TWO GRACES – GRACE OCHIGBO
Two hours ago, her brain was on five percent battery. There are days the tiredness came in both forms, physical and mental. She knew her body needed rest yet her mind needed it to move, to burn the anxiety right out. Landing on her soft sofa, she had switched off faster than a laptop with a faulty battery. Now, she’s up. Still feeling lightheaded, she trudged into the kitchen and slumped into her favorite armchair. Her favorite cereal was always on her favorite armchair. She sat aloof, munching her way slowly through a mouthful of cereal. Her jaw went slack. Her eyes glazed over blankly and her head hit forward.
No way! She screamed, dragging herself up.
She wasn’t going to give in to another episode of sleep. She wrapped back the cereal neatly in its place and returned to her room. Everything on the bed space seemed to be beckoning at her but she ignored. She pulled out a simple gown from the wardrobe and headed over to the long dressing mirror. As she pulled the dress over her head, those familiar thoughts came in again. She smiled at first, as if not sure of what expression exactly to give, then she hissed dryly.
Sleep had become the only getaway for Grace Philips. There’s a certain level of tiredness that equates to insanity. For her, it’s when she would love to temporarily dislocate her spirit from her body as if she could ask God to take her out for just a short while, let her soul go wherever souls go to relax.
It’s a week now since her mother left. She still didn’t know how to place the odd feelings she got that fateful evening when the older woman called her into the room, two nights after they went to visit the other Grace.
“The driver is in town and he’d be coming over to take me back home first thing tomorrow morning.”
Grace Philips’ eyes glazed hotter as she couldn’t comprehend that statement early enough. First was the urgent way her mother had called to inform her about an already-decided-upon trip down to Ile-Ife the next day. It was on the guise that she needed urgent medical attention but all the examinations carried out since her arrival certified the woman as hale and hearty. Barely a week and she’d already decided on traveling back to Lokoja?
Where in the equation of decision making does her mother ever place her? Grace wondered, pained.
“Mum!” she groaned, holding onto something firmly. “Because I’m not married doesn’t mean you can barge into my house and leave anytime you want to.”
Eju Philips carried confusion on her face. She’d honestly thought Grace would be excited at the news of her departure. Sitting up, she took her daughter’s hand lovingly.
“My baby!” she noticed a slight blush Grace waved away in a flash. The younger lady never liked to be addressed as ‘baby’. “Well, you know that at any age and whatever status you attain, you remain my precious baby, my queen.”
She touched Grace’s cheek and smiled.
“Look how you are letting these worry lines leave marks on your beautiful face.”
Grace rolled her eyeballs. She didn’t bulge.
“I am getting old, mother!” she cut in.
“I thought you children like saying that age is just a number?” sarcasm filled the older woman’s voice. Then she took in a deep breath. “Age is not the standard criteria for marriage, my girl. Readiness is.”
She went ahead to cite some examples from their extended family about folks who hurried into marriage on the belief that age wasn’t on their side; how they rushed out almost as soon as they rushed in. She also cited another example of an old aunt of hers who’s still single and Grace unconsciously said ‘God forbid. That’s not my portion” in her heart’. And as though her mother heard her,
“I know that’s not your portion.” Eju Philips started, “Another truth I also know is that you think you are ready but you are not.”
Grace almost lost it to anger at that point. How can a 37 going on 38year old woman not be ready for marriage? She was adorably gorgeous to a fault, loved God and had a beautiful flourishing career. How else was one supposed to be ready?
“Single eyes, daughter!” her mother said. “The bible said, if your eyes be single, your whole body shall be full of light.” She let off Grace’s hand and stood on her feet. “Keep your whole body away from this looming darkness by keeping your eyes single, Dr. Philips!”
True to Eju Philips’ words, the driver arrived Grace’s place first thing the next morning. As she gave her mother a warm embrace, a tear dropped down her face. The older woman patted her on the back.
“Please, keep your eyes single, daughter.” She said gently.
Several minutes after the car drove out of the compound, Grace stood on the interlocked ground wondering what her mother meant by those words. It was meant to be a relief that her mother was finally out of the house and she could do as she pleased but the older woman’s words clung onto her like her shadow.
At work, she saw Ben and he felt extremely disheartened that he didn’t get to see her mother before she left. Grace assured him that it wasn’t much of a problem as he would be seeing her as often as he pleased. Later that night, she had a long walk with Kay. The young man had walked into her apartment unannounced requesting for a walk. If only Grace hadn’t inform him about her mother’s departure. As much as she never felt like taking a walk with Ben, it was far better than the solitude and strange lonely atmosphere her mother’s absence created in the house.
Grace and Kay talked about a lot of things. He delivered his promise about Cameron. She was just a model who wanted to use him, being a renowned medical practitioner in the states, to get cheap publicity, he explained. Although, his feelings arose for her at a point – what do you expect of Mr. ‘Every-Lady’s-man’ – but no matter how far he ran, he couldn’t outrun the deep-seated cravings for Grace Philips he had in his heart.
Grace Philips caught herself blushing severally while Kay spoke. He surely had his way around with words and she silently wished it was Ben that had that quality. Her love language amongst others will most definitely be words of affirmation. Soft spoken words get so far deep down into the innermost part of her soul. She perceived Ben to be the reserved type. He rather sits and stares into blank spaces than utter the words she’s aching to hear.
After a long walk in the cold evening, she invited Kay in for some coffee. Although he was elated, he objected at first but her mild demand left him no choice. They shared coffee alongside their bodies that night. Grace was so ashamed to admit to what had happened until it happened again. This time, it hit her hard. Her emotions for Kay were as momentarily situated as there were. It only lasted for as many hours as it took them to spend time together. Once he was out of her sight, he was out of her mind…completely. Grace Philips knew she was losing it but at the same time felt completely helpless. She sneaked into the visitor’s bathroom to take Ben’s call the first night Kay slept over in her house. She just let the second one be a missed call.
“I was fast asleep”, she lied when she eventually returned the call later in the day.
The outturns of event in her life considering her mother’s last words made the earth a living hell for her this past week. She wanted to convince her head that what happened with Kay was a mistake. But who makes a mistake twice?
She needed help and she needed it urgently.
Cleaning a little sweat off her forehead, she picked just her Bluetooth device and iPhone before hurrying out of the house.
Mrs. Eju Philips knew peace had deserted her. That was why she went to see things for herself in the first place. She had this very strong premonitions of danger about her only daughter. It subsided while she was in Ife cos she saw and talked with Grace every day, however shortly. Ever since she returned home, the unease she felt inside had returned. She didn’t know the best thing to do. Returning to Ife barely a week after she left abruptly may make her daughter book appointment for her with the mental health department. She’s unable to fight off this looming feeling of danger. Whenever it came upon her strongly, she got on her knees,
“Into your hands, I commit my daughter’s heart, dear lord. She has come too far to miss it now.”
If she can’t get to Grace, her prayers would surely get through, she comforted herself.
As thoughts took merciless thoughts round her brain, she heard her phone ring in the living room. She grabbed a napkin and wiped her hand before quickly going to take the phone. She saw the caller’s ID and the happiness on her face knew no bounds as she collapsed on a settee to talk from the most relaxed seat.
“Hey buddy. You gotta go off that call now.” Gabriel heard his friend’s loud voice and an annoyed look appeared on his face.
“I got to go now, mama!” he smiled, imagining the look of disappointment that must be on his elder sister’s face by now. She’d insisted that he regarded her as mother and so not to cause confusion, Gab Phils, as his friends called him, decided to address his mother as mummy and his elder sister as mama.
“Never forget that we all await the day you’ll…” she stretched the word, thinking. “…is it passing out you call it too?” the questions fell off her lips but she didn’t leave him time to respond. “Anyway, don’t forget that we all can’t wait for you to finish well and strong.”
“I know, mama!”
“Take care of yourself and don’t hesitate to tell me if you need anything.”
Gabriel smiled. “You sent something over the weekend, remember?”
chuckled. “Money can never be enough for a student. Don’t you know that?”
Gabriel nodded in the affirmative but the guys at his door were hurrying him. “I love you too, mama”
“You already know you fill my heart.”
“Bye Ma.” He dropped the receiver and pulled his bag pack up.
Grace Philips still had the smile on her face. How that a little boy won her heart so much beat her imagination. She’d unconsciously factored Gabriel into her entire life now and in the nearest future. He would be her first son before the other kids begin to roll in. The thought of having her own kids gladdens her heart.
She jerks as a bus conductor motions to her.
“Phase 2…” she shouted her destination loud enough for the man across the busy expressway to hear.
He beckoned on her to come but seeing the road was too busy, he crossed over to help her cross the road. Grace was grateful for that gesture.
Aside heights, she also had a strong phobia for crossing expressways.
Thankfully, her slim stature made the bus less inconveniencing for her. She hadn’t even settled into her seat yet when she began to regret her decision to use public transport. It’s been a long time since she last used a commercial bus and it’s rather awkward.
Dropping her hands gently on her two laps, she let her eyes dart from side to side. Everyone in here looked really elated, she thought. Scrolling on the music folder of her phone, she found a song, Mine by Titiana Manaois. She plugged in the earpiece of her Bluetooth device and let the song sip in.
In what felt like a few seconds, she heard the conductor shout, ‘Phase 2.”
Her eyes quickly opened to see she’d arrived at her destination in such a short time. These bus drivers know their way around definitely. She checked her purse and brought out a thousand naira,
“Mì nì change.” The conductor yelled, drawing other people’s attention to her.
Apart from feeling embarrassed, provocation was rising in her. If he didn’t have the balance, he could have stated it from where she joined the bus and not shouting her down now as though it’s any fault of hers. There was even nothing she could do to help. She wasn’t going to leave a thousand naira with him and she was quite sure the driver wouldn’t want to leave his fifty naira too, so…
“Oshey jare.” She heard the conductor thank someone.
Still looking confused, he told her the young man had paid for her. Grace Philips gave her warmest smiles while saying, “Thank you very much, sir.”
“Don’t mention.” The young man cut in quickly. “Alex… you are?”
The bus zoomed off, leaving him standing tall alone in front of Grace.
Grace Philips wanted to scoff. ‘In his mind now, his fifty naira is a yardstick to toast babe’.
“Grace.” She hurried into the street off the road.
“That’s a beautiful name for a beautiful lady I must say.” She heard the young man say, hurrying after her.
Grace didn’t know if her small stature was a blessing or a curse because right now it was more of the latter. Alex was on a blue jean she thought he sagged and an oversized t-shirt. It’s the fashion or trend as the case may be but it irritated Grace Philips. ‘I have younger ones that can possibly give birth to this one’.
“Do you live around here?”
Grace nodded from side to side, opening her purse. The young man was quiet for the time it took her to bring out her expensive iPhone from her purse.
“Do you mind giving me your number, please? I think I like you!”
Such insolence! Anger had risen up to its brim in Grace’s throat and she tried to submerge it as much as she can. No one should be punished for trying his luck.
“I do mind. Thank you for your kind gesture earlier. I got to hurry now, son.” She plugged back her earpiece and doubled her steps.
Alex stopped in shock and couldn’t move for a long time as he watched the ‘young woman’ who just called her ‘son’ sway away.
Grace Philips felt ridiculed yet tried to keep her laughter bottled in. She would soon arrive at her destination and there, she would have a good laugh.
Kay stretched his legs until he heard a crack. His patience was running out and it was painful. He looked around him seeing the brilliant colours everywhere in the office room.
“So…” he dragged the word, dragging the female attendant’s attention alongside. “How many more years am I spending here.”
The attendant laughed. This particular customer has a good sense of humor. “Definitely not the rest of your life, sir.”
Kay dragged himself up in the seat. Looks like the company designed comfortable seats to make their customers oblivious of how much time was been wasted. If a renowned international network provider like this took this much time, what is the fate of their local outlets? He thought.
“But seriously, what’s the stage now?”
The lady took her face off the computer in front of her. “Almost the end, sir. It’s taking a while because of the different locations.”
“But isn’t that why you are collecting money enough to pay the salary of a married woman.” Kay groaned.
The lady returned her face to the computer. “I wouldn’t know about the salary of a married woman, sir.” Her voice was polite, tender.
Kay grinned mischievously. “I don’t know the salary of a married man either.”
The lady saw him grinning from the side of her eyes. She had an idea the message he was passing, but work was more important to her right now. The earlier this man leaves her office, the more her chances of closing early.
“Are you interested in finding out too?”
The lady looked at him with confusion.
“Finding out. Yes. I mean, can we both find out the salary of married people?” Kay raised an eyebrow and that gave away his most charming look yet.
The lady chuckled and thought it was very funny. “Yes. Got it…” she quickly changed the topic.
She continued to instruct Kay on guidelines for use of the product he just purchased.
“That would be all, sir.” She said in a dismissive tone. “You may give this to the cashier at the door on your way out. Thank you for patronizing us.”
Kay smiled the more, taking the paper from her hand. He enjoyed the struggle he set up in the lady’s head. She’s been unable to raise her head or look him in the face in the past minutes. He thought of putting more trouble in there but decided against it.
He was out of ample time.
Grace smiled with fulfilment as Ethan held onto her little finger.
“Are you leaving, aunty?”
She looked at Grace Oladele before nodding her head. “No, boo. Mummy and I want to have a chit-chat in the living room.”
She wasn’t sure if the little boy understood the grammar she just blew but he at least let go of her hand afterwards.
Grace Oladele gave her son a peck on his forehead. His spiderman boots were beside him on the bed. He’d insisted on those. Omojo was sleeping on her own bed at the other end of the room.
“Ethan’s recovery is a miracle.” Grace Oladele said as soon as they were out of the room.
“I know right?” Grace Philips was completely impressed at the speed with which the boy was recovering.
“I just feel we should visit the clinic on our next appointment before he resumes school” she stared at the other Grace, willing her to say something.
Grace Philips chuckled. “No way! I didn’t perform the surgery.”
“But you are not clueless about these things.”
Grace Philips knew where her friend was going with those words. “See them at the clinic, Gray. And I’ll talk to prof too. I don’t know how to treat my own son.”
Grace Oladele took in a deep breath. “Thanks for everything, sweetheart.” She gave her a light hug before dragging her down to the sofa. “So what’s been up with you? Where’s your car?”
As though that question was a trigger, it set Grace on a long trail of laughter. She laughed so hard, Grace Oladele worried her ribs would crack. After what seemed like an hour, Grace’s laughter finally subsided and she tried to catch her breath.
“I wanted to take in the evening breeze so didn’t drive out. You won’t believe what happened, Gray!”
Grace Oladele hurriedly sat up with ears itching to hear the full version. Grace Philips narrated her ordeal about transport fare balance to as far as standing Alex up on the road. At this point, Grace Oladele had laughed so much, she’s crying.
“He wanted a sugar mummy!” she teased.
“God forbid!” Grace Philips rebuked it almost immediately.
“Calm down! He’s already gone.”
She burst into another episode of laughter. The second Grace joined in again and they laughed so hard, anyone from afar would consider the case of two mad women. Alice had passed through the sitting room and greeted Grace Philips but the laughter didn’t allow anyone of them to notice let alone hear her greeting.
“I feel bad for standing him up like that.”
Grace Oladele scoffed. “That’s what befalls a boy that wants to walk in the shoes of his fathers.”
“I’m not that old, c’mon already.” Grace Philips defended
“Yeah, for Mr. ‘every-lady’s-dream’, you are not.”
A thought came through Grace Philips heart as her friend said the last statement. She’d walked all the way here to talk to her friend about those things eating her inside but now that its time, she felt tongue-tied in a way that she considered strange. How was she ever going to tell the other Grace that she’d trespassed, that she had crossed the line with Kay? How was she going to explain her strange affection for a certain Dr. Ben who wasn’t really forthcoming? They shared everything with one another, but right here, some problems are doubled when shared.
“Gracey?” She heard Grace Oladele trying to draw her attention back.
She let her eyeballs dance in their socket and flashed a smile that was in no way near being convincing.
“Gracey, you won’t understand.” The words dragged off her like a log of wood.
Grace Oladele’s eyes looked on, urging her to continue.
“I didn’t think you could go anywhere without our dear Acura.”
Grace Philips glanced in the direction of her car and frowned. “Do you ever call before barging in on someone?”
Kay looked around, as if searching for the ‘someone’. “Here to see my babe. It shouldn’t be tagged as barging in.” slight provocation appeared in his tone.
Grace swallowed. She shouldn’t have said that.
“I could leave if it’s not a good time.”
“No. No.” she said hastily, walking to the door and thrusting the key in its hole.
She wasn’t mad with Kay’s unannounced visit, she was just not happy that her conversation with Grace Oladele was cut short because of what she considered as a distress call from Kay. He said over the phone that he’d been waiting in her compound for about an hour. Grace Philips took the first available bike she found on Grace Oladele’s street down here. It had better be important.
“What’s that?” she pointed to the white nylon in Kay’s hand, aiming to lighten the tension in the atmosphere.
Kay didn’t loosen up one bit. He must have really been provoked.
“I’m sorry, okay. I didn’t mean to sound that way.” Grace apologized, seeing he wasn’t going to bend if she didn’t.
“It’s okay. I didn’t mean to be a bother too myself.” He curved his lower lips. “It’s just that something came up urgently.”
Grace’s eyes looked glazed as they faced him.
He smiled coyly. “First, I got your favorite icecream.”
A reflex smile flashed over Grace’s face. One day, she would outgrow blushing over a bowl of icecream. One day soon, she affirmed.
“Thanks so much, darling!” she collected it, pecked his cheek and hurried over to put it in the freezer. On her way back to the sitting room, she grabbed a pack of Hollandia yoghurt from the fridge, taking two glasses alongside.
As soon as the first sip of the Yoghurt went down Kay’s throat, he faced Grace. “I also got this for you.”
Now, Grace was legit worried. “Oh wow. What’s this?” she tore through the pack to see. Reading aloud and opening a bit more, “SIM card?”
“Roaming activated. Prepaid. You can call an international number for free and other numbers at a ridiculously discounted price.”
Grace wasn’t particularly up to speed with what Kay was talking about.
Why was he creating a means for her to call an international number for free?
“Come, I thought you…” then it clicked. “Wait, Kay, are you leaving?” the pain she carried in her chest was inexplicable.
In a flash, she remembered how her life went from being an enviable love-filled piece to being torn apart, ripped in pieces the first time this happened the time he left after their graduation. Seeing him get away from her hurts a lot. She didn’t expect him to get out so early.
“I’m sorry, babe.” He came to squat in front of her, holding her gaze. “They want me.”
“I do too.” Grace said these words before she could stop herself and a lone tear dropped down her face.
“I know, babe.” Kay took her hand. “Though we’ll be left at the mercy of this for the meantime.” He motioned to the SIM pack and Grace smiled through the tear. “Know that nothing will be lost as far as us is concerned.”
Grace Philips couldn’t believe her heart was failing her this much now that it’s time for Kay to leave.
“My love is in the very walls and foundation of this house, Babe, love for you to find. I will leave every ounce for you, and while it remains, I’ll live. I’ll work hard and return for you. This time I promise with my life.”
To be continued…