THE WIFE I NEVER MARRIED – GRACE OCHIGBO
Ocholi opened the door wider, gently. Laibe is standing at the window. The window of her room that opens to the gate area of the house. He stood for over ten minutes, yet she didn’t notice.
She has drastically reduced in size… and it looks like her height came down as well. It’s been three very rough weeks for the whole family.
He walked over to where she stood and put a hand around her shoulders. She didn’t jerk this time as she would have usually done, neither did she appear scared or frightened, and that, instead of comforting Ocholi, bothered him even more. He had to come down to Ankpa. Big sis, as he normally calls Udale, had called him, reporting that Laibe was acting all too strange for her comprehension. She also said that the little girl hadn’t said anything to her since the past one week she got back from Ofabo.
“You know how to relate with her better… please come and help me, Ocholi. Your brother and I have tried in vain.” Udale had helplessly told Ocholi over the phone some days ago.
Even though travelling down to Ankpa was a little bit of a sacrifice for him, as he had some things to put in place before his long awaited trip, Laibe is worth way more than all.
Actually, some burial rites according to tradition, especially that Baba was the oldest man and Madaki of the village, must be performed before and after the burial. His children… his daughter in this case, had to stay back for about fourteen days after the burial. Udale didn’t really see a big deal in that traditional rite; not like she was asked to do anything extraordinary, apart from sitting indoors all day long and not changing clothes. It’s rather unfortunate that Baba is only survived by a daughter and granddaughter. Some elders talked this over for a long time during the burial. She wondered exactly what their grievances were. Some said Baba’s house would soon become ‘alache’ as there is no one to stay there anymore. Others recalled the times they pestered Baba to take more wives so as to improve the size of his family. The rest only looked at Udale with sympathy, carrying the ‘we wish you were a man’ look in their eyes.
It’s a man’s thing, yeah!
What a world?
What responsible man would come back to settle in the village because his father’s house is empty?
Udale couldn’t tell if Ugbede, her late elder brother, would have remained at Ofabo till now if still alive.
“How are you, Lee…” Ocholi said quietly.
Laibe still remained still, facing where she’s been facing. She acted like no one walked in, not to talk of noticing any hand on her.
“My very beautiful big girl…” Ocholi started slowly, trying to remember words that would normally get a reaction from Laibe like this ‘big girl’, but the little girl was falling for none of it. “… so I came here last night but you were fast asleep, I didn’t know you sleep that early these days…” Ocholi smiled first, then he cautioned himself. These lines were not important, the girl here almost didn’t care who comes in and leave this house anymore, obviously.
“So… so I… so I know it’s been a very hard time for us all…” Ocholi continued. He didn’t know if he should put himself in the picture like that; he barely knew Baba anyway. “…but I need you to stay strong for yourself and be rest assured that I’d be here for you anytime any day…” then he remembered something, “…especially that it is important you insert the battery into your phone first. Only then would I be able to communicate better with you anytime and from anywhere.”
Ocholi searched her dressing table with his eyes for her phone. He found it and moved over there hurriedly. He tried fixing the battery but couldn’t find her SIM card in it.
“Laibe, where did you put your SIM card?”
The silence he has been getting as response is still his greatest cause of worry.
When a very proactive girl starts acting like a vegetable, it only calls for concern, yeah!
Laibe hasn’t been able to neglect his questions ever. Even when he asked his annoyingly repeated questions, the young girl would only delay his answer, not that she wouldn’t answer at all. The only answer of hers he hasn’t been able to wrap his head around and talk himself into believing is the one about the white paper. Ocholi knew Laibe was covering something up but how will he enter into her mind to bring it out?
“So you wanna paint?” He gently drew her face towards him, holding her little chin in his palms. Her eyes were still normal. She still look alright, no tears, no pain… yet no words. He brought out a paper diagram from his pocket, “… how about you come help me paint this diagram? It is a sample of a work I was given. You still have all the apparatus in your toolbox, don’t you? Yea, come on!”
Ocholi’s eyes begged her to respond but she was staring back at him instead. Soon enough, she withdrew her face and turned back in the former direction.
Ocholi took in a deep breath. Thankfully, he isn’t one to get angry over anything – direct opposite of his elder brother. Aunty Udale told him her husband had given up asking Laibe questions after attempting three times. The only issue Ocholi has right now is that he had not so much time on his hands anymore and he needed to tell her exactly what brought him back home. If it would change anything anyway.
“So I told you the last time that I’m putting in for a scholarship scheme to help me run my masters abroad, right?… In another news Lee, I got it!!…” He sounded excited while talking at first, then he paused and waited. Somehow he felt a flush of disappointment all over him. He had expected, even if nothing would, his announcement should make her elated of course; because she, specifically, has planned out how they were both going to celebrate when the scholarship finally comes. All thanks to this unfortunate incidence. Ocholi, however, sees this incidence as just a trigger for Laibe to expose her very many locked up emotions. It’s been a long time coming, he could tell.
“There were many options…” he continued anyway. He was satisfied she could hear him even though the aim of communication could not be achieved right now. “… so I chose half scholarship. That option had provision for me to take on a part-time job while still running my Master degree. Actually, it’s big bro that chose it for me…” he glanced at her again, “…Laibe, you know I don’t wanna leave you right? But it’s not my money o. This is an opportunity everyone would kill for…”
He waited for her one more time.
He swallowed, put back his hand on her shoulders. She didn’t move, she didn’t jerk. He brought down his hand and pocketed it. He opened his mouth to speak again but nothing was forthcoming this time.
“I… I guess I’ll talk to you later.” He said calmly and walked out.
Jane pulled over at the gate. She didn’t know if she should call her first before going in but she must do one thing surely today, no matter what, and that’s seeing Matron Udale. She turned to Mary when she noticed her lips moving.
“It’s not really your fault, alright? You were in Lokoja – On becoming Mrs Obaje…” Jane cut her a livid stare. “…it’s true na. Perhaps, they didn’t really want us to know about it in the first place…”
“How is that, Mary?” Jane interrupted, “… you know that’s not true. Laibe was away from school for over two weeks, didn’t you know that?”
Mary smiled. “Really? Was I not the one that told you that?” Sarcasm. “…well, we called the number of her guardian with us and it was her uncle who picked it up. He simply said they all went to the village urgently and that we shouldn’t worry about it. He didn’t mention anything that can point someone’s attention to death, let alone burial…”
Jane sighed. “I’m so nervous. I don’t know how my mummy would be by the time I see her. Imagine me planning to bring wedding plans before her, I dare not anymore. That woman seem to be suffering from something all by herself in silence.”
“Na you know… OmniSabi! Weh done ma!” Mary nudged her at the side and opened the car door, “…let’s go in before people start thinking we are spying on her house.” She got down immediately and started towards the gate. Jane quickly locked the doors and hurried after her as well.
The gateman didn’t say much to them. Apart from the fact that he is familiar with Jane, he seem to be grieving as well. At the door, Mary pressed on the door bell and waited. She pressed it again, this time listening to confirm if she felt someone’s footsteps inside.
“Hi Ladies…” Ocholi smiled at them, giving way.
Jane smiled knowingly at Ocholi but the young man obviously couldn’t place her face. He left the door for them to come in.
“Nurse Jane. I was in Matron’s office the day you brought Laibe to town and your car broke down or something.”
“Ah! God forbid, that Peugeot 504 can never be my car o… You see, we have thrown it away from this compound. One car be giving people so much problem.”
He said these in such a hilarious way that the two ladies laughed lightly.
“…anyway, pardon me! I was so scared and nervous that day, I didn’t even see any other person in the office. You know how your matron can be.” He lowered his voice a little.
“ I noticed…” Jane started but stopped as she heard Mary’s greeting.
“How are you my darlings?”
Jane ran into Udale’s open arms and rested her head on the older woman’s breast. It felt like her real mother.
“I’m so sorry mummy… I … I … didn’t…”
“Shhh!” Udale placed a finger on her mouth. “How are you my daughter?”
Ocholi didn’t wait to be told to excuse them. It felt like a mother-daughters reunion. He is not caught out for any of these emotional shows right now. He had some parking and arrangements to do.
“Ma, Laibe’s uncle told us when we called that you all went to the village for something urgent. He never mentioned burial…” Jane’s eyes begged Mary, while talking, not to say this part but she knew her friend better – so direct to the point, to a fault.
Udale’s eyes widened, “Oh! Really?”
She motioned them to a seat before taking hers.
“We are sorry. I would have led delegates to Ofabo if I had known that it was Laibe’s grandfather that died. I know how fond of him she is.” Mary affirmed.
“Well, the little girl has been acting really weird and strange lately. I don’t know what to think anymore.” Udale confessed and the two ladies sat up quickly on their seats like pins pierced them.
“Strange and weird? How do you mean Mummy? Where is she by the way?” Jane rained the questions, leaving no breathing space in between.
Udale got up, started walking away and they followed her.
Matthew kept pacing around the spacious home office. He wasn’t talking, not saying anything. Josh who had tried to force the words off his mouth, in vain, had given up. Yet, he could not concentrate on the mail he is trying to make a meaning out of, on his laptop.
“Mat, you need to see this. This young boy is doing great feats there. The company has accepted to send down the agricultural machines we are bidding for, at a very ridiculous low price. You won’t believe this. Isn’t this guy a genius?” He thought a change of topic would ease the tension in the air.
Josh, to Matthew, was talking at the top of his lungs.
Matthew could only wonder why.
“Mat, did you hear me at all?”
Matthew turned to him, creasing his forehead. “What?”
Josh showed displeasure. “Now tell me I have been talking to myself all the while?” He hissed dryly, “…well I was talking about Mr Ekele. Or Omachoko? Yeah, that was the name he called the last time. Anyway, here is his picture with the managing director of the company…” Josh started turning the screen of the laptop in Matthew’s direction, “…and he attached a scanned copy of their acceptance later…”
“Can you just keep quiet, Josh? Please!” Matthew yelled, hitting his hand hard against the wall.
At first, Josh was taken aback then he calmed himself down and got up. He didn’t know if it was wise to go near Matthew as it is right now but he trusted his guts. The highest that would happen is for the press to carry it later today that the commissioner was involved in an exchange of blows with one of his dear managers, who is also a close friend. Not as though he would be the first person in the state to do that; some paid leaders do it during most of their sittings.
“What is the problem again, my friend.”
Matthew squatted, rubbing his sweaty hands nervously against each other. As if that position wasn’t soothing anymore, he got up and went to hold onto the frame of the window.
“What is…” Josh was about to complete this when Matthew interrupted him.
“She is damn not saying anything anymore. Since then!”
Josh looked morose. He couldn’t understand who the ‘she’ and when the ‘then’ in his statement were.
“I’m talking about the little girl. I’m talking about Laibe. You know we both got back from Ofabo together, about a week before Udale…” he gave Josh a questioning look and the latter nodded in the affirmative before he continued, “… she didn’t say a single word to me, up until her aunty returned last week. I have done everything possible; scream, talk, at a point threaten, and plead at other points but she is stubbornly unyielding.”
Josh took in a deep breath.
“The crazier part was after her aunty got back.”
“Did she talk to Udale?” Josh sounded curious.
Matthew looked more tensed and anxious. “She didn’t… she hasn’t. Ocholi had to be called from his place of work even when his trip is soon… tomorrow or so, I can’t recall now. She is still damn not talking, even to Ocholi.” Matthew hit the wall hard again.
Josh swallowed. He knew what he was about to say wouldn’t help matters but they both can’t give in to fear and anxiety, drowning in the ocean of regrets right now.
“Maybe she has come to that stage the doctor talked about the last time.”
Matthew stared back at his friend, trying to recall the ordeals of the last meeting with the doctor and nothing seem to be clicking. He is even too nervous at the moment for his brain to consider thinking.
“What stage?” His eyeballs were almost dropping to the floor.
Josh walked back to his table and closed his laptop. Picking up his suit, phone and car keys, he walked back to where Matthew stood.
“You know what? Let’s go see the doctor immediately.” Josh said firmly and walked out of his office, leaving the door open for Matthew.
Laibe is still standing by the window Ocholi met and left her some minutes ago. She appears to be really focusing on something only her could see – something so far away, where no one could reach out to her. Jane ran over to her and grabbed her waist from the back. Mary was so startled by Laibe’s emaciation that she couldn’t even lift a limb.
“Laibe! My kid sister. Look at you? How are you? I’ve missed the hell out of you?” Jane talked on. Sometimes dragging Laibe’s face to her but the little girl would pull her face away and back to where it was.
Jane turned to Udale, eyes demanding answers.
“That’s how she has been since Baba died. She saw him first, while trying to serve him his food. She ran up to call me and we rushed the old man to the hospital…” Udale moved towards Laibe’s bed and sat down. She has never been the person to stand long, “…will you believe if I tell you that even when the doctors at Bethel hospital certified Baba dead, this girl didn’t shed any tear?”
“What!!!” The two ladies exclaimed as though they planned it.
Udale gave a little sarcastic chuckle. “That’s even small. At the village, during the burial and up until now, she hasn’t shed a single tear. Neither has she said anything to anyone.”
“Oh my God! This isn’t good” Jane exclaimed touching Laibe’s neck.
“What is that?” Mary said for the first time today and she’s just also able to move from the door post where she had stood looking electrocuted all the while.
She drew closer to them and touched Laibe’s neck also, removing her hand involuntarily.
“She is running temperature, ma…” Mary exploded.
At times, Jane wonders what kind of nurse her friend, Mary, is, as everything gets her agitated and worried. This is only high temperature for crying out loud!
Just when Udale was about to get up, Ocholi opened the door. He didn’t leave the door knob as he carried confusing eyes from one person to another. He had a bag dangling across one shoulder and he had changed into a more formal dressing now. Udale quickly got up and made a sign to the ladies with her eyes. Jane and Mary immediately understood what she meant and started smiling.
Ocholi wasn’t convinced but then… damn! he is running out of time.
“Trust me, I would have driven you down to the park at least, but you see what your sister is making me go through?”
Ocholi smiled as Udale patted him on the back like a child.
“Yes o! You just must make these ladies know that I haven’t gone abroad before in my life, huh? Big sis!”
Everyone started laughing, except Laibe of course – she doesn’t even feel in this room at all.
“Sorry Ladies, I’m no comedian. It is just this ecstasy that comes with first time things.” He blinked at them and they smiled back. Mary was beginning to like him. He is probably her type; the fun type with well-built muscular body. “…Sis, please take care of my Lee. And find her SIM card, I need to call her or otherwise, I will have to be disturbing your phone…” he hastily pecked Udale. He didn’t want to go to Laibe any longer. Ladies are here with her now, she should come around soon.
“Bye…” They waved at him.
“Good bye.” He closed the door hard.
Udale turned to the ladies and thanked them for playing along. When they asked her why, she simply said Ocholi could damn that whole trip if he discovers something else is wrong with Laibe. She told them he really cared about her welfare. But then, they had paid so much for the tuition to risk him missing that flight the next day.
“So what do we do about her running temperature now?” Mary asked, not really interested in Udale’s explanations.
“We would wait for her to come…” Udale said firmly, going to touch the neck as well before returning to her seat on the bed.
The two ladies turned to face each other, as though they got hit by a ghost, and Udale afterwards,
“Who?” they shouted.
“Doctor, don’t you understand? She isn’t talking. She isn’t damn talking doctor!” Matthew yelled, shifting in his chair.
“As I said before sirs, she probably has reached the height of it. She has gotten to the peak of how much she can take…” Dr Max said, trying as much as it depended on him to maintain a very polite and calm tone even amidst the tension. Typical of doctors, isn’t it?
He dropped the pen in his hand, sat up straight to face the two older men eyeball to eyeball. “I told you the last time that children in her condition have limit to how much they can bear…”
“What damn condition are you talking about Doc?” Matthew interrupted.
Max shot an annoyed look at Matthew. The type that says ‘can you shut that wide mouth up, already?’
Though, he couldn’t say that now but that look said it all.
Josh noticed this and held Matthew’s wrist.
“You have to calm down man!”
“Calm down?” Matthew flared up again. “… are you really asking me to calm down?”
He got up from his seat now.
Dr Max sighed.
In his next world he wouldn’t let Dr Nonso do this again.
“Well, you have to calm down to be able to tell your wife, to start with. I have given you enough time to make this decision all by yourself sir, but as it stands now, I may have to go out of my way and contact your wife. At least, for the sake of the poor girl.” Max looked firm, no one could really tell what was going on in his mind.
Matthew laughed lightly. “Are you threatening me now, Boy!”
Wow! Max just got hit on his bad side. This man is beginning to step on his nerves more than he could bear.
“We don’t threaten here, we treat, if I may remind you this is an hospital sir. By the way, the rule of confidentiality in the medical practice has its exceptions. As it is in this case, the other party is in danger.”
“He is threatening me again!” Matthew sounded sarcastic amidst his uneasiness. Josh worried for his friend greatly, Matthew most times doesn’t know how to manage anxiety and he needed to intercede soon enough.
“Doctor Maximillian, I apologise for all these…” Josh pleaded, looking sideways at his friend with a corner of his eyes.
“No problem, honourable commissioner. He has to tell them now, or I would be left with no option than to tell his family myself. Protecting the girl is most important right now. Whatever we must do must be done now. Either ways, danger is still ahead.”
Matthew calmed down a bit and came to rest his hand on the table, looking at the doctor from high up there.
“Either ways? There is danger ahead? What does that mean?”
“You have to tell her before your wife employs the services of a psychotherapist. You wouldn’t like the outcome if she learns about this whole thing from the girl herself during therapy.” Max admonished and started typing away on his laptop.
Josh jerked up immediately and came to stand beside his fidgeting friend. It’s been years something scared the living daylight out of Matthew like this. Matthew is too cool, calm and collected to shake over any matter, no matter how tensed up the matter is. He is usually the comforter. This case is really different. Josh took out his phone, pressed some buttons on it and placed it against his ear.
“What are you doing Josh?” Matthew managed to ask, his voice shook terribly.
“I’m calling Udale. It’s about time!” Josh kept his voice calm.
Jane opened the door, gave way to let her come in. She is dressed in a long black skirt and her blouse is tuck into it. She looks extremely smart as she walked past Jane and into the sitting room proper.
“No. She asked I bring you in. Please do follow me.” Jane said politely as she led the way to Laibe’s room. This woman called while at the gate and Udale asked Jane to go lead her in. Only God know who she is.
“Ah! You are welcome, Halima. I’ve been expecting you!” Udale gave her a side hug immediately the all-smiling woman stepped into the room. She doesn’t look Udale’s age mate and Jane knew she definitely isn’t either of herself or Mary’s age mates, as well.
Who is she then?
“Ma’am, I apologise. Some emergencies came up at the office.”
She sounded so professional too.
“No problem Halima. It’s good you are here now. Here she is…” Udale got up as she led Halima to where Laibe is standing. Laibe quickly turned for the first time as Mary gave space for the two women. Laibe’s turn was so quick that Udale tittered backwards.
Halima had this smile which appeared to be permanently plastered on her face. She looked so welcoming and nice already even at first sight. She stood before Laibe and squatted so as to become equal heights with her.
“How are you today, pretty damsel…” Her smile didn’t waver, even when Laibe gave no response. “You are so so beautiful. My daughter would be so delighted to meet and become friends with you.” She paused for a while and saw that tactic didn’t work.
“Can we talk as friends? I like you a lot already…” she added.
“Who is she?” Jane thought she was whispering not knowing that her voice was out there.
Halima smiled. Jane just gave her a good ground to start from now. She smiled more at Laibe who didn’t seem to even be seeing her.
“My name is Halima, I’m a psychotherapist.” She stretched forth her hand for a handshake but Laibe only kept her face fix to where it has been fixed to. They left the door to her room open, so she was busy staring through it to the adjoining passage – her very own Veranda. Mary and Jane heaved a sigh of relief on getting to know who the smiling woman is.
“Laibe, I’m here to help you. Trust me, I know you are such a wonderful person. I only need you to talk to me.”
They, most especially Udale waited anxiously for her to talk but she is disappointing all of them again. Laibe didn’t do as much as blink an eye. Strange indeed!
“OK baby. Please allow me to help you…” Halima continued. Smiling even sweeter. “I’ve helped a lot of girls your age. I was only able to do this because they agreed to become my friend. Please talk to me!”
“Leave me alone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Laibe screamed at the top of her lungs.
Inasmuch as everyone was elated Laibe spoke for the first time in three weeks, this talk isn’t a good one at all. She is screaming. She is pulling her hair tightly with her hands.
“Leave me alone. Uncle, uncle…” she held onto her shirt and ripped it off, “Uncle, leave me alone… NO!!!!!!! Uncle…” she held onto the window rod like she wanted to pass through it. When she saw that wasn’t feasible, she put the edge of her torn shirt in her mouth, “…uhmmm… sweet… ice cream… beach… sweet.” She laughed out loud to herself.
Mary is crying already and Udale’s eyes were flooded with tears.
Laibe threw the shirt in her mouth away and threw herself onto the floor.
“Please!! Leave me alone!!!!!!!!!!!!!” She screamed even more.
Halima motioned them to shut the door.
As if she saw it coming, Laibe got up in a flash and hurried for the door. Mary and Jane grabbed her. It’s funny how the both of them are struggling to steady the small girl but Laibe wouldn’t calm down.
She is still screaming,
“Leave me alone!!! Uncle, Uncle please, Leave… Leave me… Leave me alone!!!!!!!!!!!!”
“Man the door Ma’am. I need to sedate her, we are taking her to the hospital right away.” Halima ordered Udale before heading for her car outside.
A mixture of fear, confusion and frustration gripped Udale as she occupied the entire doorway with her bulky self.
To be continued.