This thing called LOVE – GRACE OCHIGBO
Angela reluctantly pressed down the door locks of the car. She peered with sore fear written in her eyes. She doesn’t know anyone around here if this young man decides to do anything funny. No amount of shouts would bring Caleb’s parents out.
Why would he want to hurt me, anyway?
She braced up herself as Victor sat on the car seat just beside her. His eyes held onto something he seemed not to be finding on his Samsung galaxy. The longer it took him to say a word to her or even notice her presence, the worse her fear grew. She could remember his face clearly from that evening at her arts centre. How he’d appeared furious in her presence and literally dragged Unekwu away from her reach. She’d followed him behind the hurrying Unekwu as she bumped into some girl at the entrance. Even after Unekwu stormed out and Victor followed after in a taxi, she’d remained at the entrance stunned and hoping nothing horrible would happen.
“I hear you work at the state’s ministry of Education?”
Alarm sounded in Angela’s head but she tried to keep her calm.
She only nodded in the affirmative and Victor smiled weirdly.
“That’s really cool, you know? Cool cash rolling in always.” he hesitated, taking his eyes back to the screen of his phone. “I have a team of young people. We work hand in hand with YALI. We do more of building potentials and cultivating talents in young people.”
“That’s great. Really.” Angela sounded unbelievable. Could Victor have entered this car to discuss career and place of work? “I’ve volunteered twice, oh… thrice, I think. I’ve volunteered for some of this young minds’ development groups in Dallas. I was also a volunteer for a sickle cell awareness group back in college. It’s really a great privilege to help young people.”
Victor nodded, finally putting the phone in his side pocket. “We have a set for movie location in an arts centre. I’ve always wanted to approach the owner of that particular one I took Unekwu to before the unfortunate incidence…” he felt a sting in his throat. “but I guess my team and I are in luck.”
Angela felt her nerves relax, her eyelids shut and open back almost immediately. If not for anything, she should try to rewrite her wrongs with everyone. Wasn’t that the idea that came in her head earlier before he tapped on her window? Here’s a perfect place to start.
“By movie location, you mean, you want to shoot a scene in an art centre?”
Victor grinned widely. “Yes, my team and I make short films. Educational and inspirational materials put up free on YouTube for people to watch. We have a couple of sponsors and some of these guys in the team are trained by those sponsors.”
“Wow! That’s a great initiative. I’d be glad and honoured to see my centre in a movie.” She flashed a quick smile. “Even though some Nollywood guys have come around using the place in the past, it should be different with teenagers, right?” she rose her right eyebrow, lowering the left one.
“You can bet!” Victor responded, stretching his hands out. “Thanks for this, Angela, on behalf of my team and I.”
Angela quickly took the hand, avoiding eye contact. She felt as though something wasn’t right somewhere but couldn’t pinpoint it. Victor opened the door, took his right leg out first and was about taking the other when Angela’s voice stopped him
“Ehrmmm! Victor… ehmmm… I’m sorry. I’m sorry about that… that evening… that evening at the arts centre… how… how is … Unekwu?” she stammered her few words.
Victor’s face remained expressionless as he looked at her. She felt uncomfortable and her heart raced in fear of the unknown.
“It was nice talking with you, Miss Angela.” Victor responded, ignoring her initial question. He got down and started out without looking behind him.
“Sunshine…” Ajifa called, setting the plates on the dining table. “I spoke with the doctor today. He didn’t sound any hopeful. Same old story!”
Pastor Festus got up, drew his shirt over the shorts he had on as he made his way towards the dining table. He smiled on the aroma that welcomed him. Pecking his beautiful wife at the right side of her cheek, he pulled out a chair.
“Don’t worry yourself, Ajifa…” he sipped his glass of orange juice. “You see, all these years in my walk with God, I’ve come to realise that nothing is by happenstance.” He paused and continued immediately. “God said he would give his angels charge over us, so we won’t dash our foot against the stone. If we therefore dash our foot against a stone, or, as in Unekwu’s case, get involved in a ghastly motor accident, it’s all for his glory. All for his glory, my dear wife…” he dug his fork into the meal of broccoli and potato chips with scrambled eggs sauce.
Ajifa heaved a sigh of relief and sat too.
“Even if she never remembers anything, let her just come back strong for us. I believe miracles still happen. God would surprise us as we keep praying.”
Pastor Festus smiled. “Now you are talking like the mother in Israel that you are. We don’t give room to unbelief in our thoughts. Never.”
Ajifa nodded in the affirmative. She had food in her mouth. “So how are the brethren in the mission field?”
“Growing. God is too faithful to…” his phone began to ring and he picked it up immediately. “How are you, son?”
Ajifa’s eyeballs reflexively turn to face her husband whenever her son calls. She watched as Pastor Festus spoke with the young man for several minutes until it was her turn to speak to him, as usual.
“Eneojo, you must come home to take a wife o. I’ve told you. I don’t want all these tinini girls. I don’t want a foreigner for an in-law.” She said her usual lines and they could all hear Eneojo laughing from the other side of the phone. She’s said these warnings out enough times to write a book on it.
Few seconds and the call ended.
Pastor Festus ate silently, his mind hovering over a lot of stuffs. His son never stopped confronting him and making him feel guilty for trusting Caleb so much as to leave helpless Unekwu in his care. Pastor Festus had always said Unekwu’s friends were there with her but none of the explanations sounded logical to his only son. Left to him, Caleb should be locked up in the deepest part of the dungeon and the key thrown far away in the ocean.
As Pastor Festus’ thoughts stumbled on a lot, he gradually drew near a conclusion.
It would be a surprise.
Angela rolled from one side of her big bed to the other. She’s been restless, yet tired. She couldn’t find her appetite tonight. Whether it was due to her talk with Caleb, or was it the one with his parents or the mysterious one with Victor? The last one scared her most. It drained blood out of her system. The guy had acted as though he suddenly didn’t care about Unekwu. He’d put up an act that left her wondering the surety of the face she’d seen with Unekwu at the centre.
She was sure.
Unekwu had made a jest about the guy not appreciating artworks and all that made them laugh. So it couldn’t have been someone else.
Sincerely, if Victor came all screaming and yelling at her for causing his friend so much pain, she would understand, much more than this gentleman charade he’d put up few hours ago. She knew something else was going through his mind but couldn’t get hold on it. She stretched upwards and picked her phone from the side drawer beside the bed. She scrolled down to dial a number…
“Yes… Hi… how are you?” she waited for the person on the other side of the call to respond before continuing. “Yes… did anyone drop by the art centre looking for me this evening?” her hopeful face gradually flattened out in disappointment. “OK… Did any visitor register by the name Victor?”
She drew in a deep breath and held it. “Alright. Let the security guys stay alert and you too, stay safe. Good night!” she ended the call and put the phone on her chest.
At 27, she was single and she hated everything about the word; how it sounded, what it implied, the way her mouth moved when she formed the word. Her arts centre ran 24hours everyday but she barely cared about the activities ongoing there. To her, it was for charity – her own little way of giving back to the society. And if Victor alone was the society, she would give him a thousand and one arts centres just to stop torturing her with guilty stares.
Eneojo smiled at the screen of the call he just ended. His mother never ceased to amuse him. In this century and someone thinks same tribe marriage is the only workable one? A foreigner is not an option? She must be joking.
“Are you ready?” he startled Estelle who’s in front of the dressing mirror.
Slightly thick baritone voice; it added this rich and comfortable carriage to its owner. The sporting waves on his head shone brightly as the bright light kissed it. He kept his mouth closed in a thin straight line. The jacket he wore over his broad shoulders had neatly polished buttons, and the scarf around his neck was tied so that the ruffles perfectly filled the space left open by his coat. His dark eyes were small and spaced evenly apart, sitting below trim eyebrows that seemed to curve as a natural extension of his broad, rounded nose.
Estelle, his girlfriend of over a year, nodded in the affirmative.
“I can’t wait to eat egusi again!” she mouthed, coming to give him a quick peck on his cheeks. The egusi from her voice came out as ‘ahgosee’. Not to worry though, the dish wasn’t her dialect.
Eneojo smiled. How the Italian girl grew to love dishes from the African restaurant he always takes her to every weekend beats his imagination.
He stared into her eyes as she readjusted the scarf on his neck, handing him his coat.
She blushed carelessly.
“What did your professor say?”
Eneojo took in a deep breath. It was what he planned telling his parents over the phone. How did he forget?
“She thinks I should submit my credentials.” His eyes locked in hers as though searching for something. “Prof is really pushing for me to be retained here at the end of August.”
Estelle giggled excitedly. “I’m proud of you!” she was still in the euphoria of her joy when she noticed Eneojo’s coldness. The latter didn’t look or sound in the least excited, which was weird. Being retained at their university is the best thing that can happen to any student after doctorate degree. It’s more than a place to start a good life – money and all the fringe benefits that comes with being a professor.
“Are you OK?” She touched Eneojo’s chest lovingly, bringing his mind back to her. Something must be bothering him.
Eneojo shook his head vigorously in the affirmative with blazed eyes. His mother’s statements and perpetual warnings about his ideal wife got his head running from pillar to post. Perhaps, he may have to finally return to Nigeria if he must fulfil his mother’s wish.
Victor handed the last ceramic plate to his mother as he rinsed his hand in the sink. The woman dried it with the towel in her hand before putting it into the rack. Victor took another rag and cleaned the kitchen board beside the sink and everywhere else water had littered. He moved to the fridge and brought out a yoghurt. Gulping it down his throat tiredly, he made to leave the kitchen.
“Why are you staring at me that way, mama?” he confronted the older woman who quickly adjusted herself.
It was true that she’d been staring at him. Her little son some years ago now a grown up with so much grace and charisma. Victor had the boldness and doggedness of a lion. It’s been so from childhood. After his father’s death and his people came around to seek for his property, Victor, at 10, had risen up to challenge the oldest among them. They’d felt emasculated and when one hurled abusive statements at his mother, Victor had asked them to quietly leave alive or they would smell death. She could remember how her shocked eyes begged him to seal his mouth and not threaten elders like that.
“Mama, stay out of this” he’d said, pushing his mother behind him while he bridged the gap between her and her in-laws. As they delayed to leave, Victor had gone into his father’s room and drawn his cutlass from underneath the bed – that cutlass was old, it’s been there since he was born. When the older people in the living room saw, what in their own words they called, the mischief of the young boy, they took to their heels. That was the last time they ever came to disturb his mother.
She smiled as these memories flashed back her mind.
“Don’t I have the right to stare at God’s best gift to me?” she asked, resetting the plates in the rack.
Victor scoffed. “We both know you had something on your mind while looking at me, mama. So why not tell me already?”
Debby Adams smiled. She didn’t know what he was expecting her to tell him and she didn’t even know what to say in the first place.
“You were doing the dishes as though you had a battle going on in your mind. I saw the way you held on to the ceramic like an axe ready to chop off the head of your enemies.”
Victor burst in a hilarious laughter that got his mum uncomfortable. For real, he couldn’t tell when his dramatic spirit and spoken word prowess rubbed off on his mother. The woman would not cease to amaze him for real.
“Mama, I held ceramic like an axe?” he sounded unbelieving amidst the laughter. “Haba, mama Victor. Why are you doing me like this?”
Debby Adams hesitated at first but his uncontrolled laughter affected her also.
“But seriously though, you acted like someone that’s planning to take vengeance.”
Victor stopped laughing finally and stared on the tiled floor as though looking for something to pick from there.
“Mama, that Caleb guy is no good for Unekwu…” he bit his lips.
“There we go again. He is no good for Unekwu, he is no good for Unekwu, how do you mean?”
Victor squeezed his face much more. “Isn’t it obvious? Why can’t you all see it that the guy is a pretender?” he motioned to his mother for confirmation but the older woman only looked on sternly at him. “His heart is not with Unekwu. It’s never been there. He’s after her money. He’s after her fame and good name and all that accrues to her as being Pastor Ikani’s… the world renowned pastor Ikani’s daughter… that’s all.”
Debby Adam drew quickly closer to him and covered his mouth with her right hand. “Shhhh!!! Shut up, Victor!” Victor tried to wriggle his mouth off her grip but she wasn’t letting go. “Don’t blaspheme against the family of a man of God. Don’t talk about what you don’t know.” She finally released her hand from his mouth now. “I know you have always been fond of the pretty girl from childhood, which is good. But Victor, if not for the unfortunate incidence that took place, Unekwu would have been married by now. Is this how you would have behaved towards her husband?”
Victor swallowed painfully. “Unee had always known I had reservations about the guy. I’ve always had. Something about him was unclear. But who am I? My friend’s happiness matters more than anything else. So I had to support her, so she could stay happy. See where it has landed her.”
“It’s not your fault, Victor…” Debby Adams interrupted. “Don’t beat yourself to it.”
Victor let out a sly smile. “I’m not fault-finding, mama. I’m solution-seeking. I have my facts and I’m only waiting for the idiot to get in my trap.”
“Why do you hate him so much?”
“Because he hurt Unekwu with so much pain and anguish. Even up till now…”
His mother’s eyebrow rose. “Up till now? I thought you told me he apologized and pastor had taken him back. How then is he hurting her till now.”
“Just this evening, mama, Caleb came unusually late to the hospital. I couldn’t stand the sight of him, so I excused him and Vera immediately he entered. I was coming home through Adankolo route and you won’t believe who I saw coming out, right from Caleb’s family building?”
Debby Adams remained deadpan. She wasn’t ever going to guess right after all.
“Angela!!” Victor screamed out, hitting hard on the kitchen board. “Tto be sure my eyes were not deceiving me, I opted to sit in her car and have a little discussion.”
He casted a knowing look at his mother and the woman pondered on his last words. “So you mean to say that even after the apologies, Caleb is still having something with the same girl that made him call off the wedding initially?”
Victor nodded in the affirmative. He stared out through the window. He was scared for Unekwu’s sake. Look at all what happened in this first heartbreak, she may commit suicide if anything else. The pain and anguish… if he hadn’t saved his friend initially, he’d save her now, with everything he’s got.
“Once beaten twice shy, mama…” he mumbled, “it happened once, it can never happen again. I would have to be killed first.”
Debby Adams stared at his son as fear gripped her. Her eyes were glazed, it could have flavoured a dozen doughnut. She stared at him as though he had bugs crawling out of his ears.
Whatever took away the gentlemanly cool, calm and collected part of her son away.
Caleb closed the door gently and leaned back against it. He scanned the room with his eyes and closed his eyes tight. Was it tiredness already? No! Never! He shouldn’t be tired. Not yet. Not until Unekwu is back and fully fine. But would she be fully fine? He’d asked this question in his head over and again. Angela was a pain in his neck at the moment, but there’s no getting rid of her. He’d hurt her enough to want to harm her for no just course. He stared towards the bed where Unekwu laid helpless and practically lifeless. He couldn’t imagine how his life and hers had gradually turned this sore.
“You can see her yourself.” The doctor had told him few minutes ago after he asked whether Unekwu was improving or not. The doctor had looked into his helpless eyeballs with pity in his voice. He’d held onto Caleb’s hands and said simple things.
“I understand how difficult it is for you. Truth is, it’s too early for you to start expecting her recovery. People take few months, to several years to recover fully from stroke. Others recover a part, all or none of their past memories.” He patted Caleb’s shoulders. “if there is any virtue you need much more right now, it’s patience and love. With those, you can call forth her soul into recovery.”
Caleb had swallowed. He’d felt a pang of disappointment. Perhaps he hadn’t an idea what he was up against when he assured Pastor Festus of his allegiance to his daughter. It’s barely few weeks and he’s tired. Tired?
“I’m not tired!” he screamed his thoughts out before he could stop himself.
“Oh yeah! You are not…” Vera’s voice startled him.
Has she been in the room all the while or she just came out of the rest room? “You can’t even be near tired, Caleb. The journey is still far-fetched. We have to stay strong for her, alright? We must!”
Caleb gave a wry smile at the lady looking up to see him. She was all packed up.
“Leaving?” he asked a seemingly obvious question and Vera smiled in response. “Yeah. I know!”
Vera held onto his right hand and gave him a reassuring look. “You will be fine, Caleb. You will!”
Caleb nodded with pain stinging his throat. “Good night!”
He watched as Vera opened the door and shut it gently behind her.
He swallowed and moved slowly towards Unekwu’s bed. He was tired, he could tell. When he’s tired, he could think irrationally. He could imagine things that were not naturally cool. He walked closer and closer till he could see the oxygen pump connected to Unekwu’s nose. He stared at it with so much intensity that one would think he was counting the movement of the oxygen gas. He stared deeper at the mask.
Maybe, he could help relieve all the torture his wife to-be was going through.
With that, he took a step forward.
Love is a journey, starting at forever and ending at never.
To be continued…
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Happy Easter, guys.
Thanks for the support!