TWO GRACES – SEVENTEEN

TWO GRACES – GRACE OCHIGBO

SEVENTEEN

        She wouldn’t have accepted in her wildest imagination that a place like this existed in Ife. Few months ago, she could bet with her next salary that she’d scouted the nooks and cranny of this city – since undergraduate days through housejob and back for residency. Such a long time, right? But here she was completely amazed. When she asked her house officer to get the address from the patient’s file this evening, the description alone sounded funny to her ears.

Bì Mary Onì Pònmò’, what kind of landmark was that.

               In her usual sentimental character, Grace Philips would have concluded a place like that never existed until she got to Mayfair roundabout and asked a bike-man. The man said he knew the place and she asked him to lead her there, riding in front while she followed closely in her car. They had turned into paths and what geographers would term “undulations” several times in this single journey. First, it was climbing up a dust filled mountain before descending into a road that was laden with bumps formed by erosion. Whatever the case, nothing was going to stop her from this mission. She must find them.

                 It was Mummy Oshanisi Grace Oladele brought into the room earlier. As much as Grace Philips hated to be seen in her lowest moments, she strangely felt a sort of covering feather around her as soon as the older woman walked in behind her friend into the room.

“I’m sorry I’ve been missing your calls, Mummy!” Apologies spewed from her lips faster than any courteous greeting whatsoever.

The woman in turn wasn’t even up for any formalities. She gracefully moved over to sit beside Grace Philips.

“Your sister told me everything, dear girl!” she placed her hands on Grace Philips’ shoulders gently. Tears threatened to drop off again but she suppressed it at all cost. “And I know now is not the time for so many words. So I will be brief.” She held Grace Philips chin up until their eyes came in contact. Warmth and pure love gushed from the older woman’s eyes.

“Stop beating yourself up, Grace. You are a work in progress. This means, you get there a little at a time, not all at once.” She paused and continued almost immediately. “I’m sure your greatest pain is how that you still fell into such a trap at this age?”

Grace Philips nodded in the affirmative. How did she not see the warning signs? How?

“You know, mummy, I feel as though God is punishing me.” she bit her lips hard.

Mrs. Oshanisi took in a deep breath and waited. “God is not punishing you, dear daughter. He is not. If anything, He is preparing you. Trust His plans not your pain.” She removed her hand from Grace’s shoulders, stood up and adjusted her dress. “Someday, everything will make perfect sense. So for now, laugh at the confusion, smile through the tears and keep reminding yourself that everything happens for a reason, okay?” She teasingly tapped her cheeks. “I will leave you with God’s promises to you, especially at this time.”

Grace Philips’ eyes broaden, she couldn’t wait to hear it.

“It’s in Isaiah 41:10…” Mrs. Oshanisi started. “God said, don’t be afraid, for I am with you.

Don’t be discouraged for I am your God,

I will strengthen you and help you

I will hold you up by my victorious right hand.”

As she moved towards the door, she stopped few inches short and turned to face Grace Philips,

“You are not going to master the rest of your life in one day. Just relax. Master today, then just keep doing that every day. I’ve never met a strong person with an easy past.”

             The clergy’s words stayed with Grace Philips long after she was long gone. A realization dawned on her in no time. If she wasn’t going to go past this pain and deep cut on her heart, she’s going to have to face it squarely.

And facing it, I will. She affirmed as she tapped the door before her lightly again.

The majestic appearance of the compound depicted not just comfort but affluence. This people surely had a couple money to go round, she thought.

                 The door opened few seconds later. Grace Philips gazed at the woman before her. At her age, she should have a gait wonky with arthritic joints and maybe eyesight failing faster than the country’s security system. Were it not for the lines in her face, she’d think her fifty at the most given her sharp mind and easy motion. It’s her litheness and articulate speech that get you, an echo of youth in someone so old. Right now, Grace Philips wish she could pull away the mask of age to see the person inside, the girl she was all those years ago. When she was ten, twenty, thirty, when she was her age. Then she remembered she doesn’t have to, if she listen to her words and pay attention to her smile, to her eyes, she’s still in there as much as she ever was.

“I was hoping to see you on my next hospital appointment.” The woman’s voice was subtle.

Grace couldn’t believe she still recognized her and as though the woman read her mind,

“Oh! I don’t forget things and faces. That’s part of my selling points to my boyfriend.”

             Grace Philips found herself smiling. Her mind flashed back to that fateful day when this woman walked into her clinic and how that a frail old man followed afterwards introducing himself as her boyfriend. But that was not the striking part for Grace. He said he had been her boyfriend for fifty years and counting.

“By the way, my boyfriend stepped out few minutes before your arrival.” She gave a smile Grace considered mysterious.

“How was your son’s wedding, mama?” Grace thought to lighten the tensed atmosphere in the room a bit. “Remember, you asked me not to give you an appointment in May because of your son’s wedding?”

“Oh! Yes. I remember of course I do. The wedding went very fine. The newest addition to my children is so adorable. My daughter-in-law that is.”

Grace Philips smiled broader.

“You know, she used to have this issue with my son few months into their relationship…”

Grace Philips sat up. Something was about to go down.

“Disagreement, arguments, misunderstanding here and there. At a point, they threatened to leave one another.”

Grace’s eyeballs popped out and the older woman reclined on her seat.

“But there’s this principle I teach every young person I come across. It has helped my relationship with my boyfriend. I mean dating for fifty-one years is no joke.” She let out a soft laugh and Grace did same.

“Remember I use ‘dating’ not ‘married’?”

Grace nodded in the affirmative. She had been wondering too herself.

“That’s because love is not a story with a happy ending. Love is a story with no ending.”

Grace took in a deep breath and listened on.

“So many persons expect love to give to them what they cannot give. I’ll share a simple exercise with you. Do this to evaluate yourself from time to time. Is that okay?”
“Yes mama.” Grace Philips responded.

The woman didn’t even asked what brought her. Experience must have said it all.

“There is a verse of the scripture,” she started, noticing the blank expression on Grace’s face. “I am a Christian, pardon me.” she added

“Oh no, mama” Grace Philips raised her hands in the air. “I am too.”

“Okay! So you must be familiar with 1 Cor 13 verse 3-8 then?” she gave a questioning look and continued almost immediately. “That scripture shows us what love is and should be. But guess what I do?”

Grace Philips urged her to speak on.

“Knowing that to be loved as passionately as I desire, I ought to learn how to love effectively…” she pulled herself up on the sofa. “I replace every single mention of the word ‘love’ there with my name. So, here we go,” she pulled a big bible closer and opened it. Glancing up at Grace with a light smile, she began to read.

“Using the Message translation,

Olajumoke never gives up

Olajumoke cares more for others than for self,

Olajumoke doesn’t want what she doesn’t have

Olajumoket doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head

Olajumoke doesn’t force herself on others

Olajumoke isn’t always “me first”

Olajumoke doesn’t fly off the handle

Olajumoke doesn’t keep score of the sins of others

Olajumoke doesn’t revel when others grovel

Olajumoke takes pleasure in the flowering of truth

Olajumoke puts up with anything

Olajumoke trusts God always

Olajumoke always looks for the best,

Olajumoke never looks back but keeps going to the end.”

Grace Philips took in a deep breath as Mama dropped the bible and sat up straighter.

“So I opened a journal where I write these things out and tick yes, partially or no against each point. I pay attention to any of the characteristics of love that is not inherent in me up to that point, and starts making conscious efforts to put it in place by the help of God.” She took Grace’s hand in hers.

“Once you’re satisfied with your grade on this score sheet then you have the ability to love effectively and your partner is left with no other choice than to love you passionately in return.”

              Grace Philips drove out of that place feeling like a heavy weight had been lifted off her heart. She couldn’t wait to get back in and do her own love assessment. She’d lived for so long enough and never known or thought about this?

Incredible.

As she drove on the express now, she wished her bedroom was in the next street. She pulled over at the parking lot beside her house in no distant time. Armours enough to fight all her devils for a lifetime had just been handed over to her by the words of those two older women. It was time to find blessing in everything, knowing very well that this too shall pass.

“Welcome madam.”

Mrs Jesse’s greetings almost made her tipple over. She didn’t think the woman would still be around by now.

“I am sorry, I just felt I should wait for your arrival.” Mrs Jesse said. “I haven’t really seen you in a long time, dear daughter.”

Grace Philips almost rolled her eyes.

You’re my housekeeper not my mother

“Yeah. I have been somewhat busy lately. I lost a father figure.” Was what she eventually said. It was very safe to hide all her pains behind Prof’s death. That’s more relatable to everyone else. “How are you, Lara and the family?”
“The good lord is taking care of us all.” Mrs. Jesse answered and continued immediately. “How are you, Dr. Grace?”

Grace glanced at herself quickly to be sure if she looked that obvious.

“I am fine. Just having a rough time. All will be well.” She started walking towards the bedroom as she said this. She’d had counsel from mothers enough to ruminate for a week. She wasn’t about to add Mrs. Jesse’s.

“Take this for your transport.” She came out with an envelope which she pushed into Mrs. Jesse’s reluctant hands. “Tell Lara I will see her soon enough.”

Mrs. Jesse started her usual unending rain of prayers on her and she said ‘Amen’ to as many as she can.

“Good night, Ma!” she politely dismissed her.

The house in the past week was a dreadful zone for her. She feared being left alone but after all that’s happened today, she looked forward to being left alone. She needed that ME time that Ben’s distractions had taken away from her over the months

              Only the bedside lamp was on in the bedroom and she collapsed onto the bed holding her phone. Several calls. Several messages and notifications from WhatsApp. All those were not important now. It was time to think. Then, a beep on her phone brought her attention there.

Over two-hundred messages from a particular group page that virtually nothing ever happens there?

 It was her undergraduate class page.

 A certain member of their class wanted an avenue for reunion and created the group page but everyone seemed to have become so choked with life’s issues that the group is more or less always silent. These number of messages from there alone meant something, she thought as she unlocked the screen and tapped on it.

“Congratulations”, “Happy for you”, “Finally” and many more followed a video

Eagerly, she waited for the video to download.

Kay was on one knee in front of a white lady with a ring box stretched out towards her. They appear to be on the runway of a fashion exhibition hall. She tapped the volume button to hear the words clearly as the noise in the background wouldn’t let her.

“…Cameron, our past was memorable, can our future be infinite?” she heard Kay ask

              As much as she tried to hold it in, the pain came out like liquid fire from her throat. The beads of water started falling down one after another without no plan to stop. She hit the wall and tried to scream but no… this pain was not going to drown her again. Not anymore. She picked the phone back up and tried to find Kay. She’d deleted his number and cleared all their chats. She checked through the contacts on the group page one after the other.

122 contacts.

The moment she found Kay’s number, she tapped on it and his personal page opened up on her screen. Like a loud thunder, the words of her late father came back to her. The man always referred her back to an adage in Igala language. She couldn’t remember the adage, sure, but she remembered the translation.

“A child who has two mothers has great chances of remaining hungry.”

She’d asked what that statement meant before because logically, one with two should have more opportunities and chances.

“No, dear girl.” Her father had told her. “When the people in his first mother’s house are eating, he would still be relaxed, planning to go eat at his second mother’s. Unfortunately, on arrival, he’s told food has finished and by the time he would return to his first mother’s, food might also have as well finished.”

The moral of the story as the late general said was, “Let your eyes be single in life, dear girl. If you are sure of something, go for it, don’t keep people on the reserve seat. For when your eyes be single, then shall your body be full of light.”

More tears gushed down her face. Her mother had told her something in this line when she visited the last time.

How had her life turned from a beautiful edifice to a total mess in less than one year?

She glanced at the screen of her phone again and with the last energy left in her she typed, “CONGRATULATIONS dear Kay. It’s finally Cameron isn’t it? It has to be her. I’m happy for you.”

She put the phone off and threw it onto the other side of the bed.

Her mother mentioned one prophecy about her finding her husband this year or never. Not as though she believed it but when Ben came by, she thought, oh well, perhaps the husband has finally come. Now, the year was almost coming to an end. Ben is happily married with a kid. Kay just got engaged to Cameron. She has become like that child with two mothers. She has lost it all.

                 A lone tear traced down her cheek, and just like that, the floodgates opened again. She wept, tears streaming from dark eyes, loud, heaving sobs tearing from her throat, and still she did not look away from the ceiling. Not until the sobs drove her to her knees did her determined gaze fall.

“God, over this matter, I’ve run out on myself. Please help me.” she mumbled her most heartfelt prayer yet.

****

“I am certain the Olu of Ibadan would do greatly as the royal father of that day.”

“Gbenga is my very beloved friend.” His father’s boisterous voice came out loudly. “If my health didn’t ground me to this bed, it would have been a pleasure to tour his massive palace once again. At least before I join my ancestor…”

“Father!” Akoji cut in. “I’ve told you times without number to stop talking about death. You’re not joining any ancestors anytime soon.”

A cracked laugh broke out of the older man’s throat. The pure golden coverings of almost all the items in this room, from bed to wardrobes and cabinet made the room glow as the light hit it just right.

“They say a man who lives fully is not afraid of death, Nwanna.” He tried to sit up but fell back tiredly and Akoji hurried over to steady his head onto the pillow. “I have not seen a mirror in days, but I know how many pounds have gone off my reservoir, I know how sunken my eyes must be. But amidst that, I am a very happy and fulfilled man. Who wouldn’t be fulfilled watching his first son handle the kingdom like a real man should.”

Akoji felt flattered some but didn’t let the smile linger.

“I thank the Lord everyday for giving me such a wise son. You have done ten times more than I ever did at your age.”

“It’s service to my people, father, to which I’m called and have been fortified to do.”

“You have my blessings now and even in death, son. Under your reign, this kingdom shall know no limitation.”

“Amen, Father.” Akoji bent courteously. “And you shall also live to watch me reign for a longer time.”

Igwe Mbah Callistus smiled roguishly. “Amen. But you…”

A gently push on the door interrupted him. Beatrice walked in with the graceful moves of a beautiful queen mother.

“That’s my most treasured blessing coming on two legs.” Igwe Callistus said, motioning to his wife as she drew nearer.

“What are you talking about this time, dear husband?” Beatrice took her seat in front of him, and adjusted the neck of his robe.

Akoji never saw that. Women pay more attention to details, surely.

“Sometimes, I can’t get over the blessing of the Lord. What could I have done without you, my Queen?”

“Taken a well-deserved morning rest.”

They all burst into laughter.

“Of course, I will rest. My son is about to go on his yearly courtesy visit to royal fathers in the country in preparation for our biggest event in the state. We needed this conversation.”

Beatrice nodded in the affirmative. Her husband liked to explain himself a lot. She tuned to Akoji,

“I thought you have only SouthWest left?” she queried.

Akoji nodded. “Yes mother. The places that may take time are with the Olu Ibadan, Oba of Lagos and Ooni of Ife. If not, by and large, I should be back within a week.”

“And Hallie?”

A bright smile appeared on Akoji’s face. “Yes. The royal entourage and I will go pick her from school on our way back home. That was her wish when we spoke sometimes ago and I intend to surprise her.”

Beatrice stood up, “the way you love on your daughter, ehn? Sometimes, I wish we could exchange roles.”

Akoji broke into a loud laughter now and the Igwe laughed too. “You know I love you more, mother.”

Beatrice scoffed jokingly. “You can say that again.” She drew nearer him. “Alright it’s time to go. I don’t want you getting into those cities late in the night.”

Akoji couldn’t believe that with all the security personnel that would accompany him on this tour, his mother still worried about late nights. One would forever be a child before his mother though.

Igwe Callistus Mbah showered blessings on him as he knelt. In no time, his mother was hurrying him out of the inner chamber and the palace at large.

Outside, everything was set as expected. Clinton and Mr. P. approached him as soon as he stepped out in his royal apparel followed closely by his mother.

“Mr. P, no one told me you were around.”

“You were busy with pops, man. Plus I was getting updates from Clinton.”

Akoji seemed to remember something as he motioned to his younger brother. “Oh yea. So what’s the update now?”

“Same things, bro. Mr. P. and I will go to the office from here to check some of the fliers we made. In less than two days, the distributions should have been done and dusted.”

“Good guys. This gym expansion would be a big break for OTAI, trust me when I say that. And…”

“Akoji, please get into that car” his mother’s voice came loud from behind him. He had forgotten the woman was there.

“Mother?”
“You can continue your discussion over the phone.” She retorted, pushing him lovingly towards the limousine whose door was already opened and manned by a soldier.

            Clinton and Mr. P could not contain their laughter. Lolo would forever be dramatic. She’s mother hen over everybody including her own husband. And that’s why they all love her. They watched as the cars moved past the giant gate. Mr. P. would miss Akoji for the week or weeks he would be away. Thankfully, he had been given some assignments to preoccupy his mind with. He would get right to it at once. He must impress his friend on his return.

***

                 She knew heads turned in her direction as she passed but what could she care right now? Unlike other persons, Grace Philips gains weight when she’s depressed. She eats a lot, anything and everything. She loses the will to do her routine exercise and in less than a week, she’d bloated to look like a round ball right now, or so she thought. The maxi dress should hid her for the time she needed to be here. It was her first time of wearing a casual dress to her work place ever, but there would always be a first time for everything, right?

                     Dr. Akintan, haven called her to no avail yesterday, left a message for her. It was more or less a summon, saying something about Prof. Esan asking her to return to duty immediately.

                She kept her gaze fixed as she walked into Prof. Esan’s office. The way the man received her cheerfully didn’t correlate with the tone in which the message from him was supposedly delivered.

“I learnt you have been away for a while, Philips.” Prof Esan started. “But then I remembered you’d not taken your leave in two years. So if now is when you think is right, then no problem.”

“Thank you, Prof sir. I really need this time off.”

Prof Esan smiled. “You are a very diligent doctor, Philips. So it’s understandable if you need some time. Akintan and Pelumi should do well while you are away.” He said and replaced his glasses. “Please take all the time you can to rest, young woman. And return to us refreshed, not so?” he flashed a dismissive smile at her.

Grace Philips rose to her feet. “Thank you, Prof sir.”

               She walked out of Prof’s office and headed for hers. There may be a thing or two to pick up in there. She wasn’t sure what she would be doing with herself for the next few weeks of not having to report to work first thing in the morning. Her work appeared to be her first love because under its blanket she’d been able to cover the pressure that came with being successful and unmarried in the Nigerian society.

                 Just a little distance from her door, she spotted Dr. Akintan chatting away with two other doctors on the adjoining corridor. She paused to think for a while before deciding on the next thing to do.

“Henceforth…” she broke their attention and the three men turned to stare at her like they just saw a white ghost. “I wouldn’t entertain you or anyone at all calling me continuously on my mobile.” She pointed her first finger at Dr. Akintan. “Whatever the information, kindly leave a text message. And perhaps you should take tutorials from your mates on how to send a text to your senior colleagues. Chief. I am your chief in this facility, and I would love our relationship to stay that way, henceforth.”

She turned and walked away leaving him standing on one spot with his mouth opened. He had pushed her to the wall severally and it was high time she gave him a piece of her mind. Victorious, she opened the door of her office and slid in like a thief.

**** 

Alice brought the phone to her madam.

“You no de ever pick your call on first ring, abi?”
“No vex, abeg.” Grace Oladele apologized. Sitting straighter on her reading table. “I have a presentation tomorrow morning. I didn’t want distraction.”

Grace Philips scoffed. They used to be the adventurous TWO GRACES. How had life happened so fast?

“How is my love, Ethan?”

               Grace Philips’ voice sounded quite excited again after all these times. She seemed to have found and unlocked the code to true joy. She’d woken up sometimes over the night to do the love assessment taught by Mama Olajumoke. She may not have gotten a pass in all the keys but definitely got above average. That gave her a beam of hope. Soon, if she worked on her weak points, she would be able to love effectively and be loved passionately in return.

                 Now that her leave has officially started, she had a to-do list. Omolara, Mrs. Jesse’s daughter would come over first thing in the morning. It was time for a total wardrobe overhaul. The younger lady can pick as many things as she deem fit because the shopping side of Grace Philips was going to be let lose soon enough. Shopping was her hobby and considering the state she was emotionally, indulging her hobby wouldn’t be a bad idea now.

“Wanted to ask if you’d be available to travel with me for at least a week long but guess you already gave the answer before my question.”

Grace Oladele chuckled. “It’s a whole different ballgame on this side, sis. A whole different ballgame.”

Grace Philips nodded. Indeed. “So I think I want to actualize that my long time fantasy.”

“Shopping in Nigerian mega markets?”

“Yes!” Grace Philips exclaimed with excitement. “I want to support Nigerian made goods.”

“Like designer clothes and shoes made in Aba, right?”

Grace Philips laughed at her friend’s jeer. “Whatever. I discovered these very big markets in Nigeria with high quality affordable goods, babe. There is balogun market in Lagos, I think there’s one in Onitsha, I can’t remember the name now. There’s Wuse Market in Abuja, Ariaria Int’l Market, Aba. I’m sure there are more.”

“So which one are you going to? Or, let me ask it this way,” Grace Oladele paused before continuing. “Where are you starting from?”

“Abuja should do. I would be on my way in the morning. I’m traveling by road.”

“Road? Babe, you legit dread road travels.”

Grace Philips laughed out loud now. “It’s time to face my fears, baby girl!”

To be continued.

Hello, my people.

How una de?

Please comment and share freely.

Thank you!

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About Grace Ochigbo

Grace Ochigbo
Grace Ochigbo is a Christian, storyteller, inspirational speaker and the Founder of Gemstone Sickle Cell Aid Team, a non-profit organizations working to end Sickle Cell Disease. IG; graceochigbo Tweeter; graciouselara email; gemstonescat@gmail.com

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3 comments

  1. Avatar

    Great work! I hope she will meet Akoji in the next episode…

  2. Avatar

    Oh wow…

    My thoughts too. Akoji all the way.

    Kudos ma’am.

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