have the best hands here and reliable equipment too.” He tried to persuade, neglecting Udale’s question as though he didn’t hear her in the first instance.
Matthew sat up in his seat. He removed his hands that were earlier folded across his chest and placed them on his thighs. Sitting like he intended to get up anytime soon, he began by clearing his throat.
“So are you now saying doctor, that nothing else can be done? Or that our waiting is in vain?”
The doctor swallowed and dropped the file on the table. “The situation should improve. You both are doing well at the recommendations. I’m very hopeful and optimistic that your baby would come in no time from now.”
“It’ll be seventeen years by October, doctor” Udale cut in. It was as though the statement was a trigger because hot searing tears began burning down her face afterwards. Matthew, as always, felt irritated and instead of holding her hands in his as at other times, he just ignored her and focused back on the doctor.
“If the situation is improving… or did you say should improve?” he waited to get a confirmatory nod from the doctor, “Whatever! If our situation should improve with time as you said and I believe you know what you are saying, why are you now encouraging us to take that option?”
“I know I’m going too personal, what I’m about to do is not totally in line with the ethics of the medical profession…” he clears his throat, “…but Matthew, I see you as a younger brother…”
Matthew’s eyes popped open as though he was just struck by a ghost but the doctors soft smile eased him a bit. He hoped for the sake of the doctor’s head that he would not bare out his secrets right here.
“I have all your records, you have been seeing me for many years now, so believe me when I say I am an elder brother.” He affirmed, leaving the smile plastered on his face. If only he knew what was going on in Matthew’s head, he wouldn’t be smiling comfortably at this moment.
“I have seen your love and affection for each other deteriorate and dwindle down the lane slowly over time as you come visiting. You are no longer the strong, resilient, and courageous couple that I have been attending to for some years now. Experiences I gathered from people with issues like this is that they would both wear themselves out one day in the end of it all and may then decide to separate or even divorce. I don’t want you to get to that point. Look at U-u-da-le now…” he pronounced the name as though his tongue was outstretching, “…she is, every day, reducing to a shadow of herself. And you too. You are only trying so as not to feel lesser than a man.”
Matthew took in a very deep breath.
“We have the best hands, we have the best tools and equipment. You have nothing absolutely to lose. Consider this my brother.” The doctor’s last tone was deep and it really sank in but Matthew didn’t seem to be having any of this.
Udale held Matthew’s hand, “Honey, maybe we should just do it…” she sniffed, “…we have faced enough ridicule, I can’t bear it any longer. You know the risks of complication increases with age, right? Honey, please let’s do this. We would soon be honoured twenty years of childlessness.” Her voice was still breaking all through her statement.
Matthew sprung up from his seat and the doctor’s eyes followed him all the way up.
“Maybe, we would wait till it’s twenty. Let’s go Udale.” He said, looking down at his wife who felt so relaxed like it was her house. He turned to the doctor, “ Thanks a lot for your concern doctor. Thank God there is no new adverse development. We would be leaving for Ankpa now.”
“It’s my job. Safe journey on the road” Dr Nonso responded, “… don’t forget to …” he paused on a second thought, taking Matthew’s hand courteously before watching them till they walked out through the door.
He shook his head over and over, from the left hand side to the right.
“Of course not. I didn’t. I gave no clue that would let the cat out of the bag, did I? No! I didn’t.” he tried to convince himself as he powered his laptop.
“I spent my holidays at Obudu cattle ranch. Daddy promised he would take me there if I took first position in class and I enjoyed every bit of my stay there with animals and wild lives.” Her sharp voice ran through the air.
“Clap hands for Helen Obinna”
The whole class resounded with thunderous applaud as the instruction came.
“You know, I don’t know what to say to the boys in this class. You would sit and watch ladies occupy the positions from first to eight? That’s embarrassing. Girls clap hands for yourselves again”
“Myself God bless me, and make me wiser, Amen…” came the usual chorus that accompanies an applaud. The class in no time became quiet again and it seems Laibe could hear everybody’s heartbeat. She was the next person to talk. She was the last to give the account of her last holidays. Right from when Kabir, the boy on the last row started speaking, she has been rehearsing how she was going to say her part. Her English mastery wasn’t the problem now, far from it, she has improved a great deal. Her problem remains her problem.
“You know, one person’s result surprised me last term so much so that I felt really ashamed for some of you here…” the form teacher pointed her long sharp-edged cane at some persons as she move closer to them, especially the boys. Everyone dreaded her, she is very strict and disciplined and being the form teacher for their class didn’t make matters any easier. This is even one particular time they dreaded the most, she had warned them sometimes last term ahead of time. When she would ask everyone to get up and recount their holiday experience while she makes her comment on their individual results because she has a copy of everyone’s.
“Well, everything is about setting priorities and goals right. I’m so proud of this little girl.” She continued, walking back from the back of the class she just strolled to, towards the white board. “To think that she joined you all in second term and you were at some points teasing her, she came in the eighth position out of the thirty-two of you…” she turned in Laibe’s direction, “…I’m sure her guardians were so proud of her. Can you all stand up to give a round of applause for Laibe Godwin as she shares her holiday experiences with us?”
The class went up in thunderous applaud again and Laibe felt even more uncomfortable in her head. It was as though her past few minutes of rehearsal were all washed off and dementia has suddenly set in. She got up and walked slowly towards their teacher, that front served as the podium everybody used ever since. As she walked, she tried to shut her eyes but she couldn’t. Or better still, she didn’t want to. She wouldn’t be liking and ultimately not needing what she would be seeing if she did. She needed all the boldness there is to successfully finish this speech. The applaud kept going higher and higher as she approached her form mistress. The latter hugged her and stepped aside.
Laibe stood still for a moment. Trying to steady herself, she placed both hands on the table in front of her. She shut her eyes and opened it back immediately.
“No!” she exclaimed.
Everybody focused all attention on her, wondering what she was saying no to.
She formed her face into a sweet smile, encouraging herself to continue none regardless.
“Uncle said he would take me to Confluence beach If I perform well in the exams. That, in addition to my own long-time dream propelled me into action. And with the relentless assistance from Helen, my friend, I was able to make uncle proud…” she paused and looked in Helen’s direction. She was giggling and chuckling. They had become close from that day she helped her out with the definition of ‘capital’. Helen grew to like her so much that she even moved over to come use her table and they had been seat mates since then. She couldn’t have prayed for a better friend than Helen in that class. Helen made sure they read constantly, spending their prep hours and some Saturdays in the school library, after which, she would still give her assignments to take home. Helen is definitely the persons that should take the greatest credit for her success in that exam. Laibe saw the whole class looking on at her with curiosity written all over their faces. If only their eyes could drag the words out of her mouth.
“True to Uncle’s promise, we went to Lokoja and we went to confluence beach. A place I’ve always dreamt of going all my life. We spent three days there and had a beautiful experience, and had a memorable experience, and had…”
She held her head, trying to stop her brain before it embarrasses her but it was too late.
“No!!!” she screamed again as the scene flashed through her mind. This time the scream wasn’t only loud but it provoked tears. She dropped to the cement floor, thrust her head in-between her hands and started wailing loudly. Helen immediately ran over to her and tried to pull Laibe up, but she wasn’t yielding. The teacher initially couldn’t get up because of confusion but had to when she saw almost half of the class were already at where Laibe lay weeping. Could this be a joke? She thought to herself.
“Alright…” she said loudly, alerting the students that their time was up and she needed to take over from there. They started leaving for their seats one after the other while she tried to raise Laibe’s face up.
Her eyes were red, so red that it could stain a white material if placed on it. The form mistress kept getting more and more confused by each failed attempt of trying to raise the damsel off the floor.
“Alright, everyone, you can now go for your break” she announced, and as though some couldn’t wait for the words to barely leave her mouth, they were already en route the canteen. It was no fault of the students, the form mistress was using their break time to do this class assessment. Helen came over and they both held Laibe up. She was still crying and unable to steady her feet on the floor. Every single cell in her body was vibrating at a dangerously high frequency. At this time, Miss Mary thought to take her to the school clinic before Laibe would faint or pass out in her hands. She placed one of Laibe’s hands across her neck and Helen did the same as they walked out of the classroom and towards the administrative building.
Stepping out of the corridor into the open compound, Laibe encouraged or rather, advised herself to have a grip on her tears. Yeah! If she wastes it now, what would she have to use tonight? Her pillow has been graciously enjoying soaking activities for sometimes now, and she didn’t know when it was going to end. She hopes it ends soon enough. Well, maybe when that horrible scene stops flashing through her mind, they may have to format her brain to achieve that anyway. She held herself up and brought down her hands from the neck of the two persons holding her. She looked forward and saw they were entering the reception of the administrative block already but then she prayed who her eyes just sighted wasn’t who she is thinking. Let it just be familiar or her imaginations.
“I guess I would have to wait for longer than two hours to see you when you become the governor of the state.”
Miss Mary’s face turned in the direction of the voice. Laibe was surprised that she is just noticing the person. Releasing Laibe’s hands, she hurried over to the edge of the room where she sat.
“It’s different for we teachers my dear. We are not Nurses” opening her hands for a hug.
Jane rolled her eyes and pouted… “Whatever!” falling into a warm embrace.
“You should have called” Miss Mary responded,
“After posting coming to visit you for the past three months? It was meant to be a surprise, Punk” she teased, hitting Mary on the head. Jane had always been like this anyway. Right from nursing school, she can be so nonchalant to a fault. Imagine Jane calling Mary a punk before her students.
“Is the reception your office?” Jane asked sarcastically as she obviously has become tired of seeing the receptionist’s face. Helen chuckled at the question and only then did Jane remember Mary walked in with two other people. She looked in their direction and something told her to move forward to confirm.
Laibe felt like disappearing into the ground as she felt Jane was walking over to meet her. Her white shirt, maroon skirt and pullover were stained with dust from the floor she fell on some minutes ago. What would she tell sis. Jane – as she normally calls her – now.
“La-i-be!” Jane dragged the name. It dragged so long that one would be tempted to think she had forgotten how to pronounce it. How can she forget? Her Matron’s daughter, the girl she had spent numerous hours together with in the house. She saw as Laibe felt uncomfortable and that bothered her more.
“You know her?” Mary asked Jane
Jane nodded in the affirmative. Miss Mary smiled and called Helen. It feels like there is a little relief now. She gave the little girl five hundred naira, ordering her to get something, food, drinks and snacks for her visitor from the canteen. Helen ran off as soon as the command was issued.
Mary led them to her office. Normally, most teachers had their tables in the staffroom. Only her and two other teachers have a little calved out office respectively to themselves. Her case is especially different because she is the Biology teacher in the senior classes, Js1 form mistress and the school’s health officer. The first aid box and the other emergency apparatus for this ‘mini school clinic’ that doubles as her office are kept under her charge. Not everyone has a father that can link her up into a government hospital to start work immediately after school like Jane. She believes life comes to those who believe and only T, time, is the difference between HERE and THERE.
Jane sat just beside where Laibe sat as well.
“My sister, what is wrong and why are you crying?”
“Ask her o…” Mary cut in, proving that the statement has been lingering in her mind all along.
Laibe just looked blank as her form mistress narrated the event that just took place in the class. The accuracy with which Miss Mary narrated it was marvelling and at a point, she was beginning to think the woman had a video covering the scene after all.
“…I didn’t even know that it was Matron Udale you were telling me is your madam and friend all this while. Please help me ask your kid sister, how narrating her holiday experience would cause tears. I mean, she said she went to confluence beach for that matter.” Mary lamented. Laibe’s heart skipped a bit as she heard the name confluence beach again. That phrase does something to her inner soul.
Jane drew closer to Laibe and held her hands, “Remember, you told me you had always longed to go there. When your result came out, you called with Mummy’s phone to tell me you made it. Also remember, I was there, the morning you and patron travelled. You promised me you were going to enjoy every bit of your holiday…” She paused and sunk her eyes into Laibe’s, “… what happened there that’s making you cry, Laibe.”
Laibe swallowed painfully. The tears were beginning to well up back in her eyes and everyone could see the deliberate attempt she was making at stopping it. She is caught between two balls here. Telling Sis Jane would make no difference because if she doesn’t, Jane would report the whole scenario to her aunty and she didn’t want to imagine what the outcome of that would be. But the words were so heavy in her heart. It was like a big large ball, firmly stuck to the walls of her vocal cords not letting the words flow out. She continued looking from one person to another, not still knowing what to say.
Thankfully, Helen knocked and walked in with the numerous things Miss Mary asked her to buy. Dropping them on the table, she dashed out of the room without talking to Laibe. That was quite unusual. Just when Laibe thought she had escaped the hot seat,
“Laibe, we are waiting…”
She heard Miss Mary say from the corner she sat, paying rapt attention.
The Wife I Never Married – Episode Nineteen
THE WIFE I NEVER MARRIED – GRACE OCHIGBO