This thing called LOVE – GRACE OCHIGBO
Caleb shut the door, and pulled down the knob to affirm it was correctly locked. He readjusted his collar and walked out of the compound towards the gate. His look, his height, his build, his charisma – it’s not surprising news why high class ladies in Lokoja fall over each other in line to get his attention, to be with him. He’s the type of gentleman that would have a princess turning her head and following in his direction with absolute amazement in her eyes.
He pulled the rickety gate open and then he sighted it – her car. Something boiled on his insides but he admonished himself to calm down.
Breathe easy, man! He admonished himself.
He thought to just walk on, ignoring the figure he saw leaning against the car. He thought to act as though he hadn’t seen anyone, but he was midway arranging his thoughts when –
“Look who we have here!” she approached where he was standing, still near the gate.
Caleb kept an indifferent look. “What are you doing here?”
“Really?” she shrugged. “I haven’t been able to reach you since our proposed assigned project, the work we’re supposed to do together. You don’t pick up your calls, neither do you respond to your messages, time was running out as well and I decided to call the principal of your school to make enquiries.”
Caleb looked away.
“Why did you do it?” Angela nudged him lightly at the side.
She frowned. “Caleb, please don’t play the smart one on me, honey. Why did you resign?” her voice felt weak. “It’d have been okay if you didn’t want to work with me. You could have simply told me. I would have pushed for your school to bring another correspondence. You didn’t have to give it all up just to avoid me, Caleb. Am I now that much of a plague to you?” Hot burning tears moved down her cheeks as her words penetrated his inner being.
He looked past her tears-filled beautiful sea blue eyeballs to her soul. She was hurting. Angela didn’t deserve it. It was all Unekwu’s fault in the first place, he thought.
“Caleb what exactly did I do to you to deserve all these inhuman treatment. You made me stay back in Nigeria. You promised me you would wipe away all the memories of my father and mother, you…” she broke down in full blown tears, squatting to her knees as she sobbed.
Caleb hurried over to her and pulled her up into his arms for a hug. He kissed her forehead lightly while his left hand coursed the short distance between the back of her neck and upper part of her waist.
He’d been told to take responsibilities for every action. Wasn’t that what he’s doing?
Inasmuch as he’d loved Unekwu so badly, she hadn’t been there when he needed her most. Times when he wanted to share, when he wanted to talk, when he wanted only the feel of her hair against his nose. She’d always been about her job, rehearsals and church. Initially, he thought he could cope. He still managed through until Unekwu became the branch manager of her bank, over a year ago. Because of her busy schedules, Unekwu had suggested they ate lunch together, at least three days of the week. She’d drive the distance from her office to a restaurant closer to the school Caleb worked for a lunch that would last shorter than thirty before hurrying back. She also didn’t have time in the evenings as she had to go to her drama group. And evenings when she didn’t have rehearsals, she had programs in her father’s church. Caleb kept up with these and didn’t know how much her absence had eaten deep into him until about six months ago – her birthday.
He’d had a date request from Angela prior to the time, and he’d been always about his fiancée this, his fiancée that; how he loved her too much and wouldn’t even have lunch with another woman. Angela understood somehow and suggested they just stayed friends, with no strings attached. This worked – worked so fine until the last straw that broke the camel’s back.
Unekwu’s birthday had been on a public holiday.
“Baby, please be ready by 7pm, I need to come discuss something urgent with you. Happy birthday, by the way.”
He’d felt the disappointment in Unekwu’s voice when he’d called her that afternoon. He’d only sent an SMS to her in the latter hours of the morning, so obviously he wasn’t the first to send a birthday wish, and then, he’s calling her up for urgent discussion on her birthday? He’d felt the hesitation in her tone, but as the Unekwu she was, she tried to mask it and agreed. Meanwhile, he had his own plans. It was a perfect plan and he intended to keep it as surprise. He’d booked a VIP lounge in City Hotel, a place where executives, top government officials and big men of the society, noble men of timber and calibre came to hang out. It’d cost him a fortune, something he’d been saving up for a while in preparation for fiancée’s big day, especially the part he needed to rent an orchestral and have the place set up for a standard candle light dinner just for two. He wanted to give his fiancée one of the most memorable nights yet in her lifetime; eating intercontinental dishes, seeing a movie while the orchestral blew soft music alongside.
Everything had been set and perfect until 6:15pm.
“Hello Honey!” It was Unekwu. He’d prayed that nothing would go wrong since the morning and found his heart praying that his fears were not about to manifest.
“I’m so sorry, Honey. The state manager called me. The woman sitting on the chair of the bank’s board arrived the state and she would like to meet with all the branch managers in the state. I didn’t tell you all day because I’ve been trying to find a way to absent myself, but Mr Ken just called to tell me how compulsory it is for me to be there, my branch being the second biggest. Plus, I’ve always wanted to meet that noble woman face to face. She’s my role model.” She paused. “I hope you understand?”
Caleb had felt so horrible that he didn’t know how best to respond to her without screaming or showing anger. “It’s fine. I mean, be fine.” He’d managed to say.
“C’mon, honey, you don’t sound excited for me. This is a long time wish we are talking here o. I’m sorry, love. I’ll make it up to you, OK? Just this last time.” she’d used her most used sentence again.
Caleb had only quietly said, “OK!” before the phone line went dead.
His eyes caught the blue jacket he had carefully ironed, the polished shoes, the red long sleeves and black pants, all gently folded on his large bed. He’d pulled them all off the bed onto the floor in utter rage.
It was meant to be a surprise, he’d told himself.
I am not supposed to tell her I have a special birthday treat for her.
He’d flung the phone in his hand onto the rug and dropped in the bed like a sack of potatoes. He’d not felt that frustrated and disappointed in his entire life. He’d felt tears and pain course through the same channel in his throat.
Several not-consoling minutes passed, then it came to him – a thought. One he regretted more than anything now.
“Hello Angela! Mind a little outing? It’s a public holiday, anyway!”
He’d heard the excited voice of Angela over the phone as she agreed to an impromptu date. There, at the City hotel, he’d told her all the ordeals of the day and how he had saved a lot for Unekwu’s birthday. He told her to just pretend she’s the celebrant when the caterers bring the large birthday cake with ‘Happy birthday, my Heartbeat’ inscribed on it. To also pretend to the orchestral as they’d play beautiful and melodious birthday song for her. Angela had acted so perfectly for him that night, reducing the shame and regret he felt. She’d covered up and eaten to her satisfaction as well. She’d looked very happy and fulfilled being on a date with him… no matter how impromptu. The night ended on a high note, as they had to join a heated couple dance going on in the club house of the hotel. He’d woken up the following morning beside Angela in her large bedroom.
It’d been awful because it was Unekwu’s call that woke him.
“Guess what, Honey! I had the best night of my life yesterday. Mr Ken arranged the meeting so that it became a surprise birthday party for me. Having our chairperson, a woman I love so much at my twenty-eight birthday party was the best thing that happened to me, honey…” she rattled on and on. Carelessly. Hurtfully. Caleb only picked one thing.
Mr ken had always been a threat to him personally, right from time. Right from the time he called Unekwu six times while they went out on an evening date. The times Unekwu told him he left flowers on her desk; the times he drove to Unekwu’s gate in the morning and insist on driving her to work, even when she had her own car; the times Unekwu would whine on and on about Mr Ken’s flatteries and special treatment to her among other branch managers; and all the other times they’ve had to talk about Mr Ken.
The city big boy and player was obviously on the run for Unekwu’s heart and the annoying thing was that the girl didn’t see it – didn’t see his tactics. Inasmuch as Caleb had woken up feeling guilty about Angela, the call from Unekwu made him feel she deserved whatever he’d done and that became the beginning with Angela – she would always be there to fill the void whenever Unekwu ran away on her busy schedules, numerous bank trainings and all. It was funny but he’d been planning his wedding to Unekwu with Angela.
The girl kept endearing herself to him every day, with every action and in every way.
“Caleb, you are not talking?” Angela pulled away from the hug enough to see his face. He’d been lost in thoughts. “I miss you, Caleb. I miss every ounce of you. I miss your soft voice, I miss your gentle touch, I miss the smell of your skin, baby! I miss you so much. I swear.”
Caleb felt his heart soften and his resolve broke down as she spoke. The truth was something he recognized. Her voice transcended the walls he’d been building up against her, and slowly the walls came crumbling down effortlessly. He realised they were still locked up in a tight hug.
What was he doing?
He pulled out from the hug and Angela jerked back involuntarily.
Angela stared back at him, eyes pleading. “Baby, how be it that you don’t even miss me an inch?” the question came out like a statement.
He noticed the well of tears building up in her eyes again and suddenly felt the impulse to suck it away with his mouth.
No, Caleb! He advised himself. You can’t do this. You’ve made your resolve. You need to stick to it.
“I miss you, Angela…” he started, his voice throaty. He saw her face lighten up to that statement and his heartbeat skipped. “I miss all that we had. You are a rare lady, with a heart of gold, believe me. You are perfect, Angela. You are perfect…” he stared into her eyes, studying her. “…for someone else.” He hesitated. “I am perfect for Unekwu and she is same for me. I really hate to break your heart, Angela. I am really sorry. Please find a place in your heart to forgive me, and please move on.”
Angela had palpable fears and feelings of helplessness in her eyes as she stared at Caleb as though he had bugs crawling out of his ears. Shock and surprise added to the fine lines on her face and for a long moment, she searched beyond his eyes. More tears were falling freely now and she didn’t mind them. She couldn’t believe it was all over. Not as though she never envisaged this – she had always imagined a day Caleb would sort out his emotions, but Caleb appeared to have moved on from Unekwu in the past months. Wasn’t that why he couldn’t get himself to continue with the wedding and had to call it off even at the dying moment? What was happening to her? She screamed in her mind.
“I can’t move on without you, Caleb. Can’t you see? You said you would protect me. you said you won’t hurt me. I can’t move on without you, Baby. Please come back!”
Caleb swallowed against the lump in his throat, trying hard to keep his face expressionless. He moved forward gently, closing the little space between them. He cupped her chin in his wide hand and stared at her beautiful eyes. They’ve always been his weakness – how he could break down a top notch government director and have tears run down those beautiful eyes – perhaps they were his strength after all. He wasn’t proud of his actions, but he felt important and good about himself. Bringing down his lips, he noticed Angela’s eyeballs moving from one side to another, her heart throbbed so violently against her chest as she couldn’t place what Caleb was up to.
“You have to move on, Angela. You have to move on… without me, Angela. You must!” he whispered, his lips only inches away. He left off her chin and walked away, without looking back at her direction.
Angela felt her heart on a platter and shattered into irreparable pieces. She wanted to wail, to cry. It felt exactly like the time she was told her parents were involved in a plane crash. The pain coursed mercilessly through the entirety of her being and she felt weak at the ankles. She stared at Caleb in the far distance as he walked away hurriedly, without looking back, damning her. That made her cry even more. She thought of what to do. she wasn’t in the right state of mind to drive. She remembered how Unekwu had stormed from the arts centre in this kind of state and hasn’t been able to rise to her feet until now. No. she wasn’t going anywhere. She would wait for Caleb to return. They must be a chance for the both of them. It can’t end just like this. He can’t easily break her heart this way and get away with it. She would wait up for him and they would resolve their differences when he returns from wherever he’s headed.
With that she pulled the gate open and trudged into the house.
Joy Oguche and her husband stayed put at the window watching the drama between their son and the lady. They knew her. He’d brought her home once or twice and had introduced her as his friend. They never suspected anything. If they hanged out a lot, they were not aware of that. Caleb, right from time immemorial, had this history of lots and lots of female friends, so there wasn’t a course for alarm with this one. Moreover he’d already been engaged to Unekwu at the time. It took the whole calling off of the wedding and confrontations to discover that many waters had gone under the bridge between Angela and Caleb, and that their relationship wasn’t at the surface as they thought. Watching them now, how detaching from each other felt like separating a sucking child from his mother, confirmed what he’d told them – he was in love with Angela.
Joy Oguche couldn’t place it accurately in her head as her husband seemed to. She didn’t understand how one could be in love with two ladies at the same time, but when her husband affirmed that it was possible and that he had been in the same shoes before, she just kept quiet. They’d watched Caleb dash off, leaving the lady standing helplessly at the door. Joy’s heart reached out to poor Angela, for some strange reasons. She knew the poor young woman didn’t deserve the heartbreak from her son and as Angela opened the gate and walked into their compound, they both headed downstairs and towards the entrance door.
If Angela wanted to talk, she would listen to her, Joy Oguche resolved in her mind as she pulled down the knob of the front door.
Vera spoke in whispering tones and Victor laughed quietly as well. The former was really cracking him up and he couldn’t lock the amusement in. Unekwu was fast asleep and the little snore from her nostrils showed she’s finding it pretty difficult to breathe.
“Oya, close your mouth before fly enter. I’ve not even…” Vera was saying these when the door opened gently, presenting Caleb. His cologne filled the entire room as he walked in as timid as a dog with his tail in-between his legs. Victor stood up.
“I’ll see you, Vera!” he said in a low tone, and made for the door.
Caleb watched keenly as Victor stared at him the short distance from their seats to the door. A look of disgust discolouring his eyeballs. Caleb knew much more than anything else that the young man hated him so much that he couldn’t stand his presence. Never did. He’d always walked out whenever Caleb walked into the ward room, except when her parents were around and he didn’t want to create a scene. It’s been worse since four days ago that Unekwu’s mother called him, announcing that they were travelling.
“This is it, son,” Pastor Festus had collected the phone from his wife, because to him, the woman wasn’t hitting the nail on the head. “We usually go for six months mission outreaches to some selected African and American countries. It takes us a year to plan these outreaches, in partnership with our missionaries in those places. Everything being equal, Unekwu’s wedding would have been done and dusted by now while we make our journeys, but it has happened as the lord wills. But we don’t want the unfortunate incidences to spoil any plan.” He paused. “We don’t want to start explaining that our daughter’s wedding was called off and she had an accident and all and all, so we had to cancel a year long preparation. Ajifa and I have been battling with our decisions and realising there’s little or nothing our presence or absence would do to Unekwu’s recovery, we chose to obey the call of God first. It is the same God that can heal her and make her completely whole. So we charge you to take care of her, be with her. Her friends, Vera and Victor would always be there with you. We leave her in your care, Caleb. Don’t fail us.”
Caleb had felt like the whole weight of the world was placed on his feeble shoulders with this assignment. Not as though there’s any difference in the routine now than when her parents were here. Still, he would prefer their presence a hundred times over, compared with Unekwu’s friends who hated him with every blood in their veins.
“Wait, Victor!” Caleb pushed the words off his throat. He had fear in him but he needed to make peace, once and for all.
Victor walked on, pretending not to hear Caleb’s voice.
“Please!” Caleb added.
Victor paused. Turned to glance at him from head to toe, sizing him up. He drew a long bitter hiss and walked out, slamming the door hard against Caleb’s face. The latter swallowed hard. He walked over to the bed and pecked Unekwu’s face. She still looked as beautiful with the so-called stroke. Even though, her right side looked weaker and wrinkly, he was hopeful she would come around. Unekwu was a fighter, a go-getter, everyone believes she would battle her way through. He pulled a chair gently and sat beside her, holding onto her hand. Vera was busy with something on her phone and inasmuch as he knew she was doing that so as not to talk to him, he just ignored her totally. He was already getting tired of trying to make peace with Unekwu’s friends. In the end, they would see him for how genuine he is, how much sacrifice he’d had to make to be back to Unekwu. He hopes that it won’t be late by that time.
“Don’t worry about Victor. He’d come around.”
Caleb thought his ears were deceiving him but when he rose his head to see a smile, however little, dancing around Vera’s eyes to her lips, he felt a flush of relief through his vein.
“mmm-mm!” his voice was breathy.
Vera smiled better now. “How have you been, Caleb?”
“Holding up!” he sounded unbelieving, for the obvious. But if Vera’s show of concern now was something to go by, he was relieved that helping Unekwu through this phase especially before her parents get back would be much easier with their joint efforts.
Pulling out his phone, he remembered something and he tapped on the screen.
“We’ve been expecting your call, Caleb!” Ajifa’s voice and face came over the large screen of his Samsung
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I just got to the hospital.”
“Since morning?” the woman sounded alarmed but not intending to dwell on it, “how is my daughter?”
Caleb moved the screen of his phone so as to show Unekwu. She was still sleeping soundly, though breathing a little heavier than usual. He saw her mother’s face relax.
“Hi mummy!” Vera said as soon as the phone pointed in her direction.
“My sweetheart, thank you for being there for your friend. God bless you!”
“Amen mummy. Have you forgotten I am her second mummy?”
Vera’s question made Ajifa and Caleb chuckle at the same time. It’s only Vera that can be mother to someone she’s only few months older than.
“Where is Victor?”
“He just stepped out. He might be back soon.” Caleb turned to Vera for affirmation and she nodded her head.
“Daddy has gone with some missionaries to a village across their river. They needed to use a boat and I’ve always not been water-friendly, so he insisted I stayed back. You know daddy, his words are final,” she smiled, wiping a strand of hair off her face. “He’d waited endlessly for your call before leaving too.”
Caleb knew it’s high time he did the needful. “I’m sorry, ma. I had to attend to a few things before coming, because I’m spending the night.”
“Oh. OK! Daddy said the driver would bring either of mine or Unekwu’s car to you from the house. That would ease your movements around, especially now.”
Caleb’s eyes lightened. “I think I’m fine, ma. You don’t have to bother.”
Ajifa chuckled. “It’s no bother. You are our son, as much as Unekwu is our daughter.”
Caleb nodded lightly. “Thank you, ma’am.”
Few minutes later after he ended the call, he rested his back against the chair and let his mind travel through the ordeals of today, from Angela till now.
He’d made a decision and he’d stand by it.
Angela hurried into her car and shut the door firmly. Twenty minutes in there with his parents appeared like a lifetime of drilling and questioning. What has Caleb’s mother said? That she understood her situation? That she could imagine how she felt? Could the older woman be on her side? His father. Well, his father looked uninterested in the whole matter, because that was the look on his face. Indifference! That didn’t matter anyway. For people like him, one may have to choose sides for them since just anything goes. So she would choose for Caleb’s father. He got to be on her side no matter what.
Winning Caleb’s parents over to her side would do her a lot of good.
She smiled at her own seemingly wise schemes.
Everyone knew Caleb well enough as someone that wouldn’t easily get confused, let alone have his parents pester him.
One. Two. Three.
“Right there!” she screamed before she could stop herself. Thankfully, the music blaring out from her speaker drowned her voice. An idea just dropped in her mind now. A sound one.
She felt like having handshakes with her mind for such brilliance. A beautiful smile danced around her eyes, finding its way down to her lips as they broadened.
This thought would bring Caleb back to her, whether he wants it, whether he’s still interested, whether he got over Unekwu or not.
Comforted with this new action plan, she put the car key in its hole. She barely started the engine when a hand tapped on her window. She jerked up to see who that was.
Her jaw dropped in fear.
Love is a light that wouldn’t allow darkness to reign in one’s soul.
To be continued.
Do have a great week.