TWO GRACES – GRACE OCHIGBO
Grace held tighter to Omojo’s right hand. The 4-year old is desperately in need of some air of freedom – not from the very recent hot humid weather of the SouthWest or the rapidly melting down economy of her beloved country but from the firm grip of her dear mother. If she’s to tell what she hated most, she surely would say ‘I hate when mummy wouldn’t let me play?”
“Play!” Grace raised her voice and the little girl adjusted. “How do you play beside the road, Omojo?” The idea alone was too huge for Grace to take in. She let out a mild hiss before turning,
“Sorry jare…” a smile lurked around her face. “…these kids can be hard work sometimes. It’s even better because Ethan is sleeping.”
The lady, who was already holding onto the doorknob of her 2016 Acura ILX chuckled lightly. “Is it that stage in motherhood when you start feeling choked yet? I thought it’s still afar off?”
Grace burst out into a genuine laughter. “Afar off? You start getting chocked right from the moment the sperm meets your egg, my dear. To think that motherhood is a lifetime assignment! Well, it can be sweet-pain sometimes. Just wait until you get there.”
The other lady blinked. “I guess!” she muttered with a sad tone and dropped her slim curvy frame into the car seat.
Grace was taken aback. Oh God! What did she just say now.
“Gracey, c’mon! you know I don’t mean it in an abusive way, right?”
The lady nodded, her chin felt so heavy sitting in her face. “Of course not!” she put the car key into its hole and ignited the engine.
Grace quickly stood in her way of shutting the door. “Gracey, don’t you think it’s time yet?”
She paused, looking up from the dashboard of her car with utter blankness coloring her eyes.
Grace Philips and Grace Ahmodu have always been best of friends right from childhood. Their mothers said they had them just two hours apart, the former being the older. The ‘Two Graces’, as everyone fondly called them for their admirable bond of friendship, had literally shared everything in life; from nursery, to primary, secondary school and even up to the university. They both had passion to study medicine and worked so hard until now that they’re both fulfilled consultants, one in medicine and the other in surgery. Their life was the model life to young girls. It spelt out hard work and dogged will to succeed. As active members of the Living Faith Church workforce, young adults and teenagers submitted to them for mentorship. Things were exciting and fulfilling until the unplanned happened.
Grace Ahmodu, now Oladele, was getting married.
“Are you serious? He proposed?” Grace Philips hadn’t hidden her excitement when her friend announced her engagement to Isaac Oladele, her boyfriend of 2years. Isaac was a good man by all standard. Born again, loved the lord, hardworking, principled and disciplined, all these plus a good face and well-built stature to match spelt out vividly why Grace must have fallen all over heels for him.
Barely two months after the proposal, Grace Philips found herself holding onto her best friend’s veil as the maid of honor on her wedding day. They’d already fantasized about their big day right from secondary school.
“Gracey, if you go first, I’ll be your maid of honor, and when it’s my turn, even though you are married, you’ll be my matron of honor!” Grace Ahmodu had said one of those nights Grace Philips spent at her friend’s family house. It sounded coy and funny but she made them promise to stand by it.
It was easier to guess that Grace Philips would get married first because she was nursing a new relationship at the time. Paul was one person the whole world was certain would end up getting married to Grace Philips except Grace herself. People talked about how adorable they looked together, cute babies alert and all the trendy things that people base their judgement of compatible couple on but Grace Philips knew deep within her that Paul wasn’t particularly the one for her. The guy had issues with being and staying a man. He was threatened by every of Grace’s achievement. Then, as a junior registrar aiming for the almighty consultant title, one Paul wasn’t going to impede her. Still, she wasn’t in a hurry to rush out of things. She let them take a natural course – die a natural death as the case may be. Everyone was amazed Grace Ahmodu was the first of the two Graces to walk down the aisle but that was okay because Grace Philips’ was right behind hers, right? Once the stress of her friend’s wedding was over, preparations for hers will start in earnest, right?
All expectations were cut short when Paul eventually broke up with Grace Philips five months after her best friend’s wedding. She didn’t bother him. it was good he left at a time that he still got a last ego to protect. She was fine; rest assured that a better man was on the way for her. She must have been fine but that was only her. Her mother, Mrs. Eju Philips, made it a point of duty to call and remind her every other day of her age. It got so bad that her mother sent her a box containing a bible and bottle of anointing oil as birthday present one year. The woman said she’d consulted some divinity that revealed the cause of Grace’s problem. And by the time Grace Philips tried to inquire about ‘the problem’, the woman flared up,
“Oh. So you don’t even know you have a problem?” Mrs Eju Philips clamped her mouth so tight, it sounded. “I already had your last brother at your age. You are not even in a serious relationship and you don’t think you have a problem?”
Grace Philips went out on dates, arranged and prearranged alike. Once, her mother linked her up with a friend’s son who allegedly came in from the ‘abroad’. Frankly, Grace let her guard down and the pressure from all angles almost made her put everything else into making this new ‘abroad’ guy her last bus stop.
Well, not to go too far.
They hadn’t even gone two months when she discovered the guy had a white lady wife and a kid. Expectedly, Grace Philips took it all out on her mother, blaming the woman for letting a man play with her emotions.
“If you don’t stop worrying me about marriage, mother,” Grace stood up to the older woman one evening in the kitchen. “… if you don’t stop, I’ll disappear from your life completely. I’ll travel to a far country and establish myself there. You know I have all the money and qualifications it would take to do that. Dare me and it would be the last time you’ll ever set your eyes on me. Is it not someone that has a daughter that seeks for a son in-law?”
Grace saw how sore fear gripped her mother at that threat. The woman suddenly became as cold as an iced tea and that was the last mention of marriage to her. She knew her mother cherished her and her three younger brothers so much she wouldn’t want to lose any of them, not after losing her beloved husband while he was in active service to defend their beloved country.
It’s five years now since the two Graces stopped being the cute adorable single duo who gave men a ride for their money. Five years since ‘girl’s vacation’ trips to exotic places round the world and shopping spree abruptly turned into now having one of them run home immediately after work because husband and kids needed her.
Grace Philips jolted back as her friend tapped her kindly.
“Uhm uhm!” she runs her right palm over her hair.
“What are you thinking about?”
Grace Philips sat up in her car and took in a deep breath. She stared at the road in front of her for a minute. Grace Oladele had invited her over for early dinner to celebrate their new house. The house was a similitude of a mini mansion and it was just the perfect home to bring up Omojo and Ethan in Grace Philips opinion.
“You know what I’m thinking about?” She faced her friend, who she didn’t even notice when she’d taken Omojo back into the compound. She must have let the thoughts drown her that much, enough for her friend to know they needed privacy. She continued nonetheless. “I’m thinking about you!” she initially pointed her first finger but realizing it’s a rude gesture, she withdrew it and stepped out of the car instead. She leaned against it with her eyes gazing at the clouds slowly gathering to welcome the blissful night. “I’m thinking about you… about all of you! I’m thinking about how y’all think!” she tried to hold the annoyance boiling up on her insides down. “You all think I deliberately don’t want to get married? Like I choose beautiful career over raising a home, seriously?”
Grace Oladele held her hand and squeezed it lightly. “Gracey, you know I didn’t…”
“No, you don’t…” She cut in. “You have not the slightest idea. But I’ll tell you!”
Grace Philips narrated how she had started a relationship with this brother she met at the sanctuary keeping unit where she served in church. The man called Muyiwa acted so responsible and zealous and it hadn’t taken more than a minute conversation to impress her greatly. Due to previous experiences, she’d decided to be careful and not jump the gun enough to pour her emotions all over the place yet. She would take her time, whether age was on her side or not, to learn and know this man. Know his likes, dos and don’ts. She would wait until he realizes he can’t do without her. Is that not the point where a man proposes to his lady? On the final realization that his life is incomplete without her in it? Grace Philips was ready to take the ride with Muyiwa without so much expectations yet enjoying every bit of it. They were good. Fine. Perfect.
Muyiwa was of the opinion that they kept their relationship out of public eyes.
“All these social media announcements are childish play, babe. The real life is us.” He said.
Grace Philip absolutely agreed with him, well, until things began to move from frying pan to fire between them. Muyiwa stopped serving in the unit in church for a long time and the more Grace tried to talk about it with him, the more he acted displeased and irritated. The point came when Grace advised herself to just stay loving him whether he was actively serving in God’s house or not. Moreover, love should be without conditions.
One evening, Muyiwa had driven to her apartment looking all elated. Grace wondered what the good news might be. In fact, she already tried to subdue the subtle voice telling her in her head that he was about to propose. They both shared dinner, spaghetti with chicken vegetable soup, and had a little chit-chat until 9pm, yet Muyiwa didn’t say anything. By 9.30pm, he was ready to leave and at the door, he said it,
“Grace honey! I want you to know that you are the best thing that’s happened to me in recent times…”
Grace caught herself blushing but ‘easy does it, baby’, she told herself.
“I’ve enjoyed every phase of this beautiful relationship and God! I don’t want it to end.” He lets out a mischievous laughter and Grace smiled uneasily too. “But as it stands, there are new aspects of my life the lord will have me explore over the next couple of years, and I don’t want to keep you waiting up for me.”
Grace’s eyes carried fear and questions only Muyiwa would be able to answer.
“God will bring your own man, Grace!” he said on the note of finality, walked over to his car and drove out of the compound.
For more than thirty minutes, Grace was fixed to the floor on the same spot trying to wrap her head over what just happened. She wanted to be sure she wasn’t dreaming or having a nightmare. Minutes rolled into hours, hours into days and days into weeks when the truth collapsed in on her – Muyiwa had broken her heart like every other man she’d always known. He’s moved on and left her to find her footing.
“Oh no!” Grace Oladele groaned. “Tell me that didn’t happen?”
Grace Philips smiled, “Well, it didn’t just happen, Gee, it happened to me. Yours truly!”
Grace Oladele squeezed her friend’s hand lovingly. “I’m sorry, my love.”
Grace Philips smiled with sarcasm in her tone. “Save the love until you hear the concluding part of the story.”
“Oh! There’s a concluding part?”
Grace Philips’ smiles were broader this time and her friend didn’t know what to expect. She took in a deep breath and let it out almost immediately.
“I saw photos from Bro Muyiwa’s wedding two months after that night he left my house!”
Grace Oladele was having difficulties understanding the story. “You mean, he met another woman after leaving you for new things God would have him do with his life?” she couldn’t believe it. “And he was so convinced about her enough to marry her within two months?” then it clicked. “Wait, Gracey, Muyiwa was with the other woman while he was with you too?”
Grace Philips shrugged and the lone tear she’d been resisting the whole time slid down her fresh face.
“Oh dear, I’m so sorry!” Grace Oladele pulled her in for a hug. “It’s well, baby. God will bring your man at the right time?”
Grace Philips snapped out of the hug. “Right time? Is that some US zone timing?” she chuckled in spite of herself. “I’ll be 37 in June for crying out loud, Gracey!” she turned and pressed down a button on her car’s remote. “Guess this love thing isn’t for me after all!”
Grace Oladele swallowed and at loss for words as she watched her friend disappear behind the tinted mirrors of her car and drove out of the parking lot. She stood there until she couldn’t see Grace’s car anymore.
“This wasn’t the plan, Lord!” she said, almost a whisper. “The two Graces were meant to be happily married with adorable kids at the same time!”
“Call in Olajumoke Olagoke!”
One of the medical students promptly disappeared behind the door shouting the name that was just called out to her. The patient, a 73-year old woman, stood up from the waiting room and followed after him.
“Good morning, mama! How is your health today?”
The woman had smiles all over her face. The part of her hair that’s not covered by the scarf had thin grey-coloured hair dancing around her forehead. She lifted herself slowly and gracefully until she comfortably took the seat in front of the doctor.
“I am as fine as I can be, doctor!”
Grace Philips smiled.
Clinic days weren’t particularly her best days. She always came in earlier than normal and left late in the evening. Worse was that the public holiday in the country last week fell on their clinic day, so they’re backlog of patients all waiting for them to see.
On getting home last night after leaving Grace’s place, she went straight and sank into her bed like a bag of potatoes. Sometimes, she’s about to wallow in self-pity, asking God what exactly the matter was. She was gorgeous, much more than the second Grace if truth be told. She was extremely intelligent – how many ladies become consultant surgeons at thirty-two? She was smart, hardworking, godly and well-cultured. If these are not highly sort-after qualities in a woman, she wonders what else. Well, all those goosy feelings ended as soon as the night ended. Knowing what laid ahead of her for today, she wasn’t about to bring her ‘marital status’ into the work place. Inasmuch as she needs more encouragement than anyone else in the world right now, patients needed to be seen and encouraged, that’s her duty and it must be discharged with utmost efficiency.
“Doctor, my lower back aches. I …”
The door flipped open and everyone’s eyes went in that direction immediately.
“Oh! I’m sorry. Didn’t know she was already with the doctor.” The elderly man at the door told the medical student who posed a little resistance to his entering.
“Who are you looking for, sir?” Grace heard the student ask.
“That’s my girlfriend in there…” the man said, forcing his way in.
Grace stared as the patient before her leaped up in pure joy. “Please let him in… that’s my boyfriend…” Her thin voice called out.
The man staggered into the middle of the room. “Yes. I have to see the doctor with her. Wherever she goes, I follow. She’s been my girlfriend for 50years and we are inseperable!”
Alarm rang in Grace’s head. “50 what??”
Now, concentrate, she told her head.
“So you still love her up till now?” One of her residents asked the elderly man this question.
For all Grace Philips cared about, this would be termed a right question asked at the wrong time. This is clinic, not a love show.
“I love her newly every day.” The man said, holding up his wife’s hand. “You see that I’m still a fine boy at 77? This woman keeps me going!”
“Wow!”, “awwwn!” rang in the air as the man kept raining more and more accolades on the wife of his youth.
Grace was fixed in a tight corner. No seat had been hotter than the one she’s on. How could she give up on finding love when fifty years later, these lovebirds are still very much in love?
“OK… everyone…” she calmed the elated atmosphere. She needed to finish up. Patients are waiting. “So madam, you said your lower…” she continued.
The other part of her ear could hear the students and her residents murmuring. They must really be interested in the love story and most likely seeing her now as someone with gross hatred for love.
“That’s not true, c’mon!” She almost spilled out her thoughts. “I love love. I love to be loved. I love to love someone with all of me, all I’ve got. My not being in a relationship at this stage is because I haven’t found him yet. I believe one day he will find him and he will be worth this wait. Be it 16, 37 or 50, I’m hopeful that someday, somewhere in this wide world I’ll meet my ‘him’, the one who would make me understand why it didn’t work out with anyone else.”
She made her patient lay down to be examined by one of the students. The woman was so lively and full of life, the type of vitality and refreshment that only being with the right one brings. Some minutes later, she scribbled something on a piece of paper and handed it over to the old lady.
“This is your next appointment, mama! Hopefully, I’ll be the one to see your face the next time!”
The woman collected the paper and turned to Grace. “Hope it’s not in May?” she sounded strict. “Don’t put any appointment for me in May o, because my last boy is getting married that month. He’s 35years old and it’s about time.”
Grace’s countenance fell but she got over it in no time by masking with a sweet smile. 35years is really about time, even for a freaking male! “It’s not May, ma, it’s 3month’s time. My love to the new couple.”
“Oh! They will hear! My regards to your family too.” the woman said excitedly, trying to get herself off the seat. “My oga, let’s go…” she motioned to her husband who jerked and lifted himself up in the same slow fashion though faster than her.
From the door, Grace could hear her talking to one of the residents, “He is my Oga. I learnt a lot under him…” she trudged past the resident and turned to face him again, “…It was with him I learnt how to live with a man.” That said, they walked out hand-in-hand.
It felt gloomy in the consulting room many seconds after the old couple left. Grace Philips had seen patients, a lot of patients in her entire life, right from when she’s been a house officer, but never had one left a lasting impact on her heart as did this adorable couple. She needed to talk about this. Yes, before anything else. Before the next patient. She needed to give her friend a gist.
She stood up from her seat as soon as the thoughts came in.
Walking briskly across the room to the door, “Excuse me guys!” she tapped away on the screen of her iPhone XR as she opened the door leading into the long corridor.
“Oh! I’m sorry!” she apologized to whoever it was she bumped into on the corridor and made to continue when she heard…
OK! She muttered to herself. “Who is delaying my gossip to Gee now?
“Dr Grace…” the voice drew nearer and she had no choice but to turn around to face whoever it was. She wasn’t certain if it was the sunlight or her mood but she was quite sure the face of the man on a dark blue suit didn’t look anything near being familiar.
“Oh, I’m sorry! I’m Ben… Benedict Afang. Sent you a mail 3years ago requesting values from your research on Bios…”
“Oh yeah!” Grace’s memory jolted back and for a minute she forgot what her initial mission outside was. “Yeah! I remember. Consultant Neurosurgeon in Usman Danfodio University at that time?” She raised her left eyebrow, lowering the other one.
“Yeah! You are right.”
Grace’s smiles broadened. Everyone told her she had the loveliest smiles yet. “How about the grant, you got it, right?”
Ben’s face fell. “I didn’t tell you? WHO gave us the grant.”
“Oh my God! Wow. I’m so happy for you, chief. So happy for you.”
“But how was it that I forgot to tell you, knowing that you were very instrumental to that grant?”
Grace chuckled, feeling flattered. “C’mon chief, no worries. I’m glad I could help.”
“Allow me to worry, Dr. Grace.” Ben started, counting his words. “The last part of the project would be carried out here in OAUTHC, so I’ll be in Ile-ife for a while.”
“Awwwn… isn’t that lovely!” Grace couldn’t believe she said that. It’s downright ‘girly’. She can be everything else… not girly. Yuck!!
“Yeah!” Ben responded. Finally, a cunning smile tuck at his lips but didn’t get to his eyes. “So, for not telling you as promptly as I ought to, I owe you an apology.” He started, moving nearer Grace. “How about lunch tomorrow? You are busy and all. I understand if you reschedule.”
Grace didn’t realize how sheepishly she was smiling until she saw the serious look on Ben’s face. Indeed, there’s a child-like part trapped in her adult body. She didn’t even know what to make of Ben’s question. Was it a date request or something? Was it even a question?
“I guess I’ll meet up with you tomorrow lunch time then. Don’t worry about your office address. I know quite a lot about you than you can ever imagine.” He smiled and turned to walk. Then, as though something hit him from the back, he turned sharply to face her again. “And I’m willing to know more. As much as you are willing to let me in on.” Waving her with a smile, he turned and walked down the corridor to the exit door.
Grace took another minute to boot. Then she remembered what had brought her outside in the first place. Her phone was still held tightly in her hand so she took it up and tapped on ‘Gracey’.
As the phone rang, she thought of the best way to begin her gist. She would discuss the lovebird old couple first and then…
“Gee, you won’t believe what just happened now?” she mouthed into the speaker of the phone as she made for the convenience.
Eventually, the two Graces would be sorted out somehow. Time and chance happens to each!
TWO GRACES – GRACE OCHIGBO
Was going to make this a short story initially but I think a series is building up as we speak. Someone, I’m sure, wants to know what Ben and Grace Philips would become. I am curious to know as well.
So series alert. It would begin officially in July!
Just get ready for a blogbuster!
By the way I got inspiration for this story from one of our patients at the clinic yesterday. My colleagues could bet I would write, and I did!!! Lol.
Love you all… always!