TWO GRACES – GRACE OCHIGBO
“How are you, daughter?”
Grace Oladele heard as she placed the phone against her ear while motioning to Isaac with her first finger to lower the volume on the DVD player booming Sinach’s “You are able” in the car.
“I am fine, mummy! So good to hear from you.” she grinned from ear to ear as though the person on the other side of the phone could see the expression on her face.
Mrs. Oshanisi was the wife of the pastor of their local church and she’d been fond of the two Graces right from time. It was Grace Philips that introduced Grace Oladele to her in the first instance. Grace Philips had started residency months before her friend got in. She was so committed in church then that she won the heart of the pastor’s wife. Over the years, they’d both come to regard the older woman as a mother and mentor. Once in a while, they dropped by the pastor’s residence to say hello and have the older woman share some words of wisdom and encouragement with them. This used to happen as often as every other week until life happened, and everyone got busy. Now, especially now, Mrs. Oshanisi called to check up on them.
“Been trying to reach out to Dr. Philips. She doesn’t appear to be anywhere near her mobile phone lately.”
Grace Oladele paused, thinking about the best way to respond. “She’s not having the best of times at the moment, mummy. She lost her professor, a man she’d come to regard as a dear father over the years.”
“Oh my God!” Mrs. Oshanisi exclamation was so loud Grace had to take the phone away from her ear a bit. “I didn’t know she was that close with the late professor. The one that was involved in the ghastly motor accident last week, not so?”
“Yes mummy. Right.”
“He was indeed a very good man. Several testimonies have been ongoing about his cheerful heart.” The woman’s voice sounded sober. “You know sometimes we’re tempted to ask why bad things happen to good people. What we must know is that we cannot question God. He definitely knows and will work all things out for the best where His children are concerned.”
Grace Oladele wanted to tell the older woman to save these counsels for Grace Philips. Her beloved friend had become inconsolable since the news of Professor Akanni’s death. Every evening, her WhatsApp status has something or two to say about him. She seemed to only log in, post his photographs with a sorrowful caption and disappear without responding to any of her messages. Grace Oladele wasn’t the least surprised hearing that Grace Philips wasn’t picking Mrs. Oshanisi’s calls. She literally picked no one’s calls these days.
“I’ll make sure she calls you soonest, mummy. Thank you so much.”
“The lord bless you, dear.” The woman started. “I would also appreciate if you both could find some time out with me. It promises to be a good time.”
“Always a good time, mummy. I would make sure of that.” She pushed a braid off her face and noticed Isaac in the process. “My husband sends his regards as well.”
Excitement filled Mrs. Oshanisi’s next speech. “Oh! Your loving husband. My love to him, Ethan and Omojo. Bye for now.”
“Bye mummy!” Grace grinned while dropping the call. Everyone would say ‘my love to your husband, Ethan and Omojo’ in that order. As though Ethan was her first child. The little kid was too adorable and playful and won the heart of everyone he came across.
Isaac glanced at his wife like he stole it before returning his eyes to the road. “You don’t think your friend has an emotional breakdown, do you?”
Grace gave a mild pout. How a man could be so observant, picking even the slightest detail on another’s face beats her imagination.
“She was very close to Prof, Honey. In fact, she and her colleague still carried out an assignment for him some hours before she got the rude shock about his death.”
Isaac took in a deep breath. “I pray she pulls through this.”
“Me too, Honey!” Grace’s tone was dismissive.
She wasn’t ready to sound an alarm in Isaac’s heart but surely, deep down inside her, she knew all was not well with her friend and the death of Professor Akanni only compounded her problem.
Tara Albert threw her boots to the other corner of her room before the wig on her head came off like the cap of a fermented bottled cola. She sank into the bed tiredly and for the umpteenth time she cursed underneath her breath. Thursdays were for CDS. She hated CDS, hence Thursdays. Left to her, she would jump at any opportunity not to participate in the one year compulsory youth service included in Nigeria’s tertiary institution requirements. Her other friends envied her. In their own words, they referred to being a corp member as a medical doctor as ‘chilling’. But nothing in all of these looked like chilling to Tara. From her miniature of a self-contain accommodation in the corpers’ lodge to the crowd she meets on the ward every day, she wondered what she was thinking when she read all night in preparation for JAMB, all with the dreams of becoming a medical doctor.
Amidst her log of complaints, she heard a sound from her phone. It was an alarm. She needed to set alarm for anything she had to do these days. Her schedules were so tight that she forgot things readily if not linked to her patients or colleagues at work. This morning though, she made it a point of duty to call her favourite consultant in the world before the end of today. Her rotation in paediatric surgery as a house officer was the best experience yet and considering what she read online last night, she knew it was time to call Dr. Philips again.
“Hey!” a tired voice came through her ears after picking up on the third ring.
“I’m so sorry over the death of Prof, ma’am. Prof Akanni was a good man.”
She continued. “I understand how hard this must be for you, ma. Please accept my sympathy.”
“Thank you dear, Tara. How is your PPA?”
Tara smiled. Typical of Dr. Philips to deviate from any conversation tilting towards emotions.
She was a special kind of strong, Tara thought.
“Ma, I can’t wait to be done with Youth service.”
Grace Philips chuckled at that statement. She told the younger lady that work was just beginning and one thing she mustn’t lose sight of in this profession was her passion.
“Let your drive always be from within.”
“Thank you, Ma.”
“Ehm…” Grace started. “How about…”
“Yes. I have been wanting to discuss it with you but didn’t think it was a good time considering the situation on ground.” Tara cut in.
“You have found a man?” curiosity laced Grace Philips’ voice.
Tara’s hesitation made her worry a little bit. Aside from being her house office, Grace Philips had formed a close friendly bond with Tara Albert as with most ladies she came across. She considered herself a watchman over the lives of any lady God brought her way, especially over their emotional lives. If not for anything, she’d experienced enough, dealing with the opposite sex over the years to have a word or two of advice to say to a younger lady.
“Aunty Grace…” Tara called out and Grace Philips positioned herself to listen attentively.
“I am all ears, dear.”
Tara talked extensively, pausing several times in between. After she was done, a deafening silence came from the other side of the phone and that worried her. Even when she knew for sure that Dr. Philips wasn’t one to jump into giving her opinions on subjects, she worried that her long hesitation to speak on was an indication that she felt disappointed.
“Are you disappointed in me, Ma’am?”
“Oh no!” Dr. Philips’ jerky answer signified she’d been lost in thoughts. Tara waited another minute until Grace Philips finally decided to break the silence.
“For how long have you been seeing this man?”
“Since the beginning of youth service. He’s an MO in the hospital here.”
Grace Philips became silent again as though careful not to judge someone’s state by her own stake.
“So you go out, enjoy each other’s company a lot and…”
“I like him a lot. In fact, aunty Grace, I think I love him.” She heard a low sound on the other side that came like a scoff but continued anyway. “I think he does too. In fact, I know he does.”
“How did you know that?”
“He shows it… the calls, the care and concerns…”
“Did he say it at any point?”
Tara wanted to respond but felt a tug back in her throat. She scanned through all the images in her head, their best moments and even their worst moments so far, none of them bore any distinct proclamation of love from him. None.
“Until you’re able to answer that question frankly and quickly, you have no relationship, dear Tara.” Grace felt a heavy weight land on her chest as she spilled her bitter truth.
Ben ridiculed her entire essence right there that fateful afternoon in front of his visitor. She hadn’t been able to get that awful scene off her mind and the pain from the demise of her mentor and teacher made her feel like death. If only she’d been a bit more careful with Ben as she’s asking Tara to be with her enstranged lover right now, she wouldn’t be in the situation she’s in.
She strengthened herself to speak on nonetheless.
“And…” she dragged the word long enough to unsettle Tara more. “Never chase love, affection or attention. If it isn’t given freely by another person, then it’s not worth it.”
Part of her strength was the ability to brace herself up and appear before people like she had no care in the world. Grace Philips would rather die inside than allow her tear drop anywhere outside the confines of her room. She may not look as sharp as ever but she definitely wasn’t looking like an object of pity. Death wasn’t kind. She had always known that. It snatched where it could, taking people who were far too nice, far too good. It didn’t pretend to care. It had touched her this closely once, when her father died. Death ripped away a part of her, a part of her that was most loved.
Mourn not the passing of a life well lived, yet celebrate, they say.
Death was only the end of a chapter. It would bring sadness as everyone have to transform to the new way of acceptance, yet this was part of living. Prof. Akanni was gone, never to return to this ward… world again. They say a man who lives fully is not afraid of death. Though death came to Prof like a shot from behind, he did lived fully. This fact showed everywhere around the ward this morning. One thing was clear, work here may never be the same for Grace Philips again.
She turned the last page of the patient’s file, a 4year old girl. The expression on her mother’s face broke Grace Philips’ heart. She wanted to reassure her, that all will be well, that she wasn’t going to lose her daughter to this very angrily metastasizing tumour but what guts has she to say that. Prognosis for the little child’s case was poor, at least in this side of the world. She was willing to do all she can – go some extra miles to by all means keep this child alive for her mother.
“Was expecting to see their findings here…” she turned knowing eyes to Dr. Akintan.
He told her earlier that they needed to have the neurosurgeons review this case as soon as possible.
“Yeah… consult sent yesterday.” He responded with a pint of nonchalance in his voice. Grace Philips hated that about him but she wasn’t the call for concern here. This patient was. “If Dr. Afang was there, he’d have arrived here to review the patient at the drop of a hat. You see how we are all missing him now?” He chuckled and a few others joined in.
The words didn’t quite add up in Grace’s head early enough. She waited until they were done chuckling. She found nothing funny anyway.
“Is Dr. Afang on leave or something?”
The look on Dr. Akintan’s face carried nothing short of shock. He had “are-you-asking-me?” spelt in his eyeballs and Grace confirmed now that he’d always suspected something between Ben and her.
“No Ma.” Dr. Akintan responded, sarcasm filled his tone. “Dr. Ben Afang has returned to his station.” He added.
Wale Martins was hurrying over to the parking lot when he thought he caught an image of Grace Philips. Few days ago, he could almost bet on his next salary that she didn’t work there anymore. The sad incidence must have dealt a huge blow on her seeing he was his favourite. Nonetheless, he turned and followed in the direction Grace Philips headed.
“It’s so good to see you again?”
Grace jerked backwards. Her eyes looked extremely frightened. She hadn’t noticed anyone walk behind her.
“You don’t always have to scare me, Wale!” She contorted her face into a light frown as she turned the key in its hole until the door creaked open in front of her. She walked in slowly, followed by Wale Martins.
“Look, I’m sorry. Over everything that’s happened…” Grace Philips wanted to ask what he was talking about before he helped her curiosity. “I mean, over prof’s death. You’re not his biological daughter, but everyone here knows how personally you both take each other. Please accept my condolence.”
Grace Philips was frankly getting it up to her neck over all these condolence speeches. She blinked. “Thank you!”
She found her way round the table to take her seat. Wale offered himself a seat almost immediately too. There was no getting away from Wale after all, Grace Philips thought.
“So, dear Dr. Philips…” Wale started.
Grace had an idea where he was headed starting out like that but she was patient.
She needed to hear for herself. “I don’t mean to sound insensitive…” he cleared his throat and sat up some. “Was wondering if you could spare an hour or two to look through my work. I reckon tomorrow is Saturday and…”
Grace Philips almost spread her lips into a broad smile. How predictable Wale was and how insensitive he must be to consider adding more work to the pile up of work she had at the moment.
“I can bring it to your house if need be. I can come pick you up to the office as well if here’s better. Please, chief.”
Grace Philips took in a deep breath. She hate to be put in a tight condition and even though she’s not totally sure about how her weekend was going to ensue, she knew certainly that Wale Martins wasn’t in any part of the picture. She pulled herself to the edge of her seat and held his gaze.
“You know I am eager to assist you anytime any day, Dr. Martins.” Wale’s eyes were anxious. She tried to steady her voice more. “But I’m sorry, I have to decline this time.”
“Why?” He asked, his eyeballs almost dropping off their sockets.
By the time Grace Philips got in her house that evening, she had a resounding headache. To keep herself from yielding to the temptation of calling Ben after the huge humiliation in his house the other day was why she’d deleted his number from her phone. Although her device was top tech and could retrieve all her call logs up to three years ago, she deliberately deterred herself from doing that. She wanted to see how much self-control she had left since Ben. She’d expected him to call her.
Wasn’t that what true love was about? Disagree to agree?
She tried to get her mind off what she’d seen on his phone that morning. She wanted to believe that wasn’t true and that there was a mix up somewhere. However she tried, the realization that Ben had reportedly returned to his ‘station’ without a word to her sent her soul crashing all over again.
As she pulled a bottle of soft drink from the refrigerator, she heard her phone ring. She would just put that device off soonest before it gets on her nerves the more. Seeing the caller, she considered it twice before picking up on second ring.
“You’re putting us all out of your life?”
“You in particular.” She responded, letting out a lazy smile.
“Wait until I set Ethan loose in your living room.”
Grace Philips giggled. “He’d throw the DSTV remote under the settee as if that’s not enough, play horse riding with the throw pillows. That’s if the curtain doesn’t fall over him like the last time.” She found herself laughing genuinely for the first time in a long time.
Grace Oladele’s son Ethan was a whole mood and she’s so fond of him.
“My dear, I always threaten him with home arrest for my sanity sake.”
That got Grace Philips laughing harder. “Home
arrest? Girl, you’re mean! What does the poor lad know about home arrest?”
“De there na!” Grace Oladele responded in Pidgin English. “Shebi we size ourselves for this house? We go know who born who.”
Grace Philips laughed some more. It’s the most sincere laughter she’s had in a long while. Why hadn’t she been picking Grace Oladele’s call all these times? The two Graces had each other’s antidote more often than not.
“Gracie, I was thinking we could go see Mummy Oshanisi one of these days. She asked after you when she called earlier. And stylishly begged for our visit.”
The last statement also made Grace Philips smile. She knew Grace Oladele was going to make a gossip-worthy-gist from a simple, ‘say me hello to your friend’.
“I missed her calls twice earlier.” She affirmed. “But no problem, we could go say hello to her. When do you have in mind?”
Grace Oladele kept quiet for a while like she was rummaging through her head. Then.
“Was thinking tomorrow afternoon would do. Any time before house fellowship by 5pm.”
“Ouch!” Grace Philips groaned loudly. “I’m sorry I’ll be in Ibadan first thing tomorrow morning.”
She felt Grace Oladele taken aback for a moment before finding her voice.
“Gracie, what’s happening in Ibadan?”
“Oh that? I’m going to the local airport. I just booked their 10am flight to Sokoto.”
To be continued.
I don’t know if it’s happy New Year I should be saying now cos it’s been a long time. I promise you another episode by Sunday evening.
But come to think of it. If Ben had returned to his ‘station’ and Grace Philips booked a flight to Sokoto, hope kasala won’t burst like this? Who’s thinking what I’m thinking o?
Have a beautiful weekend.