TWO GRACES – GRACE OCHIGBO
Previous episode, click here http://www.awokoinsight.com/story/two-graces-eight/
On any other cool evening, Grace Philips would have smiled at the couples filling the sidewalk. She would have seen her future reflected in them, her hand being touched gently by a man who adored her and a shy smile playing on her lips. She loved love and fairytales that much. But not tonight. Tonight she tug at the dress her image in the mirror swore looked so flattering on her. Now she wonder if her friend would make it down here at all. She was losing every iota of patience left on her inside. Grace Oladele was late again. One of the challenges she’s having in life at the moment and so earnestly want to talk about came because Grace Oladele stood her up like this several years ago.
If Gray had come in time for their ice-cream hangout that fateful evening, Kay may never have gotten a chance to speak with her.
Grace Philips gave a long sip at her drink. She would be out of here by the time she’s done with this drink. Gray had better have a good excuse this time.
“I know you are super mad at me!” Grace Oladele’s voice came in through her ears.
Grace Philips looked up with bloodshot eyes. “You don’t do any other thing better.”
Grace Oladele heaved and sank into her seat. She can explain why she came late. It’s not as convenient for a woman with a family to answer and attend to impromptu meetings as with a single lady. However, mentioning that now would only be letting out the bowl of fire already smoking hot in her friend’s head.
“I’m sorry, Gracey!” she apologized softly.
The waiter came to stand tall beside her. She glanced at Grace Philips who was looking away, anger obviously having the best of her.
“Ehmm! I think I’ll take a bottle of soda. Any.”
“Please give us our usual,” Grace Philips called out to the waiter who walked away so briskly one would think he was a robot. “You know you are annoying!” she tried not to smile.
“I love you too, baby!” Grace Oladele jeered, touching her cheek. Then she readjusted in the seat, contorting her face into the opposite of what it had been a moment ago. “What you told me over the phone, was it true?”
Guilt sat not on Grace Philips’ chest but inside her brain. What she had done she could not undo. She could make amends in subtle ways, but full confession was out of it. Only in her silent prayers could she speak her heart to God and beg for His mercy.
“So it’s true after all?” Grace Oladele broke the silence. She observes her friend with the gaze of a stranger, the type that aloof judgment with no strings. “How could you?”
Grace Philips rolled her eyes. “I’ve already sentenced myself to life in jail and thrown the key far into the ocean. You can save your energy and…”
“Shut up, my friend!” Grace Oladele yelled before realizing it. A few heads turned in their direction and Grace Philips cowered her head in shame.
Something was definitely wrong with her. It’s unlike her to leave her emotions around the place. Over the years, she’d built self-control and discipline. She’s a firm believer in the biblical sexual purity principle of no sex until marriage. She’d kept herself all these time. Even while with Kay in their university days, they’d agreed on that aspect and with whoever she’d had anything with after Kay left the country upon their graduation, the terms were always spelt out clearly from the beginning.
“What has come over you?” Grace Oladele asked, gross provocation in her voice. “We both agreed and made a covenant with God that we would honour him with our bodies until he brings our man.”
“I know. And I am still trying hard to respect the covenant.”
“Like this?” Grace Oladele eyeballed her from head to toe. “You know how you feel about that man. What makes you think you could sleep under the same roof overnight without misbehaving? You were tempting temptation? How could you let a man trick you to his house to have his way with you? A man that you don’t know anything about aside his name…” she couldn’t even believe it. “If it were Mr every-lady’s dream, though still wrong, I could have at least excused it as uncontrolled emotions between two adults,” Grace Philips felt the strong impulse to interrupt at this point and confess to her friend that same thing happened with Kay also. She swallowed and just listened instead. “This is a man you don’t know, Gracey… you don’t know what…”
“I know him!” Grace Philips slammed the table hard. She looked fierce, trying so hard to hold back the tears. “I love him.”
Grace Oladele felt like a ghost hit her. She looked glazed for so long until a mischievous smile appeared on her face. “Love?” Her friend must be under a spell. “You love him? He’s tricked you into that too?”
“He didn’t trick me.” Grace Philips was on the defensive. “I went there on my own volition bearing in mind this possibility. The deed is done, what am I supposed to do?” she sank back into her seat. This time letting the tears fall freely. “I am tired, Gray. I’d obeyed God and stayed chaste all these years and what’s the reward?” she raised her right eyebrow and lowered the other one. “Chronic loneliness. I have all it takes to have an enviable home. I love the lord. I serve him but what do I get in return?”
Grace Oladele hurried over to her friend. A whole world war had broken in her friend’s heart and the war victims streamed down her eyes as tears. She held Grace Philips’ head closer to her chest and kissed it.
“God makes everything beautiful in his own time, Gracey!”
Grace Philips let out a sarcastic laugh, withdrawing a bit to see her friend’s face. “Says the one with a flourishing career and happy family. You have no idea…”
“I do.” Grace Oladele cut in. “Trust me I do. I can imagine how lonely it must feel sometimes. I know how you curl yourself around a pillow in cold rainy nights and cry your eyes to sleep. Living in this perpetually cold Ife city doesn’t help either. It’s even worse since I can no longer be available as I used to before Isaac. I can only imagine how it feels to be pressed round about, my darling.”
She wiped a tear off Grace Philip’s eyes. They’ve totally forgotten they were in a restaurant. Though the VIP session but no normal adult should cry anywhere outside the comfort of her bedroom, right?
“You are precious, Gracey. Oh yes, you are!” Grace Philips rolled her eyes in unbelief but Grace Oladele continued anyway. “You may not understand what is going on but never throw yourself on a man so cheaply cos in your human calendar you are running out of time. God owns times and seasons, remember?” She placed a hand on her shoulder. “When you eventually become diamond, you’ll understand why your life had been under so much pressure.”
Grace Philips took in a deep breath.
Isaac’s head moves around to her left ear and he whispered what’s coming next. “No other perfect time to make Ethan a big brother.”
His fingertips were electric, they must be, for whenever they touched her skin, it rolls into temporary transitory paralysis. There’s something about him that lights Grace up from the inside, there’s something about Grace that melts his confidence to nothing at all. He tried to turn her around but Grace breathe deep. In. Out.
“Okay. Alright!” Isaac voiced out his frustration. The wind outside was slamming hard against the windowsill. “What is the problem?”
Grace took in another deep breath. She thought for split seconds whether now was the right time or not. She sat up and placed her back on the backrest. She’d not been able to detach her mind from her body, for when her mind wasn’t at ease, her body stayed numb.
“Gray is not fine.”
Isaac jerked up and sat in the same manner. He touched her face with the back of his palm and that made Grace smile.
“Gray!” she tried to call back his attention. “Like Grace Philips, not me.”
Isaac slowly dropped his hand from her face. Grace Philips’ matter wasn’t about to ruin a cold weather-for-two-night between a husband and wife, was it? Isaac was careful not to voice out his thoughts.
“I thought you are Gray, while she’s Gracey?”
“Gray is Gracey and Gracey is Gray!”
Isaac looked on at her bewildered.
She chuckled lightly. “Any of us can bear either of the names. That’s why we’re two Graces.” She smiled with a sense of pride as Isaac rolled his eyes.
“So what is wrong with Gray, or Gracey, or Grace Philips this time?”
Grace paused. The words were hard to come off her throat. “You don’t need the entire details, alright? The summary is that she’s becoming really weak. Her strength is failing her.”
Isaac listened on as his wife expanded the statement. There comes a time in a woman’s life where she gets under so much pressure. Her needs move from being about career and material things to the subtle emotional things; someone to cuddle her in the cold nights, that one that throws out the trash and mows the lawn; that person that brings breakfast in bed while whispering in your ears that she’s the best gift from God after salvation. No matter how hard the woman’s exterior appears, that longing and desire never wanes.
Isaac’s eyes showed the kind of gentle concern her father used to have. He laid his hand lightly on her shoulder and it soothed her. He left his hand there and spoke with such a soft voice she felt his words calming her more by the way they were said than the actual words.
“You agree with me that these things are normal, right honey?” he raised an eyebrow. “For her, it must be her umpteenth time feeling this way.”
“That’s why I’m worried, Isaac.” Grace cut in. The intensity of her worry can be pictured through her eyes. “We had an outing this evening and the lady I spoke with wasn’t my Gracey at all. No.” she flung her hand carelessly, it almost met his face. “She’s losing her strength, conviction and confidence in God. And I feel terrible cos I don’t seem to know what to do to help my friend.”
Her voice shook and Isaac quickly drew her in for a hug. He knew how emotional his wife can be.
“It’s alright, honey. You don’t have to beat yourself over it.” He touched her hair lovingly. “After all is said and done, there’s only one thing left.” He paused and continued almost immediately. “Prayer.”
“Uh!” Grace exclaimed.
“Yes honey.” Isaac’s eyes were reassuring. “Because many are the thoughts in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the lord alone, that shall stand.” He found her gaze and held it. “We’re going to ask the only person who can reach deep in to take over Grace’s heart and lead her through this hard times.”
Grace looked on at her husband before resting her head on his broad shoulder.
As the car engine sung to the lone country roads, Rhoda fastened her seatbelt and let the roaring wind whistle in her ears. It’s a beautiful sunny morning today and no better day to have a joint ride to work together with her husband. Donald seemed to be freer and more available for the kids because he was his own boss; he came in and left the company whenever he deemed fit. He understood the demands of his wife’s job and had to stand in the gap for her in their home.
“Look at that!” Rhoda screamed in utter excitement. “Tyler Perry studios…”
Donald glanced in the direction his wife was looking at the digitalised inscription on the fly-over bridge “Dude’s become the first black man to build a world class studio in the world.”
The look on Rhoda’s face would make anyone think she
was a direct younger sibling to Tyler Perry himself. “That’s how we roll,
Donald smirked. “You and who are rolling?”
“Tyler of course. Have you forgotten I have an endless crush on him? Why do you think I’m sort of addicted to his movies?”
Donald started laughing loud this time. “To think you’re expecting me to be jealous over a ‘screen-crush’?” he held her chin with one hand while the other held tightly to the steering wheel. “Come off it, girl!”
Rhoda frowned in a playful way then joined her husband in laughing. Tyler Perry was arguably the most brilliant visionary and savvy creator the world has ever known.
“Yes!” he turned quickly to see the cheerful smile on his wife’s face gradually disappear until it was replaced with worry.
“Her father still doesn’t support her dancing…”
“Yes of course!” Donald cut in before he could stop himself. Seeing the surprise on Rhoda’s face, he stammered. “Ehm…I … I mean…”
Rhoda couldn’t believe her ears. “Oh! You too?”
Donald looked out his window.
“The girl is a star. She wins effortlessly. She sent videos of their last competition at their school ball. You need to see it…” she tapped on her tablet impatiently, finding the video.
“That’s aside the point, babe. Dancing is too strenuous a hobby for someone who was born with sickle cell disease.”
Rhoda wanted to yell but took calming breaths instead as Donald continued.
“Yes. We know she’s been cured since the transplant but that doesn’t still mean she should subdue her body to stress and strain. As a father, I can relate with the concerns of her father.”
“I like that you pointed out in your last statement. She’s cured, Donald. She’s cured meaning she’s no longer having the disease. Even people living with sickle cell disease can lead a healthy normal life let alone someone who’s been cured.”
Donald noticed the provocation in his wife’s voice. It always turned out this way whenever they discussed this topic in particular. Rhoda would forever be on the defensive as far as this matter was concerned. Somewhere he had this feeling that she was enamouring the little girl against her father.
“I don’t think the man is against your little girl’s hobby, alright!” he started, his voice was softer this time. “Dancing is good, healthy and entertaining. However, the father’s point must be put into proper consideration.”
Rhoda’s eyes threatened to pop out as though they were asking what the man’s point must be.
Donald chuckled lightly. “It can never be called overprotection for a father to jealously guard his little angel.” He paused and negotiated a turn to the left. “He’d lost her mother, he wouldn’t want to lose her too.”
Kay looked at the lump again. The boy sitting before him said it had appeared so fast, now it was impossible to button up the neck of his shirt. It was the same colour as the rest of the skin, maybe a little red around the edges but not so much. It was firm to touch. The boy said he’d been on the internet all night and as a result he was almost ready to pre-order his coffin. Most people said it was an abscess, but others had scary cancer stories to tell. By the time confusion was eating up the entirety of his being, he knew he had to see the doctor.
“You do know that one symptom may be an indicator for several diseases?” Kay started. A part of him should actually spank the boy before explaining to him how not to use the internet for diagnosis next time, but the unmatched professional side of him took the lead. “People update the internet based on previous experiences or information that are not necessarily facts. Disease manifestations are often times patient-specific.”
The boy looked up with confusion.
“What I mean is that not all abnormal growths are cancers.” He patted the boy’s back. “Always see your doctor first, okay?”
“Got it!” he said.
Kay scribbled some things on a card before handing it over to him. “Get these at the pharmacy.”
“Thank you, doctor.” The boy collected the card before moving out of the consulting room.
As soon as he was out, Kay felt a flush of heat over his face. He looked at the time and calculated what time it must be in Nigeria. A tap at the door and it flew open instantly.
“Good morning, Doctor Matthew!” the nurse greeted while dropping a file on his desk. “Are you alright? You don’t look your usual cheerful self lately.”
“I’m okay, Jean. Thanks for your concern.” His tone was dismissive. “You look as gorgeous as usual.”
The white lady blushed for a while before realizing she needed to be out of the doctor’s office.
Kay was worried. Perhaps it was glaring for all to see but there was this deep hole in his dice he couldn’t just place. The coldness emanating from Grace towards him lately was really giving him cause for concern. If he were any disposed, he’d be on the next flight back to Nigeria. There was something she’s not telling him. Sometimes, he called over and again and it went unanswered. Only for her to call back with an unconvincing story of how she was sleeping, working or better still, her phone was on silent.
Calm down, mehn! He cautioned his nerves, bringing his phone out.
The next patient has to wait. It takes a fine doctor to make an unwell patient fine.
He waited as the first call went unanswered. He swallowed against a thick ball in his throat. Provocation was gradually getting the whole of him. He tapped on the phone again and put it on loudspeaker while waiting for it to ring.
It was the type of coldness that reached into her bones, as if her heart were a door left wide open to the icy wind, slamming only to open again. The darkness was thick even the stars had been hidden behind a wall. She’d been alone for long enough to have gotten used to it by now. Feeling alone is like being in a crowd yet you’re closed off and invisible to everyone. Over time, she’d learnt how to lessen the pain that came with loneliness. For example, there’s the app that helped her create fictitious fairytale happy ending stories. She could play that on the couch whenever she got home from work until sleep came to her rescue. It helped her picture the type of life she wanted to have, the way she dreams to meet her prince charming. Quietness was all she had as company.
She groaned as she rolled over to pick up her vibrating phone. She looked at the caller’s ID and dropped it face down on the bed. In another second, she picked it up and slide the receive icon.
“Hello!” she muttered with the last strength left in her.
“Are you fine, babe?”
The question grossly irritated her. The normal should be, ‘How are you?’, and not, ‘Are you fine?’
“The sun has not risen on this side of the world.”
“I’m sorry for waking you up.” Kay’s apology sounded sincere. “I’ve been sore worried about you lately, about us.”
She got infuriated by every new sentence.
“Are you there?” Kay called out, after a period of silence. “Look Grace, I know you. I know you very well. I can tell when all is not well.”
“So what do you think the problem is?” she cut in.
“That’s why I’m asking, babe!” Kay’s soft voice pierced through the muscles of her heart. “You don’t sound enthusiastic about talking to me anymore. Sometimes you make me feel like I’m bothering you. Worse still, the phone bearing that SIM is never always with you.”
Only then did Grace realize that she was receiving this call through her iPhone instead of ‘their phone’. She pulled out one of the side drawers and brought the other phone out. Four missed calls. She swallowed.
“I’m sorry, Kay!”
“It’s okay, babe. Don’t forget I’m doing all it takes to have us together geographically, until then, I left my heart on that brown couch in your sitting room. It’s all yours, babe.”
Grace blinked as she felt a tightening on her throat. “Kay?” she called out softly.
“Ehm! We should have been friends first, had time to discover the souls of one another before these strong emotions…”
Kay wanted to speak in a hurry but restrained himself.
“Don’t get me wrong, Kay! We were wonderful and amazing back then in medical school. We looked like we were inseparable until the worst happened.”
“That’s something I regretted all my life and moved around with, my heart feeling like a doughnut with a large hole. Nothing had been able to fill it until I returned to you, Grace. You were the part of me that was missing. You complete me. That, I’ve come to realize in the months since we got back together. And I’ll do whatever it takes to replace every hurtful moment I’ve caused you with memories of bliss forever.”
Grace took in a deep breath and sat up on her large bed. “You don’t get the point, Kay.”
“I’m sorry I ever hurt you, babe. I’m truly sorry. I told you everything. None was intentional and even that isn’t a good enough excuse. I just need you to trust me to right my wrongs.”
“What you don’t understand, Kay, is that I’m not a house. I’m not a building you can leave standing for years only to return to it the same way you left it and think all there’s to be done is dust and clean out the spider-webs.”
Kay kept quiet now, unable to understand.
“A lot changed in those years you were away.” Grace continued. “It’s no longer the teenage girl that fell in love with you. A lot has changed. We’d grown.”
“But the love never changed, Grace!” Kay sounded persuasive. “It’d even grown stronger over the years.”
“Kay, you can’t just get back in my life and demand to pick up from where you left off…”
“Babe, no, I…” he tried to defend but Grace didn’t let him.
“I am not interested in this relationship anymore, Kay!” she muttered with the last energy left in her.
To be continued.
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