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TWO GRACES – Three

“Are you trying to starve me?” Her forehead furrowed.

Yeah, this was a complete non-joke because at times like this it was insane to smile.

“No, ma’am!” Mrs. Jesse responded as politely as she could mutter.

“My bones were eating themselves up to stay alive.” Grace sounded even meaner and that made Mrs. Jesse wonder what the problem was.

“So we are doing a second lunch then?” her face lit up in a feigned smile.

“Who are the ‘we?”

Grace Philips asked with sarcasm as she moved past her to the cooker. A pot was placed on it with steams eagerly seeking a way of escape. Her disappointments knew no bounds by the time she opened it and found water – mere water.

“Second lunch it, is please. As soon as possible!” She announced before hurrying out of the kitchen.

Mrs. Jesse sighed.

“For three.” Grace called out from the room.

Mrs. Jesse’s lips curved into a light smile.

For three?

They were most definitely having a guest over soon, that so?

 Something seemed out of place but she couldn’t pin it down. She found a pack of pasta in the cupboard and pulled it out. Sometimes she wondered how this very gorgeous and successful lady coped living all by herself. She barely had friends over, except the second Grace… the married Grace. Mrs. Jesse could almost bet she’d never met a man in this house before; at least for the years she’d been working here.

She picked up a spoon and stirred the mixture on fire before dragging out a stool to sit. She wanted to discuss something with Grace, something rather urgent but this… the second lunch was definitely more urgent than anything else at the moment. She sighed loudly.

Hopefully the third mouth would be a male man!

****

                  Grace Philips munched the cornflakes in her hand while the other tapped away on the keyboard of her iPad placed in front of her. She liked to eat her cornflakes without milk or water. It made her feel younger and cheerful. Weirdly, it had a way of relaxing the tension in her head. These days, she couldn’t place her exact feelings as far as everything was concerned. It was exactly five days ago that she returned home to a cold clammy large box in front of her door.

“I thought I should surprise you with your favorite ice-cream!” the voice came startling her from behind.

                She let a faint smile appear on her face and remained there while peering into the paper-box again. It was vanilla with chocolate chip cookie dough ice-cream. That’s her favorite of all times.

                Back in the university, all the shops that made good ice-creams knew the two Graces. The two energetic ladies didn’t mind saving up a whole week just so to do a Friday night getaway in an ice-cream shop. They would decide on a befitting uniform for each outing – from the days of denim on jean with sneakers, to T-shirt on A-line skirts with slippers, to short Ankara gowns. Yes. Ankara gowns. The two Graces wore whatever gladdened their hearts per time to those ‘all-important’ hangouts. And it was at one of those she’d met and became friends with someone who divided the course of her entire life into just two phases – the time before they met and the time after.

                  Grace Philips used to see him as the ‘every-woman’s-dream’ kind of man that’s so invested in himself. He wore clean, starched and well-ironed clothes and was already accustomed with the use of different colors and shades of ties right from their days in the preclinical classes. It’s no news telling that he must have come from a wealthy background. She knew she had the tendency to like him because of all these qualities if they ever said as much as hello…hi, so she made concerted efforts at avoiding him completely even as classmates, until that fateful evening when the two Graces were supposed to meet at one of their favorite ice-cream shops again. Grace Philips had arrived earlier, too early, and seeing that it was another twenty minutes before the date with her friend, she thought to glance through a handout. It’s almost a taboo for a medical student to move around – including going on dates – without at least one class material, whether soft or hardcopy. There were no soft copies then, so she pulled out her class material that’s neatly folded into her medium-sized purse and started reading.

“Is this seat taken?” a voice asked.

She looked up and almost scoffed. “Obviously! By my friend who’s on her way!” Her voice was sharp and her face returned to what she was reading as soon as those words were off her mouth, willing the guy to dare take a seat.

             When she was sure he was gone, she hissed lightly and checked her time. She wondered why the other Grace had not arrived yet and decided to go get her first bowl of ice-cream while waiting. They would do at least three rounds anyway. She knew the young man from earlier was staring at her as she walked over to the waiters but ignored him completely. She hated guys who felt they were too good and irresistible for any girl. She hated them with sore passion.

She was midway done with her bowl of ice-cream when a bigger bowl landed right in front of her. Startled, she rose her head immediately,

“Is there a mix-up somewhere?”

The young man shrugged. “I really want to be your friend. Can’t you see why you shouldn’t make it any harder for me?”

Grace Philips felt her head swell. So the ‘every-lady’s-man’ wanted to be her friend after all?

She jerked up as he pulled out the chair in front of her. “Come, who asked you to sit down?”

“Well…” he adjusted the sleeves of his shirt. “It appears we have a replacement for Grace Ahmodu tonight. She wasn’t going to come anyway!” He gave a mischievous smile.

Grace Philips found him cocky and didn’t know when she scoffed. She wanted to ask how he knew she was waiting for Grace Ahmodu. Everyone knew the Two Graces, she reminded herself. “Just tonight! Don’t be too comfortable.”

“Yes ma’am!” he mimicked obeisance and Grace giggled.

             The evening went on really nice and long. They got to know the basics about each other and found out they both had common interests in certain important life issues. Good start there. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months and Grace Philips became an item with Mr ‘Every-lady’s-man’ in no distant time. They talked, made jests, and teased each other everywhere, including where their colleagues were. They didn’t even realize how closer they drew near each other daily until Grace Ahmodu started feeling left out and voiced out. Grace Philips found out the young man wasn’t as bad, arrogant and cocky as she had thought him to be at first. He was intelligent. Yes. Stature like he literally walked out from one of those A-class fashion magazines. Yes. Good dress sense. Yes. He was a perfect gentleman. Yes. He was completely everything good.

               From their third year and all through medical school, Kayode Matthew became a part of the lives of the Two Graces, ‘cos there was no being friends with one and not the other. But with Grace Philips, they were several inches more than being mere friends. By their final year, the bond between Grace and Kay, as he’s popularly called, had grown so deeply that they discussed marriage and kids during outings.

“…but first I will have to go abroad, make a lot of money and then return to take my jewel with me!”

Grace wondered why ‘make a lot of money’ was always associated with ‘I will have to go abroad’ like the latter was the only determinant for the former.

                It wasn’t long and they graduated. Expectedly, Kay left the country but unexpectedly and for some unforeseen reasons, he cut off communication with Grace. He had promised to be in touch. Phone services weren’t readily available in the country as at then so they’d promised to write as soon as possible. He was supposed to write first. He knew her address and Grace can only reach him through whatever address he wrote from after settling down. Mr. ‘every-lady’s-man’ never wrote, never found a way to get across and Grace literally spent half of her housejob days in denial of the possibility that he had left her for good. By the time she started residency, she lived in anger and bitterness against anything masculine. The anger was so deep-seated only her could correctly relate, and maybe Grace Ahmodu too. She later gave in to Paul after so much pressure, but the young man eventually turned out to be a jerk. The relationship fell out as opposed to the huge expectations from family and friends and so had every other relationship she’s ever been in, both close-by and by proxy, fallen out.

Grace Philips finally took her eyes away from the box of ice-cream.

 “Thanks for the surprise!” She quickly wrapped back the cold box in her hand and attempted to thrust the key into its hole.

“Gra…”

“What?” she snapped before her name barely came off his lips, almost letting her handbag slip off her hand.

“Thirty minutes? It’s all I ask!”
Grace Philips returned to face him squarely with bloodshot eyes. “Look Kay! I had a long day. Do you understand what it means for a consultant surgeon to have a long day?” she curved her lips in a way that it formed the letter ‘U’. The question left her mouth before it clicked in her head how much it made no sense.

                 Kay couldn’t stop the involuntary smile Grace’s last question set up in his head. Of course, he wouldn’t know what it meant for a surgeon to have a long day because he’s a physician and they were two lifetimes apart, right? He smiled at his own thoughts but it was no time to mess around. “Why are you being so hard on me, Grace?” he took a single step towards her short stairs and cautioned himself to stop. “Six months ago, I got my hand on your mobile contact. You stopped picking up immediately you confirmed it was me. Blocking me out completely.”

Grace eyeballed him coldly and put her laptop bag against the wall. He continued anyway.

“I got in contact with Grace Ahmo…”

“Oladele!” Grace Philips yelled. “We all didn’t end up single.”

                  Kay swallowed against a lump in his throat. It was like a large bitter ball was situated there, unable to swallow. He was wrong. He accepts responsibility for all his past actions and inactions, all the times his absence made her cry and wail. He was sorry. Genuinely. Sincerely so. He’d only gotten into something he never bargained for. People talked about the life outside the country like it was a bed of roses. It sounded like there was a tall Santa Clause dashing out dollar notes on the streets of the US and the only effort required of any smart individual was to get in there at all cost and everything else would fall in place. Let’s go abroad and make a lot of money was the notion he carried until he got into what seemed like the middle of the war zone in Iraq. There was the battle to always prove himself in every way possible. The average white lady thought him not capable of handling her sick child. The elderly white man felt his life would be in sore danger if left alone with this black doctor in the same consulting room. His white colleagues and senior colleagues at large thought him less knowledgeable to do even the basic things and an opportunity to let him observe was more or less a rare privilege. Kay wasn’t warned that he would be required to prove himself worthy of his training and everything he’d ever known in his entire life. That he would be whisked so vigorously a lot and tempted to damn ethics enough to contemplate physical confrontation – especially those times when children he could give birth to made jest and pointed at him while he walked past them in the waiting room. It hurt his ego. He was a full-blooded Yoruba man from South-Western Nigeria for crying out loud, and the word ‘respect’ wasn’t just an ordinary line in the dictionary to him. He had a lot to combat with at the workplace and by extension in the city. Racism. It was by far the greatest battle ever, more deadly than third world war. He watched it rear its ugly head all over the place, killing millions of brave minds and potentials daily and to survive it was to be crowned a deserving champ.

                  He had difficulties getting an apartment to rent. At first, he thought the issue with renting a befitting apartment would be price. He realized soon enough that his greatest challenge wasn’t the price of the buildings but the worth of the color of his skin. Every property owner thought him as a criminal at first sight. They must have thought the blackness of his skin were dents from previous crimes and wouldn’t readily want to put their lives in danger by offering him a house. He eventually settled for a room in one of the public housing projects. There were subsidized housing that tend to be the worst kind of ghetto – you gotta be a special kind of broke to live where the government subsidized your rent and utilities.

                 With a roof over his head at long last, it became a problem of sending letters. No delivery man readily came near ‘the projects’. He had to walk several miles to find the nearest post office who wouldn’t still let him post letters to Nigeria for whatever reason. In the end, the frustrations and intimidations made Kay develop a tough skin. He became angry in a positive way and wanted to revenge. He needed to prove everyone wrong by harnessing knowledge, as much as were available.

The best revenge is to be extremely successful.

                    Several years after that resolve, he became the first doctor in the country to be certified a consultant in three major fields; nephrology, gastroenterology and pediatrics. After which he became indispensable. People who treated him like thrash during his first few years in the country began seeking his counsel. He came on the board of major decision making bodies in the country as far as the field of medicine was concerned. He was on almost all important medical examination councils and worked in several places, both private and government facilities. He had acquired so much to stand above his peers, including a beautiful lady that was gifted him as a reward for one of his many great feats.

“Grace, please I need you to hear me out?” He took one more step. His tone had changed a great deal. “I worked my leave to be back in the country just to see you, Grace!”

“Who cares?” Grace Philips retorted. “You could head to the Bahamas for all I care.”

Kay took in a deep calming breath. He needed patience now than anything else. “I know you don’t. All I ask is a chance to explain everything. And I’ll do that as fast as possible.”

“To what end, Kay?” she rose an eyebrow. “You returned to the country, trailing me all around. You got my professor to call me that you needed to see me. Twice, you have been to my office and not met me on seat. You even came to my church too!” her face brightened, what could be mistakenly read as excitement. “Now, you found my house from God-knows-who and came over to wait for me. Do you realize you are stalking me at all?” An irritation crept in her initial calm tone. “You are damn stalking me. To what end? You are happily married to… to… Cameron…” she tried to joggle her memory. “Yes, Cameron Bruce. I remember now. You are married to Cameron Bruce.”

                   Shock filled Kay’s eyes. He wasn’t expecting she wouldn’t find out that much about him, was he? “How did you know that?” then he quickly tried to lighten the tension. “So you really did send private investigators after me?”

“You wish!” Grace Philips dragged a long hiss. “So… what do you want to tell me?”

She watched Kay adjust the sleeves of his shirt and it brought back memories from that evening at the ice-cream shop. Their first ever close contact, having a conversation over a bowl of ice-cream. Old habits never die they say. He always acted like he was battle-ready whenever they were meant to have a conversation then and it’s surprising to see nothing had really changed as far as that was concerned.

Kay’s face lightened up and he wanted to draw even nearer but Grace’s shot stopped him in his tracks.

“Alright. I guess… I guess we’ll just talk here…”

He paused and waited for a reaction. When it was obvious he wasn’t going to get more than this cold attitude that’s as cold as her favorite ice-cream he got for her, he decided to talk anyway. He wanted to tell her everything so he started from the very beginning. He talked about all his battle for acceptance in a foreign man’s land, his struggles, fears that kept him up all night thinking hard. He emphasized on all his failed attempts at getting in touch with her, including his parents. He talked about them vividly yet as detailed as possible.

                  As the narration ensued, Grace gradually got down her high horse. It was just a virtual wall anyway because all she needed for Kay to penetrate her soul was a statement or two from him. He had that much way around her with his words then and to think he still has it now? Grace let a tear drop down her tired face and Kay dabbed it off with his finger immediately. His eyes showed the kind of gentle concern he’s always had. He laid his hand lightly on her shoulder, and instead of flinching like she usually did, she was soothed by it. He left his hand there and spoke with such a soft voice Grace felt his words calming her more by the way they were said than the actual words. It felt as if she was wrapped in a blanket of his caring. How could she not consider her actions now, now that she could see how profoundly they affected him too?

                    Kay leant forward and her pulse raced. A small lock of hair tumbled in front of her face, resting just in front of her cheek, but with one swift slide of his thumb, it was brushed out of the way. Looking into his eyes she saw deep pools of blue that displayed his soul. Then his lips touched her cheek. Time stopped. Her heart came to a halt. Her breath caught in her throat. They locked their fingers together. As the soft skin of his mouth left the side of her face forward, a hot blazing fire pulsed through her. A small grin crept onto her face as she pulled away silently, their eyes locked having a private conversation of their own.

“Kay!” she muttered, her voice trembling.

He took a deep breath. “I know, Grace. I know!” his initial look was replaced with remorse and a new look of shyness Grace had never seen to be associated with him before.

“Can I see you after work tomorrow?” He put his left hand in the back pocket of his chinos. “Please?”

Grace nodded. She was too weak to say more than that as she watched him move backwardly without turning until he got to the gate. “Good night, Mi Amor!”

                    It took Grace until the gate closed behind Kay to correctly understand what had happened in the past couple of minutes. She hurriedly opened the door, pulled all the items into the sitting room before ensuring to lock the door firmly. She felt lost and confused, but happy and certain. She’s like a ball of tangled yam. The parts that were untangled were available, useable; the rest was a mess, unless until it was untied. Several years with diverse experiences in between, some gross, some fun and she still felt this strong way about Kay? It felt too good to believe.

                  Her phone buzzed and began to ring. She felt her heart jump into her mouth until she pulled it closer to her utter disappointment. She ought to have called back since but… well, she was in no mood to speak with Grace anymore. At least, not that night. There was no narrating of the stories about tonight without including the latter part. Their vow was to say it as true and completely as it happened. Not adding the last part – about the kiss he’d planted on her cheek – meant lying to Grace, her Grace. She would rather not talk than lie to her. She dug into her bowl of ice-cream and let her mind travel far and wide. Grace Philips suppressed a smile several times. She could tell from her blush that she really liked him. A lot may have happened, still, she really liked him.

                   They’ve had reasons to see every day since that night. He had brought two lunch packs to her office the following noon and they had a great time eating and catching up on old memories. The next day, he requested to come drive her to work in the morning. Because that automatically made her go to work without her own car, he, of course, drove her back home after work. They ate pizza on the sofa in her sitting room that evening and shared a kiss before he left. Grace felt this new surge of emotions gushing down her spine at every thought, every voice and every sight of Kay. A part of her warned to tread with caution. Another, the most adventurous part of her she’s been used to, could care less.

                Yesterday, when she became overwhelmed by her thoughts, she thought to share with Grace the ordeals of the past days but the other lady seemed overwhelmed with activities lately. Grace Oladele greeted her with apologies about how she’d been sore busy and was even still busy as at the time of that call. Before Grace Philips could say another word, she heard,

“Babes, can I talk to you later, please? Love you!”

She held the phone away from her ear as the call went dead. She took in a pained breath, dropped her head tiredly on the table, then her phone beeped and she picked it up.

Can we be two true judges of how truly exquisite Ife Grande Resort must be? Their website is such a temptation.” She read out the text from Kay.

She smiled broadly and was about to type in a response when another message popped in.

So we go see it tomorrow, yeah?”
That set her in full blown blushing moments. Kay was impossible. She knew, right?

Her nervous predisposition towards outings and arranged dates these days amazed her. That was the exact thing that almost ruined her mood the day Dr Ben said to come take her for lunch. She’d been so anxious to be heavily disappointed. Kay’s surprise stunt at her house was the lone thing that changed the narrative. Part of attempting to suppress that nervous feeling was why she was religiously munching dry cornflakes.

And yea,

“Food is ready, ma’am!” Came Mrs. Jesse’s voice from behind the closed door.

She’d requested for a second lunch too.

She didn’t want to sit looking around for time to come. She wanted to get busy with something, this time with food.

She walked into the kitchen and dished her portion. She would never allow Mrs. Jesse serve her meal. That’s in her own opinion a show of respect.

“Maama, have you eaten?” she asked with a strand of the pasta hanging down her lower lips.

“Not until the two other mouths are satisfied.”

Grace Philips smiled. Her instinct advised she just headed to her room to avert what was coming but no, having the conversation once in a while wouldn’t hurt.

“So… won’t you wait for him to come before eating?” Mrs. Jesse pulled out one of the dining chairs, the one opposite Grace.

The younger woman smiled, chewing her food silently. Whoever gave her the idea that it was a ‘him’ that was coming.

Mrs. Jesse readjusted uncomfortably in her seat. “You know I was thinking about something, ma’am…”

Grace raised her head and sat to face the older woman squarely. She saw the ugly lines worries had drawn on her once smooth face and shook her head with concern. “Maama, what’s the problem.”

Mrs. Jesse looked weak. “I told Omolola that peradventure she finds a man ready to marry her,” Grace stopped chewing immediately, as though her teeth disrupted her hearing. “She can bring him home to me!” Mrs. Jesse managed to complete the statement as against the tensed stare from Grace. “You know if she marries now, her husband would take care of her needs and relieve us…” she found Grace’s face and held it. “You… it’ll relieve you the stress of paying for her schooling.”

“I am not complaining, maama!” Grace said with a smile, so broad, she felt the ease emanating from the older woman’s bosom. “God has blessed me thus and the least I can do is to assist a young girl who could as well be my daughter.” She smiled again, this time because of the reality she just affirmed to.

“But…”

“No buts, maama!” Grace shushed her. “If Omolola wants to marry, it should be because she found a man who loves and appreciates her and who she loves too. Not because she’s in a hurry to get a sponsor for her school. We can’t afford to make her a liability to any man whatsoever.”

Mrs. Jesse’s face lit up.

Grace Philips wasn’t done yet. “Tell her to call me. I have clothes, shoes and some goodies for her. She should live like the big girl she rightly is on campus.” She giggled and Mrs. Jesse laughed louder now.

Fortunately for Omolola, Mrs. Jesse’s only daughter, she was almost same stature with Grace Philips and most of Grace’s things fitted her perfectly.

“Look, maama, for as long as I am alive and have the means, I’ll sponsor Omolola to any level she desires. You just put your heart at rest and stay alive for us so as to eat the fruit of your labor.”

“Ah!!” Mrs. Jesse exclaimed in joy. “My God will honor you, Ợmợmị. As you are helping my daughter, you will be alive to take care of your own children!”

“Amen Ma!” Grace winked as she dug her fork into the plate.

                A knock at the door jolted Mrs. Jesse up and Grace was thankful for at last, she won’t have to deal with long unbearable minutes of the woman praying for her husband to ‘locate her by fire wherever he is’, or ‘whatever veil was covering his eyes if he’s around her should be removed’, and all the prayers typical of ‘pastor’ Mrs. Jesse.

“That must be him!” The older woman jeered, touching her right cheek playfully as she made for the door.

Grace Philips smiled at the whole drama.

How she had overcome her initial anxiety. Now she could afford to go for the date or ask they just stay indoors and eat home-made food instead if she felt like.

“She’s right here!” She heard Mrs. Jesse’s elated voice directing the visitor to the dining hall.

                    Grace felt her heart skip a beat at the sight of Kayode Matthew. He was handsome from the depth of his eyes to the gentle expressions of his voice. His bone structure was fine and perfectly symmetrical. It was manly. And as he aged, he became all the more striking. It seemed like his inner beauty showed on his face with every passing year. There was softness in the eyes and gentleness in his smile.

“So you aren’t even ready yet?” he said as he gave her a quick hug.

Grace smiled and swallowed the food in her mouth. “We may eventually do indoors, Kay!”

Kay stood still and then burst into laughter. “Because you are too full to walk? I’ll back you!”

“She’s not that full, but you could still back her though!”

They both turned and that was when they noticed Mrs. Jesse hadn’t excused herself the whole time. The older woman gave a mischievous wave and tiptoed into the kitchen in a fashion that provoked a loud trail of laughter.

“Your elder sister is such a mood.”

Elder sister?

Grace Philips laughed harder at that statement while Kay continued.

“You needed to see all the instructions she meted out to me at the door after introducing herself. She said I’m the first man you’re having over in this house for as long as she knows and messing with you will have her to combat with.”

Grace Philips felt her smile grow broader. The woman genuinely cared about her, not so?

But then, she shouldn’t have exposed her like that. Still, she laughed out loud.

“Alright, let me get ready in five!” she got up and ran inside in a flash.

Kay thought he wanted to say something but Grace was gone before he could process the words. He took a deep breath and collapsed into the seats right behind him. He shut his eyes firmly but not for long as the click of spoon on a ceramic plate jerked him up.  It was Mrs. Jesse again. This time, the cheerful smile that was on her face at the door had vanished.

“Hey, ma’am!” His American tone came out so much this time.

Mrs. Jesse didn’t smile. “Hope you heard what I told you at the door, sir?” she sounded stern. “If you hurt her, I’ll come for your head.” She pointed the fork so close to his face, he reflexively bent backwards.

Hey, chill! He yelled in his head.

“I won’t, ma’am!” he voiced out calmly.

******

                     Grace grabbed her softest sweater. The weather at the resort may become too chilly when the evening falls. She hurried with touching her face with a brush as she heard her phone ring. It’s most definitely Kay calling her to come out. She admit she had taken quite a long time. First it was in calming down on her excitement upon entering the room and then it was the battle on what to wear. Her entire bed was littered with clothes of different styles and form. It took her several minutes to settle into this midi-length jean trouser and polo she was wearing. With her pair of Nike Air Jordan 1 sneakers on, she was good to go. Moreover, Kay was on jean and sweatshirt. By the time she got to her phone, it had rang out, so she tried to use the finger sensor to unlock it and see who the caller was. She was still on that, when it buzzed and started to ring again. It was a number she didn’t have. In her bid to quickly switch on her mobile data so the True Caller App can help her identify the caller, the phone dropped off her hand onto the bed. She hurriedly reached for it and swiped right before the call would go off again.

“Hello,” she said into the receiver and waited.

She froze. The smile on her face earlier slowly disappears until her forehead creased. Beneath her feet, the tiled floor felt too cold for comfort. She couldn’t will her lips to move any longer. As if stuck underwater, everything was slow and warbled

“Are you there?” the person on the other end of the call called out but her mind was blank and her eyes wide as she stared at the ground as though it held the answers she desperately sought.

To be continued…

So I had a serious issue with my computer and couldn’t use it at all last week. I hope we’re back on now. No matter what, we must complete this story!

How are we lovelies?

Read, share and comment below.

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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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