THE WIFE I NEVER MARRIED – GRACE OCHIGBO
“Some man got me extremely infuriated, Goddess. You wouldn’t believe it. Damn! He probably just planned to ruin my day.”
Jane smiled as Max voiced out his frustrations.
Maximillian, for as long as she knows, is not one to complain or lament on, let alone about his job. He is that good par excellence. Having him ranting at this moment is quite strange in her ears and truthfully, she didn’t know what soothing response to give him.
“Don’t you think you are under so much pressure with this thing? I know it must be the commissioner and his friend’s case. Even though I haven’t met them, I can bet on my honour that they are extremely arrogant. Well, who does money not make arrogant anyway? Don’t you think you need a break off all of these?” Jane opined as she turned into the junction in front of her. She readjusted the earpiece which slid off, onto her right hand and quickly stole a glance at Mary. She couldn’t tell whether the lady beside her was meditating or lost in some wild thoughts. It’s just obvious that she’s been staring out through the mirror of the car, all the way from Bethel Hospital.
They had driven behind Udale and the psychotherapist after they were sure Laibe fell asleep. The sedative didn’t take so long to work on her after all. They both had to stay around Matron Udale for a while and only left when her husband finally came around. His face didn’t look good neither did he appear as welcoming as the first time Jane met him. Something must have gone so wrong and it was only wise they excused the couple.
“Pressure? This is my job, you know!” Max objected, changing from his initial devastated voice to a firmer one.
Jane smiled broader this time. She knew Max so well. He can do anything in the defence of his much-talked-about job.
“Soothe yourself then. I’m not really in the best of moods myself…” She dragged the gear to park, in front of Mary’s compound.
“What is the problem, Goddess? I noticed that in your voice too.” He had sincerity in his tone.
Jane rolled her eyes.
“I guess I have to move in with Mary for the meantime…”
She jeered and could feel him very uncomfortable over the phone.
“That’s not what I’m asking and you know it. What is the problem?”
“My mummy, my matron, you remember her now?” That was meant to be a question but Jane didn’t stop to let him respond. “Her daughter is behaving strange and weird. We just left the hospital. She would even be seeing a psychotherapist…” She jammed everything together, not breaking to breathe.
“Psychotherapist?” Max sounded amazed.
He felt something was trying to pop up in his mind but he was too tired to think at the moment so he dismissed it, as quick as it came.
“Yes Love.” Jane removed her car key and got down.
Mary had gone in a long time ago, when she saw the call wasn’t going to end anytime soon.
Max was quiet for a while.
“You know what, Jane? Come to think of it, I think I actually need a break…”
Jane was taken aback.
First, by him calling her first name but she understood – he is under so much pressure.
Aside the fame and the honour that comes with working with politicians, it can be extremely hectic more often than not as they would require you to do things at their own convenience and at their beck and call. She had come to totally understand her fiancé’s predicament and has adjusted to it. Moreover, the past few weeks she spent at his place had opened her eyes to a lot of things. He had assured her that things would get better with time. She totally doubt the possibility of that anyway, because it appears he would continually even get busier with time and chance. Unless, of course, the government refuses to stay stingy for once and employ more hands – especially doctors – to come work in the Lugard House hospital and every other hospital, for that matter.
“Are you for real?” She caught herself saying. She didn’t know if she was excited about the news or not. “…when and where would that be then?”
“Hmmm… I guess this weekend? I’m not sure. And where else? I would be coming to Ankpa surely.”
Jane tittered unconsciously. It’s about time.
She told Max how her father is longing to see him, so much so that they, Jane and her father that is, both talked about it this morning before she left the house. She couldn’t have let Max in on it. It would have been extremely insensitive of her, knowing how busy he is. Now that he has, by himself, succumbed to taking a break? The pleasure is all hers.
“I can’t wait to see you and get to go to all the places and people you said we needed to visit. It’s high time we doubled the speed of our wedding plans. You know it’s not so far away anymore.” He waited as Jane chuckled. “…I love you so much, Goddess!”
“I love you too Max!” Jane screamed into the receiver excitedly.
Max ended the call but she still held onto her phone, staring with unusual full attention at it for a very long time.
What a good surprise?
Finally, her darling mummy, matron Udale, would also get to meet Max officially.
Another intriguing episode of ‘On becoming Mrs Obaje.’
Udale frankly didn’t know why Matthew is nagging again. Truth is, she is truly becoming fed up with all of him. All of his guts. All of his threats. All of his harsh words. All of his nonchalance. All of the damn things in him. He had started all the way from the hospital till they got into the house and he is still keeping up at it. She has had a very trying moment in the last few weeks and having Laibe laying on that hospital bed doesn’t seem like something she found interesting in the very least. It’s good Matthew is only nagging and not shouting. Only God can tell what she would do if he had shouted on her before the ladies.
He dashed into the hospital not so long after Udale asked Mary to send him a message using her phone. Udale had forgotten her own phone at home during all the rush hour events down there. Mary simply drafted a short text, saying ‘Laibe was rushed to Bethel hospital’. There was no much details and she thought Matron’s husband would call back immediately after reading such a message. Well, this is not the first time the man’s actions are leaving her in utter disappointment. The very latest being Baba’s burial secret.
“Which of them have I done wrong now, Matthew? Calling a psychotherapist for a girl who isn’t talking yet behaving unusually weird? Or sedating and rushing her to the hospital when she started screaming your name all of a sudden.” Matron demanded with a raging voice. Her eyes flashing and burning with anger.
“I’m not saying any of your actions were wrong Udale. I’m only saying…”
“Only saying what? Only saying what, Matthew?” She cut in, raising her voice.
“…excuse me sir? You are only saying I should sit back and fold my hands while my only niece and of course the only blood relation of mine left lose her mind? Incredible!” She looked at him with deep concerns, unable to believe her ears. “What should I rather do? Run away to work in Lokoja as well, and leave her to run mad? Can you listen to yourself, Matthew?”
Matthew knew he needed to tread with caution now. Udale was apparently blowing the whole matter out of proportion. He picked up the remote and turned on the TV for no good reason; he just needed to be a bit distracted. Music? Alright. At least, so Udale wouldn’t notice his nervousness… or is it anxiety? He is actually unlike Matthew at the moment.
“And did Josh call me over three times? Was there a problem?” Udale jolted him again, staring at the screen of her phone as she picked it up from the side stool she had left it while taking Jane and Mary to Laibe’s room earlier.
Matthew glanced at her. He now realised why the calls rang out unanswered, earlier. Perhaps he would have been able to say all of it then, if she picked up the call. Josh was more or less a great source of morale for him. Josh would have helped him say it, if he couldn’t. Right now, he is struggling hard with how best to say what is eating up his mind. The doctor was right, he would wish for death to come if Udale finds out through the psychotherapist what he had done… or what he has been doing.
If once was to be a mistake, how then can one account for several times?
“Did you hear my question at all?” Udale frowned when her husband didn’t seem to be responding to her. Whatever was on his mind, she could care less right now.
“Yes… yes… yea I did. I … I did…” Matthew sat up on his chair. “Never mind. I guess he only wanted to tell you something.”
“Something? Josh?” Udale sounded unbelieving. “…I should call him right away then!” She started tapping away on the screen of her phone.
Matthew jumped up and snatched the phone from her hand before he could stop himself. This got Udale both confused and suspicious as she turned questioning eyes at her husband.
“You don’t have to call him back, OK? He… he… he probably wanted to reach me…” Seeing Udale didn’t fall for that. “…I know… I know… I know we were together, alright? But you know Josh now, he can be extremely… erhm… extremely forgetful.”
He knew he wasn’t sounding convincing but he got to take a chance.
Udale couldn’t comprehend what her husband was saying in her head but didn’t really want to raise more alarm… not at this time.
She was about to say something when the doorbell chimed.
“I’ll get it.” Matthew sprang up and hurried to the door immediately.
“I’ll need some explanation on why she kept screaming out ‘Uncle’ and asking you to leave her alone too. That’s after all this is over.” Udale called out from behind him.
Matthew felt extremely weak at the knees but didn’t stop. He only continued walking till he got to the door and pulled down the knob. He was startled initially but quickly gained back his composure.
The faces he was seeing didn’t appear familiar to him in any way.
Laibe tried to open her eyes. It’s as if there was something gluing the upper part to the lower one. She forcefully continued till she could see something before her. It looked like a white cloud.
Oh, she made it to heaven so early? She questioned herself.
Then she thought she heard a voice, “it must be the angel sent to welcome me.”
A broad smile formed around her face.
“You are back.” The voice came again, and at this point, she was beginning to joggle her brain to remembrance, especially the part talking of the journey she got back from.
She tried to get up. A pang flew through the inside of her right eyes all the way through to her back. She fell back almost immediately.
“You need to rest, my friend.”
Laibe heard and this time she was certain it wasn’t any heaven and the white clouds were the colours of the ceiling right above her. She turned to see the woman smiling at her. She definitely isn’t so young neither is she too old. Laibe didn’t seem to remember anything as she just stared at the women demanding answers.
“I’m Halima, your friend. And ehrm… and we rushed you down here some … some hours ago.”
Oh! Here she is thinking she had at least escaped the torture of her grandfather’s death and the other one she faces at home yet unable to confide in no one. She didn’t mind ending it on earth at the moment already.
“Friend? Did you say your name was He… Halima?” Laibe sounded like someone recuperating from chronic amnesia.
Laibe thought that the woman’s smile is very beautiful. At least, it’s giving her some bit of comfort and relaxation right on this hospital bed. The first time Laibe was in this hospital was when they rushed Baba down here and he died before her very eyes. She remembered she couldn’t even shed a tear after that incidence. Her heart was heavier than a stone and perhaps, a portion of it detached and had probably come to clog her throat. That explains why she wasn’t talking too then.
A woman’s heart is indeed a deep ocean of secrets.
“So you relax, OK? I would get the doctor for you soon.” Halima said politely and got up.
Laibe watched her as she walked on till she was almost opening the door.
“When do I meet her?”
“Meet who?” Halima turned confused face back at Laibe. She thought the girl was hallucinating again but all of a sudden, her brain gathered up the many things she thinks the young girl must be talking about. She came to one conclusion and believed that must be what Laibe wanted to know.
“Anytime you want, my friend!”
Laibe smiled at this and Halima returned the smile before walking out of the wardroom.
Helen sat a little bit uncomfortable. Though she is an Igbo girl, she has learnt every single alphabet in the Igala language; so much for being born and bred in Ankpa. She didn’t have issues communicating with aunty Udale… it was not as though they spoke Igala with each other.
When Laibe’s uncle opened the door, she wasn’t surprised at all that he stood staring back at them for a long time. Helen, herself, didn’t also help the issue because words failed her on seeing the huge man… suffice to say that she felt intimidated all of a sudden. Thank God aunty Udale came to the scene at the time she did. Laibe’s aunty is the only one Helen is familiar with, they have seen and talked the many times she came to drop or pick Laibe at/from school. It’s rather unfortunate that her friendship with Laibe had always been within the four walls of school. Since their driver brings her to school, Laibe hadn’t gotten the opportunity to meet any of her own parents, unlike her.
“Wow! Helen? Great surprise. How are you my dear girl?” Udale had said, hugging Helen, on getting to the door. Helen quickly introduced the other man with her, who insisted on waiting outside, as her driver. Udale felt really impressed as the little girl said she asked her father to let the driver bring her here to check Laibe immediately she got home after school.
“Where is she now?” she had asked almost as soon as she took her seat.
Laibe’s uncle didn’t look the least interested in her question neither did he seem as excited as Udale was to see her. Helen felt he hated her already with the way he snubbed her and sat on his own like he wasn’t in the living room at all. Funny enough, Laibe has never mentioned him in any of their discussions, so Helen has not the slightest idea as to who her friend’s uncle was.
“She is in the hospital.” Udale responded, taking her seat.
Helen sat up involuntarily. “Hospital? Which hospital? I mean why?”
She saw a look of gross irritation on Matthew’s face as her voice rose. And before she got an answer to her questions, the man got up, picked his car keys and excused himself; heading up the stairs.
Helen absolutely didn’t understand. Was Laibe’s uncle this unkind to visitors who are her friends or it’s peculiar to her? She let the thoughts slide away. Where to find her friend is the most important thing right now.
“Your friend is having some health issues… I truly fear it wouldn’t result in mental issues in the long run.” Udale said slowly, counting her words out like she needed prayers to say every single one of them.
“How do you mean mental issues, ma?”
Udale swallowed painfully. Stress has left a permanent crease on her forehead today. It’s been such a hell of a day.
“Well, I’m just hoping it is not, my dear. Please can I ask you a question, Helen? And I need you to be extremely sincere.”
Udale’s eyes were penetrating the young girl now and she felt really uncomfortable. But as it is typical of Aleka Academy, the school has put in her courage and boldness to politely face anyone in whatever situation. Thus, she tried to still maintain a fairly stable and comported facial expression.
She nodded in the affirmative. That was the most polite response she could give right now and thankfully, aunty Udale didn’t mind.
“Was your friend following any guy around in school or anywhere else? Anyone that you are aware of? Was there any unusual male around her at any point that you know?”
Helen stared back at Laibe’s aunty in confusion. The confusion was gaining a lot of grounds in her head, more and more by each ticking hand of the clock. It can’t be Ezekiel, surely. Laibe couldn’t have had anything to do with him, she knew that deep within even while they were keeping malice.
“You see Helen, you may be afraid of talking now…” Udale’s voice brought her from her thoughts, “… this is for her own good. Your beloved friend is acting abnormally and we left her unconscious at the hospital…” Helen’s eyes popped open and Udale smiled lightly, “… she was actually sedated.” She corrected and felt Helen take in a deep sigh of relief.
“Aunty, Laibe doesn’t like boys. She hates them with passion, you will know even from the disgusted way she talks about them.” Helen’s voice was calm as she spoke.
“Disgusted? How do you mean?”
Helen twisted her tongue inside her mouth.
She would try to stay within the confines of what she can remember. She didn’t want it to be said that she betrayed Laibe… or whatever the so-called code of friendship entails.
“I don’t know how to explain ma, but whenever we talk and it comes to issues of boys, she gets overtly infuriated and screams at the top of her voice.”
Udale felt another big blow on her face hearing this. How couldn’t she have known, noticed or found that out? There was no way she would have. She haven’t had any deep conversation with Laibe in recent times… that’s if she ever did at all. She had always thought Laibe should be fine… and finest if need be, because, unlike the village where she was taken from, she has more life to herself now than ever before.
I’m a failed mother obviously, perhaps that’s why God didn’t give me a child, she cursed herself silently within.
“So you mean there is no boy she has introduced you to? She hasn’t told you she liked any one? I mean, you know what I’m saying. What you people call ‘crush’, am I right? Think! Anyone, anytime.” Udale pressed on
Helen still shook her head from side to side
She knew Laibe’s disposition whenever it comes to the opposite sex. In fact, at a point she began to wonder if Laibe was homosexual. That should be the only thing potent enough to completely erase a lady’s attraction for a man, right? Udale kept pleading eyes on Helen while she nodded from left to right in thoughts, until gbam! Something seem to flash back in her brain.
“No one that she had told you she liked? No…”
“Yes, there was one guy…” Helen interrupted, “… the first time we saw him… well, I don’t think that’s Lee’s first time though, he scared us with his car. We were walking down that lonely street from our school, so we thought he was a kidnapper.”
“Kidnapper? Walking to where please?” Udale asked in astonishment and continued, “Eehen! So what happened?”
Helen felt quite uncomfortable saying this. Her only solace is in the fact that Laibe didn’t tell her to keep it secret as they would always do.
“Nothing ma. Nothing happened. We later found out he was someone she knew. Actually, my guts tells me the person looks familiar, but I couldn’t point it. At least, till the guy drove me home before bringing her here and up until now…”
“OK! Thank you very much. Anymore thing?”
“Laibe didn’t come to school the day after that. She however told me some days later that the guy has been asking her to marry him… though we couldn’t talk much that time because it was our test week. We haven’t finished the discussion since she has been away from school for so long now, her phone has been off as well and I was worried until Miss Mary told me she lost her grandfather.” Helen narrated.
“The guy you both met, how long ago was that?” Udale asked.
Helen shut her eyes for a while, as though trying to picture the date required of her.
“Uhmm…It was on a Thursday… yes. Thursday. She didn’t come to school the next day. I guess she said, her grandfather was brought home that Friday or so. I can’t completely recall.…”
Udale felt alarm ring in her head.
“So she didn’t play badminton that Thursday at school?”
Helen found the question funny but she didn’t show it.
“No ma. Miss Mary excused Laibe and I from extracurricular activities that day.”
“So you are sure she didn’t play badminton?”
Helen didn’t understand anymore. Aunty Udale is asking the same question she just answered.
“We both didn’t do anything other than walking out and getting frightened initially by the guy who later drove us home.” She sounded very firm while talking. She was as sure of this as she is of her surname.
Udale swallowed, many pictures were reappearing in her head and she was trying hard to figure out a sensible way of merging everything together.
“This guy in question, do you know his name?”
Helen stared back at aunty Udale, searching deep inside her head, perhaps she would find the guy’s name, that’s if she ever heard it in the first place.
Udale violently pushed the door to the bedroom open. She glanced at Matthew who was sitting at her dressing table and headed towards the bed. She was not going to be satisfied, after all Helen told her, until she finds the guy whose name Helen couldn’t provide. She sat down on the right side of the bed where her husband usually use, feeling extremely restless and then jerked up. She felt Matthew’s eyes turning to her immediately she dragged open his side drawer.
“What are you looking for in there?”
Udale shot a cold eye at him and he kept quiet immediately. She pulled out one of the notebooks from the drawers and tried to fan herself with it, then a paper fell off it.
Matthew felt the impulse to rush for that paper but he knew better than adding to the very many reasons he has given his wife to suspect him today. He however prepared himself, bracing up for expected questions.
“Laibe, I expected your call and now I’m here. I feel you have lost my card. Just call me back on 08103872490 as soon as you see this…”
Matthew listened, without looking, as his wife read out the content of the paper that fell off the book she carried out of his drawer.
“…You knew about this?” Udale kept unbelievable eyes on her husband.
“Knew about what?” Matthew replied.
He has always known the ‘question back’ mechanism to be efficient.
“Oh! Don’t give me that Matthew…” Udale seem to be flaring up by each statement she made, “…you knew about the guy that dropped her at home that Thursday? You saw him? You knew he probably slept in this house with her? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Slept in this house?” he snorted, “… and you believe I’ll let someone in here to sleep with our daughter? Do you know how precious she is to me?” Matthew sounded extremely disappointed this time and that worked. It worked because Udale started crying. Kudos to reverse psychology.
“I don’t know what to believe anymore, Honey. Helen just told me about a guy we don’t know his name, this paper is having probably the guy’s number and that appears like you know him. I met her room in complete disarray the morning of that day and you were sleeping in the living room, she said she played badminton, Helen said, they both didn’t do any activity the day before. She walked like she had balls between her legs. I don’t know what to think anymore.” She started sobbing even louder, so much so that Matthew had to get up and go pat her gently on the shoulders. Her fat body vibrated heavily, shaking the bed. He could feel his own heart beat loudly against his chest as his wife’s tears poured.
“Contrary to what you think, I don’t know the guy. True, I saw them the day he dropped her and I confronted her but she said nothing. I ceased this note from the gateman’s hand some days later – apparently the same guy came looking for her.”
Udale wiped a tear drop with the back of her left hand.
“Why didn’t you tell me, Matthew? Why do I think you are the one encouraging this girl in all the rubbish she does?”
Matthew swallowed, making sure there was no eye contact with her.
“Far from it Udale. Baba was very sick, I felt you had enough already to handle knowing how extremely worried you can be. I decided to handle it my own way.”
“Now, she is going haywire, how in your own way did you handle it o? Have you called the number?”
“The number has been unreachable…”
“Ha… unreachable?… Ojo mi o!” More tears poured off Udale’s face. “…did he rape her and ran away? Were they having an affair? Laibe looked heartbroken, could it be as a result of his unavailability? Oh God, what is happening to me?” She wailed louder and deeper.
At this point, Matthew didn’t know what to do. Udale’s questions are very many and he will never be able to answer them correctly. He also know he had an answer that would clean off this set of questions and arouse entirely different ones. Perhaps this is the opportunity he has. It may even be the last chance he would have. He needed to pull himself together anyways and say it now or forget it forever. He opened his mouth to speak but shut it when Udale cut in,
“Matthew, I feel like I failed my own only brother.” Tears poured freely even more now.
“No Baby, you are just being hard on yourself. You never told your sister-in-law not to bother you, did you?” He’s trying to be as consoling as possible.
“I’ve always suggested to my late elder brother Ugbede, that he should move to Ankpa. I was ready to do whatever it would take me to make him settle down here when he comes, but you know you men and your ego right?” Udale explained.
“Yeah! And I know this story you are telling me already too. He insisted he would stay back at the village and try to make ends meet because it sounded insulting for him to come running to his younger sister for help.” Matthew concluded it for her but she wasn’t satisfied. She still continued.
“And that was how my brother… my only brother… went to Oba and never returned alive.” Udale cried more and more.
“You have to be strong, Honey, I know it’s hurting! It was a road accident, it could happen to anyone. Pity party would not help anyone now.” Matthew said, gently stroking her hair.
“You have no idea Honey, you have no idea what it feels like for your own brother’s wife to be seriously sick and not mentioning any of it to you because she also feels she shouldn’t disturb you. Seriously, if I had learnt of Ichojo’s sickness earlier than I did, she would still be alive by now.”
Matthew didn’t know what he was supposed to do anymore. None of his consoling words seem to be sinking into his wife.
“But death can happen to anyone. It wasn’t your fault. Remember, you did your best after realising it, no matter how late it was. It wasn’t your fault any of them died, Udale. Don’t be hard on yourself.” He managed to pull this off his throat comfortably without accompanying his frustrations alongside.
“My brother died because I wasn’t able to convince him well enough. His wife died because I was too negligent… perhaps, I should have visited the village more regularly, now my father has died too and my only niece is going mental. I don’t have any child to call my own. Am I not heading to hit the rocks? Who is doing all these to me?” Udale wailed loudly.
This time, Matthew knew his wife has chosen the path of self-pity and nothing would be potent enough to comfort her. He drew her closer for a hug and pecked her hair over and again. It’s good there is even chemistry adequate for these. She is his wife and it’s his duty to comfort her no matter the guilt that is firmly tied to a part of his heart.
Udale rose her head, bringing her eyeballs to come stare straight into Matthew’s. He felt a bit uncomfortable but couldn’t show it. He mustn’t show any cause for suspicions just yet. Maybe, he should just go ahead and tell her. The worst that would ever happen will happen. There is no good time on his hand, he is aware of that, and his grace period expires with each tick of the clock.
“Matthew, please tell me what you are not telling me.” Udale’s question brought him back from his thoughts and he felt his heart race heavily against his rib cage. So heavily that one would think the heart was going to pull out of its cage and unfortunately, Udale’s head is resting on his chest.
His hand on her back got weak immediately and her teary eyes got the words in his throat pushing out but he is yet to fathom the best way to begin this.
He swallowed deeply.
TO BE CONTINUED.