This thing called LOVE – GRACE OCHIGBO
“Unee, you won’t want to know what that idiot had resulted into? He was practically about to assault me in the boardroom earlier, can you imagine that sort of thing?” Vera hissed in disgust. “Oh! How I wish I gave him a dirtier slap. I was too mild with the one I dished out…” she smiled at her own sarcasm, still staring straight into Unekwu’s eyes. “I learnt Caleb came back to seek your forgiveness. Will you forgive him?” she shook her head as though she could read responses from Unekwu’s drooping eyeballs. “Why am I even asking when I know the obvious.” She smirked. “Look! Unee, I know it’s like your heart is knit to Caleb’s and when you both get together, someone is out of her senses. I’m not against your love or anything but if I’m to advice you as always, I’ll say you should not go back to that fellow. He’s such a loser, can’t you see it? See what he’s done to you this whole time. From calling off the wedding, to getting you hypertensive and up to this present state. I don’t think he’s worth your love at all, my friend.” she touched Unekwu’s smooth cheeks and smiled. “Promise me you will not go back to him!” she lifted Unekwu’s numb hand and tried to put it against her chest.
As if that action suddenly reminded her that Unekwu has stroke, paralysed on her right half accompanied by aphasia – as the doctors called it, and that she wouldn’t be having chit-chat gossip with her friend in only God-knows-how long, Vera felt a tear roll down her right cheek, another down her left cheek in quick successions and before she knew it, she was literally sobbing loudly.
(Listen – in the days since I woke up, I’ve had everybody come around me crying. First, it was one young man, then another young man, then one elderly couple, a man and woman – in fact, that particular woman’s tears can make the sun sweat. Now is this young lady. Funnily enough, I don’t know them. Every single one of them. The couple said they are my parents. This lady here is claiming to be my friend. I don’t get it anymore. I can’t even make meanings out of this one’s statements, unlike when one of the guys spoke. This lady is talking too fast, and she would have said five new sentences before I get to process the first one. Sincerely, I’m tired of her presence.)
“Unee, we have a whole lot to talk about.” Vera bent to stare straight in her eyeballs. “Please, recover quickly!” she said amidst her tears.
Just then, the door creaked open. Vera didn’t turn, like she expected someone to come around, or better still she knew who was coming in.
She was wrong.
“Hi Vera! Holding up?” Caleb asked like it was a finite statement.
Vera stared at him as though she saw a blue ghost in mid snow. The ‘what-are-you-doing-here’ glare almost unsettling Caleb.
Her father let me back already and there is nothing you or anyone else can do about it, Caleb thought to say.
Vera was still staring. Coldly. Not moving, not answering. She kept a keen eye on him as he moved over to place a soft peck on Unekwu’s face. That sort of disgusted Vera, and she turned away reflexively before hissing.
“Why do I think some people are losers, stack rows of pain in the neck and are only going to be inflicting pains on everyone around them, especially those that love them?”
Caleb was quite sure he heard the question. The sarcastic indirect questions. In fact, Vera was referring to him obviously, but he didn’t have time for blame games and indirect soft insults right now. He had made a promise to the clergy gentleman that he would help his daughter come out of coma, come out of this mirage state, to her normal, healthy and bouncing self. He understood Vera was just being a dutiful best friend. That doesn’t change the fact that at a point, he ranked first on the list of people in Unekwu’s heart, and that… was the longest shot, his best shot.
“You know, if God could take away all the mean and selfish people from this world, it would be a better place.”
He heard Vera say again. This time, she had turned in his direction, giving him the kind of daring look that would make a drunk man beat his wife mercilessly.
You are not a drunk man, Caleb, he calmed his raging nerves, and she is not your wife, never would be. So focus!
He was still holding onto these consoling thoughts when the doctor walked in.
“Good day, doctor.”
“Good day, gentleman and lady.” He said politely, gesturing them to give him some space.
He was a man in his midlife with hair almost completely bald and with a growing pot belly neatly tucked in blue pants. He’s more or less the first doctor his age, at least among the ones Caleb had seen, who never used glasses.
Caleb and Vera had to move to the other side of the room, away from the bed a little bit, so as to create space and allowance for the doctor. Not being so much of a large room, there’s tendency that they’d come to stand close to each other. Standing by her side, Caleb could literally feel her fuming breath burning his chocolate-dark skin. The mere thoughts of what’s probably going on in her mind kept the numerous hairs on his skin standing, as though ready to plunge on in defence if any violence. Caleb found a way of concentrating on the doctor as well as keeping an eye on the angry tigress beside him.
Few minutes and the doctor was done. He noted some stuffs in a little note instead of his usual file this time and turned to leave.
“Mr Caleb, is she your sister?” the doctor was referring to Vera whose stomach felt like throwing up its content immediately the question came through her ears.
She would rather be sister to the wicked, chick-eating cat down her street than this ‘heartbreaker-comeback-fellow’, she screamed in her head.
“No doctor!” Caleb smiled faintly. He didn’t need to prolong that question. “How is it with Unekwu?”
The doctor shook his head slightly. He made sure they talked in whispers.
“It didn’t turn out pretty same with our predictions but that doesn’t make it completely out of place too. As I said earlier, no two brain injuries are exactly the same. At least, her eyes are opened. She reportedly moved a finger yesterday while her parents were here, and that my good friend is a lot of progress…” he was careful not to divulge all he knew.
Caleb didn’t know why he felt as though the doctor was trying hard to convince himself. “What are her chances, doctor? Like how soon would she be completely fine?”
Vera stole a wicked glance at him.
The doctor cleared his throat. “Recovering and regaining brain functions are gradual processes. It requires patience and perseverance. There is a ray of hope, no matter how dim.” He said and started walking out. He got to the door and held the knob before turning to face them again. “You know how to pray at all?” he paused like he waited for their responses. “Pray!” he said and finally walked out.
Victor was going through all the photos with Unekwu in it in his album. The one from Sunday school, back in nursery to primary school, their secondary school photos, majority with Vera inclusive; fresher’s orientation and matriculation in KSU; some outings back then; convocation ceremony; film location photos; live stage presentation photos; selfies at malls and film houses. As he stared at them, he couldn’t help the sweat oozing out of his body. Unekwu was so full of life. She was a force, she revolved her world. A special touch of smartness and the annoying ‘disciplinarian’ part of her that could make one want to hit her at the slightest provocation. Her pixie nose that would always turn red whenever she’s angry. The slight wrinkles on the edges of her eyebrow whenever she’s laughing out loud. Unekwu had inner joy bubbling on the insides of her.
Thinking about it, he’d always felt like questioning Caleb why the wedding was called off in the first place. It didn’t make any sense.
His phone buzzed and started to ring. Sandra.
He listened keenly, straining his eyes from where he sat.
“Alright!” he ended the call, jumped into a pair of midi length shorts, arranged the photo album before replacing it in his catalogue shelf. He hurried out of the room and to the living room.
Approaching the door, he could hear voices from behind it, and that confirmed Sandra had actually come around, only that she didn’t mention being with someone. Victor plastered a smile on his face no matter how fake, as he opened the door.
“Hi, Uncle Victor!”
Victor’s face gradually changed from smiles, contorting into a slight frown. His forehead squeezed, creating two vertical lines on it as he looked over Sandra to see who came with her. He pushed the door open wider, and gave way for them to come in before bolting it. As he walked back to join them on the couch, he couldn’t believe she would go this extra mile just to be able to see him.
“Uncle Victor, how is Miss Unekwu now?” Sandra asked.
Victor didn’t hear at first, but when he noticed the girl’s face almost piercing his skin he gave a reflexive answer.
“Oh fine. Thanks for asking!”
Sandra wasn’t done yet. “I hear she’s in a private ward and only you and her family members are allowed to see her?”
“Please tell her I am sorry for my rude behaviour at the last rehearsal she directed. I felt she hated me, because she’s always not satisfied with my roles in any project. This wasn’t the first time she’s yelling at me in the presence of everyone. I wanted to cry, and that was why I walked out.”
Sandra sounded extremely sober and Victor could connect. When things go bad, like it’s been the past couple of days, people tend to blame themselves for it, thinking, there’s something I could have done to prevent this sad occurrence. He walked over to where Sandra sat and took her hand.
“Don’t be hard on yourself, dear. Unekwu isn’t angry with you, or anybody else for that matter. She loves you and want you to make her proud!”
Sandra let out a roguish smile as Victor rubbed her short hair.
“When do we resume rehearsals?” Chenemi, who’s been sitting quietly the whole time, called from the other side of the room.
Victor wanted to ignore her, but for Sandra.
Chenemi was much older and matured than Sandra. She’s running her HND program at the Kogi state polytechnic there in Lokoja and had joined Victor’s team as a volunteer some months ago.
“As soon as possible, Chenny…” he made sure to use a voice that wouldn’t arouse any suspicion. “Plans are on.” He turned to Sandra, “And I hope you have mastered your lines now? You’ve had enough time to.”
Sandra nodded her head, all smiles.
Few minutes later and she was on her way.
“You don’t want to wait for Miss Chenny? I hope you can find your way?” Victor asked with sincere concern.
Trying to dissuade her from going to no avail, he reluctantly saw her off to the door.
Chenemi adjusted in her seat. She waited patiently as Victor took his time… deliberately wasting time in locking the door.
“So you used her to get in here? So much good lessons you teach those young ones.” Victor moved over to the TV and picked up the remote while he spoke.
Chenny smirked. “You don’t pick my own calls, Victor. I’ve been here a couple of times and didn’t see you…”
“I’m supposed to sit at home all day because you were coming around, huh?” He scoffed.
Chenemi swallowed painfully. “No Vee. At least, I’d have been able to know when you are around if you’d picked the calls.”
Victor shifted uncomfortably on his seat, his face glued in the direction of the TV deliberately to spite her. “Are you going to get on with the reason why you are here, or not? I don’t have strength to trade words with you.”
Chenemi paused and stared back at him in shock – the kind of unbelieving gaze when someone says something you least expect.
“This may not mean anything to you, Vee. The deed is already done. I know, but I want to apologise for what I did at the arts centre that evening. We had an agreement to meet and talk somewhere in town that evening, and getting responses that your phone was switched off really frustrated me. It made it more painful when I came to the centre and realised who made you cancel our date without any sort of explanation.”
Victor looked sternly at her, palpable anger gushing through his veins. He wanted to ask her who she was that he would have to take permission from before going out with someone else. He wanted to know what gave her the right to embarrass someone she knew he was with.
As these thoughts took turns in his head, he felt his anger boil much more and he hoped for her face’s sake that she would shut her running mouth before it gets out of control. On a second thought, he would just let her talk on. It’s talk she wanted, right? Let her talk. So after he would warn her not to bother his phone or look for him anywhere else. He’s so sick and tired of this girl.
“All I’m saying is that I’m very sorry, Vee. I’m sorry I hurt you by hurting your friend. I’m sorry for everything, please.”
Now you are talking, victor thought.
“It’s fine. Are you done?” his voice sounded so harsh and that made Chenemi blink in discomfort.
“One more thing!”
Victor frowned, yet urged her to go on.
“When you and some other leaders of YALI Lokoja branch, came to our school for publicity, I joined it because of the way you addressed us. You were so brief yet detailed, with a soft voice that could calm a raging storm…” Victor felt the hair at the back of his ear stand up to that flattery, and an involuntary smile formed around his lips but disappeared like it never formed. “I agreed to join the initiative because of you and you alone, so much so that when the assignment of picking up and rehabilitating children from the street of Lokoja came, I volunteered to join you, and I’m sure I helped in my own little way.” She bit her lips gently.
Victor stared at her as though he could hasten her with more intense stare. He didn’t understand where she’s coming from and why she’s narrating a scenario they both witnessed.
“And I thank you for your support to the team so far.” He cut in.
Chenemi rubbed her hand over her hair. “In the process of wanting to help the team, I found myself being drawn to you every moment. Your smile. Your face. Your encouragements. So priceless.” Her voice started breaking. “I didn’t know I cared about you this much, Victor, until all these recent events. It’d made me unable to eat for two days because of the mere knowledge that you’re mad at me and not picking my calls.”
“I was mad at you, Chenny. Not anymore. What’s your point please?” Victor rose up in impatience. He was worried as Chenemi rose up after him, coming to stand face to face.
“I can’t bear the fact that you don’t even see me in the midst of people, Vee. I can’t bear that you shut your whole life down because of one girl while my own life gets shut down because of you, and you don’t even seem to be concerned in the very least.”
Victor swallowed. That was true and it hit him hard.
“I guess it’s that point where I would face my fears.”
Weirdly, Victor could hear his throbbing heartbeats firmly against his ribcage.
“I volunteered to join the team, but as it stands now… no matter how hard… I’ve made my final decision…” she was sobbing lightly now.
Victor sat up, waiting for her to say the expected.
“I am quitting the team, Vee. I renounce membership.” She said and broke down in full blown tears.
Pastor Festus rushed out of the bedroom, followed closely by his wife. She had her wrapper loosely tied to her waist while her hand tried to adjust the gele on her head. There was palpable tension in the air and they were obviously doing their best to stay calm. Ajifa held her phone in between her lips. Pastor Festus moved to open the door then stopped and turned abruptly.
“Have you called him?” he had serious concern in his eyes.
Ajifa nodded her head from side to side.
The pastor frowned, wondering why his wife was taking so much time.
“I’ll call him right now, sir!” she voiced out after removing the phone from her mouth.
Pastor Festus gave her the ‘you had better’ look and stormed out.
Caleb trudged towards his father in the ranch. The man rears cattle and that was sort of his major occupation. He would attend to them as many times in a day as possible. Evenings like this were his best times. With a jacket that had turned to the colour of clay, a cowboy hat and big farm boots, the man in his early sixties would spend hours feeding the over fifty cattle in the ranch.
He was giving water to one of them when he sighted Caleb at the wooden gate of the ranch.
“Hey boy! Come over here!”
Caleb felt funny. He couldn’t place how his dad still saw him as a boy at this age. He shook his head and the man knew better. Caleb never liked the ranch. Right from when he was a little boy, he would rather stay in the kitchen with his mother than join his father at the farm. The animals seemed to scare the living daylight out of him, and even up till now, he dreaded them the more. He watched the dust kick into the air as his father hurried over to where he’s standing.
Green grasses spread around the fence of the ranch and Caleb had taken his seat on the few wooden benches just midway the gate, as his father joined him.
“You look worried, my boy!”
Caleb blinked. “I am officially in a confused state father!” he managed to say, like a whisper.
John Oguche nodded in the affirmative. His face gave Caleb the impression that he understood him quite well.
“I had a girl before I met your mother. Ali was everything a man could wish for. She had all of it going for her and I was only a school boy at the time, with just my brains to speak for me. Ali liked me and I knew it, she showed it. With time, I was compelled in to liking her back. I mean, after all, she didn’t do anything other than being nice to me.” he picked a flower from the plant beside them, and Caleb’s eyes followed him there. He stopped suddenly, and stared back at Caleb. “Then I met Joy, your mother. She was like my dream-come-true girl. She didn’t have much, didn’t stand much chance in physical appearance, but then, just then, I knew she was the right person for me.”
Caleb eased a breath through his nostrils and it was obvious he was sighing deeply.
“I don’t regret getting married to your mother, Caleb. You and your brothers are my greatest assets in life. But why am I sharing this story?” he gave a questioning look and Caleb shrugged, obviously battled. John Oguche smiled, displaying his set of yellow teeth. “I have once been in this condition. The condition of ‘I am in love with two women, I don’t know which one to choose’”
Caleb felt his bones relax, at last they were on the same course.
“You see, my boy, things are not always the way they appear. You brought Unekwu to us, and after so many months of waiting on your next action, you told us you wanted to marry her. You gave a convincing speech about how you loved her…”
“I still love her, dad!”
John hesitated, then smiled. “How much you loved her, and wanted her to complete you, then came a week to the wedding and you suddenly can’t sort out the feelings you have because Angela came into the picture. Is my account right or not?”
Caleb nodded vigorously. His father had this incredible memory that can play back scenes from eleventh century accurately.
“You later realised you made a mistake by hurting Unekwu and wanted back, only to meet this present ‘half dead, half alive’ state of hers. And now you are wondering how long you can keep up with it. You are concerned about a lot of things; if she would ever survive stroke, if her memories would ever come back or not, if she’d still be the same girl you fell in love with.”
“Dad,” Caleb hesitated. “I am under so much pressure at the moment. I feel really bad for hurting Unekwu in the first place and sincerely wanted to make up. And now, this? I don’t know how long we have to battle stroke. I don’t even know if she would come out from it alive, dad…” he felt a tightening in his throat as the words felt hard to come out. “How did I get into all these mess?”
His father patted him on the back softly. “My little piece of advice, son, is to search your heart.” Caleb swallowed. “I’ve been in this delicate situation of making a choice for the better of two good women. I choose your mum, not because she was the better in all senses, but because with her I had the conviction. I felt the connection. The feeling that you can scale mountain tops and deepest oceans just with her by your side.”
“Dad, are you saying I should weigh their characters and check for compatibility?”
He smiled. “No, Son. With love, it’s not all based on compatibility. Love has the innate power to bring out the best out of anyone. One thing you must look out for though… with love comes conviction. This inside conviction that, ‘if you know, you know’. This thing called love requires these two pillars – conviction and connection, without which? Forget it.”
Caleb swallowed and stared into the far distance.
“Forget that one is seriously sick right now. In the end you would discover that love heals everything, and that love is all there is.” He stood up and headed back towards the ranch, leaving Caleb to soak in the words he’d spoken.
Caleb ran his brain through his father’s words… wise words. He’d somehow found the next route from here. He felt like he knew exactly what to do now.
He was about calling out to his father to say, ‘thank you’, when his phone buzzed and starting ringing out loud. He staggered as he pulled it out of his pocket, staring at it with trembling hands. The fear in his body was palpable as he swiped left the receive button. Bringing the phone gently to the side of his ear, he impatiently waited for the caller.
We only accept the love we think we deserve.
Next Episode is on Wednesday.
Yeah… I’m much interested in your enjoyment, so I’d try to post twice a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays, as someone requested. I don’t know if I can keep up with time when work begins, but I’ll try. The only favour you can do for me is to leave a comment (I love feedbacks) and share on your timeline.
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Thanks for being there.