This thing called LOVE – GRACE OCHIGBO
As the police officer led Caleb into the visiting room, he couldn’t help but reminisce over how life had turned into something else in barely three months. Perhaps he should have continued with getting married to Unekwu at the time they’d fixed it. He shouldn’t have opted out in the first place. He shouldn’t have thought he needed time to clear his mind. Clearing his mind was necessary, yes. But… how did things get so muddled up in the end? He didn’t want to marry a lady he would divorce after few years, one that would be his worst nightmare. Someone had once prayed for him not to have been married by the time he would meet his soul mate. He didn’t want that. Never. Never should it be attached to his name that he broke anyone’s heart. That’d always been his sincere intention. That was why he hadn’t joined Anone and the guys in the players’ world.
Maybe, neither Angela nor Unekwu was meant to be his wife after all. Maybe all these were God’s way of redirecting his steps… to the right person, HIS right person for him. He may not have been the everyday typical Christian but his mother always talked about God. Right! She would always say marriage is too critical a decision not to involve the all-knowing God. If he had involved God in his decisions early enough, maybe, just maybe, things might have turned out a little differently from how they were right now.
He stood aloof and in shock seeing who’d come to see him. He couldn’t believe it. The officer, who led him in, removed his hands from the cuffs and excused them. Silence stood tall between them for several seconds to minutes.
They muttered together, as though planned.
Caleb swallowed. His once white singlet had become the colour of light clay and the trouser that was his perfect size about a week ago now dragged down his waist a little. He ate quite alright, but what is the place of food where there’s sadness and anxiety of a blurry future? As Vera stared at him, he suddenly felt the weight of his overgrown beards and unkempt hair. It wasn’t unusual that those were part of his looks in this condition, it only bothered him that it took her presence to feel awkward about his looks.
“Alright, you go first!” He managed to curve his lips into a smile.
Vera hesitated and brought her face down as though searching for something on the dirty floor. “I’m sorry, I haven’t been coming to see you all these while, Caleb. It’s just that…”
Shhh! Caleb put his first hand on his lips. “You owe me no apology!”
“How is your friend?” Caleb asked and Vera rose a brow. “Unekwu, I mean!” She felt herself let out hot air on hearing that confirmation. She’d thought Caleb was referring to Anone earlier.
“Unekwu is getting better and improving by the day, Caleb! We really thank God for all of it.” Her tone was low, mild.
They finally took seats on opposite sides. Caleb realised he couldn’t look up at Vera’s face and it was same with her. The deafening silence between them made their hearts skip beats in rapid successions and at every point their eyes met each other, it carried a semblance to fire that can consume one in a flash. Being in each other’s presence made breathing tasking.
“Listen…” Caleb gathered the boldness to speak after eternity long series of seconds. “I should have done this long ago.”
Vera turned to him and didn’t know what to expect.
“I… ehm… I’m sorry about earlier. Not because it happened but because of the way it came across to you. The…” He looked down for a minute, the frustration back in full force. “What happened in Une’s wardroom. I shouldn’t have done that.”
Vera felt her heart shatter and pulling out through her mouth.
“I’ve thought about it.” Her voice was clear and sweet, quiet against the silent room. “It was my fault.”
Caleb looked up and met her eyes and there, in the only halogen bulb dishing out light to the entire room, he could see to the very centre of her soul. “It wasn’t your fault. You stopped talking to me for almost three weeks after then.”
She swallowed. Hesitant. “I know!”
Something in the air between them changed. He was more aware of her than ever before. They were inches from each other, sitting in a place where no one could see them. “I couldn’t get over you, Vera.” He looked up at her, his words a whisper. “You have no idea how much I wanted to hold you again.”
She nodded. “Me too!” Her answer surprised him as her eyes held his and this time he could see the sorrow, the depth of her affection and all he’d meant to her.
Since she got here, she’d wanted him to take her in his arms. And now couldn’t wait another moment.
“Caleb, don’t give up. God will get you out of this place. Somehow. Anyhow.” She moved to his side and put her hands on his shoulders. Caleb pulled her in, folding his arms around her, holding her close. He was afraid. Ever since the first time, he’d thought a hug like this one would be over as soon as it started.
But neither of them was letting go.
Seconds passed, and the feel of her body against his shot a fire through him, a fire that was beyond his control. That inner fear still coursed inside him, still, he couldn’t let go of her, couldn’t find the strength to pull away.
“All my life, I’ve imagined the thrill of being in love.” Her body trembled, her arms still tight around his waist. She pulled back enough to see his eyes. Her chest rose with every breath and a mix of fear and desire filled her eyes. “But you know what?”
“What?” He could feel himself drawing her closer.
“I didn’t know it would be you, Caleb!”
“Vera…” What were they doing? He’d promised himself things wouldn’t go this way again, not ever. But then why was he helpless to stop it? He ran his fingertips along her brow, her cheekbone. He inhaled, shallow and ragged. “This is when you are supposed to ask me.”
Her eyes melted into his and she brought her hands up alongside his face. “Ask you what?”
“Whether I’ve had any affections for you before now.” His knees were weak. He wanted to kiss her; he couldn’t hold out much longer. His mind bounced between walking away, telling her about his damnation in few hours and forgetting they’d ever come even this close – or giving in to his desire.
“Except” her voice was breathy – “guess what?”
“What?” Caleb swallowed, trying to believe she was in his arms, and comfortably so. He couldn’t take his eyes from her. She was so beautiful, inside and out, more beautiful than anyone he’d known.
“It’s Okay.” She lifted her face to his. Then without waiting, she drew him closer and kissed him. It was a soft kiss coloured with question marks, framed in uncertainty. The kiss of sweet inexperience and uncontrollable desire. “It’s Okay.” She drew back, her eyes dark. “Because my love for you is enough for the both of us.”
Her kiss was still fresh on his lips and this time he took the lead. Slow and deliberate, he shaded her with his left hand and brought his lips to hers. He let the kiss build, guiding her, showing her the way until she was involved in the moment as he was.
A minute passed before she started to squirm and then in a rush, he pulled back, leaving her to breath fast and uneven. “Vera…” he stared at her, eyes wide, frightened. “I’m sorry, I can’t…”
“No…” strands of hair spilling onto her face. She turned and faced him. “I mean yes. What was I even thinking?”
“I get it.” Her voice was louder than it should’ve been. She got up and paced a few steps in each direction and then found his eyes again. “That…” she waved her hand in the air. “The way that felt… it scares me to death.”
Caleb hesitated. “Why?” This was the reason he hadn’t come closer again before now. He could handle being just friends with Vera. But he couldn’t stand her being afraid, upset.
Tears filled her eyes and she shook her head. “You don’t understand.”
“Yes, I do.” He closed the distance between them. “You never wanted to need me, right?” his words were quiet, calm. “Much more now that I’m in between life and death. That’s it, right, Vera?”
“No.” She hung her head, the fight gone from her voice. “We’ll both lose, Caleb.” She looked up. “If we let this happen, we both lose.”
“I know!” He was closer now. “I would be sentenced to death in few hours.” A ball of pain obstructed his throat as he said those heavy words that every tickling of the clock brought close to reality.
Vera stared at him like she couldn’t find any more words to say. She pressed her head to his chest, keeping a fraction of an inch between them, and at the same clutching at his back, her heart and mind at odds.
“When I eventually die, Vera…” He came up for air, searching her eyes and the understanding was clear. “I want you to know that I just had the best moment in my entire life right here.” he stepped back. He stared at the ceiling, his body burning with intensity he’d never known before. A long exhale came from him and he chuckled, trying to cool off. Did she have any idea how she made him feel? “I have to go.”
She looked at the ground, her expression completely dumb.
His body screamed to return to her, but he had to get back. If he didn’t stop now, if he didn’t step out for the policemen to lead him back to his cell now, he would cross other lines. Lines he would never dream of crossing with Vera Williams, at least not in sane moments. He rubbed the back of his neck and gave a not-convincing grin. “I don’t need your love to cover for the both of us, Vera.” He stood back at the door. “I love you with the same intensity… if not more!”
Vera brushed the back of her hand against her lips, her eyes dark. She collapsed onto her seat as Caleb closed the door behind him. She cried and wailed her eyes out.
“So you are saying that we are handicapped?”
Joy Oguche and her husband stared anxiously at the barrister. He had narrated his fruitless meeting with the post office delivery man and how he was beginning to see the case.
“Well, ma’am…” He was careful to choose his words wisely. “I think there are cabals on this case. I got to speak with the detective in charge of the investigations, and the guy was just annoyingly adamant. It would interest you to know that the detectives are well aware of the gateman’s disappearance.”
“And doing nothing about it?” Joy Oguche sounded unbelievable.
John Oguche took in a deep breath and held it. How had things become so terrible and why was his son in the middle of a political battle such as this?
“The case would be heard tomorrow unfailingly. And the DPO reliably told me the government is in a hurry to close up this case. They should be something we can do, Barrister. Something, anything!” He placed his hands on his laps and sat back into his recliner.
“Like pleading guilty!” Barrister Chuks announced, looking unusually serious.
Caleb’s parents rose eyebrows simultaneously.
Had something come loosed in the man’s head to suggest that?
“This is what I mean!” Barrister Chuks sat up, ready to clear their confusion. “If we plead ‘not guilty’, there’s no evidence to back it up. I told you the detectives already tagged the accused as the murderer. Whoever is behind this must have also bought the judge over. It’s as simple as that. Believe me when I say the judgement of this case would be written out for the judge, long before the hearing.”
Tears flooded down Joy Oguche’s eyes. “What difference will pleading guilty make?”
The barrister took in a deep breath. Right question. “Well, this is what I think, since our hands are completely tied at the moment.” He paused, searching their eyes. “Trying to get that gateman at this dying minute is out of our options because I was reliably told that the detectives called off their search on the order of a higher authority.” He glanced at the four frightened eyes belonging to the two people sited in front of him. “The court would never have imagined in their wildest imagination that Caleb would plead guilty. That sort of would appeal to the conscience of the judge. We could say he did it out of self-defence.”
Joy and John got more confused with each statement the barrister made. They weren’t getting the game plan he was trying to draft out. It more or less sounded like a daft idea to them but they were attentively listening. Anything was worth their attention right now so long as it’ll salvage the situation their first son was muddled in.
“The post office delivery man would witness to the court that he came over to the house that night quite alright. The twist there, however, would be to say that he met Caleb at the gate. Caleb had walked in also and was apologising to Angela when he left the house.” He glanced at them to be sure he still had their attention. “Now, Caleb would say that Angela grabbed a knife out of anger to hurt him and in a bid to drag it with her, he mistakenly stabbed her.”
“What?” Joy Oguche couldn’t believe her ears. The story was so easy to form and looked believable but that doesn’t still exempt her son from punishment.
“Yeah! Any murder, harm or injury inflicted in self-defence gets a less grievous sentence.”
“What could have provoked Angela so much as to bring out a knife, considering the footage of kissing and romance the police got from the hospital earlier that same night?” John Oguche pointed the barrister’s attention to a point he seemed not to have brought into consideration in his draft. He then sat quietly, as though trying to assimilate the statements in his brain. The game plan did make sense but they have a major problem.
How would they get the post office delivery man to testify and witness to a framed story?
Susan felt her brain spilling out of her head as she headed into her car. She felt like vomiting. Detective Samson couldn’t even stand the test of time? She reflexively glanced at her wristwatch. There’s no harm in trying. At least, her conscience would set her free from condemnation.
The chunk of Hausa men in the city resided along Felele towards international market down to Natako. She may have to go hunting after Mallam Sediq all by herself. She had her gun, her car, and her eyes. Those were enough for her, she thought as she started the car and drove into the expressway.
If she finds the gateman early enough, she could push for the hearing to be cancelled and if not, the man would have to witness to what he knows at the court. Whichever way, justice must prevail, she was sure of that.
She pulled her sunglasses and stepped on the accelerator, using the highest speed that was still safe for her.
As she made the turn from Adankolo junction, she noticed something unusual. She moved a little while and found an open but comfortable spot to park. As she stayed there, she noticed the red Toyota Camry park somewhere far behind her too and that made her smile. She’d noticed that car following her right from when she got on the main road from the station.
So someone had been sent after her after all?
She couldn’t believe these things were really happening.
She found her phone on the seat and pulled it closer. They had a geographic locator installed on every detective’s phone and at that instant, she realised her actions would have been clearly visible to Detective Samson all the while, right in the comfort of his office, if he put on the tracker on his own device.
“GO off, stupid!” she yelled as she turned off her phone and threw it into her black handbag.
She bent a little to check her side mirror. The Camry had tinted glasses and there was no way she would notice whoever was following her. An idea dropped in her mind and suddenly, she noticed the numerous keke(tricycles) speeding past her on the express road. They were so numerous and with same dual colour of yellow and red that one could easily mix them up. She smiled and picked up some money from her purse before quietly getting down through the other side whoever was following her would not notice because of the distance between them and the numerous lorries obstructing the view. She made sure her car was correctly locked before pulling a face cap over her head.
Few minutes, as the keke drove her towards Natako, she found herself smiling victoriously. It was no mistake when told never to underestimate the power of a woman.
That extra sixth sense is a lot of sense.
Mrs Williams held Ajifa’s hands as she led her into a seat in their spacious sitting room. Ajifa hadn’t completely recovered from the very many issues in her life, family and ministry. Mrs Williams, several years ago, envied Ajifa. Ajifa had such a beautiful family with a husband that, even though was extremely domineering, gave her space and allowance to be herself to the same tone. Ajifa was free to work if she wanted to, but unlike in her case, Ajifa never wanted to work. She preferred to stay at home and keep it.
How someone can have what others desire and not want it, Mrs Williams thought.
“How is my daughter?” She asked her friend who wore a dejected look.
Ajifa swallowed. “You won’t believe it if I told you, mummy Vera!”
Mrs Williams drew nearer. “Believe what?”
Ajifa blinked and a tear dropped down her face. “My daughter has lost her memory, Mummy Vera. She’d lost everything!”
Mrs Williams went over to her and grabbed her shivering body in a tight hug. She was trying to understand what Ajifa was saying but her cries and tears weren’t making the words distinct enough. “She’s still recovering. Memories are very tricky, my sister. They could go into complete hiding in the deepest ocean places of our hearts and come flooding back someday, it may even overflow when we least expect. Everything would get back.”
“No.” Ajifa cut in. “No. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe all the lies from the doctors anymore. I’m tired. I was told this may happen, but weren’t we praying? We were praying, Mummy Vera. We were praying that God would work his awesome wonders and restore perfect health to Unekwu. Wasn’t that so? Now, why this?”
Mrs Williams took in a deep breath and suddenly couldn’t find the words to say.
“You see…” Ajifa continued. “We showed Unekwu photos earlier today. Memorable photos she’d taken in the past and all the things that she could relate with. Would you believe that my daughter cannot even remember her own self? Nothing, mummy Vera!”
“These things are gradual. You have to…”
“Then…” Ajifa cut her off. “Eneojo jumped the gun and showed her pre-wedding photos of herself and Caleb.” Mrs Williams’ curiosity rose. “Initially, Unekwu stared at it, so intensely, you’d think the scenario was playing back in her mind. She even went ahead to collect the MacBook from Eneojo’s hands and dragged it closer herself for a clearer look.”
“Ehen! So what happened?” Mrs Williams urged her on.
“She stared at the photo for nothing less than ten minutes. I was looking at her, praying in my heart. I don’t mind it being a bad memory to remember, but I want her to remember something at least, anything.”
Her tears poured and Mrs Williams wiped it off with an handkerchief.
“After staring so intensely and so long, she just yelled, ‘I don’t know these people’.”
More tears poured down Ajifa’s face.
Mrs Williams placed her right hand over her friend’s. Words were failing her and the tension in the room rose with every painful word Ajifa said but she wasn’t going to let the both of them drown in the tension of the moment.
“All will be well, my friend!”
Ajifa sniffed in, nodding with a smile amidst her tears. That unsettled Mrs Williams.
“You know? I can’t wait for your daughter’s marriage to her fiancé.” It was as though an axe cut through Mrs Williams’ heart as a result of that statement. From the talk with her daughter last night, she was trying to brace herself up for what was about to hit her family, her relationship with her husband, and much subsequently so, their friendship with the Ikanis.
“It’s well, my friend. Let me get you something to drink.” With this, she excused herself from the agonising topic her friend was meandering to and went inside the kitchen.
“Junior!” The woman screamed for the fourth time in a roll. She drew her flare dress down and headed up the stairs with provocation building up on her insides. “Junior!” she pushed the door to his room open angrily.
The sound was so loud, yet the ten year old didn’t even notice anyone enter his room. He was tapping away on the screen of the tablet in his hands and smiling victoriously to himself. His mother trudged towards him in anger at first but midway, the provocation reduced.
She drew nearer. Junior had his back to the door, so couldn’t notice anyone approaching him. The woman stared at the large screen in her son’s hands and couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
“Junior!” she tapped on his shoulders lightly and the boy jerked up, leaving the tablet fall to the other edge of the bed.
“Mum, you don’t scare me like that again, OK?” He threatened, looking really irritated.
The boy had no single sense of behaving right, and whoever was to blame wasn’t the concern now. The most important thing for his mother was to pick back that tablet and look at what he had been watching before she came in. But as she moved towards the edge of the bed where the tablet fell to, Junior quickly reached for and got it faster.
“What was that you were watching, Junior?”
“Live animations!” He answered bluntly.
His mother charged towards him. “May I see it?”
“It’s none of your business, mum!” Junior got off the bed and stood few inches away already.
“I insist on seeing it, Junior!”
“No, mum!” He barked. “It’s none of your business.” She was already hearing his voice in the passageway leading downstairs by the time he said the second statement.
Junior’s mother followed after her son, calling and yelling and threatening that he handed over the tablet to her, but he wasn’t yielding. Instead he took a short flight down the stairs and was already heading out through the front door but for his father.
“Junior, I say give it to me!” His mother was already losing breaths by the time she reached the sitting room where the two others were.
“What’s the problem here?” Junior’s father questioned, motioning the boy not to take a single step away from where he was.
“I saw him watching…”
“Animations, dad.” Junior cut in. His more calmer voice showed that his father’s presence was not only threatening but intimidating to him. “I downloaded a file on Google playstore and I’m using it to create a video effect.”
“That’s a lie.” His mother called from her own side of the room. “Sweetheart, I demand you let him show you!”
Junior casted a disdainful look at his mum, the type that would shoot her dead and bury her immediately, if eyes carried gun. She didn’t seem to be concerned. Knowing fully well she had lost her authority over her only son, it was a good thing the man of the house was around and even though, the latter had no much say, Junior always accorded his father a far more respectful response than he would his mother.
“Can I have the tablet, son!”
Junior muttered some inaudible words and groaned as he closed up the short distance between them, handing over the device. His mother hurriedly drew nearer to see and felt her stomach almost rip into two with the scene she saw. If, as old as she was, she could have this repulsive feelings towards such content, she wondered why her son was so comfortable and immersed in it.
Junior’s father had a different response to what he was seeing on the screen. He was barely managing to keep the tablet from falling off his trembling arms and sweat engulfed the whole of his body within split seconds. Junior from his end, couldn’t help but look at his parents’ reactions and marvelled what called for so much display.
“Please get it.” His father screamed.
“Get what?” was his mother’s response.
“The card. Her card. The detective from the other night. Please bring the card.” His voice shook as the words were finding it increasingly difficult to come off his throat.
Junior’s mother quickly reached for her purse and after few minutes of pulling out several other cards, she found Detective Susan’s. Her husband hurriedly handed over the tablet to her and pulled his handset from the right pocket of his jean shorts.
…the number you are trying to call is currently switched off… please try again…
He ended the call and dialled the number one more time.
“What’s going on here, Sweetheart?” the woman asked, sincerely confused.
Junior’s father wiped perspiration off his forehead.
“Get ready, we are going to the police station right away.”
Junior felt his heart drop down the level of his pelvis. He could only imagine how much he was done for already.
Aunty Flora rolled restlessly from one side of the large bed to the other in her executive suite room in the prestigious Confluence Beach Hotel. The hurt was boldly engraved on the tablets of her heart. She hadn’t, at any point, imagined Angela’s life and bright future coming to an end in such a wrap… so hurriedly and untimely. That’s the more reason she would not rest until justice was served that riffraff of a Caleb. She had always known that her niece was not deserving of such demeaning personality for a lover after all, but it was Angela, right?
Whenever Angela wanted something, the best thing her loved ones can do for her was to support her, let her have it. She had this very intolerant character when it came to handling rejection. It’s been that way since the trauma from the death of all her other family members.
Sometimes, a condemning thought would overwhelm aunty Flora. She’d think that it was a mistake listening to the governor and having Angela come over to pick up a job in Nigeria in the first place. Everything had to be a mistake. A gross one. She should have insisted that the governor converted his kind-hearted assistance into its financial equivalence and sent to them, regardless. The money would have gone a long way in establishing Angela, just that it would be done abroad – far and away from the maddening crowd.
She pulled her bag closer and drew out her apple laptop. The police had instructed that no one should enter Angela’s apartment until investigation was over with and that suited her well. She couldn’t bear the feeling that the first time she would be officially visiting her niece’s residence in Nigeria would be after she was killed. She wasn’t going to stand that bankroll of emotions after all. So that when the governor offered to lodge her in the prestigious Confluence beach hotel, it was her best getaway option and she was grateful for it.
She moved the cursor and clicked on the folder bearing ANGELA. They have a computer at home in the U.S., from way back before the modern technology of phones and mobile devices came. She’d stored everything connected to her niece in the folder which she’d copied into her laptop while leaving the states. The folder contained, but not limited to, yearly birthday photos; graduation and convocation ceremonies; exclusive photo-shoots; literally every memorable thing.
Gently and slowly, her hand moved over Angela’s enlarged face in one of her most cherished photos of the deceased young woman. It was when Angela got her degree with honours from University of Yale. Her aunty had been the proudest person ever liveth that day. As she stared intensely at the photo, she felt tears gently drip down her face till it rested on the keyboard of her laptop.
God! Why? She wailed with trembling body.
The next photos brought deep and deeper memories to her mind and at a point, her heart thundered so heavily against her chest that she thought she would drop dead.
No. She was meant to stay alive.
The court hearing was only a matter of hours. If Caleb had the nerves to murder her niece, then she would gladly watch him rot in jail.
Clicking the right arrow key on the keyboard took her to something that dazed the whole of her. Suddenly, she felt her brain trying to remember if she ever had eye defects at some points before now or not, because the light from the laptop came too bright all of a sudden. She drew her face nearer and felt her hand tremble against the screen of her computer.
How had this escaped her mind all the while?
Yes! Angela had to come back to Nigeria, and, well, that was pretty much it. The very end of it.
Aunty Flora struggled to joggle her mind into full remembrance. It was the last one. Angela had already gone to Nigeria then, so she screenshot it before forwarding it to her, right?
The realisation made her sick to her stomach as she pulled her phone nearer from the side drawers. Looking more intensely to be sure she still had the number she was looking for, she took five calming breaths and dialled it.
LOVE IS THE ONLY BLIND CREATURE WITH TWO EYES.
To be continued.