This thing called LOVE – GRACE OCHIGBO
Pastor Festus kept his face glued to the road. He had his mind flashing around every single thing that’d befallen him in two days and could only imagine how many more he’s up against, at least before the dreaded Saturday came through.
His phone buzzed and he picked it up immediately.
“Hello DPO.” He hesitated, then his face brightened up. “Oh! Thank God. Thank you very much, sir. I appreciate!”
He was about returning the phone to its usual position in the car before it started ringing again.
“Son!” He muttered into the receiver and Ajifa’s eyes turned to him. “Yes beloved, but it’s been settled now.” He waited for Eneojo to speak before responding. “I understand how you feel, son, but we can’t throw caution to the winds now. Never! We have to maintain the good name we have.” He paused to listen again. “All will be well, son. Trust me!”
He ended the call, not knowing if it felt right to demand such magnitude of trust from his son, and returned the cell phone onto the centre board.
“Sunshine, what are we going to do?” Ajifa’s voice called softly out from beside him.
He shook his head pathetically – not turning, not slowing down. “I know God understands all these misfortunes. The DPO has succeeded in granting Caleb a bail. I didn’t give Elder Achem a go-ahead. Believe me!”
Ajifa sniffed in and rubbed her nose with the back of her palm. “My only daughter is humiliated and emotionally traumatised. Whatever is done to that ingrate of her fiancé wouldn’t be too much, Sunshine. He should even rot in jail and…”
“Stop it, Ajifa! We don’t talk that way. Get a grip on yourself, woman and remember the wife of whom you are. Don’t you see the damage Elder Achem’s action has caused already? The press are saying I used my influence to get Caleb arrested and locked up just because he pulled out of a marriage I’m forcing him into. Can you imagine that?”
Ajifa heaved a sigh and stared out of the window.
He continued. “You see, in times like this, the whole world is attentively waiting and seeking to see, to hear your say and stand. Critics are arising even more now. The whole integrity I’ve built all these years stand the chance of collapsing. So you have to guard what you say, honey! Words spewed out can never be taken back, and no one would understand that it was said out of anger!”
Ajifa heaved a pained sigh again and rested her head against the head rest of the car’s chair. She shut her eyes while her husband negotiated the turn into the hospital’s parking lot.
Pastor Festus killed the break and glanced at his wife. He felt compassion and pain breaking through her heart but there’s so little he could do at the moment. He stretched out his hand and held onto her, jerking her back from her thoughts.
“I believe and pray that Unekwu makes it through this trying period of her life. I know all will be well.”
Victor felt the impulse to walk away. He really hated that she’s approaching the get-away he’s found for himself in the building. He needed time alone, to think, to ponder. He needed to help his friend.
“Why do I think you are beating yourself so much over this?”
Victor gave the ‘are-you-serious?’ look before responding.
“You see? That’s my problem with people that barely have friends, rather, people that barely get selfless for someone else. It doesn’t have to be about only you all the time, you know? It’s true about the person wearing the shoes knowing exactly where pinches more, but a good friend is meant to be able to be in those shoes too. That’s what friendship entails.” He yelled out.
Chenemi let out a light smile that disappeared before anyone could notice it. “I didn’t mean to offend you, Vee! I’m only trying to be concerned and caring…” She moved to take her seat beside him, placing a hand around his shoulders. He shrugged, letting her hand drop off carelessly and stood up.
“Which is not welcomed at the moment.” He blurted out. “If you have nothing to say about helping my friend Unekwu, then you had better keep quiet and get back in the rehearsal room!”
Chenemi stared with utter embarrassment as Victor walked away.
“Good day, sir!” she got up quickly.
“I learnt the branch manager is indisposed?” The tall and huge man with baritone voice asked, ignoring her initial greetings.
“Yes sir.” She sounded very polite.
Being Unekwu’s secretary, she’s had to answer lots of questions and enquiries about her ‘madam’ by most of the staff. Press men, she didn’t know how they got the office numbers, called in from time to time too but she’s never felt uncomfortable before any of those as she’s feeling before this one. He’s the overall state manager and if not mistaken, the most dreaded boss in the whole bank. He’d never gotten along well with Unekwu, or so everyone think and the secretary knew better than not to tread with caution around him.
“The whole bank shouldn’t be on standstill because a wedding was simply called off. Do you understand me?”
The secretary gave him a cold look. What coldness? Some people are born without their sensors actually. She made sure he didn’t see it though.
“Has anyone heard from or seen Miss Ikani lately?”
She nodded from left to right rigorously. “Miss Vera Williams called in officially to take permission for the both of them earlier, sir.”
“The absence of two very senior officers in this bank sets the branch on a short trail for bankruptcy. Our national and international boards would not understand that activities here were placed on halt or impeded because of a personal, unofficial unfortunate scenario. Do you understand me?” He looked at her, raising his right eyebrow and lowering the left.
Another, ‘do you understand me’ and the secretary might shoot his skull.
“No ‘buts’. Inform Miss Williams to resume work first thing tomorrow morning, same applies to Miss Ikani. Oh well, let’s give her two days because of her own peculiarity…” He chuckled proudly. “Inform Miss Ikani to resume work in two days… OK! Let’s make it next Monday. Else, I would be left with no other choice than to relieve them both of their duties. Do you understand me?”
The secretary stared unbelievably at him, as though he had bugs crawling out of his ears.
“Do you understand me?” he thundered, jerking her back.
“Yes. Yes! Oh yes! Right away, sir…” she collapsed in her chair and held onto the mouse nervously.
“And… you look good by the way.” The man she’d come to find annoying winked at her before walking out.
She drew a very long hiss in disgust as soon as she’s sure the door closed firmly.
Pastor Festus opened the door for his wife to go in and he followed after. Unekwu looked quite much more radiant than they expected. Her apple laptop was sitting on her laps and Vera, who’s always been her ‘nurse’ was showing her something that seemed to really amuse her… them, so much so that they didn’t notice the people approach.
“Hi darling…” Ajifa said, coming to peck her daughter’s forehead.
“Hey mum! Hi dad!”
“How do you feel this evening, daughter?” her father asked.
Unekwu smiled sweetly. “Weirdly dad, I can’t get my mind over Elder Achem’s level of provocation. He really needed to get Caleb arrested for real?”
You see? I have mixed feelings as to what befell Caleb today. It’s everywhere that policemen arrested him from the school where he teaches. I feel really heroic that someone like the retired army general, who is also an elder in my church… dad’s church, could stand up and fight for me. At the same time, I feel terrible because two wrongs don’t make a right. I mean, locking up Caleb has erased every chance of both of us ever getting back together. I’m sure.
What am I saying?
Yes! You heard me. I don’t mind getting back with Caleb, even after all these. He must have his reasons for calling off the wedding at this time, right? If only we could talk about it. Perhaps I may understand his reasons. Perhaps I may wait till every storm calmed down. Perhaps I may know why my love for him isn’t wavering an inch.
“I’m so sorry about that, daughter. That was why your mother and I ran to the police station immediately to grant the young man bail. I didn’t see it coming.”
Unekwu smiled. “No. It’s fine, dad. I totally understand. Only that I have to bear up with the press henceforth. In fact, that’s what Vera has been showing me here. Look at this…” She motioned her parents over to the screen and tilted it in such a way that they both could see it. “Renowned clergy man locks up his to-be son in-law; Pastor Festus Ikani’s daughter’s fiancé called off the much anticipated wedding; Kogi state’s most-talked-about wedding of the year called off; Pastor’s daughter forcing herself on a man;…” they nodded their head soberly. “The headlines are really incredible, dad. I never forced myself on Caleb, mum! Believe me. I love him. Yes. He proposed. With his mouth. I didn’t propose this marriage to him, dad!” she started weeping loudly, shaking herself on the bed.
She’s lost so much weight in the past days that her eyeballs were beginning to protrude out of their sockets.
“I know, daughter. You were raised with dignity and honour. I know you didn’t give yourself sheepishly to any man until Caleb. Now that it happened this way, I don’t want you to beat yourself to it…” He held tightly to his daughter’s right hand, while her mother patted her back. “Caleb doesn’t deserve you…”
“Exactly!” Vera cut in before she could stop herself.
“I love him, dad!” Unekwu screamed out in pain. Vera stood away from the family, observing and sobbing quietly.
“I know, Unekwu. But you see, sometimes, love is not enough!”
Unekwu swallowed. “Mum!” she wailed even louder. “What have I done to deserve all these shame, embarrassment and humiliation? How can the only person that gave me so much joy and happiness turn out to be the giver of this much pain and anguish?”
Caleb had given me so much joy in the past three years since we met. A young man came to open account with our bank for the school he works. I wasn’t manager at the time, but coincidentally, he needed manager when the latter wasn’t around. Being the next officer in-charge, I helped him through. We had a coffee date a week after the account was successfully opened. Then another coffee date. Then more coffee until we shared every single air we breathe together. He was everything I prayed for in my man… except for the ‘pocket prowess’ part. I had nothing to worry about. I have never needed anything… not even money as it were.
Not since I knew my name.
So for a man to have everything else, height, nice colour, good manners, godly and romantic at the same time set me on a trail of falling head over heels for Caleb. I’m no more sure if I’m proud of that decision. He’d opened me up to the many parts of me I didn’t know existed. The part of me that wants to jump down a high cliff into a deep ocean even knowing fully well I can’t swim. The part of me that wants to run off a castle believing that my spine can’t break. He made me know the part of me that yearns to just live, not as the well-respected bank manager, or the disciplined drama director, or the morally brought-up-in-church only daughter of a famous clergy man. There was the part of me that yearned to just live, sucked up in my dreams and in Caleb’s arms forever. And no matter what happens, I’m never going to regret that… him.
Ajifa Ikani wiped a tear off her face. “I don’t have answers to several things, my princess. All I know is that you are beautiful, you are everything for a wife and the man that knows that and deserves you will find you. He will find you, baby. Soon!” They both collapsed in each other’s hands as hot searing tears rolled down their faces.
He couldn’t be gone.
It couldn’t have all ended.
Not when he promised her he would fight for her, dammit. Unekwu pounded the hard wall beside them. Her mother held tightly onto her, hands wrapping round her slim neck this time. She hissed a breath through clenched teeth. But the strength left her, even as she attempted to sit up. Her throat held back something between a sob and a shout. Through the blur of motion and colour, she sighted her father. The man was really trying hard to lock his emotions in. She’s brought so much shame and disgrace to the once happy and fulfilled family.
“The doctor thinks you should be discharged today…” her father announced, trying to ease the tension in the room.
Unekwu stared at him through cloudy eyes. “Where do I go from here, dad? My whole life is ruined.”
“No. Not at all daughter!” he approached closer. “Your life can never be ruined. Your life is hidden in Christ in God. No one, not even Caleb can ruin it.”
Unekwu felt a flush of hot air over her face.
“I’ve made arrangements for you to go to Ile-ife.”
Everyone stared at Pastor Festus now as though he spoke Spanish.
“Ile-Ife? To stay with who?” Unekwu voiced out her confusion before she could stop herself.
Victor walked into the hall, slamming the door hard behind him. That drew everyone’s attention to him. He didn’t show any expression whatsoever on his face. He walked straight to the stage and ordered the folks there to stop whatever they were doing.
“Listen up, guys!”
The door opened and Chenemi walked in but halted at the door, seeing everyone’s anxious looks.
“Here is an important announcement.” He hesitated. “I understand that rehearsals have been thick in the past week. We have been doing all night rehearsals, even during the most part of some days and inasmuch as we have a deadline to deliver our film project to the world, I feel we won’t be giving our best under this tensed condition.”
Chenemi kept her gaze on Victor, wondering where the latter was driving to.
Victor cleared his throat and continued, ignoring the eyes shooting at him.
“Here is my submission…” some drew nearer while others repositioned their ears to receive the signals better. “We would be going on a week-long recess.”
He noticed some guys smile, others let out a deep sigh of relief while majority just looked on indifferently. It appeared to him that this break had been needful the whole time and he didn’t just see it.
“These are what to do during the recess… Chenemi…” he pointed to the young lady hanging onto the rim of the door. “She would mail each and every one of you specifically. We have some YouTube short movies and a novel or two we’ve found applicable to our project. You are to go through this, make a short review and criticism, and mail it back to her before mid of next week. Is that clear?”
“Yes sir!” they all echoed loudly.
He moved his eyes from one end to the other, looking for a raised hand or any form of indication for question.
“OK… if nothing…” he paused, noticing a raised hand. “Yes please!”
“Sir, would there be opportunities to swap roles when we come back? Especially when I’m unable to keep up with mine.” Sandra, the girl Unekwu yelled at the last time she was here, voiced out.
Victor took in a deep breath. The girl’s face as well as her question brought back memories from that evening. The evening he called Unekwu names and walked her out of the group. The evening he acted the most insensitive friend in the whole world.
“Sir?” the girl called out to him, seeing he’s taking forever to respond.
“Yes. Yes. Yes. Sure. We would swap you if you so desire. Remember, no one has a role in this project until it is produced. Anyone can be changed, dropped or removed at any time, T.” He felt like he’s sounding like Unekwu right now. He wiped the thoughts off his head with a blink. “See you all in a week. Any further information would be relayed on our Whatsapp group. Until then, have a fulfilled break everyone.” He said on the note of dismissal.
The folks turned and began to exit the hall one after the other. Victor walked over to the part of the stage he had left his manuscript before going out earlier. He picked it up, alongside the bead costume someone left there. Raising his head to turn back, he was almost knocking Chenemi over.
“You probably should fall me down, Vee. That way you would be happy!”
“Don’t be paranoid, Chenemi. I didn’t know you were standing behind me.” He walked past her, climbing down the stage.
“Why do I feel this break was called just to get rid of me?” She asked, hurrying after him.
“Oh! Get rid of you? Last time I checked, you were no beetle or weevil. Or are you one now?”
Chenemi frowned at his sarcasm.
“You are going to let your friend’s misfortune ruin your entire week? Ruin this entire project that we’ve been working on for several months? Are you going to throw it all away just few steps to achieving our aim? All these because of Unekwu?”
Victor shrugged and walked on. “It’s my business. Leave me to worry about it.”
“No, I can’t…” she hesitated. “I can’t leave you, Vee. Can’t you see it? I love you!.” She screamed at the top of her lungs and burst out in tears.
As though a huge wall hit him, the words slowly brought Victor to an involuntary halt – his left foot gaining stability before the right. He wasn’t sure he heard that well. Turning back, he saw her curled up in herself on the dusty floor, sobbing softly and painfully.
“C’mon baby! What happened to you? Who did this to you, Caleb? Talk to me.”
Caleb trudged on into the house, ignoring the queries. His face was still swollen from the numerous punches, first from Victor and more recently, the police.
“Is it true? The clergy man got you locked up? Is it by force to marry his daughter?”
Caleb sat down and collapsed into the chair. He glanced at his wristwatch as though running out of time for an important assignment.
“Baby! Baby, talk to me. Why are you quiet on me now? Please… what is wrong?”
She came to sit beside him, barely leaving out enough space for air to pass between them. Caleb let out a rueful smile and turned to stare directly into Angela’s eyes. He could see through to the left side of her brain that she felt really nervous. Her eyes darted from left to right and a little pint of sweat appeared on her face. Caleb cleaned off the sweat with his hand, held the back of her neck and pulled her face closer to his.
“I’m sorry, Angela!”
She sighed, moving her lips slowly. “Sorry… sorry? Caleb… sorry about what?”
Caleb took in three calming breaths. He most probably qualifies to be awarded the best convener of bad news in the last few days.
“I’m sorry, Angela. Sincerely. I am. I hope you understand. I really do hope so, Angela. Please. I can’t do this anymore!”
Angela’s popping eyes could throw one off a cliff.
Sometimes the place you are used to is not the place you belong.
To be continued next Wednesday.
Have a great week.