THE WIFE I NEVER MARRIED – GRACE OCHIGBO
EPISODE TWENTY SEVEN
Laibe was so grateful aunty Udale let her cook today. It’s been such a long time since she cooked real food. Trust! It’s not been a long time at all since she ate real food. Both courtesy of her aunty. The older woman wouldn’t leave her kitchen for anyone except Ocholi. Quite strange, but her close relationship with Ocholi is alarming. The only thing Laibe has been able to do alone in the kitchen is making Baba’s akamu while aunty fried the akara. This isn’t a big deal for the young girl but who would she complain to? She’s always on edge whenever she’s alone with her aunty. Something tells her the woman may ask her questions, and probably insist she give answers but her aunty has been disappointing her and she really hopes the woman keeps up with it.
She opened the door to Baba’s room quietly. He is still sleeping? She glanced at the wall clock to be double sure. 12pm. It’s way past his breakfast time and time for taking the morning dose of his numerous drugs.
Uncle Matthew practically ran out of the house earlier this morning after he received a call. Laibe saw him explaining some things to her aunty though he wasn’t audible enough. They had all gone over to Baba’s room at that time even though they knew it would be very odd for the old man to be awake by then. Who knows?
Baba had played so much with them the whole of yesterday. After repeatedly asking Matthew to take good care of Laibe, he also showered prayers on his beloved daughter, praying specifically that her womb be opened. There is this belief that all reproductive issues in marriage is from the woman’s side, and Baba, maybe due to his age has no objection to this school of thought. He practically faced Udale while praying for the sound of a baby to be heard in their home. Laibe really didn’t feel comfortable with the whole drama she was watching as something seem not to be going right but she was at least comforted with the fact that Baba had forgotten he was asking her some questions earlier. It is good to escape from Baba’s questioning sessions.
Laibe closed back the door to the room.
‘Though aunty has warned me never to wake Baba up whenever he is sleeping, I would disobey her this time. More so she should be fast asleep upstairs. Baba needs to take his drugs, he needs to eat and most importantly, he needs to eat this ukpehe rice, he specially asked us to make for him yesterday, while it’s still hot’ Laibe told herself as she walked back into the kitchen. She picked up the big ceramic plate – Baba’s plate – and started dishing the ukpehe rice whose aroma has filled the whole kitchen and even streaming into the sitting room. Though the special Igala spice, Ukpehe, has it’s delicious effect like that, Laibe’s expertise in its use made it even more significant. She picked up a bottle of water from the carton; Baba isn’t allowed to take cold water neither should he take any form of sugary drink – all these dos and don’ts are saved on Laibe’s head. Recently, she is beginning to welcome this thought of wanting to become a medical doctor. She needs to treat her grandfather and heal him of diabetes completely. She needs to build a real hospital in Ofabo and treat the other uncountable sick people who don’t have children to run to in the city like Baba. She needs to build her dream storey building in Baba’s compound and do a lot of things to help people where she grew up. She needs to do a lot of things actually, first on the list is to pass her Js3 promotional exam – junior WAEC – which would be in about three months.
She pushed the door open with the tray in her hand and walked in fully. Pulling forward the side stool beside the bed, she kept the tray carefully on it. She thought of what to do for a moment. First, she took her seat in front of Baba and placed her right hand on his forearm. She immediately removed the hand involuntarily. She thought she felt something extremely cold. She isn’t sure so she would try again.
The result is the same.
Alarm rang in her head as she got up and tapped him lightly. Baba didn’t shake neither did he make any move or sign. She felt her heart racing hard as she shook Baba a little more vigorously.
She screamed as she ran out of the room and made for the stairs.
Miss Mary got off the ergometer and cleaned off sweat with her face towel. She has practically converted this part of her two-bedroom flat to a mini gym, even though the running machine and ergometer are the only equipment in here. Every single person that had ever entered this ‘gym’ would ask her why she bought the two equipment, knowing truly well they serve same functions; she didn’t mind. She is the ‘no one pound addition’ person and she tries so hard at it. It’s just unfortunate that unlike her friend, Jane, who is slim-to-fashion by nature, she probably need to work out more often. from time to time to stay fit. She’s not complaining; not as if she needed to pay an exorbitant fee to enrol into any gym. It’s just the part of being faithful to her work out time that’s important. Believe it or not, the last time she did this was two weeks ago.
‘I thought you said you would work out every morning before work?’, Jane scorned when she called her two days ago.
Mary would never come into her mini gym with a phone.
‘Let’s minimise distractions’, she would always tell herself.
Whatever made her leave her ringing tone as loud as this still baffled her. The phone is in the other room and it’s ringing for the third time now.
Who could that be? She cursed as she reluctantly headed for the phone.
Today is public holiday. Everyone has gone on it… everyone should actually go on it, herself inclusive. It had better not be the principal or anybody from the school calling her. She plans to make good use of this compulsory holiday before she resumes to face her life as a form teacher again, especially with her very dramatic student of the year – Laibe!
“By the time you kill my battery Babe, you would come and charge for me.” she screamed into the phone immediately she swiped right the receive button.
Jane burst into laughter, “Is it now my fault that you use light as prayer point in that town of yours?”
Mary sat into her bed, giving a smirk as though Jane could see her.
“I see. I hear you my friend. It’s not your fault…” she hissed dryly, “…I won’t sacrifice Ankpa for the heat in Lokoja. Never.” She paused, “…and it was meant to be a weekend, right? Not a vacation!”
“General Hospital is on strike, my dear. I’m not a teacher working in a private secondary school like you, you know?” Jane still had an iota of mockery in her voice.
“Well, I’m not the one who had been jobless for about a month or so now.” Mary responded.
“OK! Alright, you win. Must we quarrel every day, Punk?”
Jane screamed so loud Mary had to move her phone a bit away from her ears.
“Everyone would know that a new child now lives in GRA.” Mary stressed the ‘child’ part of her statement, and laughed hysterically.
“Yeah! A child that’s getting married pretty soon. Mrs Obaje in a bit…” Jane said it so slow and low, like she didn’t mean it… like she isn’t excited about it.
“What do you mean? And why is your cranky voice like that?” Mary’s curiosity can be tasted in her voice. She knew her friend so well. Jane and sarcasm are five and six. Jane and seriousness are two poles apart. Jane and playfulness are yam and egg, so she didn’t want to assume anything. Let Jane use her own mouth to talk.
“Girl, I’m getting married!!” Jane screamed even louder now, giggling with the type of excitement Mary could literally feel from where she is.
Mary jumped up and started dancing. They both could be children at heart a lot of times. “I’m so happy for you, girlfriend. Maximillian my Edo brother, always representing!”
She knew Jane would react to that and Jane didn’t disappoint her at all.
“Abeg o, he is an Igala o, it’s only his mum that’s an Edo o…”
Mary wouldn’t give Jane the privilege of arguing over Max’s tribe today; God knows they’ve done that enough times. One’s father is Igala and the mother is Edo, Mary still doesn’t know on what ground they would conclusively place Max as an Igala. Two different blood runs on his inside for crying out loud.
“Oya! Why I called you. I’ve been staring at this table top calendar all day. Any Saturday I pick is good with him, he said, but I seem not to know which to pick. I don’t even know what to consider in consideration.” She sounded really frustrated, “…this is one of the times I miss mum…” she took in a very deep breath that came loudly over the phone.
“Ehn ehn! No. Please don’t start now. We are talking about your big day here, don’t ruin the moments.” Mary cautioned her.
“But what do I do? You are not even the emotional kind of person…” Mary’s eyebrows rose up involuntarily at that hurting truth but she said nothing in defence. “…how would you know what and what I should consider in choosing a wedding date? Go into a relationship, you won’t give any of those your plenty guys a chance…”
“Is this about me now Jane?” Mary cut in, trying hard to keep her voice normal. She hates when her relationship, emotional and private life becomes a subject for discussion. It’s not written anywhere that we all must get married, she would always told herself.
“No o! It can’t be about you o. When you are not the bride.”
Mary smiled at Jane’s statement. She isn’t even dreaming of becoming one anytime soon.
“Perhaps, if you get back here soon enough, you would know that you still have an office mother in Matron Udale…”
“Oh my God!” Jane screamed, “… how be it that I totally forgot about my mummy of life?” she didn’t expect any answer for that so she continued anyway, “…you see, your brain is good for something after all…” she tuck out her tongue.
“You are crazy Jane!”
“I’m crazily in love with you Mary. I’ll think of when to return and we would go see mummy soon. See you soon. Love you plenty. Bye!!” Jane mumbled everything together hurriedly and excitedly before dropping the call.
Mary stared at her phone smiling. She moved backwards till her back hit the soft bed. Surely, her work out is over for today.
Matthew is frowning seriously at his friend while the other seem to be having the time of his life, rotating in his armed chair.
“C’mon man, it’s not that bad.” He is apologising to his friend for the umpteenth time today.
“It’s not that bad, huh? Matthew snapped, “…by 5:30am, that your disturbing spirit chose me again. ‘Mat, it’s emergency and you need to be in Lokoja as soon as possible’. I tried in vain to know exactly what the problem was but you said we needed to see the governor as it’s not something we can discuss over the phone. Wow. Well done sir!” He saluted.
Josh started laughing out even louder, “Because I know you wouldn’t come if I told you.”
“Are for real? If you love seeing my face more often, why don’t you just say it forefront?”
Josh stopped laughing but a smile was still plastered on his face. “Mat o. Not as if what I did was totally wrong, was it?”
“It’s a public holiday, damn it! I have a sick father in-law to attend to. I have a family, Josh.” Matthew’s voice rose now.
“Is this about coming with me to see the governor in order to finalise Mr Ekele’s travelling plans? I thought you of all people wanted to meet the young man?” Josh sincerely couldn’t understand what was annoying his friend this much.
“I could see the guy any other time except today. You could finalise the plans with His Excellency. My problem is in you dragging me into all your jobs…” he got up angrily and walked to the cabinet at the other end of the room, “…there are some roles that are exclusively yours Mr Commissioner, don’t always keep dragging me into it.”
Josh felt something stabbed him as Matthew made the last statement. It’s true. He actually doesn’t know why he likes having Matthew present at every of his meetings and joining him in taking every single decision there is. Perhaps, he sees Matthew way more capable than himself. Matthew is right anyway, there are things he should do headlong without inviting anyone else. The roads are even too bad for all these impromptu journeys.
Josh cleared his throat and finally the smile disappeared, “ I’m sorry, I didn’t really mean it this way but right now I see your point and …”
He got interrupted by the knock on his door,
“Come in…” he answered loudly and Matthew quickly returned to take his seat.
The door opened and two men walked in. One is much more elderly compared to the second.
“Commissioner, I sincerely want to appreciate you so much for your efforts and assistance, thus far.” The elderly one started, immediately everyone exchanged pleasantries and took their seats. Matthew brought out his phone hurriedly like something just popped in his head. Something he would forget if he didn’t act immediately.
“Ha! You are the one we should be thanking. Mr Ekele here, is an asset to us… to the entire state even. And all thanks to the training you have been giving him at your company.”
“It’s a great pleasure Mr Commissioner, thank you for the exposures and for finding my ideas useful enough.” the younger man said very politely and Josh nodded his head. He has always been and is still impressed with the youngman. Matthew’s forehead was creased as he’s still busy on his phone.
“Omachoko and I dropped by to say, thank you Mr Commissioner. We would be taking our leave now sir. He needs to get to Abuja before the night falls, if he must make his journey tomorrow.” The elderly man said, getting up alongside.
“Yes! Of course, of course!” Josh nodded in the affirmative. “It’s important he flies out tomorrow. We can’t afford any delay in sealing up deals with those companies. For once we would export something to them, and this is not anything but our very own beans.” He patted the young man’s back as he moved to give them another handshake. “Omachoko? Is that your name?” Josh asked as though his brain just simulated it, while wriggling the handshake he took from him.
“Yes sir. Omachoko Ekele is my full name sir.”
“Wow! Impressive, oko eche ochochi o” Josh commented that he is really an asset, as he shook him better.
“Uhn?” Matthew gave a lost look at them immediately the elderly man’s arm tapped his shoulder lightly.
“Oh! Very well sir. Have a good trip and you too Mr Ekele, I trust like always you would deliver again. Safe safe trip.” Matthew quickly said, hiding his absentmindedness.
The two left the room after exchanging final pleasantries.
Josh saw them off to the door, closed it gently and came back to take his seat.
“Whoever that was must be very important, Mat!” Josh said immediately he got back to his seat
Matthew gave the ‘what are you talking about kind of look’ and Josh pointed at the tablet on his hand.
“What was that about? That you blanked out on all of us in the room till someone had to tap you?” Josh confronted, sounding really serious for the first time in a very long while.
“That fellow is getting on my nerves…” Matthew started
Josh cut in, “allow her to have a life. You already have yours, why are you ruining someone else’s own?”
Matthew eyeballed him coldly, “he had the guts to still come over to my house yesterday afternoon, Josh. He should thank his stars I didn’t lay my hands on him. He left a note with my gateman for her and I seized it.”
Joshua started laughing at his friend’s seriousness. Matthew never ceases to amaze him really.
“I’m serious. The crazy part was that there is no form of identity whatsoever on that note. Just, ‘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’, can you imagine that?”
“Matthew, don’t tell me you crammed every word in the note…” Josh shook his head in utter disbelief. His friend’s solution is really far-fetched. “…have you dialled the number then?”
Matthew shook his head from side to side, “Udale dragged me to Baba’s room immediately I entered the house and we talked so much I forgot about the note, then came your emergency call this morning. It was while the two men got here it popped up in my head. I knew I saved the number, I couldn’t just remember with what I did that.”
“You see the kind of work you are giving yourself, my good friend? You got lost, searching the whole numbers on your phone book.” Josh nodded his head in disappointment this time. “Maybe you should call him now!” he added.
Matthew picked his handset from the table and unlocked the tablet to copy the number into the dialler of his handset. He is about tapping on the call button when his phone buzzed.
“Udale!!” His eyes popped open as he looked at Josh. Josh shrugged, not knowing what else he was expecting.
“Why is she calling me? I told her…”
“Why don’t you pick the call first? We would know after that.” Josh motioned him to pick up before the phone would ring out.
Matthew felt a part of him not comfortable with the call but he had to pick up to be able to understand his reservations. He sat up and slide the receive button, placing the phone closer to his ears, the background of the caller sounded so noisy. The type of unclear noise one would not be able to make any sense out of.
“Hello…” He said when it was as if Udale didn’t know she dialled him.
Omachoko sat in the car awaiting his ‘oga’, as he usually call him. The man had gone to do some transactions inside the bank. It’s meant to be a quick transaction, or so oga said before leaving, asking him to wait back in the car. Omachoko checked his wristwatch for the third time and it’s already over an hour.
Well, banks in this country can be very frustrating. Frustrating you over collecting money what’s yours. One would wonder, if banks are to give free money, the level of frustration then would be greater than frustration itself. Whatever happens though, he has to wait. He didn’t really have a choice after all.
Oga telling commissioner he should be at Abuja by evening was all fables. Though all he needed for his journey was already at the back of his car. Since the flight is for 8.00pm tomorrow, Omachoko would drive his oga down to Ankpa and take a commercial transport down to Abuja early tomorrow morning… or just anytime that would take him down to the airport before his take off time. They had to sound dutiful before the commissioner anyway, like they are really in this for real. Truth is they are in it for real, but the actions in there a while ago was barely exaggerated.
At times he wondered what he would have ever done in this life without Oga Jude. His main reason for coming to Ankpa… maybe it hadn’t even changed was Laibe. The fact that he had cousins, whom he stayed with in Ankpa during his senior secondary school days set his mind at rest that he had no problem. From the little money he gathered as the chief merchant in Ofabo, he arrived in Ankpa to see everything has absolutely changed within the short number of years he left here. His uncle and family could barely feed one meal per day. At a point, he literally fed the whole family while job hunting. Since Ankpa isn’t a small town, he was rest assured that he would never run into Laibe at any time, that’s in addition to the fact that her aunty wouldn’t let her out anyhow.
Oga Jude is a wholesaler, dealing with food crops and related products. When he employed Omachoko as a sales boy in his shop at Ejeh road, the once ‘wealthy’ local champion Omachoko didn’t mind. He needed to make a living, so as to be worthy enough to marry Laibe. While at the new job, he later found out Oga Jude got his products from many farmers in the nearby villages; one day they even travelled all the way down to an interior village called ojuwo olijo to get cassava.
“This is what I grow in the village on a normal day, even much more, beans, yams, potatoes…” he came to a realisation.
Bingo! That was the beginning of his exploits.
He made his suggestions known to Oga Jude who for some surprising reasons agreed immediately. So Omachoko would go to the village during planting season, do all his work there, intermittently go to check on it and then finally harvest the produce. His harvest are usually massive as usual. He would take Oga Jude’s truck with which he brought all the produce to Ankpa for sale and give a percentage of the produce to his Oga.
He could remember the day Aunty Udale came to their shop, it was a miracle she didn’t see him – very narrow escape. There is something peculiar about the produce from Omachoko’s farm at Ofabo, people come purchasing it like their lives depended on it, so much so that in no long time, Oga Jude had grown from being an ordinary wholesaler to one of the biggest dealers in agricultural farm produce and he owed Omachoko for all of it. Omachoko on his own side wasn’t left out in the dividends as he got enough money to increase his farm; employ people to work all year round and even use mechanised methods. In a space of one year, the young man had become Oga Jude’s main distributor, helping him deliver goods across the country. Everything still feels like a dream to Omachoko till this moment, especially after he was chosen as the best candidate in Kogi Young Farmers scheme; everything about him has turned beautiful since then.
“If not for you Omachoko, who would think I can ever sit and talk with the executive governor of Kogi state.” Oga Jude told him today and he felt a flush of fulfilment gush down his throat. Seeing and talking with the governor as well as other notable key holders in the state has never been his dream, not to talk of traveling in and out of the country for trainings and business transaction like one would go to his backyard.
A broad smile formed around his face as he played P square’s ‘chop money’ from the DVD player of his car. Oga Jude bought this car for him as a show of appreciation immediately he got back from the States. His life feels fulfilled, yeah, but very empty without Laibe in it. He doesn’t know why he has this strong affection for the girl, right from their tiny childhood days. He had seen girls in the courses he took in Australia and the United States of America, girls who literally threw themselves at him. Apart from his very attractive well-built stature, his dreads has become a selling point for him as well. But he didn’t see any of the things they asked for in him to offer them. It is Laibe he loves and would love, forever and a day more.
“Why hasn’t she called me till now? OK! Agreed she lost my card, that was why I left my number on the note with the gateman, why hasn’t she called?” Omachoko’s thoughts spilled through his mouth.
He ran his mind around possible reasons and couldn’t find any. Laibe appeared matured in some way the last time they talked. It’s not as though she didn’t like him at all, was it? It’s those her friends back at Ofabo that won’t let her consider him.
He jerked up as he heard a tap on the mirror at the driver’s side. Looking in that direction he saw it’s his Oga. He immediately pressed on the car lock to unlock the doors as Oga Jude came to sit beside him, sweating profusely.
“Inside the bank is extremely chilly, just the little distance from there to this parking lot and I’m sweating like Christmas goat already.”
Omachoko chuckled, “What took you so long sir?”
“Don’t mind those rubbish children they employ to work in banks these days. Can you imagine one telling me the amount on the cheque Chief K wrote for me as payment for those goods we delivered to him last month was too much? Maka why? Is it her money?” Oga Jude gesticulated as he said all these and Omachoko laughed out this time. His boss can be very funny when frustrated.
“I apologise on their behalf. Can we go now?” He asked politely, starting the car.
“Yes. Sure… Wait!” Oga Jude rose his right hand.
Omachoko wasn’t taking this delay so well right now. It’s not good for him at all, especially for his plans to see Laibe this evening. He would go back to the house with more money and perhaps a bag of their processed beans and beg the gateman to help him call her out. He needs to see her, he needs to have a medium of getting across to her, especially now that he would be travelling for how long he wasn’t sure of.
“Senator Farouk called me while in the bank. You know we have been seeking audience with him for a very long time now…” He paused to seek confirmation.
Omachoko nodded in the affirmative hurriedly and he continued,
“… he asked if I can make it down to his office by 7am tomorrow morning and who am I to say no?”
Omachoko continued looking at his boss, wishing and hoping he wouldn’t say what he was thinking.
“So?” he asked, when Oga Jude was taking forever to continue.
“So we are going straight to Abuja right now ‘Choko. This is very important. Don’t worry about me and your car, we’ll find my way back after that.”
What! Ocholi exclaimed inside him. This is not happening right now. Abuja? Right now? He need to go to Ankpa and see Laibe. How would he tell his boss now? How would the older man not see it as rebellion, on his part, jeopardising the business that made him, for a little girl.
He took in deep calming breaths and pushed the key into its hole. It’s at this point, for the first time, he wished he knew Laibe’s uncle in person or where he lives. Someone had told him he works in Lokoja. Laibe’s uncle would have been the best person to give him anything linking to Laibe right now; a phone number, a social media username, an e-mail address, just anything.
He is caught in-between two balls with tied hands now.
He swallowed as he zoomed out of the parking lot into the main roads.
To be continued