TWO GRACES – GRACE OCHIGBO
The atmosphere of tension had become so severe and pervasive that one could barely see more than a few feet in any direction. Everything came across as being louder than usual, the ticking clock especially. Some minutes ago, Grace Philips had considered removing a battery or two from that piece of item that posed great nuisance to her right now. She needed all the chill she could get – in her head. There was nothing extraordinary about her waking up this morning except that she had something to look forward to.
Her morning routine was pretty simple. Get off her king-sized bed into a room next door serving the function of a mini gym. She usually spent nothing less than thirty minutes on the treadmill, lifting a heavy item or two depending on what’s on her schedule for the day. Her trainer was doing a pretty good job at keeping her in shape.
It’s my body against my age, she teased the other Grace some time.
Unlike Grace Philips, childbirth had left a mark on Grace Oladele’s once hour-glass shaped body. It’s one thing to sincerely look forward to having a kid and another to dread the toll it would take on one’s pound of flesh.
Ten minutes on the treadmill and Grace Philips was already gasping for breath. That was pretty strange but it was okay. She had her mind running through a lot of things. She decided to go again, trying to concentrate on the large plasma TV screen in front of her.
Same old, same old.
Fulani herdsmen had perpetually become a threat to human lives and properties in the country, kidnapping, killing and vandalizing. Much painfully so was that they went unpunished.
She heaved a deep sigh.
The news was only meant to distract her a little, just in time to get to her goal – minimum thirty minutes – but that was a flop. She grabbed a face towel from an iron towering over her head and picked up her phone from the reader of the treadmill before trudging into the bathroom.
Why was her mind so preoccupied? She wondered.
She let the cooling effect of water run down her entire frame. If only it could get into her body, get into her mind and soul. She needed much more than a clean body wash. She desired a soul wash… a mind wash. Her emotions were not easily hidden on her innocent face. Her pain was evident in the crease of lovely brow and the down-curve of her full lips. But her eyes, her eyes showed her soul. They were a deep pool of restless gold, an ocean of hopeless grief. She was just all about a single word, passion. Passion turned her eyes into flakes of hot coals. One could read clearly that she would fight to the very last tear for her life. She would not let the world break her. Sure she could cry, but she would never let anything take her true self from her. She clung to it with passion. Passion that made her beautiful.
As she brought a powder-brush near her face, her lips curved into a broad smile. Today was going to be a great day. She was going to put her head up, square her shoulders and glide past everyone like the world was hers for keeps. Picking up a matching one from the wardrobe full of different designer bags, she slid into a comfortable pair of shoe. By the time she stood in front of the mirror just beside her bedroom door, she could almost hug her own self. Never felt this great in a long while.
She dropped the bag on one of the beautiful couches in the sitting room before heading towards the refrigerator standing tall at the extreme corner of the dining room. It was a good space, to say the least. It used to be more impressive than now but years of neglect had taken its toll. She was almost never available in the house and she would rather eat in her bedroom the few times she afforded to. The dining table was long and solid wood standing in the middle of the room. On the walls were gilded mirrors with frames and lights shining off them. She has a housekeeper who came by the house every other day initially but now, scheduled to only work fortnightly. An older lady, Mrs Jesse. She would clean, wash and arrange the big house.
Mrs. Jesse was a widow and mother of two. Grace Philips took over the responsibility of her first child, a girl who’s now in her second year in the university. Grace’s heart ached to see every young girl achieve her dreams without soiling her name or body and so at any given opportunity to support this cause, she was beyond willing.
“God will reward you, my child,” Mrs. Jesse always prayed. “As you are helping my daughter, you would be alive to take care of your own children!”
“Amen, Ma!” Her response was always brief.
May she have her own children before she hits menopause, she thought was the most appropriate prayer.
Driving through her streets on her way to work, she suddenly noticed everything. There was a building construction ongoing just a few miles away from the gate that shielded the four-flat storey building in which she occupied one. She noticed a new gutter pavement also. It’s a good thing to avoid the already looming erosion danger from the ongoing rainy season. Then she wondered why her eyes were unusually active this morning. The distance from the parking lot to her office wouldn’t be such a trouble for an active person like her. She grabbed the backpack containing her laptop and other official accessories before picking up her handbag. It was fancy and coloured just to match her dress. It was a graceful walk through the long corridors that ushered her into her medium sized but well decorated office. She talked with a matron who followed her into her office right from the walkway, ranting about something Grace Philips wasn’t sure was her business but had to listen for respect’s sake anyway. The matron had barely gone out when the door to her office flung open again. It was her house officer, Tara Albert.
Tara was by far her most hardworking house officer yet. The young lady knew her stuff and discharged her duties with utmost efficiency. That was exactly what Grace Philips liked. She loved diligence and hated excuses for laziness with passion.
“You look exceptionally beautiful today, Ma’am!”
Grace Philips caught herself blushing for a few seconds before sitting up on her seat. “Thank you, Tara. For the rounds tomorrow, I wanted you to get me…” she continued… with the much needed official matters.
Tomorrow was the consultants’ ward round in the department and it’s another twenty-hours away from now but no, she wouldn’t dwell on a compliment from her far junior colleague who she’d come to love as a younger sister.
She was still talking with the house officer when they heard a quick knock and the door opened slowly. Her eyes went in that direction and she counted at least five persons walk in one after the other. They were all neatly dressed in their sparkling white ward coats, guys on ties, ladies on what she would refer as ‘a simple yet classy outfit’. The metallic name tags placed above the breast pocket of every one of them gave her an idea who they could be.
“Good morning, Ma!” they chorused.
She felt the impulse to smile. The whole hospital knows Grace Philips to be a highly cerebral female consultant paediatric surgeon who’s still single. Yeah. Emphasis on the last part. She’d come to live with the fact that hardly any complete introduction goes on around here, her concerned, without including her marital status, like it was a prerequisite to something she’s yet to learn about. She’s strict and firm. True. But definitely not intimidating. She was one to have a cordial rapport with her all junior colleagues.
She readjusted as one of the persons that had just walked in, a fair-skinned young lady stepped forward,
“Good morning, Ma,” she started. “We’re clinical one students and this is our first surgery posting. My name is Amaka Nnamdi and I am the group rep.”
Grace Philips finally let her smile show. Now she could place it – the shining ward coats, the innocent demeanor, the staggering boldness… Clinical one. Fresh from basic medical sciences. They were yet to be hit by life as it’s presented in reality in the hospital. Quite impressive, she would say about the lady that just spoke. Was it because she was a female? No, c’mon. It has something to do with her eloquence and confidence. Those were pillars for great leadership.
“Tara, please, is Dr. Akintan around?” Grace Philips motioned to the house officer who was pulling out a lab request form from one of the files on her hand.
“Yes Ma. On his rounds at the female surgical ward.”
Grace Philips moved her eyes back to the students standing with each person’s hands clutched to the other right in front. She asked them to briefly introduce themselves by their names before turning to the house officer again,
“Please lead them to the ward. Ask Dr. Akintan I said to take care of our newbies!” she found the statement amusing while saying it but was amazed no one gave as much as a giggle.
Well, looked like indoctrination for ‘learning and culture’ was already ongoing before it officially started.
Her usual self would take an hour to teach the students. It was both challenging and exciting for her whenever she decides to take students basic knowledge in surgical practices. It reminded her of her own days in clinical one, several years ago. She was the most excited among everyone in her group and it showed. She had earlier on read a textbook recommended to her by one of her senior colleagues they fondly called Dr Tee, so she literally came that first day in surgery posting to shine. There, right there, she knew she was going to become a surgeon. The circumstances that led to her specializing in paediatric surgery would be up for discussion at a later time.
As she watched Tara lead the students out of her office, her eyes reflexively turned to the wall clock hanging on the left side of the wall. Ten minutes to lunch time. Maybe that was why she’d dismissed the students in a hurry. She smiled at her own mischief while pulling her laptop closer. She hadn’t gotten her head to concentrate on anything all morning and the more her anxiety, the slower time dragged its murky legs right in front of her face.
A tap on the door sent her heart flying miles outside her ribcage. It was lunch time on the dot. Can someone even be this accurately punctual? Suddenly, a small pint of sweat formed on her forehead. She wished she had mirrors everywhere around the office room. She needed to check herself. Check her smile. Perhaps she had lost it in the moment of anxiety. She needed to be sure the golden bracelet dangling around her neck was sitting pretty. Sadly, there was no mirror. She got up, pulled down the edges of her dress and made a weird decision to walk the short distance from her table to the door to open it instead of simply saying out loud, “come in!”
As she walked gracefully to the door, she let her right hand press down the golden clip that’s holding a part of her hair to the right. She was nervous but braced up to hold down the doorknob.
She reflexively bent backwards as a bunch of car keys dangled so close to her eyes she almost fainted.
“Were you expecting someone else?”
Grace Philips scoffed and headed back to her seat after glancing over her shoulders at the wall clock. “At least, not someone to blindfold me?”
“C’mon chief, I was just playing.”
She eyeballed him.
Wale Martins had eventually become a thorn in her flesh in this facility. They were classmates back in the university. He was what medical students would readily refer as bookworm. No social groups. No relationships. No fellowship meetings. He was all about books and book alone. He had his A grades to show for it after all. Martins was one of those who went out of the country almost immediately after graduation.
‘We need to search for greener pastures’ he – and the others in his boat – would always say.
Quite unusually and unfortunately for him, he couldn’t get his footing after all these years and had to return back to the country. He got residency placement here in the past four months and,
“I brought this for you to proofread!” Martins said, pushing his laptop towards Grace.
Grace Philips often wondered whether the young man thought her jobless and must be at his beck and call the entire time. He just barges into her office without invitation or any official notification and expects her to leave whatever she was doing to attend to him. It was quite irritating on different counts but she didn’t want it to show on her face let alone her voice. She understands that the guy may misunderstand whatever she said now for contempt or spite but she surely wouldn’t go far with him acting this way.
“Well, I’m sorry, Martins, but now isn’t a good time.”
“But why?” he answered hurriedly
She checked her wall clock. Ten minutes past beginning of lunch hour.
Martins eyes reflexively follow hers to the clock and he sat up in his seat.
“Oh! Lunch hour?” He picked something invisible on his little bushy beards. “Okay, Grace, let’s do it this way…” he swallows, holding her gaze. “How about I take you out for lunch? You can read this while we are still…”
“Oh no.” Grace hurriedly interrupted him. She noticed the perplexed look on his face and readjusted uncomfortably in her seat. She wondered why she was so quick to shut him off. “I mean, I would love to go for lunch with you, and…” she counted her words. “I thank you very much for the offer, but… I already have plans.”
Wale Martins blinked. He could only imagine what Grace Philips meant by ‘I already have plans’ because definitely, in his opinion, she doesn’t have time for men.
“Alright.” Martins said plainly, resisting the urge
to query further. “So when can I bring it?”
“Ehmm!” Grace put a hand on her jaw while thinking through her schedules for the day. She was meant to be out for lunch with Dr ‘I’ll meet with you tomorrow lunchtime’ by now. Cheers to twenty whooping minutes gone and there’s still no sight of him. Could he have only been messing with her? Maybe he wouldn’t come after all.
“Uhmmm…” Martins’ voice jerks her back to the office. “Ehen… yes. what was I saying?” then she remembered, ignoring the confusion lurking around Martins’ eyes. “Yeah… we were talking about time. “Ehm… alright. This is the document right?” She rose her left eyebrow, lowering the other one.
“Yes, Ma’am!” Martins said eagerly, nodding in the affirmative.
“How about mailing it to me? I’ll go through it as soon as I can and get it across to you.”
Fair enough, Martins thought.
As he stood up to leave, Grace found herself exhale. She needed space more than anything else right now. If not for anything, to brood over her failed lunch date.
Isaac Oladele pulls over in the wide covered pavilion that’s his parking lot. The space for his wife’s car is occupied and that made his heart beat a little faster. It’s quite unusual for her to be back home in the afternoon. Stretching his hand to the back of the car, he pulled a bag closer. Omojo had asked for princess doll on his way to work earlier this morning and he had to drive all the way to Kiddies World to get it. Of course, he’s guaranteed of no sleep if he failed to come back home with it today. The thought of which made him smile as he got down from his car. It’s a Rav 4 XA40. Pressing down on the remote to lock it, he walked as calmly as he could mutter. From the front door, he already heard Ethan’s voice and that made him hurry into the building.
“Gray, what’s wrong?” He queried as he threw the bag onto one of the couches while heading to where his wife and son were sited, dragging.
“His nanny said he’s been acting this way all day, honey. Just crying and crying uncontrollably.” She handed the little boy over to his father. “He wouldn’t eat anything and wouldn’t suck. His temperature is normal, so I don’t seem to quite understand.”
Isaac could already feel worry spewing out of his wife’s voice. The woman can get easily uneasy. She was still on the cloth she’d worn to work earlier today, a lavender blue dress on an A-line peach skirt.
“Daddy’s boy, you got to stop crying now, c’mon! You know daddy is here.” Isaac said, kissing tears off the boy’s face and rocking him gently in his arms. The little boy seemed to recognize his father readily and the tone of his loud screams lowered at every new statement from the older man. “My boy, you shouldn’t be crying like the girls in this house, you know?”
Grace Oladele eyeballed her husband. “What do you mean?”
A smile tuck at Isaac’s face. “Well, I was only saying, men have to be men and…”
“Not cry?” Grace raised an eyebrow. Then she realized. As though Ethan understood every word his father told him, he stopped crying. Instead, he sat there calmly in the soothing arms of the middle-aged man as the latter rocked him back and forth.
“Well…” Isaac started, “I don’t know why you are taking it personally!”
Grace got up and gave him a mild punch on his arm. “I guess your boy was just waiting for you to come carry him.” she sounded tired. “I should have just called you after the nanny’s call instead.”
Isaac smiled proudly. “Let’s say I know my boy and my boy knows me.”
Grace scoffed jokingly. “Yeah right!” she found the second of her pair of shoes and slipped her foot into them while tucking some items back in her handbag.
“Now that you are here and he’s calm, I’d better get back to work.”
“Just like that?” Isaac couldn’t believe it.
“I thought you know your boy and he knows you too? You both should have a beautiful time at home, okay? His nanny is even still around.” She leaped to plant a kiss on his lips before briskly walking to the door. “Take care and bye, my love.”
Isaac took in a deep breath. The smile still on his face even though it’s faded now. The event of the last five-minutes happened so fast for his head to grasps. He had planned to come use the home office for a few hours at least. Now, plans changed.
Could this also be part of the price for fatherhood?
Grace Oladele tiptoed through the back door as she made for a seat just close by. The seminar room was almost packed full and of course, the residents were presenting cases. Thankfully, Prof Ijele was concentrating with so much attention on the female resident presenting that he didn’t notice her walk in. Normally, she was meant to sit on the consultants’ role but not when she’s arriving for seminar two hours after the start of it. She was almost successfully done pulling out one of the chairs to sit quietly when the loud ringing of her phone dragged everyone’s attention in her direction. She felt like digging a hole in the ground and disappearing into it for a long time. With shaky hands, she ended the call and didn’t know what was the most appropriate thing to say to the faces staring at her like she had killed ten thousand souls.
“I’m sorry. Good afternoon, Prof!” she bent her head courteously.
Looked like Prof Ijele didn’t recognize her until she greeted him.
The old man’s face lit up. “Grace. yes. I asked after you at the beginning of the seminar.”
A flattered smile stayed on Grace’s face as though plastered. Hopefully, the man would be fast with talking to her enough to take back the uncomfortable spotlight.
“Yes sir, I had an emergency to attend to…” she glanced around in split seconds – from the consultants’ row to the senior registrars, registrars, house officer and medical students – and didn’t think it was important to divulge the details.
“Come over to your seat, please?” Prof said respectfully.
Prof Ijele is one medical elder that’s been known and loved for his humility, courteousness and kindness.
Dr Grace Oladele took the long walk to freedom… to her seat through the peering eyes of the others. No as though she owed the rest an explanation. She was their senior by far for all she cared. But Grace, unlike her friend, had been known to be extremely shy and uncomfortable in the midst of people.
“You can go on!” Prof told the resident as soon as Grace took the empty seat between four others bearing the professor on her left and two other consultants on her right.
As the resident went on and on about details of a particular patient with ‘… positive history of hypertension and non-compliance to medication’, Prof. Ijele leaned in towards Grace’s ears.
“Hope the emergency has been taken care of?”
Grace jerked at first because she wasn’t expecting the level of care and concern. Then, she relaxed and nodded in the affirmative.
Yes! The emergency was indeed taken care of.
Prof Ijele definitely don’t want to know.
She smiled and focused on the case presenter.
In her many and varied imaginings of the day, they hadn’t all been alike in any particular way. The only similarity may be that the sun had shone brightly. Perhaps, brighter than what’s obtainable in the rainy season in Ile-Ife city but it did shine anyway. The morning had broken like the sweet melody of a blackbird, full of promise, freshness and newness to come. Now it sat like a cold cup of coffee waiting to be drained away.
He ought to have come. The happy, eager and curious anticipation.
The remaining part of her day after lunch hour was just an attempt to get by without slipping into depression. She was trying to overcome the battle front in her head.
“But he did say he was willing to know me more, didn’t he?”
“Perhaps, he changed his mind about that?”
Grace stop being paranoid! She cautioned herself over and again.
“Alright! Maybe he got caught up in something?”
She considered the possibility that he may not be well at the time then she let her head wave it off.
“I’m pretty sure he’s okay. Maybe duty called.”
“But he should have called, right?”
Wale Martins’ work became a go-to distractor, but that distraction was short-lived because she was done proofreading and editing in less than an hour. Then she fell into the same cycle in her head all over again. That was when she called her friend. She needed to vent. To let it all out like a locked down combusting room. The smoke from her thoughts were choking even her. Feelings were like temperatures. Attraction is warm, curiosity is warmer, anger is boiling. Hate can torch, but it can also freeze. Love… Well, that’s a temperature best left under neutral.
She reached for her buzzing phone while negotiating the turn into her deserted street. Her house was No. 3 on this line. Most people in this estate, as she’d observed over time, had a regular 8am to 4pm jobs and anyone driving into the estate an hour after 4pm would be able to pick the sound of a pin if it dropped.
“So you are just returning my calls since all this time?” She mouthed, feeling slightly irritated. “I thought you ended it to call back?”
“Gracey, your call legit embarrassed me!” Grace Oladele said with a little sense of humor and then went on to summarize the circumstances surrounding the call.
Grace Philips was cold. “But you aren’t just coming out of the seminar room, right?”
“Prof had a special meeting with me after the over four hours’ seminar and I had to hurry back home immediately cos I left Ethan with boo earlier.” Then it hit her. Her friend wasn’t her usual excited self. She took a deep breath. “He didn’t call, huh?”
“That’s the problem, Gee!” Grace Philips swallowed against the tightening on her throat. “He wouldn’t come and wouldn’t call. To think that I planned my entire day around his words to me yesterday?”
Grace Oladele sighed loud enough. “Anything could have gone wrong, Gracey!” her voice was tender, calming.
“Yeah right!” She brought the car to a final stop in the parking lot. She readjusted the Bluetooth earpiece so as not to slip off her ear holes whenever she reached out to pull her laptop bag from the backseat. Putting her phone in her handbag, she dragged the two bags alongside her tired self out of the car.
“Look, woman, you have to really learn to live out of your head.” Grace Oladele’s voice came as she pressed lock on her car remote.
Her friend would always ask her to get out of her head like her head was some building locked down for years, dusty and dirty, laden with spider-webs and maybe, some really dangerous animals. The delicious moment yet again when Grace Philips’ face washed blank with confusion, like her brain storage device couldn’t run fast enough to take in the point her friend was trying to make as she trudged towards her doorstep.
Just when she was about to climb one of the two short staircases that led to her front door, she noticed something. At first glance, Grace Philips would have sworn it was some chunk of dirt blown to her doorstep by the wind that always precedes the rain. It was the most likely guess. But there was no rain today! She remembered.
“I’ll call you back, Babes!” she barely uttered the words before pressing a button on the device dangling around her posterior neck.
When she bent to have a closer look, she almost screamed. Then she picked it up. It was cold, ice cold and wet to the torch.
What was a wet paper-box doing here?
And why so heavy?
She tore the box open to see
“I…” an unexpected voice came, almost sending her face to the ground.
To be continued.
How una de?
Yes, I am a Nigerian. I reserve the exclusive right to speak pidgin English. Lol.
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And there we are, darling!
See you same time, same place next week for episode 3.