THE WIFE I NEVER MARRIED – GRACE OCHIGBO
EPISODE TWENTY FOUR
“Touch my palms to be sure I’m not a ghost, like we were taught in Sunday school.” He said, mimicking the teacher.
Laibe giggled, “Really?” She gave him a questioning look and continued, “Of course I know you are not a ghost anymore. You drove Helen home and here you are driving me home as well, a ghost wouldn’t possibly be this tangible. It was the way your car was moving on that lonely road that got the both of us agitated, especially that that route has a reputation for kidnapping.”
She rattled on, relaxing more and more into the soft leather chair in the car. She threw her school bag to the back seat earlier so she could relax better and especially use her seat belt. Her aunty mustn’t hear that she was in a moving car without her seat belt on.
He kept looking at her, with the characteristic way he always looked back then. His eyes boring holes on her body till she started feeling shy and uncomfortable. He hadn’t changed much; he is still wearing his big shoes – timberland, as they call it. Just that this should be the original and expensive brand as opposed to the one he used back at the village. He would always say in defence that his shoes should show his kind of work, because he was made for the farm.
He has also learnt some gentlemanliness and good looking business, Laibe thought. His dreadlocks look so clean, one would think it’s braided hair he had on. Needless to say that the recent glistering of his fair skin has hidden the bulk of the tribal markings on his face. She also needed to be sure she wasn’t sensing any form of foreign accent in his voice. For real! His once scattered and unarranged dreads look as attractive as C. Ronaldo’s sporting waves now – that’s in addition to his well-trimmed beards. Money truly answereth all things. Look at Omachoko looking all beauteous. Her hand involuntarily landed on his shoulders at the last thought, with a smile plastered on her face.
“What?” he gaped when Laibe’s hands landed on his shoulders heavily… well lightly maybe, because her hands are nothing to be compared with his.
“Why are you staring at me like you are just noticing my presence here?” Laibe questioned him, sticking her tongue out of her mouth while at it.
“You… You know… I can’t stop marvelling … I mean, I can’t stop wondering how grown and changed you have become within this short time… three years right? Or two?” His eyes still bore absolute unbelief in them.
“See who is talking! Oh! You think I’m not marvelled as well huh?” she retorted.
“Ehnn!!! C’mon, look at you, you speak English so fluently, knowing all the phonation and intonations. You know all the exclamations as well. OK! I guess I’m not so surprised because that’s what you have always wanted.”
Laibe smiled, more like blushed away the statement. On this aspect, her grammatical prowess that is, she feels so fulfilled at the moment. At least everyone is commending her – Ocholi, her Aunty, her uncle, her classmates, her teachers and now him? This is some grace really.
She cleared her throat after he killed the engine in front of their gate.
“But seriously, how did your farm at Ofabo buy you this big and costly ride? What am I saying? You must have borrowed it right?” she questioned with curiosity written all over her face.
Omachoko broke out into a loud train of laughter. He laughed so much that the car key he just removed from the key hole fell off his hand.
“You didn’t have to specify the location of my farm, did you?”
Laibe rolled her eyes, “Well, I need to be sure that you are not into some 419 games too.”
Omachoko laughed even louder, “It feels good to know you still care…” he winked at her and she gave a smirk, “…Of course not. I am not into any game. Anyway, Laibe, we would have to talk better some other time, OK? You said it was a make-up moment for you and Helen, I’m sorry I interrupted the comeback moment.”
She sighed, “No problem, Helen and I would always have our time. The most important thing is that we are back now. But you? I’m seeing you for the first time in three years. The last time, you were still peddling your much-talked-about inherited bicycle, and right here, you are cruising a Camry, don’t you think I deserve an explanation of some sort?” she sounded serious now and Omachoko noticed that in her tone. He needed to tread with caution, Laibe would always be Laibe regardless of the years that had passed.
“I know right? I know! But…”
“No but, let’s go into the house, I’m sure you want to greet aunty too, even though you still don’t know my aunt’s husband till now.”
Omachoko took in a deep breath,
“I couldn’t have known him. He, unlike aunty Udale, almost doesn’t come to the village…” he paused to think, “…OK, let’s do it this way. You alone would go in today, I’m just coming from an errand and my boss is still waiting for me. You see the time?” He took up his hands to glance at his glistering wristwatch like he was showing her.
This is incredible, Laibe thought.
“So I may have to make it down here some other time. Definitely, within the week.” He begged with his eyes.
“I saw you mistakenly today, according to you. How will I see you again? How am I even sure you didn’t come there looking for me in the first place?” She asked like a statement.
Omachoko quickly nodded his head from side to side, “Nah! I told you I’m running an errand. We have a work going on up that Opulega area where your school is and I was just on my way there to settle the labourers when I saw someone that looked like you. Remember, I was driving slowly at first? I needed to be sure my eyes were not deceiving me. Then I recalled Baba telling me you got enrolled into Aleka Academy that year. That recollection made me sure it was you, so I reversed faster and came to double cross you both.”
Laibe chuckled, “Na wa for you o! It’s your boss’ car after all?”
Omachoko smiled and slide the question away as though he didn’t hear her.
“So you see, I still need to go back to Opulega and return to town before 7pm today. Permit me to go, please! I will call you when I plan to come over.”
Laibe started laughing. “Call me? Do you have my phone number? How are you even sure I have a phone?”
“Well, I was just hoping you do.”
Laibe slapped him on his shoulders again, “You will not change ‘Choko.”
Opening the door, she got down after pulling her bag from the backseat.
“Here…” Omachoko handed her an official card, “…the other number at the bottom of the card is the most reachable and available. Call me anytime, with your number I suppose, or better still with anyone’s, I’ll call you back.”
Laibe stared at the little paper in her hand in awe; the company name on it look very familiar to her. She just couldn’t recall where she had seen that before.
This is incredible, she thought again as more questions and suspicions flew through her mind but she had to be considerate; the young man is running out of time and since they were going to be talking over the phone, there is no need keeping him longer.
“Alright!” she turned to him smiling.
Omachoko smiled broadly too before kick starting the car,
“Remember you are still here…” pointing his right hand to the left side of his chest without taking his gaze off her. Typical. “…now, always and forever.”
Laibe only smiled sheepishly.
Omachoko stepped on the accelerator and drove off with an alarming speed.
Laibe stood still for a moment still staring at the official card in her hand before dropping it. She didn’t need to knock on the gate. She saw when the gateman opened to peep at them after the car halted initially. She knew he surely had left the gate open seeing it was her. She pushed it and walked into the compound, thrusting the card in a pocket opening on her school bag before her aunty or anyone else at home would see it. Just like the case of the white paper two weeks ago.
She walked briskly through the sitting room, seeing that there was no one in. Her aunty must be sleeping inside, she supposed and it wasn’t normal to have her uncle at home. She would just dash into her room and into the bathroom. She needed to ponder on the ordeals of the day while those cold water ran down her body under the shower. Starting from Miss Mary’s reconciliation mission, to her outburst on Ezekiel, to seeing Omachoko and then this familiar official card. A lot of things to ponder upon indeed. As she walked briskly through her most dreaded corridor, she made efforts to be as quiet as possible. Walking like she had hot coals littered on the floor she passed through. Her aunty is a deep sleeper, she know. In fact, she also know that the woman would not wake up even when a home theatre is set sounding at the highest volume close to her bed, but she didn’t want to take the risk right now.
“Boys now drive you home from school, right?”
She almost froze to her bones when she heard her uncle’s voice as he came out from the kitchen behind her. What is he doing there… or better still, what is he doing at home at this time? He was supposed to have travelled back to Lokoja this morning, at least so she overhead him telling her aunty.
“You heard me. Toyota Camri, Black.”
She was shocked even more and her eyes couldn’t hide it.
“Now don’t stand there staring back at me like I’m talking to a deaf fellow. Who was that person that drove you down?” His voice roaring and thundering now.
Laibe’s legs started shaking. Sweat, profuse sweat gushed down the back of her neck and soaked the white part of her school uniform. What was she going to say now? It was obvious the man had seen them… seen her, Omachoko didn’t step out of the car with tinted mirrors. Possibly, he was viewing through the wide window in their bedroom. The window was perhaps specifically designed for such a time as this.
“Laibe, after all these, you still move around with little boys? What do they have to offer you? Money? Food? What do they offer you that I haven’t? OH! Of course, a ride in Toyota Camri…” He sounded sarcastic saying that.
Laibe stood with her head inclined to the ground. She didn’t know what to say and how best to answer. At this point she was hoping her aunty would come out and interrupt them. Perhaps she would be able to explain better to her. She would be able to say it was Omachoko. At least aunty, unlike Uncle Matthew, knew Omachoko a bit well. She would be able to explain what exactly happened and why he drove her home. Apart from the fact that her uncle didn’t look like he would give any listening ear to her, she also always feels so tongue-tied when it comes to talking with him. The reason is known to the both of them.
“Don’t think your aunty is going to save you today my dear. Didn’t you marvel why I’m home? We both couldn’t leave you alone in the house. She is far away in Ofabo.” He explained like he read her mind.
“Ofabo? What happened to Baba?” she rose her head to ask this one, looking straight into her uncle’s eyes from her bottom height.
“Oh! You can talk? I thought you are suddenly deaf and dumb.” He said, approaching her hastily. Laibe’s heart started pounding fast, beating against her rib cage. She didn’t know what he was up to walking that fast towards her. Or what has she said wrong now? Asking about what was wrong with her grandfather shouldn’t provoke anger now!
As Matthew drew nearer to the little girl that was taking involuntary steps backwards, a mischievous smile tug around his lips. Only God knew what was going on inside that head of his.
Laibe got to her door and quickly opened it. She literally jumped into the room and slammed the door behind her, just before her uncle could get hold on her. She leaned her back against the door tiredly when she was sure the door bolt was fixed. Scanning her eyes through her room, as if to be sure there wasn’t any loop hole through which the seemingly angry man outside would pass through to come meet her in here.
Anger? Seemingly. This isn’t anger in that sense.
She waited, her heart racing. She waited for him to knock the door… hit it hard with his large hands till the door would break down and there would be nowhere else to run to. She also waited for him to scream her name, mutter some threatening words to her till she opened the door in fright. She waited… but in vain. She didn’t feel his presence behind the door and her palpitations started reducing. She slid down the door with her back till her buttocks touched the floor. Drawing in her legs, she held them tightly to her chest. She heard a pop sound and got startled. Looking in the direction of her dressing mirror, she realised it was her phone; she had forgotten to put it off before leaving here this morning. She tried to remember something she planned to do when she got back to her room. She tried hard for a while before it popped up in her head that she planned to call Omachoko when she gets into her room too.
“What if Uncle is actually at the door?” She thought about this as she dragged herself up to go pick her phone.
Missed call from Ocholi.
Message from Umali.
She threw the phone back on the table without opening the message. She had an idea what would be in there. Just then, she realised she had thrown her bag on the floor while walking backwards to escape her uncle’s hands.
“Oh my God! And the card is in it!” she silently cursed her luck. Getting to the bed, she fell into it like a bird would her nest.
Matthew thought it wise not to knock on Laibe’s door. He had something better pictured in his head. Turning back to leave, he saw the school bag Laibe left off on the floor in her haste to escape from him. Not seeing any use of it, he walked past it. Then, something… a thought popped in his mind and he walked back, bent over to pick up the bag. He saw whoever was in that car hand over some paper to the little girl when she got off the car. He saw the shock and confusion on Laibe’s face while she read through the inscriptions on the card he supposed to be an official business card. Since he started walking downstairs almost immediately Laibe opened the gate, so he could reach the kitchen before she got to the door, he couldn’t really tell where the girl kept the card. He needed to find it and ultimately find the fellow that has the guts to not only toy with his little girl but also drive her to the front of his own gate. Feeling a flush of jealousy and rage over him, he decided to check the bag. Laibe’s school skirt has no pocket provisions; the only place where a pocket is, is on the breast pocket of her white top. While talking with her a while ago, he was sure he saw no sign of paper or anything at all on her breast pocket.
“It’s definitely in this bag.” He affirmed as he took his seat on one of the chairs in the dining room.
“The fellow had better be out of this town by the time I see this card before I get hold of him…” He said boisterously, getting down to business.
Laibe jerked up. The loud ringing from her phone woke her. She hissed dryly while using the back of her hand to clean her drowsy eyes. Turning her head in the direction of the wall clock, she snapped out of the bed,
12:59? She screamed.
Looking at herself, only then did she remember that she had probably dozed off still wearing her school uniform. How could she have slept this deep? She threw the sandals on her legs to the other end of the room and slipped into her bathroom slippers. She needed to get her school bag no matter what now.
Dinner? That wouldn’t be necessary tonight as the last thing she would need now is her uncle sighting the very least of her. She would just tip toe out and pick her bag from where she left it. She only hope and pray that he hadn’t moved it away or searched inside it for the card. Turning down the key in its hole with the most care she could afford, she scanned with her eyes to be sure the veranda was not just safe but that no sound was coming from the TV in the sitting room. It’s past midnight and everyone should normally be sleeping now. She was surprised when she saw her bag laying at the point she left it and in the same way she did.
“Could it be true? That her uncle didn’t ransack her bag?” This is unbelievable, she thought, but the physical sign here signifies that is the case. She felt a little bit relieved as she held on to the brown bag and pulled it from the floor. There is no time to start confirming anything at this moment, so she ran back straight into her room and locked back the door. She thought she heard movements somewhere in the house while at the passage or maybe it was only her mind playing a smart one on her. She moved the key in the hole twice and attempted rolling the third time again before remembering the maximum was two times. She left off the key hanging on the door to come sit on her bed. She still felt legs walking somewhere around and whenever she turned, she saw no one. That alone had erased her initial plan of taking a shower before sleeping. She would just quietly switch off her light and cover her head with the pillow on the bed.
She looked at the door again,
“Let me remove the key and hide it under my pillow, if uncle knocks and threatens I open the door, I would tell him I can’t find the key.” She smiled at her own smartness and removed the key as she said this, switched off the light from the wall switch, managed to get her phone from the table through the darkness till she fell onto her bed.
She dropped the key inside one of the pillow cases and pulled the other pillow over her head. Thankfully, all the rooms are soundproof somewhat, so she could respond to the ringing on her phone. She saw the call that woke her up was from Umali, just then she remembered the girl had sent her a text earlier on.
“Laibe, make we talk tonight. Ebi de too.” she read out the text.
Oh! Laibe grumbled, contemplating if it was wise for her to actually talk tonight. If she had read this text when she got in without assuming Umali was sending her the usual ‘someone asked me out today’ message, she would have been able to program her mind well enough for a sleepless night. Now she actually has no choice; she can’t dash the hopes of her friends, especially that Ebi would be with them tonight.
‘Wherever her husband went to though’, she chuckled mildly.
She would call back. Airtime isn’t a problem for her as her Uncle always topped her phone anytime he topped his. That’s aside the wow free night call service her service provider offers. She had wondered sometimes ago since she started talking with her friends over night, most times with Umali and very rarely Ebi, how she would have survived without MTN Xtra cool as the tariff plan is referred.
“I think say you wan sly me again tonight…”
Umali’s voice came up loudly through the speaker of her phone.
“Isn’t it past midnight where you are?” Laibe asked, trying to have Umali reduce her voice.
“Nothing like night for Lagos, sho!!” she responded bluntly, increasing her tone even more and continued without waiting for Laibe to talk, “… lemme connect Ebi, she de on hold at the moment”
“Come, is Ebi…”
“Hi girls!” Ebi’s voice came up, interrupting what Laibe was about to say earlier.
“Ebi, good to have you here tonight. Where is our husband?” Laibe asked.
“I tell you una say him de work for manufacture company. Tonight na night shift, na why I fit follow una talk be that. Him go kill me if e hear say I de talk on top phone for night…” Ebi explained, rattling in Pidgin English. The two started laughing at the innocence with which she spoke.
They were such a solid and resolute piece of a triad. In fact, Ebi was the last person among them anyone would suspect can get married this early. She had always wanted to be this very renowned fashion designer right from time, back then at Ofabo, even when she knew nothing on the sewing machine. Guess, the separation had weakened their resolve a little. Since it was Umali that first called Aunty Udale asking to talk with Laibe after she got a little footing in the Lagos she went to about eight months after Laibe left for Ankpa, Laibe was shocked when Umali told her Ebi had to forcefully be married off to one of pa Alfa’s sons that worked in Kaduna. The story was so long; especially the protest and hesitation from Ebi’s side but she later had to yield in. Her father had ‘hernia’, so the doctors said and an operation needed to be carried on him. There was no money but there’s a daughter worth more than the money. Trade by barter had to be done. Though Ebi never liked the fact that she is married at barely sixteen already because she would always complain about the exorbitant age gap between herself and her beloved husband but she had to endure everything. More so, her husband had enrolled her in a tailoring workshop. Since tailoring is very lucrative in the North, she should be able to fix herself and her life up soon enough. Isn’t that what growth is?
“At least, hers is legal” Laibe mistakenly spoke her thoughts out before she could stop herself. They had lost her in the conversation a while ago.
“Wetin de legal Laibe?” Umali attacked her like she was waiting all the while. The haste with which Umali’s normal soft voice has drastically changed into a rough girl’s marvels Laibe as well.
“Answer o…” Ebi said from her own side.
Laibe swallowed, “I’m sorry I wasn’t really talking. It was only a spilled thought.”
“Spilled thought?” They both chorused like they planned it, before bursting out into a mocking laughter.
“…spilled thought ko, spilled milk ni. Ejor, make we speak Igala, I no de for all these enefu this night.” Umali expectedly opined, speaking both Pidgin English, Yoruba and Igala together in one sentence.
Everyone had no choice now, they all have to switch back to Igala. Laibe on her own part was struggling with the flow. She had no one with which she spoke Igala with in this house and worse still, at school. She is almost getting used to speaking English too fluently that she does code mixing and code switching all the time they talked.
Having Ebi tonight, which is rare, made her the subject of the discussion. Ebi talked about her husband, thirty-three years old; the one room apartment they both live there in Kaduna south. She complained how feeding two square meal was getting difficult by the day yet the man is so in a hurry to get her pregnant. She talked about the beautiful and nice Ameriya who is their neighbour and how the woman has been taking care of her like she is her own daughter. Thankfully, the woman is also the owner of the tailoring shop where she is an apprentice. Ameriya had promised Ebi that she would set up her own tailoring shop for her if she is diligent and hardworking enough. Ebi is so grateful to the woman that she practically put all her heart into the work. At least it’s feeding her and buying her some little home needs. The only frustrating part of it all is that whenever her husband isn’t on night shifts like tonight, he rest virtually the whole of the day till Ebi comes home from work at night and without considering whether the poor girl had eaten or not the whole day, the man would only be interested in performing his ‘role’ as a man, as he always called it. And guess the role? The activities of the ‘other room’. He would do this so much so that Ebi would be so weak and tired yet have to report at the shop first thing the next morning.
“Umu gbogbe kpa me fa.” she said ‘she’s emaciating daily’. This time, her voice broke and the duo knew she was about breaking down in tears as it’s usual of her.
“Calm down Ebi, calm…” Laibe couldn’t finish her statement as she felt a hand tap on her door. In a flash, she felt a key move through the hole from the other side of the door and at this point it was obvious that someone was about breaking into her room.
What would she do now? She thought, dropping the phone quietly under her pillow so the light doesn’t come up. She didn’t even remember to end the call. It was better she didn’t because if she did, calling her back would make the phone ring loud and draw more attention. She tried to joggle her mind as to what to do before the door finally flew open.
It is extremely dark in the room and she could only feel the figure as the figure tried to find the light switch on the wall just beside the door.
“Laibe, Laibe, are you there, wetin happen? You don sleep ni abi wetin?” she could hear Umali’s voice through the phone.
“Wetin happen?” she heard it again but couldn’t respond.
She prayed earnestly in her mind that the proactive Umali would not end the call and try to call back.
“What to do?” she thought in her head as it feels like the figure was taking time to find the switch.
Oh no! Not again tonight.
She thought to scream. She almost screamed.
Screaming would not do anything. It has never done anything for all she know.
She drew her tiny legs into her stomach till she became as tiny as a snail considering the size of the bed. She is doing anything possible, maybe by any means she may become invisible.
Hell no! The light came on and what she dreads the most is about befalling her again tonight.
To be continued…