THE WIFE I NEVER MARRIED – GRACE OCHIGBO
They walked out of the office and heading straight to the parking lot. The two men looked like the most serious fellows of the century even though one wore an obviously expensive designers blue suit and the other wore a native white ‘kaftan’. Of course, one is the commissioner and the other his friend. Who wore the native kaftan then? Your guess is as good as everyone’s.
The Rolls-Royce car blinked as Joshua pressed on the remote from afar. They walked hastily without talking to each other. Each as focused as if something worth billions of dollar ran in his mind. Holding the door handle, they flung the car door open and sat. Panting and heaving sigh of relief.
“I think His Excellency was right, Matthew. It’s just that this only mean more work for this ministry. Mehn!!!” Josh fell his back against the seat rest and blew out hot air from his mouth in exasperation.
Matthew smiled, trying to fix back some documents he held all the while into his official bag. He was not in a hurry to give a response, typical of him. Knowing who he has, Josh just continued; plus he had a lot of things rushing up his throats already.
“When the governor hinted me about his plans to diversify our source of state’s revenue, and especially major in agriculture, I didn’t know it would be immediately after his re-election. I mean, this is just the first year in our second tenure, just few months after the rigorous stress that accompanied the keenly contested elections for goodness sake!” Josh complained bitterly, shaking his head.
“Perhaps, if he had changed his commissioners, I wouldn’t be hearing all these unnecessary complains this sunny noon.” Matthew spoke out for the first time, eyeballing his friend.
“C’mon now, I wasn’t exactly complaining” Josh retorted giving Matthew a nudge. He held the key in his hand, pointing it towards the ignition but it was obvious he wasn’t going to kick start this car anytime soon.
“Four years isn’t so long a time from now and if you are to right the wrongs as your administration is determined to, work should start immediately the owner of the gubernatorial seat is declared.” Matthew said firmly.
“Yea right? Feeling like adviser of our time, huh?” Josh responded, again punching his friend who only smiled coyly. “The Youth Empowerment in Agriculture Program was really strategic. You heard his excellency talking about it in there, right?”
“Eheen! I was just going to ask about it. How far now?” Matthew sat up to ask with curiosity written all over his face.
“Well, the fifteen qualified people that submitted their proposals and CVs have been undergoing rigorous trainings for two months now, you know? The governor is really personal about this training, so much so that he makes a personal appearance in their classes once in a while”
“Wow! That’s very impressive.” Matthew cut in before Josh continued,
“As part of the assessments for the qualifying proposals, each candidate was to draft out a detailed prospective mechanised strategy in their own ideas and so on and so forth.” He paused and swallowed, “Guess what?”
Matthew responded by turning to face him with popping eyeballs.
“There was this fellow whose work, impressive would be an understatement for. The governor, the judges were amiss for words, including myself. I didn’t know we had such hidden talents in this state – describing how this machine should assist, how ploughing, harvesting, planting should go in synch. I mean, it was way too awesome!”
Matthew chuckled. “It’s lack of opportunities like this that make those kind of people die without anyone ever getting to know all the beautiful ideas flowing on their inside. Little wonder they say the grave is the richest place.”
“Very true my friend…” Josh nodded as though he just caught a deep revelation. “The governor had to arrange he be moved as soon as possible.
“Moved? To where?” Matthew’s confusion is quite obvious.
“First to Thailand and subsequently to Canada for intensive training. There is this C… CA… CAEP, what’s the full meaning again?” Josh pointed questioning eyes at his friend.
“Communicating for Agriculture Education Programs?”
“Ehen!” Josh affirmed, “ He’s left for a while now. The training shouldn’t be so long. Ha! Mr Ekele is blessed with raw brains, I tell you.” Josh said, grinning from ear to ear like an over flattered kid.
Matthew squeezed his front head, “Who is that?”
“Oh! Sorry, I forgot you weren’t part of the screening panel. You just opted out on me at the dying minute. What a friend I have!” Josh said pathetically.
“I had to, Josh. You are beginning to get too comfortable with me doing all your jobs for you. You can’t even recall the full meaning of CAEP, that’s ridiculous for your exalted position. Need I remind you that I’m not the one paid and bearing the name commissioner for agriculture. Am I?”
Joshua started laughing, haven known where his friend was coming from. He tried to wave off that line of discussion soon enough,
“Well, you are still the best man for this job, any day. And oh! Mr O. Ekele, that’s the name of the young chap that blew all our minds. The smart one that’s chilling abroad now. No worries, you will be working with him a lot when he gets back.” Josh said, winking at Matthew who only eyeballed him coldly without any response. Josh knew his friend could be very cold during discussion, especially when a topic is stretching for too long but when Matthew is extremely cold like this, both in response and in action, he knows that one thing has started bothering him again.
“Tell her nau… You are being really unfair to this woman altogether. Matthew, you need help and you are not going to get it by hiding… and perhaps running away from the one who can give it.”
Matthew started laughing this time and Joshua had to pause, “I’m not going to get help? Na curse ne?” he rattled in Pidgin. He rarely gets that jovial. Too collected to.
Josh frowned, “C’mon, don’t make light of this. You know what I’m saying. Tell it to Udale, you’ve been struggling for over a year now.”
Matthew took a deep breath. “I wish you would understand that it’s not as easy as you say…” he swallowed, “…and, can we at least get out of this heavily policed area, please? I know it would happen eventually but I don’t want to get arrested just yet.” He let out a fake consoling smile.
Josh took a deep breath in and pushed his key into the ignition, starting the car. How could he have forgotten that they were still at the government’s house parking lot all the while. Well, if the hot scorching Lokoja sun had been able to cut through the AC to them, he would have realised earlier that he was sited in a car. Not at all! The air in this car is damn chilly.
“We couldn’t take breakfast cos of this emergency meeting with His Excellency. Can we go have it now? I’m starving. The crescent restaurant, my usual. They serve good food there, you know” Josh winked
Matthew chuckled loudly. “My car is parked in your compound Josh. Take me home.”
Josh didn’t get that, “but we don’t need two cars to get to a restaurant, right?” he asked in astonishment.
“I’m going to Ankpa straight away. I have to say it to Udale, now or never. No matter how difficult it is, I must say it today.” Matthew said faintly.
“Now you are talking… No I meant to say, now you are reasoning!” Josh teased. Stepping on the accelerator, he zoomed out of Lugard house.
“Good… afternoon… Senior…”
“How are you?”
“We are very well, thank you. How are you too?” They chorused uniformly again, dragging every word alongside.
“I’m fine. You can have your seats.” The Senior ordered the students to sit down. His name is Ezekiel. He looked on from one person to another, taking his time, without saying anything neither giving any clue. He knows what he is looking for… or better still, who he is looking for. The new class should be the reason for the distorted sitting arrangement. It didn’t take him this much time to locate then last year. His eyes kept darting back and forth till his flashing eyeballs finally fell on where they sat – three seats away from him. “Helen and Laibe, see me outside now.” He ordered and dashed off as soon as those words were off his mouth.
Helen looked at Laibe with a knowing smile. Laibe on her own side didn’t understand that early enough. If there is anyone Senior Ezekiel should call out, it’s definitely Helen not her. Of course, Helen had been the one crazy about him all the while. She had been the one clouding Laibe’s ears with gossips and petty talks about what she call crushes. Right from when the guy came into SS1 last session when they were both in JS2, Helen wouldn’t let a day go by without talking about how much she liked Ezekiel, how she saw him in her dreams, how she wishes to be his girlfriend and all those sorts that seems like arrant nonsense to Laibe. The latter had to endure all those. So much for being a seatmate and more importantly, a friend. It’s a good thing though, at least Helen makes her forget her nightmares for the bulk of the day she spends at school. That’s soothing and a manageable succour till she gets back home.
“Let’s not keep him waiting.” Helen jerked Laibe up. Giggling excitedly, she tried to see her face through the dark edges of her calculator. Helen at this point wished she came to school with a mirror and perhaps, a makeup kit as well. Even when she had wished and prayed her crush, as she always called him, would eventually respond to her, she didn’t expect it to be this soon. Especially that it is still school hours. She has been fantasising, as she sees in South Korean movies, that he would walk into the school garden one of those few times she is there alone, blowing a melodious love song from a little flute, he would bend over to perk her on the forehead and thereafter say the immaculate words, “Please be my girlfriend.”
The thoughts, as usual, made her cheeks get redder as she dragged down the edges of her maroon pullover over her short flare skirt and started walking out like she was rehearsal rudiments of cat-walking on an elevated isle. Whether anyone in the classroom was watching was immaterial to her right now. When it comes to Ezekiel, it feels like he is the only living thing in her world.
Laibe reluctantly closed the textbook she was reading and followed after.
“What took you so long?” Senior Ezekiel was almost shouting at Helen but calmed down when he saw Laibe coming gently behind her for unclear reasons.
“So… sorry Senior…” Helen muttered with her head facing the ground, she clenched her fists. Laibe didn’t know why her extremely confident and bold friend, whom she always took reference from, was acting all timid here. She isn’t timid before the principal – Mr Dauda, the school’s new principal that came towards the end of last session, taking over from the veracious Aunty T. She wasn’t timid towards teachers, including Uncles Emma and Jibrin that all the boys in the class seem to dread. Why then is she all shy before Ezekiel, the Library prefect, a mere senior colleague? Laibe didn’t let her thoughts drown her deeper before she realised she heard someone yell. Bringing back her attention, she needed to know why the senior yelled at her friend…
“…It’s bad enough that I don’t know who gave you my Whatsapp line. Don’t you come up saying emotional things to me on that social media platform again, did I make myself clear? Spoilt little kids like you. Ladies don’t ask men out.” He clapped his hands loudly, one would think it was a hot slap.
Laibe felt Helen’s head drop down more in shame at Ezekiel’s last statement. She could connect the loose dots now. She remembered Helen telling her she’s been anonymously chatting Ezekiel up since last term. Laibe was apprehensive and sensed danger immediately Helen told her that and advised Helen passionately to stop. For some days she kept asking Helen if she had heeded the advice or not till she finally said she has. Who would have known that the agreement was just to wave Laibe off her emotional life.
“If in your family – the family of the rich you claim to come from – if in your family, you don’t mind ladies doing men’s job for them, I mind! Do you understand? I so damn mind!! Don’t you ever chat me up for no reason from today, is that clear?” Ezekiel’s voice rose higher and higher in anger as he spoke.
“Ye… Yeah… Yes senior” Helen started sobbing. This broke Laibe’s heart. She wished she could do something, stand in for her friend as she usually did for Ebi and Umali back at home. This case is different though, this boy right here is in SS2 and a prefect for that matter, it would be a lost case when it gets out that a Js3 girl was confronting her senior right in the school compound.
“I am… I am sorry.” Helen said amidst her teary voice.
“Sorry for yourself. Now… Leave!”
His voice startled Helen and even Laibe. Laibe hated that she is helpless in this situation. Helen almost fell over as she turned to leave and Laibe had to hurriedly grab her. She didn’t know why the senior called her alongside. Just to make a public show of her friend, definitely. She made to lead Helen into the class or wherever they should go sit for the main time.
“Laibe, you wait!” Ezekiel ordered.
Laibe was running out of patience, but she had to be calm now, at least her stay in this school would be defended if she pulls through this provoking moment without creating a scene. That’s including the bitterness and hatred tied up somewhere in her mind for the upturns of events in her little life. Ezekiel won’t even survive this grenade’s explosion if he dared anything stupid.
Ezekiel looked on at her and didn’t say anything till he was sure Helen was out of their sight. Laibe wasn’t comfortable with the young man’s eyes running over her body, she is never comfortable with it. She has always been allergic to stares.
“What?” she blurted out in provocation when the gaze was getting too unbearable.
Ezekiel was taken aback at first, then he started smiling as his confidence came back,
“Laibe, you are beautiful!”
Laibe looked up at him with blood shot eyes. She made sure their eyeballs met and she didn’t blink. It is like a burning furnace was comfortably sitting in her head, burning cat and dog, so hot that it would roast the young man in front of her if he dared come any closer than he was attempting already. She didn’t understand it anymore, everything buttresses her point that men are only some bunch of self-gratifying monsters. So long as it gratifies and satisfies them, they don’t mind who is hurting or not. They don’t mind whose emotional life they had set in shreds. They mind nothing. Annoying chunk of selfish idiots. Mtcheeeew! She hissed loudly and bitterly before stopping herself.
“No Laibe, I mean it. I’ve watched you since I got into this school last year. You are gentle and intelligent. You are nice also…” Laibe eyeballed him even more angrily now as he said these words. “Please, I want you to be my girlfriend, Laibe. I would take care of you, I promise.” Ezekiel made attempt to hold her hand but she yanked it away in a flash. If eyes carried guns, the type of look she had been serving him since would have killed him by now.
“Laibe, please say something.” He pleaded.
“Oh! Like? Like what? Like, oh! Ezekiel, it’s so sweet to know you know I’m beautiful? Or it’s an honour to be your girlfriend sir? Which do I say first?” Laibe asked with sarcasm.
“Take care of me? How much of skin care products can you afford? How much of golden and silver wristwatches, bracelets and earrings can you buy? Do you even know where there are sold? How much of ball gowns and expensive perfumes can your miserable breakfast money buy? that’s after saving for the next two years…” She clapped her hand in a mocking fashion, still inserting her sarcastic laughter somewhere in-between successive statements, “I can’t believe this. Are you all like this? Torturing us and thinking of getting away scot free? Ah! My innocent Aunt…” Laibe knew she was beginning to take the matter way too far now but she couldn’t stop herself anymore. She couldn’t prevent the words from letting loose. Especially now that she needed not to scout for a word in order to express herself. Two years here and her grammatical accuracy has been transformed greatly beyond her own imaginations. She loved it, especially that she had successfully shut the mouth of the most respected senior in the entire school. She loved the way Ezekiel forgot his mouth open while staring at her as she spoke. She felt truly disgusted and irritated by everything about him altogether. Her friend is killing herself all for this fellow that has no regard whatsoever for her, rather he is coming for Laibe.
“Did you have to embarrass Helen like that? Oh! And you even had the effrontery to do that before me, huh? Whatever made you imagine in your wildest dreams that I would like you an inch after what you just did to my best friend? You disgust me already!” she said rudely as she walked away, dragging a very long hiss almost through the first half of the distance.
Ezekiel stood astonished for a long while. Wow! He saw the girl too easy. It was innocent Laibe, the village girl as some of his classmates called her. From the venom with which she spoke, something best known to her must have really wreaked havoc in her little life. But she is still a girl. The only girl he had come to like.
The bedroom is extremely cold. For no reasons they both left the AC on. It’s so cold that they had to use the thick duvets to wrap themselves up. If only one of the duo could just get up to go up pick the AC remote on the dressing table opposite them, they would be saved the stress of using the blanket. If anyone would, it’s definitely not Udale. She is virtually snoring here – fat woman under a thick blanket – sounds like a tornado already! Matthew had given up on tapping her to readjust. As much as he hates it, he know that snoring has never killed anyone before so tonight cannot be the first. His legs felt very heavy as he lay… or should we say, he sat, using the back rest of the bed as his pillar. He is a perfectionist to the core and derive great pleasure in purchasing flashy things, ranging from cars to accessories to even domestic appliances. Josh would always call him an exhibitionist, but there is no crime in wanting things primly and properly done, is there?
With the extreme coldness in the room, he still felt hot. Intense heat burned up from within him and he could feel sweat in his palms. Whether imaginary or real, he couldn’t say at the moment. He knew it would be difficult but didn’t realise it would be this extremely difficult while driving from Lokoja earlier in the day. He had assured Josh he was going to tell her, no matter what. He had rehearsed his lines, even stood in front of the mirror several times in a row before his wife got back from work. He thought he could say it over dinner. Was that not why he made dinner for the first time in a long while today? He couldn’t believe his eyes when his long abandoned cooking skills came in handy tonight. Udale however scattered his plans. Not intentionally though, the news about Baba’s increasing ailment shut him up. He isn’t insensitive to say such a thing as this with that kind of news. But he had to say it today!
He thought of writing it down. Perhaps as he sees in Nigerian movies, his best movie industry actually, he would write a note while she is away and leave her to read it whenever she gets back. That’s not possible. He can’t find enough right words to express what he is about saying, let alone find the best way to pen it down. Udale only snores this loudly when she’s had a very hectic day. That, accompanied with her father’s ailment is good enough reason for anyone not to distract her much needed sleep.
Matthew rose his hand, moved it towards her and dropped it on a second thought.
“You have to do this mehn!” he admonished himself quietly as he rose the hand up again. This time, he tapped her lightly but they was no sign of consciousness whatsoever. He swallowed. He would have to shake her rigorously after all.
“Udale, forgive me”, he let out as he shook her so vigorously that she spoke from her sleep.
“Oh!!!!!!!! Honey, I’m not snoring!”
Who is concerned with snoring at the moment, Matthew thought to himself as he tapped her till he was sure she had woken.
He stared at her drowsy eyes and it was as though the words he crammed vanished again.
“Honey, what’s the problem?” Udale said, her sleepy voice made her voice come out so soft and sultry that Matthew was taken aback initially. He admonished himself to concentrate already. And he did.
“Erhmm! Well… You see… ah… ehmm… I …!” Matthew stammered on and on. This action had a good effect on Udale as it made alarm to sound in her head. Matthew is the most confident and boldest person she had ever met, stammering now only signify that something horrible was about to come. She sat up immediately and gave him her full percentage concentration, preparing her mind for the worst.
“What’s the problem, Matthew?”
“Ehmm… It’s about your family…”
Udale’s eyes popped open, “what about my family?” she asked sounding really impatient. Matthew was running down the remaining patience left in her with the unreasonably slow way he was speaking.
“Baba asked we took care of Laibe the last time we went visiting and I’m sure he would have said that when you both talked today, save that he is very weak…” he started, perhaps he could get a captivating intro from there.
Udale heaved in a sigh of relief and smiled as it’s characteristics of her being in charge of every situation. “I know you are very attached to my father Matthew. I know he is your friend but trust me, nothing would happen to him. You don’t have to get this sleepless and all worked up.” she moved her right hand up and stroked his face lightly.
Matthew swallowed, “You won’t understand! Laibe…”
“We are already doing our best with Laibe…” Udale interrupted, “… I’m sure she didn’t dream of all the things we are doing for her. You especially have been so fond and around for her. Buying her gifts, making her holidays worthwhile and all, I appreciate you a lot Matthew. You are the best husband in the world.”
She pecked him.
Matthew managed a chuckle.
“Is that why you are not sleeping? C’mon Honey, let’s go to bed. I have a long day again in few hours.”
“But…” Matthew started and paused as Udale drew back under her blanket.
“Shhhh! Don’t worry your head My Love, nothing would happen to my father. It’s my father we are talking about here, right? Nothing would happen to him. Nothing.” Udale assured, making sure to stress the ‘nothing’ emphatically. “Oya, come and sleep” she added.
“Go ahead Baby, I would join you soon…” Matthew replied politely, turning the bed lamp back off. As if the sleep she left off was a cloth somewhere around, Udale pulled it hastily over her head and in a twinkle of an eye, she was back to snoring again. Matthew managed to go pick up the AC remote and switched it off. He came back to sat for a while thinking, he swallowed and slid underneath the blanket to join his wife. Sleeping beside her or not has stopped having any significant effect on his chemistry since way back. He wished he wasn’t caught up in the middle of all these. If only Udale knew the battle going on in his mind, she would beg him to spill it out completely.
To be continued next Tuesday,