This thing called LOVE – GRACE OCHIGBO
Estelle hurried after Eneojo. She was fuming, therefore stamping her legs hard against the interlocked walkway. Her face was creased in a light frown, roughening the skin on her forehead.
“Why do you always do this, Eneojo?” she held back his hand but Eneojo flung it away, walking on. About his name, he’d taught her how to correctly pronounce it a couple of times but whenever that anger gets in her, she’d pronounce it as though it was some local Chinese food, aeinoijoh! That didn’t bother him right now, the lady was nagging and he wasn’t cut out for it.
“My professor wants me to take up the appointment here, probably because she feels I belong here…” He turned to face Estelle now, “I don’t, babe. I don’t belong here. Can’t you see?”
Estelle took in a deep breath. However she fell in love with such a stubborn fellow bothered her. “We’ve been over this for long, Sweet. It seems your mind is locked away from all reasonable suggestions. Especially mine.”
Eneojo smiled. Here they’d go again. The girl was playing the victim’s card on his mind again. He stopped and closed up the distance between them. Holding up her chin, he pecked her lips.
“You know I love you, Estelle!”
Estelle rolled her eyeballs. “Yet, you are always… always… only doing what you like.”
“That also is because I love you…” he interrupted her. “I don’t want to, in few years’ time, regret my decision of staying back to work here when my mind is actually in Nigeria. The country, my state and most importantly, my family needs me Estelle, don’t you understand?”
Estelle blinked a tear off her eyes. “I need you too, Sweet. I do. We have a couple of Nigerian girls in class, they are determined go-getters. I feel like you’d forget about us once you cross the borders.”
Eneojo smiled again. Deeply. Indeed, it’s innate for humans to be selfish. All along he’d thought Estelle’s reasons for insisting he took up the professor’s offer was so he could have a good source of living on time. It’s no news that being a graduate in Nigeria doesn’t guarantee one a job, but here he was considered to be retained in one of the most prestigious schools in the world yet he preferred going back to serve his father land. There’s no particular reason other than the fact that his mind had always been to go out, get the knowledge and bring it back to better his own country. Moreover, he also needed to be closer to his sister now that no one could correctly tell her fate.
“If crossing the borders will end us, Estelle, then how’d I say I love you in the first place? Distance is not a barrier to love, Estelle. You would be working here while I, in Nigeria. You can always come around, same applies to me. We just need to learn to build trust amongst ourselves.”
“I love you, Eneojo. I’m so scared of losing you!” She fell tiredly in his arms.
“I love you more, Estelle. And I’m not scared of losing you…” Estelle withdrew from the hug enough to see his face. Eneojo winked. “I’m not scared of losing you because I will not leave you. I can’t even survive a minute without you. I need you like air. I can’t get enough of you!”
Estelle felt her heart water down in joy as she relaxed more into Eneojo’s manly arms.
Caleb stepped out of his car, Ajifa’s car precisely. He’d said to return the car as soon as they got back, but Ajifa refused, saying he needed it much more. Interestingly, they’ve not learnt about his newly found jobless state, as he would always not come around the hospital during normal working hours in the guise that he’s at work. He didn’t also know how to relate his resignation to them at all.
“What? You resigned? At this critical time?”
Expected shock would be on everyone’s voice.
Pastor Festus would reflexively drill him till he said the reasons for resignation and having a lady as the background cause would be disastrous to the little trust he was building back with the older man. He would keep everything secret and try harder to get another job before his tactics got discovered.
“Mother, you have moved your shop to the veranda?” he removed the dark blue tie off his neck and the shirt initially tucked in his trouser while he said this.
Joy Oguche kept her eyes fixed on the dress she was making on her sewing machine. It’s beaded lace and the machine was obviously giving her a very tough time. She ignored her son’s sarcasm to talk about something more important.
“How was the job hunting today?”
Caleb shrugged, letting out a forced breath. “Same old story, mother. They keep saying, they’d get back to me. I even went as far as Peace College of Education. All I know is that I need to get a job before Unekwu completely recovers!”
“That’s if she ever does.”
“Excuse me?” Caleb’s eyebrows rose up in uprising anger.
Joy Oguche set the lace aside and sat up to look at her son clearer.
“Caleb…” she called out and Caleb hoped for his sanity’s sake that the woman wasn’t about to take the familiar route again. “Mark called this afternoon!”
“Oh wow! How is he doing?” He saw a stool, dragged it and sat.
His mother rolled her eyes. “Your brother wants to know what your next line of action is.” She hesitated. “Remember he brought home his fiancée first, a long time ago but I believe so much in protocol. You are my first child and so we advised him to be patient until your wedding is done.”
Caleb tapped his left toe against the stool he was on. He didn’t understand why the woman was reeling out incidences he was well aware of.
“That he did. Obediently. Mark waited till you were bold enough to finally engage that fiancée of yours. He waited till the wedding date was planned, and even brought out money to sponsor an integral part of the wedding – the reception. He waited, while you insensitively called off the wedding, and now that your fiancée is in-between life and death, he’s still…”
“Unekwu is not in-between life and death, mother.” Caleb roared loudly. Hitting the sewing machine in front of his mother. “She is not dying. She is alive. Get that.”
“If she is alive, then marry her. Take her to the altar and quickly do the needful. Go ahead and marry her if she’s alive as you claim, Caleb. And if she’s not capable of getting married, marry someone who’s all ready to be everything for you, instead of impeding my family’s progress!”
Caleb’s anger boiled on his insides. He rolled his hand into a fist. “Is this about Angela, mother? What did the girl give to you?”
Joy Oguche let out a sarcastic laughter. “Angela? You mean Angela would have to tell or give me something before I know that my son is losing his life chasing shadows.”
“If you are referring to me, then you are wrong, mother. Absolutely wrong.” He hesitated. “I’m not chasing shadows. Never did. I’m only going after what I want… who I love… and not you, Angela or my younger brother or anyone else for that matter can frustrate me. Never!” he was screaming at the top of his lungs now.
John Oguche had walked into the heated arguments and both mother and son were so engrossed that they hadn’t heard him open the door to join them in the veranda till he cleared his throat. He walked into the veranda proper with eyes staring at Caleb. Caleb knew this gesture – the man had always told him and his brothers never to yell at a woman, no matter what, let alone their mother, especially being the only ‘girl in boy’s hostel’ as they always teased her.
“I’m sorry, father. Mother just stepped on the wrong toe!”
“I didn’t step on any toe, Caleb.” The woman snapped. “Do the needful and stop blaming anyone for your issues.” She drew a long hiss.
Caleb looked from her to his father and back to her. Something in him felt like strangulating the tongue out of her mouth. Nothing had gotten him this pissed in a long time.
“Father, can you hear that?” his first finger pointed from man to wife.
“But she’s right, my boy. You know? You got to do the needful!”
Caleb couldn’t believe his ears. He should have known that the man would always support his wife anytime, any day. He eased a breath through his clenched teeth.
“Father…” the older man nodded. “Mother…” Joy Oguche blinked her eyes. Caleb swallowed and continued. “I understand how it is and what you are going through. I know how tough it is to have a seemingly irresponsible son for a first child.” Caleb sounded pathetic and he felt his father about to interrupt him but he continued before the man could say anything.
“No one wishes, prays or plans to have misfortunes. And if it had happened this way in my life, I’ve learnt to just live through it without depression or giving space for regrets.” His words were slow and sober, and his parents listened with rapt attention. “Mark may be my younger brother but God settled him early in life. Mark was buoyant enough and was already paying Gideon, your last son’s school fees even when he was in third year. During his service year in Portharcout, Mark already built a house and that’s how he’s been all the years.” He blinked his eyes slowly. The words were bitter in his throat. “You think I’m proud that my younger brother was to sponsor an integral part of my wedding while my in laws took care of the rest? You think I love teaching in a government secondary school in this state where I have to pray to get at least 2% of my salary… what I worked for… at the end of the month? You think…” his voice cracked and he kept quiet immediately. It’d not make sense to cry right now, at least not before his mother.
The woman got up and came to his side on the stool. What has she done with her incessant naggings?
“Son, I wasn’t calling you irresponsible!” her voice came calmly now.
Caleb smiled through his pained eyes. “You don’t have to spell it out, mother. I know. And very soon, mother… very soon, I’ll move past the confusions and complications in my life. I’ll move past the indecisiveness and fears. I will move past all these and make you proud very soon, mother. Just very soon.”
The woman grabbed his head closer her chest and stroked his hair while tears rolled down her own face. She was only seeking a better way to present Angela as the most sensible option for him, and not to make him feel utterly bad and guilty for the things going on in his life. John Oguche stood back, leaning against the wall. He didn’t know what to say, or who to console between mother and son right now.
Suddenly, Caleb stood up, jerking his mother backwards. The woman would have fallen if not for the fact that her two legs were firmly placed on the ground. John Oguche shifted from where he was as Caleb brushed him on his way inside. Few seconds, and the door banged in their faces. They stared at one another, considering the better of the options. Going after Caleb sounded logical save that they didn’t know what he was up to. If whatever he was up to wasn’t good enough, remaining outside here wasn’t the best as well. They were still torn amidst these decisions when the door creaked open. Caleb stepped out pulling a box behind him.
“No, son. No!” Joy Oguche hurried over to drag the bag in his hand. “It has not gotten to this, Caleb. Please, forgive me…” she made to kneel down but Caleb caught her and steadied her on her feet.
“Caleb!” His mother called out, in tears now but Caleb wasn’t even looking in her direction. His attention was towards the older man who just stood aloof, saying or doing nothing.
“I think a point comes in a man’s life where he got to stand up, brace up and face life squarely.” He pressed his upper lips together. “I have decided never again to choose what feels good over what’s good for me, mother. And that decision is one I’m never going back on.” He searched his mother’s face, and could see beyond it to her soul. “I thank God for giving me the best parents. Thanks for accommodating me all these while. It’s time to go out there and live.”
His mother wanted to say something but the look he gave shut her up.
“I’ll be back, someday, sooner or later… but one thing is sure, father, I’ll be back bigger!” With this he pulled out the handle of the bag and rolled it down the cemented floor leading to where his car was parked.
Joy made to follow after him, but her husband grabbed her into his arms in a warm embrace. She tried to drag herself off his manly hands, perhaps to run after Caleb; her first son, her best son, her most cherished son. She nagged and disturbed him because she loved him most. She hadn’t let Mark marry first because of the kind of scandal it would be on Caleb’s name. Inasmuch as Caleb didn’t know all these and all the while he thought his mother enjoyed torturing him, she knew she’d only been looking out for him. She was watching his back, praying and hoping daily that life falls in place for him as soon as possible. But here, right here, her weird way of showing love and care… her naggings and over protectiveness had sent her beloved son out of the house.
She wailed deeper, squeezing her husband’s shirt as her head rested against his chest.
“You are the most beautiful being in the whole world, my princess.”
Vera adjusted her neckpiece carefully while her father was giving this same compliment for the fifth time this evening, if she wasn’t mistaken. Her red flare gown had its sides shaped to fit Vera’s curves and contours. It had a lacy hand that revealed the smoothness of her arms. Her hair was held firmly to the left by a glistering golden pin that matched her clutch and the medium height heels she had on.
“I’ve got this.” Her mother said, wanting to help her fix the neckpiece and Vera let her.
“You make me want to go back in history, daughter!” Fred Williams said with his slight baritone voice.
He’d told them a couple of times about how he was tempted to take a tip from an alcohol bottle the night he was to propose to his wife, because in his own words, he didn’t ‘want liver to fail him’. Mrs Williams had come out astonishingly breath-taking and he’d almost missed his steps. Time flies indeed and now it was his daughter, his precious only daughter, going on her first date ever. Until some months ago, he’d thought that by shielding his precious daughter from men, he was shielding her from heartbreak, from cheer wickedness, from players. He’d thought he was doing the best thing by offering all his daughter ever needed and making her lose sight of the significance of a man in her life. Not until her last birthday that he’d realised the little daddy’s princess was now in her late twenties and never had she been in a relationship. That wasn’t even a call for concern as much as the fact that Vera had this nonchalance towards men and the idea of settling down. To her, she was as fine as fine all by herself.
“I’m sorry, it took this long to go on your first date, baby!”
Vera scoffed. “Enough dad! Nothing you say or do justifies the fact that you and mum are practically pushing me away from your home.” She squeezed her forehead into a frown.
“Come off it, princess…” her mother, who had been acting dumb the whole time finally spoke out. “I would like to keep you with me in this house till eternity. You even know you are all I’ve got. But what needs to be done should be done, baby.”
“And…” Fred called from his side of the room. “Unlike other young men, this one had proven himself to be responsible by coming to talk to me directly when you weren’t taking him serious.” He let out a smile, too broad it became laughter. “I mean, it’s not every day you find such sincere and serious minded young men in this generation of players and jokers.”
“That’s why I must accept him, huh?” Vera spat. She didn’t know what her problem was exactly. Perhaps she wasn’t interested in this date in the very least and she can only hope things don’t get messed up at the end of this evening.
“Ever since that evening you guys talked in this house, we have stopped interfering… isn’t it, Honey…” he sought confirmation from his wife who not only quickly nodded in the affirmative but also took over his line of thoughts.
“Remember it took you a week plus to agree to this date with him. If after all these you are still not convinced about this particular person, please make bold to opt out. We are not compelling and we’d never compel you, baby. Never!” Mrs Williams joined her husband on the settee and laid her head on his chest.
Vera never understood her parents. She’d always been of the opinion that distance constituted a lot of problems to love. Her father was always on the run and she’d always felt he’s starving her mother of emotional satisfaction, but she’s wrong. Well, so it seemed. How beautiful and refreshing their love looks whenever he was back from those unending trips and she’s in his arms.
Adults are complicated indeed, she’s forced to accept her mother’s principle.
Silence sat between them as they heard a car drive into the compound. Vera felt her palms become wet with sweat and she cautioned herself to stay put. Was she nervous? But some drops of sweat also found their way down her spine.
As he opened the door and walked in, Vera felt her heart miss beats in rapid successions so much so that she felt like dropping dead. The young man – he had the kind of face that stopped you in your tracks. No one feature makes him so handsome, though his eyes come close. His eyes were a mesmerising deep ocean blue, flecks of silvery light performed ballets throughout. His face was strong and defined, his features moulded from granite. He had dark eyebrows, which sloped downwards in an adventurous blissful journey, blending beautifully with his well-trimmed beards. How hadn’t she ever noticed him in this light? The light that he was breathtakingly handsome. And extremely so.
“Good evening, sir!” He took the older man’s hand in a completely polite way, before taking Mrs William’s.
“Good evening, son. You look very gorgeous. A perfect prince charming for my adorable princess here!”
Vera gave her father a cold look. She was getting pissed off with the whole hype and hyper stuffs going on around her.
“Can we just get going already.” She yelled loudly, jerking everyone’s attention towards her.
“Shall we, my lady?” the young man curved his right elbow so Vera could tuck in her hand. She did quickly and they headed in the direction of the door. As he bent over to pull down the door knob, they heard Fred Williams’ voice calling out to them.
“You should be back here latest 9:30pm, and young man…” he pointed his first finger in that direction. “Bring her back intact and in one piece.”
Ouch! Goddamnit!! Vera knew her father wouldn’t let them go without a stern warning after all.
“Yes sir.” The young man responded courteously, opening the door for Vera.
Caleb had no clue as to where to go when he drove out of his father’s compound. He was only sure he’d overstayed his welcome there. Staying somewhere away, where he had to bother about what to eat, how to pay rent and all, will put more determination in him to succeed beyond all odds. An idea came to his mind and that sort of settled a lot of doubts but first he needed to go see her.
He found the turn to the place and drove in.
He was at the corridor when he heard so much noise coming from her room. This was strange, but without giving it further thoughts, he pushed the door open.
All eyes turned in the direction of the door as though planned. Caleb stood deadpan and grounded to one spot. It was like all the blood in his body had drained out and he was literally struggling to breathe.
“Come right in, my man!” Pastor Festus motioned to him, few minutes after he couldn’t bring himself to taking a single step forward.
He took in a deep breath and manageably drew nearer. The gaze and looks scared him. Victor sat to the right of Unekwu who was resting her head against the headrest of the bed. A lot of cardboard papers bearing diagrams and bold letter words littered the entire room, from the walls to the bed to everywhere… virtually everywhere. He wasn’t aware that Unekwu had started her speech rehabilitation process. The therapist, a young man in his midlife looked very friendly and it’s surprising how he could smile so sweetly… the type of sweet smile that Vera has, he thought.
“Good evening, sir!” he managed to say, expecting to be dazed.
“God has really been faithful over the life of my daughter. You see? Here we are already in few months. I’m so certain she’d return back to us… soon.”
Caleb nodded his head in the affirmative. He didn’t know whether to feel excited that Unekwu was recovering too fast or not. Many things bothered him. More recently was his jobless state and now, homeless state. All the expectations on him would be heightened as soon as Unekwu was back and healthy. That shouldn’t prevent him from wishing her well anyway. With this now, he was certain he needed to work really harder, if not hardest.
The door flipped open and Caleb couldn’t believe his eyes. He wiped his organ of sight with the back of his palm to be sure they were seeing clearly. The lady held onto her phone. Obviously, she’d gone out to pick a call.
How? Caleb was almost about to spill his thoughts when Pastor Festus bailed him out.
“Meet my son in-law to be, daughter. Caleb, this is one of my newest favourite daughters.”
“Angela?” Caleb screamed out in shock.
Victor sat where he was, enjoying himself. The show in front of him was something like he had imagined. He would wait till Caleb got hooked in his trap and then no one would be available to rescue him then… no one.
“Oh! You two know each other?” Pastor Festus’ face lit up in ecstasy
“Ehrm… well… not…” Angela stammered and faced Caleb. “Nice to meet you, Mr Caleb. I’m sorry about Unekwu, but then she’s a fighter and would pull through this soon.”
Caleb nodded rhythmically, more like questioning Angela with his silence. He couldn’t fathom how she’d won her way so much into the pastor’s heart to let her into Unekwu’s private wardroom. Only selected few came in here to see Unekwu. If Angela did something to get the fondness and trust of Pastor Festus this easily, then something must be her target. Something definitely was driving her. And Caleb knew how not to underestimate the power of a desperate woman. Never!
“Ehmmm!” he cleared his throat, trying to force the pieces of words off. “I… I was just coming from work, sir. I decided to drop by to say hi.” He lied but that’s the much he could afford. “I’ll just go freshen up and come back to perhaps stay the night here!” he didn’t say these smoothly and together, he took one word out at a time, as though the others got stuck.
Pastor Festus smiled. He seemed to be in his friendliest of moods this evening. On the one hand was the obvious reason, Unekwu was learning to speak again by the admirable effort of this therapist and on the other hand, Caleb suspects Angela’s presence added another touch of excitement on the older man.
“Oh… Caleb is the most precious and best son in-law any man can ever have.” He patted the latter’s back proudly. “You see?” he motioned to Victor who gave a dour stare. Caleb tried in vain not to notice the displeasure in Victor’s face as the clergy man sang his praise. “You can go and rest, my son. Ah… The therapist here thinks Unee would need intensive bed rest the whole of tonight due to the so much rigour she’s gone through today.”
Caleb swallowed. Why was he suddenly feeling as though the man was trying to get rid of him?
“So who would stay to watch over her?” Caleb couldn’t help the question. He’d been avoiding Angela and he would keep avoiding her, not only tonight but forever, if need be.
“The nurse on duty, son. This time, she would do the job. You see? We all will go have some rest tonight!”
Caleb wanted to protest further but advised himself against it. Even though he had planned on spending the night in the ward and then leaving the worries and hustling for a new house till tomorrow, he might just have to think fast about a solution if he mustn’t sleep under a bridge in the car tonight. And the earlier he leaves this place, the better for him.
“Alright, goodnight sir.” He walked over to give Unekwu a light peck, holding her gaze for a while. “Good night, sunshine!” He rose his head and nodded to Victor who ignored, then Angela and finally the therapist before walking out briskly, closing the door behind him as Angela and pastor’s giggles rang in the thin air.
Caleb felt a hand flag him down as he reversed. He blinked his eyes and stopped the car. Getting down, he felt the impulse to yell, but cautioned himself. This was still the hospital environment and it wouldn’t make sense to create a scene.
Angela had excused herself from the ward on the guise that she wanted to take a call.
“What were you doing in there, Angela? Don’t you have any conscience?” His voice was more of sorrow than anger.
“I am here because of my conscience and heart towards you, Bab…”
“Don’t!” Caleb snapped before the word ‘Baby’ would come off her mouth. She spread out her lips in a light smile.
“I want to be there for you, everywhere and every time, Caleb. Can’t you see? Unekwu might be my greatest rival but I don’t mind coming into her life and becoming her friend, so long as it makes you any better, Caleb. I’m deeply in love with you.”
Caleb knew he had no strong energy for this sort of conversation tonight. He would just dismiss her and leave as soon as possible. Who knows? Pastor may come out here and meet them and…
He noticed Angela had dragged herself closer to him, pushing the whole weight of her body against his. He was pinned to the car as she wriggled her waist alluringly in front of him. Caleb tried to push her away… but for his weakness. She pushed herself tighter to him, barely leaving enough space for air to pass. She could feel and hear the sound of his breath as it came out uneasily through his nostrils, hot flutters on her hair. She worked her left hand through his unfixed upper button while considering removing the next one and the next one and the next one.
Everything was happening like a flash before Caleb and as expected, his entire system was getting heated up. Inasmuch as he tried to push himself away, she pinned him more and more to the car. He clenched his teeth and closed his eyes, trying to gather the little more energy left in him.
He would push her away violently, enter the damn car and speed out of this hospital.
It wouldn’t matter if he had to go to a beer parlour, the thought sounded unusual in his mind, being a non-alcoholic or a church or a motel. He will zoom off to anywhere. ‘Cause even the farthest and hottest part of hell was cooler than the tight spot Angela had pinned him to right here.
He was about putting his thoughts into action when…
At first, he thought it was hallucination.. He wished it was a dream. No. That couldn’t have been Pastor Festus’ voice, right? Pastor Festus hadn’t come out to meet him and Angela in such a compromised position, right?
As he opened his eyes to reality, he wished for the first time in his life, that he hadn’t been born at all.
Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength. Loving someone deeply gives you courage.
To be continued next Wednesday!