THE WIFE I NEVER MARRIED – GRACE OCHIGBO
EPISODE TWENTY THREE
Laibe was almost tip toeing through the staff room as she headed to her form mistress’ ‘special’ office. The young woman had succeeded in getting a hold on her finally today. Laibe had consciously avoided Miss Mary over the last two weeks. Yes! Surely, she comes to call attendance every morning in the class but Laibe found a way of quickly responding to her name and running off shortly after that; before Miss Mary would have the luxury of her five minutes interactive session with the class, which now cannot be every day anymore as the new principal seem to prolong the morning assembly session into the period for the first class. Indeed, she is the best form teacher ever, and following the class all the way from Js1 till now is one of the very many good things that has happened to them, Laibe in particular, in this school.
It is time for ‘prep’ as they call it – a time when everyone is to be seated quietly in their various classes and normally reading, though some never-do-wells would still make a hell of noise while others take their time to have a good nap. Whatever works for you! This would last for an hour and the extracurricular activities last the next and last hour before closure by 5pm. Laibe had been reading, from the long break period, stretching into this prep time. She likes going through all the notes given to her in class at least once before the end of that very day, especially that she most times doesn’t know how her night would turn out when she gets home. She’s resigned to her fate, and that’s in making good use of the time here while still in frightful anticipation for the worst. Helen wasn’t in the class all along and Laibe actually felt worried. Helen also loves using her prep time well. In fact, she used to be Laibe’s greatest motivator until now that they are no longer on talking terms, they can’t possible read together as they always do anymore. Barely ten minutes before game-time, it’s her class’ turn to have games today, Laibe felt pressed.
All thanks to her Uncle, Matthew, she had developed some little interest in Badminton. There’s a court in the house where she would play with him those Saturdays he is around. With time, when she acquired little boldness to come out to play, she started playing it in school too, most times with Helen.
This Ezekiel-induced quarrel with Helen is causing her so much more than anyone else can imagine. She is coping anyway. At least, she had attempted reconciliation about twice all to no avail. Obviously, Helen would still be mad at her a little longer. The painful part is that she didn’t do anything, but who would she tell that to? Her friend wouldn’t even give her a chance to explain? Or Ezekiel, who told a lie against her? The last person she wanna be seen having a conversation with anytime soon would be our dear Senior Ezekiel.
It was as she headed to the bathroom that she ran into Miss Mary. The latter ordered she come down to the office immediately she is done easing herself. Laibe right there knew she was done for. Her form teacher is very observant and disciplined. She particularly feels Miss Mary pays so much special attention to her and instead of that making her feel proud, she feels more so uncomfortable all the way.
At the door, she made sign of the cross. All thanks to what Helen had put into her whenever she is tensed. There is this magical relief that flows in after that sign is made and she would immediately feel like going to confront a lion. Laibe had thought about possible questions Miss Mary would be asking her in there and had joggled her brain deeply to get a strategic, even if not a convincing answer for each of them.
She wouldn’t be lying.
It’s just ‘covering up’, she convinced herself.
It can only be either of two things; about her sudden malice with Helen or the continuous reports teachers give Miss Mary about Laibe’s fast-becoming-an-habit absent mindedness in class, as it appears to be dealing a big blow on her grades day after day. Laibe hoped for the best as she held down the door knob
“It takes you forty minutes to ease yourself huh?”
Miss Mary greeted her with a yelling voice immediately she opened the door. This frightened her so much so that the pen in her hand almost fell off. Ocholi had been the recurrent recipient of these her frightened responses to everything. The very latest, for instance, was in her breaking one of the tumblers at the dining table. It wasn’t her fault, she tried to make her mind believe her in futility.
She was meant to be alone in the house… or so she thought, as everyone should have gone out as usual. This was last two weeks Saturday afternoon. Those thoughts, those replays that come like horror movies started taking merciless spins round her head again and again as she tried to rest, till she dragged herself off the bed.
“Cleaning the dining should distract me a little,” she said as she carried a towel from the kitchen, put soap into the water in the bucket in her hand and got at her forced duty. Unfortunately and expectedly, that didn’t help. At any time her eyes followed through the corridor that led to her bedroom, her head begins to spin afresh. She was about moving the rack holding tumblers with her eyes still fixed on the passageway when Ocholi spoke,
“Is there anything you lost on that corridor?”
She tittered backwards involuntarily, gravely frightened as flush of hot air gushed over her face. Needless to say that Ocholi’s voice sounds exactly like his elder brother’s. She tried, but couldn’t catch it before one of the tumblers fell off the rack and split in pieces immediately it kissed the tiled floor. Ocholi, who apparently had been standing there for God-knows-how-long, kept unbelievable eyes on her for some minutes. Ocholi had been a difficult nut to crack, her extremely sensitive and curious interviewer who also stubbornly refused to give up on asking her questions she cannot provide answers to. Every time he came on holidays, she feels as though brought under a Criminal Investigation Department’s detention. Obviously he had this strong conviction that something was really wrong, and all that began after the Confluence Beach holiday. The first one, of course, she’s been there two more times after that. She had tried in vain to persuade Ocholi that there was no cause for alarm but she wouldn’t even believe herself if told that.
“Lee, what is the problem? You haven’t still told me why you did that …” Ocholi had started again, as they both bent down to pick up the broken pieces of the tumbler.
“Why I did what?” Laibe put in quickly.
“Same thing! The paper!!” Ocholi replied, giving her a knowing look.
“Oh! I thought we were over that Ocholi?” Laibe muttered out, sounding irritated.
“I thought so too, until I confirmed that just any voice and action keep startling you.”
Laibe smiled, smiled so broadly. She knew that her smile somewhat has an effect on Ocholi. If not for anything, it would reduce the pressure he is putting on her.
“I didn’t know there was anyone at home. Your voice scared me.” she said. Partly true and partly lies anyway. Perhaps changing the topic would help.
Ocholi tried to argue further but she found a way of escaping again this time as usual. The way was by asking him to show her how to use the Twitter app on her phone. And even after Ocholi had gone back to school for about a week now, the young man seem not to wanna give up on pressing into her. He calls her often and would end it with ‘Laibe, what is the problem?’
Then, however was she going to say it?
“That I… I … how would anyone want me to say such a thing?” she would let out a frustrated smile all the times she had thought of this while staring back at herself in the standing mirror in her room.
She is back here now to face another panel before her form teacher, and one more interesting personality; Miss Mary had called Helen too. This is even tighter than she envisaged and she needed to gird her loins as well if she must pull through this without having that emotional attack she had in class about a year ago.
“I’m sorry ma!” she simply and hurriedly apologised in response to Miss Mary’s confrontation, not wanting to prolong stories.
She looked at her teacher, like she wanted to see her voice. The only seat available for her to sit was beside Helen. This is difficult right? Helen hadn’t said anything to her in so long a time now that she is beginning to get used to her new life – the one without Helen in it, that is. She noticed Miss Mary’s eyes all over her and she knew better than to raise suspicions. She quickly took her seat, avoiding the two people’s piercing eyes as much as possible. Well, Helen wasn’t particularly looking at her in the first place.
“A classmate of yours confided in me that you both are fighting over a senior prefect…” Miss Mary started. Characteristic of her to go straight to the point at all times. She turned questioning eyes to the two tiny females in front of her. She wasn’t really expecting them to respond so she continued anyway.
“Your friendship was so beautiful to let a boy define or ruin it, don’t you think so?” she asked again and got silence as response, “Ehn?” she slammed hard on her table when they were taking forever to respond to her.
“Yes… Yes ma!” they both chorused as though it was planned.
“I have spoken to the prefect concerned. What we talked about is none of your business by the way. Basically, your minds are too shallow for anything termed a relationship now, do you understand me? Do you?” Her voice rose for the second time.
“Yes we do Ma’am…” their heads were bent to the ground.
“And you Helen, sort out whatever crush you have on Ezekiel as soon as possible, is that clear? When you are ready, you would find more than enough worthy young men seeking for your precious hands in marriage, and those men would not be eyeing your best friend. There is a big difference between response and responsibility…”
Helen’s tears were dropping now. All these over-pampered children. Too much of love stories and movies make them fantasize about impossible and naughty things in real life. As Helen sobbed, she affirmed strongly within herself how much it hadn’t been worth the stress all along. She regretted having to hate Laibe for something she was innocent of. As Miss Mary spoke on, guilt overwhelmed her and before she could stop herself, she ran into Laibe’s hands and gave her a long warm hug.
Laibe spread out her petite hand to accept the whole of Helen who was bigger than her in all regards. She didn’t know if she was expected to cry as well. These days, unlike before, tears are the most sought after commodities in her eyes. She can’t bring herself to cry even when she wanted to… needed to. She must have finished all the tears left in her eyes after those horrible series of events and sleepless nights. She held onto her friend like a lifeline and was grateful this day is finally here.
“OK, you both! Enough of the lovey-dovey and say what you should…” Miss Mary’s voice broke them away from the hug but they still held each other’s hands looking back at her like she just spoke the Northern part of the German language. Just then, the meaning of the words sank into Helen and she immediately turned over to Laibe…
“I’m sorry Lee, it won’t happen ever again.”
Oh that? Laibe thought as a smile flashed her face, “I’m sorry my beloved friend. It didn’t happen and can never even happen.”
They fell into another round of hug again as Miss Mary watched them fondly. She is grateful she had been able to attend to one part of her mission. With the emotional outpouring from Laibe, it would be wise she reserved the next part for another time.
It is almost closing time anyway, permitting them to go isn’t so much of a difficult thing for Miss Mary. One, she was the teacher on duty this evening and secondly, she really wanted the duo to make up for lost times at least for the few more minutes they have today before it is officially closing hour.
“Is your brother or aunty coming to pick you up today?” she asked and Laibe shook her head from right to left. Aunty Udale hasn’t been herself for some days now, especially since Baba’s ailment worsened. Fortunately for her, the health workers in the state are on strike. That has resulted into her living almost a sedentary lifestyle lately – stays indoors from morning to night and only walks from bedroom to kitchen to make their meals. Laibe, ever since Ocholi returned back to school, is usually given transport money so she would take a motorcycle back home. She dreaded the insensible speed with which these ‘okadas’ ply the rough roads yet she’s got no choice.
“What about you Helen?” Miss Mary turned her attention to the giggling damsel in front of her.
“No aunty! Dad and mum travelled out. Our cousin’s wedding, actually. I’m also supposed to take okada down home, but would rather trek the whole distance with my cutie Lee here…” she said, squeezing Laibe’s hand in hers. Laibe smiled alongside Miss Mary. It seems Helen was even more excited that they are back together than anyone else.
“Make sure I don’t get report that you both got home late by tomorrow morning… Did I make myself clear?”
“Yes Ma’am!!1” they screamed excitedly and dashed out of the office before Mary could say anything else.
She watched them run off the passage of the administrative building till they disappeared from her sight.
Miss Mary sat back into her chair. Still with that smile dancing around her lips, she grabbed her phone.
At the gate, they presented the note Miss Mary gave them to the gateman who opened the gate for them without hesitation. Laibe turned in Helen’s direction and they both gave a knowing smile as the older man opened the gate. Just when they were about stepping through, they stopped. They thought they heard someone called Helen, and later called Laibe, but since the school was rowdy cos it is time for extracurricular activities now, they weren’t sure. Making to move forward, they heard their names once more, and this time turned to see Senior Ezekiel running towards them. Not knowing exactly what to expect as he drew closer, they decided to let their hearts rest till at least he got to them.
“Hi… HI” They chorused the response excitedly and politely at the same time.
It didn’t take long before Ezekiel suddenly realised that the gateman was standing there waiting to shut his gate behind the girls.
“I’m coming sir, I wanna have a talk with them” Ezekiel requested humbly and the older man, who is said to be a member of the ‘man O war’ only smiled in response.
“Wow!” Laibe thought. That was a first one for her, the smile on the old man’s face that is. She hadn’t seen that before, not in almost the three years she had been in this school. She finally had to conclude in her head sometimes last year that he was paid to frown.
“Your both eyes could fall me down, you know?” Ezekiel confessed immediately he got closer to them. Sincerely, the type of gaze and stare the duo were giving him was quite scary and it took his exceptional carriage, confidence and charisma as it’s characteristics of all the prefects in this school, to still come close without stammering.
Helen let out a faint smile with her hand still holding onto Laibe. The latter gave her a scow, the ‘I thought we agreed no smiles’ kind of look. Guess the poor Helen of a girl still had her little monster crush on ‘senior Ezekiel’ as everyone called the cute, dark and slim boy standing before them.
“So where are you both headed? It’s not close of school yet” Ezekiel tried to lighten the tension in the air.
Laibe scoffed and Helen looked away.
“Okay! Look here please, I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t have come in between you both. I knew Helen liked me, but I didn’t think it was that deep…”
“Mtcheeee…” Laibe drew a loud hiss, cutting in on Ezekiel, “… Of course, you men are always that insensitive, Mtcheew” she hissed dryly again.
“Well, I don’t know what you mean by ‘we men’, I’m only talking about myself here Laibe” Ezekiel defended.
Laibe’s eyes has literally turned as red as scarlet, “Of course, you won’t know. You can never know in fact…” she spilled out angrily, “Just because someone is in need of love, only because you know we seek love, attention and acceptance, you derive pleasure in taking our pride away from us, you derive satisfaction in reducing us to nothing less than a piece of rag. Why are you men so heartless?” Laibe was screaming on the top of her lungs now. Helen tried to squeeze her hand lightly earlier when her voice started rising, but she didn’t even feel it. It feels like a smoke, too hard to be constrained in the muddy four walls of the kitchen of her voice box. Her eyes were firmly shut while she spoke and a thin line of tear dragged down her cheek now.
Helen had become more uncomfortable, so was Ezekiel. The security man was beginning to make moves from inside the compound like he would soon open the gate.
This is not good, Ezekiel thought within himself. What exactly has he done to deserve all these outpouring? Especially that this isn’t the first time. He was only giving a simple apology for crying out loud. He swallowed and looked on at the girl that’s just screaming like a wounded elephant.
“The next time you want to treat a woman like trash just because you know she is in need of love and attention, remember that it was a woman that bore you” she spilled out like the words were hot searing coals that would burn her tongue if not said that fast and quick.
“Ok! Laibe, just shut up already!” Helen almost yelled, speaking out for the first time since Ezekiel got here. She was fed up with whatever emotional outpour her friend was doing right here in public. Yea! Public.
Ezekiel alone is enough public eye before Helen, things should be done pronto and well-coordinated before him and not making a public show of shame at any point. She held onto Laibe tighter and dragged her away into the main road. Ezekiel was too dumbfounded to say or do anything. He just stood there like he had been glued to the ground watching the two girls as Helen pulled the reluctant Laibe all the way to the road. He didn’t know what to think. Laibe has been every shade of mystery lately, sometimes, she is all outspoken and violent, at other times, she is returned to her shell and not saying anything, and at other awkward moments, she seem to be thinking about something only her knew about. What was going on? He asked himself again and the opening of the gate brought him back to planet earth before he could decipher an answer. He quickly adjusted his tie – nothing happened to the tie actually – and headed in before the security man would have the luxury of asking him about who and why someone was shouting. He didn’t have answers to give so he wouldn’t give him a chance to ask in the first place. He bowed lightly as he crossed the gate into the compound, keeping his head straight up, he moved towards the administrative building. There was something he needed to urgently find out.
This was meant to be a making up moment right? Of course, that was why Miss Mary permitted them to leave school few minutes to closing time. Helen had attempted to start up a conversation ever since they got on the lonely road that linked the school and the expressway. Whether it was the confusion as to what necessitated that show that’s stopping her from talking, or that the look on Laibe’s face could sting with venom, she cautioned herself just to stay quiet and enjoy the speechless walk. Laibe, as usual, had dragged all the ropes on the handle of her strap back, Tightening into a knot on her sides, it felt like she was trapped in a seat belt. That’s what she does anytime she’s beginning to want to stay off the world. It would look like a flight off the planet to a ‘thought world’ only her had access to.
Helen had to call her attention when she saw that the black Toyota Camry that’s approaching them had drastically reduced in speed so much so that it appears to be crawling right now.
“uhmmm?” Laibe gave that her questioning look again and it came quite irritating to Helen. How was it possible for someone to walk without being aware of her environment? It beats her imagination.
“The person in that car was staring at you” Helen said, pointing at the car that had just passed them with nothing longer than a mile distance.
“Me?” Laibe pointed her finger to her chest like she didn’t believe what her friend just said now, she then continued, “…but there are two of us here, right?”
Helen shook her head from side to side, “I know, I know! But the person was looking at you, so seriously, so engrossed. I’m not joking!”
Laibe hissed and stepped up her pace.
“Perhaps if your mind wasn’t so far away, you would have noticed” Helen said amidst trying to hasten up her steps to meet up with Laibe’s. Just then, her tone changed from the loud way it’s been a while ago to somewhat whisper…
“Oh! My God! He is reversing. Laibe, let’s hurry!”
It was at this point Laibe actually turned back to look at the car in question. It look so new, the tires, the mirrors, everything on the car was sparkling. If the person in the car was actually staring at her as Helen here claimed, then it’s not safe now that the person is reversing back towards their direction. She couldn’t even see whoever was in the car to start with. All thanks to tinted mirrors. Guess, ‘let’s hurry’ should actually be the action at this point, Laibe thought within as she increased her steps furthermore.
The car wouldn’t stop. It was as though whoever was in it was coming for them actually. It wasn’t coming across as something funny anymore. Though they are almost close to the main road, it is still about at least five fences to get there fully. By ‘fully’ it means, to get to a place where one can easily shout for help and get help. Helen’s heart was palpitating as she held tightly on to Laibe’s hands. Since Laibe can walk as fast as the speed of light, at a point Helen thought, people win ‘award for walking’ in the villages.
As they walked faster, the speed of the car increased as it still reversed backwards, now they heard the honk and it appears as if the person was asking them to stop but they did not stop. They cannot even stop. As if what they feared had finally befallen them, the car came to cross right in front of them in a way they had no choice than to stop. Though Laibe’s heart was also beating hard against her chest, she needed to be a source of strength to her extremely babyish and pampered friend right now. One person has to be the man in every situation.
She shoved Helen behind her as the car came to a halt. Laibe had this unshaken confidence within her that they would rather end up taking everyone here to the hospital than for the owner of this car to hurt them. She waited nervously, trying hard not to bend over to see whoever the person is, till he or she gets down. It’s even more scary that the fellow is taking almost forever to sought himself out in the car and come out, especially when he had practically blocked people from walking. Moreover, the route is not frequently navigated by cars and motorcycles. Helen had started breathing out so long that the breaths sounded like the sounds of talking gong at a typical village new yam festival.
Finally, the door of the car opened and the four eyes belonging to the two girls standing couldn’t wait for who would be the first to identify whoever this person is that’s taking the living day out of them.
To be continued on Tuesday.