TWO GRACES – GRACE OCHIGBO
In front of him was a table top photo frame of his family. Dad was standing behind everyone in his well ironed army uniform while mum wore something that must have been the best attire in those days. She held onto him firmly on her laps. He must have been barely a year old then. Flanking his mother to the right was Gideon. He’d always been intuitive from childhood seeing the look on his face. Grace and Godson flanked mum on the left hand side.
Aunty-small mummy-surgeon-pastor-sister Grace Philips.
Sometimes, he couldn’t imagine where he would have been without the influence of that one woman in his life. She made him focused and disciplined at all cost regardless of the long distance between them.
Looking more intensely at the photo frame made him realized how much he missed his family.
“I am glad final exams are here, mum! Only 3 months away and I would be done.” he said into the phone smiling brightly. “I can’t wait to come back home.”
“We don’t miss you around here.” His mother’s voice came up through the speaker of the phone mixed with laugher. “Just stay in white man’s land. Shebi, you now have one oyibo girl in your life?”
That cracked Gabriel up even more. He thought about the lady who’d won his heart. She was the definition of a golden gift and couldn’t wait to let his family in on that.
“Mum, you’d love her when you see her.”
“You know me I don’t have a problem. So long as your second mummy approves of her, that’s all.”
Gabriel wasn’t sure how Sis. Grace was going to take the news.
She may even become outright displeased and disappointed. Either that he was distracted with finding love while still in school or how that wouldn’t let him pursue a career with as much intensity as he would have if still single for a little while.
He couldn’t pin down what angle his elder sister’s disappointment would stream out from but he was as sure as sunrise that she would be disappointed in him.
Because to her, there was time for everything.
Eju Philips dropped the phone from her ears still smiling. She’s grateful to God that despite all the hurdles since the death of the general who was a loving husband to her and father to her four kids, she’d raised wonderful kids who were fulfilled in their different endeavours. Her queen as she often called her dear one and only daughter was living out her lifelong dream of becoming a consultant surgeon. She was glad indeed and grateful. Only that, once in a while, a strange wind of fear engulfed her. She feared Grace Philips has given up on the idea of ever being settled down in marriage and no matter how much she subdued the urge to bring up that topic every time mother and daughter spoke, it seemed to be eating her deep within like a worm.
She picked up her mobile phone and contemplated on the best thing to do for a while. She was gathering the courage to dial Grace’s number. It may have been a long time ago, but her daughter’s threat still rang loudly somewhere in her head.
She’d said she would go far away where no one would ever see her again let alone bother her about marriage, not so?
Eju knew the type of daughter she had. Grace would carry out her threat if dared. She had her father’s type of heart – both never giving up on anything they’d set their minds to do. That trait was important for a soldier not a bloody civilian.
“Sorry, the number you’re trying to call is not reachable at the moment, please try again la…”
She tapped on the end icon before the response finished.
Network must be poor in Ife, she thought.
Another alternative was WhatsApp. Her son Gabriel made sure she knew so much about WhatsApp at all cost. Logging in now, she proceeded straight to Grace’s inbox. She noticed the latter hadn’t been online since 9pm the day before. That further reinforced her assertion about the network earlier. Instead of sending a message, she decided to view status updates instead. Aside rebroadcasting ‘prayer messages’ as Grace Philips tagged some of her messages she found really irritating sometimes, she views status updates of family and friends regularly before logging out. Grace Philips had a photo of herself and her late professor up… again.
Eju Philips sighed as she read out the caption loudly. “If only RIP means Return If Possible, dear Prof.”
She shook her head from left to right.
The sudden death of the older man must have taken a big toll on her daughter’s emotions. She later convince herself that a text message will be just fine.
With that she started typing.
Grace Philips got into Ibadan early enough to make it to the airport before her departure time. There was an unusually long queue at the check-in counter and she wished there was a means to teleport herself to the North immediately. The guys behind the counter acted too slow for her liking. She imagined what would have happened if she hadn’t booked online last night. Directly in front of her was a lady. She had curled dark locks, some brown, others black. Along her curvy body was a black dress that barely reached her lower thighs, clutching her body in a way Grace considered alluring. The top of the dress ran straight across her chest, then at the top of her waist it tightened to the curves. Even on the simple black heels she wore, Grace could see the center of her head. Her face was brushed with makeups and blush to bring out the sharp structure on her cheekbones and wore a bright red shade on her thin lips.
All these were easily noticeable by Grace Philips because the lady just wouldn’t stand still. She shifted her weight from side to side, brushing… intimidating her. This was one of the times she regretted her fit-fam regimen. Perhaps if she was bigger or near as curvy as the lady in front of her, no one would compress her on the annoyingly long queue. She tried not to get pissed by deliberately ignoring her. Thankfully, her Bluetooth device was always handy. The volume from the speaker was loud enough to break someone’s eardrums but that’s better than listening to the noise in the background.
As they marched out and towards the tarmac, she heaved a sigh of relief. She had finally parted ways with the curvy lady who was nowhere around as she climbed the short fleet of stairs into the plane. Air hostesses greeted cheerfully as everyone made for their seats. Whenever she’s forced to take economy class ticket like this, she loves to take the seat beside the window where she could view the clouds closely. But yesterday, those seats were already booked and she had no choice than to take the seat beside the isle.
She was still trying to settle into her seat when someone asked to go in. Her entire demeanor changed looking up and recognizing who it was – the curvy lady. She was the one to sit beside her.
Gosh! Grace almost screamed out.
The lady collapsed into her seat like a sack of potatoes. Grace did all she could to avoid the lady. First by plugging in her Bluetooth device while instructions came up about putting their mobile phones on airplane mode and all. She opened the music folder bearing Bryan Adams.
God help this lady to say pim to her today and she’ll hear whim.
She let her mind drift away slowly. Ben had turned every moment they spent together into painful memories. They were sharp, and cut right through her every time she thinks about those times. Even the sweet good moments they had are now turned into a knife that kills her already broken heart. He pierced her soul; made her skeptical now about everyone and love in general. She wants to hate him but the memories keep haunting her.
No! He couldn’t have eloped.
Something must have happened.
It can be explained, right?
He would explain to her.
She just need to close the long distance between them two. She was going to confront him. He loved her. That she was sure of.
A hand tapped on her shoulder bringing her back to the airplane. She reflexively jerked and looked up. The curvy lady wanted to be excused. Grace Philips almost drew out a long hiss but created way for her without creating a scene instead.
Looking out through the window now that the obstruction was out of the way gave her a beautiful view. Clouds blue with shades of pure glistering white. There’s the sensation of peace and bliss that she wished her life could have. The most tiring thing about adulthood was how constant it was. There was always some issue to sort out. You are ‘chilling’ means you’re probably just ignoring the million things on your to-do list.
As she pulled her face away from the window, her eyes caught a novel on the seat of the curvy lady who was still probably using the restroom. She had turned it faced down after getting up so Grace recognized it immediately. It was by her favourite author of all times. She reflexively picked it up, smiling from ear to ear while glancing at the pages.
“You like her works too, huh?”
Grace Philips froze. The curvy lady was back. She adjusted for her to go in.
“I said do you also like her works?” the lady asked motioning to the novel still in Grace’s hand.
“Like Yeah!” Grace answered with a tone filled with excitement.
“Me too. I love her works so much. Have you read this? The wife I never married?”
“Are you kidding me?” Grace cut in. “I doubt if there’s any of her works I’ve not read. From This thing called Love, Nimi Peters, remember that scintillating story? To BLINKERED, that very emotional sickle-cell-disease-themed story…”
“Abegi. She killed my dear Tonia jor.” The lady scowled, feigning irritated.
Grace Philips smiled broadly. “Aside that we share same first names, I love Grace Ochigbo’s stories so much. There are so real and so relatable.”
“I agree. I agree. I love stories that are entertaining, instructive and educating. With her, I found all these and more.”
“You can say that again.”
“A pleasure meeting you, Ma’am Grace.” The curvy lady stretched a hand but withdrew it seeing Grace rose an eyebrow. “You share first name with Grace Ochigbo so I just deciphered.”
Smart. Grace thought.
“The pleasure is mine, dear …”
“Princess.” She said. “My name is Princess.”
Grace was surprised but tried to mask it. She wondered whether a child’s parent would frankly name her daughter “Princess” or she was from a royal family. No point pushing deeper.
“So why are you going to Sokoto?”
Grace Philips’ mind skipped a notch. She hadn’t seen that question coming and noticing Princess’ eyes were still beckoning on her to speak, she took in a deep breath and stammered her response.
The sun sank lower in the sky, light of day draining away giving way to the velvety dark of night. Crickets chirped as colours subdued in the fading light. There was the first buzz of mosquitoes before street lights click on. The day was winding down and the first star appeared in the night sky. The Northern air became cooler, twilight had fallen. Grace felt as though energy was being constantly drained out of her, as though she’s leaking electricity. By the time she arrived her hotel room, she was completely exhausted, too tired to eat. The guest house of Usman Danfodio University Teaching Hospital was more beautiful than she’d expected. Luxurious antiques filled everywhere.
Bringing out her phone, she decided to call her mother. The older woman sent her a text earlier. It simply read, ‘where are you’. She’d always known her mother to have a form of instinctive prompting where she and her brothers were concerned. There was no point lying so she responded as genuinely as possible,
“Good evening, mummy. I’m in Sokoto at the moment. Had some official errands to run for the department.”
Lies had been so forthcoming from her mouth since Ben.
After that, she called Amina Waziri. One of the advantages of being well-known in Association of Resident Doctors was the connection. She could get the contact of any doctor in any institution she so desires. She and Amina Waziri had met at one of those ARD GAs. Like Ben, she was a neurosurgeon as well. Grace Philips had stylishly inquired about Ben from her yesterday and she affirmed he was back in Sokoto. Grace intends to just take him by surprise on Monday morning.
Amina had offered to have her stay in her family house but Grace refused. The hotel room would give her the much calculative skills she rightly desired at the moment.
By the time her back hit the bed, she fell asleep in an instant and didn’t move a muscle until the early morning sun forced its way to the room through the curtains. She drew her phone close only to realize that the morning was long gone. There was a certain level of tiredness that equates to insanity. That’s all she’d felt last night. A breath of refreshment washed over her now as she sat up on the king-sized bed. She had no intentions of attending church this morning anyway. So it was just perfect. She would lay in doors, resting, and preparing for the big day tomorrow.
Only then did it strike her that her last meal had been on the plane.
And as if Amina timed it, her phone began to ring almost immediately.
“Good morning, Chief.”
Grace scoffed. “Amina, I’ve asked you to stop that. Maybe, I’ll punish you henceforth.”
They both laughed.
“How was your first night in Sokoto?”
“I don’t know.” Grace cut in. “I slept.”
Amina laughed even harder. She expressed how displeased she was that Grace turned down her offer on accommodation and the latter apologized again.
“Anyway, I knew you would be bored and probably hungry. So I intend to come pick you up to one of the malls.”
Grace submerged the scoff pulling off her throat. She tried to imagine what sort of mall they’d have in this city. And as though Amina read her mind.
“Don’t worry, you’ll be wowed. AGG mall, shopping center, Fodio Mall, pick your choice.”
Grace Philips smiled broadly. “Anyone is okay with me, Amina. I can’t wait to be impressed.”
“I’d come pick you in an hour. Good?”
“Perfect.” She ended the call and slipped into her slippers.
For the love of shopping, she was ready to try out any mall whatsoever.
The ice-cream freezer was stacked high with all of Grace’s favourites, chocolate peanut butter, raspberry ripple and vanilla… but there were more, so many more. Amina only watched her excitement with disbelief. With hand in the pockets of her jumpsuit, Grace walked up and down, looking at the prices as well as flavor. Finally she decided that nothing beats chocolate peanut butter. With the store music playing softly behind the noise of the shoppers, she laughed internally as her mind flashed back that evening when Kay dropped a box of ice-cream in front of her door.
Kay! That guy must have sincerely loved her only that she was too blind to see.
At the belt stand, Grace ran her hand along the belt rack, listening to them jingle at the buckles. She spent more times reading the labels than walking – isn’t that some form of modern shopping?
Amina obviously hated everything about shopping. She hated the crowds, the queues and the aching feet. She even hated the overly attentive shopping assistants. Grace Philips was the direct opposite. She loved shopping. She loved the perfumed, air conditioned mall. She basked in the attention of the sales staff and pawed over different fabrics and textures. She would pick every single item from the shelf to check what’s made up of. At the boutique session, she tried new hats. She bought a dress Amina called jalabia. Something about their free wear on this part of the country. She needed it in her wardrobe to indicate she’s been to the core North and back.
She was a shop-a-holic.
It wasn’t long until she found herself in the shoe session. Her shoe rack at home was overflowing with shoes yet she bought every single shoe she admired.
“What colour is this?” she showed a wedged heel shoe to Amina
“Cassava brown, I think.”
Grace burst into laughter. Really? How do Nigerians name colours?
“Wow, this shoe is lovely!!”
Grace turned as she heard a familiar voice from behind her.
“Princess? WOW.” She sounded overtly surprised.
In the rush down the plane and arrival tarmac, she’d lost the curvy lady. It was when she arrived in her hotel room that it dawned on her that she hadn’t collected Princess’ number. Here she was right in front of her.
“If I didn’t know better, I would have said you’re trailing me.” Grace jeered, embracing Princess.
Excitement wired Princess’ body like she was plugged into the mains.
“Meet my colleague, Amina…” Grace started. “Amina, this is Princess. I enjoyed my entire time on the plane down here discussing with her.”
The two ladies greeted each other cheerfully.
“Grace…” Princess called out. “Now, there’s someone I’d love to introduce to you. He comes on a little strong, pretty weird opinions. He’s a rebel at heart, not one to ever play by the rules.” She giggled. Grace raised an eyebrow as she continued. “…but he’s the most loving man you’ll ever meet. Aside your husband though.” Grace Philips let out a half smile that Princess didn’t even notice as she reeled on. “Not that he shows it much, like most men he shows his love through self-sacrifice and working hard. He’s just the perfect…”
“Eno, I could virtually hear your voice from the other side of the mall…” a male’s voice interrupted them and their attention turned in his direction.
Princess giggled even more as she rushed over to the man bearing a little boy on his shoulders.
“I was just introducing you to my latest friend. Remember the lady I met on the plane?” she turned to Grace and Amina immediately. “Well, Grace, meet my husband…”
They called out at the same time as though planned.
To be continued.
So I had this terrible network yesterday. Please bear with me.
Love you all.