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TWO GRACES – SIX

TWO GRACES – GRACE OCHIGBO
SIX

                       Kay’s clinical judgment on her mother’s health further reiterated Grace’s initial suspicions. The older woman had been compliant with her medications, she hadn’t felt dizzy or lightheaded neither had her blood pressure risen any higher than its normal range. In fact, it was lower than the last. What Grace didn’t understand while seeing Kay off to the gate was why the woman had to play pranks just so to come visit her.

“Perhaps, she’s lonely.” Kay suggested, placing a hand on her shoulders. “She could really use your company if my point is true.”

Grace took in a deep breath and waited until Kay’s car was out of sight before going back into the house. Her mother was still sitting on the settee with her hand firmly holding onto the DSTV remote. Grace didn’t know the right thing to do so she attempted to walk past the sitting room to the kitchen.

“When was the last time you heard from Gideon?”

This stopped her in her tracks. She placed her hand on her thighs before coming to sit down beside the older woman.

“When his wife had Joanne, mum.”

“That was nine months ago.” Shock and surprise filled the woman’s voice. “How about Godson?”

Grace swallowed against a tightening on her throat. She could guess the fate of this conversation already. “He said something about his job not giving him enough time. But we talk though. Most times via responding to his statuses on WhatsApp!” She rarely puts anything up on that media.

“Can you listen to yourself?” Mrs. Eju Philips voice had sore concern in it. “You last heard from your own immediate younger brother, Gideon, nine months ago? Now let’s excuse that he’s staying in Ghana with his family. That is even just an hour flight away…” The woman furrowed her forehead. “But Godson is in Lagos nau… right?” she rose an eyebrow. “Or I don’t know the whereabouts of my second son anymore?”

Grace was managing to keep her cool. “Godson is rightly in Lagos, mum.”

“Yet you only talk by responding to Whatsapp statuses? How will I expect you to be in touch with Gabriel now?”

Grace smiled sweetly. “Gab boy! You know that one is more of my son than yours, mum. I can’t go a week without hearing from him.”

She watched her mother take in calming breaths.

               Grace was two years older than her immediate younger brother who’s also two years older than his own immediate. The only person that broke the 2years gap jinx was Gabriel. Her mother once talked about how she and the general had been done with childbirth long before ‘God gave them Gabriel’. Grace Philips was already a grown up young woman in the university when she got the news of the birth of her kid brother… her son. All these years, she’d taken him that way, a son. She ensure he did outstandingly well in school and even up till now that he’s rounding up air force training in the states, she still made sure to check his grades. Funny how overtly meticulous Grace Philips could be on someone she truly cared about.

“What I am trying to tell you, daughter, is…”

Grace coughed as she heard that familiar line from her mother again. She was about to begin her tales by midnight admonitions.

“No matter what, you are a mother to these boys. However grown and with a family Gideon is…” Shior! Mother to a full grown family man ke? Grace rolled her eyes wondering why her mother added the emphasis. “He’s still that little brother of yours that was playing video games alongside friends in the barracks. Don’t stop caring for them.”

Who would care for mother Theresa Grace Philips now? Grace’s thoughts almost spilled out.

“That reminds me.” Mrs. Philips dragged her attention again. “Where’s the other Grace and why hasn’t she come over to greet me. Don’t tell me all these busy busy thing you claim has infected her too.”

Grace didn’t know what to say or do. “Mum!” she exclaimed. Concerned. “You just got here last night, mum!”

The woman sat up straighter. “Ehen? How long should I stay in Ife before my daughter comes over to say hello?”

“Her son had a surgical emergency, mum!”
“Oh my God?” Mrs Philips sounded completely unsettled. Jumping up in a somewhat dramatic fashion and landing on her two knees. She stretched forth her hands in the air. “How? What? Holy Ghost fire. We detach satan’s hands from the body of the poor child in Jesus name.”

Grace Philips wondered why the woman was overreacting.

“Say Amen, little darling!”

“Amen!!” Grace echoed loudly, looking for the ‘little darling’.

“You’ll take me to see her later, yeah?”

“Yes, ma’am.” She didn’t want any more prolongation.

She dragged her iPhone closer to check her mails when she heard the gate open. Peeping through the window blind, she saw two persons coming in hastily. She hurried over to the door and opened it just in time.

*****

Alice pulled the net away, picked a napkin and another wrapper before heading out of the room. A very short distance away from the door, her foot stepped on an object that began to scream loudly.

“Oh God!” she groaned. “Omojo! Omojo! Omojo!”

“Why are you screaming so loudly?” Grace Oladele called out from the kitchen. Concern filled her voice.

“Madam, I’ve told her to stop throwing her toys around the whole place.” She held onto the object that had stopped screaming now.

Grace smiled and slowly walked over to where her four year old sat on a stool, using one of the kitchen cabinets as table. She pulled the crayon the little girl was holding off her hand. “What did I tell you about your toys, baby?”
Fear gripped Omojo as she saw her mother’s angry eyes.

Grace charged nearer her. “What did I tell you?”

“I… I… I am… I am sorry mum!”

Grace was tempted to smile at this point. She couldn’t stay mad at anyone, let alone her adorable daughter. “Apology accepted. What would you say to Aunty Alice?”

The little girl fumbled with the white sheets in her hand before muttering, “I am sorry, Aunty Alice.”

Alice hurried over to hug her in the twinkle of an eye.

“That’s good.” Grace ordered. “No more shouting, right?” she motioned to Alice who nodded in the affirmative looking very sober. “And no more throwing toys around the place too?” Omojo nodded eagerly, collecting back her crayon and turning to face the desk she’d created for herself.

“How’s he?”

“Still sleeping, madam.” Alice said with a jerky tone. “I want to wash these!” At reflex, she raised the few pieces of clothing in her hands.

Grace nodded as if to give a go-ahead before turning to the pot on fire. It’s been a traumatic time for her and she had to take leave for a week to be done and over with Ethan’s case. Their surgery was slated for tomorrow and they needed to be admitted first thing in the morning for workup in preparation for the almighty surgery.

It’s a minor surgery, they’d told her, but it wasn’t her minor child, was it? It was her child. Her whole life that would be placed on that platter of a theatre table while the surgeon’s merciless blades will cut through him… his tender skin. The thought of that got her even more agitated than normal. She took a big spoon and stirred the pot of soup. Isaac deserved something specially made for him by her. It was a trying time for them all.

“Gray!” a hand wrapped around her shoulders from behind. She stuttered and almost fell over, but his manly hands held her firmly. “C’mon girl, why are you so scared in your own house?”

Grace blinked. If only he knew what was tormenting her mind.

“My kingy man would be alright. Trust God! It’s our month of miraculous healings, have you forgotten?” he questioned by moving his eyeballs and Grace responded with moving her head from side to side. “Jesus Christ the healer is here!”

“Glorraaay!” she screamed, jumping up excitedly.

Omojo turned from her drawing table with questioning eyes. The poor girl must be wondering what was exciting her mother so much. If for nothing, her dad constantly excites her mother.

“That’s the spirit right there, baby!” Isaac Oladele said, giving her a nudge while savouring in the aroma from the food. “Consultant chef is in the house.”

“You bet.” She moved her eyes in a seductive fashion that made Isaac giggle.

“How’s Gracey?”
A frown appeared on Grace Oladele’s face and she turned in the opposite direction. “I don’t know. I guess everyone is trying to find her life.” She spat with a tone full of anger.

“No! Now, that’s not good.” Isaac tried to turn her face to him but she resisted a couple of times before she reluctantly turned to face him squarely. “Tell me baby. What’s up?” he touched her jaw playfully.

The angry look on Grace’s face didn’t mellow down an inch. “Well, the last time I heard from or saw Grace was the last time she was here, and that was two evenings ago.”

Isaac knew that was strange, for two persons who made him feel like he was interrupting something big by marrying one off. “Oh, did you call to check on her?”

Grace flipped at the sound of that. “Me? Honey, I’m the one nursing a sick child. Not just a sick child, one due for surgery in her department tomorrow. If she can’t place a call to check on me, even if it’s for the child’s sake, then our friendship requires an urgent redefinition.”

Isaac swallowed. It was a delicate time and any statement from him could worsen or lighten the bowl of anger that was sitting squarely in his wife’s head. He let out hot air loudly. Grace was back to removing her pot off the cooker now. He didn’t know exactly what to say. Come in between two friends and they’d only reconcile to take you as one thing – a common enemy.

“She couldn’t even call to tell me how her mother’s journey went.” Grace added, wagging a spoon carelessly in the air.

“Shouldn’t you be the one asking after her mum’s journey? The woman called to say she was sick and coming over immediately. It was an emergency, honey. Like Ethan’s case. Gracey also has an emergency on her hands.”

             Grace Oladele blinked and took in a very deep breath. She’d never thought about it this way. In fact, she just remembered the strange fearful look on her friend’s face when she picked up her mother’s call that night. She had never seen Grace Philips look that scared to death before; not in all their years of friendship and existence. She carried shameful eyes to meet her husband.

“Others deserve you show them as much love as you desire to be shown you, honey!” he kissed her forehead and patted her back before exiting the kitchen.

                The next few seconds after that had Grace Oladele going on unfavorable guilt trips in her mind. She kept wondering why she’d been thinking one-sided on this matter. What if the condition of her friend’s mother was really bad and Grace had been running helter-skelter to handle the emergency? What if the other Grace thought better not to involve her in whatever messy situation it was considering that she had a handful on her desk already?

With this she hurried over to her phone and tapped it so hard like she could appear in Grace’s place with a little harder tap.

****

Grace Philips found a good spot to kill the engine of her car. The two back doors opened almost immediately but the older woman hesitated while Omolola stepped out.

“Mummy, you are still around?” Mrs. Jesse motioned to Grace Philips mother who turned back with a smile.

“Yes, I am.”

Mrs. Jesse clamped her hands in each other. “Mummy, please help me to thank your daughter, ma.” Grace Philips shook her head without turning. She’s heard this statement not less than five times this evening. “She’s been the saving grace for my family and I’m sure it’s because you gave her your kind heart. Ese o. Mo dùpè.”

“Oluwa seuñ!” Mrs Eju Philips responded and Mrs. Jesse smiled. She loved the sound of Yoruba language in the mouth of the Igala general’s wife.

“Omolola, come here and greet…” Mrs. Jesse yelled at the young lady who was already impatiently looking out for a bus to flag down.

“Maaama, it’s enough. Okay?” Grace Philips cut in. “You alone has thanked me enough to drive me abroad already today.” Omolola was at her window side now. “And my darling girl here is thanking me by making me proud with her high grades in school. What else do I want?”
“God will bless you my daughter!”

“Amen!” Grace murmured, switching on the car. She was not about to hear the prayer for husband just yet. “Take care, Lola.” She marched on the accelerator and drove off.

A little distance down the road, Mrs. Eju Philips burst into a loud laughter that Grace found rather embarrassing. She tried to ignore her until she couldn’t any longer.

“Alright mum, what’s so funny?”

The woman tried to catch her breath but burst into another round of laughter.

Grace scowled and was threatening to stop the car.

“You are the one that’s funny, daughter!” Mrs. Eju Philips said amidst laughter.

Grace reflexively checked her face in the mirror. Everything looked normal. She turned questioning eyes to the older woman who adjusted in her seat.

“You literally shut the old woman up earlier, you know? And I can bet it’s intentional.”

Grace rolled her eyeballs. Talk about something important. If only her mother knew how annoyingly long Mrs. Jesse’s appreciation can be. It’s true that the Yorubas have a rich culture with appreciation as a core value but she would say Mrs. Jesse’s was on another level. As she thought about it again, she smiled and in another minute joined in the laughter with her mother.

               By the time they drove into Grace Oladele’s compound, they’d admonished themselves to put on a sober demeanor. There’s nothing amusing about visiting a woman whose son is booked for surgery tomorrow. Grace Philips knew better than to go near the surgical theatre tomorrow. She would just be by her friend to give moral support. Ethan was her son as well and she wouldn’t be able to bear the sight of driving a knife through his soft skin.

“Mummy, I’m so sorry, I didn’t call to ask after your journey and haven’t come to visit since you came.” Grace Oladele said while still in Mrs. Eju’s tight hug. Her own mother passed on some years ago.

Mrs. Eju wiped at the tiny tear that rolled down the younger woman’s eyes. “Where’s my grandson?”

“Good evening, ma!” a voice interrupted. They both turned to see a young lady holding a pressing iron.

Grace Oladele quickly caught her mind. “Alice, mummy! She’s Ethan’s nanny!”

“Oh dear, how are you?”

“See who we have here!” they turned in the direction of the voice to see Isaac Oladele hurrying in on a t-shirt and midi length trouser. “Mummy!” he made for the floor to prostrate but Mrs. Eju caught his hand just in time.

“This my son will never change!” Mrs. Eju teased as Isaac fell in her arms for a warm embrace.

“Mummy, báwonì árá è?”

Grace Oladele was holding onto Grace Philips hand now, both silently giggling but their hearts were saying something mutual – I’m sorry, dear friend.

Mrs. Eju smiled. “Look look look, the general and I only spent four years in Lagos. Isaac should not tempt me.”

They burst into a loud laughter.

Isaac led the way into the sitting room proper. “Mummy, you’re better than these my two wives.” He pointed at the TWO GRACES. “In fact, I was the motivation for this one to learn it by force so her in-laws don’t sell her off.”

Everyone except Grace Oladele laughed loudly again.

“I don’t know what will motivate our dearest and finest surgeon here.” Isaac hung his head sideways

“Kayode Matthew!” Grace Oladele screamed, yanking her hands off Grace Philips before hurrying over to the other end of the room.

Grace eyeballed her coldly and would have hit her hard if she hadn’t taken the initiative to run away.

“Ehen?” Isaac looked like he was the odd one out.

“Yes o.” Mrs. Eju cut in. “She had brought my son over to greet me in the house even.”

“Mum!” Grace Philips couldn’t believe her ears.

“Ehen now! Did Kay come to the house earlier today or not?”

Grace Philips nodded her head, defeated.

The rest couldn’t stop laughing, including her mother. She would get back at them. Surely.

“I want to pray for my grandchild!” Mrs. Eju curbed the jovial atmosphere and made everyone serious for the first time since they arrived.

“By all means, mummy!” Grace Oladele jumped on the stairs right behind her while Isaac held Mrs. Eju’s hand leading her upstairs.

Grace Philips hesitated for a while. For the past few minutes, her friend laughed genuinely, forgetting this one thing that wounded her within. Now, they’re back to it. It’s true what they say, until you seek solution, you can only run this far from your problems.

She took in a deep breath and followed.

**** 

Ben Afang tried to keep his cool. His body, soul and spirit were exhausted and now wasn’t the time for this sort of conversation.

“Why are you frowning?” he pressed his lips together and sat up. “Why are you dropping your phone? I can’t see your face.”

“You want to see a frowning face?” he sounded sarcastic.

“It’s not funny…”

“Look, look, look, lady!” Ben cut in before she could say any more thing. “I was standing for about eight hours in the theatre today. And I have some proposals to submit first thing tomorrow morning which I haven’t edited. It then means I have to sleep now so I can wake early enough to finish it.”

“But I haven’t spoken to you today either.”

“That’s because I’ve been busy, babe!”

“Don’t tell me anything about being busy!” the lady flared up, anger filling her tone. Ben reflexively checked the screen of his tab. He could bet she was crying already. “Am I not busy too?” she sniffed in and wiped at the tears dropping down her face.

Ben’s heart broke. He had no idea whatsoever how to salvage this type of situation.

“Babe, you have to understand. We agreed on this, didn’t we?” he put his face towards the camera now, looking apologetic. It was a video call.

The lady smiled amidst her tears. It didn’t take more than one statement for Ben to revise her emotions.

“I know, baby! But you have to find time to talk to me. I cannot keep…”

The loud ringing on Ben’s android device stopped her. Ben reached for his phone, saw the caller’s ID and quickly pressed the silent button.

“Who was that?”

Ben saw that question coming. “Work, babe!”

The lady looked dazed. “Work? At this time? Ben, you are lying to me!”

Ben shrugged, keeping a straight face. “Well, if you don’t believe me, I don’t know where this is heading.”

Fear gripped the lady.

“Told you we had surgeries today at the department? We have two more tomorrow. I already left instructions with my resident and she’s probably calling to give me feedbacks. You know I’m sick and tired of all these lack of trust and confidence…” Ben capitalized on that to raise his voice thundering so loudly, the lady feared. “Ah ahn nau! I don’t deserve the slightest bit of trust?” his eyes had become red.

“I trust you, baby!”

He hissed loudly but she continued all the same.

“You know I trust you with my life.” She swallowed painfully. “Only that this new change in schedule is seriously telling on me.”

“So…” Ben furrowed his forehead. “I should quit?”

“Oh no. no.” the lady responded in a hurry. “Just make out time for us as often as you can, baby. And I’ll keep praying for you.” She wiped a tear quickly again. “I truly love you, Ben!”

Ben rolled his eyes. “Now you are wallowing in carnality!” he jeered and that made the lady laugh. “Please, can I attend to my patients now? He that is well hath no need of a physician.”

He reeled on, sounding like the author of the King James’ version of the Bible himself. The lady laughed her ribs out for another five minutes before…

“I will call you first thing tomorrow morning, babe. Okay?”

“Good night, love!”

Ben ended the call and let his back fall tiredly on the bed. He pulled his android phone closer, stared at it as if unsure of what next to do for a while before tapping on it and putting on loudspeaker.

******

Grace Philips pouted in a childlike manner. She knew how boisterous Kay can be on this sort of issue and he hadn’t disappointed her so far.

“Everyone is seeing us except you.”

Grace gave a rueful glance around her bedroom as though she was searching for the ‘you’.

“Gracey, you know your heart beats for me, you are only too proud to admit it.”

She wanted to scowl. She could anyway. There was no way in the world he would see her.

                She’d returned from Grace Oladele’s place straight into her room, giving her mother the lame excuse of nursing a slight headache. Expectedly, the older woman rebuked the ‘spirit of headache’ before the words were off her lips and suggested she took out of the bottle of castor oil in her bag. Grace Philips always saw her mother as dramatic whenever she said those things. They’d eaten in the other Grace’s house – a delicious egusi soup and fufu. Unlike Grace Philips, Grace Oladele had not lost her cooking touch after all these years indeed.

It was a good thing, she affirmed. At least, it makes her a wife material.

                As soon as her body hit the bed in her bedroom, she pulled her phone from the clutch she went out with. Since she last saw Ben in the theatre this morning, they’d not spoken and she remembered him asking if he could call later to give his response to her invitation to come have dinner at her place. She’d completely forgotten all about it until now. They would do the dinner at another time, perhaps when her mother was gone.

What was all the bother for, anyway? Ben may not even be cut out for any dinner at her place yen yen yen.

She waited as the phone rang out. She checked the time. It was too early for someone that liked to address himself as a ‘late-sleeper’ to be so deep asleep. In less than five minutes, after she almost dozed off without removing her dress, the loud ringing on her phone jerked her back. She reached for it like her life depended on it and was still thinking of the best way to voice out her frustration to Ben when she saw who it was. Frustrated the more, she stood up and connected her Bluetooth device to enable her stay on the phone while doing other important things, like… changing into a night wear.

“How’s my mum doing tonight?” came Kay’s voice through her ears.

She thought she felt irritated initially but had to calm herself down.

“She’s mine not yours, Kay.” Grace spat without a care in the world. “Don’t start feeling like someone with a golden access ticket into my life.”

Kay gave a boisterous laugh before saying something about everyone seeing who they were to each other –an item – except her.

She listened on as Ben continued, saying things that would usually melt Grace’s heart but for the presence of another person in there. She wondered why Ben hadn’t returned her call yet and for some weird reasons, she felt as though she missed him some sort. Dismissing the thoughts, she admonished herself. A bird at hand they say is worth two in the bush.

“Kay, when are you going to stop flirting with me?”

“Flirt?” Kay retorted, alarmed. “Ain’t flirting with you. I breathe you in, Grace. You are so much a part of me when you sleep, mine are the eyes that close.”

Something tore beneath the surface of her hidden expression and her lips spread in a smile. Kay had always had his way with words, not so?

She wriggled her head off the softness that was beginning to break her. “How about Cameron Bruce, Mr. every-lady’s-dream?”

She heard the loud chuckle Kay gave.

“Inasmuch as I don’t even know how you got to know Cameron in the first place, would you at least give me a chance to explain everything to you?”

“What’s there to tell?” Grace cut in. “That you are not really married to her or that you are divorced? Kay, please!” she raised her hand attempting to stop an imaginary him from coming nearer her. “Because you are aware of how emotionally vulnerable I am to you doesn’t mean you should attempt to ride on my emotions in broad daylight!” she sounded bitter now.

Kay didn’t understand where all those were coming from. “You think you know what you know until I explain things to you and you’ll…”

A beep sounded in Grace’s ear and she checked the screen of her phone. Another call was coming in. On seeing the caller, she blanked out completely on Kay so much so that she didn’t hear the last few statements he made. She thought of the best way to end the conversation, then…

“Ma!!!” she exclaimed loudly. “Kay, I got to go attend to my mother.” She lied and ended the call then slid the receive icon sideways to pick the new call.

“Hi pretty doc.”

She could feel the heat growing in her cheeks as she suppressed a smile. She knew she liked him from her blush.

“Hi, Dr. Afang.” She shut her eyes tightly as she fell onto the bed like a sack of sand.

“How could I have slept off without calling you?” his voice sounded soothing. “We had two more surgeries after the time we met this morning. You won’t believe it.”

Grace Philips shook her head. She could relate with his tiredness, feeling it from his voice.

“I’ll call you tomorrow, okay? Sleep like the beauty you are.”

“Good night, Ben!” she mouthed and let the phone slide off her ears.

To be continued on Thursday by noon.

My people say when two elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers. What or who suffers when two players meet?

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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. IG; graceochigbo Tweeter; graciouselara email; gemstonescat@gmail.com

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