THE WIFE I NEVER MARRIED – GRACE OCHIGBO
“At least, let me see her aunty.” He pressed on.
“Oga! I no wan look like say I de shout, but you don de insult me and I no like am.” The gateman’s voice is at its peak as usual.
“Insult you? Haba! How is that?” Omachoko’s eyes begged for explanation.
“I don talk am today say Laibe no de house…” He paused, and accessed the young man standing in front of him again, “…she no de. You no fit see am, you no fit see madam too. You don understand wetin I de talk now?” He rattled more and more in Pidgin English.
Omachoko swallowed. He didn’t know why the gateman was acting so impolite and all rude towards him. Perhaps if this old baba knew who he was, he wouldn’t be behaving like this. To think that the man is paying special attention to his dreads. Surely, he would be thinking that this is one tout or something even worse than that. Well, it’s not safe to start showing one’s identity everywhere one goes, right?
Inasmuch as Omachoko never envisaged not being allowed into the compound, he had envisaged the possibility of not meeting Laibe in the house. There was not so much time on his hand after all. He walked back to the car and picked up a little note from the side of his seat.
“Please give this to her as soon as she gets back. Please!” He saw the disapproving look on the gateman’s face and was tempted to ask what his stress was. It’s not as though he is one irresponsible boy looking for someone’s daughter to harm. Having the nerves to come down to a girl’s house in the first place is some guts if you asked him. Although he has been that daring all the while and his relationship with Baba – Laibe’s grandfather, is one proof of that.
“Sir, please, hand it over to Laibe herself. This is urgent please.” He accompanied the paper with two new five hundred naira notes. The older man started smiling immediately the notes settled in his hand.
“Ah! My son, thank you oh! Laibe go see am. In fact she de…” and on a second thought, he changed the statement, “…she go see am omami. Thank you very plenty o.”
Omachoko smiled at the man’s gesture.
My son? Seriously?
Here is the man that was almost calling heaven down a while ago.
He just turned around as he headed back into the car. The gateman at this point practically opened the car door for him.
There is nothing money cannot do, he thought deep within.
Omachoko shook hands with the older man one more time before winding up his tinted mirrors and zooming out of the area.
The gateman quickly pushed down the naira notes into the deepest part of his pocket, like he didn’t want anyone to see it at all. He opened the gate and was about to open the door to his house… or office as the case may be, when he heard,
“I heard you shouting, Faruna.”
He jerked back involuntarily, “Shout? Me? Oga! NO o!”
Matthew shook his head, “You are shouting again, already!”
The gateman quickly held his mouth. Every member of the house seems to have given up on him.
“Who was that and who did he leave that note for?” Matthew’s curiosity rose.
The gateman looked at the note he still held in his hand and remembered the instructions of the young man that just left here. More so, the ‘boy’ gave him money, he shouldn’t betray him, right? But here is the higher authority – The person that hired his labour.
“Na de boy wey bring Laibe come house from school that evening…”
Matthew hastily drew closer,
“I thought I told you to come and call me whenever he comes around again?” he demanded.
The older man hit his head hard, “ah! Oga, forgive me!” he was almost squatting, “…I think say na make I tell am say Laibe no de anytime hin come here you talk oga. No vex abeg.”
“Oh! Was that what I told you?” Matthew got the confirmation from the gateman’s nods, “…Ok then. Let me have the note.” He stretched out his hand.
Gateman placed the note in Matthew’s hand without any further delay.
“Let no one hear of this…do you understand me?” Matthew warned before heading back into the house, folding the paper gently into his pocket.
Though the gateman felt somehow about all these warnings he is getting from diverse quarters, he knew he needed to play his card well and with caution as well. Heaving a deep sigh of relief, he entered back into his house.
Laibe held onto the tray tightly. For good reasons; since everything frightens her, she wouldn’t want to shake and pour away Baba’s akamu and akara in her foolish fright. It’s a good thing she could prepare him breakfast again. Baba’s presence in the house since Wednesday has been a thing of relief for her. Probably because the visitor’s room where Baba stays is not so far from hers. Hence, her horrible night scenes haven’t been reoccurring. It dare not even.
She feels very bad within. She had been warned both casually and seriously not to tell it out to anyone. She’s been living by that instruction but dying inside as she has to lie to cover up a lot of times. The most recent was the day Baba was brought to the house. She didn’t like it that she couldn’t just act along and go hug her grandfather as everybody had expected. Truth is, she wanted to. She had even told Ocholi before he left that she misses Ofabo for one reason, that only reason is her grandfather and would jump at any opportunity to see him. She surprised her own self that she could stand aloof staring back at Baba for that long and even requiring pushy statements from her uncle to move into action.
Well, again, it wasn’t her fault, she would try to convince herself.
She was in pain, excruciating pains.
It was as though something had torn her into shreds from her spine down to the least of her foot bones, and to worsen the whole matter was that her voice was lost. She had screamed and wailed in anguish the better part of the night.
She must not let anyone know of it…
So she told a lie… again.
She told them that she had played badminton at school the day before and incurred a painful dislocation on her ankle.
It didn’t really sound sensible to her aunty. It was written all over the poor woman’s face, especially judging from the state of her room she met earlier that morning. Laibe guessed her aunty just waved the whole scenario away because of Baba. The old man needed rest and not to chair a panel at his very first moment of entry into his daughter’s house after a long time.
And that was how she escaped them on Wednesday.
She was thankful no one had raised that issue up since then… yet.
Laibe felt the main door of the house open and she knew it must be her uncle coming into the sitting room. Without further waste of time, she hurried till she flew the door to Baba’s room fast open so he doesn’t get to see her. Thankfully, Baba wasn’t asleep. Aunty Udale had warned her, since the first and last time she ever did that, never to wake baba up when he is sleeping.
“Laibe, omanyebe, otuokpa lodu.” Baba rained encomiums on her immediately she stepped into the room.
Laibe only smiled as she walked slowly to the side table where she normally keep the food. Baba’s Ofofolo was still remaining.
Such a hard thing, she thought as she placed the tray on the stool.
It is only sickness that can make Baba unable to finish his ofofolo.
“Iye we, Ichojo, me du da kpakpo…”
Laibe smiled again.
Baba had started, he had been saying this particular thing for days now – since he got here.
“Laibe, you are just a carbon copy of your mother’, ‘oh! How I miss Ichojo, your hardworking and respectful mother’, ‘she definitely transferred her hard work and culinary skills to you’ and on and on.
If a drop of rain fell for every time he made these statements, the whole town would have been flooded by now since he got here.
Laibe knew her mother very well. They had gone to the farm together, planted and harvested cassava together. They both fried garri together, cooked the rice she sold together and transported the whole stuff to the market together at the same time. That was before her death, anyway. Baba knew she and her mother were an indivisible item, she didn’t now understand the basis for Baba’s continuous referral to the dead.
Laibe was done setting the stool, dragged it towards the bed and Baba was required to sit up and eat his meal.
“Ojo abene omami.” Baba stretched as he struggled to sit up on the bed while blessing her.
“Ami” Laibe kept saying ‘Amen’ to all the pronouncements.
Picking the cup containing half-filled ofofolo, she made to leave when Baba stopped her. She’s wondering what the problem was this time.
“Gwane!” Baba motioned her to sit beside him on his large bed, and she did almost instantly.
“ukawe kakini, anyaja a kedo ofun…” Baba reminded her of the advice he gave her when she was about travelling from Ofabo that very fateful morning.
Laibe’s mind could recollect clearly. Baba had said these words, more like a proverb, with all seriousness and certainty. It meant and still means ‘despair has no meaning where there is faith’. Yeah! Her faith has been the rock she’s holding onto, else the very many unfortunate things that had befallen her in this house is strong enough to make her run away and not look back. How farther her faith would carry her through is what she couldn’t say.
Baba continued talking; from how proud of her he is and how he is sure she would make it in life with or without him around.
That bothered Laibe.
She has heard how the elderly people in Ofabo usually die. They most times give final words of advice to their children and protégé before sleeping peacefully, never to wake up. She hopes for herself that would not be Baba’s case. He looked totally unhealthy now but she has faith. She believes he would stay alive for her, at least a little longer till she is able to bring herself to say all the ordeals she’s been through.
Baba suddenly sat quietly for a long time. Something serious was definitely going on in his mind. Laibe sat still too. They may not be in the village right now but as wrong as it is to interrupt an elder while talking back there is the same way here. If it’s going to take Baba the whole day to say what he is pondering over, then she would have the whole day to wait. Walking away is not close to the option. Laibe is just a typical example of a well-behaved cultured girl and everybody is fond of her for that.
“Ewn a che?”
Baba’s voice was coarse as he asked simply ‘what’s wrong with you?’ and that agitated Laibe. She didn’t expect this question to be the result of his long minutes of thinking. Baba has always had this discerning mind after all, so she got to be watchful as to whatever answer she wanna give him.
“Laibe, uka ki ewn a che?” this time his voice rose up a little bit and sounded coarser.
Laibe just stared at the blue coloured wall opposite her as though addressing it. If she said nothing was wrong with her, she is certain Baba would take her mind back to her various unusual actions he has seen since he got here. If she said something is wrong with her, that would even be the worst as Baba would insist on her telling him what she had been warned… at other times bribed with gifts and materials not to say. She knew she was in a deep mess right now and would do anything to get out of the tight corner this situation has placed her.
She thought of something and started clearing her throat till it turned into a loud continuous cough. She did that the first time and the second time but had to caution herself. Baba is giving her the ‘be fast and answer my question’ kind of look; which is very much unlike him. He is one to be concerned when she starts coughing or gives the slightest sign of breakdown, but he could care less about this at the moment.
She stopped and turned to stare at Baba who is actually looking away, deep in thoughts.
“Baba wola oroka.”
She jerked back quickly as she heard her aunt’s voice. Oh God! Aunty just came in here at the right time, she thanked her stars.
Following closely behind her was uncle Matthew who looked quite cheerless unlike his dear wife. Udale walked over to her father and hugged him slightly but Baba was more interested in giving a handshake to Matthew than he was in responding to his daughter. Baba started smiling all of a sudden and in few moments, it felt like no one noticed Laibe’s presence anymore. Well, she is so thin and short compared to her tall and huge uncle, the tall and thin Baba and the fat and short aunty.
Her eyes popped open as Baba held onto his son-in-law’s hands. Uncle Matthew glanced at her coldly and removed his eyes. Baba told him he is committing Laibe into his hands, that he should help his wife take care of her and help her realise her dreams and vision of building him a storey building even when he wouldn’t be alive to live there anymore.
Everyone, most especially Udale reacted to that statement,
“God forbid Baba, you are not dying yet”, “you will live to see your second grandchild”
Baba smiled and asked Uncle Matthew to promise him he is going to take good care of Liabe.
“I will Baba. I surely will.”
Laibe could see the sense of overjoy in Baba’s face as he hugged Matthew.
Laibe was so sure her uncle was capable of taking care of her, at the same time she wouldn’t want Baba to die anytime soon too. In all, she was grateful Baba had forgotten that he kept her on his hot seat some minutes ago.
Max drove into the crescent restaurant. If there is anything unique about this place is its touch of pure nature. The trimmed flowers, the green grasses on the lawn, the palm trees and other fruit trees – all to mention but a few. Whoever did the architectural design for this place must be extremely wonderful at his profession. He got down and hurried over to the other side of the car to open the door for his lady. Gentlemanliness is not exchanged neither is it forgotten in the study and practice of medicine.
Jane stepped down looking all shades of adorable. Maybe because she is beginning to get accustomed to her nursing uniforms and is seen majority of times on those, her beauty seem to magnify once she is off that dress. Today’s is exceptional. With her hair making a pony tail at the back, jewelleries to match her straight short royal purple gown, she looked really and gorgeously dressed for this meeting and Max wouldn’t give a chance for any of those jobless men to think she is his sister. Even though they kind of look alike at times, he held her so close today that even the blind would see they are an item.
Finding his way around this place isn’t so much stress for him. This is where most top government officials patronise. One would be tempted to ask if he is one but the fact remains that, working in the Government house medical centre has given him undeserved access to a lot of places. They walked gallantly into the beautifully coloured restaurant proper. Max waved the gateman on duty who screamed, ‘oga, oga, I be your boy o.’
Max smiled, he would give him some money by the time they are leaving here.
“One minute please.” he excused himself and went over to the receptionist.
Jane stood glued to the floor as she felt almost all the eyes turning in her direction. She definitely wouldn’t wanna stand there for so long. Thankfully, Max got back to her almost immediately and held her hand as they continued walking. She is not really familiar with this terrain so would just make do with trusting Max’s judgement and leading.
Their relationship has been smooth and beautiful, that’s partly because she had come to accept the fact about him – he is busy. He would probably be this busy or even busier later on when they eventually get married, so why won’t she save herself from hypertension? It is better he is even busy with work than being busy with other women.
She definitely would be badly hurt, no doubt.
Talking about marriage, Jane has recently been all about her big day these days. The trigger might have been her father who called to inquire whatever was going on between her and Max, but deep within, she knew it was time to settle.
She is working.
Max is working, with a very robust pay.
The only thing that has been stopping them from tying the nut has been them.
It came like a fantasy, then later became a wish when Max asked if she could come over for the weekend. Her own hospital has gone on strike again. In fact, health workers in the state has made it a perpetual habit to strike yearly and that hasn’t helped no one at all. She’s been using her strike period to see a lot of movies and especially those containing diverse interesting proposal scenes. There was this particular one she adored and wished Max would use; proposing to her in a garden.
Max pushed the slightly covered gate that lead into the garden open.
The whole place was beautiful. The grasses and trees made it look like it is coloured green.
Max took a step through the foot path on the lawn that led towards the middle of the whole compound. Jane saw a prepared table somewhere around where they were headed and it took her patience to avoid letting her fantasies get the better of her.
Jane took her seat as Max drew it out for her before returning to his own seat. This is quite impressive, she thought.
She blushed the whole of the time her eyes caught Max’s. He owned the whole of her heart and he knew that quite well, she didn’t only understand why he had to act like he is stealing a glance. While they ate in silence, they winked, giggled afterwards with the hearts doing the bulk of the conversation. Once, they held their stares uninterruptedly for about five minutes before a wide grin formed around their lips. Jane is so certain she loves the man sited in front of her. It’s about time.
“Goddess…” he spoke for the very first time since they sat.
Jane gave him all her attention but Max was unusually quiet. Just staring and probably searching out something from her eyes with his. His eyeballs are brown and small, so small one would think he wouldn’t see anything if he brought them any closer.
“What?” Rice was still in her mouth when she exclaimed before catching herself. She is allergic to stares and Max’s eyes are really getting her uncomfortable.
A light smile formed around Max’s lips.
“What is what?”
“Why are you staring at me like that?” Jane asked immediately she managed to swallow the food in her mouth.
Max cleared his throat first, “I love you, Goddess!”
Shivers ran down Jane’s spine. It feels like her heart just skipped a beat and words all of a sudden couldn’t form in her mind. Not as though she hadn’t heard those words before; it’s always been the closing statement at the end of their usual long calls. Of course, she’s heard it almost as many times as she’s heard her name in the office, but this is different. She could see the dear look on his face and her mouth felt as though filled with sugar. And the ‘Goddess’ part? Spins her nuts to unwind.
“Working at the government’s house hospital is everything…”
Oh! Here he goes again. Can’t they ever have a decent discussion without having to involve work? She’s heard so much about his work and can practically name the key workers in Max office even though she doesn’t frequent the place. They talked work over the phone last night, they talked work on their way driving down here and now they would talk work again?
Max is a killjoy like that; she surrendered and dipped her fork back into the snail meal.
“…all these our leaders have a lot of things under their agbada. You would never know until you get close or until you are privileged to treat them like I am.”
Jane tried as much as it depended on her to still pay attention to the seemingly unimportant subject Max was discussing at the moment.
“Baby, can you remember paraphilia? More specifically, paedophilia? You nurses did a bit of mental health back then, right?” he gave a questioning look to Jane, dragging her attention to him.
Jane nodded in the affirmative. She knew Max would want her to say something more, talk excitedly over topics as always. She is sorry to disappoint him though, she is not in that mood at the moment. She is in the mood for what this meeting appeared to look like at first… not this.
“With the increase in numbers of people with diverse forms of sexual orientations, don’t you think it’s high time we… I mean health workers now… start letting the public know some salient points that could make just a difference no matter how little?”
Jane swallowed, “OK Max, where are you going with this? Can you go there already?”
Max felt the impatience in her voice and only smiled, “I’m saying a lot of times we see some of these things as a mystery that leaves all of us helpless, Meanwhile, some people have taken their precious time to research and come out with valuable points. We shouldn’t be helpless at all. Well, except that it’s even typical of us blacks never to read.” He chuckled at his own joke which didn’t appear funny to the lady in front of him.
“For me o…” Jane started, wriggling her hand carelessly, “…I’ve seen that there is nothing medicine doesn’t attempt to prove. You keep giving proof about things that are delusional, how do you expect the men out there not to do rubbish? The issue of same-sex marriage came and proofs came that they are suffering from some sexual orientations nonsense. Really?” she raised her eyebrows, “… then is this new form of classifying abusers, some would say molesters, others would say abusers. What is the problem exactly?”
“It’s because sex specific therapists keep finding things every day. I think the same way I don’t punish you for being a lady, I shouldn’t be punishing others for merely displaying their genetic composition.” Max opined
“Oh! Come off it Max! Paraphilia… be it paedophilia or hebephilia, be it abuse or molestation, I don’t actually care. I believe any defaulter of the law should face its full wrath.” Jane spilled.
Max couldn’t tell if what he felt in her voice this time was anger or frustration. It’s only good however that he has a very intelligent lady all to himself. Jane matches up to his standard in all ways and he’s usually proud of showing her off anywhere and to anyone.
“I know if you release one of two persons who commit virtually the same offence on the guise of orientation, tongues would wag but believe me, there are proofs that these persons came like this…”
“Then they should put more efforts to avoid the occurrence. They say you can force the horse to the stream but you can’t force it to drink water. No excuse is good enough to abuse a child sexually if you asked me.” Jane cut in
“Look at it this way again…” Max started, his voice calm and persuasive
“Max!!!” Jane shouted now. She can’t bear in her frustrations any longer, “…can we talk about something better, please?”
He adjusted his blazer.
“OK! We’ll. It’s just that there is this….”
Jane slammed her hand hard on the table and juice spilled from one of the glass cups.
“Really, is this what we are here for?” Her anger is very obvious now. “…can we go to the house and have this very noble discussion of yours instead?” she pushed her chair backwards and got up.
Max hurriedly got up after her with pleading eyes. It’s a good thing they are of same height so he could still look eyeball to eyeball even at standing position. He watched his woman’s lips as they quivered, hot searing anger must definitely be burning on her insides and he couldn’t seem to know the reason for this.
Jane started to walk away but he caught her hand before she would move the third step. Holding onto her hand, he dragged her closer to his till their bodies touched each other. Jane is reluctant. Her face is contorted in a round ball of disappointment, frustration and anger all bottled up in one piece as she looked away from him. Max moved his hand till it wrapped round her tiny waist, he kissed her lightly on her lips and that caused more reactions from Jane as she immediately withdrew from his grip.
“Your order ma…” a waitress’ voice seem to startle them, though Max didn’t appear startled in the very least.
“My order?” Jane stared at Max before turning to the waiter who is carrying a tray in which a beautifully designed flat plate with cover sat, “It must be a mix up dear, I didn’t make an order.” she said frankly.
She turned to Max again and he is smiling. She couldn’t decipher what was going on.
“At least allow the young lady to drop the tray on the table Ma’am, her hands are hurting.” Max said casually, still smiling. The waitress appeared moved by Max’s statement as she dropped the plate before those words were off his mouth.
“Max, there must really be a mix up somewhere. Say something. I didn’t order anything. I mean, I don’t even know this place well enough.” Jane was still defending and Max sat really carefree.
“You fret too much young lady…” Max started, “…it’s one of two things, either the Crescent restaurant has seen you worthy enough for a free additional plate of food; which is very unlikely because even we the customers haven’t had that before.”
Jane was beginning to get angry at Max’s sarcasm again, he saw this and readjusted,
“C’mon, don’t you ever joke in your life?” Max asked her grinning, “… or it could actually be a mix up as you rightly said.”
“Oh!” Jane gave a dour stare, “… you are now being reasonable after she’s gone right?” she pointed in the direction of the waitress who is already at the door of the main restaurant.
“Why don’t you even find out what ‘your order’ is first. It could be desert, cheese, peas or even food, your favourite.” He winked at her.
Jane shrugged as she sat back. The tray has been set in front of her own side of the table so she need not do anything other than removing the lid.
She gaped as she did, covering her mouth with her right hand.
She is not only surprised that the plate is empty but more at the inscription on the plate, ‘Will you marry me?’
She raised her head and turned in Max’s direction only to notice he had come to stand in front of her. He held out a little golden box from the pocket of his blazers and got down on one knee,
“Pick any Saturday from today and we would do it. Marry me, Goddess.”
Jane sat too astonished and overwhelmed to give any response whatsoever.
TO BE CONTINUED…