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TWO GRACES – TEN

TWO GRACES – GRACE OCHIGBO

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TEN

                 Quite funny how life brings similar things one’s way over an extended period of time. Sometimes, it can perfectly be named fate and at other times, coincidence or fact. Whatever the nomenclature, real life has proven smarter than the best of brains around. That’s the only thing that can explain Kay examining a lump on the neck of another young boy this sunny afternoon. He shifted his weight from one foot to another as he appended his fingers softly on the boy’s neck. The lump was firm to touch and the colour wasn’t so different from the skin adjoining it. If this one had checked the internet and gotten scared that he had cancer enough to consider buying his own casket like the one from six months ago, Kay would have conveniently drawn his conclusion.

                 Perhaps there was a force of nature trying to take him back in time: to that fateful morning when he wouldn’t see the next patient until he’d spoken with Grace Philips. He had anticipated her cold response, her drowsy tone and even, maybe a little provocation. One thing he never saw coming was the statement that broke his heart in two and ground each of the two pieces into fine powder.

“I’m not interested in this relationship anymore, Kay!” she’d said carelessly, as though how he felt or would feel meant nothing at all to her. He’d thought Grace to be self-willed a time or two in the past but that morning cleared whatever doubt was left of his thoughts. He’d tried to talk, quite alright; tried to stop her in her tracks and hold back those life-determining words from spewing out but hell no! Grace was determined to ruin his day… his entire life at that.

                 Kay had not been the same since that morning. He affirmed he made a mistake by not keeping in touch the first time he’d left her, but was that not why he came all the way back for her? He was already asking for help, seeking an opening in those hospitals where he consulted. It wasn’t going to be difficult to get her a placement after all. Grace Philips, other than being highly certified, knew her onions. The only challenge would be in convincing her to come take up a job in the States, or so he thought. She had always been the, “I’ll work here in Nigeria. If need be or during vacations, I’ll visit countries of my choice. But to go and live there? Nah!!”

                     Kay never saw the breakup coming with the speed and in the manner with which it came. The first few days was like mini hell. When the frustration built, he thought he might explode. He took deep breaths and shouted whenever he was alone. There’s already a mark on the wall in his room, drilled from hard punches he landed on it during his moments of provocation. He tried all means possible to vent, to get it all out – the pain, the frustration and the anger, to say the least.

It’s just as easy for a woman to be cruel, he groaned a thousand times over.

                    He’d lost counts on times and moments when he was this close, so close to tapping on Grace Philips’ contact on his phone to dial it but forcefully refrained himself.

Barely a month since they last spoke after the breakup, his phone beeped loudly and familiarly in a way that made his heart beat fast against its walls. He’d promised himself he wasn’t going to call her. If she still cared an inch about him, she would call.

Ego, one may call it but who wouldn’t keep the last left of his ego after being ‘dumped’ by a woman like Grace Philips?

 She was someone who had all for and by herself. She could get whatever… whoever she wanted at a snap of a finger.

Maybe that’s why she left him – to get ‘whoever’ she wanted.

Kay had cautioned himself not to feel damned yet. At least, not until he checked the message.

With shivering hands, he picked up his iPhone from the bed and slide it open.

“You couldn’t even inform me you were back in the country.”

He read the message out loud, drew a long hiss before throwing the phone onto the bed. He knew it was only a matter of time until he’s found out even in the deepest dungeon, because, there’s no hiding place, not on this side of heaven.

                 Every day after that had him struggling with his resolve never to respond to Cameron’s text or take her calls again. He knew of a surety that he couldn’t keep up for too long because that lady knew her way around somehow. Her father was his senior colleague in the profession and it hadn’t been long before the long awaited summon came.

                 It was one rainy morning Professor Bruce summoned him to his office. The round face of the aging man didn’t look any welcoming at all. Kay sat impatiently and swallowed deeply another five times before the man decided to interrupt the high voice of silence in the room.

“You do know she loves you dearly, Mat!” he’d said calmly, his countenance plain. Because the name ‘Kayode’ was pretty difficult for the white man to pronounce, he’d resorted to addressing him as ‘Mat’, short for ‘Matthew’, his surname.

Kay only nodded in the affirmative without raising his head.

“Think about it!” the man had added before dismissing him

                   Kay struggled with diverse thoughts as minutes turned into hours and hours to days. He couldn’t imagine setting the train flowing with Cameron now, after he’d promised Grace they’d be nothing between them ever again. What they had was an affair – a wrong one. The lady had fallen head over heels for him and somehow, aloneness pushed him into a relationship he knew his heart wouldn’t be in. Severally in the past, Cameron told him how he need not worry whether he loved her or not. She said her love for him was enough to take care of the both of them.

                   At the same time, it wouldn’t be his fault if anything happened now because Grace already opted out on her own accord. He’d resolved to wait for as long as it would take her to change her mind and realize how true and genuine his feelings for her are. One thing he made himself promise he wasn’t going to do however was to call. Even though it’d killed him to stay these last couple of months without their regular check-up-on-each-other calls, he was determined to be strong.

                 Cameron, on the other hand, seemed to be occluding his vision wherever he’d turned to in the past two months. She acted like she knew he’s heartbroken and if each letter in a text message was worth a dollar, he would have gotten a million dollars with the number of messages she’d sent him recently alone.

“If loving you was a job, I’d be the most deserving, dedicated and qualified candidate. In fact, I’d be willing to work for free.”

“Hi Kay! There are only two times that I want to be with you: Now and forever.”

“You are weird… but I like it! Scrap that! I love you!”

“Believe me, baby! Just when I feel it is impossible to love you any more than I already do, you prove me wrong.”

As more and more of her messages poured in, Kay’s hand reflexively hit the delete icon next.

Today was different.

He washed his hands after examining and sending the boy with the lump to the pharmacy. Walking in the direction of the table where he’d placed his phone earlier, he picked it up. And as though the phone had a human detection sensor, it beep almost immediately. He blinked with a knowing smile, recognizing that sound. It was a text and it can only be from one person.

He opened it and for the first time, he found himself eager to read her message aloud;

          “You were already on my mind when I woke up this morning. Funny how I just can’t stop thinking about you. Sometimes I just think back to the first time we met. I knew right then that I had found someone incredible. Ever since that very moment all I have ever wanted was to be with you. No matter how disappointing my day is, seeing you always brightens it and makes me realize that with you, I’ll always be right. Tell me about the Nigerian man and how he can encapsulate someone’s entirety. Ever wondered why the South African men are driving you guys out of their country cos of jealousy?…”

Kay’s initial blushing face contorted in a frown at her last statement. There’s nothing humane about xenophobia. He read on anyway.

            “…I just wanted to say I love you, and I can’t wait to see you again.”

           He let the coy smile dance around his lips. He looked like one of those elegant models off a fashion magazine when he smiles. He brought the phone nearer his eyes and closed them. Perhaps, it was time. He would invite Cameron over for lunch. They’ve been out of touch for a long time and today may be a perfect day to catch up on so many things.

Grace Philips?

She must have sorted herself out with some richer, cuter and perhaps, more readily available man.

           Even the thought of that possibility tore at his heart like a razor. He swallowed against a thickening on his throat and moved his hand over to the dial icon at the top right corner of the screen. For split seconds, he contemplated between remaining a little more patient or just damning everything else to preserve his sanity.

****

Grace Philips’ smiles spread even broader as she read the message again. Wale Martins was asking his ‘coach’ out on what he called an ‘appreciation treat’. It was a well deserving invitation because coaching and preparing Wale Martins for his Part 1 exam has been basically all she’d done in the past counting months. Whenever Grace wasn’t working on her reading table at home, she was either coaching Wale Martins in her office or, having a beautiful time in Dr Ben’s apartment. The latter being the most frequent occurrence.

She’d expected Kay to call back when she ended the call on him that fateful morning after breaking up their relationship. She knew she wouldn’t pick up his calls yet her heart greatly wanted to feel how desperately he must love her.

Cos he said so.

 She expected that he would be on the next plane back to Nigeria to see her and try to talk things over.

But No.

Kay hadn’t as much as beep her via text message since that day. The man was strong-willed, she’d always known, even though now she’d found a balance to her thinking pattern – they were both strong-willed.

Clinging hard onto Ben was one way of getting Kay completely off her mind. She called Ben whenever the dire urge to call Kay came up strongly. She ran to Ben’s place whenever she needed a conversation and company. And like a round peg in a round hole, Ben was just that man and a half to her. He made a couple more of those his special dishes whenever she was visiting. They ate together, laughed together and took it an inch farther. Grace found her heart constantly warming towards Ben as days turned into months until now that she could barely think through two Items without Ben occupying one and half of the space.

One thing that worried her though was that as close as they’ve become – cooking for each other, visiting fun places together, spending most of their free times together – Ben hadn’t said anything to her about starting a relationship. In fact, she had to conclude that the word ‘love’ wasn’t in his dictionary because she was the one who said it more often than not. She sent emotion-laden text messages to him especially after having one of those wild moments together. She would explain how no man had ever made her feel so good in her entire life. She loved the way he looked at her, the way he touched her, the way he kissed her and wish to be in his arms forever. Ben always replied with a smiley or a just smile. His excuse being that he believes in actions more than words.

One afternoon, after lunch in his house, Grace leaned into him and summoned the courage to ask. “Ben, do you love me?”

His eyes flashed. He probably didn’t expect that question. But typical Ben knew how to cover his tracks quickly. He turned sultry eyes to her, the type that gave Grace goose pimples,

“What do you think?”

Grace blinked. “Answer the question, Ben.” A slight provocation appeared in her tone. “I want to know. You never talk to me…”

Ben left a rather mischievous smile on his face. “But do I show it to you?” He asked it in such a way that guilt stung at her heart. “You are so used to words, babe. You’re used to men assuring you with vague words and promises. I don’t intend to be rude but how many of those promises have you seen through to fulfilment?”

Grace Philips took in a deep breath. He had a great point. She has always been moved by what she heard. In times past, after leaving off a relationship, she took stock and wondered what drove her into it in the first place. She believed a man’s heart can only be communicated via words, therefore a smooth talker won his way into the deepest part of her heart faster than the speed of light. Ben, she had come to realize wasn’t saying anything. Since he said he didn’t mind getting to know her more the first day they met on the corridor of her clinic, he hadn’t said anything that connoted or suggested that he wanted them to have a future together.

   Sometimes, Grace got really worried she wish to pull the words out of his mouth. He surrounded her with such an umbrella of love in kind and action but never words. And since, action, they say, speaks louder than words, he had come to reign king in her heart. It didn’t take long until she got over the strong urge to call Kay. Hanging out with Ben was usually the best moment of her life. They’ve tasted every pizza and ice-cream shop in the whole of Ile-Ife and even had to travel down to Ibadan or Lagos at a point or two. Grace’s heartbeat for Ben grew louder by the minute.

Until that afternoon in June.

She had left work quite late and didn’t intend to return to the scary solitude that greeted her in her own house. When Ben spoke with her about an hour earlier, she told him she had an emergency at hand in the theatre and wanted to quickly finish up so as to get back in her house before it got too dark. Fortunately and unfortunately, she’d finished later than estimated and decided to go to Ben’s place instead without giving him a prior notification. He said he had a very tiring day and if he didn’t get to call her again that night, she should only assume he’d slept off.

She let the motorbike that brought her to Ben’s house stop at a considerable distance so she could walk in through the gate quietly without disturbing the peace of the surrounding. But as she drew closer, walking like she stepped on snail shells, she overheard Ben’s voice from the distance. She stopped dead in her steps for a few seconds.

Thought he must be sleeping?

As she drew nearer the window, she adjusted so as to hear him clearer. Apparently he was on the phone with a girl, and judging from the number of times he’s had those weird short calls beside her, she could guess who it was.

“Look, you have to listen…”

“Don’t tell me to listen. Don’t.” the lady’s voice came out loudly as expected.

Grace leaned in closer.

“Am I just supposed to play dumb and not say anything?”

“I am busy and you have to understand that.” Ben defended. “In fact, I will talk to you later.” He said coldly and ended the call without giving the lady any chance to say more.

Grace took in a deep breath. She was torn in between a decision to still knock his door or just go back to where she’s coming from. The latter was almost impossible as darkness had engulfed the whole area. Ben may have to explain who the person was to her but that would be later. With her mind made up, she tapped on the door lightly. After waiting for a while and no response, she decided to dial his line. She watched from her hiding place behind the window as he let the call ring out. A little fling of anger was welling up in her but she had to grit her teeth and dial again.

Reluctantly, Ben pulled the phone nearer and jerked up when he saw the caller ID. That action melted Grace’s heart. He cared so much about her after all.

“I’ve been knocking all evening.” She mouthed into the speaker of the phone.

Ben looked in the direction of the window. “How long have you been standing in the dark, beautiful woman?”

She smiled. “Please open the door for me. It’s cold out here.”

Inside, he asked her the same question and her response was a lie.

“I only knocked for a short time and decided to walk over to your window only to see you sleeping soundly.”

“Oh dear! I was deep asleep.”

Grace scoffed and thankfully, the darkness didn’t reveal it.

He was deep asleep indeed.

Over the months, Grace no longer stayed in the visitor’s room whenever she came around. She shared bed with Ben.

He was great at cuddling, she’d told the other Grace one time and the latter spared no second in rebuking her.

But then, she was an adult. And she had her own life to live.

That incidence went by without Grace making mention of it. For all she cared, Ben was falling in love with her and was probably attempting to end his former relationship. She ended her relationship with Kay for him after all. So no big deal.

She’s been on a week-long leave but decided to come to the hospital today. There was a file she needed to pick. Haven done that, she thought to say hello to Dr. Akintan.

“Good day, Chief!” Dr. Akintan greeted immediately she entered his consulting room.

She was all smiles.

“How una dey?”

“Chief, we de o. Good to have you back.” They rattled in Pidgin English.

She playfully touched the kid the doctor was attending to sitting on his mother’s laps before finally motioning to her colleague.

“I’m not back yet o. So let me run.”

Dr. Akintan smiled. She remembered the sort of rivalry the man wanted to develop between them until her extreme kindness softened him.

 “We will be expecting you, Ma. Have a great deserving holiday.”

She waved to the kid and his mother before stepping out of the consulting room.

At the door, she checked her wristwatch while making a mental note of what she had planned for today. Top on the list was dropping by the market to get some food stuffs. The last time she made her own kind of fried rice for Ben, he loved it. Today would be a good time to surprise him again. She blushed at her own thoughts and hurried towards the car park.

“Aunty Grace…”

She heard a child’s voice calling her from behind. Her patients wouldn’t know her first name so she wondered who could be calling her.

            As she turned, she saw him running towards her, closely followed by his mother and a tear almost dropped down Grace Philips eyes. Doctors indeed have been given a lot of power from God. How that someone would look almost dead this minute and be running with excitement the next day after surgery?

The wonders of the almighty, she thought, embracing Ethan in her open arms.

The boy looked really strong and healthy as she raised him up from the floor.

“My sunshine!” she planted a soft peck on his cheeks.

“Aunty Grace, we miss you. You don’t come to see us again.”

Grace Philips unconsciously rolled her eyes. Perhaps children of this generation already attained adulthood from the womb else her 3year old self was probably not constructing grammatical sentences this well.

“Ask her o.”

       Grace Philips smiled as her friend responded to Ethan’s accusation.

Now the both of them were staring at her as though expecting a response and that made her really uncomfortable so much so that she shifted her weight from one foot to another.

“Not so, sunshine. Your aunty has been really busy these days. Will come there soon, okay Baby?”

“Okay Aunty!” Ethan said with excitement and pulled himself away in a manner that Grace Philips knew it was time to let him down. As soon as his feet hit the soil, he picked race towards his mother’s car.

“Gently, Ethan!” Grace Oladele called out. She turned to the other Grace. “Are you sure you people didn’t lose a screw in his head during surgery?”

That made Grace Philips burst out in loud genuine laughter. “He’s too hyper for caution, right?”

“You don’t want to imagine.” Grace Oladele started.

She told her friend how the boy had become extremely lively, and sometimes to the extreme. Alice, his nanny, can no longer really control him as it were and he seemed to only listen to his father.

“Wasn’t that what you wanted?” Grace Philips gave her a questioning look.

She laughed. “I only wanted him to be alright. Not razz.”

Grace Philips chuckled. Her friend was just full of it. “I didn’t think you needed to see us again.” She looked really puzzled.

“Me too.” Grace Oladele replied and Grace Philips gave her a questioning look that made her smile. “Yeah… I mean, I didn’t know why you guys gave us 6months appointment.”

“Oh. It’s that long since the surgery already? Oh how time flies.”

Grace Oladele chuckled. “Yeah!” she moved her wedding ring lightly. That’s what she does whenever she’s not sure of the best way to present her thoughts, especially to Grace. She looked up, her face carrying no expression whatsoever.

“You’ve really been distant, Gracey!” she muttered with all the strength left in her.

Grace Philips looked bewildered but tried to hide it. She had an idea where her friend was headed with this beginning line of conversation.

“Did you eventually take it a notch higher with Ben?”

Grace Philips’ eyes flashed, darting from side to side.

“Talk to me, Gracey!” Grace Oladele persisted.

She took in a deep breath. They never finish this topic of conversation because a point comes when Grace Oladele begins to show typical features of her mother and she gets pissed or uncomfortable. She took in a deep breath.

“Well, we are together!” she left the statement open.

Grace Oladele swallowed. She was obviously struggling to speak. “You are together? Like he finally proposed marriage to you?”

“See Gray, there’s no hard and fast rule to having a relationship, alright?” Grace Philips cut in, trying to keep her voice low as Ethan was tugging at his mother’s skirt now. “Because Isaac proposed marriage to you within few weeks of meeting him doesn’t make that the standard. Some guys love to take their time.”

Grace Oladele saw the provocation in her friend’s voice and thought not to press further but her mind wouldn’t let her. She studied her again.

“Yeah. It’s good to take one’s time. Very good…” She started, gently.

Grace Philips had become an entirely different individual so much so that they both cannot hold a conversation as much as they used to anymore these days.

  “…but Gracey, you’re not a kid anymore. You can’t be cut out for all these aimless dating that’s become the norm in our society these days. You must have a plan, a goal, a destination. Being with a man without an end in view is just another word for waste of time. It’s an unprofitable venture, dear.”

“I didn’t say we don’t have a goal, Gray!” Grace Philips let out a rather sarcastic laughter. “We are just getting to know each other…”

“And after 6months, you don’t think he should say anything that connotes commitment in a way?”

             Grace Philips let the words drown her thoughts for a few seconds. She’d thought about it. Ben was obviously dodging commitments but he loves her, right?  He loves her. He may not say it but she knows it. From the way he looks at her. From the way he takes her hand during those fun outings.

With Ben, actions has to be the one speaking louder than voice.

“Gracey?” Grace Oladele’s soft touch brought her back from her thoughts. She looked morose. “I am not telling you what to do with your life, alright?” she took her right hand.

Ethan was in the car and already showing signs of tiredness. They were standing under hot sunny open heavens in the parking lot after all.

“I am asking you not to let desperation throw you into signing a contract your contractor isn’t even aware of.”

Grace Philips stared back at her with confusion colouring her face.

Grace Oladele smiled lightly. “It’s important for one to know if the man she thinks she’s with is truly with her.”

With that she joined her son in the car.

                 Grace Philips held on to her friend’s last statement for a long time: throughout the time it had taken her to drive out of the parking lot, during her shopping in the market and the entire time she was preparing Ben’s special surprise dish. She’d heard and even counseled ladies who ran into her arms heartbroken because the young man they thought would get married to them actually saw them as a close friend, or worse still, a younger sister. She quickly remembered her own experience with Muyiwa, the overzealous brother who left her to go in search of what God will have him do. Only for her to find out he had gotten married in less than two months.

                    As she diced the green pepper, she affirmed there was a lot of wisdom in Grace Oladele’s words. There was something wrong somewhere. That, she must find out.

                 After dinner that night, they sat down on the couch in each other’s arms talking and watching the television together. It was Politics Today, her favourite program on Channels TV anchored by her favourite TV presenter, Seun Okin. There was a lot going on in Kogi her beloved state and a particular female gubernatorial candidate whose ticket was attempted to be withdrawn unjustly by INEC was the guest on the show. Grace Philips greatly admired that woman and if not that politics had never been part of her dreams, she would have reconsidered practicing medicine.

                    Right from childhood, her father and her had the best conversations when arguing over a political issue and her passion hadn’t waned. Only that Ben was more interested in the shape of her nose, measuring the ‘water’ in her eyes and tasted her lips than he was in the TV.

                   By the time she turned to her side, the early morning sun was already streaming into the room through the curtains. Grace Philips opened her eyes and jerked up. She fumbled with the duvet and found her phone.

4missed calls.

“Oh no!” she groaned when she saw the caller.

Jumping on her feet, she wrapped her bare body with the duvet and dragged it along with her towards the bathroom door.

“Guess who’s finally awake?”

She gasped as she saw Ben walk into the bedroom. He was bare-chested, holding onto a tray in his hands.

“I hear breakfast in bed is a guy’s way of thanking babe for a great night.” He gave that type of smile that always got her anytime.

“You have no idea what’s going on.”

Worry filled Ben’s eyes. “What?”

“I am supposed to give a lecture to the final year medical students by 8am this morning. Their course rep called me over and again.”

“Ouch!” Ben raised his right eyebrow, lowering the other one. He glanced at the wall clock before returning his gaze to her. “OK, calm down. OK?” He placed a reassuring hand on her shoulders and it sent shudders down her spine. “Are you calm now, baby?”

Grace Philips nodded in the affirmative. “Hmmmm.”

“You can make it there in less than 30 minutes. So let’s start.”

And as though his words lifted her into the bathroom, she was wiping water off her body with a clean white towel in seconds.

“Ben!” she called out as soon as she was out of the bathroom but no response. She checked the room and hearing metals clicking in the back, she could guess where he was. He’d put up some weights at the back of his house which he lifted every morning.

“Man gats be hot for the ladies.” He jeered whenever she asked him why he was torturing himself.

                Grace Philips loved his desire to stay in shape. It made him fit her firm stature perfectly. She found her shirt and every other thing at varying aspects of the room so she took her time to pick them up one after the other before heading to the second room. The one she’d slept the first time she ever spent the night. Grace Philips flung all the items in her hands on the bed and headed over to the mirror. She was just praying silently that her face didn’t look like someone that fought world-war two over the night. As she stepped away from the mirror towards the bed, she noticed it.

                Pausing in her tracks, she felt her heart beat hard against her chest. Whether she was up to it or not, she couldn’t tell but her curiosity pushed her legs to that corner of the room where a tall wooden table stood. She picked up the phone from on top of it and held it to her face before tapping on it.

Ben was not one to put a security password on his phone so it was easy to slide it open on one tap.

                   She heard her own heartbeat grow louder but she wouldn’t stop now. Certainly, Ben was still engrossed in his activity outside. Perhaps, God let her find his phone in this room for a reason. Whatever it was, she was ready to find out.

As she tapped on the message folder on the screen of the phone, she felt weak at the ankles but even that could not describe the expression on her face when her eyes met something.

To be continued.

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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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    Grace Philips have a great battle to fight in keeping her relationship with Ben now. If she doesn’t win, it won’t be funny for her. I’ll be waiting for the next episode

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