This thing called LOVE – GRACE OCHIGBO
The screen light came on and Victor glanced at the phone on the table in front of him like he would be electrocuted if he touched it. He leaned forward to see it’s the same person – Chenny, and hissing dryly, he pulled sideways the ‘reject’ button’. He removed his hand from the pocket of the faded blue jean he’s wearing and placed both hands on the table. He could feel the table shake – his hands were actually shaking, more like trembling. As though something clicked in his head, he picked up the phone and held tightly to the switch button on the top of it.
“Yes, I have been waiting for that part…” a familiar voice came through his ears.
He jerked backwards. Knowing the voice was his mother’s, he was only concerned about one thing.
“How did you get here without me noticing you?” this question was just for fancy and he’s quite aware of that.
He’s been body-present, absentminded about everything in the past days. The other day at dinner, the okra soup he was eating spilled on his white shirt while holding onto the fork with a mind running round town.
“But why are you not at work, mama?”
Mrs Deborah Adama, who preferred to be called ‘Debby Adams’ smiled, revealing the beautiful gap between her front two teeth.
“Why are you not at work, oma?”
“You know the answer, mama.” He scoffed. “So answer me!”
She saw the seriousness on his face.
“You know the answer also…” She hesitated. Victor gave her a cold look and she quickly continued. “Pastor hasn’t been coming to the office since the whole issue with his daughter’s wedding. He’s instructed us not to respond to any mail or correspondence till he sees it personally. He’s also instructed not to take any calls via the office lines. Needless to say here that there is absolutely nothing to do at the church office for now.”
Victor moved to sit on his bed.
“I’m dressed up to go there anyway, just so the whole place wouldn’t look dry and deserted. You know that could be some headlines for the press too…”
He didn’t hear her last statement.
He’d been preoccupied with digesting the former one. Especially the part that said pastor hasn’t been coming to the office. The clergy man still managed to dash in from time to time… until the accident. Pastor Festus has been avoiding the press as much as he could and the pain in his eyes could be likened to that of losing a kin.
He shook his head, coming back to the room. He looked at the stern concern on his mother’s face and smiled for no reason.
“Are you OK?” She sounded sincerely concerned.
She ought to be.
“How?” Victor asked before the words were barely off his mother’s lips. “How can I be OK, mama. How? When the only person that means the world to me is…” he saw the popping eyeballs in his mother’s sockets and knew better. “I mean, you mean more than anyone else to me, mama. I was … I was.. I was just trying to… trying to say that…”
“You love Unekwu.”
His mother can like to act as though she’s some omniscient goddess who read and picked out every letter from the thoughts in people’s minds and he’s not going to let her have a field day… not today.
“Mama, I’m only saying that I can’t be OK when Unekwu is lying there unconscious and unresponsive.”
Debby Adams nodded in the fashion that connotes, ‘poor you, I understand’. “Yeah. The accident was fatal. We thank almighty God that she even has hope of living again. She would be fine, Victor!”
And as if that sentence set a dry ground on fire, Victor flared up.
“Fine? Mama… did you say she would be fine? It’s been four days, mama. Four solid days. She’s not even moving a limb. The doctors seem confused to me. Today is Saturday, mama. Unekwu was supposed to be walking down the aisle with that idiot by the name Caleb, today.” He swallowed painfully. “She was supposed to be smiling, all beautifully dressed and adorned. I know she would have been the most beautiful bride ever, mama. She’s not meant to be laying on that hospital bed and in coma, mama. She’s not. She doesn’t deserve it.”
“And who are you to distribute what one deserves or not? A sage, angel? Probably God himself…” she smiled and Victor creased his face into a deep frown. Whatever was funny in this situation beats his imagination. “Sometimes, we have question. Questions deep and genuine. We have worries, concerns and bothers, but you see, the only way through it is through it, son. Only God knows best.”
Victor swallowed. “I feel responsible for that accident, mama. I told you. She was reluctant about going out that evening and I could bet on my last name that she did it just because it was me. Unekwu is always selfless like that, putting others ahead of herself. And all the saga that led to her driving out in fury…” his voice was breaking now and his mother moved over to pat his back gently.
“All will be well, son. I need you to drive me to the church office.” She waved the car keys at his face.
Victor looked astonished. “Drive you? Why?”
“It’s high time you told pastor everything that’s eating you up…” she saw Victor’s eyes on her, demanding details “Yes… all that ensued at the arts centre before the accident.”
Victor couldn’t believe his mother just said that he should look at a trap and walk headlong into it.
“So what are you saying in essence, doctor?”
The doctor cleared his throat lightly. “Pastor, there is still some ray of hope. We are most grateful that she is still breathing. So she is alive. Due to the severe trauma on her head, she’d sustained very serious injuries in her brain. That’s the simplest way I can put it…” Pastor Festus nodded in the affirmative, urging him to go on. “Brain injuries are not stereotyped. What that means is that, as there are no two exact brains, so are the injuries. They present with different issues at the end of the day…”
“So what exactly is Unekwu’s case, doctor? Spare us the suspense…” Ajifa yelled before she could stop herself, standing up. Her husband grabbed her right hand, bringing her back to her seat beside him.
“I’m sorry, sir and ma. I understand how much of a hard time this is for you both, considering today is supposed to be her wedding…” the doctor said. He felt a pang around his throat while saying the last part of the statement and he realised suddenly he was deviating from the ethical professional path.
You have to stay there, boy, he admonished himself.
“Hopefully, your daughter would wake up from coma in some hours to a day or two, but high likelihood as seen from the MRIs and X-rays done, are that she may lose her memory, come down with stroke, or in worse case scenarios, suffer both.” He paused and continued almost immediately. “Extent of damage is usually from the part of the brain affected. We’ve done and are still doing what we can to reduce and stop further damage. I’ll want you both to be ready for this and be strong through it all.”
Ajifa was sobbing deeply and her husband’s hands left off to pat her back much more. She muttered some inaudible things to herself and cried louder. She paused to stare at the doctor as though asking him to rephrase his statement. She then moved pained eyes towards her husband and he drew her head to rest on his shoulder.
“So doctor, my daughter would return from coma as a vegetable?” he sounded so comical that one would be tempted to laugh amidst the sober atmosphere. “Ha… Ȏmàmĭ mĭ! Unekwu!” he exhaled in sore pain.
“People regain memories lost after some time, and also a few others survive and sort of outlive stroke, sir. The people around her and the love shown could even make the patient return back faster. That’s why I came to prepare your minds in advance. Recovery is possible but it’s often gradual and sometimes a very long process.”
Pastor Festus swallowed. “If we are not there for her, where else would we be? We don’t have another daughter, Doctor Luke!” he sounded emphatic. “We don’t have another daughter.”
“Alright then. I want you to know that you would pull through this. I’ll be on my way, sir.” The doctor rose. “Please stay strong, ma.”
He bowed courteously before moving out through the door.
Angela quickly covered her dripping eyes with the thick face towel in her hand. She didn’t forget that she’s on a video call via Facebook messenger. She just couldn’t keep it locked in any much longer.
The worse feeling was now that she’s taken him in as her own.
“Honey, you have to be strong.”
Angela sat upright to face her laptop better. Her aunt didn’t understand, did she? She can’t be strong. No. Definitely not.
“Aunty Flora, he said he is going back to her. He said he couldn’t do it with me anymore. He asked me to forgive him for ever hurting me. He said he never intended to hurt me, but much more her. Aunty…” she’s wailing loudly now and somehow wished that her aunt was close enough to encapsulate her in a warm hug, stroking her hair while talking.
Hell no. That’s not possible. The older woman was faraway in Dallas.
Here is it. At 12, Angela had lost her both parents and elder sister in a plane clash. She was thereafter made to go stay with aunty Flora, her mum’s elder sister who lives in Dallas, where she continued the latter part of her education. She’s been known to be a smart student and at the same time, extremely beautiful. Her college boys fell head over heels for her while her lecturers, on their own part, fell over one another in line to get her attention. She’s the kind of lady we can call go-getter career woman and when she sets her heart on a thing, she would not rest until she sees result.
That was the same spirit she wielded into the establishment of the arts centre 3 years ago. She’d grown up thinking about something she could ever use as a memorial for her late parents and sibling. Haven completed her doctorate degree in fine and applied arts, she choose to honour them with her skills, what she loves to do best… drawing and sculpting. With the support of her aunt and family, she’d gotten the place set up and running in Lokoja, where her parents originally lived before their death, while she travelled down to Nigeria to visit once in a while.
However, the new governor of the state said he had been good friends with her father while he was alive and would want to show appreciation and loyalty by making his friend’s only surviving child the head of an arm of one of the ministries in the state. This appointment was what finally brought her permanently back to Nigeria, to Kogi state, as the arm of the ministry of education where she works requires they locate and recommend government owned educational facilities that were due for rehabilitation. It was at one of the city secondary school tour with the governor and his team that she’d met Caleb.
He’d been dressed that day like someone that slipped over and fell into gold. Best of all, he was good looking in an artistic sort of way, with sculpted cheekbones, emerald eyes, black hair and a moustache. He had the best smile she had ever seen. The cute white guys she’d schooled with all her life were nothing compared to Caleb’s looks. To her, he was beautiful. She thought she caught him winking at her whenever their eyes met, and she would quickly drop her head and play with her fingers like a five year old seeking to be breastfed. Amidst the governor’s speech and all the official paparazzi that went down on that particular visit to Government day secondary school, Lokoja, all she saw, all she heard and felt was Caleb. She’d later specifically asked for the bio data of all members of staff in the school that day, because that’s the only way she could get any info about the young man that just made her fall in love. That was the only way out, as a member of the governor’s visiting team should not be found talking with anyone except as directed by the governor.
Getting to her house that night, she had her bath and decided to call while sipping her cup of ginger tea. Disappointed as the number reported switched off, she’d made up her mind to forget about the mystery man to no avail. It was three days after, she couldn’t resist the temptation of trying the number and she felt butterflies in her belly as his phone rang.
Caleb had told her he hadn’t noticed her among the governor’s team.
That was strange!
I thought he was even looking at me the whole time?
She refused to give up. She pressed forward until she found her way in.
“Are you there?” aunt Flora’s voice came through the speaker of her computer, bringing Angela back from her thoughts.
“What am I going to do, aunty?”
Aunt Flora sat still for several minutes, her fingers picking at invisible things on her face. “What to do? Leave him…”
“What? I can’t, aunty. You know how harsh I’ve been towards boys all my life. You always ask me why at postgraduate level I didn’t have a boyfriend, not even a ‘bring-home admirer’, as you will always say.”
Her aunt smiled. That’s true. At a point, the older woman concluded her gorgeous niece had chosen the path to celibacy. She’s never been one to force Angela into anything. It’s her life.
“So you finally found a boyfriend? Is that?”
Angela didn’t understand why the woman was asking her obvious questions. He must have gotten a large space in her heart for her to spare this much emotions for, right? She’s wailing for crying out loud.
“I love Caleb, aunty. I really do.”
“Hmmm… alright then. If you love him as you claim, then you have to fight for him. You are beautiful, intelligent, kind, rich and what else?” she sought confirmation with her eyes. “You are every man’s dream, my girl. Every single man… including Caleb. Deploy all the forces and strength you have left and win him back to you.”
Angela took in a deep breath and held it.
Victor felt very uncomfortable all the times Pastor Festus glanced in his direction. He came here after dropping his mother over at the church office which was just two compounds away from the pastor’s. The clergy gentleman told him, when he’d asked, that Unekwu’s mother was given sedatives – the poor woman hadn’t been sleeping well for days. Victor understood. He cannot even try to fix himself in her shoes. If he was feeling this terrible, he can only imagine how Unekwu’s mother, who carried her in the womb, felt… much more.
“You look like there’s something on your mind, son. Is everything OK?” Pastor Festus asked calmly, taking his eyes off his tablet for split seconds and returning it as though he never did.
Victor’s heart thumped so loud that it threatened to pull out of its ribcage. The confusing thing about confrontations from a pastor was that one would not be able to decipher if he was joking or operating through ‘word of knowledge’ as it’s called. Right now, Victor couldn’t tell anything from the older man’s tone.
“I… well… I… I felt the house would need my company,.. and in case mummy has some chores to do too.” he lied.
His mother made him promise he would report himself when he gets here. He’s here now, and can’t even say anything good let alone believable.
“We have the maids to do the chores, Victor. But for the company, thank you. I may use it as well. The devil has failed over my family.”
“Yes sir…” he noticed the pastor glance at him. “I mean, amen sir. He has really failed and he would keep failing.”
Pastor Festus let a smile tug at the lower right side of his mouth. “How is Debby Adams.”
“She’s fine, sir. She’s at the church office.”
Pastor Festus looked extremely impressed. “There are few dutiful women left in this world, and Debby Adams is one of them.”
Victor smiled sheepishly. The kind of smile that could make the next person wonder what was so amusing. Thank God for the chime of the doorbell that came to his rescue.
“I’ll get it.” he quickly got up before getting any response.
He was amazed at who he saw and the look in his face could kill, if his eyes carried guns. He let the person walk in before shutting the door firmly and following after him.
“Good day, sir!”
Pastor Festus rose his head with a look that appeared surprised and confused at the same time. “Last I remember, the marriage that was supposed to hold today was cancelled. I mean, isn’t that why my precious daughter, the bride to be, is laying lifelessly in the hospital?” he directed his gaze at Victor who didn’t know what response to give.
In a bid to nod in the affirmative, he rose his head up and brought it down quickly. He wasn’t sure whether he’s awake or not, anymore
“Sir…” Caleb called from his position.
He prostrated flat, with his head in-between his hands serving as some form of pillow. “I know I’ve wronged you, sir… what am I even saying?” he asked no one in particular. “I didn’t know what came over me. I didn’t know what I was thinking when I chose to throw away the pure love your daughter and I shared.”
Victor felt a bang on his right chest, but sat still, looking all attentive even while he was not.
“Unekwu is precious. Like gold, she is not just everywhere. She’s a hybrid, a rare breed. How could I have not seen all these when I made that insensitive decision?” he paused to swallow. “I apologise greatly, sir. See it as foolishness from a son, sir. See it as the handiwork of the devil, to destabilise and take me off track forever.”
Pastor Festus scoffed.
The young man was so lucky his wife had been forced to sleep by those drugs. He wouldn’t have as much as walk through that door in the first place without his clothes ripped off him. Not after all he’s caused the whole family, church and beyond.
“Daddy…” Caleb called out from his side on the floor. “Accept me as the prodigal son who just came back to his senses, daddy. Because, I am indeed back. The blind has been removed. I’ll make it up to Unekwu. One more chance is what I ask for.”
Victor couldn’t explain the disgusting feeling in his body or the number of times he hissed in his mind while Caleb spoke. The guy to him was an obvious hypocrite and he wondered why Unekwu’s parents, Unekwu herself, and in fact everyone else didn’t see it. Look at the way he pulled out of a wedding plan for example, he thought. Which sincere guy would call off a wedding few days to it? Victor cautioned himself to refrain from bothering too much. Moreover, his thoughts about Caleb wasn’t needed. Or… was it?
“Victor…” he sat up as Pastor Festus called him again. “Is your mind here at all?” Pastor’s tone sounded angry. “Did you hear what this fellow has presented?”
Victor reflexively nodded in the affirmative, severally. He didn’t know why Pastor Festus has been throwing questions at him ever since he got here, more like the older man had been seeking his opinion a lot. He hoped the man wasn’t confusing him for his son, Eneojo. As ridiculous as that sounds, the situation on ground buttressed it.
“Ehmmm… sir… well sir.” He stammered again.
“Well, young man, get up.” Pastor Festus motioned to Caleb, interrupting Victor as he wasn’t speaking up early enough. “Sit down!” he added.
Caleb glanced unbelievably at Victor before returning his gaze to the pastor.
“Yes… I said sit down.” He reaffirmed, answering the question in Caleb’s eyes.
Caleb slowly lowered himself into the seat opposite the older man. He didn’t have the nerves to sit in. It’s unexpected enough that the man, whose family he’d hurt so much, would offer him a seat.
Pastor Festus cleared his throat. The gesture hit Caleb like a knife driven through his skin. He sat, looking anxious and curious. All his eggs were in this one basket and nothing must go wrong.
“You see, my dear son, many times when we sin and quickly come back to the father for forgiveness, we forget that it’s not as easy as that. The sin must have hurt him…”
Caleb shifted uncomfortably in his chair as pastor Festus talked on. He mustn’t even interrupt him. That’s the issue with clergy men, they have this subtle way of linking all life’s situations to the bible. Which was good. Caleb wasn’t thinking otherwise, only that what he wanted was a chance to meet Unekwu. He knows the effects his stare would wrought on the young lady’s cardiac muscles. It’s magical. Always. Unekwu literally melted on her feet anytime Caleb stared leeringly at her. She would blink her eyes, she would squirm while shifting uncomfortably on one foot, she would twist her mouth to the left as perspiration fills her face until she yells out, ‘I’m allergic to stares, Caleb. C’mon now!” That statement always made Caleb laugh and it seemed another fire got set off on Unekwu’s inner being whenever he displayed his set of perfect dentition. “OK, alright, you win!” was usually her final statement.
Caleb believes, if not anything, he still has that effect on her. Seeing her would work them back on the same trail and into each other’s arms again, in few minutes.
“Now…” Pastor Festus drew everyone’s attention with that interjection, because he paused afterwards. He stared into thin air for several minutes before returning his face to the eagerly waiting young men sitting in front of him. “Love, they say, is a strong force, it breaks down mountains and transcends the hills and in several situations, clears any obstacle on his way.” He faced Caleb squarely. “Are you sure you are ready for this?”
Caleb nodded slowly but in the affirmative. “I’m willing to love Unekwu and make up for the wrongs, sir.”
“I hope you would still be willing after I tell you this.”
Caleb’s demanding and popping eyes could rival the size of Captain cook’s doughnuts. “Tell me what, sir?”
Pastor Festus took a deep breath in. “Unekwu is right now in a state of coma. That’s not the issue.” he cleared his throat. “The doctors think if she eventually makes it alive, it would be with complete loss of memory or stroke or both.”
Caleb jerked onto his feet and began pacing the whole length of the room, throwing his hands like he would punch something. Victor sank into his seat, and shut his eyes firmly, a teardrop rolled down.
“So…” Pastor Festus began. “Now that you know this, Mr Caleb, are you still willing to be with my daughter?”
Caleb stared back at him dumbly.
Love requires sacrifice – always.
To be continued next Wednesday.
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