THE WIFE I NEVER MARRIED – GRACE OCHIGBO
“…1…0…1…3…10… OK sir… alright sir. I’ll definitely do the needful as soon as I can. Thank God, you just confirmed they actually live in Ankpa and not Lokoja.” He turned his face, when he felt the door creaked, to see Jane coming in.
“You know what, Uncle? I keep saying in my next world, I’ll not accept that kind of person again, whether the order came from you or mum.” Max practically mouthed into the phone. He waited for what the person on the other side of the phone was saying and he laughed lightly. “OK sir. I guess my woman just came in to tell me my time is up…” He flashed his eyes at Jane who was looking all dressed up, “…I’ll sir. In fact, I’m greeting her now for you already.” He winked at Jane and she smiled. “…I’ll get to work as soon as possible. Thank you sir. Bye for now sir.” He hung up and hastily moved over to hug Jane.
Though he came into Ankpa yesterday, he haven’t had her time. Majorly because her father kept him engaged all through. It’s really been a long time and the men both had a lot of things to talk about, especially now that they are working towards the date Jane chose.
“You and this your uncle! What kind of person has he given you that you wouldn’t accept next time?” Jane confronted him, immediately he released her from the hug.
Max smiled, pecking her forehead.
“You know I told you that man was infuriating me the other day. Thank God he hasn’t returned since then, I’m hell fed up with him. Uncle Nonso was the one who directed them to me. That’s not even the problem, he is a chronic insubordinate patient. You give the man simple instructions that would help his situation, he would not do it, then, he comes back yelling at me over what I didn’t do. It’s annoyingly crazy! He even threatens me about losing my license, can you imagine that?”
Jane started laughing and he stopped because her laughter got him confused. He didn’t know what was funny in his statement. He had an idea what Jane was laughing at though. It was probably the serious face he wore while talking. Truth is, this matter usually gets him infuriated, especially after the last meeting with them. He wished the man’s wife had picked up her call when the honourable commissioner called her in his presence. He would have insisted on talking to her himself.
Bloody lying rich men! He drew a very long hiss before he could stop himself.
“Are you OK, Max?” Jane called back his attention.
Max quickly dragged down the edges of his polo. “Of course I am. Is your father ready to move now?”
Jane didn’t believe him fully but also didn’t want to push anything.
“He was the one that asked me to come and call you. You are obviously keeping the old man waiting.”
“Let’s hurry then. Don’t mind my uncle. He rarely calls and so keeps one on the phone, the few times he does, so long you will wonder if he gets charged by his network providers at all.” Max said, spraying a deodorant on himself.
She has heard so much about Dr Nonso, his uncle, that she is beginning to wonder whether Max’s dad is his actual father, or not.
She opened the door and led the way.
“Do you by any chance know any Dr Matthew Onoja?”
Max thought she could be of help, so as to ease his findings.
“No!” She cut in, without thinking, even before the words barely left Max’s mouth. “Why did you ask?” Jane inquired with questioning eyes. Not keeping her father any longer than they have now was most paramount.
“OK! Never mind then. I’m supposed to discuss something with his wife.” Max said firmly and followed Jane out of the room.
Udale had to stop as she saw a car drive into their compound. Even though the car looks very familiar, she wasn’t expecting any visitor as it were. In fact, she should have left with Matthew to the hospital an hour ago if not that she isn’t someone to dress up in a hurry, most especially after she was just done cooking Laibe’s meal – and so she asked him to go ahead of her. Laibe has been in that hospital for almost a week now.
Halima said she’s gradually succeeding at making friends with Laibe, even though she hadn’t been able to get Laibe to say all the things they needed her to say.
“Therapy works, Ma’am. It’s one step at a time.” was what Halima told her two days ago.
She is running out of patience sincerely and her new found job of taking food to the hospital every morning didn’t come across as a newly found hobby to her. What can she do?
She beamed with smiles on seeing who stepped out of the car. These are truly August visitors.
“To what do I owe this august visit, Sir?” she said, bending courteously to greet patron Odaudu, her predecessor. Jane quickly came over to hug her while Max said his greetings from somewhere there.
“U…dale… you look adorable, as usual!”
Udale blushed as Patron Odaudu said these things. Though he wasn’t being truthful, it felt nice to hear a compliment in a long while, most especially the modified way he often calls her name… like he was stressing the first part of it to sound like Uh…dale.
“Thank you sir. Please do come in sir.” Jane was still clinging onto her. A child in an adult’s body she is really.
“Come in? You look like you are headed somewhere. We didn’t intend to stay long, just to greet you and your husband, since it’s been so long.” Patron Odaudu said courteously.
“And to let you finally meet the much talked about Max…” Jane whispered in her ears and her smiles got broader.
“Maximillian? Our very own Dr Max. It’s nice to finally place a face to the name.”
Though Max didn’t understand the part of ‘our very own’, he didn’t show it. He only moved forward and took her hand politely, in the perfect gentleman’s fashion.
“Same here Ma’am. Jane has told me a lot about you too, her mummy.”
They all laughed out.
Max and Patron Odaudu, his soon-to-be father in-law were almost on the same clothes. Well, it was coincidental. Max followed Jane downstairs to see that her father also was on a jean trouser and polo. It felt good and Max immediately made some grandpa goals; to be as young and fresh as the older man even in his old age.
“Please, let us go in. You don’t want my in-law to know my house?” Udale joked, winking at Jane and they laughed again.
“Some other time, some other time. How about your husband, where is he? I’ve since longed to see him.” Jane’s father said.
Udale’s smiles has reduced appreciably but she is trying very well to mask her feelings.
“He went to the hospital earlier. I was just about going there too myself.”
“Hospital? Who is at the hospital?” Jane’s father exclaimed. Just then, his eyes fell on the basket filled with food flasks beside Udale.
“I told you about my kid sister’s condition, daddy.” Jane interrupted and that eased some burden off Udale’s heart.
“Oh! I’m so sorry. Is it that serious that she has to stay there till now? It’s about a week or so now.” Philip Odaudu couldn’t help his curiosity.
“It’s serious, sir.”
Jane thought her mummy’s voice broke while saying this. She picked up the basket and started out, ahead of them.
“Well, let’s all go together then. I wanna see the girl and also see your husband.” Patron Odaudu turned knowing eyes at Max who stood quiet all the while, seeking what seemed like approval, and the later returned his stare with a nod in the affirmative.
“I guess, we are all good then.” He said, leading the way.
Udale wasn’t sure of this.
Especially that Matthew had warned her not to come visit Laibe with another person, let alone two new face, but she is caught between two balls here; this is her superior and she shouldn’t be disobeying or talking back at him. Any hesitation to his suggestion would paint a picture and atmosphere of suspicion which she wasn’t ready for right now.
She took deep calming breaths and hurried after them.
Max drove a little calmer this time. There is this thing about taking precautions whenever you are driving elderly people. In fact, common sense would tell you it’s important. He didn’t want his father in-law to-be to complain about him driving recklessly. He applied the break slowly as he tried to negotiate the bend that lead to Jane’s street. He knew Jane was not happy in the very least. She had really wanted to follow her ‘mummy’ to the hospital.
Well, perhaps if she used her own car, she would have been able to follow her ‘mummy’ without them, but this is her father’s car right here and everyone must submit to his authority.
“You know, son, that there is actually nothing urgent to attend to right?” Philip Odaudu started.
Max looked sideways at him with confusion in his eyes. Nothing urgent? So why are they not on their way to Bethel hospital after or in company of Udale as the older man opined earlier, he thought within him, and as though Jane’s father could read his mind, he answered the questions.
“Yeah! You know when you get to my age, with so many life lessons and experiences, observing some things comes in handy, simple and natural.”
Max coincidentally saw Jane’s face through the mirror as she smirked. Her father is towing the path she obviously don’t always get comfortable with… more like she had heard those lines over and over again and she finds them hell boring already.
“And what was that observation, sir?” Max said politely, masking the smile that Jane’s action almost formed on his face.
“She didn’t want us to follow her to the hospital…”
Max and Jane’s eyes popped open.
“…Yes! I know what I’m saying, she surely agreed just because she feels I shouldn’t be disrespected, and not because she actually was comfortable with our following her to the hospital idea.” He explained further.
It’s true though.
Max had observed the hesitations in Udale’s footsteps earlier and she’s apparently not one to be able to hide her emotions clearly away from her eyes. He felt relieved when Jane’s father saw it too.
“That was why I had to tell her to go ahead this time and we would, on another occasion. I actually used the guise of someone waiting for me at home, and something urgent to attend to; so as not to make her feel bad about it because I know Udale, her eyes are as close to tears as a fish is closed up in water.”
His words got Max pondering again.
It’s good to have an intelligent father in-law, really. He pulled into the compound and dragged the gear to park.
“Sorry Sir…” He said quickly before Odaudu would step out.
If Jane’s eyes carried guns now, he would have dropped dead from the look she shot at him. Jane had admonished him, even when she claimed to be joking but he knew she was serious, that he should be calling her father ‘daddy’ and not address him as ‘sir’. Most especially that their rapport is very good, she wonders what makes it hard for Max to sound ‘personal’ with her father. Max on his own side, maybe due to excessive years of studying and living abroad, has come to see that taking someone ‘personal’ should be in calling him or her by the first name and not in all the titles that we blacks make a big deal of. Well, that belief of his cannot grow here, if people mustn’t read him as disrespectful. That’s why the words, ‘ma’am and sir’ are vital part of his vocabulary. His own parents are not even helping matters; they call each other by their first names and don’t even mind if the children call them as well.
“Yes! What is that, son?” Odaudu said, sounding a bit impatient.
“Uhm… Mr… I mean, Dr Matthew Onoja, do you by any chance know who that person is?” Max asked, hoping he could get a lead to the man’s house. The database of Matthew in his file had the commissioner as everything; the next of kin’s phone number, the home address, the contact address. Seeing how large Ankpa is, whoever would give him any information about his patient is welcomed.
Philip Odaudu placed a finger on his empty jaw. There was nothing to pick, so the finger only rested.
“Matthew… Matthew… Matthew Onoja…” He muttered to himself for a while. Jane sat still at the back, she could bet that the name sounded very familiar. At least, her mummy’s name tag at workplace bears, ‘Matron Onoja’. It couldn’t have been her own Onoja anyway. Jane presumed the name must be for that horrible man that did all those nonsense and still have the nerves to wanna cover up, if, and of course she is quite sure, all the stories Max told her are correct.
“Yeah!” Odaudu sprang up on his chair. “…that’s Matthew now. Udale’s husband, the person we would have gone with her to the hospital to see. Oh! Matthew! It’s been a really long time. Since he started working at Lokoja, I barely see him around anymore.” A smile formed on his face but quickly faded when he turned to Max.
The young man was sweating in an air-conditioned car. Jane had let out a loud shocked scream when he affirmed the person with the name identity. If nothing else, these two children are having him confused here.
“Is there any problem, Max?” he called him by his first name for the very first time in a long while.
“Ye.. yes sir… no, I mean no sir…” Max stammered and Odaudu rose his eyebrows.
“If you don’t mind sir, I have to follow the woman back to the hospital, this is important and urgent.” Max requested, dragging the car key out of his hole, handing it over to him and stepping out while at it.
The older man was obviously confused and could see how Jane worked so hard not to leave any expression on her face as well. He only could pray Matthew was in no danger.
“Why not?” He excused Max, who practically took off to his heels.
“You don’t know Bethel hospital, Max.” Jane called out, running after him till he stopped. “Let’s go in my car.” She said calmly.
“I’ll handle this, Goddess. Just pray for me.” He mouthed and walked out through the gate.
Jane stood fixed, looking at him till she could see him no more.
She would pray that nothing happens to her fiancé in this mightily complicated case, especially now that the victims are people close by.
Halima hurriedly followed after Udale. She didn’t know if she should have said what she said, or was it the way she said it? Maybe, she shouldn’t have said it that way, or should not have even said it at all. But what would she rather do?
Udale’s husband had driven out of here earlier too, just immediately he heard it from her. He didn’t even wait for her to say the last part. The part that would require her asking more interesting questions.
Perhaps, this couples behave the same way, because Udale also isn’t patient to listen to her.
She hurried over, and her leg was almost hitting Udale’s when the latter opened the door to the ward room where Laibe was staying. Laibe was sitting on the chair beside her bed instead. Udale had left off the basket of food in her rage from Halima’s office. Though the last one she brought alongside cutleries are still on the side table.
Laibe rose to her feet immediately her aunty walked in. Her eyeballs were so red that they could stain a white material. She couldn’t move so much because a drip was placed on her hand. She had been vomiting all the things she ate in almost the whole week she has spent here now. She made sure nobody noticed it and thankfully that she was in a private ward containing its toilet. She had successfully kept everyone out of it until two days ago when Halima came in to check on her at an unusual time. Laibe knew her therapy time, she enjoys the discussion with Halima, especially the part that made her anticipate seeing Halima’s daughter soonest. It’s either Halima wanted to surprise her two days ago… or not. Whichever way, she came in late in the evening with some cookies, only to find Laibe throwing up in the bathroom. Her uncle and aunty were done visiting and had left then. Laibe could remember the surprised look on Halima’s face and she wondered why. At least, it’s as normal to vomit as it is to run temperature, right? Halima sat back interrogating her instead of dropping the cookies and leaving immediately, Laibe cursed her luck. Asking her questions like; the day she last saw her period and very many inconsequential questions… or so she thought. She had felt like throwing up about twice during that time of interrogation and excused herself each time. Halima however followed her in there the third time, cleaned her up and held her hand.
“We need to run tests on you, Laibe.” was the simple answer she gave when Laibe asked where she was leading her to. She had awaited Halima to come over and talk to her all through yesterday, at least about the various tests they conducted on her, but nothing. She also expected unusual questions from her folks, that’s if they’ve learnt of the test results, but to her amazement, none made mention of it yesterday.
The drip that was set by a nurse, after those series of tests, now feels like a trap to her because she couldn’t detach it and move outside to go meet Halima for clarity after anxiety became her food. Earlier, about an hour ago, Uncle Matthew also walked gently into this room. She wasn’t sleeping, she had her back resting against the rod that edged the bed. She stared back at him demanding answers as he stared at her. He didn’t say anything, he just held onto the door knob like he would usually do. It felt like that door was his pillar while helplessness filled the bulk of his eyes. Laibe could feel pains almost dropping off his shoulders and hitting the floor so hard it could cause an eruption.
“What is the problem?” She muttered underneath her breath.
Surely, she wasn’t going to ask him questions, not with the way he is looking like someone that just got struck by a purple ghost.
After some appreciable number of minutes, she watched as her uncle left off the door knob and walked out, closing the door gently behind him. She felt like jumping off the bed and running after him, or meeting anyone… just anyone that can save her from this brain torture of waiting for Halima… her friend. It was in her confusion and frustration that she slid off the bed onto the chair beside it… that was the much she could do. She stared so much at the needle that was bounded by whatever that brown thing is…plaster… whatever… to the back of her hand with wishful eyes. She felt so much pain that she started to cry, weep, wail, and even sob, all together.
Udale stormed in with red shot eyes as well. “So you let that riffraff sleep with you?” Her voice was at its peak
Laibe looked back with the ‘excuse me’ look.
“The boy that drove you and your friend from school on that Thursday evening I travelled to bring baba.”
Laibe didn’t know what to say now.
“Was he the one that got you pregnant?”
Laibe’s heart missed many different beats in succession. She saw her whole world crumble before her own very eyes and the broken pieces, like glasses, broke into even tinier and useless pieces. Pregnant?
“Answer me before I poke the whole length of my arm through your throat.”
“You have to take it easy, Ma’am.” Halima spoke out for the first time when she saw Udale would beat Laibe up if she didn’t speak up early enough.
Halima blames herself for all of these. She should have kept the findings from the test results to herself and continue therapy till she is able to get Laibe to say who was responsible for the pregnancy. She just felt Laibe’s folks are learned people, especially that Udale is a matron, she expected more maturity in the handling of this case than she was seeing now.
“Take it easy? Take what easy?” She laughed in spite of herself. “…Laibe, after all I’ve done for you? Picked you up and made you one to stand out amidst others, you decided to let one never-do-well boy make a mess of your life?” Udale was still screaming but tears were flowing from her eyes already.
Laibe is no exception to this tears party. In fact, hers is more pitiful.
“I… I am sorry, aunty.”
Udale rose her hand and landed a hot slap on Laibe’s cheeks.
Halima immediately jumped in between them, pushing Udale onto the bed beside her.
“Are you OK, baby?” Halima asked, rubbing Laibe’s face.
More tears. Less words.
“Yes I am…” Laibe held her cheek. She thought she had gone blind earlier when the thunderous slap landed on her tender cheek, that was because she began to see numerous sizes and colours of stars.
“You better tell me who got you pregnant, if you don’t want me to strangle you with my bare hands.” Udale screamed from where she was sited, stretching her hand to reach the little girl but Halima prevented it.
Halima held onto Laibe’s hand, the one drip wasn’t fixed to, tenderly. Her eyes drilled into the little girl’s petite body and wished she could help her bear the pains right now.
“Who got you pregnant, my friend? You know you have me. I’m sorry about this, but just tell us, please?” Halima kept her white eyeballs on Laibe while saying this. The poor girl was still in tears, shaking and vibrating so violently like someone set on a vibrator.
“You don’t have to patronise her. All her tactics have been laid bare. Tell me now or never.” Udale called out.
“Enough Mrs Udale. Please let’s hear her out.”
Laibe saw Halima frown for the first time, thank God it wasn’t towards her… yet.
“We lodged in the same room at confluence beach hotel, as father and daughter, on the first ever vacation after my result came out…” Laibe swallowed and tears poured. Halima encouraged her with nods and attentive eyes as Udale sat up. “…on the second night, he asked me to draw closer to him. I didn’t see it right, but he pounced on me during the moment of hesitation and slept with me.” She didn’t say them together all at the same time like this, she said it bit by bit, pushing out the next words like it stuck to her throat.
Udale thought she was listening to an episode of This Life family drama’ and she drew closer, though feeling weak at the knees this time. So much so that she knew she would drop down if she made any attempt to stand up.
“I screamed and screamed till I could no more…” Laibe’s tone brought tears to Halima’s eyes. “I saw my blood everywhere as he entered me, yet he didn’t stop. My groaning didn’t make him stop. I tried to fight with my leg but just one of his on me, covered the whole of me.”
Laibe could picture that night as she said this. That night remains the most unforgettable night of her life. She hadn’t seen it coming at all. He had made her have so much fun at the confluence beach earlier in the day. He even told her goodnight when she came to lay after insisting she took her bath and change into the nighties he bought for her. About two hours into the sleep was when she felt a hand caress her thighs. She thought it was dreams until the hand started raising her dress. She immediately put on the bedside lamp and saw her uncle, sweating with red eyes. The sweat was so much, it dripped onto her. It was mixed feelings for her; fear and confusion. He started sounding helpless while begging her not to stop him. The words were barely off his mouth before he pulled his entire weight on and into her.
“ahhhhhh! No… Uncle, no! Leave me alone! Leave me!!!” Laibe screamed from her thoughts.
She had prayed nothing would require her remembering those horrible pictures vividly ever again. Though she probably wouldn’t forget it but telling someone else about it has been what she hasn’t been able to do for about three years now.
“Laibe…” Udale’s voice sounded light as she sniffed. “You mean your uncle slept with you?”
She was only able to nod her head in response.
“How many more times?”
“Oh! No, please…” Halima cut in
Laibe answered anyway, “A lot more times. All the other vacations we had, at times when you travel and even when you are around and sleeping. The day I started menstruating, many more times after that.” Laibe has exhausted all the pity she has for herself and saw nothing to lose or gain hiding any detail from her aunty. She has come to her final stop. She would say everything there is and await the consequence.
“He told me not to ever tell anyone. At times, he would threaten to kill me if I did; at other times, he would promise to give me whatever I wanted; and at other times, he would bring expensive gift items for me.”
Udale could connect the loose dots around those costly gifts she saw in the little girl’s room and she said were from her uncle. Udale also remembered the shocked look on her husband’s face at the dining table when she asked him about the gifts.
Why didn’t she suspect anything? Oh God!!!
“When was the last time he did this to you?”
Laibe cried more. “The night you went to bring Baba. It was so merciless that I felt something tear in me. When I tried to move, I couldn’t. that was why I couldn’t run to come hug baba as you expected.”
Halima was also crying now. Udale unlike before, now feels enormous pity for her niece. She had brought this upon the little girl. Her negligence and ignorance have.
“Is she five weeks pregnant, Halima?” Udale asked with the little more energy left in her.
“Yes, five weeks and three days.”
Udale got up and stormed out of the room, in so much haste that she disappeared like lightening, slamming the door hard behind her.
Halima left off Laibe’s hand and followed after her.
Laibe cried more and more, searching for something on the side table with her eyes.
“Ma’am, ma’am, someone is here to see you.”
“Not now!” Halima snapped, waving her secretary who was running after her, off.
She watched and continued in the direction Udale was headed, the latter didn’t stop and didn’t slow down, holding an handkerchief to her nose.
Udale held her phone out when Halima came to meet her.
“I have ruined my own self, Halima.” She sounded painfully sarcastic as she said this and Halima dragged her closer for a hug. Udale shook in Halima’s hands.
“What did I do to deserve this? From Matthew? Unbelievable!”
She lamented on and on and on.
After a while, Halima released her from the warm hug and made her sit. They were already at the front of the hospital building.
“MTN number you are trying to call is currently switched off, please try…”
Udale ended it before it would finish the statement she has heard thrice in the past few minutes.
“He switched his phone off.” Udale started another round of wails.
“You have to be calm Ma’am, you are outside.” Halima cautioned.
“Who cares, my husband has been sleeping with my niece under my nose and have now impregnated her? What a wretch I am.”
“You have to be…” Halima started and was interrupted by her phone. The number she just busied is calling back.
“I said not now, Ele.” She yelled at her secretary.
“I’m sorry ma, we’ve looked all over the place for you.” The voice came out loud over the speaker. Whenever she isn’t with her earpiece, she puts the call on speaker. Never would she put a cell phone close to her ears. Her life is still precious to her.
“By we, you mean? You and the visitor? Can that wait please?” she caught herself screaming. She needed to calm down too obviously. “Alright, what is the problem?”
“The… the nurse that attends to her…” she talked like being held under gun point. “…screamed and ran out of the room just now… she is either looking for you or going for the doctor now, I can’t really say.”
Udale jerked up as Halima repeated that.
The latter ended the call and hurried back into the building with Udale practically running after her.
They opened the door to see Laibe’s head tilted to the side of the chair she’s been sitting on. The dinning knife was left somewhere on the blood stained floor. The women drew closer to see that Laibe has cut herself with the knife and is losing so much blood from that deep cut on her wrist already.
The door flew open almost instantly and they jerked back. The doctor, accompanied by a younger man, Udale recognised as the same person she saw earlier, rushed into the room while the nurse that obviously went to call him…or them now, hurried after them.
To be continued.