TWO GRACES – GRACE OCHIGBO
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Falling in love with Ben was the easy part; it’s admitting to herself that it happened that’s hard. Grace Philips had these very efficient defenses for so long and Ben didn’t even notice them. How rude. Perhaps they were meant for others and he had his own entry door. She could question why he did everything so right, messing up every single stone left unturned in her heart but what’s the point? He’S always been there and much more so over the past one month since Kay’s return to the States. The first few days were sore for Grace Philips. So many things around her house reminded her of Kayode Matthew and the feelings that came with it weren’t admirable a bit.
They made a couple of video calls the first few days where ‘I miss you’ was a common commodity between every two consecutive statements. Work started sliding in on both ends and gradually, Ben could barely afford an hour over the phone.
For every, ‘let me call you back, babe’ that interjected their calls, a thousand and one thoughts flew through Grace Philips mind. She found herself enthroned on the ill-fated seat of insecurity.
Maybe he was finally back in Cameron’s arms?
How long can Mr. Every-lady’s-dream keep up anyway?
The girl is hot!
As much as she tried to submerge these thoughts, there kept popping in her mind. Ben was around workplace more often than not. There was no competition about who to hang out with for lunch anymore. Ben seemed to be in charge and that worried Grace the more. Her feelings were getting invested with him a ton more with every passing day, still… he wasn’t saying anything.
“Come off it.” Ben defended his actions. “I think its mere coincidence!”
Grace Philips nodded, smiling. “That you knew I had unit meeting in church or that you came to meet me here?”
Ben looked on the long stretched out street in front of him as he pulled out of the parking arena. At lunch yesterday, Grace had mentioned not being available today as she needed to rest and be in church in the evening. The unit meeting lasted for about an hour or a little more and haven not attended in a long time, she tried to say hello to her unit leader at the end of the meeting. It was while doing that Ben called to say he was waiting at the parking lot.
“Where are we going to?” curiosity filled her voice.
“Your place, of course.”
The nonchalant way with which he said this startled Grace. After the unfortunate incidence with Kay, she had resolved never to have Ben over in her house, not with the degree of fire burning in her bones for him. She suddenly felt choked but calmed her nerves down.
“Yeah…” Ben said casually, taking his face from the road to face her a little while. “Or? Is there a problem with that?”
“No. Oh no. No problem at all.” She lied. Fast becoming a habit lately.
She relaxed in her seat and let the soft sound oozing from the audio player of the car sink into her mind. She needed to find a getaway that wouldn’t look arrogant or insensitive.
“Yep!” he didn’t look in her direction.
“I… I ehm wanted to meet with Wale Martins to look through his book.”
Ben looked impressed in a sarcastic way. He rose his left wrist to check the watch. “Where would you be doing this looking through?”
Grace Philips rolled her eyes. He shouldn’t overestimate himself just yet. “My office.”
Ben broke into a loud laughter and that got her more uncomfortable. “At this time?”
“He would drive me home thereafter.”
Surprisingly, her trick worked.
Ben killed the engine right in front of her departmental building but didn’t undo the central lock for the car doors. Grace stayed, with her back resting against the car seat, uncomfortable with the awkward silence that sat between them. She worried if her thoughts were out there.
At that same instance, a light shone brightly in the dark interior of the car and that turned their attention to Ben’s phone as though they planned it.
“You have a call.”
Ben didn’t move. He acted like she didn’t just give him a valuable information. Grace’s eyes reflexively saw the name of the caller – Eno. It rang a bell. She remembered that name. She was the Ex-girlfriend that taught Ben how to make delicious meals.
A pang of jealousy coursed through her.
“Your friend isn’t here yet?” he asked, away from the call saga.
Grace scratched her hair with her fingers. Concluding on picking up her phone and acting like she was going to call Wale, “I am just gonna go upstairs. Wale can be mischievous sometimes, you know?” her words weren’t convincing enough, not even to herself.
Ben just smiled, relaxing more into his seat while watching her get down from the car.
“Good night, Ben!”
He responded with blaring the honk of the car before driving out of the parking lot.
As Grace stood on the veranda upstairs that led to her office, she wondered what sort of drama she’d staged over the past few minutes. It was only for one thing. She hadn’t gotten over the anxiety building in her heart and it didn’t just make sense to add to it. She felt her phone vibrate, only to lift it up to see a video call request from Kay.
He should inform me ahead of time whenever he wants to call me on Video. Or does he think we practicing in Nigeria have nothing else to do with our time?
Genuine provocation arose on her insides so much so that she muted the call and threw the phone into her handbag in a flash. Here she was, literally stranded in a not-so-lit departmental office building, taking calls from Kay was the last reasonable thing to do.
From her office she could see the wards at the far left of the building. The place wasn’t so busy tonight. Her dear Tara Albert, the diligent house officer had left the department and on another rotation. Sincerely, she missed her but she must not show it as usual. Thrusting the key into its hole, she got into her office and put on the switch immediately. She was totally clueless as to how to get home. She dialed Wale Martins. She may at least convince him to come take her home from the office somehow.
“The number you dialed is switched off, please try again…”
She tapped the end call icon in an angry fashion. She’d always known that there was no getting away with lies. A lie told would require a cascade more of lies to keep up with it. She was tired already. If she’s lying so freely these days, ‘covering up’ as she liked to deceive herself sometimes, then something must be wrong somewhere. Love can be anything else but never untrue. Love doesn’t lie. So could her feelings for Ben be love?
“Hi Gray!” Grace Oladele’s voice came out loudly with excitement. Sounded like she was in a busy place. “Babe, can you hear me?”
Grace Philips couldn’t deal with the noise at the background. “Where are you?” she managed to say, careful not to yell out in provocation.
“We’re out. Isaac and I…” the other Grace was making efforts. “Perhaps I should call you later? Here is quite noisy!”
Grace Philips ended the call and collapsed into her seat. She was in for it tonight. It was quite a distance from her department to the hospital gate and worse still the ‘keke men’ as tricycle riders were fondly referred to must have closed. She leaned her head forward to rest on the table in front of her at loss for what to do.
A tap on her door jerked her up and fear filled her eyes. No one was supposed to know she was in there. She sat still, waiting to be sure it was a knock she heard. It came again. This time louder. She summoned the courage to get up. She opened the door and jerked back in shock so much so that she nearly passed out.
Isaac Oladele saw worry colour his wife’s face. He’d prayed silently that nothing would interrupt this outing. It’s long overdue. Since the entire tight work schedule coupled with Ethan’s health battles, he felt like he owed her a treat, for all the pain and fear she’d gone through in recent past.
“What’s wrong with Gracey?”
Grace Oladele gave a smile that didn’t get to her eyes. “I don’t know. I couldn’t really hear her but I have a feeling all is not well. I mean from her tone…”
“I thought you couldn’t hear her?” Isaac cut in.
“Really, honey. I couldn’t really hear her, not that I couldn’t hear her.” She eyeballed him coldly. “Moreover I know when all isn’t well with my friend.”
Isaac kept quiet, digging into his plate of chicken and chips.
“Ain’t you going to say anything?” That touchy part of his wife he hated to see was rearing its ugly head again.
“Like what, babe?”
“You mean you didn’t hear the part where I said I think something is wrong with Gracey?”
Isaac let out a reassuring smile and watched the
woman’s nerves calm down a little bit. “If you worried so much for Ethan who’s
only a boy, would you do same for a grown up adult?” he rose an eyebrow,
holding her gaze squarely. “I’m sure Dr. Philips is fine and can take care of
herself, okay?” he rubbed her hand softly. “Now can we enjoy this treat, or
should we just go back home or better still, go to the police station to write
down a statement about your worries over your friend’s wellbeing?”
Grace Oladele knew what was going on. She must have provoked him with her tone. “I am sorry, boo boo!”
Isaac didn’t say or do anything at first, but when his wife pulled at his cheek muscle while teasingly saying ‘boo boo’, he burst into laughter.
Kay glanced at his phone for the umpteenth time. If Grace missed his call for whatever reasons several minutes ago, she should return it. He’d called her while having snacks at the café with two of his colleagues. Work was getting pretty tight and he reckon the strain that must put on Grace, distance not helping matters. He had resolved to not let a day go by without calling her, at least for half an hour. Even though now, work was all he talked about over the phone with her, it was a good thing that he found time to call anyway. The concern as time went by gradually built into worry as he couldn’t concentrate on anyone or anything anymore. It must be almost 9pm in Nigeria. Grace had told him about going for a unit meeting in church and that shouldn’t keep her out this late.
As the possibilities available filtered through his mind, he stepped aside with his phone, attempting to dial Grace.
The dancers moved like water transformed by music, flowing in graceful arcs, limbs in constant motion, painting a picture sound alone can never achieve. They bring a wordless interpretation of the beats in ways the audience understood so much as to give loud applaud. It was always this colourful and entertaining at the school’s end of the year ball. Students group get to showcase what they’ve been rehearsing for several months before.
Hallie Audu led the Flora Shaw dance team. She wore a reddish-yellow gown made of soft satiny fabric, long and loose. Loud screams and cheers filled the hall as she walked as light as an acrobat. Hallie looked like she’s floating more than anything, like she twirls without effort in a serenity the audience craves. The school management, staff and students alike came to see the dancers, to see what a human can really achieve. Like the other dancers, Hallie lives for her art. It takes great strength to make such activity as graceful as she does, total exertion with a smile that extends all the way to the eyes.
Starting from two, the judges rose up one after the other, jamming their hands together until all of them, including the audience were on their feet chanting, ‘Hallie, Hallie, Hallie’.
As if controlled by the chants, the dancers swirled to form a circle around Hallie who stood on her toes while twisting her entire body like there were no bones in there. The music gradually came to an end and they all raised their hands in the air.
Louder applauses and screams of joy came from the audience as the dancers walked away from the stage.
“I’m so proud of you, Hallie!” said the coach as she pulled the twelve year old in for a tight hug.
Hallie smiled proudly. She followed the leading of the coach into the changing room. “Are you even human? With the way you swirl so graciously?”
Hallie kept the smile on her face, grabbed a box of glucose and scooped some into her mouth. She heard the coach congratulating the other girls in the dancing team. She closed her eyes as she swallowed the glucose. She wondered why people often thought her a champion for doing what she loved to do the most.
Dancing was the only known thing that took her to her destiny while still living in the present.
“Do you need anything, Hallie?” the proud coach asked again, smiling even broader.
“No Ma’am…” Hallie replied, then a thought came, “Uh! Yes please.”
Her coach leaned closer. “What do you want? Name it?”
“Huh?” confusion filled the lady’s eyes.
“I want to speak with my dad!” Hallie said with pleading eyes.
Grace Philips came out of the bathroom and waited on the foot mat for her feet to dry. She had asked herself severally in the last couple of minutes what was going on with her. There seem to be an invisible hand pushing her to do that thing she’d resolved not to do again.
It was Ben behind the office door when she opened it earlier.
“Did you really think I would leave you alone in this deserted building?” his eyes bore what she perceived as sincere concern. She attempted to speak but he was swifter than her. “I knew you were making up stories all along.”
Grace rolled her eyeballs. What a prestigious way of calling her a liar.
“You were having no meeting with no Martins…” he added, transferring his weight from one foot to another. “Now, can we go home?”
She’d followed headlong like a sheep being led to the slaughter, silent throughout the drive from the hospital.
“Another thing is that my estate gate must be closed by now.”
Ben looked at her, surprised. “So how were you intending to get home tonight?”
Grace framed her face to bear the sober expression of a little naughty child. “I used to have the contact of one of those men that manned the gate until…” she rubbed a finger on her right ear. “Worst case scenario, I’ll just pass the night in the office.”
“C’mon, doc. You won’t stop amazing me.” Ben smiled broadly. “We will go to my place then. You’ve been there before so I don’t see why you…”
“I’m not sure about that, Ben!” She stops him.
Another few minutes, after Ben killed the car engine right in front of his house, he showed her to the second of the two rooms in the house.
I want you to make yourself comfortable, he said before exiting and leaving her alone to herself.
The room had just a comfortable bed, a wardrobe and a study table arena. Grace threw her bag onto the bed and sat tiredly as her brain reflexively recounted the ordeals of today. She wouldn’t have believed it if after waking up this morning any prophet said she would be spending the night at Ben’s. Sore fear gripped her as diverse thoughts tormented her mind. A soft knock at the door and Ben was holding a cup of juice to her face. Her thirsty throat took in every single content of the cup.
“So you would have slept in the office thirsty all night?” He jeered. “Perhaps hungry as well.”
Grace didn’t feel the need to respond to that. She had a refrigerator in the office with different drinks in it. If looks could kill, Ben would have been dead by now from the look on Grace’s face.
“C’mon, I’m not your problem!” Ben said, drawing nearer where she sat.
Even before he touched she felt his hands and her lungs expanded with dry air. Their gaze lasted a full second, enough for each to take in the face of the other. It had always been written in their gaze, a chemistry, an invitation to learn about the other. Grace didn’t just look at a man, she looked into him as if she knew his desires. The look in her eyes says she is afraid of him more than anything, particularly him. She has done too much inconvenience for the day and afraid that one leads to many. They both gazed in each other’s eyes longingly; not a word spoken by either of them. As he rested a hand on her shoulders, Grace immediately knew that whatever the end of tonight would become, the devil’s cruel intention was already a success.
To be continued,
I must apologise for my inconsistency with releasing new episodes of this story. I’ve been overtly busy, you can’t imagine. But that’s not an excuse. I’ll make it up to you, okay?
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