This thing called LOVE – GRACE OCHIGBO
The view around him went out of focus as Caleb tried to get a grasp on his mind that was running all over the place. It was like the whole world came to a standstill for several seconds, or so it appeared as Pastor Festus stared back at him, unable to utter a word. Caleb’s face moved over the man’s shoulders to see the disdainful stare from Victor. The younger man stared at him with such disgust, so much so that if eyes carried guns, Caleb would have been dancing in the deepest part of hell by now.
Suddenly, he heard it. The noise jerked him back from the world of his thoughts to reality again. Angela had left him, eyes covered in shame, to her car and in few minutes she was out of the hospital compound. She probably couldn’t stare back at her newly found ‘spiritual daddy’ in the face, especially after being caught doing something like kissing her ‘sister’s’ fiancée. Caleb heard pastor Festus trying to call out to Angela, somewhat stopping her from hurrying off, but it was too late. He knew Angela better than waiting up at a place she feels as though she had embarrassed herself and her entire generation.
“Oh… Caleb…” Pastor Festus got himself back from the shock finally.
“Ehm… sir… I…” the words were dropping in some thrash along his throat. Well, if not trash, why weren’t they coming out?
Pastor Festus had a smile dancing around his lips. That got Caleb even more frightened. It looked like a smile on the face of a chief judge who came to the courtroom dressed in red. He knew doom was looming but for his sanity’s sake, he has chosen not to run ahead of himself.
“I was rushing out, hoping to ask if you could drive me to the airport. My son is on his way.” Pastor Festus said calmly. His voice didn’t sound provoked, neither did it sound disappointed. It just had some unreadable expression in it.
“I… I can… I can… why not? I…” Caleb started but got interrupted by Pastor Festus.
“It’s OK. You even look overtly exhausted yourself. You can go home.” He glanced to the far left direction of the wide compound and brought his face back to Caleb.
“We can go, sir.” Caleb tried to push a bit further, but he noticed the resignation in the pastor’s face.
“Victor would take me instead…” he checked behind him, as if to be sure the young man was still there. “Moreover, Angela who drove him down here just left him stranded.”’
Caleb thought he noticed a victorious smile course around Victor’s lips. He’d thought Victor was just being a dutiful friend in seeking for Unekwu’s good, but these days, especially after the accident, he felt an aura of competition between him and Victor. It was as though the two were in a race to win a trophy in the shape of Unekwu’s heart. He’d always convinced himself with the fact that Pastor Festus and his family, including Unekwu, saw Victor as family, just family. Now, thinking about it, he’s wrong, and would even be more wrong after tonight’s scenario gets to replay in the head of Unekwu’s father much later.
“You see what I’m saying? You can go home and rest for the night, OK? Unekwu would be under the intensive watch of her nurse. Good night, son.” Pastor Festus said quickly and literally breezed past him to his car. Caleb stared with awestruck eyes.
The man just dismissed him, right? He just did.
As Victor walked in front of him, hurrying after the clergy man, Caleb was sure the former wanted to nudge him at the sides, but for Pastor Festus. Few minutes and Pastor’s silver Bugatti Veyron drove the short distance out of the compound from the parking lot. Caleb stood, looking at the car with intensity, as though he was driving it.
What had pastor Festus said?
Unekwu’s younger brother was returning to the country?
That young man had never been on favourable terms with him. Yeah, they never always meet face-to-face, but he had felt disappointed in his sister’s choice when he came for her introduction, and had also called Caleb to hurl insults at him the time he’d called off the wedding. Caleb was more worried about losing the support of the only person on his side in his in-law to-be’s family. Another of his worries now would be where to sleep tonight. He remembered his load was still in the trunk of this car he’s leaning against. He’d left his parents’ home in rage earlier. Unekwu’s place that sounded like a last resort, at least until he was able to sort things out tomorrow, just became impenetrable.
What to do?
He pulled out his phone from the left pocket of his jean trousers. He had no idea what to do, or who he wanted to call.
Angela’s place was a no go area… or was it?
He hadn’t any real close friend all his days as a staff in Government day secondary school. He kept scrolling down his contacts, intensively staring at it as if he could translate to another location with a deeper stare on his phone.
Down his contacts, he saw the name.
Maybe it wasn’t that bad after all.
Moreover, the devil you know was better than the angel you don’t know, right?
It didn’t appear logical to do it, but he had no choice right here. Deciding for a pretty long while whether or not to call, he tapped the dial button, damning all consequences.
What have I done?
That question strongly tormented Angela’s mind as she drove down the highway. She wasn’t speeding at all. She’s not forgotten that evening at the arts centre when Unekwu stormed out, and got herself in the horrible condition she was in right now. She connected her phone to the speaker of her car via Bluetooth and dialled her most trusted and available person, even when she’s quite aware it was almost midnight there in the US.
“What is the matter again, Baby girl.” Aunty Flora’s voice came up after picking on the fourth ring.
She sounded extremely tired and was trying hard to hide her provocation as a result of being forcefully awoken with unending calls. Angela sniffed in and kept her eyes fixed on the road while trying to negotiate the turn to her left.
“Come on, baby, talk to me. Oh my God. Are you crying?” Aunty Flora’s voice came out very audibly now, as though she had gone past her drowsiness and gotten alerted by Angela’s silence.
Angela began to reel out the ordeals in the past weeks. How she had won her way into the heart of the pastor. She wanted to use him to get close to his daughter, who was more or less her rival by the way. Why she wanted to get close to her rival wasn’t clear in her head but she had this hope that things would work out fine… somehow. Lamenting over how she’d lost control of herself again in front of Caleb and how that the pastor had walked in on the both of them.
“What? Angela… c’mon already!” Her aunt screamed out in frustration.
Angela knew she had scattered every single chance of ever being together with Caleb again and that even wrenched her heart the more. Aside that she couldn’t tell how disgusting she’d appear before the pastor henceforth.
“OK… Alright! Pull yourself together OK? I understand how you feel, honey!”
Angela nodded her head from left to right with so much vigour one may think she’d pull off her neck. “The only thing I think you understand, aunt, is that I’m back to square one. Back to square one, aunt.”
She heard her aunt take in deep breaths. “You want my advice or not?”
Angela blinked her eyes. She wanted to just waste her airtime on international calls, that was why she’d called, right? Her aunt needed to specially inquire if she needed her advice or not first? Shouldn’t the woman know that’s what she needed right now?
“Yes.” Angela responded reluctantly after she heard ‘huh’ over the phone the third time.
The older woman on the other side of the phone hesitated for a while.
“It doesn’t define you, baby. It doesn’t define your person or your heart. If you’ve shown love so much to one person who doesn’t appreciate it, please let him go…” she paused and continued immediately. “Learn not to hold onto love too tightly. If you love someone so much, let him go, if he’s for you, he’d return to you, honey. Don’t force it.”
Angela had parked beside the road now. The whole thing was getting too unbearable for her and inasmuch as she couldn’t deny the fact that she’d pondered on this line of thoughts by her aunt before now, reality just felt too hard to take in… too hard.
“I don’t know what to do, aunt.” She voiced out in utter surrender.
It took her aunt roughly two full minutes to come up with her next statement.
“I know what you should do, honey…”
Angela sat up to hear her clearly.
Vera tried to catch her breath after a long draining laughter. He was even more comic and exciting than she expected. He’d talked about funniest days in college and generally. Some minutes ago, he suggested that they played a game, using ‘almost’ in all their statement.
“You are almost most beautiful when you frown!”
Vera smirked. “And you almost don’t know how to give a simple compliment.”
“Are you saying I’m almost timid?” He smiled, displaying his white and sparkling teeth.
They’d gone on and on until his last statement that literally made Vera choke on her drink.
“I almost don’t know how to breathe anymore without you.”
Vera stared at him. She felt that statement cut through the left side of her chest, coursing down her spin till it took its position at the lower part of her abdomen.
What had he said?
It sounded like a mixture of lies and sincerity. She hadn’t been in his life in the past decades, yet he breathed normally. How come she’d suddenly become air? For whatever reasons, her mind flashed back to that night at the hospital. The night of her first ever kiss. That was the definition of ‘not knowing how to breathe’. Her own definition. Caleb had this sudden difficulty in breathing, or so she thought because as he hugged her, he’d used her breath – her deep pants and trembling breaths that had a part, of fear and another, of curiosity.
Was that what it meant to be one’s breath?
The question sought for answers in her heart and she reflexively closed her eyes tight. Why was she thinking of Caleb in a date such as this? What sort of person was she to be entranced by her best friend’s fiancé?
She was still in the middle of her pity party blame game when she felt a masculine hand on hers. She reflexively glanced up. Anone stared at her, a cute smile spreading from the upper part of his face downwards to reach his full lips. The young man was really cute, she admitted.
“Let me love you sincerely, Vera. I desire to.”
Vera blinked. A shadow of shyness spread about her. She’d seen this scene before; it was in some of those romance movies she and Unekwu watched at their ‘time of the month’. They always envisaged their own day, their own moment, when a cute guy would look into their eyes like Anone was looking in hers right now and say the three sacred words.
“I…” she started but the ringing on his phone interrupted her.
He raised his first finger as a way of seeking permission.
“OK…” he said simply after putting the phone against his ears. “A minute please. I’d be right back.” He said, picking up his keys while getting up. Vera need not ask what’s up as he’d already told her earlier when someone called that the person was coming to get something.
She waited till he was out of focus to sip her cup of juice. She’s having the type of treat she deserved and perhaps, her parents helped make a reasonable choice for her after all.
Anone walked to the car park in the direction he was told. He caught Caleb resting his head against his steering. The bright light of the 5-star hotel made him obvious even inside the car. Anone tapped on the window and he wound it down.
“What’s up, man? You sounded really worried over the phone.”
Caleb heaved a deep breath. “I just need to go and sleep, man. No strength for talks right now. And, I’m sorry for disturbing your date. You were the only person I could call.”
“Haba…” Anone exclaimed. “Don’t embarrass me, man. It’s been months now since we last saw, even when we’re both in this city. You are such a sly, man! Wedding is called off and the best man as well, right?” He hit Caleb’s shoulder.
The latter giggled slightly. “You won’t understand.”
“We’d meet in the house, man!” Anone removed a key from the bunch and gave it to him. “I got to be back in there.”
Caleb smiled knowingly. It reminded him of his timed dates with Unekwu and inasmuch as he didn’t know who his friend had in there, he could figure it was never a one-night-stand kind of person.
“Enjoy!” Caleb pressed the window lock remote and zoomed out of the arena as Anone headed back inside.
“I hope all is well?” Vera questioned before Anone barely came to the table. They were in the VIP lounge and fortunately, they were alone here tonight.
Anone shook his head from side to side, smiling. “No problem. I told you, a friend needed to go to my house.” He held her gaze for several seconds. “The house that would soon become our home.”
Vera gave a not-so-convinced smile. She was excited about the whole love and butterfly feeling in her stomach but don’t you think Anone was pushing too far to be talking about marriage – well, however stylishly, on their first date? It felt like desperation to her and from what she’s gathered in the few books on relationship she’s read, she had to be on the lookout. Desperate persons are usually not original, she reminded herself in her head, glancing at her wrist watch.
That action reflexively made Anone glance at his too.
“Yeah. I need to take you home.” He said it like he read her mind.
As they drove the pretty long distance to Vera’s house in 500 units, they talked and jested and cracked both convenient and inconvenient jokes. Her conclusion was simple… if Anone become less desperate, as she strongly thinks he is, she could give him a chance, considering the fact that he’s so much fun to be with.
Caleb woke up the next morning feeling like he’d fought an elephant in his dreams. He noticed someone had drawn the curtain and bright light from the morning sun that stung his retina had woken him up. He tried to sit up but was still weak. Then he realised that he’d slept off on the couch still wearing his shoes.
“You know if it was a girl that dozed off here, you’d carefully lift her to the bed, remove her shoes and wrap her in duvet?”
Anone, who was standing before a mirror and arranging his tie, chuckled loudly. “I like that part of ‘if it were a girl’. Last I checked, Caleb, your chest is as bare and flat as the expressway.”
“Idiot.” Caleb threw him one of his shoes. Anone dodged before it’d hit his head. He was all dressed up corporately already and with the number of hours it took him to decide on this particular outfit, a stain or dent from Caleb’s shoe would do him no good.
“How far you sef? Did you take the babe somewhere else? Or, you guys came here? I didn’t notice anyone enter sha.” Caleb winked coyly, pulling down the button of his shirt.
“How would you notice when you were sleeping like a dead idiot.” He smirked. “By the way, I took her home. It was a date. A responsible date for that matter.”
Caleb quickly glanced back as though stunned by his friend’s statement. “Anone! Responsible date? What happened, bro?” his concern was spelt out clearly in his voice.
Anone left off the mirror and came to part Caleb’s shoulder lightly. “How do you mean what happened?
Caleb blinked. “I should be asking you. How do you mean responsible date?”
“People change.” Anone snapped.
With that he walked majestically out of the house.
All that sleep wiped off Caleb’s memories seemed to all return immediately Anone stepped out of the house, leaving him alone. He couldn’t imagine what the next decision of the clergy man about him would be. He’d messed up big time… that he didn’t need anyone to tell him. As he tried to gather his whole self off the couch and probably go clean up in the room, he heard his phone buzz and it started to ring. The fear that gripped him when he saw the caller’s ID knew no bound.
“Good…good day… good… morning ma’am…”
It was Pastor Ajifa.
The dining table appeared rowdy with varieties of both local and intercontinental dishes. Regardless of the overloaded and so many large plates on the table, the maids were still taking turns to bring one or more trays containing plates of food.
“If there’s something I can never lack in my life, that’s good food.” Pastor Festus jeered, chewing the salad in his mouth. Ajifa blushed shyly as she added chicken on her husband’s plate of food.
“That’s true, mum. You sure know how to treat a man’s stomach excellently.” Eneojo added and everyone laughed.
The housekeeper walked in, courtly followed behind by Caleb. The latter held his hands together in front of him while walking calmly like a lamb led towards the slaughter. Pastor Ajifa’s call had carried no details. She’d only instructed him to come over to the house as fast as possible. He’d felt his legs grow weak at the ankles and had fallen severally in his attempt to draw up his trousers to his waist. Driving the whole way down here felt like a journey from forever as his mind tortured him with a thousand and one thoughts of likely possibilities.
Perhaps the clergy man had related the ordeals of yester-night to his wife and she needed a polite way to get her car back and so had to make him drive down first before expressing their disappointments and then dismissing him afterwards. Or, maybe Victor, who drove Pastor Festus to the airport last night, had let the cat out of the bag about his true relationship with Angela. The man must have angrily related it to his son who now, probably, wanted them to have a round table discussion as regards way forward.
Many thoughts spread about Caleb’s mind but as the house keeper led him closer to the dining hall from where came shouts, giggles and great excitement, he felt stunned by who his eyes caught first.
“Good evening, Son.” Pastor Festus called from his side of the table. “Please come and sit beside me.” he motioned to an empty chair on his right.
Caleb searched the older man’s smiles deeply before his eyes. He needed to check for sarcasm of the least sort. He shook hands with Eneojo warmly before proceeding to his ‘VIP’ seat. He noticed Eneojo was trying hard not to create a show here. He was probably still mad about his sister’s called-off wedding.
“Rhoda…” Ajifa called out, staring in the direction of the kitchen. “Please bring two more plates for my son.”
Caleb tried not to show his uneasiness amidst the whole clatter.
“Thanks, ma’am.” He turned to his right. “Anone, I didn’t know you were this close to pastor’s family!” He said the statement like it was a question.
Pastor and his wife giggled.
Had he asked the wrong question again? No! It can’t be. Well, perhaps he should just shut up already. Fine. Anone was to be his best man and a couple of times, Anone had accompanied him to the church office while he attended to the plenty rituals that precedes wedding. That was it, right? That should be it. Except the other few times Anone had also accompanied him to see Unekwu in the house. Anone’s relationship with Pastor Ikani’s family was based on his marital plans with their daughter, Unekwu, right? Why then was he at a family reunion dinner? Yes, everyone else’s presence had tangible reasons. Victor and Vera had become more or less family to the Ikani’s, and him? Well, a son in-law to be, everything being equal. How his friend, Anone, got in this long and complicated family chain beats his imagination and he was about to receive the greatest shock of his life by Ajifa’s response.
“Well, you all may be wondering why I invited Anone to the family’s dinner?” Ajifa started, giggling and shifting in her chair like it burnt her buttocks.
Vera was first to raise an eyebrow. She was surprised herself when Anone walked in several minutes ago. He was a familiar face to everyone because of the roles he’d played with Caleb in the events of the whole marriage plan. Vera was to be Unekwu’s maid of honour too, so they both had a couple of engaging chats and familiarity on that ground. But she’s as surprised as anything else to have him here.
“Since Vera isn’t going to let the cat out of the bag, I guess we should just go into the bag and pick the cat…” everyone stared at her with curiosity in their eyes. She talked extremely slow. Slower than the usual vivacious Pastor Ajifa.
Vera pleaded with the most high in her heart for the woman not to say anything close to the things she’s suspecting. No… it can’t be. She almost yelled that out before Pastor Ajifa dropped the bomb
“I called Vera’s mother last night and she told me about my daughter’s new status.” Vera felt like the ground should just open up and swallow her. What new status was she talking about? Everyone was tensed, well, except Anone and that was amazing already as it were. “So this special family lunch is not only to celebrate my beloved son, the latest doctorate degree holder in the country…” she glanced at Eneojo who was all smiles and helplessly blushing over his mother’s words. “It’s also to celebrate my daughter, Vera, who got engaged last night!”
Caleb’s heart skipped several beats in rapid succession and he suddenly felt all blood drain from his face.
Anone took his gaze from one person on the table to another, looking as proud as Ronaldo when he made that incredible goal. He slid his right hand slowly till it rested on Vera’s
Vera wished she could disappear. Why was her mother like this? Since when did agreeing to go on a date with a man equates to being engaged to him? Vera felt something that sat between anger and frustration drive over her mind. She didn’t know which was better; to openly rebuke Pastor Ajifa and let everyone know the truth that yesterday was just a first day and that nothing else happened? He’d only dropped her off in her father’s sitting room at exactly 9:30pm before leaving. When her eager mother asked her for a breakdown of the date, she’d only said, ‘it was fun, mum. I enjoyed every bit of it.”
That was all. That was all she’d said. Where did the frame up about engagement come from? Vera was worried for herself. Maybe Anone was playing pranks somehow. Her brain was beginning to pull out of her skull in utter confusion. She’s worried. She worried for Victor. He would feel very disappointed in her. Victor always complained about Vera wanting to keep him in the dark over her businesses. Now it would look like he was right after all – like she deliberately waited for Ajifa to announce before telling him that she was engaged.
Victor felt exactly the way Vera had expected him to feel. He’d always known himself not to be friend enough for Vera after all. If not, which good friend keeps something as great as an engagement away from her friends? You already know the answer. Vera, of course. Victor felt pained but didn’t want to put so many thoughts to it. It was her life and she decides who she would let in on any new development at any given time T. It was her life for crying out loud. All he owes her is an obligation to be happy for her. What are friends for anyway?
“Wow”, “Wow”, “Congratulations sis.”, “Congratulation daughter.” Rang out loud in the atmosphere coming from the clergy man and his son.
“Congratulations, baby mi. Your friend would be so proud of you.” Ajifa voiced out, trying not to ruin the moods.
In the midst of all these, Vera was most concerned about Caleb, about how he was taking the news.
“When were you going to tell me, man? I mean, look at you. Congratulations!” he’d said, slapping Anone on his back.
That hadn’t sounded sincere in Vera’s ears. It sounded like things we say out of courtesy and as his eyes met hers in his attempt to congratulate her, she confirmed her suspicions. Caleb looked betrayed, disappointed and pained by the news; by the realisation… the sudden realisation. He appeared to be masking so much underneath those beautiful eyeballs of his and Vera appreciated that.
He’d tell him the truth after here. That’s certain.
“Excuse me, everyone.”
They all turned in the direction of the housekeeper who stood at an appreciable distance away from the dining table. Vera thinks the man is too officially polite for comfort. But what’s her business? It’s a reputable clergy man’s mansion for crying out loud.
“The police are here, sir.”
Pastor Festus smiled faintly while everyone else literally freaked out on their seats. Caleb’s was worst. His fears and apprehensions were confronting him face-to-face now but they weren’t confirmed in his heart until the next statement from the housekeeper.
“They asked to see Mr Caleb Oguche, sir.” He added quickly.
Caleb’s eyeballs popped out in fear mixed with confusion.
When love is not madness, it is not love.
To be continued next Wednesday.
Hey, hey, hey.
I hope you are all fine? Cheers!