TWO GRACES – SIXTEEN

TWO GRACES – GRACE OCHIGBO

SIXTEEN

              Ethan panted as he ran the short distance from the front door to the car park. Unlike other times when he clung onto the handle of the door on the driver’s side, he moved round back instead. He couldn’t curtail his joy when the door opened. He jumped up with arms widely open and Grace Philips raised him up into her arms immediately.

“See my little man!” she said as she steadied him in her arm.

“Aunty, I miss you!” the tiny innocent voice of the little boy came through her ears like a soothing balm. “You promised you’d come see me often.”

That made Grace Oladele laugh. Maybe they should just gift Grace Philips her son because the little boy seemed to love her much more. She said nothing and watched from a distance as the two loved on each other.

“Promise we’re going to Kiddies center by weekend.” Grace Philips said, afraid she may not be able to fulfil her promise but made it anyway.

Ethan leaped for joy so much so that he almost fell off her hands.

On the other side of the car, Isaac was lifting Omojo from the ground. The girl wasn’t as sharp and energetic as Ethan, making Ethan everyone’s favourite.

“How’s daddy’s Princess?” Isaac planted a soft peck on his daughter’s cheeks but she was more interested in talking to aunty Grace.

“Omojo darling, you look as gorgeous as ever.” Grace Philips touched her face lovingly.

“Welcome Oga, welcome madam, welcome aunty…” Alice greeted as she made her way to the trunk of the car where Grace Oladele stood.

They were soon joined by Isaac who gave Omojo back to her mother before opening the trunk and lifting the bags from it.

             Grace Oladele was about heading out to work earlier this morning when she got the call. Adrenaline flooded her system. It pumped beats like it’s trying to escape. At a point, she thought that her heart would explode and her eyes were wide with fear.  At the door, where she got stuck and couldn’t move an inch any longer was where Isaac caught her.

“What’s the matter, Gray?” he’d asked.

For several minutes, his wife stared back at him as though blood drained from her face. She finally found her voice. “Honey, it is Grace.”

            With the way she sounded, Isaac needed no one to tell him that something had gone wrong. They were in the car to Ibadan at the drop of a hat. Isaac expected to meet a cold-stricken shaking-like-a-chicken-beaten-in-the-rain version of Grace Philips, instead at the arrival terminal, they saw a woman waving at them all smiles. Isaac reflexively glanced over at his wife and she shrugged. These two Graces were not going to kill him.

             Their journey back to Ife was rather a quiet one. Grace Oladele didn’t want to initiate a conversation for some reasons. If what she’d always known about her friend was correct now, she was sure Grace Philips wouldn’t want to talk about whatever made her put a cry for help call across to her just yet.

Now Isaac dragged Grace Philips’ bag on the ground behind him as he approached where they were standing.

“Alice, please take Ethan and Omojo inside.”

Ethan groaned in protest, wriggling himself off Alice as she tried to take him from Grace Philips’ hands.

“I want my aunty.” His high pitched voice cried out
“C’mon!” Grace Oladele raised her voice and Ethan got the message immediately. As much as he didn’t want to go with aunty Alice, his mother had spoken and that was final.

           Isaac and Grace led Grace Philips to the room which had become hers whenever she dropped by. She seemed in a hurry to drop herself onto the bed. And she’d bite the edge of a smile when she got a funny idea in her head, a vain attempt to keep her creeping grin at bay. That action scared her friend. Fear thoughts looped around in Grace Oladele’s mind until there was no room for anything else. She tried to steady herself, impatient at the moment. Was her friend going to tell them what had gone wrong? What could it be? Why was she behaving like she’s out of her mind suddenly?

“Well, my dream man is happily married in real life to the lady he’d called his Ex during one of our conversations. Ben is married, Grace… Isaac… He is…”

Her voice began to crack as her eyes drip with tears. Her walls, the walls that hold her up, made her strong just… collapsed. Moment by moment, they fell. Salty drops fell from her chin, drenching her shirt. Perhaps these tears will help wash the pain out. She pressed her head against the pillow… so innocent… she was anything but innocent. She’s trembling. Grace Oladele hurried towards her, running a finger through her hair. She can’t-can’t stop. Even as she pressed her hand against the pillow it shook, it trembled. It’s raw, everything, raw tears, raw emotions. She can’t stop… She can’t stop.

Why can she not stop crying?

***

            No matter how busy Akoji got, he found his way round back to the gym. It was his own way of relaxing his mind. He would start with the treadmill, running for a minimum of three hours before lifting dumbbells. This was his favorite part as Mr. P wouldn’t let him take in one breath without talking about how weak Akoji was becoming.

“Guy, how many KG and you’re already panting like a deer…” he jeered.

“As the deer panted for the water, so my…” Akoji mimicked Don Moen’s song and they both burst into laughter.

             Patrick had a kind of brutal honesty that tested most friendships, but Akoji appreciated it. They always knew where they stood with each other. Akoji was generous. Generous to a fault even, both with time and possessions. He had asked Mr. P to relocate to Onitsha few years after he left him in Anyigba. They wanted to open a fitness arm of the Ojonoma Theresa Audu Initiative (OTAI). OTAI had come to stay and it was only wise to keep those ladies fit as well. Over the years, Akoji hadn’t moved past the pain of losing the love of his life. Every day he wondered what they’d have been had Noma still been alive. It’s been a little over seven years. They’d have had their two adorable kids, Josh and Grace by now. They’d have travelled round the world together, forgetting anyone ever felt hurt at a time in their lives.

“Mr. P…” Akoji called out after pouring the entire content of a water bottle down his throat. “It’s high time we expanded the attendees to this gym?”

Mr. P. dropped the dumbbells he was lifting and moved over to where Akoji was sitting on a stool. Confusion coloured his eyes. “The gym was opened for the girls in OTAI, considering that physical exercise also gives its own form of healing. So what do you mean?”

Akoji sat quietly for a while, working his finger through his beards. “Like, make it open for non-OTAI girls… that sort of thing…”

The ideas were not so clear in his head yet but he’s convinced that was the way to go.

“Okay?” Mr. P. beckoned on him to shed more light.

“Here…” Akoji sprang up. “I will ask Clinton to help with the fliers. Right from tomorrow, we need to create awareness. We will place the fliers in strategic places; hotels, hospitals; everywhere around Onitsha though. So the gym can be open to anyone who wants to train.”

Mr. P. nodded in the affirmative.

It was a great idea, he thought.

It’s something he’s used to and maybe looked forward to replicating here too once the time was right. His major hindrance had always been one thing,

“Considering OTAI is a charity organization, Ak my guy,” Mr. P. started, finding the most appropriate means to voice out his thoughts. “How do we bill the outsiders coming in for training?”

Akoji leaned backwards. Now, that part, he’d not thought about before now.

***

           The hallway was like something out of the galaxies. Everything that could shine did shine. There were stainless steel, cracked floors and brightly coloured images were drawn on the walls. One need not move too far to discover this part of the hospital was for children. Children being managed by adults. Some extremely cheerful and welcoming like Grace Philips, others looking mean and uncheerful like Dr. Akintan.

             With a ward coat that merely escaped his knees, he walked slowly down the hallway side to side Dr. Pelumi. They were through with rounds for this morning and it may just be a good time for some chit-chat. They talked about the ordeals in the hospital in recent times. Professor’s death dealt a huge blow on so many people, them inclusive, but work must go on right? Life had to go on.

“What I don’t understand is how Dr. Philips is behaving lately.” Dr. Akintan started. He never really liked the lady. He considered her too ambitious and high-flying for a woman.

“I guess she’s just too pained by the demise of prof.”

“We all are, Pelumi.” Akintan cut in before he could finish. “I, for one, was the person communicating with Prof up till when he took off. I was the one that related the assignment he gave to Grace. So why is she acting as though she’s the only that knows Prof?” he stated bitterness in his mouth.

Dr. Pelumi shrugged. “Guess we all have our diverse ways of dealing with pain.”

“Nonsense. Nonsense.” Dr. Akintan’s voice was rising until they noticed someone walk in on them.

“Good afternoon, sir.” They greeted hurriedly.

The man, who should be in his early seventies looked at them with disdain.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen Philips anywhere in this department for some time now” he went on to ask, ignoring their greetings.

Dr. Akintan gave his colleague a knowing look before facing the oldest professor in the department. He thought about defending Grace but he was never going to do that. Never.

“Perhaps she’s on leave, sir.” Was all he managed to say.

“Leave?” the professor couldn’t believe his ears. “At this critical time in the department? She’s our best hand and can’t be on leave now.”

Dr. Akintan felt a flush of anger mixed with jealousy pass through him.

How was Grace even their best hand where he’s standing?

“Please get across and ask her to see me immediately.” The professor brought him back from his thoughts. “As soon as possible, please.”
“Yes sir.” They echoed at the same time.

****

           The room seemed to get narrower with every passing minute. She’d cried herself to sleep a while ago in the hands of her friend. Now she felt a sharp headache as she opened her eyes to the loud ringing on her phone. Stretching enough to pick it up, she hit a button and let the call ring out.

She wasn’t going to talk to Dr. Akintan in this state.

Not on her life.

The man never had anything soul lifting to tell her anyway. It was just going to be about a patient dying, about to die or had died. Whatever. It was certainly going to be about work. It’s always been about work. It’s all fun and games at work until one collapses in on herself and dies in front of everyone. She was as guilty as everyone else. Doctors hardly checked on one another. It’s always has to be about work and right now, she wasn’t in the proper frame of mind to see no patient. She’s even more or less a patient at the moment, one in a critical position.

As she closed back her eyes, memories of the shopping mall flashed back in her mind again. Jeez! She’s wounded.

A buzz and her phone began to ring again.

Why didn’t she silence or put the damn gadget off already?

As she made to do that, she saw the caller’s ID on her screen.

“Aunty Grace…” a loud cheerful voice came in through her ears.

She blinked due to the painful headache. “Hey, Tara!” she dragged herself up on the bed.

“Oh sorry, Ma. Did I wake you?”
“Oh no!” she cut in. Rubbing the back of her palm against her swollen face. “How are you, darling?”

“Aunty Grace, you won’t believe it.” Tara let out a sarcastic laughter first before continuing. “Ask me how I got to know that I was dating myself?”

Interesting conversation ensuing, Grace thought.

“Tell me.”

“Remember my MO boyfriend?” she paused. “So as you advised, I decided to guard my emotions, you know? Considering he hadn’t said anything.”

“ehen!” Grace urged on.

“You won’t believe what he said on our last outing.” She didn’t wait for a response. “He jokingly said, ‘hope you’re not turning other guys down because of me o’”

Grace Philips couldn’t believe her ears. “He actually said that?”

Laughter filled the phone from Tara’s side. “That’s how I found out I was dating myself o.”

Grace Philips took in a deep breath. So she couldn’t even give an advice to save herself from the impending claws of Benedict Afang?

                She was grateful she salvaged someone else though because she wouldn’t even wish her enemy half what she’s feeling now. She went on to admonish Tara the more. Emphasizing on the importance of setting motives clear enough where a man and woman’s friendship was concerned. By the time she finished with the call, it was clear how foolish she’d been. She’s been more foolish in the last one year than she’s ever been in her lifetime. She seemed to have let down her guard carelessly, as if that’s not enough, she’d damned all those things she held as guiding principles to her relationship life.

              Thinking about it closely, perhaps she may have been able to detach from Ben earlier if she hadn’t had sex with him. Sex was a strong force. It ties souls of its participants together such that obvious signs are often ignored or watered down. She reckon that God urging us to be sexually pure was like a loving father asking his child to be excellent academically. The benefits to the child outweighs whatever might have been the father’s.

She could have spared herself all these trauma if she’d kept her purity vow to the later. As the painful thoughts drowned her, she heard a tap on her door.

The door flipped open and Grace Oladele walked towards her, face looking morose.

“I am sorry, Gee, I just had to do this.”

Grace Philips gave her a questioning look but she turned and walked out instead. Seconds later, the door opened again. Grace Oladele walked in but this time, closely followed by someone else. 

*****

            The spotlight hit her skin as if it were greeting her eternal inner fire. What others called skinny was simply how Cameron preferred to be. She wasn’t underweight, or at least not by much. Every morning she rose early to jog down by the river, feeling light and energized. In summertime she was a blast of bright colours and in winter she preferred the muted hues – but no matter what she was an almost silent figure moving with ease over the runway. Determination drove her on. Face wiped clean, as if a screen had been pulled down. She knew that somewhere in the midst of the thousands of eyes looking at her, only two were her greatest motivation as she walked.

             Kay couldn’t keep the smile hidden as he watched from his seat. Cameron was always quite the beauty, but seeing all the lights all up on her only reinforced that truth. Her skin shone brightly like bronze, long wisps of umber streaked with highlights of ginger that always seemed to gleam when they captured the light just right. She had the kindest pair of coffee brown eyes trimmed by long gorgeous lashes. Lovely eyes, yet somehow gentle, that always held a tiny warmth within them. Florid cheeks and flawlessly sculpted lips, as if crafted by angels themselves. All these features set together on a delicate almost, angelic face.

It was time, his mind screamed out.

              He took in deep calming breaths as he tapped on the sensor the technician gave him a while ago. True to the man’s words, the entire light in the hall went out at that one tap. Loud exclamations roared everywhere in the room. Cameron had just been halfway down the runway and he imagined how sad she must feel right now. Somewhere in the front, light came off a screen and everyone’s attention turned towards it.

                A typewriter-like pointer typed C.A.M.E.R.O.N. B.R.U.C.E. before a soft slow music started out.

Kay tapped on the sensor again and the lights came back on. This time, he was only few miles away from Cameron, both on the runway. The shock in her eyes was palpable as she stood with feet gummed to the glistering floor.

“Did you know “lovely” is better than “beautiful”?” Kay finally broke the silence as he approached her. “Its dictionary definition is “exquisitely beautiful,” and though I am not one for textbook definitions or overly thought-out things, it still surprises me that not even that is good enough to describe you, Cameron.”

The screen showed alternating photos from their past – their first dates, subsequent outings and hang outs. The audience struggled between concentrating on the screen and what’s happening on the runway.

“You loved me even when I was too distracted to see it,” he closed up the gap between them now and held her gaze firmly. “For all the times I ever made you hurt, I promise I will make you cry happiness.” Cameron’s face brightened at that statement and she bent her head over to face the floor instead. “Cameron, I want to ask you to forgive me for the happy tears I’m going to make you cry henceforth.”

He spread his lips into the beautiful smile that’s always his.

“Cameron…” he took her hands now. “Our past was memorable, can our future be infinite?”

The cheer and applause from the audience roared louder as he pulled a glistering ring from his pocket, stretched it out to Cameron before getting on his left knee.

To be continued.

All of you that did awwwn while Kay was proposing to Cameron, gather here for a selfie. Lol.

3 episodes in a week. Hope I’ve been able to redeem myself?

Have a great weekend ahead.

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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. email; ochigbogracious0@gmail.com

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