This thing called LOVE – GRACE OCHIGBO
Ajifa Ikani walked in slowly and tiredly into where’s supposed to be her to-be in-laws’ home. Caleb’s mother closed the door behind them, and led her to a seat.
“Such an honour to have you, my sister.”
Ajifa looked dispirited and enraged at the same time. It’s an unusual blend for an always cheerful woman like Ajifa Ikani. It, sort of, came along with her position as pastor’s wife to be all-welcoming and approachable, but right here, and today, she looked the exact opposite of herself. It had taken her several hours to make this seemingly demeaning decision, but she had to do it. At least, for the sake of her beloved daughter.
“Is there a problem, my in-law?” Mr John Oguche, Caleb’s father, asked while joining the women in the sitting room.
“Your son wants to kill my only daughter for me…” a tear dropped down Ajifa’s smoothly powdered face.
“We both know the children love each other so deeply, Pastor Ajifa. Why all these?” Mrs Joy Oguche queried, looking all stern.
Ajifa took in deep breaths. It’s more ridiculous that it’s her fellow woman in this room that feels she came all the way here to make up stories. She decided to let it slide.
“Where is Caleb, by the way?”
Mr John Oguche sat up. “He stepped out of the house a while ago. What is the problem, my in-law? You don’t appear your usual cheerful self.”
“My daughter fainted and she’s on admission in the hospital. All because your son broke out of the wedding plan yesterday morning.”
The two jerked up in shock.
“That can’t be!” Mr John Oguche glanced at his wife who affirmed his statement with a nod. “Caleb told us no such thing. How can he back out of a wedding just few days to it?”
Ajifa wiped perspiration off her forehead, not knowing whether the man was questioning her or making an open statement. “I don’t know whoever is bent on bringing shame and reproach to our both families… may your son not be their agent, in Jesus name. May he not…” Pain stung at her throat, constricting it and making the words uneasy to make.
Caleb’s mother drew nearer to her, wrapping her hands roundabout.
“I promise you that there is a mix up somewhere, Pastor Ajifa…” Mr John assured. “There is a serious mix up and I would talk to Caleb as soon as he gets here. The wedding must hold, I can assure you of that. I mean, he can’t just lead us all here to this point, only to face shame. I will talk to him, ma. I will.”
Ajifa glanced at Mr John and then back at his wife.
She could find some sort of reassurance in their eyes.
It felt like I went on a long vacation to an unknown land. In that land, I was in a beautiful wedding dress, lost in a vast desert and abnormally so, I was the one in search of the groom. In spite of all these, I woke up this morning hoping that all that has been happening around me since the day before yesterday would all go away and I would be awoken from a long dream.
Yeah! Let me explain.
You all have heard my daddy brag about getting me a good job, right?
That’s what he’ll always say, but isn’t it a good certification that qualifies one for a good job? I bagged my first degree in banking and finance from the prestigious Kogi state University, Anyigba, and then proceeded to get my master and doctorate degree from Lund University, Sweden. I’ve never had passion for banking jobs as it were. In fact, it was daddy who made me study that course, for reasons best known to him. Yet I finished with a first class nonetheless. That’s not even the problem right now, right? You all want to meet Caleb.
“You have to save your tears, Unee. You really should.” Vera squeezed Unekwu’s shoulders softly and that even set more tears rolling down her face.
“The only crime I’ve ever committed, Vera, was to love Caleb so selflessly.” Her voice broke with pain.
“That’s crime enough!” Vera rolled her eyes. “At least, for a punk like that. You see, I’m not going through these blame games with you over again, Unee. You have to be strong for your own self now, much more than ever before.”
“So I’d call the event houses to stop planning because the wedding isn’t going to hold anymore? Or send an email to the governor’s chief of staff who promised to be at my wedding? How about Daddy’s ministry partners, my colleagues and all the chiefs getting ready for Saturday?… How am I going to pull through this, Vera, how?”
Vera grabbed her friend’s shivering body. A tear was threatening to drop off her face as well, but the consoler shouldn’t be crying, so she stroked Unekwu’s hair lovingly.
“I would help make calls to some.” She hesitated. “The only way out of this, darling, is through it. You will pull through Saturday, I promise you. You will get back on your feet and be the strong woman you’ve always been, Unekwu. I’m here for you and solidly so.”
Unekwu stretched out her hands and Vera bent down to hug her, both ladies, crying uncontrollably.
Pastor Festus stood at the door for a while. He needed to pick and finish up with the person at the other end of the phone.
“Dad, I’m so vexed up here. My flight got cancelled. I have to start booking another one. I promised Unekwu I’d be there two weeks to her wedding. Now I’m not even there yet and it’s barely four days left already.”
Pastor Festus didn’t know how to feel or sound. “In all things, son, remember we should give thanks, that’s because everything works together for good to them that love God and are the called according to his purpose.”
The problem with having pastors as parents is that every case becomes a topic for biblical references and expositions.
“I know all these, dad, but I have to be at my only big sister’s wedding and there is no way I’d get there without the embassy’s quick action.”
“It’s well, dear son.”
Now, it’s official.
The young man, by the name Eneojo, could not understand the unusually low and sober tone of his father. The older man sounded like he was trying to talk some things into his own head – like force himself to deny a reality.
“Dad, are you alright though? Is everything alright?”
Pastor Festus wiped sweat off his forehead. “I’m going in for a council meeting with the elders now, son. Have a great day!” He didn’t know whether or not that was the best answer to give, or the best way to shut his only son out, but if anything, he hasn’t succeeded in bringing himself into believing the doom that’s looming over his reputable family.
Victor stepped out of the bathroom, rubbing his head vigorously with the yellow towel in his hand. Breakfast was ready and he needed to be fast, eat and get out of the house in no time. He made for his wardrobe and just then his phone buzzed and started to ring.
“Hi Vera!” He’s giggling initially until his face gradually contorted into displeasure. “Where are you guys at the moment?” He waited for a response. “Alright, I would be on my way there immediately.”
He dropped the call and almost ran out without putting on a shirt.
“Elders, I’m sorry I came a bit late. My son’s flight is being delayed.” Pastor Festus sat down and one of his protocol officers dropped his things – his extraordinarily large bible and notepad – on the table in front of him before stepping out.
“No problem, sir!”, “It is well sir.”, “we understand, sir”, “All is for a reason, sir!” spewed in the air from the ten persons siting in the board room of the large church cathedral.
“Preparations for Saturday must be on top gear now, daddy.” Elder Williams called out from his seat and laughed proudly. “How does it feel to be giving out our priceless princess, anyway? I can only imagine.”
“Yes o. Unekwu is such an adorable young woman. Everyone would kill to have her for a daughter.” Elder Rebecca, who was well known as the ‘town crier’ of the church for her gossip prowess also commented.
Pastor Festus shut his eyes underneath his glasses as the comments kept coming. Seeing everyone’s anticipation for this talk-of-the-town wedding broke his heart even more. He has to brace up. Moreover, he was the leader here.
“So sir, the CAN national president called this morning and simply said, ‘can I have the details of Rev Festus Ikani’s daughter’s wedding again?” Elder Achem said this with lots of gesticulations, so much so that the others cheered excitedly. “I mailed the e-copy of the wedding invite to him immediately and I’m glad to inform you that he confirmed attendance. It’s going to be one of the most glorious moments for this church on Saturday, sir!”
Pastor Festus sat up and cleared his throat once. Twice.
He needed to do this.
“I called this emergency meeting for a purpose, elders…” he paused to see all their eyes shooting arrows in his direction. “I… well… it is well…” he hesitated. “I regret to announce to you that… that… I mean, that my daughter’s proposed wedding may not hold this Saturday.”
“What! How is that?” everyone roared as though they planned it – asking and directing questions at no one in particular.
“Currently, she’s at the Federal Medical Centre. Her fiancé officially called off the wedding yesterday.”
“No way!” Elder Williams sprung onto his feet. “That can’t be and it’s not going to work. The stupid boy would have to come and give genuine and convincing reasons why he would call off a wedding at such a critical time.”
“Yes…” Elder Achem seconded. “And if he fails to comply, I may be forced to lock him up…” The army-general part of the hefty man was having a greater expression. “How can he bring shame and rub it on all of our faces?”
“He can’t go scot free, Sir. Never! We must nail him. What sort of gross irresponsibility is this one?” A woman sitting just beside Elder Williams called out in provocation, before drawing a long hiss.
Everyone had something to say from their angered bowel and they didn’t hesitate.
Elder Rebecca got up, laughing strangely and clapping her hands at the same time. “Ha… God forbid! The shame that boy wants to bring on us, we would make him smell it first. In fact, we send it back to sender in Jesus name.”
“Amen!” they all thundered.
Everyone’s display of anger and displeasure was making matters even worse for Pastor Festus. He’s been thinking since yesterday and hasn’t been able to come up with any substantial means to avoid the impending danger. He usually preached that a broken relationship was far better than a broken marriage and inasmuch as he wanted to ‘encourage himself in the lord’ more at this trying time, he kept finding it extremely difficult by the second.
Getting up, he tried to still the raging elders in the room. Most of them were already standing and pacing on one foot. Two were even set up in a fierce argument over what he didn’t know about. “It’s OK! Elders, it’s alright.” He waited till everyone was sited back on their seats before talking.
“My elders, this is our present condition and that’s why I called this emergency meeting of the church council. This wedding is not just my wedding right now, it’s for all of us. In fact, it has become the whole church’s wedding. The news of it not holding will destabilize everyone.”
“Yes!” they chorused.
Pastor Festus sighed. “What then shall we do, my elders? What shall we do?”
He relaxed his back against the handle of the chair, awaiting worthy contributions.
Caleb unplugged the headphone over his head as his parents stepped in. He checked the time and wondered why they were here.
“That’s why you have been dodging us and creeping into your own father’s house?”
Caleb gave his mother a cold look for that annoying statement.
How on earth would she assume he’s creeping into the house?
They would always be in their bedroom as early as 5pm, and he’s more or less the night walker. He came in today some minutes ago, which was unusually quite early. This wasn’t the first time. Or was he suddenly supposed to go knock on their door and announce his return? Since when? They had better be guided, he thought within himself.
“Son, why do you want to make this city unbearable for me? Why are you bringing so much shame and disgrace to the little name I’ve built thus far?”
Caleb’s patience had run out and he voiced it. “What are you talking about, dad and mum? What?”
Mr John Oguche cleared his throat and sat on the bed beside him, after his mother.
“Why are you backing out of the marriage with Pastor Festus’ daughter barely four days to go? What has come over you? Do you realise the effect of that decision?”
Caleb smirked. He picked up his headphone and started playing with it because it would be grossly disrespectful to wear it back while his parents were still here, even though that’s what he wanted to do.
“My son… awa… agba… I beg you in the name of God, please cover this up and take away the looming disgrace from this family. Whatever she’s done to you, please let it go… We can all sort it out, right? We can all sort it out but let it be after the wedding. Please!” His mother stretched out and held onto his hands while talking. Caleb threw his face away from her pathetic face.
“Caleb, I’ve always known you to be responsible. We all know there is no perfect woman out there, so you shouldn’t be on the lookout for one. Just mould this one you have decided to be with into the image you want. That’s why you are called the ‘groom’, Caleb, the bridegroom. Be ready to groom Unekwu. See how far we’ve gone, from introduction to traditional marriage… up till now. What has come over you, son?”
Caleb felt like giving an impulsive answer… such as… ‘I’ll return all the money you have spent so far’ or something even more harsh. Then he remembered he actually hadn’t spent anything as far as his journey with Unekwu was concerned. She has all the money to throw around and would even give him her own dowry to bring before her father. Her parents were extremely wealthy and powerful, being one of the most respected clergy men in the country, and so she really didn’t look up to him for anything. In fact, they’d accepted him just because Unekwu looked very pleased and in love with him.
“Dad, mum, I’m sorry if I’ve brought shame and disgrace to you but believe me, you would be proud of this decision in few years.”
“God forbid, Okpanachi Caleb!” his mother raised her hand over her head. “Omami, what has happened to you? Why all these change of attitude? Alright, whatever it is, can we just let the wedding hold and settle it much later?… See all the noble invited guest, someone said the deputy governor would be in attendance. See how much her family has invested into this. See all the friends we have invited, how am I supposed to let them know my son called off the wedding?”
Caleb rose up, rolling his fist into a ball. His breaths came out loudly and even the blind would see his anger in clear pictures.
“Mum? God damnit. Dad? So, you prefer your ego, your grace and honour over the future life and happiness of your son? Are you for real? I thought I had parents, I didn’t know I had a bunch of selfish, greedy and self-centred fellows.” He hit the wall behind him and stormed out, slamming the door hard against their faces.
Caleb trudged into the sitting room with anger wrecking his being. He couldn’t believe his parents were this judgemental.
Who cares what the whole world would think about his wedding being called off?
He wasn’t the celebrity pastor’s first child here in the first place neither was he about to get married to the world’s opinion. Exactly what did he have to lose so much anyway, that they wouldn’t let him have peace of mind?
He hissed to himself for the umpteenth time and lowered the volume of the TV, thinking he heard a knock at the door.
The knock came again and this time he was sure he truly heard a knock. Walking tiredly with his trousers dropping down his waist, he pressed down the door knob. With a flash, he could see stars moving in his eyes. The slap swept through the right side of his cheeks to the left. As though thunder struck him, he couldn’t withstand the strong blow on his face that pushed him to the rug. The person pounced on him, hitting his face, mouth, chest and just everywhere a hand could reach. He felt coals burning his face as he managed to open his eyes to a rolled fist. His heart pounded in his chest the more and he shrieked shrilly. A hand clamped on his mouth. The person leaned down and hot breath washed over Caleb’s ear delicately. Caleb felt as though he was passing out and laid helpless until he could hear his parent’s voice from a distance.
“Please, let him go…” his mother cried profusely as the young man pounced her son harder. She made to hold back the latter but was afraid for her own face, as the young man appeared ready to crush anyone that came close.
Caleb’s mother knelt down and begged sincerely. Just then, his father came down to join them in the sitting room. Victor felt his heart melt at the increasing pleas of the older woman who’s old enough to be his own mother and suddenly got off Caleb, stamping his feet heavily against the floor.
“I warned you when you were coming into her life, Caleb. Did I or not?”
He threatened to resume back beating the Caleb that just sat up with blood stained puffy face. His mother held him back and away from Victor’s reach.
“Thank your mother. I would be back for you!” Victor roared and walked out in rage, leaving the door wide open.
I’m just waking up again… or not. Vera and I must have cried so long till I slept off. Well, I really don’t know if I’m the one wearing my own skin anymore. I could hear voices earlier, only that I was too weak to respond and now that I’m fully awake, I can only see Vera sitting on the plastic chair in front of me. Where are the rest? Her head is resting on my bed and she appears deep asleep. I want to adjust myself on the bed, not so to wake her. Ouch! She’s awake already, even before anything else. It’s good all the same.
“Where is Caleb?” Unekwu demanded.
Vera stared at her with an unbelievable look.
“Vera, where is Caleb? Why isn’t he here yet? We are supposed to be going to taste and select the cakes today. Our wedding is on Saturday, right? I know Caleb never keeps to time, Vera, but don’t you think he’s taking too long today? Has anything happened to him? Vera, talk to me?”
Vera tried to hold back the tears in her eyes and fake a not-so-convincing smile. She stared at Unekwu who’s sounding like she’d suddenly gone bananas.“Unee… you have to rest.”
Unekwu was not having any of this.
“Why am I even in the hospital four days to my wedding, Vera? What is going on here? Why isn’t Caleb here yet, tell him to come take me away from here. Somebody… please talk to me… someone should please call him… tell him… please… please give me my phone.”
Vera was crying now. She could feel the pain coursing from her leg to her chest. She held tightly to the hand of her best friend and buried her head on it, hoping for goodness sake that the latter hasn’t finally lost her mind. Suddenly, she felt a movement and her eyes went there. Unekwu had forcefully removed the drip fixed to her hand and was making futile efforts at getting her weak self off the bed.
Vera tried to still her but seeing it’s yielding no result, she ran out of the ward room screaming, “Help! Doctor! Help!”
It’s a scary thing that the people you are closest to can so quickly become strangers.
To be continued next Wednesday!
I hope you’ve invited someone to read this story? I’d like to hear from you.
Have a great week!