TWO GRACES – GRACE OCHIGBO
Rhoda dragged herself into the office to the drab greetings of her staff. They were less pleased to see her today for whatever reason, or so she thought. She told a joke, she always did when she entered the office and none of them ever laughed. She walked up to each desk to make the small talk she knew she should and got the usual reserved response. Wearing her big smile, she clutched her handbag tighter and slunk into her office.
“Perhaps,” she thought to herself, “I should order some doughnuts, everyone likes doughnuts.” She sat so heavily in her chair that the leather creaked and it swiveled faster than she had expected. After waving her long hair to the back of her neck, she picked up the intercom to call the café. The doughnuts seemed like the right thing to do.
“…Yes, five packs. MD’s office. Sixth floor.” She replaced the receiver.
Board meetings were always like invisible jail bars. The bars hold her with fourteen others, while the chairman’s end chair blocks the door. To leave is to invite of the cold hands of unemployment. An hour, two hours, and the board room must have reached on all time level of boredom. The reports looked difficult to interpret. Her whole insides shouted, ‘just shut up. Let us go!” She would think that the chairman was about to conclude. Oh no. He announced “And another thing…” then the meeting continued for two more hours. That’s been it today. She’s understandably tired and presently nursing a headache as a result of accumulated stress in addition to continuous sleepless nights.
Meanwhile, she has got five urgent calls to return. Every one of them was a sure sell but one topped it all for her. She scrolled to that number on her list of ‘missed calls’ and tapped to call back. As she waited for the person on the other end of the call to pick up, she placed her back tiredly against the backrest of her seat, shut her eyes tight and allowed memories flash back through her head.
Dr. Grace Philips curved the right side of her lips into a light smile as she nodded in the affirmative, urging the student to go on.
The student in his sparkling white ward coat and a name tag so bold it can be read from the extreme of the room bent his head towards the ground like he read the next answer from there.
“Look here,” Grace called his attention while trying to pronounce his surname on the name tag. “Oghe…ne…ro…” she gave up. “From Warri or Delta?”
The student’s face brightened up. “Delta, ma.”
Grace felt an impulse to dig on, ‘What part of Delta are you from?’, ‘What tribe in particular?’ and all those questions they sometimes get tempted to ask as part of reinforcing trainers-learners relationship in the ward but decided against it so as not to lose her initial line of thought.
“There is a wisdom behind answering this type of question for your level, alright?” She moved her eyes from the students to the residents standing to her right side. “You don’t go headlong to call ‘anemia’ as a cause of shock. Why is that?” she rose an eyebrow and continued. “Because anemia is a broad term on its own having several causes.” She paused and found the student’s eyes eventually. “At this level, we’re more interested in how many you know than how deep.”
She heard the registrars mutter something and chuckle. Dr Akintan was always the pioneer of all those inaudible contributions and she’s tired of asking them to say it out loud enough for everyone to hear if they thought it that important.
“So clinical three…” she faced the senior class of students, “List the causes of shock…”
She let them take turns to call out, each mentioning two. Then the clinical one students were busy writing down every point like machines. There was no telling them to listen more than writing now, because to them, writing every point down was their surest bet at acquiring knowledge. They wrote so much so that at a point she wondered if they jotted down her smiles, jests and maybe silence too. She mentioned a few points on the concept of shock, promptly classifying the causes under broad headings and giving relevant examples.
“What’s wrong with this patient?” she motioned to Dr. Akintan.
“Ma, patient is a four-year old…” he reels on, as Grace pulled the little boy’s file closer to check what had been documented so far. Then she sighted something,
“Oh… consult sent yet?”
Dr. Akintan nodded in the affirmative. “Yes, ma. This morning. And so far investigations …”
The man was still talking when Grace thought she saw a figure walk past the transparent window adjourning the patient’s bed. She felt her heart skip beats which got worse when the entrance door to the ward opened.
A group of people walking into the ward while she’s on her rounds. They were five persons in all but her attention was only seized by one.
“Dr. Grace? How great!”
Grace nodded uncomfortably, managing a smile.
“From neurosurgery. We got your consult and are here to review.” He smiled with more than his mouth and Grace heard it in his voice, in the way it came from deep inside to light his eyes and spread into every part of him. Dr Akintan stepped forward at the mention of ‘consult’. He looked pleasantly surprised… maybe that they were here already? He’d just sent it barely an hour ago.
“It’s okay if you’re seeing the patient. We will just wait until you are done.”
Grace Philips finally found her voice. “No. Why?” she picked up the patient’s case note and stretched it towards him, “You are the visitor. We are in our own house.” She found that statement funny and noticed a few broad smiles on most faces but continued anyway, “Just get on with him.” She said, excusing herself and walking in the direction of the bed on the opposite side.
“Dr. Grace?” the voice stopped her in her tracks. “Don’t forget.” He said, almost a whisper.
Her mouth was almost too dry to speak. She nodded like an idiot and then croak out, “I won’t, Dr. Ben!”
Ethan’s face was beet red and his skin glistens in a way that has Alice worried. His lips were puffed out, and the skin on them showed signs of dehydration. Even completely stripped down in a cozy room, he’s burning up; radiating heat like a pan right out of the oven. He ate nothing. His mother had pumped him with every necessary drug they got from that evening after the seminar. He became well. Well enough to resume crèche the next day, and the day after that and another three consecutive days thereafter. But today? After they returned from school, Ethan had been eaten up from within by something that intends to cook him, scorching his usually fair skin so red. Little Omojo came to hold his still fingers only to drop them in fright, shocked by his inner furnace.
“Big man!” Isaac Oladele said, pressing a towel dipped in cold water on the boy’s body. The towel seemed to smoke up immediately.
This is not good.
“Did his teachers say anything, Alice?” he questioned Ethan’s nanny.
The young lady hurriedly ran to come kneel in front of Isaac. She’s been told uncountable times to stop kneeling whenever she wanted to talk but her mentality placed a premium on her to do so and there was little or nothing to be done about it.
“No, sir. They only said he didn’t eat his lunch.”
“So you brought the pack back?”
She nodded hurriedly in the affirmative.
Isaac looked up at the wall clock. It was quite humiliating that he was at loss for what was the best thing to do. He looked at Ethan. The little boy was in obvious distress. Fear thoughts looped around his mind until there was no room for anything else. The ‘loop’ played like this. “Calling Gray back home may be necessary’, ‘…but she may be busy too’, “What if keeping the boy in here was the most dangerous thing to do?” that thought jerked him up to his feet.
“Get Omojo ready, Alice!” the haste in his voice threw the young lady from the sitting room where she knelt before him to the stairs leading to the kids’ room.
Isaac found his heart praying earnestly that nothing will happen to his beloved son.
“Oh lord, please?” a groan almost broke lose.
He cautioned himself to be still. He was still the man of the house. Alice was good with speed and accuracy and in split seconds, she ran back downstairs cupping drowsy Omojo tightly to her side.
“We are going to the hospital!” he announced, leading the way with Ethan hanging down his left shoulder and his right hand tapping on his phone. As the car blinked at the touch on the remote, he placed the phone against his ears.
“Gray, we are on our way to the hospital. Ethan’s body temperature is bad.”
He could hear the panic in his wife’s voice. He could claim he was prepared for that reaction only that this came worse than he’d expected. He took in a deep calming breath.
“Oh lord, please!” he prayed in his heart again as he settled into the driver’s place in the car while Alice sat at the back with the kids.
His focus was scattered, so filled with nervous anticipation. Was he so excited? Or even giddy? They hadn’t been able to hold a conversation all afternoon and he? He couldn’t sit still while his thoughts danced in infinite directions. Yet he had to get through this date in one piece. He had found her number and called her yesterday. The lady didn’t sound excited to hear from him. In fact, it was as though he intruded something really serious.
“Are you there?” he’d called out when he realized Grace’s attention was divided. He apologized for not dropping by the office as he’d promised the first day they met around her clinic. It was due to a meeting, an important meeting he had to travel for. It was an emergency journey, but he should have called, yea? He thought about it but discarded the thought as soon as it came. He could bet Grace wouldn’t be interested in that lunch date he’d proposed. Her facial expression at the corridor of her clinic that afternoon hadn’t given anything away. He was already running the risk of being tagged ‘a disrespectful fellow’. Who uses a colleague’s help for a research to get a grant and wouldn’t inform her when the grant came? Ben. He’d heard quite a handful about her when he was about contacting her for materials to aid his research.
“Dr. Philips is a no-nonsense woman. Dude, you got to tread with caution.” Said Anthony, one of his friends that claimed to have written his part 1 exam alongside Grace who emerged as the overall best student in West Africa at the time.
“All these old and rich females without a man in their lives can really be a hard knock to crack. Sha be careful!” Was from Esther, another colleague of his.
“Well, I won’t tell you to give up o, but I can bet on my next salary that Dr. Philips will wear you out before ever releasing any material to you.”
Ben Afang had gone into a long moment of thoughts after all the negative reviews and more he’d gotten from friends and colleagues about the lady he never knew. The internet revealed she had a couple of research works published on his field of interest and for the entire South Western region that was an integral part of his work, only Grace Philips could provide what he needed.
To his utter disappointment, the lady turned out to be the direct opposite of what his friends made him postulate. It’s dangerous to rate a person using another’s weighing balance. Opinions and perspectives will forever be different even amidst like-minded individuals. Grace hadn’t even taken up to a week to turn in the materials he needed. And a ‘thank you’ mail was the last bridge between them until the clinic day.
He’s really interested in knowing this ‘iron lady’ sitting pretty in front of him, unravel her a bit some and who knows? It may be the answer.
“So…” he cleared his throat and sat up uneasily. “How’s the day been?”
Grace pushed the cup of juice in front of her aside a little bit. She had tried to distract herself by staring into the cup the whole time.
“So far, so good.” She said slowly. “Technically, I’m done for today!”
“Wow, so I can have you all to myself for the rest of the day then?” Ben’s words clogged at his teeth as soon as they spewed out. Ouch! Maybe he shouldn’t have said that. He need be careful in how much of his thoughts he lets see the light of day.
Grace gave a cynical smile. She didn’t even know how to respond to that question. The man in front of her was doing more harm to the fences she’d built around her emotional life all these years than good. When he smiled at her, she felt invisible hands wrapping around her, making her feel safe. When their eyes meet, she could see galaxies inside of those pupils. She kept cautioning her brain but looked like that vital organ of hers was right in front of neurosurgeon Ben’s operating table. It was purely at his mercy.
Before yesterday, she’d rehearsed how displeased and provoked she would sound whenever Ben eventually got the sense to call her. He had stood her up and dashed her entire hopes for the day. She didn’t think she would be at loss for what to say when he asked her out for lunch again during the call yesterday. Kay was waiting in the dining room, there she was in her bedroom strapped between saying a yes or no to Ben’s request. She said she would have to call Ben back on that. That was a good get away, at least it made her enjoy her evening at the Ife Grande resort with Kay.
There was a circular lawn with a path around it a few meters drive into the resort. There was a central bed of shrubs. Outside of the lawn area were four hibiscus bush beds to fill up the square and the patterned white and purple colors made everywhere near celestial. They walked into the African kitchen. Cool place. Huts built in the most magical way, one would want to spend forever just sitting in those shades. Kay and her spoke a little about everything. From profession, to faith, to experiences, to believes, to challenges in medical practices at home and in the diaspora. They were both careful not to mention anything about their emotions. It was better cocked in the bottle it should remain in. Kay dropped her at home after three long and enjoyable hours and they said their farewells, like high school lovers who wouldn’t leave each other’s sight for no reason in the world.
By the time Grace collapsed on her bed, she remembered. Picking up her phone with her mind questioning her repeatedly, ‘what do you think you are doing, Grace?’ she held down the power button until the device went off. When she got up this morning, the moment it took on the treadmill until arrival at work, she was done with the haunted feeling that had her the better of the night.
‘Thankfully, today’s my round!’ she thought. That would engage her and reduce her chances of a minute of being alone with her thoughts.
But fate had other plans because Ben led the group from the neurosurgery department that came to review her patient. And when he told her not to forget, she knew she was roped.
Her rounds took longer than usual today. The in-patients were a little more than usual and aside being the doctor, she loves to take her time with every child she’s attending to. She looks at them and feel this love and compassion gushing out from her insides towards them. Except today, she always brought little toys alongside for some of the kids. The kids get so fond of her, some of her colleagues refer to them as ‘Dr. Philips’ children’. Her fulfilment knows no bound whenever she’s to discharge any of them. The gratitude and joy in the eyes of their mothers who must have spent days at the hospital with them, the not-so-obvious happy smiles on the lips of fathers who breezed in and out of the ward throughout the admission period. There all summed up to a fulfilling life for her.
Handling her phone after the rounds, she saw a couple of missed calls including one from Kay, two from Dr. Ben and a message from him as well.
‘Please don’t forget!’ was the simple message.
Another call from him, another ‘please don’t forget’ message, and a ‘you can come pick me in five minutes’ from her landed them here in Country kitchen.
She’d deliberately chosen this place, regardless of the far distance from the hospital for one very important reason. She put her phone on silence on getting here also because she was certain Kay would call – to check in on her, meet up for their now frequent lunch dates if she’s available, inquire if there was any problem if she’s not available.
“Well, I guess it’s time to leave.” Grace Philips said, glancing at her wristwatch before facing Ben squarely.
“I guess I’ve been such a boring company all this while?”
“Oh no!” Grace cut him when the words were barely off his mouth. “It was a good time. Especially that we are just getting to know each other!” she tried to mask her feelings while putting up a feigned boldness”.
Ben heaved a sigh of relief. “So I’ll drop you over at your house?”
“Oh no!” Grace jerked involuntarily before she could stop herself. She hoped Ben wasn’t a mind reader, else she would be dead soonest.
“Okay, seems I’ll be getting only an ‘oh no’ response for a long time?”
“Oh no!” Grace cut in eagerly again. Then saw the point as her face met with his and they both burst into a slight laughter. “Well, I mean, I still need to go back to the hospital. My car is parked there.”
“That’s true!” Ben said,
Grace’s relief could be read on her face as air of calmness flushed over it. She had successfully wriggled herself out of this. She got up and adjusted the edges of her dress before picking her handbag. “Had a good time today. Thank you!”
Ben joined her as they headed towards the exit. “I’ll only take that on one condition!”
“What?” Grace’s curiosity knew no bounds.
Tara didn’t think it was part of her job to keep track of Dr. Philips’ movements. No matter how down-to-earth humble Grace was around her, she was sure to keep the official line intact. She was her chief – high senior chief for that matter.
“She’s not been to work today?”
“No, sir. She had her rounds earlier this morning!” she said politely, writing some investigation procedures on a slip to be taken to the lab by the mother of one of the patients.
Kay adjusted his tie. He was wearing a grey suit and for some unexplainable reasons, he could never be seen on a ward coat. While dropping Grace over at her place yesterday, they still agreed on their usual lunch date on the ground that she would call him whenever she was done with her rounds. He pretty much had a free day today, so he decided to go do some unofficial stuffs – meet up with one of his friends at orthopedics department. It was a stone throw from Grace’s department so he scheduled it in such a way that she would likely be done by the time he would be done too. He’d waited unending for her call and when it wouldn’t come, he tried to call but she wasn’t picking up.
“Madam, take this to white house…” he overheard Tara instructing the patient’s relative.
He had taken the initiative to come to Grace’s office and met it locked. It was on his way through the corridors, he sighted Tara in the ward and thought to ask about Grace’s whereabouts.
“When did she finish her rounds?” he pressed further.
Tara Albert wiped a sweat off her forehead. If only this man realized that she was the only house officer in this busy pediatric surgery unit, he would let her save the last of her strength left. “I wouldn’t know, sir, as I was sent to get some investigation results from phase one. She was done by the time I returned.”
Kay tried to suppress the ill-feeling he was having. He wanted to ask another question when…
“Tara, call Dr. Philips immediately!”
“Okay, sir!” Tara responded to the agitated command of Dr. Akintan. She never liked the man. He had this attitude that puts her off completely.
Tara moved over to the nurses’ desk where she’d dropped her phone earlier and noticed what looked like an emergency. Pressing her phone with one hand, she hurried to the corridor to have a proper view of what was going on. Whatever it was, Dr. Akintan was supposed to be the one to call the consultant on call, not her. But she had noticed, since her resumption here, that Dr. Akintan would never call to relate matters to Dr. Philips. Perhaps, he felt too big to sub serve a woman, or because he was obviously older than Grace, he couldn’t just bring himself to doing it or whatever the reason, Tara couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t discharge his official duties without using her as a middle cord.
She brought down the phone from her ear as it rang out to redial. She could feel her heart beating fast as she tapped the dial icon again. Hopefully, Pediatric surgeon Grace Philips picked her call at this all-important time.
…I go make you cry happiness. Will you forgive me for the happy tears? Just know I will always be right there. Oh oh halleluya ah…
She let her eyes shut lightly as she drowned in the melody of the song oozing from the player of the car. She wondered if this was part of what Ben claimed to know about her because rightly, Simi’s ‘by You’ ft Adekunle Gold was one of her favorite songs in the world.
“I go stand by you uh, I go stand by you!” she hummed out loudly.
“I see you love the song!” Ben said loud enough for her to hear while increasing the volume some.
She sat up. “You bet I do.”
“One more thing we have in common then!” Ben’s smile carved the arc over his eyes.
“What is or are the other things?”
Ben kept a smile on his face like a plaster and viewing from the side of his face was really appealing to Grace. He should just answer the question already.
“I’ll tell you one per outing. And there are a thousand of them. So it would take a thousand outings to get them all out.”
That made Grace Philips chuckle. She couldn’t believe she was back here – here where things were so surreal she didn’t know how to distinguish sincerity from exaggeration. But one thing was sure, the fact that Ben was pressing her right button, and holding it down really hard.
As they drove nearer phase one gate, Grace remembered she still had this device called a phone that was a means of communication especially in the face of emergency from any distance. She brought it out and saw a lot of calls expectedly only that she was surprised to see Tara’s. She wondered why her house officer would call her three times in a row and made to call back immediately as Ben drove past the security checkpoint. Then she sighted someone.
“Wait!” she motioned to Ben.
“You are not going to your department again?” the man asked, perplexed.
“Please drive into the parking lot.” She sounded worried yet trying to keep her eyes in the same direction so as not to lose sight of whoever she’d seen.”
She quickly tapped on her phone and Ben put off the music seeing she placed the device against her ear. Ben had merely brought the car to a halt in the parking lot when Grace hurried out and over to another car that seemed to be driving out. Ben sat back and watched her call the attention of the person inside the car. He had to admit that Grace Philips was beautiful in all regards.
“Gracey? Oh thank God.” Grace Oladele voiced as soon as her car mirrors were down. “No one has been able to reach you all day.”
“What’s the matter?” Grace Philips couldn’t keep her calm anymore.
Grace Philips gasped. “Oh my God. What happened to my cute little boy?”
Alice held Omojo’s hand up the stairs. The little girl had an adult in her. She’d held Ethan’s hand on their way to the hospital earlier, shut her eyes and said something that surprised Alice.
“God, I want my brother’s to come with me to school tomorrow. Amen.”
Then she opened her eyes and gave her father’s right arm a light punch. “Say Amen, daddy!”
Isaac Oladele’s mind had been too occupied to know whatever he was supposed to be saying ‘Amen’ to but he said it anyway.
Now that it was time to take her to bed,
“Mum, would Ethan go with me to school tomorrow?” she asked.
Grace Oladele’s tired eyes looked at her, at her innocence. “By God’s grace, my darling. Right now, you have to go and sleep too, OK?”
“Good night, mum. Good night, aunty!”
Grace Philips faced her friend as soon as Alice and Omojo were out of the sitting room. “Your faith level is so low, Gracie!”
Her eyes shifted to the side again and became glazed with a glassy layer of tears. As she blinked, they dripped from her eyelids and slid down her cheeks. She bit her lip tightly in attempt to hide any sound that wanted to escape from her mouth; Grace Philips’ heart sank.
“How could I not have known?” her lower lip quivered as words slowly made their way out of her mouth. “He’s…” she began, yet what followed was engulfed in the tremors.
“It happens, Gray. We’ve been assured it’s not so much a cause for worry. Isn’t it, Dr. Philips?” Isaac walked in holding a ceramic plate of chips and set it before his wife.
Grace Philips nodded in the affirmative. “Absolutely, Isaac.” She picked her friend’s hands. “Everything will be alright before you know it, Gracie. Believe me!”
“You know I should be doing what you are doing right now, right? Honey, you are the professional here…”
That made Grace Oladele smile. She couldn’t place it herself why she was so worried sick even after the treatment measures had been spelt out clearly and the little boy stabilized before they left the hospital a while ago. She had her husband here, and her friend of all times too, why was the entire world still looking dampened with sad clouds?
Ethan would be fine, she muttered underneath her breath.
“Made your favorite chips and sauce.” Isaac took the plate and came to sit on the handle of the chair beside her.
“Honey, I’m not hungry!”
“I am. And we share the same stomach. It means you are too!”
Grace Philips almost said ‘awwwn’ but cautioned herself. Now was no ‘catching feelings’ moment. Still, she loved the way Isaac loved her friend, so pure so genuine.
Isaac picked a chip, dipped it in the little bowl of sauce and pushed it between his wife’s reluctant lips. As soon as she began to chew, he planted a kiss on her forehead. “Believe me, God is in charge of the situation!”
That felt completely reassuring for Grace Oladele as she relaxed to chew a little more.
Grace Philips cleared her throat so as to bring back the couple’s attention, “Eheen! Me I don’t know how to eat chips, huh?”
Isaac laughed hysterically, hurriedly bringing the plate near Grace Philips’ reach.
The latter frowned playfully. “No. I have to quickly get a man that would make my favorite chips for me too o. I can’t take this anymore…”
She rattled on and on and the couple laughed hard. She continued even more so because her friend was genuinely laughing. She deserved it. Then the laughter stopped, like putting off an AC in a hot weather.
“Talking about man, was that our dear ‘every woman’s dream’ Kayode Matthew?”
Grace Philips looked at her friend, feigning ignorance.
“C’mon, you know what I’m talking about!” Grace Oladele tickled her until a laughter escaped her throat. “Or, are you shy of Isaac?”
“Oh no!” Grace jerked up with her characteristic defensive response. “Shy, why?”
Isaac stood up and yawned loudly. “Honey, I think I should get some sleep. I’ll stay with the kids.”
Grace Philips knew that trick. “Seriously Isaac, you don’t have to excuse yourself. There’s no big deal. The man was…”
“I’m just too drowsy, my darling.” He pecked his wife and gave Grace Philips a side hug before trudging upstairs.
The two Graces were just smiling shyly. How the man knew when to give them privacy, when to give company, when to do just what needed to be done beat their imagination but then, they were both grateful Grace Oladele married her perfect match.
Grace Philips blinked. “So what?” she shrugged.
“Who was the guy from this afternoon?”
“My friend. We…” she started but the vibration of her phone cut her shut. She raised a finger and dragged the ‘receive’ icon sideways.
Grace Philips slowly turned until she became as white as chalk. Her eyes and mouth were frozen wide open in an expression of stunned surprise, and although she was staring straight at the TV, she appeared not to notice anything.
Grace Oladele had never seen her friend this way before. Grace Philips face fell faster than the economy of a particular black country. She couldn’t wait until the phone was completely off Grace Philip’s ears to ask,
“What’s wrong, Gracie?” the concern in her voice filled the entire room.
To be continued,
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Happy new month tomorrow! ���