THE WIFE I NEVER MARRIED – GRACE OCHIGBO
Udale trudged into the sitting room. She looked really exhausted on the long plus-size gown that dust had added different shades of colours to. Apart from the fact that it took the gateman forever to open the gate for her, she was first thankful to be with her own key anyway, and was totally shocked when her eyes fell on Matthew. He lay scattered on the settee, like someone that just ran a thousand and five hundred meter race. He would not have heard any knocks whatsoever, not when he didn’t even hear her walk in till she tapped him lightly.
“Good morning, Honey!” She greeted, trying to awaken Matthew more now. It is strange enough that her husband would sleep this deep. Matthew never does. She has always known him as a nocturnal being right from time – he jerks up in the middle of the night at the slightest turn.
Sitting up now, he wiped a hand over his eyes to be sure of what… who he was seeing. To be sure if he wasn’t dreaming or perhaps in a close vision.
“Udale!” He exclaimed in unbelief.
“Yes. The old man’s situation has gotten far more critical, I needed to bring him down here first thing this morning.”
Matthew’s face formed into a frown.
“And you choose this very early to do it? Do you know how dangerous it is driving as a woman with a sick man at this ungodly hour?”
Udale was a bit taken aback. She moved her eyes away from Matthew who had now sat up fully on the couch, wearing his boxers and a singlet. Well, the Power Holding Company of Nigeria must have shown themselves and probably flexed a muscle overnight, she concluded; especially that her husband is the least tolerant to heat. Surely that must also be the reason he came to sleep in the sitting room.
“Ungodly hour? Honey, this is eight minutes to nine Am.” She defended, trying to move his eyes in the direction of the wall clock. Her eyes caught the house’s spare bunch of keys on the table in the process.
Matthew felt embarrassed now, “Oh! I am sorry Baby, I must have really slept too deep then.”
“I hope you are OK, Mat?” Udale asked now with concern squeezing her forehead.
Matthew shrugged, “I am. Why? Of course, I am.” He quickly responded, sitting more squarely and continued before Udale would interrupt him again, “…and how is he? Where is he?”
She took in a deep breath. “He was placed on admission. I actually would want him to come home, so I can keep a proper eye on him. The general hospital is going on warning strike… all the state workers for that matter. It would be good if he is with me here, that way I won’t have to worry so much. I had to set a line for him in the hospital first though, basically because I haven’t discussed this with you before, and wasn’t sure how would take it.”
Matthew smiled with a little sense of pride.
“And did you have to come home to do that? You should have called!”
Udale wanted to talk now… to respond. She actually didn’t know why she drove down home instead of simply calling first. She didn’t think Matthew would be home today after all. Apart from the fact that she needed to freshen up and change into something better, she must have been too crowded upstairs to remember that technology has brought distance closer to everyone.
“Ehennnn! What’s up with you, Honey? Shouldn’t you be at Lokoja or one of your work sites today? I mean, you said you were travelling before I left yesterday, didn’t you?”
“I did, guess plans changed…” He used a roguish smile to hide his uneasiness, “…moreover, it was Thursday already yesterday; I felt I should just relax since it’s weekend.”
Udale kept unbelieving eyes on her husband. What he was saying sounded strange to her ears. Not when it’s been over four years, what sort of patronage was that?
“Honey! Weekend? You? Do you have a day in the week you can’t travel? I mean, you are never here over the weekends because of your so called job, or was that a smart way of missing church services?” Udale rose her tired eyelids,
Matthew chuckled lightly, “C’mon now, smart way of missing church?” He laughed at the statement which appeal extremely funny to him. “It’s true I haven’t attended church in a while… In fact, only God knows how long, but to think I am doing that on purpose is to think extremely wrong my dear.” He placed one of his large hands on her shoulders.
“But… that’s what you are insinuating… you…”
“shhhhh!” He placed a finger on her mouth, shushing her. “… it’s obvious you were not expecting to come home and meet me, and now that it is the case, you are not happy in the very least.”
Udale shook her head to disprove him, “Away from it Honey. Just that…”
“Just that nothing, Baby…” he interrupted her again, getting up and displaying his extremely huge stature, “…freshen up if you must… and on time too, let’s go bring the old man down here.”
“Has Laibe gone to school?”
Alarm rang in Matthew’s head realising that today was actually still a working day but as usual he tried not to show it.
“Well, I doubt it. She has a full room to herself, why not check yourself?” He said politely. Picking up the keys, he slid his legs into his slippers and walked in the direction of the stairs.
Udale felt a slight pain somewhere at the back of her head; the type she usually feels when something is not right somewhere, but she couldn’t lay hold on what exactly that is. She dragged herself from the couch and walked down the veranda that led to Laibe’s room.
Laibe jerked and drew backwards towards the wall at the very instance her door flew open. Her heartbeat came out so loud that it almost pushed out through the pink flare flowery night dress she had on.
“What’s the problem? Why are you so scared?” Udale asked in astonishment. It didn’t appear normal for one to be this agitated and tensed up in her own room, especially that it’s in a big and well secured house. She scanned her eyes through the corners of the disarrayed room, raising her legs to avoid stepping on clothes as she drew closer to Laibe who was holding a pillow very firmly to her chest. Udale observed her swollen eyes and it was as though her nose was running as well. Without delay, the older woman used the back of her right hand to feel Laibe’s neck.
“Ha! Omai, are you running temperature or what?” she exclaimed, removing her hand as hastily as possible, like Laibe’s skin burnt her.
“Oh no! No aunty!” Laibe was quick to respond.
“Then why is your body this hot?…” she asked, confusion spewing through her voice. Laibe tried to open her mouth to answer the question but her aunty continued, “…do you roll this much on your bed?”
Udale’s eyes scanning over the scattered room again as she asked this. School bag – half turned out, lay at the foot of the bed. Her school uniforms were laying somewhere else on the floor. One of the pillows was left somewhere very close to her dressing table and the bed cover and duvet are struggling for who would emerge ‘most squeezed’.
“Do you fight when sleeping?” Udale didn’t think this funny as she asked again and Laibe kept greeting her questions with nods. Maybe because it’s been so long she came this early to her room too. But then, this doesn’t look like the usual rolling from one side of the bed to another that a lot of people do during sleep. It appears like a scene in civil war was exactly acted in this room over the night.
Laibe tried to push back the tears that was pushing forth from her eyes. At least, she had to heed to one warning. She must. One thing she made sure to do was not to get up or shift from the position she is now, that would mean shifting both herself and the pillow she is tenaciously holding onto in this case.
“Aunty… I …” she stammered,
“What nonsense!” Udale yelled, “…You think you are still a baby? You would be sixteen in no time from now Laibe yet your room look this unkempt and unhealthy? How long does learning take you?”
Udale rattled on and on. Pouring all the tiredness from the journey and frustrations from Baba’s ‘not responding to treatment’ on the young lad sitting in front of her; shivering.
“And is this what you do when I am not around? You skip school? Is anything wrong with you this little thing?”
Laibe was crying now. Her aunt’s voice kept rising higher and higher giving her no single opportunity to talk.
“What exactly are you good for? You don’t like going to school, you don’t do anything in this house, and again you can’t keep your own room neat? You can’t keep…”
“It’s not me!” Laibe screamed, interrupting her aunty. It has become so unbearable for her to take in, especially that she is not guilty of all these charges pressed against her. She quickly held her mouth with her tiny hands just maybe she could hold back the words she just voiced out. Too late! And she understand that she is done for already. She knew her aunty that much.
“Oh!” Udale clapped her hands lightly and sat beside Laibe, facing her squarely so as to read every detail from her voice, from her moves and from her eyes. “It’s not you? It is me then!” She drew her hand closer.
“No aunty… no aunty!” Laibe shouted apologetically. She wanted to move back but she couldn’t. She mustn’t move an inch away from where she is. Tears poured from her eyes uncontrollably as her aunty held onto her ear, dragging it with every statement she made.
“It’s not you, it’s not me? I gave this room to you alone, so who scattered it then?” she dragged Laibe’s ears harder and the little girl wailed out in pain.
“Get up! You must explain why you can’t keep a single room arranged today.” Udale got up, drawing Laibe’s ears alongside. It became more unbearable because Laibe wasn’t ready to get up from where she was. Her brain sent more and more painful signals to her ears and the wailings increased.
Laibe thought of what she would ever say that can save her from this whole thing right now.
‘Why didn’t I wake up earlier than now?’ she cursed her luck as she cried loudly. Apart from not knowing her aunty would return today, let alone this early, she was so weak she couldn’t have brought herself to waking up at any time earlier than now.
Now she has missed today’s school yet in her aunt’s trouble? All these thoughts tortured her mind and propelled much more traffic of tears down her cheeks.
“What are you doing Udale?” Matthew yelled in anger, slapping her hand off Laibe’s ears. “You want to tear it off?”
“Anything I do to her right now is well deserving. I don’t know the kind of girl I’m breeding here in this house.” She retorted, walking a bit away from the bed.
“That is the most insensitive thing you have said today.” Matthew was screaming at the top of his lungs now. With the way he vibrated, one would think he wanted to beat his wife up. “…don’t you ever lay your hands on this little girl again, ever!”
“Oh!” Udale let out a sarcastic laughter, “… You are the one spoiling her obviously. That’s why today, she didn’t have the sense to go get ready for school. Just because Aunty, ‘the bad person’ is not around.”
“You can say whatever you like…” Matthew responded, turning to look at Laibe who dropped her head immediately to avoid eye contact with him, “…You said we should go pick Baba, and I went on to get ready, only for you to be torturing this girl.”
“Baba!” Laibe jerked up as she heard that. She felt a flush of excitement and relief rush down her body. “… Baba is coming here?” she giggled like she wasn’t the one crying some minutes ago.
“Yes, my girl!” Matthew patted her shoulders. “… I’m sorry about your aunty…”
Udale hissed at Matthew’s gestures and stormed out of the room, heading upstairs to change.
“I know you have missed your grandfather…” Matthew started slowly, wiping any tear that dropped from Laibe’s face while he spoke, just before it begin its journey down her face. He felt like holding onto her petite body in his arms and have her lay head on his extremely broad chest. He felt like stroking her long dark hair and planting soft kisses in them all the way. He felt like holding her soft little body to the warmth of his chest. He felt like many things in one at the moment before he noticed Laibe wasn’t moving and could connect to it.
“Don’t worry. He is very sick though but we would bring him here and you both would have your time again.” He said, trying to get up but Laibe held tightly onto him.
“Is Baba going to die?”
Matthew didn’t see that question coming. The condition may have worsened, undoubtedly, but there is always hope in those who believe.
“Baba would be alright, my girl! Don’t worry your pretty head!”
Laibe took in a deep breath and before she could recover from that, she felt her uncle peck her on the forehead.
“Tidy up the place before we get back. You hear?” He was slow and blinked at her playfully before walking out of the room.
Laibe waited till she heard the door close firmly behind him before attempting to get up. The blood stain on the mattress and that on the pink night dress she had covered with the pillow all this while shone brightly back at her face as she looked at it. She quickly pulled the bed cover off and removed her night dress tiredly, still on the bed. Dragging close a towel from the side of her bed, she tied it around her chest. She landed her feet on the floor and made to move. She felt excruciating pains run from her legs, through back to her head. It’s at this point she realised it was more serious than she thought.
Baba wouldn’t let Udale and her husband rest all through the drive back home from the hospital. If there is anything sickness has not been able to take away from the old man, it was his talking prowess.
Ha! Baba can talk for West Africa.
The most annoying part of his nagging this afternoon was that he is making them repeat the same thing over and over again. Udale is particularly more exhausted than anyone else already. She had to use her position as the chief nursing officer of the general hospital to let them release her father, emphatically stating that she needed closeness to him. Baba woke up some thirty minutes after they got to the hospital and from the point of wheeling him into the car up until now that they are almost at the gate of the house, the old man kept asking after his granddaughter. Udale had told him over and over again that she’s fine but Baba didn’t seem to believe her. His reasons as he made a big deal out of them were that; why didn’t Laibe follow them down to the hospital if she was actually fine, and why is no one saying she went to school, considering it was still a working day of the week.
At a point, Matthew was contemplating saying Laibe was in school and that’s why she didn’t follow them down but that would be dangerous. When Baba eventually see Laibe on getting home, he would wonder why they had to lie to him in the first place and that would definitely heighten his suspicions. It is bad enough that he looked this restless and worked up over her.
It seems the gateman’s efficiency has increased these days as he no longer wait for Matthew to blare the honk countless times before opening the door. That must only be peculiar to Matthew, Udale wouldn’t affirm that.
“Wolale Baba!” the gateman ran over to the parking lot to greet, immediately he was done fixing the hinge of the iron gate into the ground.
Baba seem to be more concentrated on something he was looking for, rather than the excited gateman saluting him.
Matthew brought down the wheel chair from the trunk of the car, the gateman and him set it down before helping the old man out of the car and into it.
Udale walked sluggishly behind them as Matthew wheeled Baba into the house with the gateman carrying some of Baba’s clothes Udale had managed to bring down alongside him this morning. In the heat of the argument with her husband over Laibe, she had forgotten to offload the trunk before going back to the hospital. It was obvious different things ran through everyone’s mind as they moved into the sitting room in silence.
Udale was hoping Laibe would jump out on hearing their car drive into the compound. Of course! It’s her grandfather and she is well aware of his arrival. The whole scenario is quite strange but she, like the other three men in the room, didn’t want to raise any suspicions or cause for alarm first.
Baba’s eyes were still darting round and round the room, searching expectedly for Laibe. She is too happy a girl not to come out and embrace him. Or has she seen them through the window in her room and pained with the fact that Baba had been relegated to sitting on a wheel chair? If that’s even the case, she should at least come out and show her pain here. Everyone knew that cannot even be the case. The wheel chair mantra is because the old man has been too sick for a while and become so weak and weary in his joints. The gateman excused himself after dropping the bags on the floor beside Udale.
“ugbo Laibe de ke?…” Just when Baba decided to air out his curiosity by turning to his daughter and son in-law to ask them ‘and where is Laibe?’ he felt a little hand hold the wall at the end of the veranda in front of them. Slowly, the head of the owner of the hand came out before the body and legs sluggishly dragged themselves out as well – presenting Laibe.
“This girl is getting weirder by the day” Udale thought, as she cleared her throat.
Laibe stood there holding onto the wall like a lifeline and staring at Baba like she didn’t know who he was all of a sudden. It marvelled everyone that she couldn’t even open her mouth to say anything to anyone; let alone have the courtesy to greet. The only thing she had managed to do since her aunty and uncle left was to take a warm shower and soak her nighties and bed cover. She felt pains all over her body, grabbing her legs more than anywhere else. This is a first time and she could suggest why. It hasn’t always been like this and worse is that it chose the wrong time to happen.
“Wolale Baba.” she finally said, breaking the deafening silence that had filled the room for several minutes so much so that the only sound heard was the whirling of the ceiling fan blades.
“Would you come over here and greet Baba? Laibe, is anything wrong with you these days?” Udale couldn’t curtail the whole attitude any longer and yelled before stopping herself.
“Take it easy Honey.” Matthew said calmly, patting his wife on the back.
Udale shrugged, throwing her husband’s hand away. She was mad this time and Laibe was really learning better ways of getting on her nerves. She felt like hurrying over to where she stood leaning against the wall and pulling her into the sitting room by her ears. Perhaps, she would soon tear the poor girl’s ears if she keeps up with this annoying newly found attitude of hers.
Though Laibe jerked at her aunt’s nagging voice, that was the only reaction she could give. Left to her normal self, she would be running towards Baba to embrace him, to hug him tightly, because she’s missed him a great deal, but she cant. Even if she wanted to. It meant a lot having Uncle Matthew stick out for her. It’s really been a trying moment today.
Baba didn’t say a word. He didn’t ask Laibe any questions, he didn’t say more than his initial question to Udale and Matthew neither did he interrupt nor stop his daughter from nagging. Worst of all was that he didn’t look surprised or provoked in the very least. He only relaxed his back against the back rest of the wheel chair and concentrated the entire percentage of his eyes’ viewing ability on his once little girl who is gradually becoming a fully grown woman. He was particular about her eyes and tried to read them as quick as he can.
Matthew left off the wheel chair he was holding and walked over to Laibe. He bent in front of her so as to equal her height with his. Udale hissed loudly and sank into her seat. At this point she was more than convinced that Laibe would visit a psychiatrist or psychotherapist sooner than she estimated. She won’t stand the chance of having a growing adolescent run mad before her very eyes and under her nose.
Laibe bent her head facing the floor immediately Matthew squatted in front of her. It is now a usual thing and Matthew didn’t mind whether she looked back at him or not. Truth is, she never does. The most important thing is that she heard him. He held her little hand in his large palm,
“Pull yourself together and come greet your grandfather.” he said simply, got up and walked back to where the rest were.
Laibe inhaled and exhaled with difficulty. If she were to be an asthma patient, one would think she is having an attack already with the way she was breathing. She wished all these didn’t have to be today.
‘Pull yourself together girl, and go greet Baba’
She felt some flush of motivation somewhere in her lower abdominal region. That was good enough propelling force for her as she made to move but Matthew’s eyes popped open; Udale forgot her mouth wide open; while Baba on his own part couldn’t understand what was happening as Laibe took the first three steps… rather as Laibe practically leaped towards them like she had an injury somewhere in between her legs.
To be continued.