THE WIFE I NEVER MARRIED- GRACE OCHIGBO
“Oh I thought the brother that got us all agitated in the office last week lived with you?”
Udale smiled broadly at that cocky statement, pulling the curtain, “Why did you ask?”
“Because I was almost fed up with ringing the doorbell. At a point I thought no one was in this house and wanted to leave before the security man insisted I exercised some more patience” Jane responded while using her hand to feel the large framed picture of her matron on the wall. The sitting room is quite expansive and beautifully laid out with vase flowers of different colours and sizes littered everywhere. No one would have imagined the stern-looking matron ever loving anything romantic, let alone having flowers occupy the bulk of her sitting room. But here we are! It’s just like Jane’s father’s house, just as she likes it.
“Oh dear! Ocholi had gone back to school Jane, he schools at Federal University Lokoja… Fine arts.” Udale responded to the almost absent-minded lady who was more concerned about letting her eyes dart from one side of the room to the other than she was with the seat offered her.
“Wow, that’s great. I would pass if told he was a literate with the way he looked that day” Jane scorned without showing any expression whatsoever on her face, Udale tittered lightly before responding to her,
“Young lady, you saw he was overworked that day. You were there when he said the car had issues, right? Don’t come here teasing my husband’s younger brother.” Udale sounded the warning jokingly. With her first finger pointing in Jane’s direction, she continued smiling as those words escaped her lips.
“Oh…!” Jane exclaimed. She brought her palms together in a pleading manner as she spoke, “Oga’s brother? Matron, I’m sorry o, I didn’t know”
Udale laughed her air out at the young lady’s gesture. This is why she enjoys Jane’s company a lot sometimes; she is comic and very free, like she has no worries in the entirety of her life.
“It’s OK Jane, please it’s too early” Udale managed to voice out when she could finally catch her breath, “…and to what do I owe this August visit this beautiful morning? You should have called, what if I wasn’t in town?”
Jane smiled and relaxed into her seat, “We are not in August by my own calendar. Moreover, if I didn’t meet you, I will just leave a word with your gateman, that one is not a big something! We are missing you so much in the office and I wanted to pay you a surprise visit today” she said all these without breaking to breathe.
“Aww! That’s so thoughtful of you my baby! You know how boring leave can be for me. I was still coming to work those times to while away time, nothing to do at home plus Ocholi was here. Now, I have so much to attend to at the moment. So I would rather observe my holidays my dear” Udale explained.
Nurse Jane just kept smiling mischievously as she told the matron of her ordeals at the office over the past one week. The other nurses as usual disliked her, she had no one to run to whenever she read, saw or heard any exciting news and that practically translated her into a much needed state of partial dumbness inasmuch as keeping quiet for thirty straight minutes was the greatest punishment anyone could met onto her. She’s got to survive anyway especially throughout the absence of her beloved matron. Something struck her though. She knew something somehow was wrong with the matron sitting in front of her, judging from the way her eyeballs have dug deep inside as it’s characteristics of one who had cried her eyes out overtime, same applies to her voice. Her voice was coarse and husky, it must have cracked from the excessive litres of tears she had drained from her tear-bank, Jane thought within herself before gathering the boldness to ask the questions on her mind.
“Mummy, I thought you finally took out your holidays to rest yet you don’t look YOU, what has been happening?”
Whether it’s the question or the ‘mummy’ Jane calls her at times like this that causes shudders to run down her spine, Udale didn’t know. One thing she know is that she is always thrown off balance these days. Matthew hasn’t called her since he left with that pregnant woman last week. Yes. True. He will always spend a maximum of two weeks whenever he goes for the job at Lokoja and return to spend the next one week at home. He runs that type of circle and she has grown to get used to it, at least since it started. That was why she wasn’t expecting him last week and decided to bring Laibe till the unfortunate sudden appearance happened. As it stands now, she doesn’t know his schedules anymore – when or not to expect him. Gradually their communication level is drifting farther apart and for all the times she thought about it, she blamed herself solely for it.
‘Perhaps if I had a child for him, he would be excited to come home to me’ or ‘What right do I have to stop him from having mistresses anyway, when there is not a single child in this house to call our own’, these thoughts puts her mind into severe torture and at all those times, she scratches her hair so rigorously, perhaps she could scratch reality off her mind.
“I’ll be fine Baby! I have a thirteen year old to look after now and she is really some loads of work” Udale responded, trying to coin out a little smile around her lips. Deep within, she knew all the things wrong with her right now has Laibe as the least cause of it.
“Oh! Really? You never told me about it.” Jane replied sitting up.
Udale raised her left brow and lowered the other one. She couldn’t trace the location Jane was driving from at the moment; they both are not mates in any regard at all. In fact, if Udale like other girls at her time, had married, she should have a daughter older than Jane. The age gap is that wide and she is not particularly someone to discuss family issues outside, so she wondered why the young girl felt disappointed for not being told. Well, let’s cover it up, it’s a good thing someone cares, Udale admonished herself.
“I’m sorry about that. She is my late elder brother’s daughter. The day Ocholi came to the hospital was the day he went to bring her”
Jane immediately burst into a hysteric laughter and Udale continued staring at her vacantly while she laughed unable to decipher whatever was so funny in the last statement because even the heartless know that the mention of the phrase ‘late brother’ is not comic.
“No wonder you looked like you saw a ghost when Nurse Ephraim came to tell you that you had an urgent visitor. I’m sure you related it to the news I came with about the rampart kidnap of girls. Matron, Matron, you can fear sha!” Jane spoke out after she saw the displeasure on her matron’s face as touching her laughter. She rattled the ending part of her statement in pidgin English, hitting her right hand softly against Udale’s thighs.
The matron heaved a sigh of relief before smiling back at Jane,
“Yes dear, I had to be scared. One, I stubbornly sent to bring my niece against my husband’s stern warnings. I mean? What do I tell her grandfather and my husband? That the girl was kidnapped? Ojò kíkó” she explained and gesticulated with her hands in saying ‘God forbid’.
Every one of the ordeals of that day now made sense to Jane with this recent information… or revelation as the case may be. It’s now quite understandable and justifiable the actions of her matron that day.
“My baby, what can I offer you? It’s almost noon, so you can take yam and scrambled eggs right? Or is it noodles? Children of this generation.” Udale asked and laughed at the little joke she cracked
Jane’s response was as though she didn’t hear any of Udale’s last questions, “Mummy where is she now and when do I get to meet her? Your niece, that is.”
Udale who was about to stand up earlier sat back to answer the questions not knowing in what order to start,
“Ok! I enrolled her into JS1 at Aleka Academy and she has started school since Monday, that’s the answer to where she is now. About when you will get to meet her… ehrmm… hmmm…” Udale stammered as she tried to wrap her head around the best answer to give regarding a perfect meeting time for her two foster daughters.
“It is time for break, not time to sleep”
“Maybe she is waiting for us all to leave so she could steal from our bags”
“No, my mummy said Villagers don’t steal, they only take what is theirs”
“Yes! They don’t steal, they only say ‘my name it is Laibe’ when asked to introduce themselves”
Everyone burst into loud mocking laughter as the little boy that said the last statement mimicked the scenario. They stood barely an inch away from where Laibe sat, two boys and two other girls. They were so close and spoke loud deliberately so much so that even if Laibe wore a headphone over her ears, she would still hear them loud and clear. These four group of students – Helen, Rita, Mustapha and Simeon as she heard others call them – had made life very unbearable for her since she resumed. Ocholi had paid and done the necessary registrations at the cashiers’ office and was permitted to leave as the teacher on duty would take over from there. That was how Mr Emma, who was the teacher on duty that Monday morning accompanied her to JS1B, the second classroom on the block to the left almost immediately one exits the administrative block. She heard the students greet ‘Good morning Sir’ as she followed behind the tall and fair teacher into the classroom and after he was done responding to their greetings, he asked everyone to sit down. Mr Emma announced that they had a new member in their class and he would love her to introduce herself to her mates. Laibe, up till now, wished that time never came. She became extremely nervous and her palms began to sweat as she rubbed them against each other with her very big school bag strapped firmly to her back.
“Introduce yourself to your classmates” she heard Mr Emma’s voice come through her ears again.
“I… My…” she started. As she stammered the beginning of her introduction, she felt impatient eyes staring at her. Their stares pierced through her skin and that doubled the original fear pendulum that was set rolling on her inside earlier. She swallowed and tried to calm herself before continuing, “My… my name… my name it is Laibe, Laibe Godwin”
Just when she thought she had successfully overcome fear and was expecting an applause or something, she watched the whole class roar in thunderous laughter. The laughter began like kick-starting a machine engine would. Someone, one of the biggest boys in the class named Kabir, let out a loud cough when the words were barely off her mouth and the others joined consecutively till the laughter circulated round the class like diffusing gases. She was left to feel like the ground could open up and swallow her from shame. She rolled her eyeballs to the side and saw how the tall teacher standing beside her was also struggling to lock his laughter deep within. She endured her world of shame for some minutes before the teacher gathered himself up to stop the students. They didn’t even heed his instructions till the cane in his hand landed angrily on the first table in the front row. Everyone sat up, those that had tears rolling down their cheeks from excessive laughter quickly cleaned it while they picked up the books that fled off their seats.
“The right thing to say is, my name is Laibe Godwin” Mr Emma corrected her introduction and made her repeat after him twice before offering her seat. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, it was that same seat he hit some minutes ago, the first on the first row. As she walked over to take her seat, she felt eyes all over her, that type of stare when there is no freedom to laugh at all. That day has been her nightmare all the while. The only thing she had said in this class for the four days she’s been here was the edited version of her introduction whenever the other teachers asked. And as though it was a tradition or some form of modules operandi in this school, every single teacher that had taken her class since Monday had asked she introduced herself. She was grateful the teachers were not demanding anything other than her name. It was only the Business Studies teacher, Mrs Okigwe, that tried to press more into knowing other than just her name but when the woman saw the pleading helplessness on Laibe’s face, she let it slide and just carried on with her class.
Her aunty made lunch for her and packaged it in a lunchbox before driving her down to school this morning; she had taken over that responsibility after Ocholi travelled two days ago. Laibe misses her crush a great deal and the only memory left of him is what he showed, and later on gave her that afternoon they got back from the village. Laibe, however had some group of other bullies in the class who would cease her lunchbox during break, eat up everything in it and return an empty container back to her while these four students made mockery of her the whole length of the break time. She didn’t know what to do, she didn’t know who to report to. Even when she sees who to report to, as Mr Emma had told her to always report to him, how would she express herself? She had become dumb in class, not saying anything to anyone. Not as though she had nothing to say but then she lacked the best words with which to express herself and was afraid not to add more mockery lines to the ones she had earned already.
“Laibe is a bush girl… iya iya o”
The students started banging on her desk so she could raise her head up. She didn’t know what they wanted from her; they have taken her food and now she tries to just rest her head, she can’t do that as well? Why is everything in the Ankpa of her dreams turning sore for her? Perhaps she would be forced to report this unbearable one to Mr Emma but she hadn’t seen him since Monday. He obviously doesn’t take any subject in her class. Before she could say Jack Robinson, she felt one of the girls, Helen, pull hard at her hair. That’s painful; her hair though long and dark is very tough. So tough that at times, she dreaded passing a comb through it. She got up and the pitch of the song seem to triple. They followed her as she trudged towards the door in frustration. Her head was left dropping downwards, she couldn’t look at anyone of them, she just figured the direction of the exit in her mind and continued moving without looking. Just when she felt the whole class walking behind her, the voices began diminishing till she almost felt the everywhere become as quiet as a calm sea. She also felt feet running back to their seats with the tables sounding as it dragged on the cemented floor. Did a miracle happen? Laibe was confused but fear and shame didn’t let her raise her head up. Her uniform was already soaked in her own sweat and the maroon jacket made of wool, which is part of the uniform, didn’t help matters as well. She remained transfixed to the floor, perhaps whoever came in to save her from this agony and torture would eventually speak up, but no voice came through her ears. She imagined if it was the principal, or finally. maybe Mr Emma had come to her rescue again. Gradually, she admonished herself to gather courage and when she eventually did, she couldn’t believe her eyes as they popped out like large ShopRite doughnuts, stunned by who stood at the door of the classroom.
To be continued