THE WIFE I NEVER MARRIED- GRACE OCHIGBO
She held firmly to the seat in front of her, the same one Ocholi is sitting on. Laibe held it so tenaciously one may be forced to believe someone would fall off the car if she loosened her grip however little. She finally decided to drop her almost empty bag after all. Well, Ocholi already gave up trying to convince her that the bag was safe whether she held it firmly to her chest or she quietly relieved her body muscles of so much unnecessary work. Laibe was not part of his problems right now; he had a deadline to meet up with and the persistent repeated breakdown of this vehicle within the last hour is almost rubbing him of something valuable.
“I’ll deal with Faruna when I get to his place today!”
He murmured inaudibly anytime the vehicle quenched on marching the break. He took this very car for servicing just yesterday and was assured of perfect working condition before he drove out of the mechanic garage. One thing he knew, as very much as his name, was the constant disappointments from all these ‘hand-workers’ as people call them. They can be more tiring to manage than a generator low on petrol.
Laibe on her own side couldn’t help but dart her eyeballs from one side of the road to the other. That particularly, has been ongoing since she saw an inscription on the carved tower they passed underneath- ‘Ankpa Youth Development Association welcomes you to Ankpa’. It was at that point she couldn’t help wondering, whether or not there was a policy that restricts youth associations of towns to inscribing words in just the same pattern on every signboard they made. It already became amusing because she had lost counts of seeing this same type of ‘welcome address’ all the way down from Ofabo while she tried to read them all. The speed bumps on the road in front of the Kogi State College of Education, Ankpa, gave her so much opportunity to really capture as much image of the large campus her retina could accommodate, more so, that their car seem to be tripping off anytime Ocholi stepped on the break. The school looked so large to her that she marvelled, forgetting her mouth wide open, how people ever found their way around without missing or getting stolen. The expansive school stadium that directly faced the road had seats coloured in green and white, another large building she saw felt like the windows were climbing on themselves. In fact, everything was just too amazing to be real. She slapped herself for thinking like a child at some points; her grandfather had told her to try, as much as possible, to reason like an adult at all times and all situations. That explains why, even though she hadn’t gone farther than the primary school she finished some three years ago, she still possessed a characteristic way of behaving quite maturely.
“Eeeeeh!!” she let out an involuntary scream when Ocholi drove too close to a woman crossing the road.
“É kí chokpoñ” Ocholi assured her there was no cause to fear.
That didn’t soothe her. He was just about hitting down a woman with a large bowl on her head and the best he could do was ask her not to fear? Her heart beat fast against its ribcage for another uncountable number of minutes while her neck still turned backwards so as to enable her eyes follow the woman well enough, and they did, till she saw her no more. She really was scared. Actually, right from infancy she dreaded the roads, dreaded the cars, she dreaded anything that link in one way or the other to an accident.
All as a result of one unforgettable incidence.
She is even amazed at herself for being so ecstatic about this particular journey to Ankpa. Perhaps, because it came like something that would at least disprove her grandfather.
The large bowl on the woman’s head resembled that of her mother. It looked like the one in which the hot rice to be sold used to be carried in, all the way down to the market. Hopefully, her garri business would be more profiting now that she is in Ankpa, judging from what her friends said, ‘Garri is students’ power’. These thoughts and few more made her beam with a light smile as they took turns to gracefully pop up in her head. Ocholi could see this, unknown to her, through the mirror and he shook his head from side to side at every instance. The girl already appeared as one who would give him trouble eventually but he was positive. There is this unbearable wrong combination between beauty and stack illiteracy. Both mixed in one another in Laibe, is so much of a threat to him right now. Or, so he thought.
The brown huge gate finally opened after he had blared angrily on the honk five consecutive times. Most times, he wonder what the lazy gateman is paid to do, because, once the owners of the house were off to work, the only thing left of his day is to sleep and snore till eternity.
Laibe came down, doggedly dragging her bag alongside. She looked at the house they just entered, the compound was interlocked and bright lemon coloured flowers formed a circular roundabout at the centre. That’s aside the lawn extending to the other end of the quite expansive compound together with some tall flowers that appeared like coconut trees to her. She bent down to pick up one of the cinnabar plastic bangles that fell off her hand during the moments of astonishment and so decided to feel the bare floor with her fingers. During harmattan, the mud sand of Ofabo solidifies so much so that it feels like a hard unyielding rock on touch. That is actually the only thing she enjoys during harmattan season because inasmuch as everywhere looked compacted, no one can explain how the dust level keep getting higher simultaneously. The interlocked ground she just touched, felt exactly like that mud ground. That was also exciting and interesting deep inside her head. It made her think, while getting back up, that white men must have made these concrete stones using their mud as raw materials. She saw Ocholi coming back from the big house. The Cherry-Blossom painted duplex appeared to her like another house was kept on an already existing one. Maybe that is what she was going to do at the end of it all; when she has gotten quite enough money to go round, she would let them put another house on Baba’s, so it could become two and as big as this. That would be like living out her dreams. Even as a kid, Baba would ask her what she wanted to be and as its norm in the village, virtually every kid wants to become a doctor. She had told Baba that after becoming a doctor, she would build ‘two houses standing on the top of each other’ for him, as they see in outdated magazines and newspapers at the only photography shop in the village- Uncle T fotos.
“We jefù ken” Ocholi’s voice startled her, asking her to come inside the house.
She didn’t see him pack out the load in the trunk into the house earlier, how be it that there was nothing left in there when she hurried over to check? Ocholi just kept smiling at her and that really made her more uncomfortable than when he hugged her lightly to say, ‘ thank you, agba o’ after dropping the heavy stone she picked from the bush on their way. She can’t get used to all these, not when she doesn’t even know who he is in her aunt’s house. Another thing, that is almost pissing her off right away, is the fact that he had been saying every statement to her in Igala language.
“Do I look that obvious?” she tried to question herself. ‘Obvious’ was one of her headmistress’ most used words in the English language and somehow the word, and that whole statement at large, had stuck to her subconscious.
At least for the fact that she attended a primary school, he should know she understood some things in English. Yea, some things. Basic things.
She trudged into the house. At the door, she felt the strong impulse to pull off her shoes. Back home, she must do this before entering the rooms, any of the rooms, especially Baba’s and that got even worse when ‘yours truly’ laid a rug over the floor for him. Often times when her legs looked neater than the rug in Baba’s sitting room, legality demanded she still removed every foot wear before entering and for the few times she faltered that law unconsciously, Baba had refused responding to her talks during and after she was done pouring it all out. She felt really stupid those times with Baba’s eyes unblinkingly piercing her like x-rays while she tried to figure out what went wrong. She would then run off to the door, pull them off and once that is done, Baba sits up and responds to her. Well, she rarely make such mistakes any longer and right here, she actually removed a foot off her slippers impulsively, before Ocholi urged her to go in with it. She didn’t argue, she couldn’t say anything. Not as though she had nothing to say but then, aside from the extremely tiresome journey, Ocholi wasn’t the right person to start up a conversation with in a strange house and ultimately a strange land. He is a total stranger for all she cared, maybe not to this house but to her.
Ocholi had few things going on his mind as he headed back into the house proper, leaving Laibe alone in the sitting room. Everything seem to be enticing the young girl and the best he could do was to smile, smile real good but as good as that was, it couldn’t submerge what was bothering him.
They had an agreement. How will he go about it now?
In this business, timing is key. It’s true he didn’t meet up with the stipulated time but that doesn’t mean they would lose out of everything altogether.
Laibe stared at her aunt’s framed picture firmly nailed to the wall. The frame looked so big that she felt her aunty standing before her in real life. But then, it was just a frame. With the way Baba always said her aunty was ‘very busy in the city’, she wondered how the woman still manages to put on this so much weight regardless of her tight schedule. Aunty Udale looked so rotund with soft palpable cheeks and her neck has folded, in the last couple of years, into something very similar to different layers of textiles neatly arranged in a show glass. The more it folded, the more it appeared she would need a breathing aid soon, yet her skin shone so bright that one could literally see her/himself in it. Although Laibe knew she was very much underweight resulting from so much stress with little food to take in- the gross height of malnutrition, she would however run from every chance to become as weighty as her aunty. She can, most often than not at the village, successfully go two days only on garri. Thankfully, she made one of the best in the entire village and that has saved her life a great deal. She would spare nothing to make sure she gets those young boys to cultivate Baba’s farm for her to grow cassava during rainy season because that is the only thing that processes into garri; her source of livelihood.
With this so much money and affluence, why did mother go then? She cursed her luck silently, haven being unable to find answers to those questions all along and who knows? She may never find them, the same way she couldn’t place if Ocholi read her mind when he said,
“Be sure to relax”
Wow, for the first time he would be addressing her in English language. That was quite fair. At least she doesn’t get to feel like the stack illiterate of the century any longer.
She gave a slight nod in the affirmative and Ocholi briskly walked back into the same room, at the left hand side, directly perpendicular to her, where he came out from. She didn’t know what he was doing in there and whatever it was, must be very serious to arouse the agitation she felt in his voice. Letting that slide, she dragged a stool and sat on it instead of the leather sofas. They have always told her that it is elders that sit on big chairs, not kids. She would have even sat on the Cobalt rug but she didn’t want Ocholi to degrade her again, seeing he had started relating with her on ‘English terms’.
She tried to shut her eyes as she would always do when about to reflect and bring back memories. She could only imagine what her two friends were doing in the village right now. It was about 4pm and she knew they would be on their way to fetch firewood for dinner. Of all her numerous activities back at home, going to the stream was the most exciting. There is this rocky steep as you descend the stream and she enjoys more than anything else to run down with the two jerry cans in her wheelbarrow. Yeah! The same wheelbarrow. It served a lot of functions so she couldn’t afford a bad tire any day. One of the unforgettable memories in her life however, was the two weeks she spent with the local physiotherapist who tried to fix her broken ankle after she slid off that steep one morning. The pain was terrible and somewhat unbearable especially when the fear of losing the function of any of her legs was her greatest call for worry. How would she survive? She still jerks up any time that part of her leg hits a solid object, even after it’s almost totally healed now.
Home sweet home indeed.
Perhaps here would become home away from home for her.
She couldn’t say. She doesn’t know what the future held for her here. Though her aunt’s picture is on the wall, she can’t be totally sure that this is truly the house. There is no sign of any other person in this big house, that’s aside the fact that the area looked very deserted as they drove in. Like a hideout or something. She is never used to this kind of settlement. In the village, homes are built into each other in such a way that you can pass a message across to your neighbour by talking out through the window, if any. The reverse is the case here, the fence is so tall with barbed wires attaching to the top, the gate looked so gigantic that she doubts if bullet could penetrate it and that alone was enough to scare the living daylight out of her. How can she be sure that Ocholi wasn’t a hired assassin or something even worse than that?
She opened back her eyes when she felt someone moved behind her. It was Ocholi again, he was carrying something in his hand. Laibe thought her eyes were deceiving her when she first saw it but by using the back of her palm to wipe her face, she saw it more clearly for what it is. The young but hefty man had pulled off the T-shirt he had on earlier and what’s left to cover his chest is just a singlet, white but was beginning to turn yellow at the armpits already. She watched him carefully as he walked over to the main entrance through which they both entered the house. He was gentle, he was slow in his steps but steady. It’s at this point that the racing of her heart could compete with an aircraft trying to beat time. She watched him with frightful eyes as he turned down the key in the door hole twice before pressing down on the knob to be sure the door was firmly shut. She kept on looking, this time, thick winds of helplessness flushed over her body so much so that she almost passed out when he turned back and started walking towards the direction she sat, on the stool. The sharp, silver edge of the knife in his hand pointed directly at her face as he drew closer.
To be continued,
The Wife I Never Married – Episode two
THE WIFE I NEVER MARRIED- GRACE OCHIGBO