PLEASE MARRY ME – GRACE OCHIGBO
My life turned for the best after Mrs. Ogobia took me to Mrs. Ocheme’s house. The latter was very warm towards me. She said to call her ‘mum’ and not ‘madam’. She told me she wanted me to become the daughter she never had. By my first week, she’d overhauled my entire wardrobe. She bought me things that I could only dream of having at the time – turkey dresses and designer high-heeled shoes I was forced to learn how to walk in at all cost.
‘Because, no one goes with mum for church services in anything less than adorable outfits and shoes.’
Mrs. Ocheme was quite the fashionist. She’s never to be found without her nails properly done and her facial make-up on fleek every single moment of the day, including late at night. She is arguably the only prim-and-proper woman with a very kind heart. When she inquired about my parents, I confided in her that I had been orphaned at age two and since been moving from one home to another. She immediately made a promise to me.
“Look, Victory, I am going to try my best to show you the love of a mother that you never enjoyed. I know I have my own shortcomings here and there, but you’re just about to be pampered for real.” She said one evening as we made dinner.
True to her words, she ‘pampered’ me, for lack of a better word. I followed mum to all her big events and she never hesitated to introduce me as her daughter. High profile women in the city drew me in for hugs, gifted me monies and items just because of my association with Mrs. Ocheme.
However, reality dawned on me when her only son arrived home from the university. The young man didn’t spare any word in showing me my real place in the house. Regardless of his mother’s disapproval of how he treated and spoke to me, he paid not the slightest attention. He laid down rules which were pretty clear and spelt out in his facial expression the few times I run into him in the house.
One, avoid me
Two, avoid me completely.
Three, avoid me completely forever.
At a point, I began to wonder what the young man saw in me that made him detest and despise me so much. Perhaps, that was what my uncle’s wife saw in me as well.
Mrs. Ocheme always encouraged me. She told me to ignore her son’s ill behaviour that he was having a hard time with the idea of sharing his space in her heart with someone else. She promised me the young man will come around sooner or later as though it was up to her to make him.
Watching the stars had been a hobby I picked up from childhood. I loved the shapes and sizes of the stars as they take their distinct places in the long stretch of sky above our heads. Whenever I was done with dinner and cleaning up the kitchen, I walked out of the house, to a place where two seats were placed underneath the open sky just to watch the stars. I was doing this one evening when Mum’s son found me. It was as if the ground should open and swallow me up. His presence in the house alone usually placed me in perpetual dread let alone being in the same space with him.
I jumped up instantly and fumbled with my slippers in my bid to hurry back into the house but to my greatest surprise, he stopped me in my tracks, asked me to sit back and for the first time since we met, we had a conversation.
He was a bit hesitant at first but finally began asking about school and what I wanted to do. Somehow, I found myself talking about the stars, about Andromeda and about galaxies. I told him I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do later in life but I was excited about a deep conviction that the God of a trillion stars knew my name and had a perfect future prepared just for me.
That conversation must have changed his perspective of me because the next morning, he found me in the kitchen and asked,
“What’s for breakfast?”
“Tea and bread toasts, sir.” I answered eagerly.
“Ayegba.” He corrected, flashed a smile at me and offered to assist.
I tried to stop him but he overpowered me. I watched him get the loaf of bread from the fridge and put some into the toaster after I’d creamed and added the sandwich materials.
“How do you find Kingdom Heritage Model School?” He asked as we waited for the toaster to finish its assignment.
I was still very uncomfortable with his presence and so I stammered my response. He simply smiled before talking,
“You know when you put your studies first and willing to work hard,”
“Good things happen.” I echoed aloud and we burst into laughter.
“Mum must have deafened you with this line too, huh?” He asked.
I nodded my head in the affirmative. “How did you know?” I asked, really curious.
He looked at me like a cockroach is eating up my ears. “For real? Mum sounded that line in my ears every day in secondary school. I would have been screwed if I didn’t come out as the best graduating student.”
Mum was a woman of order and principles. Just learn to abide by those and you’d be her favourite for a long time.
My teachers still made examples of mum’s son in school. They said if I claim to be Mrs. Ocheme’s daughter then my grades must reflect that. That I should take cue from my elder brother, Ayegba.
“I want to be the best graduating student like you too, Sir.” I said.
“Ayegba.” He corrected again.
“Okay sir. I want to be like you too, Sir Ayegba.”
He looked at me, shook his head and began to laugh out loud.
The loud sound from the toaster drew our attentions and we rushed towards it. We finished the rest of the breakfast preparation in silence but Ayegba and I grew closer and closer every day. Whenever I was sent to the grocery store with the driver, he opted to drive me instead. We talked about things, places and somehow we got right back to talking about the stars. That topic seemed to fascinate him a lot. He told me about university and how that life in Benin was extremely different from the one in Ankpa.
While at home some days later, he brought a neatly wrapped heavy carton to my door and asked me to open it. My jaw nearly dropped after I did. He’d packed all the textbooks and notebooks he used in secondary school for me to use as reference. I was super grateful to have resources to read way ahead of the class and that made me answer questions steadily until I became my teachers’ favourite.
When I told him, he was beyond excited for me.
“That’s the goal, Victory. I want you to shine like the stars you so much love to talk about.” He said.
We laughed and giggled and had fun and more fun and more fun until we became somewhat inseparable – like soul mates. We read each other’s thoughts accurately and guessed our next actions without talking. He taught me how to play video games and even though I always got defeated by him, having him play with me was like a dream come through.
I soon found out he loved to take photos of just about anything he found fascinating with his phone. He said he loved nature. He loved how beautiful a flower could look in the midst of thorns. He let me use his phone to take photos too sometimes. He said my shots appeared better than his, I got angles better and that I was a natural at photography.
The next morning after that conversation, Ayegba brought a small box to me. Mum got me a Nokia 3310 to enable communication between us whenever she’s away. The phone didn’t have a camera. When I opened the box Ayegba gave me, I almost fainted. It was a small camera. Mum got it for him on one of their family vacation trips to the UK during his senior secondary school days. He said he wanted me to have it. He wanted me to photograph whatever fascinated me while he’s away in school.
“You should have over two hundred photos in here by the time I return from school, right?” He asked.
I nodded vigorously. My heart was full with gratitude, and at the same time, the thought of him leaving for school broke every chamber in there.
As though he heard my thoughts, he drew me in for a hug. It was like we had never been apart really as we embraced with such intensity. Our arms clasped around each other as we pressed our chest together, warm tears flowed down my eyes. Neither of us wanted to let go and so we didn’t. He wiped away my tears with his hand and said to me,
“This semester would be short and I’d be back home sooner than you think, Vee.”
VEE! That’s a new and nice way to shorten my name. I loved the way it came out from his mouth.
And still longer we hugged until he was first to pull away.
“What’s your last name?” He asked. The question was absurd in a way.
“Why? So you can Google stalk me?” I spread my lips into a broad laughter.
He smiled too. “No, Vee. I want to know how to save it on my phone.”
I blinked. “Wait… come… look, I am not giving you my phone number.” I jeered.
He shrugged, pointed the phone towards me and urged me on. In few seconds, I snatched the device from his hand and punched a few buttons to enter my number.
He began laughing hysterically as I handed the phone back to him. “I thought you weren’t giving me your number?”
I hit him playfully and he began to run. Taking in calming breaths, I followed at his heels. We ran and giggled round the house like we had not the slightest concern in the world.
I think it’s okay to experience painful sharp pains from time to time. Everyone needs it to become a better pencil. We all make mistakes but that’s why pencils have erasers. We can always make a change. If given the opportunity, I will change everything about my life except one. In all the unexpected turns my life had taken, I never consider my Attah as a mistake. In fact, I don’t know how my life would have been without my sweet little boy in it.
Ayegba refuses to believe mum never knew about my pregnancy. It sounds impossible, I know. There’s a look of pain in his eyes as I try to explain and I wonder why he looks so bitter against mum.
“May I ask for a favour please?” I cut in on his thoughts.
He nods his head without looking at my bloodshot eyes.
“I want to spend the night at my place.”
Ayegba looks at me like he’s not shocked at all by my request. “Do you want me to take you or?”
“No.” I say, standing to my feet.
He rises to his feet too and we lock eyes for a moment. I push my shorter self up to place a peck on his cheeks before turning around to leave. He just stands there, not moving or attempting to stop me as I drive out of the compound.
Tonight is the longest in my life. My mind is hitting every nook and cranny in the world, unable to stay still. I continually wonder what Ayegba was doing at every moment so much so that it made me feel like a wicked person.
Why did I leave him all alone in the house?
‘…but I needed to.’ I try to convince my head. Moreover, I’m sure he understood perfectly.
My thoughts drift to Mona. We had met in the most dramatic way and somehow had grown into an item. Mona loves me very much, that I know. He’s been so real about his feelings for me without hesitating to show it at any single chance he gets. I couldn’t be insensitive to his emotions by accepting his proposal knowing fully well that my heart was with someone else.
Attah, on the other hand, would hate me. He’s always been a curious lad and many times he had the nerves to question the whereabouts of his father but I, somehow, managed to evade the question.
How am I going to face him with the truth now?
I can’t have my son getting so fond of his father and getting hurt when Ayegba leaves town. He isn’t planning on staying, whether he’s told me this or not. I just know it. I feel it in my heart. He has his life away in Lagos, perhaps a wife, a kid or in the very least, a fiancée. A life that doesn’t include Attah and likely never will.
I close the meditation app on my phone and hold down the power button until the device goes off. I am willing to force myself to sleep at all cost. Perhaps in my dreams, I will be able to figure out all this mess.
A loud tap on my door jerks me up from sleep. There’s a continuous pounding on the left side of my head but I ignore it as I make for the door. Sunrays are pushing themselves through the window blinds and the hands of the clock shows twenty two minutes after twelve.
Yeah! I slept way past noon.
To my utter dismay, Ayegba stands smiling back at me as I open the door. I pinch myself to be sure I am not dreaming.
“What are you doing here?” I ask and leave off so he could come in.
He trudges into the sitting room, sweat dropping down his face. “Mehn! I have suffered today.” He says, the smile still firmly glued to his face.
I give him a questioning look as he sinks onto the couch.
“Unsure how to get here, I thought to take a straight bike down instead of driving…” he starts and the curiosity in my eyes urges him on. “I told the man Ojurin and we began a twenty minutes journey only to arrive at a place that was beyond unfamiliar.”
“Ojurin Bodija.” I cut in, trying to correct him. “You should have said Ojurin Bodija. There is another Ojurin in Akobo. Ah. So they took you to Akobo?”
Ayegba hisses tiredly. “You don’t want to hear the ordeal o, Vee. The guy was ‘paraing’ for me. That if I didn’t know where I was going, I shouldn’t waste his time. It was another okada man that helped my life down here o.”
“Oh oh.” I say, feeling sorry for him.
I want to go rub his hair, tell him sorry while patting him on the back and just do all those things I would have normally done if the situation is different. Instead, I get up to fetch a glass of cold water from the refrigerator and bring for him.
“But you know I plan to return to the house in the evening.” I say, handing him the glass.
He collects it and drinks its entire content before dropping the glass. I smile at that. He’s still his usual relaxed self in front of me. No pressures.
“It’s like you need more water.”
He smiles. “By right, you should place an entire bucket in front of me and leave me to serve myself.”
I walk over to the refrigerator again, take out the biggest Eva water bottle there is and place it in front of Ayegba. I am still unable to fathom why he will come all the way here but he needs to catch his breath first.
Ayegba finally relaxes into his seat and holds my gaze. The initial smiles are no longer on his face and that unsettles me even more.
“Mona called.” He starts, and waits a bit before continuing. “Plans changed and they would be home this evening. He said he would tell us the remaining details when he arrives.”
I eyeball him coldly. “And he had to send you to tell me that?” There’s a slight provocation in my voice.
“Your phone has been switched off, remember?” He says calmly, then like a demon suddenly hit him, he raises his voice. “Look, Vee, do you know what it means to explain to your goddamn fiancé why his babe’s phone has been switched off? Do you think it was most convenient to embark on a journey from the barracks to this part of town after all the ordeals I just told you I went through? Do you know what it means to…”
I hurry over to him and shush him with a finger. “Ayegba please.”
“No.” He wriggles himself off, letting my hand drop to my thigh. “Cos you have this misguided idea that I came to this town to break your love bond with Mona. No. I didn’t. I had not the slightest idea I would ever see you again.”
He yells at the top of his lungs. “Damn it!! I am a survivor, Vee. I have survived without you and mum for over ten years. I will always survive, come rain, and come shine. What I am not going to have is to leave this town without my son knowing who his real father is.
“I cannot bear it in my conscience that Attah probably hates me because he thinks I was some useless father who couldn’t take responsibility for him. I never rejected him and you’re going to confess that to our son. You will tell him the truth and nothing but the truth. You will tell him that he’s not seen me all these years because I never knew about him nor your whereabouts and it was all your fault.”
He slams his hand hard on the couch and I jerk back in fear.
“I went through the stress of finding your house just to inform you about Mona’s change in plans. I wanted to avoid unnecessary suspicion on his arrival. I am a man and I know how these things can go wrong. If that doesn’t mean anything to you and you don’t give a damn about your relationship, then so be it. Forgive me for getting ahead of myself.” He springs up and heads for the door.
I am at loss for words and just stare blankly into thin air until I hear the door bang hard.
“I am sorry, Ayegba!” I scream, my hand gripping onto the edge of my seat. “I didn’t mean to…” Sorrowful tears gush down my face but it is too late.
Ayegba is gone.
- Why is Ayegba so provoked? Do you think he has anger issues? Could it be an accumulation of frustration or there’s more to it?
- Should Ileanwa tell Mona as soon as he returns?
- Do you think something is going to change in Attah when he finds out uncle Ayegba is his father?