This thing called LOVE – GRACE OCHIGBO
We are back. We would be running weekly, that’s for sure. Then some bonuses from time to time. ☺ please make sure to read the Prologue before this episode.
Hope to hear from you.
(Many times we use up ourselves in search of what we want. We exhaust our brain power, and even man power, just so to attain that one thing in life. However, majority of the time, we find it difficult to understand this thing called LOVE. Well, I think it’s sacred, like prayer. I think it’s showered upon us from above.)
“Unekwu, you are late again. You know you put me at risk whenever you do this?”
Unekwu scratched something off the back of her neck. “C’mon Victor! It’s not that bad, right? And hey, you startled me man! Moreover, I’m only twenty minutes late.” Shrugging her shoulders, she walked a bit ahead of him.
“Twenty minutes is enough time to scatter everyone.” Victor called out from behind her while hurrying to catch up.
“Alright… alright. I’m sorry…” she threw the apology carelessly at him and that – as always, shut him up. “Where are the guys?”
(We are walking to where ‘the guys’ are but let me quickly whisper something to you here and make sure Victor doesn’t learn of it. I come here to help Victor out in the evenings like this almost every day – it’s partly for leisure and mostly for the passion. Passion! Yes. Ever heard the word ‘amateur’… Yeah, that’s more like the perfect description for all I do here. But then, my continuous lateness bores even me. I have another job and life outside this, please, don’t think it. Well, about my lateness habits, I’ll change. I have resolved to. Hahaha. I laugh. Why am I laughing? Because I don’t even believe myself. Victor would say I said that the last time, the time before and the one before the one before. It still doesn’t change the fact that I would change though. Just someday!)
“OK guys, sorry we have to start again, Unekwu is here!” Victor called out to the fifteen other young people in the large hall.
Everyone adjusted; some picked up their sweaters, others picked up the shoes they had removed while mounting the stage. They got back on their seats and sat still, awaiting the no-nonsense, extra-principled, stern-looking Miss Unekwuojo Ikani to take over. She, on her own part, felt weirdly nervous all of a sudden but knew she must man up.
“So we are going to roll back scenes fourteen and fifteen from last rehearsal again, then roll the next two ones in the manuscript, seventeen and eighteen, that is, and we would be home and dry. Please put in your best and always remember that no one has a role in this project until it’s reached post-production stage. That means that we can relieve you of your role at any time, T.” Her voice came cracking into the quiet air. She glanced at Victor for affirmation, but he turned his head away instead.
(I noticed some of the guys are quietly hissing at my statements. Have I said anything bad? No, please be the judge. This is not the first time they are hearing this. I understand it only comes from me, yeah? but Victor makes me feel like I act too strict for comfort. Harsh. Insensitive. Or, maybe completely arrogant. Perhaps paranoid too. Sometimes, I hear that I’m too domineering for a lady. Excuse me, when you make me a group leader, what are you indirectly asking me to do? When you make a twenty-eight year old me a branch manager of one of the biggest banks in the state, what is expected of me? Seek opinions every time, and never having to make even one concrete decision all by myself? That’s probably the problem of our society – diplomacy, and I’m not going to be a party to it. Never! Not even now that I already have a lot of personal issues to deal with from this afternoon.)
“Alright… tape rolling! Action!” Unekwu ordered and the first character mounted the wooden elevated stage. The whole hall was so quiet that a pin would sound if it dropped. Unekwu stepped aside as the young lady moved toward the artificial palm tree on the dramatically decorated stage.
“No… you can’t do this, Inikpi…”
“Cut…” Unekwu interrupted from where she’s standing and started approaching the centre of the stage. “How many times? You people keep dragging us back with this scene. This particular one. Why?” She yelled. Her first finger pointing at something invisible on the floor. “To think that this is the defining scene. Whatever you show now will create or destroy the interest of our audience. How many times do I goddamn tell you people that acting a play should be less talks and more action? We need to see what you are saying, damn it! Don’t come here reading lines for me. And if you cannot take the role, please step aside immediately, let someone better and probably more prepared take it.” She hissed dryly in gross provocation.
(Yeah! That. Mind you, my voice is sonorous on a normal day, imagine when I’m yelling.)
The young girl felt so emasculated, embarrassed and hurt that she simply wore back her shoes and climbed down the stage. She got to the table where she sat earlier, picked up her bag and hurried out, wiping a lone tear off her face on the way. The others, seeing what just happened, hissed unanimously, got up as well and started walking out of the hall one after the other. Unekwu stood still at the left side of the stage, completely ashamed of herself as everyone else vacated the hall, leaving her alone face to face with the obviously pissed Victor. She could tell. His left eyeball usually squints and becomes so red, that it could stain a black linen, whenever he’s provoked.
Victor seemed to be resting his entire weight on one foot. His fist, rolled into a firm round ball and his knuckles, turning whiter by each breath. “You came the hell late for this rehearsal, Unekwu. They’ve gone so far but because of you, I asked we start all over. I was worried your lateness would scatter them, now you have scattered them with your uncontrolled ill-manners.”
(Wait! Did Victor just call my manners ‘ill’ now, or my auditory functions are compromised?)
“Victor, I’m sorry. Just that I had a terrible day… I’m…”
“Unekwu, you always have a terrible day… Always! There’s been no day you came here cheerful. No day! It’s either you had a terrible day, or you had a terrible day…” sarcasm was spelt out clearly in his tone. “…You always only have terrible days and you are best at pouring all your frustrations on my innocent team. Transfer of aggression may as well be termed your hobby. Gosh! I can’t do this anymore.” He turned to walk away.
“Excuse me?” Unekwu raised her eyebrow and drew closer to him. “I’m sorry, Victor. OK? I didn’t mean to shout at her that way. I don’t know what came over me. I already said, I’m sorry, please, Victor.”
“I think you are why we are still where we are. I think you are why we haven’t moved an inch forward with this project. I think you are the one that should be changed – not the story, not the crew nor the actors. Unekwu, I think you are the one to leave this group. Please, don’t bother coming here for next rehearsal.” Victor screamed at the top of his lungs.
He turned to pick his jacket and face cap and exit the hall, almost immediately, with so much rage one would think he’d rather break through the wall instead of using the door.
Unekwu stood fixed in shock with her mouth ajar.
Vera checked the caller’s identity on her phone and swiped the ‘receive’ icon.
“Hey girl!” She giggled, still watching the road as she made a quick turn to the left. “I’m around 500units. Is everything well? You don’t sound good!”
She waited, with a look of concern for the person on the other side of the phone to finish before speaking up. “OK! Alright girl. I would be on my way right now!”
Vera ended the call, pulled back into the road and drove off.
“Where is Unekwu? Shouldn’t she be home from work by now?”
Pastor Festus Ikani asked his wife as he came to join her in his expansive sitting room – it’s so wide, a gospel crusade could conveniently be held in there. He held firmly onto his extra-large bible and another notepad that rivalled the size of the bible.
Ajifa Ikani adjusted on the settee, giving space for her husband to sit down. “She is not back yet. Ehrm… ehmm… She probably went for rehearsals after work. Today is… today is…”
“What nonsense?” Pastor Festus roared. “Woman, I thought I told her to stop all those unnecessary things? She should have said she wanted to be an actress or movie director or whatever it’s called, in the first place. Why did she have to make me waste my hard-earned money in not just training her as a certified banker, but in also making some calls so as to secure a suitable job for her in one of the biggest banks in town? Why is that girl so stubborn?”
Ajifa swallowed. She didn’t know which part of her husband’s rants she should respond to first. They’ve had this conversation over and again. Unekwu, for all she knew, was never going to stop. She would give up her bank job faster than she would consider not acting and directing plays.
“Sunshine, it’s not that bad. I think Unekwu is old enough to know what’s good for her. I mean, she would be out of this house by weekend. Moreover, she just does it for fun…” she noticed the angry crease on her husband’s forehead. “Sunshine, what I’m saying is that I’ve watched some of their uploads on YouTube. She’s really good at what she’s doing. You should see it sometimes too.”
Pastor Festus Ikani hissed dryly and picked up the remote. Scrolling down, he changed it to his favourite gospel channel, opened his notepad and picked up a pen from his breast pocket.
Just then, there’s a light knock at the door.
“Ah! Vera. How are you? So good to see you again!” Ajifa greeted the young lady from the door, leading her through to the sitting room proper.
“Good evening, daddy!” Vera bent down enough to show respect.
Pastor Festus took off his eyeglasses – as if he wouldn’t see her through it, and smiled proudly. “How are you, Vera? And how are your parents?”
“They are fine, sir.” Vera smiled sweetly alongside.
She considers it a privilege whenever she gets this warm welcome from Pastor Festus Ikani and his wife, Ajifa. Being the senior pastors of Dominion Way International, one of the largest churches in Lokoja and Kogi state as a whole, one would expect them to be heavily laden with pride.
No, No, No!
Well, probably because Vera’s parents are elders in the church also, and history has it that they were also part of the early founders. Whichever way we want to think it, her friendship with Unekwu must have been facilitated by the strong cordial relationship between both parents, even though it has blossomed far much more than that now.
“Unekwu is not yet here…” Ajifa started gently, careful not to infuriate her husband again.
Vera nodded in the affirmative. “I know, mummy. She already called and…”
She was still speaking when the violent opening of the door interrupted her. All eyes turned in that direction as Unekwu hurried in, looking enraged.
“Good evening, everyone!” she practically threw the greeting away and headed for the stairs.
“Will you come back here…” Pastor Festus called out angrily to Unekwu who didn’t even do as much as look back. In a moment, one would think he would pounce on her or any other available person. He faced his wife. “Ajifa, can you see? Can you see your daughter? Are these the characters we would be sending away on Saturday?”
“You have to calm down, Sunshine. Please!” Ajifa responded, attempting to rub his upper back.
“I should calm down? I should calm down and watch the devil train my own daughter for me? God forbid. Unekwu,” He called out loud enough for her to hear wherever she may be in the house, “…that spirit in you must die by fire. Believe me, there is no space for the devil in my house.” He rattled on and Ajifa kept quiet. She just winked knowingly at Vera.
Vera was doing a failed job in suppressing the impulse to laugh at the outrageous outburst of the clergy man. He was taking the matter well overboard, and bringing the devil into this was on the high side too. If they knew what she knows, they would perhaps be less judgemental of Unekwu.
Vera hurried upstairs after Unekwu amidst her father’s rage.
“You better call that girl to order, Ajifa. Do call her to order before my wrath descends on her! No one is too old for biblical discipline. Tell her that.” Pastor Festus pointed his first finger at his wife who kept nodding respectfully.
“I will! I will.”
He hissed loudly again, replaced his eyeglasses and increased the volume of the TV on the remote.
Vera walked sluggishly from the door to where Unekwu was lying on her large bed, curled up like a snail.
“What’s all these stunts you are pulling on everybody, huh?” Vera asked, sounding somewhat bitter.
(She just said stunt. Stunt? She thinks it’s stunt. No one knows how terrible and horrible I feel right now, so I’ll just lay here and cry. Victor said I shouldn’t come back to the group again, what insolence? I really don’t know how to feel. I understand that he is mad at me. Believe me, I do know that project is important to him… to us, but did he have to talk to me like that? Is that how much I don’t have a single respect in his sight anymore? It’s not his fault anyway. It’s because I needed a distraction. I only hope I’m not losing my mind!)
“Talk to me, Unee. What happened? You sounded helpless over the phone!”
Unekwu rolled over to lay on her right side. The strands of her rumpled hair found homes all over her face and one was almost dragging for space with the red lipstick lining her full lips. She’s definitely been crying the whole way down here.
Vera rubbed her shoulders lovingly.
“I, probably, should have listened to you. I thought I could unwind there, Vera. I thought that would clear my head.” She blinked her eyelids, and – tears!
Vera swallowed. “I told you to go home, didn’t I? Go home, have a hot bath and try to sleep, was my advice. I remember telling you that in your secretary’s office earlier. You are not one to curtail emotions, Unee and you know it.” Vera decided on changing the line of conversation. “Well, let me stop beating a dead horse. What happened at the rehearsal?”
Unekwu smiled in spite of her. “I messed it up, Vera. I got there quite late, yet he made me direct. In my confused, downcast and cloudy state of mind, I didn’t know when I yelled at one of the casts. She got so angry and left crying, the others followed after her.”
Vera shook her head in a pathetic manner. “Oh my! What about Victor?”
Unekwu took in a very deep breath. “He asked me never to come back there again.”
As if the last statement was an onion dropped in Unekwu’s eyeballs, the tears gushed down even more uncontrollably. Vera drew closer to her friend and held Unekwu’s shivering body while still rubbing her right hand over her full hair.
“You would be fine, babe. You will!” She whispered in Unekwu’s ears.
(I strolled into my office quite elated this morning, and even though it’s a mask, all heads turned as I swayed past. I have this indescribable happiness on me today, aside that I’m on my favourite dress gifted me by my ‘Him’ last Valentine. I actually accepted him three Valentine’s day ago.
Oh! Thank God for friends like Vera. I could lend her to you only for few seconds. Yeah! That’s the much I can afford. Having a friend who doesn’t mind sleeping over at your place, planned or unplanned, is the best thing that can happen to anyone. Vera had succeeded in calming my nerves and raging blood pressure down last night. In fact, I went to apologise to my parents for my initial unruly behaviour. The point she made was great and I really hope that’s the real situation. If not, I don’t know how I’m going to handle this. It feels messy already.)
“So what are we now? Office roommates? Don’t forget that I am your boss here – a whole branch manager.”
Vera rolled her eyeballs and sat into the chair. “My own parents weren’t on my neck to quickly rise up to become the manager.”
Unekwu laughed softly at that response. “Someone is making lame excuses. But fact is that my parents are just the height of it. As in ehn? My folks are just the dictionary definition of go-getters. Well, isn’t that why they are pastors?”
Vera smiled. “You know it’s good to see you this way today. I didn’t…”
“I had to…” Unekwu interrupted. “…my mother was already suspecting me; asked some funny questions this morning about my depressed demeanour, about him, about Saturday. I had to come out glamorous. I didn’t want court session during morning devotion, with me as the central locus.” She winked at Vera.
Unekwu shrugged. “Remember the message we sent?” she waited for confirmation from Vera before continuing. “I’m still anticipating his response.”
Unekwu sounded pathetic and helpless. Vera got the message.
“So in the meantime, no more going for the rehearsals after work, is that? Thank God Victor even fired you. We can now make you go home with us…”
Unekwu chuckled loudly – making her eyelids shut slightly and open back again like nothing happened. “Well, I thought you were praying I resolve all my issues on time?”
“Well, that part is more or less not in the prayer because we…” she was still saying this firmly until Unekwu’s hand interrupted her and she paused and moved closer. Unekwu’s phone beeped with her message tone. Vera moved even closer when Unekwu’s face started growing paler, and her eyes getting watery all of a sudden. The poor young lady was holding onto her phone so tightly, not taking her eyes off what she was seeing. Suddenly, Unekwu collapsed in Vera’s hands, dropping to the floor like a sack of potatoes.
“Help!” Vera screamed, running out of the office and returning with some members of staff and security guards.
The doctor dropped her wrist before writing something on the paper in his hand.
“Pastor Ikani, she’s quite stable now. Her blood pressure rose far overboard and that was why she fainted.”
Ajifa and Festus Ikani screamed “Jesus!” involuntarily and at the same time, as though they planned it.
“Doctor, how can a young girl like this have high blood pressure? I take care of virtually all her needs for God’s sake. No one is mounting pressure on her. Even the upcoming event is being handled by professional event houses, not two but three. What has she to worry about at this age?”
The doctor felt funny with Pastor Ikani’s question. How he’s expected to respond without sounding disrespectful was a bigger task that he must fulfil.
“Pastor sir, you must realise that gone are those days when we have some diseases exclusively reserved for the old. This generation has brought alongside diverse kinds of disease, due to lifestyle, busy and tight schedule, little or no exercise, snacks and junks, atmospheric and climatic conditions, and all these can actually affect anyone at any time.”
Pastor Festus turned to face his wife. “You see what I was telling you?” He then turned in Vera’s direction. “You see?” They both nodded in the affirmative even though they are not particularly ‘seeing’ what he’s telling. Knowing how daddy can blow things out of proportion, it’s safer no one said anything in the defence of the unconscious Unekwu, who appeared to be fast asleep with drips fixed to her hand. At least, not in front of the doctor.
“I would have to keep her here for a week or more, pastor. She needs intensive bed rest.”
Ajifa let out a stolid look at the doctor. “Ah! Bed rest? My daughter is getting married this weekend!”
That statement felt like a knife cutting through Vera’s heart as she stared on dumbly.
“Well, pastor, she may have to rest for at least two days. That’s my candid advice, if she mustn’t collapse on her wedding day!”
“God forbid!” Ajifa Ikani rejected the words before he even finished saying them.
The doctor and her husband smiled broadly, shaking hands before the former excused himself.
Vera followed Pastor Festus with the left side of her bulging eyeballs. At times, she wondered how his children ever found the boldness to approach him, judging from his default stern face and intimidating appearance. Unekwu seemed to take a lot after her father. He smiles only once, and if he does it a second time, the day ends. That serious..
She cleared her throat as a means of drawing their attention.
“Daddy, may I please have a word with you outside?”
To her surprise, the clergy man let out a kind smile before following her through the door to the adjoining veranda.
“What’s the problem, daughter?” Pastor Festus asked the obviously uneasy Vera.
She felt a dryness in her throat and she swallowed for the umpteenth time, trying to calm her breaths. “I’m afraid daddy, but Unekwu’s wedding may not hold this weekend.”
Pastor Festus returned the ‘you-must-be-kidding’ kind of look. “And why, if I may ask, daughter?”
Vera considered several ways to deliver the bomb. She would have to say it anyway.
“Ehm… well… daddy… eh… Unekwu’s…”
“Talk to me, Vera?” Pastor Festus sounded extremely curious now.
“Unee’s fiancé called off the wedding this morning!”
Sometimes you start relationships, and sometimes it stops you.
To be continued next Wednesday!
- I love you on this Valentine day and always.
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