TWO GRACES – FINALE

TWO GRACES – GRACE OCHIGBO

NINETEEN (FINALE)

                 Rhoda’s daughter has so many of her traits and none of it was helping at the moment. Not that she’s a bad person or without goodwill, it’s just that the little girl wants so much to be her own person. They were good at the exact same things yes, but Rhoda has got the experience, so her opinion had to count. There were days she lay low and offered no resistance to all the youthful exuberance and rebellion from her baby girl; yet there were days the teenager needed a mother’s firm hand just like when she was a young child.

“Get into your room…” Rhoda yelled. That was the breaking point of her patience.

The girl stamped her foot against the floor. “Mum, I…”

“Now!”

Tossing, frowning and muttering some inaudible words, she reluctantly headed for her bedroom.

“And you are not coming out until I say so, Millie. Did you hear that?” Rhoda called out as soon as a door closed upstairs.

She found her breath and fell into one of the chairs tiredly. Raising a teenager in America, perhaps anywhere at all, can be hard.

The entrance door opened quietly and her husband walked in.

“Heard your voice from the gate.” He said, placing his briefcase on a side stool.
Rhoda rolled her eyes. Donald could have as well heard her voice from his work place for all she cares.

He planted a soft kiss on her forehead. Even under the cool atmosphere in the room, she was sweating profusely. She sweats whenever she’s angry.

“Can you imagine that little girl I gave birth to just yesterday disobeying my orders?” she started, heaving deeply.

               Donald gave her a reassuring gaze and she narrated everything that preceded the rancour. Millie wanted to go out when Rhoda specifically said not to. The teenager was getting more and more rebellious and it irritated her to her bones.

Donald paused for a long time. Not sure the comment on his mind was appropriate for the moment. “That’s exactly what you encourage Hallie to do too, you know?”

Rhoda gave him the ‘excuse me’ look. “What do I encourage Hallie to do? Rebel?”

“Yeah, Rhodess. You make her disobey her father. She even finds you a worthy confidant whenever her conscience beat her up for her actions.”

             Rhoda sat back and wondered for a while whether those words actually came off Donald’s mouth. “Is that what you think I’ve been doing the whole time, Donald?” her voice was sober. “That I’m coaching my late best friend’s only daughter how to disobey a man who had been kind enough to take her in as his own blood?” A lone tear dropped down her face as she said those words.

              Donald drew nearer and held her jaw up. That was not the response he was expecting to get. He’d had this feeling all week that something wasn’t quite right with his wife. She blew hot easily on both extremes of emotions these days – easily provoked and close to tears at the slightest confrontation.

“Rhodess, you know you can talk to me.”

She wiped the tear drop off her face quickly and sat up straighter. “No. There’s nothing.” She lied.

Donald drew nearer and gave her a kiss that lasted for five minutes. She was trembling by the time he released her. He touched her face lovingly, “It’s about that time of the year, isn’t it?”

She tightened her lips while nodding in the affirmative.

“And it still doesn’t get any easier by the year, right?” His eyes melted her defense so she collapsed her head against his chest.

“You know, whenever I talk with Hallie, I see Noma.” Rhoda smiled amidst the tears now flowing freely down her face.

           Donald knew that all the altercation with Millie wasn’t really about her after all. His wife usually had more tolerance for their kids than she’s been showing lately. It’s frustration and pain she’s venting on their daughter. The pain of losing a loved one never goes away.

“She told me her father surprised her on their last day at school…” Rhoda said with a little more brightness on her face now.

               Talking to and about Hallie excites her. She talked about their last call together. Hallie had been overly excited. Her father had driven into her school compound with the royal entourage and military personnel that formed his convoy. Every corner of the school was turned inside out as people gathered to see what was going on. It was her principal himself that welcomed her father. Hallie was so proud of having him as a father and particularly felt special that he granted her wish by coming to pick her up from school himself.

“So she’s home now?” Donald asked

“Yeah. Since two weeks ago. She calls using Lolo’s phone. I’ve been unable to talk to Akoji for some time now though.”

                Donald drew in a needed breath. OTAI annual fundraising ceremony was underway. Akoji must be understandably busy and of course, emotional as it also marks the posthumous remembrance of Noma, her sister and her parents. Rhoda alone would be travelling to Nigeria this time for the ceremony. She must have concluded plans on her visa by now if he’s not mistaken.

“I’m really glad Hallie is happy. It’s been Noma’s dream to give her the best life. Thank God Akoji is living it out. Noma must be proud watching him from up there in heaven.”
“Yeah!” his tone was dismissive as he pulled his shoes off and tried to stand up but Rhoda wasn’t done yet.

“Hallie is truly happy, honey. I sensed it when we spoke two days ago. She was so full of life and energy. She said she made a new friend.”

New friend? That hit Donald. “At school or when she got home?”

“When she got home.”

*****

                The looking glass that she stared into was wall-mounted, encircled by a frame of threadlike strands of silver. She rubbed her palm softly over her now flat tummy still smiling sheepishly over the phone.

                  When Lolo asked if she could come live in the palace, it sounded too surreal. Guards and maids at one’s beck and call, choicest countryside meals, driver and car to take her out whenever she wanted, comfort at its peak. There was no better vacation than that. Yet, against her better judgment, she declined the offer.

“I feel so honoured right now, Your Highness…” her voice was tender, soft. “But may I beg for some time to think about the offer, if that’s okay?”
“Of course!” Lolo stood up and walked round to Grace’s seat. “Of course, doctor! Please take your time. I’m sure your vacation isn’t just for a week, is it?” she raised her right eyebrow and lowered the other one.

Now that you say it, I’m staying back in Onitsha for the next one month, Grace screamed in her mind. “No, Your Highness. Not sure how long yet but definitely more than a week.” was what came out of her mouth.

               Lolo smiled excitedly alongside the others at the table. She said the family had a share in the hotel so Grace could stay for free until she made up her mind to come to the palace. She would be moved from the deluxe room into one of the presidential suites. A palace guard and a maid shall be assigned to wait on her while Lolo herself would pay courtesy visits once in a while.

“I’m sure you’d make up your mind soon, my darling, and I wouldn’t have to come all the way.” Lolo winked before going back to her seat.

                   At the close of dinner, everyone came to heartily embrace and thank her for saving their names. Dr. Uzo embraced her and introduced his wife, Lady Maggie as he called her. Overall, it was a pleasant night. She bade the king goodnight when it was time for him to return to his chambers.

“He’s not been feeling too good”, Lolo whispered in her ears as she saw her off to a waiting car.

“How are you going, guys?” Lolo motioned to Mr. P. and Clinton who until then quietly walked behind her and Grace.

“Called the manager of the hotel and reservation has been made for a new room. Mr. P and I will accompany her back to the hotel, just to be sure. Moreover, Mr. P. would love to talk with the doctor.” Clinton answered politely.

Grace’s heart unconsciously started racing.

Did the prince just make that up or Mr. P. confided in him?

Considering the flashes and loving eyes Patrick had been casting on her the whole time at the table, she could narrow down what he may want to talk to her about. If nothing at all, Patrick should know her relationship status.

                   There were in the hotel in few minutes. The presidential suite was another place to be, with a tall window opening to a poolside just behind it, she knew she was up for something heavenly. She may even spend her night at the pool side. She needed to write a book from all of these mouth-watering experiences and water was motivation enough for her to write anytime any day.

                    Her curiosity heightened when Clinton excused himself as soon as they got to the pool side. It was a private pool attached to the presidential suite. Two recliner chairs sat under a shade to the left and the clean blue water casted images on the marble floor. Patrick willed her to take a seat before he joined in. He stared into the vacant hue for several minutes that felt like eternity in Grace’s head.

What was so hard to say, anyway?
Finally, Patrick drew a deep breath and turned to face her. His face was like one of those Angelo’s portrait.

“You know I didn’t know that idiot made you fall in love with him…” He started, slowly

Grace swallowed. She guessed as much.

“Ben has always been a soft-speaker when it comes to ladies. He had his way around their hearts, flirting with every fiber of emotion left in them and leaving them heartbroken in the end.”

Grace Philips didn’t know if she wanted to have this conversation after the kind of evening she just had. This topic ruined her feelings in ways she couldn’t describe. Patrick saw the look on her face and apologized. “We thought his marriage to Eno curbed those player tendencies. It’s just unfortunate and sad you had to find out the way you did.”

So he knew? Grace Philips felt like the ground should open up and swallow her. Patrick knew she flew to Sokoto to surprise Ben and got the rudest shock of her life?

Of course, they were guys. And guys talk.

“He lied that you were a married woman looking for something extra with him.”

“What?” Grace couldn’t believe her ears.

“Yeah, that was what the unfortunate boy told me.” Patrick shook his head in spite. “He even said that you were forcing a relationship with him against his wish. But when you came that afternoon, the moment my eyes met yours, I knew you were not all he’d painted you to be. I knew you were a woman who thought had found love in a man that caught your fancy.”

              As he spoke on, flashes of the past months came hitting Grace’s mind, running in front of her like a TV screen. A tear began to roll down her eyes and in another minute, she broke out into full-fledged downpour. Patrick stopped talking, afraid. He didn’t know what to do. He stood up to come squat in front of her, cleaning her tears,

“I am sorry, Grace. Ben never deserved you.”

Grace cautioned herself to stay calm and she succeeded. A faint smile appeared on her lips but didn’t get to her eyes.

“It’s okay, Patrick. So what do you do? Boxing?”

Patrick smiled like a puppy. “I do look so much like a warrior to you, huh? Maybe AJ?”

“Well, forgive me but your muscles are staring right in my face.”

That made him burst into a loud laughter. When he was done, he paused before speaking. “I am a professional fitness trainer. And presently, I run the OTAI fitness gym.”

Grace was wowed first of all that OTAI had a fitness gym. The package for these girls could make girls in their father’s houses envious. Wholesome, complete package, she must say.

“I want to enroll.” She reckon how much weight she’d put on since the whole heartbreak saga. “You see all these fats, I want to go for their burial.”

Patrick looked dazed because he couldn’t see what Grace was referring to. “You are so perfect, Grace. I think they call it right pound of flesh in the right places.”

The words sank into her being like cold water bath on a hot summer afternoon so much so that she blushed.

“But if you insist…”

He made her decide on when was best for her. The palace driver assigned to her would bring her to the gym or he could come pick her up too. She opted for the former.

                Their conversations took a freer note afterwards. She talked about her intention to go to their international market, sightsee the city and all the other things she had in mind. Patrick volunteered to do them all with her, whenever she was ready.

“So there’s someone I want you to meet.” He said after almost half an hour.

Grace’s eyes opened wide.

“The Obi of Onitsha.” He added

Now Grace was more confused than anything.

Thought she just had dinner with the Obi and his wife?

Patrick figured what she was thinking and smiled.

“Oh! Igwe Callistus is his father. The throne was handed over to Prince Akoji seven years ago.”

Before Grace could process his last statement in her head, she heard Patrick cheering someone over the phone.

“A.K. my guy, you missed o.”

“I know!“ A rich baritone voice came out loudly, only then did Grace realize Patrick just placed a video call. “But thought we had an agreement for after the dinner, Mr. P.”

“Yes but it can never be like the real event. Anyway, she’s here with me. Give me a second.” He brought down the phone and whispered to Grace. She was still in her royal dress, with everything intact.

“Hope you don’t mind a video call?”

She nodded and smiled.

“So my king, meet the delectable Lady Grace Philips.”

                Grace’s jaw almost dropped to the floor when she saw Akoji on the screen of Patrick’s phone. His eyes were a mesmerizing deep ocean blue. His face was strong and defined. He had dark eyebrows which sloped downwards in a serious expression. She couldn’t see his full height. Part of her wished she could. The other very small part said she should get ahold of herself. She let out a shaky sigh.

                   Akoji thought something struck him as the lady’s face came on his screen. Mr. P. had hinted him about her being beautiful but the guy probably needs to go learn more adjectives in English language. The lady in front of him had safe eyes, perhaps that’s the best way to say it. She had a facial beauty that can make those billboard-princesses look as paper thin as they are. Age hadn’t touched her kind of beauty, it was just there. If the gods were real, Akoji told himself, then this woman was their masterpiece.

“Una no go talk again?” Patrick’s voice brought them back from their thoughts.

“Hi, lifesaver Doctor.” Akoji managed to finally voice out.

“Hi, Your Highness.” She stammered her few words.

                      And what was meant to be an official meet-and-greet progressed into a special bond of friendship in a few days. Grace spent the better part of that night online. She was searching the internet for whatever she could find on that man that got her speechless. There was a connection that was beyond her. The type you can’t explain but if you know you know. The first information on him was OTAI’s annual fundraising ceremony. It’s a gathering of all the men of timbre and caliber within and outside the country. She noticed this year’s event was less than two months away.

“The Obi of Onitsha on his annual visits to royal fathers in preparation for OTAI fundraising ceremony.”  Grace read one of the headlines aloud.

              Photos of Akoji in his royal regalia meeting and discussing with other royal fathers displayed on her computer. What had Patrick said about him being the youngest royal father in history?

But how can a man be so fine? Grace Philips couldn’t believe it herself.

As she scrolled down, she saw more and more exciting headlines. Then, somewhere on the fifth page, she saw something that caught her attention.

“The crowned prince of Onitsha in tears as he gives tributes to his late wife.”

Oh! He’s even been married before. Grace thought as she quickly clicked and waited impatiently for it to load.

                 The news dated back to the official opening of OTAI five years ago which also coincided with the two years remembrance of the king’s wife, Ojonoma who died alongside her sister and parents in a ghastly motor accident on their way to the village in preparation for their wedding due in two weeks.

As Grace read the story, she couldn’t stop tears from rolling down her face. He must have loved her so much.

****

               Akoji looked at the time with his phone firmly in his hand wondering if it was a bad idea to call. Overcoming the inertia, he tapped on the number Patrick had sent to him the night before and waited for it to ring, afraid.

“Hello, your Highness.”

His mind cut when her voice filled his ears but, “How did you get my number?”

“Patrick thought I should have it so he texted it to me last night.”

Akoji smiled. Mr. P!

“Do you do any other thing aside writing and publishing papers though?” He asked, sounding genuinely curious.

Grace Philips sat up on her bed. “I don’t understand. What papers?”
Akoji took in a deep breath. “Well, all I saw on the internet about our lifesaver doctor were papers on diverse surgical diseases of children, research papers and all.”

             That sent a message to Grace. Probing further, she found out that he had been online searching for her the same time she was searching for any useful information on him. Incredible. Grace had to accept it. Something… someone was spinning her life too fast, beyond her control. Akoji asked a question from one of her papers he’d read in an international journal online.

“Did you really read it?” Grace sounded unbelieving.

“You don’t believe me?” He said coyly, reading out a paragraph that struck him out loud to her. “Now you do. So answer my question.”

Grace grinned from ears-to-ears while responding to his question and what was meant to be a ‘good morning call’ according to Akoji spanned for an hour. He gave her highlights of his tour. He was in Ife at the time, at the Ooni’s palace to be specific. Grace talked about the Ooni’s palace fondly and told him of her plans to go sightsee the city in company of Patrick.

                 The conversations went on and on throughout that day, even while on the city cruise. Patrick made a few video calls to Akoji and whenever it was time Grace’s turn to speak with him, they both were always at loss for words. Patrick felt an air of satisfaction and excitement in him. He had never seen Akoji interested in anything ‘woman’ in the past seven years. It’s about time.

               Grace had gone to the shoe area of the market the third day. She got shoes upon shoes until she couldn’t buy anymore. Lolo instructed not to get less than fifty pairs.

“You can sell them off if you like.” The woman responded when Grace asked what she would do with fifty pairs of new shoes.

Patrick never let her bring out her ATM card. He said Lolo gave him her card to use for Grace’s payments. Grace couldn’t place whether all these were a mere strand of luck or favour or purely God’s divine arrangement.

                  By the time she got in her hotel room that evening, she decided to ask the one question that tug at her mind all these while; Akoji and his late wife-to-be had a daughter. The girl whose picture she saw online couldn’t be younger than twelve years old. So did they have her years before they decided to officially get married? The story didn’t add up.

Akoji took a deep breath and paused on hearing her question. “Hallie is not my biological daughter, Lifesaver doctor.”

Lifesaver doctor, that’s what he called her.

Your highness, that’s what she called him.

               Slowly but steadily, he narrated the story of Noma. Everything. A story only Mr. P and his immediate family members knew about. He had met this young lady who took a large chunk of his heart with her only to find out she was nursing a sick five year old. He later found out that she had been raped while in the university and for fear didn’t raise alarm until it resulted in pregnancy. Her father, a well-respected academician who also had a political interest in the school at the time, couldn’t fathom the amount of shame and embarrassment she’d brought to his name so sent her to the village she’d never been to all by herself.  Noma on her own part didn’t get to the village, instead, remained in a city where she lived on the streets, uncompleted buildings and church until her paths crossed with Mrs. Gina. The woman took her in as her own child, helped her through the pregnancy period and set up a bake shop for her after the delivery of her child. Noma picked up her life fast, working hard and caring for her little girl who had been born with sickle cell disease.

                Akoji narrated his own issues with his family, the reconciliation and his willingness to damn the throne altogether if his father wouldn’t let him marry a lady with a child outside wedlock. In the end though, Noma reconciled with her family and Akoji’s father agreed to let him marry her too while still keeping the throne. It was meant to be a win-win for both of them until tragedy struck. He had even spoken with her that morning her entire family were to leave Ilorin for Ofabo in preparation for their wedding ceremony. Akoji and his people were to join them that weekend. Only for him to hear the sad news of her demise that evening.

“Noma left me with only her dreams which since then, I think I’ve been trying to fulfil to the best of my ability.”

“Trying you say? You have surpassed her dreams.”

Akoji chuckled loudly. “I feel honoured, Lifesaver Doctor.”

“I am sorry about the loss of your beloved, Your Highness!”

Hers was that a married man ordinarily walked out on her. His was losing his loved one and her entire family to death.

 How worse can life be? Grace thought.

“I have a request to make, Lifesaver Doctor.” Akoji’s voice came loudly over the phone.

Grace’s mind staggered for a while. Hopefully, he doesn’t ask her anything linked to her past relationships, or who knows how much conversations he’d had with Patrick enough to ask her about Ben.

“I want to ask you for a favour, please don’t say no!”

“Okay? Ask it already!” she voiced out her curiosity.

“Please take my mother’s offer. Move into the palace.”

Grace Philips was astonished. His mother reported her to him or what?

                 She arrived the palace noon the next day. Lolo was super glad to have her. She made them bring food enough for three persons for her to eat and by the time she was done eating halfway, her eyelids began to close. Talking with Akoji until late in the night added to that drowsiness.

                  A sharp noise woke her up and she wondered for how long she’d been sleeping. Sad still, the noise wasn’t reducing an inch. It sounded like several people chanting or shouting? She couldn’t tell. The window of her room, unfortunately, wasn’t opening to the front of the palace so she rubbed her palm over her scattered hair before running out of the room. Everywhere looked deserted. There were areas she’d spotted palace guards manning, those areas were empty as she ran down the fleets of stairs. Everyone must be outside.

So what’s going on outside

The crowd that greeted her from the door had a life of its own, the vibrant different royal clothing shone in the evening light and the people move like an array of water poured over a smooth surface. Grace had never been claustrophobic before, but in that split moment, she felt the panic rise in her chest. She stood glued to the doorpost when a realization dawned on her.

The king just returned from his tour.

They spoke for several hours last night and even while she was relocating to the palace this afternoon yet he hadn’t mentioned his arrival at any point. A wave of disappointment attempted to flash over her until she saw him step out of the limousine.

                  The greatness of Akoji came from the way he loved. He was one who truly listened, with the heart as well as the eyes and ears. Grace saw this while one of the elders tried to say something to him. He saw the whole person in a way that others did not, as if he alone was somewhere calm while the rest could only attempt to have vision in the dust.

                      Grace almost sank into the ground as he approached the door, hand-in-hand with a young girl she guessed was Hallie and flanked by his mother, brother and Patrick. His gaze appeared to be fixed on her and that made her tummy boil. The guards making way for him on the long stretch of red carpet from his limousine to the door post moved right in front. He paused in his track when he got to her and so did everyone. He looked even more handsome than she thought was possible. He was handsome from the depth of his eyes to the gentle expressions of his voice. He was handsome from his generous opinions to the touch of his hand upon hers.

“Lifesaver Doctor?”
Grace nodded in the affirmative. “Yes, your highness”

She loved the way his voice quickened as he said those words. Two lines appeared on his face when he smiled. As each year passes, those lines will deepen upon his face, he will be more handsome still, as if his soul shines through his skin.

“Hey, pretty angel.” Grace managed to avoid Akoji’s intense stare. They had forgotten the crowd around them.

Hallie released her father’s hand and stretched her right hand towards Grace. “My name is Hallie, my mother think it’s short for hallelujah but that’s not before us now. I’m a junior in high school and my holiday just started. The highlight of my day being that my father here came to pick me from school himself. Just so you know, I am my daddy’s princess.”

Everyone laughed. Lolo drew the girl’s head nearer herself. Such a smart kid.

“So who are you, ma’am? Mind introducing yourself?”

“Hallie!” Lolo exclaimed from behind her.

“Oh no, Hallie. I don’t mind. My name is Grace. Grace Philips.” Grace cut in.

“Okay? Is your father a king too?”

Akoji quickly bent low to become the little girl’s height. “Sunshine, why not let’s go see Gramps, alright? You’d meet the lady later. Okay?”

“Okay daddy.” She responded excitedly, rushing into the building.

Grace was blown-away and afraid at the same time.

How old is she again? She wanted to ask.

Akoji asked her to join in as himself, Lolo and Hallie went into his father’s chambers.

They met at the fountain in front of the house later that night to talk.

“I wanted it to be a surprise.” Akoji said when she confronted him about not letting her in on his arrival plans.

“Cos I was beginning to doubt if we were still friends.” She muttered almost inaudibly.

Akoji cleared his throat, bringing her attention to him. “I intend to keep this friendship for a very long time, Lifesaver Doctor.”

                    Grace smiled briefly. A heavy silence settled over them, thicker than the uneasy tension in the atmosphere. Unsettled eyes glanced around, trying to avoid catching each other. She shifted uncomfortably on her seat. Her mouth was almost too dry to speak. She began to nod more than an idiot and croak out.
“I… I should probably go to bed now.” She got up while still speaking.

Akoji got up too and came to stand tall in front of her. He grasped his sweaty nervous hands. “Yea?”

Grace Philips smiled and Akoji thought that’s the sweetest thing he’d seen in years. “Good night!” she finally voiced with all the energy left in her, and turned quickly willing her legs to take her to her room as fast as possible.

                  Her phone still rang about a quarter hour after she got in bed. It was Akoji. At first she felt uncomfortable that they could be making hour-long calls under the same roof but over time, it became a tradition. Akoji’s chamber was far away from her own wing in the massive palace building. He called her early in the morning, severally during the day and last thing at night. And whenever he was busy with work, they communicated via text messages. He asked for his own version of sightseeing the town together, but couldn’t join her in buying things on the market streets. He was the king of the land.

In the two weeks since his arrival, they’d grown to know each other like it has been forever.

“I think I got my flat tummy back, your Highness.” She rubbed her tummy more vigorously.

Akoji had a private gym in the palace where he trained, sometimes in the company of Mr. P. He let Grace use the gym with him for her arranged training sessions with Patrick.

“Let me guess. You’re not coming today, are you?”

Grace looked at herself closely in the mirror before her. She’d grown extremely fond and close to Hallie too. “Well, Hallie said to play a game with her. So, yes. I wouldn’t be coming today.”

She heard a deep disappointed sigh from Akoji’s end.

“And I cannot join your game?” he feigned seriousness.

“Go jor. It’s a ladies’ thing.”

Akoji’s laughter came through her ears when she also heard beeps on her phone. She removed it a little to see what was going on. A call.

“Your highness, please let me talk to Grace.”

He knew who Grace was. He’d heard about the two Graces enough to write a practical manual on them.

“You have been on an unending call in the last hour, Gracey.” Grace Oladele’s loud voice filled the air.

“I was talking to the Obi.” She answered firmly.

“Do you mean obi as in ‘heart’, or Obi, ‘ruler’?” Grace Oladele jeered and Grace Philips laughed. “Thought you’re under the same roof, how come you still talk for so long?”

A sweet smile danced around Grace Philips’ face as if her friend could see it over the phone.

****

              Mrs. Gina quickly dropped the ceramic plate in the sink and hurried back to the dining table where the loud ringtone of her phone came from. Her face lit up as she saw the caller.

“How did my son remember me today?”

Akoji chuckled. “I always remember you, mummy. How can I ever forget?”

They exchanged pleasantries and Akoji asked the usual questions about her health. She was fine. Glory to God.

“So hope you have not forgotten the OTAI event coming up soon, mummy?”

Mrs. Gina was amazed. “Me? How can I forget? You know I miss my daughter very much.”

“I know, mum.” Akoji said after taking in a deep breath. “But we have consolation that she’s in a better place and through her initiative, thousands are being transformed year in year out.”

Mrs. Gina nodded in the affirmative. He was right. Very right.

However, as Akoji said his final words, something struck her.

“It’s seven years now, dear son. I’m sure Noma is worried and would be very excited to watch you find love again.”

There was a long span of silence on the other side. The way Akoji normally does when he had something on his mind. Mrs. Gina figured there was more to this call than just checking up on her.

“You sound like someone is winning your heart already, Akoji.”

Akoji remained silent and that was all the answer Mrs. Gina needed.

                He held firmly onto his phone after leaving off the call to Mrs. Gina. In the first two years after Noma’s death, he’d been all about realizing the OTAI dream and also getting cure for Hallie’s ailment. The next year saw him having no interest whatsoever in women. In fact, sometimes, he felt Noma would be disappointed in him if he said more than ‘good morning’ to another lady. His mother had tried. Brought myriad of royal princesses from other kingdoms as well as women she thinks were his taste. None ever caught his fancy.

The door creaked and his attention went there.

“Mother!” he got up and embraced her.

Lolo Beatrice looked as stunning as always. She moved to come sit right beside him on the bed and that made Akoji feel uncomfortable. Hopefully, she wasn’t here to give him any lecture.

                      Lolo Beatrice sat quietly. Her motherly instinct told her there was something her son had to say, so she would be patient. On that note, she waited.

“Mother…” Akoji started, after what felt like eternity.

“Yes Nwam!” she turned to face him, bearing love in the greatest ways he could ever imagine.

“I think she’s Google search engine.”

Lolo’s eyeballs pop out, confused.

“Grace, the lifesaver doctor,” He said, coming to face his mother squarely. “I think she’s Google search engine, mother. Because since her, I’ve found all that I’ve been searching for in my life.”

Lolo felt the impulse to scream out for joy, but cautioned herself. This was an answered prayer nothing must ruin. “Are you sure of what you’re saying, son?” 

Akoji gave a sarcastic laughter. “You always tell me that whenever I meet the one, I just know, right?”

Lolo nodded in the affirmative.

“So, I’m sure, mother. I love the feeling and butterflies I get when I see her smile. I would love to make her smile that way for the rest of her life.”

It’s happening. It’s real. Lolo couldn’t curtail it. “Have you told her all these?”

“No, mother. I don’t know if she would want me…” He gave a dour expression and Lolo placed her hand over his shoulder. 

“And you’d never know until you try.”

**** 

They were giggling and laughing loud in the sitting room of Lolo’s chamber. Grace has always loved children with contagious passion and having to spend memorable time with Hallie meant the world to her.

“So dare.” Hallie screamed at the top of her voice.

Grace Philips put a finger on her chin as she thought of what to dare Hallie with.

“Alright!” an idea crossed her mind. “You play ballets in school, right?” she didn’t wait for a response. “Now I dare you to stand on your toes for thirty seconds.”

Hallie almost burst into laughter. “That’s so simple…” she jumped up and was already standing on her toe at one trial.

Grace was wowed to say the least.

“Truth or dare?” Hallie motioned to her.

Grace knew she couldn’t handle any ‘dare’ right now.

“Truth.”

Hallie smiled mischievously. They were strictly bound by the rules of the game. Truth demands one responds to all questions truthfully while dare demands one carries out whatever instructions mete out by the other person.

Curiosity filled Grace’s eyes as the 12year old was taking forever to ask her question.

“So truth, aunty Grace.” Hallie reiterated. “Alright. Here is my question.” She paused and Grace shifted on her seat. “Would you marry my daddy if he asked you to?”

               Grace’s brain stuttered for a moment and her eyes took in more light than she expected, every part of her goes on pause while her thoughts caught up. She felt like she was trying to breath, unable to speak, totally stunned as the question bounced around inside her skull. She stared at the curtain hanging down at the entrance whose door was open.

“Truth, aunty Grace…” Hallie called out. “Would you marry my daddy if he asked you to?”

“Yes.” She yelled as the echoes in her brain wouldn’t let her be.

“See, I told you!” Lolo’s excited voice came through the door and Grace jerked up immediately only to see Akoji following closely behind his mother.

In a flash, Lolo held Hallie and they both disappeared behind the curtains leaving Akoji and Grace standing face to face with each other. She fixed her gaze on the tiles as though counting the lines on them.

                    Akoji didn’t know how to handle what his heart was suggesting. Funny thing is he had always dreamed of having two children, Joshua and Grace. Only that now mother and child may be namesakes. He gathered the last strength left in him and drew closer. Afraid. He wasn’t sure of what would happen next but he was sure of this. This self-same hour. He knew what was happening now and that was enough because his eyes caught Grace’s foot shift forward a bit too… in his direction.

TWO GRACES – THE END

So it’s a wrap, guys!

We have come to the end of TWO GRACES.

Please join the conversation on Twitter tomorrow Tuesday, 7pm. Tag me @GraciousElara and use the hashtags #graceochigbostories #twograces #nomasdream on all your posts.

Looking forward to having a good time with you all.

Did you enjoy this story? Please leave a comment.

Loads of love.

Grace.

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About Grace Ochigbo

Grace Ochigbo
Grace Ochigbo is a Christian, storyteller, inspirational speaker and the Founder of Gemstone Sickle Cell Aid Team, a non-profit organizations working to end Sickle Cell Disease. email; ochigbogracious0@gmail.com

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