TWO GRACES – GRACE OCHIGBO
Grace Oladele stepped aside as Alice opened the back door of the car. The latter placed two stainless flasks in there and made sure they were sitting properly before pulling her head out and closing the door.
“Make sure you return the remaining stew into the freezer before leaving…” Grace Oladele said as soon as Alice made to leave.
“If you are fast enough, I could drop you off on my way out.” Grace Philips cut in, flashing a light smile at the young lady.
“Okay, aunty!” Alice answered, running back into the house.
Grace Philips turned to her friend who looked on at her with concern. “So you gave me meal enough for three days, huh?”
Grace Oladele smiled. Exaggeration at work here. “I know the good job Mrs. Jesse is doing for you in your kitchen, I just don’t know if she reported at the house today and don’t want to leave anything to chance.
Grace Philips smiled. “You see why you’re my soul sister?”
“I would have insisted you stayed the night here but…”
“Nah!” Grace Philips cut in. “The earlier I start learning to be fine by myself, the better. We are no longer the teenage two Graces who could run from pillar to post anymore, remember?”
Alice’s hurried steps interrupted them.
Grace Oladele immediately put questioning eyes on the younger woman and she nodded as one who knew exactly what her boss wanted to inquire about.
“Alright, take care of yourself for us all, baby fish!” Grace Oladele hugged her friend tightly for another minute long. “Never forget what I told you.”
Grace Philips swallowed and then nodded.
Her car blinked as she pressed on the remote and motioned Alice to take a seat as she joined in. “My regards to Isaac always. Tell him, na man e be.”
They laughed at the statement before she wound up and drove out of the compound.
The journey wasn’t much of a noisy one as the only sound came from the DVD of her car playing Richard Marx’s ‘This I promise you’. It’s become one of her favourite songs in the whole world. Some part of her wants to talk to Alice – she’s not really known her friend’s house help other than her name, but decided against it. She wanted to concentrate on the road, not for any particular reason but perhaps, to help clear her head.
She’d fallen for the temptation to call the phone number she took from Ben’s phone. Whether it was the short conversation she had with the person that made her feel better or the short but deep sleep she had after that, she had no idea. Whatever the case, she felt well able to handle the situation much more than she was in the morning and throughout the day.
“Aunty, I’m okay here.” Alice’s voice called out
Grace Philips reflexively pressed on the break before gaining back her composure in split seconds. “Oh sorry.” She brought the car gradually to a halt. She’d completely forgotten about the other person in the car. “Where exactly are you going to?”
“Aba iya gaani.”
“Okay? That’s some distance.” She said, pulling her bag closer. She brought out two five-hundred naira notes and stretched it towards Alice. “Take this for transport.”
The excitement on the girl’s face knew no bound. “Aunty, it is 60 Naira bus from here.” Grace shrugged and started the car. As Alice walked away, she repeated, “Thank you, Ma”, “Ese o” over and again.
Grace bid her farewell before bringing the car back to the road and driving off. She let her mind drift afar off as Bryan Adam’s “Please forgive me” now blared from the speaker of her car.
It’s been a hectic day and her collection of songs wasn’t doing any good job in the very least. It made her hurt even more, remembering all the memories Ben and her already created together in what looked like a lifetime of knowing each other. Most brought tears to her eyes. She was a fun lover but that trait of hers can only be discovered whenever she’s with someone her soul connects with. Ben, though not officially, had become that ‘special someone’ for her.
They’d shared so much together that she was yet to admit to what she saw.
She didn’t envisage such and, as she turned off the rocky street into her compound, she knew one thing for sure – the pain sitting on the inside of her chest wasn’t much about what she saw than it was about the possibility of not having Ben in her life ever again. Her breaths get caught in her chest with mere thoughts of this and she reckon the fear had gained in on her.
She breathed shallow and found a way to release the tension. Her mouth ran dry and her stomach turned in an unfriendly way. She felt like her brain was full of static, either firing off a million unhelpful thoughts at once or offering nothing at all. She leaned in to pick her hand bag first then her laptop bag before stepping out of the car, pressed on the remote and waited until the car blinked before moving in the direction of her house.
The other buildings were lit, except hers obviously. But as she approached, she noticed a figure in the dark corridor of her apartment and her hearts raced. She felt a weakening on her ankles as she sought earnestly for her phone in her handbag. A flash of light would do no harmful. Maybe she was hallucinating.
Pain can cause that, right?
Maybe not right now because before she could tap on the backlight of her phone, she noticed the figure walking in her direction.
Her jaw dropped to the ground.
Hallie shut the pink-ribbon scrapbook and returned it into one of the side drawers beside her bed.
“Night tradition done and dusted?”
She smiled proudly as she adjusted her head on the soft pillow. “You keep calling it that, Annie.” She rolled her eyes. “It’s only a scrapbook after all.”
Last April, Hallie had met Annie. She was a new student in school and Hallie thought for the most part that something was wrong. Annie lived in her head. Not as though, we all don’t do that to a degree but it was more pronounced with Annie. She spoke like she heard her own voice ten times louder than everyone else does. Timid. Perhaps that’s what made her mouth seem too small, like over the years her shyness had made it that way. She didn’t want to join the sport group, ballet dance group, or be “cool”. Hallie watched her when she approached people, her head held downward as if she feared an attack. Soon enough, Hallie reckoned it was time to reach out, after one of those successful dance competitions.
“Hi…” Annie had answered, oblivious of her environment.
“I noticed you, ehm…” Hallie started but not for long as,
“The best dancer? Congratulations on a well deserving award tonight.” Annie cut in, letting out a smile that Hallie thought was the sweetest thing she’d ever seen on a girl’s face yet.
That was the beginning of it all. Annie was there every time Hallie turned around. Everything she said had been funny, intelligent, witty. Annie had never challenged her assertions. In not too long, Annie was coming over for homework help. Hallie re-did her integrated science assignments and corrected her punctuations, brought her work up a whole grade or more. They sat together in the cafeteria. Hallie recall her buying frozen yoghurt for the both of them while they laughed about some wrong dance steps she’d taken at the rehearsals earlier in the day.
Yeah. For Hallie, she joined the dance group.
“Those pictures never change, yet you look at them like new ones were added every other day.”
Hallie smiled. She felt the impulse to pull the scrapbook out again but decided against it. She’d just talk.
She opened her mouth to respond, but Annie was swifter.
“I think I know your favourite photo?”
Curiosity widened Hallie’s eyeballs. “You do?”
“The one you were dressed in your full royal outfit?”
Hallie smiled again. This time broader. “Well, my daddy loves me to go hand-in-hand with him everywhere when I’m home, especially on those special village festivals. Being on the full regalia then is compulsory.”
“Lucky you! I can imagine what it feels like to be a princess.” Annie said quietly, a bit of jealousy in her tone. “Your father must love you so much.”
“Well, he loved my mother so much.”
“I’m sorry, Hallie.”
“It’s okay!” she flashed a smile that wasn’t so convincing.
Annie knew she needed to proceed from this line of conversation immediately if the night mustn’t be ruined. Hopefully, it’s not ruined yet. She thought about a couple of other fun things to talk about. Hallie never took the remembrance of her mother lightly. She becomes a wretch in split seconds and Annie wasn’t cut out for that. At least not tonight.
“So…” she paused, hoping to use the right lines. “Did you learn all these beautiful dance steps from home? I see awesome dancers at festivals in your culture on TV.”
“I wish.” Hallie said, the indifferent expression on her face now changed to a look of sadness. “You know I only call Aunty Rhoda to share my wins with.”
“Yeah. I noticed. She’s your mum’s best friend, yeah?” she rose her right eyebrow and lowered the other one as though seeking confirmation. Hallie nodded in the affirmative before she continued. “Why don’t you share with your dad though? Seeing he loves you so much.”
Hallie chuckled. She sat up on her bed and used the wall behind as a back rest. She has not shared her this part of her life with anyone before and even though she was apprehensive, she knew she could confide in Annie. Moreover, there was nothing extraordinary about her story, or so she thought.
She narrated slowly her ordeal from the point where she started knowing things for herself as a child. How that she used to be very sick and on admission almost every two weeks. She wasn’t growing as everyone else her age and she recall being exempted from most of the fun activities in her nursery school. Hallie talked about haven done three surgeries before she turned five and how her mother fought tooth and nail to keep her alive.
This time, Annie left her bed to come sit with her friend. “I am so sorry, Hallie.” She drew her in for a close hug. Soon, she withdrew, enough to see her face. “What did the doctors say was wrong with you?”
Hallie swallowed. “I was born with sickle cell disorder.”
Annie’s eyeballs popped open. “Was? Like you no longer have it?”
“Well, as you can see!” she shrugged her shoulders proudly.
The confusion colouring Annie’s face could paint a white linen purple. “Wawuu. I thought sickle cell disease has no cure?”
Hallie took in a deep breath. She needed to clear the air around that notion for a minute. She talked about her father flying her grandmother and her abroad so the surgery could be done shortly after her mother’s death.
“Thing is, most people don’t know about bone marrow transplantation. And for the few that know, they can’t afford it, making sickle cell diagnosis sound like a death sentence.”
“Wow!” Annie let out hot air she didn’t know she was holding onto the whole time Hallie spoke.
“I had bone marrow transplant when I was 6 years old, 6years later I’d not had any crisis whatsoever.”
“Wow” was the only thing Annie could say. She looked mesmerized and shocked in a good way.
Soon, she gained her composure. “Everyone ought to find out their genotype early then. It would be cheaper and less stressful.”
Hallie nodded in the affirmative, pulling back her scrapbook from where she’d kept it earlier. She flipped some pages until she got to a particular photo, then she stopped.
“You were asking about my favourite photo, huh?” she motioned to Annie who nodded.
“Here!” she raised the scrapbook to Annie’s face and her countenance fell.
Kay looked around the magnificent building with utter amazement. When she told him about a surprise for his birthday, he couldn’t have imagined it would be here of all places. Here, where they’d met – bumped into each other – that fateful evening for the first time. Arts was one of Kay’s favorites in the whole wide world and a fun-trip to his favourite Arts gallery in the city meant the whole world to him.
He took few steps further before catching a glimpse of her. Cameron wears a face like she’s expecting anger from him, anger that just doesn’t exist. Kay had come to accept that all the young white lady had for him was love. She just wanted him in her life, saying her love for him was enough for the both of them. The possibility of that Kay was still unable to find.
At one moment or the other, his mind goes back to Grace Philips.
Did he envisage she was never going to call? Yes, he did.
And she never disappointed him.
She had this popular phrase, when I’m done, I’m done, and at no instance had he seen her fight to get back her relationship with him.
He wasn’t surprised. She must have moved on. She moves on faster than the last hour.
But moving on so much so not to place a call or leave a message for him on his birthday?
That’s the height of it, he thought.
Cameron stepped from the shadows and headed in his direction. Like a vision of the night, he thought he saw her in another light this afternoon. She was really gorgeous to say the least. Her steps stole his breath and the heat from his skin. Suddenly, he felt his defenses become just as paper, paper that’s soaked in the rapidly falling snow drops. Before he could draw in the air his body needed, he’d melted into her hands. He embraced her firmly and was sure she could hear his heart beat loudly as she placed her ear against it. He folded his hands around her back, drawing her in closer. Weirdly, it felt like his body shook, crying for the missed times they’d never make back. The tension of this long months of forcing them apart.
He pulls himself back slightly to find her face,
“I missed you so much, Kay!” she mouthed.
Kay took in a deep breath. “I missed you too!”
Grace Philips dug a spoon into her favourite icecream and put its full length down her mouth until she almost gagged. Nothing agrees to pass through her throat anymore. On the centre table in her sitting room sat the untouched flask of food her best friend gave her a while ago. After Ben stormed out, she thought of a measure of drowning her pain. Her favourite flavour of ice-cream used to do it for her. But right now, as she slid down the wall until her buttocks hit the hard floor, she knew nothing was taking this pain away. Not anytime soon.
To come so close to pure love and loose it so violently is something no medication can heal. She needs to shed more tears but feels nauseated by the thought as well.
Ben had come over to wait for her in the dark corridor of her house.
“I used to think you were innocent. Now I see why you’re still chronically single at this age.” He yelled while approaching her, his first finger pointing violently at her. “So you could do this?”
Grace Philips felt taken aback at first.
“Don’t even dare try to act like you don’t know what I’m talking about.” he drew a long hiss. “You disgust me right now, Grace.”
Grace jerked back in fear. She’d known that to love deeply meant to risk great pain. The greatest mistake she ever made was thinking that Ben was the best person to take such risk with.
“So the plan had been to destroy my engagement all along?” Ben asked and Grace’s heart sank. “My friends said you were dangerous, I should have listened to them.” He drew another long hiss before storming out of the compound and banging the iron gate hard.
Grace Philips almost collapsed onto the floor.
Heartbreak is a funny thing. We all know it’s going to happen, yet we’re never prepared for it. We underestimate it’s power.
After all the various episodes all these years, why was she never ready for it?
Because she’s in denial? Believing it won’t happen or if it did, nothing would happen?
As the tears gushed mightily down her face, she knew her heart wasn’t merely broken, it’s a shadow of what it was and fading a little more every day.
She had so many things to say as Ben yelled at her right in the middle of her compound, only that he was too brief and more so too impatient to hear her side of the story. She wanted to ask a lot of questions.
Where did it all go, Ben?
Where did you go?
There’s this guy, who walks, and talks just like you. But it’s not you.
It’s like he got your skin, your hair and wears it like his own, but it’s not his.
Before she met him, her heart was soft. With Ben, it become strong and vibrant, now it is simply broken. He connected to a part of her others, including Kay, never felt. She gave him a part of her soul she never wanted to let out of the bag. They’d shared moments she thought were more real than the blood in her own veins, and felt him like the beating of her own heart. The bond they forged was still molten until this morning when all her life seemed to be falling apart right before her very eyes.
She’d never seen him this mad before.
Maybe she shouldn’t have placed that call across. A part of her suggested she should go and apologize, beg, plead that he listened to her side of the story and it wasn’t exactly what he thought.
Another part of her dissuaded that idea.
What was she pleading for anyway?
If for anything, she deserved the apology… all of it, not him.
As she fought this thoughts, another lingered in her mind. It came like a flash and now has grown into a long unbearable and unimaginable question.
”What did Ben say about her plan to break his engagement?”
Compliments of the season, dear ones.
It’s Christmas season and hopefully, we should have some bonus episodes this time.
Invite friends to read the stories and de-stress. Haha.
Please read NOMA’S DREAM (part 1 of TWO GRACES here… http://www.awokoinsight.com/nomas-dream/nomas-dream-episode-one/
Love you lots.