TWO GRACES – GRACE OCHIGBO
“I miss you too, daddy!” Hallie pouted while adjusting her head properly to face the camera. “You assured me you were going to come around yourself this time…” she frowned.
Some little distance away, a couple of persons were laughing away. A female student she knew very closely, Margaret, an older man that could pass for her father, another older lady that must be her mother and two other younger boys.
Asking Margaret to sit today was like trying to tell a fire not to burn. Her eyes were alight, her every muscle needed to move, to dance, to laugh loudly, to jump. Everything tickled her as funny and if there was any idea coming from her mouth there were seven more queuing up in her mind. It was the perfect family reunion.
That was how it’s supposed to be.
Visiting days for students in boarding schools were times they craved and looked forward to with gusto. These were the days the school officially let parents and siblings come visiting their wards and spending quality time together.
The only memorable visiting day Hallie had in recent times was over a year ago. Her father drove down in company of his parents – her grandparents – and Mrs. Gina, maids and guards. She became a sight to behold as fellow students took turns to come near her spot just to see the attires her guests came in. She felt so proud of her roots that day.
Her father alone had visited two more times since then and he’d promised he was bringing the entire family again this next time. Not Uncle P.
Never Uncle P at all.
“Smile for daddy, princess!” Her father said with an excited voice. He paused for a while then continued. “Daddy had an emergency business trip, baby girl. You know daddy has to make enough money to meet up with your millions of Naira school fees.”
That made Hallie laugh. They both know that if her father doesn’t work from now forward, her grandfather has more than enough money to take care of them all up to the third generation.
“I long to see you, daddy.” Hallie was adarmant. “Visiting days are for family…”
“Oh oh… I am not family right, Hallie?” Uncle P interrupted.
Hallie rolled her eyeballs. Sometimes one may think she already became an adult before she was given birth to. “Uncle P… you know what I mean.”
The latter shrugged. “Well, I don’t know.”
“It’s okay, you two. You always fight.” Her father called their attention back to the video call.
Hallie used to think Mr. Patrick, shortened as Mr. P. but fondly referred as Uncle P by her, was sharing in the little time her father had to spend with her. Her father was either hanging out with Mr. P. somewhere or they were both working out in his fitness gym.
No one would replace her father, no matter how close he came.
“Alright, guess who’s here…” He cut in, bringing her attention back again.
“I said guess.” He flashed his beautiful set of teeth at her.
She could care less and only dragged her fruit basket closer. She picked an apple from it and teasingly brought it near Uncle P’s lips before removing it abruptly. She giggled and later started laughing out loudly.
“Daddy, are you going to tell me who it is or not?” she said carelessly amidst her laughter.
“Awwwn… aunty Rhoda!!!!!” She screamed, almost jumping from her seat. She least expected it. She was told her father travelled to the US but didn’t think of the possibility of seeing her favorite aunty turned friend.
There is something so intoxicating about an excited child. As their grin gets wider everyone about them starts to smile – even Uncle P. Suddenly, it’s as if Hallie was bursting with liquid sunshine from within.
“You didn’t talk this excitedly with me o.” Uncle P grumbled.
“Are you my aunty Rhoda?” Hallie rebuffed him and focused on her video call with the woman.
She looked as beautiful as always. Though they spoke often, almost as often as she performs in a dance competition but not video calls. She’s only able to see her once in a while – anytime she makes it for her mother’s annual remembrance service.
Hallie had a lot to talk about but her father was a hindrance. She just shared warm pleasantries, sending regards to her friends, aunty Rhoda’s kids.
“I’ll call you and we’ll talk at a better time, baby. We don’t want daddy sneaking in on us now.” She had an American accent in her tone.
“Ehn ehn! You both gossip behind me, right?”
“It’s none of your business.” Rhoda teased before returning the phone to him.
“This beautiful girl on my screen knows she’s
daddy’s princess, right?”
Hallie nodded like a child spoilt with excess love. “And she loves daddy very much.”
“Daddy loves you too, angel mine.” Her father responded. “Have all the fun you can with your uncle, Okay? Daddy would be there to pick you home at the start of your holidays.”
She let the smile stay on her face like a plaster as she handed the phone over to Uncle P. She’d moved the other items into her hostel room and they’re left with this picnic pack. Her favorite story book sat just beside the fruit basket. Seeing Uncle P was still laughing heartily over the phone, she drew the book nearer. Stuck in between the pages were what she fondly called ‘PFH – photographs from home’. She watched them with admiration colouring her eyes.
She’d missed everyone and for the umpteenth time she wondered why of all places her father chose to bring her over here to school; several miles away from home. She saw one photo and loved it very much. It was her grandmother’s. The aging woman was in the kitchen all by herself and Hallie knew what it meant. If she were to be at home, it’d be the two of them in that kitchen. The older woman liked to show her how to make some very delicious soups cause according to her,
“Men are like babies. They stay where they are readily and best fed. Only the menu they crave for differ per time.”
Sometimes, Hallie felt some of those lessons were beyond her age but who says?
“So where are you going from there.” She overheard her father asking Uncle P.
“I’m going to Ife from here, mehn. Got some couple of stuffs to do there.”
A short minute of silence came from her father’s end before the next question broke it. “Guy, who is in Ife?”
As Dr. Ben moved out of the private ward where his last patient was, he pulled the gloves off his hands like he couldn’t wait another minute to do that. He headed to the wash hand basin and let the cooling effect of water take away the many varied issues on his mind. Like that running tap, Grace had opened up a fiery war with her carelessness. Sometimes he just gets all pissed. Whatever gave her the idea of placing a call beats his imagination till this minute.
Now the deed is done and he must work at clearing the mess.
“Dr. Ben.” A voice jolted him from behind.
He turned to see a young lady smiling from ear to ear at him.
Simi was all shades of gorgeous not only in face but had the right amount of flesh deposited in the right places on her hour-glass body frame.
“I see you’re never to be caught less beautiful, Simi.” He dried his hands with a clean towel as he approached where she stood in her sparkling white nursing uniform.
The smile on Simi’s face seem to broaden. Dr Ben always had that charming effect on her… on everybody for that matter.
“So you’re yet to give the birthday bash idea a second thought?” he said, giving a considerable space between them. The hospital wardroom was nowhere to flirt with a girl but Ben would ever be Ben.
“I told you my birthday was January, sir!”
“Ben!” he corrected.
Simi scoffed. “Okay sir.”
He spread his lips into his best smile yet. “I know it was January. I want to give you my own treat to make up for my absence.”
“Absence?” Simi sounded confused. “I didn’t even know you then.”
He chuckled lightly, placing a hand in the trouser of his pocket. “That’s the point. I desire that you know more. We’ve been on this. Please, may I have your phone number now?” he pulled out his mobile phone and was about stretching it out to her when the light came on.
Seeing it was Grace, he dragged the reject button immediately.
“Simi, please not another ‘no’ today. It’s just a phone number.”
“That may be all you need.”
Ben laughed some. “Are you afraid you’ll fall earlier than planned?” he licked the lower part of his lips with his tongue.
Simi looked down. He was getting her uncomfortable. Everything in her wanted to just collect that mobile phone and input her number, her home address if possible. This charming doctor can do no one any harm anyway. She’d made a mental note to check his finger after their very first meeting on the ward and she’d never seen a wedding band anywhere there so it’s safe to accept he’s a bachelor.
“Doctors marry quite late anyway” she’d convinced herself.
Moreover it made no difference if he were ‘very married’ even. He’s aware of his marital status before coming after her this whole time. That’s aside her ideology that the more married and responsible a man was, the more chances he’d take care of a woman – women in this case.
She was about to raise her hand to take the phone he’s still pointing in her direction when the light came on again. She heard Ben groan in frustration and was about to drag the reject button again when he noticed the caller Id was different.
He lifted his first finger, asking her to give him a few seconds as he sluggishly dragged the green button sideways.
“Mr. P!” he stressed the P so much so that it came out like Peeel…
He listened a while before answering. “Guy, chill, no vex. I was attending to my patients.”
Simi raised an eyebrow and he blinked with guilt. She swallowed.
“Jeez! Guy, tell me you’re lying?” Ben’s voice changed into a much more excited one. “You mean you’re in Ife right now? You’re in Lagere?” he motioned something to Simi with his finger and started moving out of the ward as briskly as he can.
Simi stood there for a while feeling like a piece of thrash. He couldn’t imagine Ben had just walked away from her. Taking deep calming breaths, she decided to go back to her seat in the nurses’ bay at the entrance of the ward.
He would meet her when he returned.
Ben jumped up reflexively in excitement before he remembered he was still around his department and of course, that he was a doctor – a consultant.
“God punish you, Mr. P.” Ben jeered amidst loud laughter. “See, just stay where you are, I am on my way to pick you.” He pressed the remote of his car and it blinked. “You know I hate surprises but of course, you must look for trouble first.”
He waited for a response and that seem to be very amusing because he couldn’t stop himself from laughing. “Guy, abeg I de come.” He ended the call before settling into his car.
After strapping the seatbelt, he zoomed out of the parking area.
Grace’s countenance fell as the phone number that rang a seconds ago now beeped ‘line busy’ continuously. It’s been this way since yesterday. Ben wasn’t picking up her call neither was he responding to the train of messages she’d bombarded his phone with in the last twenty-four hours. It shattered her mind, making her lose concentration.
“Did you hear me?”
She jerked as Dr. Akintan called out to her.
“Uhm huh?” she tried not to show how lost she was. “Ehen… you said my Prof wanted us to review the patient together?”
Dr. Akintan frowned. “I said Prof himself wants to be there during this surgery.”
Grace blinked her eyebrows. “Thought you said he travelled?”
The look on Dr. Akintan’s face would have gunned her down if eyes carried guns. “Are you listening to me at all, Dr. Philips?”
She felt gross provocation in his voice and knew she must tread with caution at this point. If not for the mutual respect that came with work, he would chop off her head if given a knife. He hated her that much. Or, so she thought.
“Sorry sir.” She sat up on her seat, readjusting the length of her dress as though he could see it. She flashed a beautiful apologetic smile at him, “I am listening now.”
“Prof travelled two days ago, yes. But he’s returning…” he checked his wristwatch. “That’s if he’s not already in town. But that’s aside the point.”
Curiosity arose in Grace Philips’ blank face.
“We’re to review the patient and see when it’s best to fix the surgery. Whatever we do, bearing in mind that Prof must be in the theatre with us that day.”
“Oh. Good!” Grace Philips said this like it meant ‘details taken, let’s move to other pressing matters.’
Dr Akintan rose to his feet. “Well, I’ll be going to the ward to check the patient now. You may review yours when you’re chanced. Neurosurgery ward. Every bird there is aware of this patient’s case.”
“Alright.” Grace responded, pulling her tablets nearer. She hoped Ben would send a message, even if it’s an “okay!”
People fight, right?
People get mad for several reasons but this absolute cut out is what she’s not used to. She held her tablet, her heart wishing a text message could just drop in. Then, suddenly, it clicked in her head. Thankfully, Dr. Akintan was still just at her door.
“You said neurosurgery? Patient is in neurosurgery?”
Shock and surprise coloured the man initially but he could care less. “Yes. Why?”
Grace Philips sprang onto her feet, pulling her stethoscope alongside. She walked briskly from behind her table in the direction of the door. “Let’s go. We’d go together.”
They were in neurosurgery department at the drop of a hat. Grace heard her heart tumbling within her. If she was doing the right thing or not, she couldn’t tell. She wants to see Ben, no doubt. She needed to explain herself to him even when ideally it should be the other way round but…
She followed closely behind Dr. Akintan as they both approached the nurses.
“Good afternoon, Matron!” he greeted respectfully to save his life.
The other woman spread her lips into a beautiful smile as she waited for him to continue.
“We’re from Pediatric surge…”
“I know, sir.” The woman responded, pointing to Dr. Philips.
Grace, still in her thoughts, noticed the two turning to look at her and wondered.
“Oh. I was saying I know what department you’re from.” The woman said and that eased Grace’s tension.
Her eyes were darting from one corner to another on the ward. She imagined what she’d do if Ben just walked out of that passageway adjoining this reception.
“Nurse Olagunju…” The matron called a younger female nurse. “Lead them to Baby Micheal’s bed.”
They thanked her and followed the nurse Grace Philips considered to be really cute. A pang of jealousy coursed down her spine. This girl was always in Ben’s face?
“Excuse me…” she called out, seeing they had moved through almost the entire ward and no sign of a doctor anywhere let alone Ben. “Sorry, what’s your name?”
The younger lady looked surprised at first but answered anyway. “Simi. Simisola Olagunju.”
Grace nodded with a weary smile on her face. “How long have you been in this department?” seeing that question wasn’t necessary, she continued quickly before she could respond. “Do you know Dr. Ben Afang?”
She thought she saw spite on the younger lady’s face but cautioned herself. She was probably overthinking facial expressions.
“Yes, Ma. He’s one of our Consultants here.” Obviously, she almost added
Dr. Akintan could care less about the conversation between the two ladies. Ladies always had a meeting point regardless of their difference in age and status – men. All ladies act the same where a man is involved and the patient they’d come to see was more important to him than anyone else at the moment.
Grace Philips walked ahead, trying so hard to subdue her next question in vain. “Is he on the ward?”
Simi’s eyeballs pop open. The question just reminded her of how Dr. Ben left her standing right there when he walked out on a call and never returned. She reflexively glanced at her watch.
“He’s been out for over an hour now, Ma’am.”
Grace Philips swallowed against a tightening on her chest. They were in front of the patient now. Time to leave being Grace Philips to Doctor Philips.
She took the day off after they returned from neurosurgery department. Dr. Akintan talked about how they needed to compare their review notes and possibly shrink it into one. Their professor doesn’t like long cases. Grace knew that and one other thing she knew of a surety was that, staying back in the hospital will only amount to her wasting what’s left of the day.
She had so much work to do on her laptop – from finishing and getting her new paper ready for proofreading by Prof on his return, to sorting some data she’d gotten from the community medicine project of the final year medical students, to setting multiple choice questions for their exam due in a matter of days, to finishing the remaining sixty pages of her ‘book for the month’, to a thousand and one other things. But she couldn’t concentrate let alone get her mind to do anything.
“I am having a resounding headache and need to go catch some rest at home, Dr. Akintan. Kindly go ahead with your idea. I’ll meet up.”
She knew she was aggravating the man but her hands were tied.
Wale Martins met her at the parking lot and she dismissed him in a manner she admit was the most insensitive in all these months of relating with him.
Ben was making her a monster by the day and that scared the living daylight out of her.
As she drove out of the hospital, she remembered he liked cakes. Unlike most humans who had specific flavours of cakes, Ben just loved anything cake and that was for the most part, amazing to Grace. She got one from country kitchen, that’s been their regular hangout eatery from the beginning. She couldn’t deal with the state her heart was. One moment it was calm like a rested soil and another unsettled like an ocean thrown into chaos. In all of it, a strong urge to apologize kept reoccurring.
What exactly would she be apologizing for?
‘Perhaps for touching his phone without permission’, she convinced herself against her insides screaming loudly at her.
As always, a part of her wasn’t sure she was doing the right thing. It’s been like this even before now. She killed the engine of her car a few distance away from Ben’s apartment. She heard her heart beat as she opened the back door and picked the paper box in which the cake was packed.
She was coming in peace.
Her heart had known no peace since this tension started and she wanted her peace back at all cost.
Tiptoeing into the compound, she was careful not to call undue attention to herself. She got to the door and paused. She heard two clear loud voices from the living room.
Perhaps she should turn back now but she was Grace Philips.
She had come too far to leave off now.
She dropped the box and pulled her phone from her purse.
“Na she de call me now!” she heard Ben say from inside.
“Guy, pick her call na.” the other person pleaded. A little silence and her phone began to beep ‘line busy’. The next thing she heard was “Bad guy!” and a loud burst of laughter.
Pain engulfed every single fibre in Grace’s body and she pushed herself forward nearer the door. A drop of tear slid down her cheeks and she wiped it quickly. With the last energy in her, she tapped on the door. The laughter mellowed down a bit, as if to be sure of what they heard. She tapped louder now and heard footsteps behind the door.
The door flew open and Grace stood there frozen as she watched in awe at his expression. She saw nothing short of disgust on his face, almost hatred, as his face reddened with anger. Her legs refused to move.
“What do you want?”
His thundering voice jerked her backwards and brought the other person in the room to the door.
“I ehm… I… Ben… I can explain.” Grace stuttered.
“Keep your explanation to yourself, woman.” Ben flared up, his eyes spitting fire. “You should have explained before placing that call. How insensitive and selfish you are? Hope you’re satisfied now?”
Grace was mortified, frozen to the spot. She felt traumatized. She couldn’t believe it had happened, and in front of his visitor too.
“Guy, you have to…”
Ben rose his hand. “Mr. P, please stay out of this.”
The man swallowed and only looked on. Tears were falling down Grace’s face now. She wanted to say something but the words were stuck in her throat.
Ben noticed the paper box. “Oh! You brought me a gift? Oh how sweet of you.” He laughed.
Grace stood, soaking in the cruel laughter, her head spinning even more.
“You must think you have me wrapped in between your fingers as you do other men, huh? You buy them off, and make them do your biding and your bidding alone.” He shushed her as soon as he saw her lips move. “Well, you have the wrong person, woman. The very wrong candidate.”
He walked to come stand a breath away from her. “Now get out of my house before I break your face.”
“Oh no. Get a grip on yourself, guy! It hasn’t gotten to this.” Mr. P groaned, coming to yank Ben away from the position.
“I told you to stay out of this, Patrick!” Ben’s voice was now a threat.
“I won’t let you lay your filthy hands on a woman, dear friend. Not in front of me.” Mr. P grabbed Grace’s shivering body in his arms as he waded Ben off her.
Ben stamped his feet against the floor hard for several minutes. The bowl of anger in him was too hot to sit in quietly. He pushed the door open, stormed into the living room and slammed it hard against their faces.
Mr. P held on tighter to Grace. The lady was a whole mess in his hands and his heart broke for her.
“I apologize on his behalf, please.” He said with a whispering tone, drawing her in for a soothing hug.
To be continued.
Compliments of the season, my dears.