This thing called LOVE – GRACE OCHIGBO
Caleb could see the questions as the woman’s eyes followed him till he drove into the car park. He ignored the stares and took his time enough until he was sure he had the confidence to face her. He picked up his wallet and stepped down, pressing the lock button on the car’s remote.
“Whose car, son?” Mrs Joy Oguche barely waited till the car was confirmed ‘locked’ to ask.
Caleb shrugged. “Good evening, mother!”
“Good evening, Caleb. Whose car did you drive into my compound?”
Caleb should have known better. He should have known that his mother would never give up until the information she so desired was told her. He walked past her into the house, giving the impression that she was bugging her. She actually was. Since he left here after Angela interrupted him at the gate yesterday evening, he hadn’t been back. He alone was available to sleep with Unekwu in the ward. In fact, it was his duty to, as her parents had rightfully left her in his care.
How’d he gotten those thoughts in his head last night? He needed to be more careful and rational in dealing with frustrations henceforth. How could he have attempted to disconnect the oxygen? Had something come lose in his head?
While those evil thoughts ran through his head last night as he stared at Unekwu, he shook his head back to reality after about half an hour. Ending her life would not amount to ending her pain as much as staying strong for her and helping her stay alive would. He’d held onto Unekwu’s palm and couldn’t even shed a tear after all. He left his mind reminiscing on memories they’ve had in times past before he eventually slept off. He’d woken up this morning with a clearer head, a strong determination to keep Unekwu alive no matter how long it would take. He’d realised he needed her far too much already.
“Whose car did you drive to my house o, Ojotule Caleb?”
He heard his mother yelling at the top of her lungs.
Whatever made her call his Igala name first must be very serious.
“Pastor Ajifa’s!” he replied bluntly, and headed for the kitchen.
Mrs Joy Oguche stood startled for a while, as though trying to simulate her son’s last statement in her head, before following him into the kitchen.
“Eheen? Why are you now driving pastor Ajifa’s car?”
Caleb felt like getting a superglue and the hardest adhesive ever. He would lock the woman’s mouth and prevent her from loosening the last yet partly fixed nut in his brain. He’d gone through enough stress in one day. That’s why he came home, right? He needed to eat, take a warm shower and sleep. Sleep till reality pinched his skin once again.
“You don’t answer questions anymore?”
He stared at his mother. A lump of anger had appeared in his throat. It was so big and hard to swallow and he knew he needed to calm down.
“Unekwu’s parents are not in the country presently. Since I’m around to take care of her, they suggested I go take her mum’s car, just to give me ease of movement.” He said this on his way out of the kitchen, hoping she would just let him go to his room already.
“Must they use you all the time?”
His mother’s voice called from behind him. The question, statement or whatever it was she just made, startled him and he couldn’t help but turn to her with eyes questioning, ‘how do you mean?’
“Yes!” Joy Oguche snapped. “I call it ‘use’, son. The pastor and his family are only using you. How can people be so selfish!”
Caleb at this point was even more confused but he listened on.
“All the time you were planning to marry their daughter, why didn’t they give you a car? Oh! It was meant to be a surprise present on your wedding, huh?” she gave a sarcastic laughter, clapping her both hands. “The very first time Pastor Ajifa ever stepped her foot in this house was after you called off the wedding and Unekwu fainted. She, her husband, none of them have been to this house.” She hesitated to be sure she still had her son’s attention. “Even my so-called daughter in-law, whenever has she been here?”
“Unekwu is busy, mother. She’s the branch manager of a big bank!”
“And we are all jobless, right? No. We are not bank managers, so we are jobless, right? No. Answer me.” she drew a long hiss.
Caleb shrugged. “I never said that!”
“No… that’s what you are saying!” Joy Oguche cut in before he could continue. You are saying I’m jobless, your father is also jobless including you. I mean… what nonsense!” she drew a longer hiss this time. “A daughter in-law that cannot even drop by to say hello to her mother in-law from time to time, is that one a daughter in-law? She can’t even make up her mind to one day come and help with the chores in this house? Do I have to wait till she finally takes my son away after you both get married to realise that she and her family are users?”
Caleb’s confusion was palpable now, and it showed even in his breath. “Where are all these coming from, mother?”
“It’s coming from the fact that you are blind.” She drew closer to him, pointing her first finger in the direction of his eyes. “You are serving them. You are practically serving them, Caleb. They feel too high class to stoop low to our level. They must have accepted you because Unekwu probably insisted on it. And I think that’s also for her selfish reasons. She’s getting too old. Who knows what she did with her younger age.”
Caleb felt his hand move and the strong impulse to slap the woman in front of him after that last statement. What nonsense?
His eyes blazing, tongue quirking, his heartbeat racing heavily as anger had the better of him. He rolled his right hand into a fist – a failed attempt at calming his nerves. He squeezed his hand so tightly that they turned white at the knuckles.
“And here is an innocent orphan girl who you didn’t even have the courtesy to introduce to your father and I, yet she knows the importance of the both of us in your life. She’s so genuine…” her eyes lit up as she described. “she’s so humble, so innocent, so lively. She’s far more gorgeous than your fiancée. And of all people, you chose to hurt her!”
“What the heck are you saying, mother?” Caleb thumped his left foot angrily against the floor. “Did Angela come in here?”
Joy Oguche smiled and that infuriated Caleb the more.
“How dare she…” he roared, hitting hard against the wall behind him.
“Calm it down, boy! We don’t even know if the girl your head is being used over would survive!”
Caleb rose his hand this time in his mother’s direction and she charged towards him, squeezing his shirt.
“You want to hit me? Ojotule, you want to hit me for telling you the truth?” she charged closer and closer, squeezing Caleb to the wall. “Hit me. No! Go ahead. Hit your mother. Go ahead.”
Caleb swallowed against the lump in his throat. The woman was making life unbearable for him at the moment and he knew better than to remain here. He looked down to see her still charging, lamenting and making some statements that sounded like prayers made for a blind person. Caleb didn’t understand his mother one bit. What had Angela told her so much to make her turn against him like this? This early. This easily.
He pulled away her hand from his shirt, the most gentle way he can and stood to arrange his shirt. Few seconds, the entrance door to the house banged against his mother’s face.
Victor stepped onto their mechanical stage and the two eyes each from the over fifteen persons staring back at him could trip him off balance, if care was not taken. They had to resume their rehearsals no matter what. The doctor had told him, and in fact everyone else, that they shouldn’t stop their life because of Unekwu – as there was practically nothing they could do for her at this time. Victor, since then, had resorted not to stay idle at the hospital, instead he chose to do what distracted him from real life the most – drama.
“Good evening, sir!” the voices thundered in response to his greeting.
He heaved a sigh of relief and then smiled. He noticed the face of some loosen with that smile.
That’s cool, he muttered underneath his breath before continuing.
“So we are moving. One more all night rehearsals and we are good to go.”
Weirdly, the people started clapping. He couldn’t tell if that gesture connoted, ‘relieved at last’, or, ‘thank God we made it’. He could care less at the moment.
“Yesterday evening, I made a request to the owner of the biggest arts centre in the city. You remember we have the plot in scene 17 there?” he paused to seek affirmation and everyone echoed ‘yes’ as though they planned it. He was impressed.
“This evening, an idea came to my head.” He continued. “So I decided to call the owner of the place. Thank God it’s Friday and I was wondering if she could come see what we do here.” He moved his eyes till they settled on who he wanted them to settle on. “She politely said that she wasn’t sure. She is a very busy lady, but promised to show up even if it’s briefly. Moreover, it’s not everyone that can stay awake all night.”
The people laughed at the tone with which he made the last statement. “Yes o. but right here, I feel so honoured that she surprised us…” necks started turning, in search of a new face.
“Please, let’s welcome Miss Angela…”
The whole place went up in applaud, so loud that it scared Angela on her seat. The continuous claps rose her from her seat and moved her legs towards the stage where Victor was motioning her to come. She hadn’t planned to talk. She only wanted to see what the team were doing as Victor had asked her to.
Whether it was a set up or not, she didn’t understand, but as the boss she is, she needed to cover her confusion. If she was asked to speak, then speak she shall.
Pastor Festus dropped his tablet to face his wife squarely.
What! He almost screamed in response to her perpetual naggings.
“Do you think it’s a good idea, sunshine?”
He scoffed. She’s asking this same question for the umpteenth time and he was literally tired of giving same answer over and again.
“What do you suggest, my beautiful wife?” sarcasm was spelt out clearly in his voice, but she ignored it. She always ignores it.
“I don’t know. I just feel somehow, especially that they are not even expecting!”
Pastor Festus smiled, nodding his head to an unheard rhythm. To him, Ajifa worries too much. If one sits in a place, she worries; if one travels around, she worries; virtually everything worries her after all.
“Take the next turn to your left in front of you!” He pointed the driver’s attention in the direction of his finger and the latter nodded, negotiating the turn immediately
Caleb walked into the ward. The whole anger from his mother had landed on the car’s steering and thankfully, he got to the hospital safe and fine. He pulled open the door and Vera jerked up in shock. She quickly wiped the back of her palm against the tears storming down her cheeks. Caleb drew nearer. Confused and disturbed. Seeing Vera’s face brought concern in his eyes and he almost forgot his initial grievance.
“I had someone to talk to, Caleb.” She sniffed in. “I had someone to discuss challenges with, to describe my fights, my pains and hurts, Caleb.” She swallowed against the lump in her throat. “It’s that time of the month again. That time when the only thing I can afford is to be curled up in the arms of my beloved best friend. I miss Unekwu so much, Caleb. I do!” she gave a deep seated emotionally traumatised look towards Caleb and he felt his eyes water immediately.
“I understand Vera…”
Vera rose up with voice sounding slightly provoked. “You don’t understand, Caleb. Never. You don’t.” she moved from her seat. “Guys are disturbing me. My parents are also not helping matters. I feel like I need to go out and breathe fresh air. I feel like I’m floating in the air and need someone to hold me down. I feel like having my friend with me.”
Caleb smiled faintly as a question popped up in his head. He knew it’d be insensitive to ask but it escaped his lips before he could stop himself.
“Where is your boyfriend?”
Vera’s shocked eyes begged him to keep quiet. She eased a breath through her teeth. “Or am I a lesbian?” she laughed in between her tears.
Caleb shrugged. “Well, you never know!”
“Caleb!!!” she screamed out in shock.
“Babe, c’mon!” Caleb chuckled lightly. “How old are you? Why is Unekwu serving a function she shouldn’t be serving. I mean, I don’t understand. It’s that time of the month?” he raised his right eyebrow. “So what exactly does Unekwu do for you?”
Vera could feel the sincere surprise in Caleb’s tone and understood perfectly. It’s weird but the both of them hadn’t been in any form of relationship before, for Unekwu, until Caleb of course. Being church girls and daughters of clergy men, they’ve grown up as conservative ladies, warned against anything and everybody called ‘boys’. Vera had been wondering how she would cope once Unekwu get married. In a girl’s normal body physiology, there’s that time of the month, scientist call ovulation period, when one become extremely broken, emotional and vulnerable – seeking for love and affection like never before.
Unekwu and Vera have very similar cycles, and they take turns to spend their ‘delicate’ periods in each other’s house. They would take warm showers, see a romantic movie and curl up on the bed in their AC tight rooms. That has been their schedule. That had helped. That had kept them chaste and sound. But right here, with Unekwu lying helplessly on the sick bed, Vera felt extremely emotional and vulnerable.
Caleb tried to control his laughter after he heard Vera’s narration of what Unekwu ‘do’ for her, rather, what they ‘do’ for one another. It sounded unbelievable to him, but who was he to judge girls brought up in church. He sort of envied their lives though. It was a cool one, with lesser worries. Unlike his that he’s battling with a lot of things at the time.
He found the settee behind him and collapsed into it, shutting his eyes tightly.
Vera felt lighter now after talking to Caleb and laughing a little bit.
“Caleb!” She called out. Her tone easy and her voice light.
Caleb reflexively opened his eyes and for weird reasons he noticed the little sweat on Vera’s forehead. Her weave was packed neatly and her makeup was a bit tanned now as a result of the tears. He moved his eyes down from her forehead through her smooth chubby face.
She has a handful of palpable cheeks, he thought, then hit his head against such thoughts.
“Uhmmm!” Caleb jerked on hearing her voice again.
“Why did you return here? It’s my turn to spend the night with her.”
Her voice was echoing in his brain. What is happening? Caleb couldn’t seem to be in charge of his mind anymore. His eyes were on her lips. The tears from her face initially that landed on her lips made them appear wet and sumptuous. Yes, sumptuous.
Get a hold on yourself, Caleb. He advised himself again, but Vera made a mistake this time.
“Caleb, is it not you I’m questioning?” she got up and started walking towards where he was on the settee. The battle in Caleb’s mind grew fiercer and all the soldiers in his body had been deployed into action. He suddenly realised how beautiful and curvy Vera was as she approached. She took her seat beside him and placed her hands on her thighs.
Wow, the words escaped his thoughts to his mouth.
“What’s wow?” Vera sounded perplexed.
“Uhmmm!” Caleb sat up better. Making sure not to glance at her lips again. “Wow. I mean, I’m really hungry, Vera.”
“I thought you went home to eat, freshen up and rest until tomorrow. I’m surprised that you are back here tonight!”
Caleb chuckled lightly again. “Well, home was unbearable for me…” he considered sharing the ordeals about Angela and his mother with her, but advised himself against it. It’d only make him more emotional, which was like a petrol on fire right now. “I couldn’t just stay back. And I didn’t have the opportunity to eat before leaving.”
Vera smiled. Caleb noticed that one of her side upper teeth was broken. It made her look more beautiful in another sort of way.
“You are in luck, Caleb… I ate at home, but mum insisted on packaging another food for me, in case I get hungry in the night. Maybe you’d just eat that!”
Relieve ran down Caleb’s spine. And as Vera got up and walked towards her bag. which was at the other end of the room, he tried in vain to keep his eyes off her. Her slim fitted trousers held her shape quite firmly. Trying in vain to avoid the stare, once, twice, Caleb got up. He didn’t know what was propelling him, but he was moving. He moved behind her as she bent over to pick the flask of food.
“Here you are…” Vera turned and unexpectedly collapsed into Caleb’s arms. He was directly behind her. He searched her face deeply. His eyes penetrating every marrow in her body. His eyes bore deep through her skin, making her flutter and her lips trembled as his dreamy eyes gazed at hers. She noticed them slowly lower and fix on her lips. She noticed him glance back up, in hopes of recovering from giving anything away. He looked vulnerable. As hard as he tried to keep his eyes off her lips, he couldn’t, and that vividly exposed how he was feeling and what he was planning to do.
Caleb slowly started to glance up and down, eyes to lips, and doing so he couldn’t help but slowly and patiently fall his head closer and closer to her. He took his time because he didn’t want to imagine what would happen if this went sore. Right before he reached her lips, he stopped, as if there was any chance of turning back now. He stopped, maybe waiting to see if she would make the final move. She would never, he knew that as much as he knew his name. Her eyes stared unblinkingly at him as perspiration covered his forehead. He put his arms on her shoulders, then wrapped it round her back, enclosing her in a hug. She didn’t hesitate. It was as though she needed a warm embrace herself.
Vera felt her heart thump loudly in his arms and had barely closed her eyes when Caleb’s mouth closed up in hers.
“We’re not supposed to be back in the country yet. It’s meant to be a surprise.”
The doctor nodded at the pastor’s statement.
‘Surprise for who’ was his next question but he held it back.
A surprise for Unekwu who cannot even move a limb? Or for her fiancé who he’d seen extremely tired and weak some hours ago? Or Unekwu’s friends whose only desire was to have her back, working and standing? Who was the pastor and his wife surprising with their impromptu return from their supposed several-months-long foreign mission trip?
“Thanks for all you’ve been doing for our daughter, doctor!” Ajifa said, few steps to Unekwu’s ward.
The doctor smiled politely, giving way for her to be in front. Pastor Festus quickly dropped off the phone as soon as they were two rooms nearer Unekwu’s. The atmosphere in the veranda they walked felt somehow. It was as though something was going to go wrong… or so did Ajifa feel. Not to worry. She’s been itching to hold her daughter’s hands after this time. She cannot be less grateful to Caleb, Vera and Victor for the indescribable roles they’ve played so far. The doctor said Caleb had gone home to rest for the night and that he’d only met Vera in the room and she planned to sleep over tonight.
The three came nearer the door almost at the same time. Ajifa was first to pull down the door knob and enter the wardroom.
The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.
To be continued…
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