Sunday, 22 October 2017


They walked out of the office and heading straight to the parking lot. The two men looked like the most serious fellows of the century even though one wore an obviously expensive designers blue suit and the other wore a native white ‘kaftan’. Of course, one is the commissioner and the other his friend. Who wore the native kaftan then? Your guess is as good as everyone’s.
The Rolls-Royce car blinked as Joshua pressed on the remote from afar. They walked hastily without talking to each other. Each as focused as if something worth billions of dollar ran in his mind. Holding the door handle, they flung the car door open and sat. Panting and heaving sigh of relief.
“I think His Excellency was right, Matthew. It’s just that this only mean more work for this ministry. Mehn!!!” Josh fell his back against the seat rest and blew out hot air from his mouth in exasperation.
Matthew smiled, trying to fix back some documents he held all the while into his official bag. He was not in a hurry to give a response, typical of him. Knowing who he has, Josh just continued; plus he had a lot of things rushing up his throats already.
“When the governor hinted me about his plans to diversify our source of state’s revenue, and especially major in agriculture, I didn’t know it would be immediately after his re-election. I mean, this is just the first year in our second tenure, just few months after the rigorous stress that accompanied the keenly contested elections for goodness sake!” Josh complained bitterly, shaking his head.
“Perhaps, if he had changed his commissioners, I wouldn’t be hearing all these unnecessary complains this sunny noon.” Matthew spoke out for the first time, eyeballing his friend.
“C’mon now, I wasn’t exactly complaining” Josh retorted giving Matthew a nudge. He held the key in his hand, pointing it towards the ignition but it was obvious he wasn’t going to kick start this car anytime soon.
“Four years isn’t so long a time from now and if you are to right the wrongs as your administration is determined to, work should start immediately the owner of the gubernatorial seat is declared.” Matthew said firmly.
“Yea right? Feeling like adviser of our time, huh?” Josh responded, again punching his friend who only smiled coyly. “The Youth Empowerment in Agriculture Program was really strategic. You heard his excellency talking about it in there, right?”
“Eheen! I was just going to ask about it. How far now?” Matthew sat up to ask with curiosity written all over his face.
“Well, the fifteen qualified people that submitted their proposals and CVs have been undergoing rigorous trainings for two months now, you know? The governor is really personal about this training, so much so that he makes a personal appearance in their classes once in a while”
“Wow! That’s very impressive.” Matthew cut in before Josh continued,
“As part of the assessments for the qualifying proposals, each candidate was to draft out a detailed prospective mechanised strategy in their own ideas and so on and so forth.” He paused and swallowed, “Guess what?”
Matthew responded by turning to face him with popping eyeballs.
“There was this fellow whose work, impressive would be an understatement for. The governor, the judges were amiss for words, including myself. I didn’t know we had such hidden talents in this state - describing how this machine should assist, how ploughing, harvesting, planting should go in synch. I mean, it was way too awesome!”
Matthew chuckled. “It’s lack of opportunities like this that make those kind of people die without anyone ever getting to know all the beautiful ideas flowing on their inside. Little wonder they say the grave is the richest place.”
“Very true my friend…” Josh nodded as though he just caught a deep revelation. “The governor had to arrange he be moved as soon as possible.
“Moved? To where?” Matthew’s confusion is quite obvious.
“First to Thailand and subsequently to Canada for intensive training. There is this C… CA… CAEP, what’s the full meaning again?” Josh pointed questioning eyes at his friend.
“Communicating for Agriculture Education Programs?”
“Ehen!” Josh affirmed, “ He’s left for a while now. The training shouldn’t be so long. Ha! Mr Ekele is blessed with raw brains, I tell you.” Josh said, grinning from ear to ear like an over flattered kid.
Matthew squeezed his front head, “Who is that?”
“Oh! Sorry, I forgot you weren’t part of the screening panel. You just opted out on me at the dying minute. What a friend I have!” Josh said pathetically.
“I had to, Josh. You are beginning to get too comfortable with me doing all your jobs for you. You can’t even recall the full meaning of CAEP, that’s ridiculous for your exalted position. Need I remind you that I’m not the one paid and bearing the name commissioner for agriculture. Am I?”
Joshua started laughing, haven known where his friend was coming from. He tried to wave off that line of discussion soon enough,
“Well, you are still the best man for this job, any day. And oh! Mr O. Ekele, that’s the name of the young chap that blew all our minds. The smart one that’s chilling abroad now. No worries, you will be working with him a lot when he gets back.” Josh said, winking at Matthew who only eyeballed him coldly without any response. Josh knew his friend could be very cold during discussion, especially when a topic is stretching for too long but when Matthew is extremely cold like this, both in response and in action, he knows that one thing has started bothering him again.
“Tell her nau… You are being really unfair to this woman altogether. Matthew, you need help and you are not going to get it by hiding… and perhaps running away from the one who can give it.”
Matthew started laughing this time and Joshua had to pause, “I’m not going to get help? Na curse ne?” he rattled in Pidgin. He rarely gets that jovial. Too collected to.
Josh frowned, “C’mon, don’t make light of this. You know what I’m saying. Tell it to Udale, you’ve been struggling for over a year now.”
Matthew took a deep breath. “I wish you would understand that it’s not as easy as you say…” he swallowed, “…and, can we at least get out of this heavily policed area, please? I know it would happen eventually but I don’t want to get arrested just yet.” He let out a fake consoling smile.
Josh took a deep breath in and pushed his key into the ignition, starting the car. How could he have forgotten that they were still at the government’s house parking lot all the while. Well, if the hot scorching Lokoja sun had been able to cut through the AC to them, he would have realised earlier that he was sited in a car. Not at all! The air in this car is damn chilly.
“We couldn’t take breakfast cos of this emergency meeting with His Excellency. Can we go have it now? I’m starving. The crescent restaurant, my usual. They serve good food there, you know” Josh winked
Matthew chuckled loudly. “My car is parked in your compound Josh. Take me home.”
Josh didn’t get that, “but we don’t need two cars to get to a restaurant, right?” he asked in astonishment.
“I’m going to Ankpa straight away. I have to say it to Udale, now or never. No matter how difficult it is, I must say it today.” Matthew said faintly.
“Now you are talking… No I meant to say, now you are reasoning!” Josh teased. Stepping on the accelerator, he zoomed out of Lugard house.
“Good… afternoon… Senior…”
“How are you?”
“We are very well, thank you. How are you too?” They chorused uniformly again, dragging every word alongside.
“I’m fine. You can have your seats.” The Senior ordered the students to sit down. His name is Ezekiel. He looked on from one person to another, taking his time, without saying anything neither giving any clue. He knows what he is looking for… or better still, who he is looking for. The new class should be the reason for the distorted sitting arrangement. It didn’t take him this much time to locate then last year. His eyes kept darting back and forth till his flashing eyeballs finally fell on where they sat - three seats away from him. “Helen and Laibe, see me outside now.” He ordered and dashed off as soon as those words were off his mouth.
Helen looked at Laibe with a knowing smile. Laibe on her own side didn’t understand that early enough. If there is anyone Senior Ezekiel should call out, it’s definitely Helen not her. Of course, Helen had been the one crazy about him all the while. She had been the one clouding Laibe’s ears with gossips and petty talks about what she call crushes. Right from when the guy came into SS1 last session when they were both in JS2, Helen wouldn’t let a day go by without talking about how much she liked Ezekiel, how she saw him in her dreams, how she wishes to be his girlfriend and all those sorts that seems like arrant nonsense to Laibe. The latter had to endure all those. So much for being a seatmate and more importantly, a friend. It’s a good thing though, at least Helen makes her forget her nightmares for the bulk of the day she spends at school. That’s soothing and a manageable succour till she gets back home.
“Let’s not keep him waiting.” Helen jerked Laibe up. Giggling excitedly, she tried to see her face through the dark edges of her calculator. Helen at this point wished she came to school with a mirror and perhaps, a makeup kit as well. Even when she had wished and prayed her crush, as she always called him, would eventually respond to her, she didn’t expect it to be this soon. Especially that it is still school hours. She has been fantasising, as she sees in South Korean movies, that he would walk into the school garden one of those few times she is there alone, blowing a melodious love song from a little flute, he would bend over to perk her on the forehead and thereafter say the immaculate words, “Please be my girlfriend.”
The thoughts, as usual, made her cheeks get redder as she dragged down the edges of her maroon pullover over her short flare skirt and started walking out like she was rehearsal rudiments of cat-walking on an elevated isle. Whether anyone in the classroom was watching was immaterial to her right now. When it comes to Ezekiel, it feels like he is the only living thing in her world.
Laibe reluctantly closed the textbook she was reading and followed after.
“What took you so long?” Senior Ezekiel was almost shouting at Helen but calmed down when he saw Laibe coming gently behind her for unclear reasons.
“So… sorry Senior…” Helen muttered with her head facing the ground, she clenched her fists. Laibe didn’t know why her extremely confident and bold friend, whom she always took reference from, was acting all timid here. She isn’t timid before the principal – Mr Dauda, the school’s new principal that came towards the end of last session, taking over from the veracious Aunty T. She wasn’t timid towards teachers, including Uncles Emma and Jibrin that all the boys in the class seem to dread. Why then is she all shy before Ezekiel, the Library prefect, a mere senior colleague? Laibe didn’t let her thoughts drown her deeper before she realised she heard someone yell. Bringing back her attention, she needed to know why the senior yelled at her friend…
“…It’s bad enough that I don’t know who gave you my Whatsapp line. Don’t you come up saying emotional things to me on that social media platform again, did I make myself clear? Spoilt little kids like you. Ladies don’t ask men out.” He clapped his hands loudly, one would think it was a hot slap.
Laibe felt Helen’s head drop down more in shame at Ezekiel’s last statement. She could connect the loose dots now. She remembered Helen telling her she’s been anonymously chatting Ezekiel up since last term. Laibe was apprehensive and sensed danger immediately Helen told her that and advised Helen passionately to stop. For some days she kept asking Helen if she had heeded the advice or not till she finally said she has. Who would have known that the agreement was just to wave Laibe off her emotional life.
“If in your family - the family of the rich you claim to come from – if in your family, you don’t mind ladies doing men’s job for them, I mind! Do you understand? I so damn mind!! Don’t you ever chat me up for no reason from today, is that clear?” Ezekiel’s voice rose higher and higher in anger as he spoke.
“Ye… Yeah… Yes senior” Helen started sobbing. This broke Laibe’s heart. She wished she could do something, stand in for her friend as she usually did for Ebi and Umali back at home. This case is different though, this boy right here is in SS2 and a prefect for that matter, it would be a lost case when it gets out that a Js3 girl was confronting her senior right in the school compound.
“I am… I am sorry.” Helen said amidst her teary voice.
“Sorry for yourself. Now… Leave!”
His voice startled Helen and even Laibe. Laibe hated that she is helpless in this situation. Helen almost fell over as she turned to leave and Laibe had to hurriedly grab her. She didn’t know why the senior called her alongside. Just to make a public show of her friend, definitely. She made to lead Helen into the class or wherever they should go sit for the main time.
“Laibe, you wait!” Ezekiel ordered.
Laibe was running out of patience, but she had to be calm now, at least her stay in this school would be defended if she pulls through this provoking moment without creating a scene. That’s including the bitterness and hatred tied up somewhere in her mind for the upturns of events in her little life. Ezekiel won’t even survive this grenade’s explosion if he dared anything stupid.
Ezekiel looked on at her and didn’t say anything till he was sure Helen was out of their sight. Laibe wasn’t comfortable with the young man’s eyes running over her body, she is never comfortable with it. She has always been allergic to stares.
“What?” she blurted out in provocation when the gaze was getting too unbearable.
Ezekiel was taken aback at first, then he started smiling as his confidence came back,
“Laibe, you are beautiful!”
Laibe looked up at him with blood shot eyes. She made sure their eyeballs met and she didn’t blink. It is like a burning furnace was comfortably sitting in her head, burning cat and dog, so hot that it would roast the young man in front of her if he dared come any closer than he was attempting already. She didn’t understand it anymore, everything buttresses her point that men are only some bunch of self-gratifying monsters. So long as it gratifies and satisfies them, they don’t mind who is hurting or not. They don’t mind whose emotional life they had set in shreds. They mind nothing. Annoying chunk of selfish idiots. Mtcheeeew! She hissed loudly and bitterly before stopping herself.
“No Laibe, I mean it. I’ve watched you since I got into this school last year. You are gentle and intelligent. You are nice also…” Laibe eyeballed him even more angrily now as he said these words. “Please, I want you to be my girlfriend, Laibe. I would take care of you, I promise.” Ezekiel made attempt to hold her hand but she yanked it away in a flash. If eyes carried guns, the type of look she had been serving him since would have killed him by now.
“Laibe, please say something.” He pleaded.
“Oh! Like? Like what? Like, oh! Ezekiel, it’s so sweet to know you know I’m beautiful? Or it’s an honour to be your girlfriend sir? Which do I say first?” Laibe asked with sarcasm.
“Take care of me? How much of skin care products can you afford? How much of golden and silver wristwatches, bracelets and earrings can you buy? Do you even know where there are sold? How much of ball gowns and expensive perfumes can your miserable breakfast money buy? that’s after saving for the next two years…” She clapped her hand in a mocking fashion, still inserting her sarcastic laughter somewhere in-between successive statements, “I can’t believe this. Are you all like this? Torturing us and thinking of getting away scot free? Ah! My innocent Aunt…” Laibe knew she was beginning to take the matter way too far now but she couldn’t stop herself anymore. She couldn’t prevent the words from letting loose. Especially now that she needed not to scout for a word in order to express herself. Two years here and her grammatical accuracy has been transformed greatly beyond her own imaginations. She loved it, especially that she had successfully shut the mouth of the most respected senior in the entire school. She loved the way Ezekiel forgot his mouth open while staring at her as she spoke. She felt truly disgusted and irritated by everything about him altogether. Her friend is killing herself all for this fellow that has no regard whatsoever for her, rather he is coming for Laibe.
“Did you have to embarrass Helen like that? Oh! And you even had the effrontery to do that before me, huh? Whatever made you imagine in your wildest dreams that I would like you an inch after what you just did to my best friend? You disgust me already!” she said rudely as she walked away, dragging a very long hiss almost through the first half of the distance.
Ezekiel stood astonished for a long while. Wow! He saw the girl too easy. It was innocent Laibe, the village girl as some of his classmates called her. From the venom with which she spoke, something best known to her must have really wreaked havoc in her little life. But she is still a girl. The only girl he had come to like.
The bedroom is extremely cold. For no reasons they both left the AC on. It’s so cold that they had to use the thick duvets to wrap themselves up. If only one of the duo could just get up to go up pick the AC remote on the dressing table opposite them, they would be saved the stress of using the blanket. If anyone would, it’s definitely not Udale. She is virtually snoring here – fat woman under a thick blanket – sounds like a tornado already! Matthew had given up on tapping her to readjust. As much as he hates it, he know that snoring has never killed anyone before so tonight cannot be the first. His legs felt very heavy as he lay… or should we say, he sat, using the back rest of the bed as his pillar. He is a perfectionist to the core and derive great pleasure in purchasing flashy things, ranging from cars to accessories to even domestic appliances. Josh would always call him an exhibitionist, but there is no crime in wanting things primly and properly done, is there?
With the extreme coldness in the room, he still felt hot. Intense heat burned up from within him and he could feel sweat in his palms. Whether imaginary or real, he couldn’t say at the moment. He knew it would be difficult but didn’t realise it would be this extremely difficult while driving from Lokoja earlier in the day. He had assured Josh he was going to tell her, no matter what. He had rehearsed his lines, even stood in front of the mirror several times in a row before his wife got back from work. He thought he could say it over dinner. Was that not why he made dinner for the first time in a long while today? He couldn’t believe his eyes when his long abandoned cooking skills came in handy tonight. Udale however scattered his plans. Not intentionally though, the news about Baba’s increasing ailment shut him up. He isn’t insensitive to say such a thing as this with that kind of news. But he had to say it today!
He thought of writing it down. Perhaps as he sees in Nigerian movies, his best movie industry actually, he would write a note while she is away and leave her to read it whenever she gets back. That’s not possible. He can’t find enough right words to express what he is about saying, let alone find the best way to pen it down. Udale only snores this loudly when she’s had a very hectic day. That, accompanied with her father’s ailment is good enough reason for anyone not to distract her much needed sleep.
Matthew rose his hand, moved it towards her and dropped it on a second thought.
“You have to do this mehn!” he admonished himself quietly as he rose the hand up again. This time, he tapped her lightly but they was no sign of consciousness whatsoever. He swallowed. He would have to shake her rigorously after all.
“Udale, forgive me”, he let out as he shook her so vigorously that she spoke from her sleep.
“Oh!!!!!!!! Honey, I’m not snoring!”
Who is concerned with snoring at the moment, Matthew thought to himself as he tapped her till he was sure she had woken.
He stared at her drowsy eyes and it was as though the words he crammed vanished again.
“Honey, what’s the problem?” Udale said, her sleepy voice made her voice come out so soft and sultry that Matthew was taken aback initially. He admonished himself to concentrate already. And he did.
“Erhmm! Well… You see… ah… ehmm… I …!” Matthew stammered on and on. This action had a good effect on Udale as it made alarm to sound in her head. Matthew is the most confident and boldest person she had ever met, stammering now only signify that something horrible was about to come. She sat up immediately and gave him her full percentage concentration, preparing her mind for the worst.
“What’s the problem, Matthew?”
“Ehmm… It’s about your family…”
Udale’s eyes popped open, “what about my family?” she asked sounding really impatient. Matthew was running down the remaining patience left in her with the unreasonably slow way he was speaking.
“Baba asked we took care of Laibe the last time we went visiting and I’m sure he would have said that when you both talked today, save that he is very weak…” he started, perhaps he could get a captivating intro from there.
Udale heaved in a sigh of relief and smiled as it’s characteristics of her being in charge of every situation. “I know you are very attached to my father Matthew. I know he is your friend but trust me, nothing would happen to him. You don’t have to get this sleepless and all worked up.” she moved her right hand up and stroked his face lightly.
Matthew swallowed, “You won’t understand! Laibe…”
“We are already doing our best with Laibe…” Udale interrupted, “… I’m sure she didn’t dream of all the things we are doing for her. You especially have been so fond and around for her. Buying her gifts, making her holidays worthwhile and all, I appreciate you a lot Matthew. You are the best husband in the world.”
She pecked him.
Matthew managed a chuckle.
“Is that why you are not sleeping? C’mon Honey, let’s go to bed. I have a long day again in few hours.”
“But…” Matthew started and paused as Udale drew back under her blanket.
“Shhhh! Don’t worry your head My Love, nothing would happen to my father. It’s my father we are talking about here, right? Nothing would happen to him. Nothing.” Udale assured, making sure to stress the ‘nothing’ emphatically. “Oya, come and sleep” she added.
“Go ahead Baby, I would join you soon…” Matthew replied politely, turning the bed lamp back off. As if the sleep she left off was a cloth somewhere around, Udale pulled it hastily over her head and in a twinkle of an eye, she was back to snoring again. Matthew managed to go pick up the AC remote and switched it off. He came back to sat for a while thinking, he swallowed and slid underneath the blanket to join his wife. Sleeping beside her or not has stopped having any significant effect on his chemistry since way back. He wished he wasn’t caught up in the middle of all these. If only Udale knew the battle going on in his mind, she would beg him to spill it out completely.
Episode 22
“Not again!” Laibe made a great fuss, squeezing her nose upwards and contorting her face into a tired piece.
“Who are you doing that sexy face for?”
Laibe dropped the board she was holding and hit him hard on his back four times.
“I… I have… I have told you not to use vulgar words for me.” she said consecutively with every instance her hand landed on his back.
Ocholi started with a light chuckle which culminated in a loud laughter later on.
“Really? Laibe! Vulgar?” he sounded with disbelief. Raising his left eyebrow and lowering the other one, anyone could clearly sense awe in his tone. “Mehn! Aleka Academy is treating you well. Where did you learn such big words from?”
Laibe shrugged and picked back the drawing board she left off some moments ago. “Apart from the fact that we do spelling competitions most often than not, everyone is obligated to learn at least one new word each day and my form teacher herself made sure of that. I’ve spent over two years there, so you can imagine how many new words I have learnt.” She tuck out her tongue after the statement and Ocholi shook his head.
“What are you feeling like?” he asked with sarcasm, “Most learned of our time, huh? Here, your block head cannot simply understand that while contour shading you make your pencil as light as possible. Can you see the rubbish you just drew again?” Ocholi mocked
Laibe kept staring at him while he spoke, as though thinking of something mischievous to do to him.
“If not that I’m sited here ehn? You would have known whose head is blocked by now.” She feigned seriousness as she put her index finger onto her tongue and out, mimicking an event of swearing.
Ocholi laughed so much at her actions till his back hit the bed he sat on, just beside her. The petite girl he had brought from the village over two years ago has become almost an entirely different specie. She is becoming someone new every single day. Yes. Because, her expression wasn’t this firm the last time he came for holidays, the same way her mouth wasn’t this sharp as well. She seem to be getting more interesting by the day and even when he knew the poor girl hasn’t ever had any interest in fine arts, he took it as a responsibility upon himself to teach her some basic things whenever he is home on holidays like this. Laibe appear creative and imaginative and those, to him, are strong enough selling points in fine arts.
“Are you done laughing now?”
Ocholi’s eyes popped out at that firm question coming from Laibe. He couldn’t particularly decipher whatever was going on in her mind from the expressionless face she wore at the moment.
“Very well then. Let’s get down to business. Show me the contour thing and I’d be done with Art lessons for tonight, I have assignments to do.”
Ocholi smirked. “Dear Aleka Head prefect ma, today is Friday and that is a weekend on this part of the globe” the sarcasm was so readable in his voice.
Laibe let out a quick smile. So quick that it would go unnoticed save that Ocholi’s eyes were firmly on hers.
“Moreover, aunty would soon call us for dinner…” she said. Not believing she just said that, she turned briskly to Ocholi and the other tittered backwards involuntarily. “Why are you making me explain up and down sef? Are you going to show me the part of this my beautiful artwork I should erase and the so called contour margin?” Her voice sounded threatening now.
“No!” He said politely.
“No?” she furrowed her forehead
“Not until you tell me why you did that”
Laibe stared like a ghost just hit her. She had no little idea what Ocholi, the only guy she has always had a strong crush on, sited right beside her was talking about.
“Why I did what?”
“You know what I’m talking about…”
“Oh come off it Ocholi…” she interrupted quickly, “… if I know what you are talking about, I wouldn’t be asking.”
Ocholi heaved and kept quiet just staring at the opposite wall in front of him as though addressing it. At this point, Laibe was getting more and more impatient. She didn’t have the slightest idea what he was talking about and if anything else spins her head faster than suspense, then it is still suspense itself.
After what seemed like forever, Ocholi got up. Laibe’s eyes followed him all the way up and with the so much dramatic performance the usually free minded Ocholi is putting into this, she didn’t know where to find her racing mind some water to cool off with.
Walking slowly towards the door with his hands in the side pockets of his shorts, Ocholi felt like there was an external force other than him lifting his foot. Everything can be said, it depends on the right time it is said. Same way the truth can be gotten, depending on the time and mode of confrontation. His mind pondered on this as he walked sluggishly in the direction of the door. He turned to face where she sat and he could see the uneasiness boldly written over her face.
“Promise me you would tell me the truth” he said, more like a request anyway.
Laibe rolled her eyes, “Truth about what?” sounding much more impatient than at other times earlier.
Ocholi paused and dipped his right hand into his back pocket. He held out a white and neatly folded paper from it and started undoing the folds slowly. Laibe got up on seeing the paper and started walking towards where Ocholi stood leaning his back against the closed door. He was done unfolding it by the time she came to stand in front of him and turned the other side to show her the content. She felt as though the ground should just open and swallow the whole of her into it. Alas! No wonder. She had searched every nook and cranny of this room in vain for this particular paper. At a point she concluded she must have mistakenly taken it to class and perhaps forgotten it there. That would be a dangerous one though but it is still far better than having it in Ocholi’s hands. Ocholi couldn’t have gained access into her room in her absence and there was no way he could have picked up that paper from where she hid it without her knowing or suspecting.
“How did you get this?” her questions escaped her thoughts into her mouth before she could stop herself.
“Why did you do this Laibe? And… and you know better than to lie to me.” Ocholi’s voice carried deep sincerity, care and affection that almost brought Laibe to the brink of tears. She stood frozen to the floor. Her long hair resting over her shoulders as she ran her hand through it for the third time already.
Ocholi took two steps forward and came to stand directly before Laibe so much so that their bodies almost rubbed each other. She rose her head to meet his eyes while he dropped his head to meet hers. The height difference hasn’t been resolved yet… up till now.
Laibe felt more uneasy with every instance their eyes met. Her silent affection for the young man in front of her hasn’t faded in any form, in fact, all his actions tend to deepen the whole quiet torture she goes through in her heart.
“Once again I ask, Laibe my pretty and cute lady, why did you do this?”
Laibe sought for a more convincing way to let Ocholi know that she didn’t want to talk about what he is interested in. Not now. Not anytime soon. She thought of lying and covering up, but that’s almost impossible. Ocholi is the most sensitively smart chap she has come to know.
“Where are these children?”
They jerked back to reality as Aunty Udale’s voice came in loudly from behind the door. Thankfully, they both already turned and faced the door before she pushed it angrily open without even a light knock.
“Oh! I have to scream my lungs out before you both hear me, is that? Or where are the headphones you both had on?” Udale questioned angrily.
“Aunty, aunty…” Ocholi started smiling jokingly. He was hoping perhaps he could make the angered Udale laugh at the moment but the careless wave of the paper in his hand at her face while talking is about turning the beautiful intended sarcasm into a more serious case.
“What’s in that paper, Ocholi?”
Only then did he realise that he had been flagging the paper at aunty Udale’s face. Laibe’s breathing became heavier. Of all things, she would be dead if her aunty lay hold on that paper and especially with the obvious connection the content had with her. She started muttering inaudible prayers underneath her breath. Ocholi needed a higher degree of wisdom to pull them both through tonight without anyone getting hurt and beaten.
“Let me have that paper…” Udale yelled as Ocholi stood looking blank after her first question.
Ocholi thought of something quickly and then started laughing out loud. Udale felt a little bit irritated at first but this is Ocholi, her ‘right hand man’ as she called him.
“Big Sis, I heard nurses now take a minor course in Fine Arts”
Udale furrowed her front head in confusion. “What’s that?”
“Yeah! It has to be. Of course. It is only then a full certified nurse would ask someone grounded in the mastery of the Arts for a paper when she knows paper to a fine artist is like a stethoscope to a doctor.”
Laibe took in a very deep calming breath.
Udale rolled her eyes twice before saying another thing.
“Now both of you, out and off to dinner now!” she opened back the door and made to leave.
Laibe’s heart was full of appreciation and her respect for her crush increased again with this wise defence he just put up for her a while ago.
“Let me watch the both of you leave this room this minute.” Udale commanded pointing her fingers from one person to the other and finally pointing towards the door. Laibe hurried out. She just narrowly escaped the judgement of fire now, she can’t afford to be caught up in any further web again tonight.
Ocholi stood, hoping Udale would go ahead and let them, himself and Laibe that is, complete their discussions but Udale looked unrepentant with the way she is standing and waiting at the door. Taking a deep breath, he reluctantly followed after Laibe.
Udale flapped the door and headed towards the dining room behind Ocholi and Laibe. She asked Laibe to go bring the last food container in the kitchen which the latter hurried over to do quickly. Frankly, the last thing Laibe would want is to give any allowance that will make her aunty ask about that paper again. To think that the paper is still in Ocholi’s possession, his pocket to be precise. Ocholi can be a pain in the neck at times like this.
“Awhhh!” Ocholi screamed out impulsively when Laibe’s leg hit the door frame hard and she almost fell over with the food flask.
“So long as you don’t make us sleep hungry tonight.” Udale answered coldly.
That struck Laibe, but she understood her aunty to be very blunt much more than anyone else in this life. She managed to lift her hurting foot, at least Ocholi’s smiles ministered a little dose of relief to her. If her mind wasn’t occupied, she would have remembered the kitchen door’s frame is still elevated, unlike other doors in the house.
“She didn’t hit her leg intentionally, right?”
“Well, after I practically had to force you all out for dinner, I deserve to eat my meal in peace too, right?” Udale answered, turning in the direction of Matthew who was climbing down the stairs. She wanted to talk further but she was too hungry to say more. The very instance the bowl of soup in Laibe’s hands sat comfortably on the dining table, Udale got up and started dishing out without hesitation.
“Sorry my girl.” Matthew said affectionately, pulling out his chair to sit down. He was wearing a midi length jean trouser which displayed in all clarity the smoothness of his legs. Perhaps, it’s because he’s always on long trousers, one doesn’t readily get to see his legs often. His red striped T-shirt hugged his body so tightly that Laibe wondered if he was breathing in there. So much for his huge form and stature.
Laibe smiled at her uncle.
This is normal to her.
The abnormal part is that her aunty smiled as well.
Innocent woman she is, Laibe thought as she dished food for Ocholi and herself.
Matthew almost caught a glimpse of them while Ocholi winked at her, but thankfully, he was more interested in the delicious meal of white rice, stew and plantain in front of him than with anything or anyone else as the case may be.
Laibe returned Ocholi’s wink with a dour stare. Her shocked eyes begging him to behave well before elderly people but he wouldn’t bulge.
“My girl…”
Laibe rose her head up immediately as Matthew started, midway into the meal,
“…help me bring the nylon on the stool beside my reading table in the study.”
“Ok sir!” she responded politely and made to go, ensuring no eye contact with him as usual, all through.
“Honey, can’t that wait? She is eating.”
“It’s alright aunty, I’ll get it now.” Laibe responded and hurried off before anyone else could comment. Ocholi was only looking, dumbly from his brother, to his sister-in-law and of course his amiable Laibe.
Matthew smiled at Laibe’s smart response and a wind of satisfaction gushed over him. Indeed, she defines satisfaction.
Udale continued munching her food as the little girl ran upstairs and downstairs in a flash, holding a KOS delivery customized nylon. She recognised the nylon immediately because shopping from Konga – the online market deal, is one of her favourite hobbies. Yes. Apart from the fact that her rotund size made her naturally lazy, she sees no need going in search of things at the Ankpa busy markets when some people have put it upon themselves to get one those things and even deliver them at your doorstep. She is not also surprised seeing it, because Matthew himself is the chief online purchase guru. In fact, he indoctrinated her into it, could be an appropriate claim. That is paying him off anyway because with the ease at which he misplaces phones, he would need such outlets to be at his service most often than not, twenty four hours. The only obsolete thing right now though is that she is not aware that Matthew placed any other, more so that they almost need no new gadget in the house at the moment.
“Here, Uncle” Laibe handed the nylon over to her uncle with her head tilting towards the floor. This is one behaviour Ocholi has been racking his head all the while to understand.
“It’s for you…”
“Uhmmmm?” Laibe stared vacantly back at him, like she suddenly didn’t understand English anymore.
“What’s that?” Udale left her food now, asking curiously.
Ocholi who was getting pissed off with the dumb way the two women were behaving snatched the nylon from Laibe’s hand and tore the package open.
“Samsung. Galaxy. S6. Edge. Plus!!!” Ocholi exclaimed, unable to believe his eyes, “Konga’s freebie Power bank, screen guard, gold case, a SIM pack!” Ocholi spoke like he was in awe of the whole event right now.
Laibe stood forgetting her mouth wide open. She had few clouds of tears forming around her eyes. She didn’t even know what to say.
“Honey, a phone for her already? Isn’t this too early?” Udale asked
“I heard when one of her friend’s, is it Umali now? Or…” He got a confirmation from Udale’s affirmative nod before continuing, “…Eheen! Umali, I heard when she called you asking to speak to Laibe. Also Baba needs to speak with his granddaughter more now that his body isn’t strong.” Matthew explained, smiling broadly. His smile is so sweet whenever it comes out genuinely like this.
“Honey??? Baba is too sick to make a call, more so her school wouldn’t let her use a phone.” Udale protested. Reasons for her protest, she couldn’t really place any in her mind. Maybe she is being over protective of the seemingly little girl but in another section of her mind, she is so happy with the deep affection her husband showers on Laibe.
“Why are you standing that way, won’t you say thank you to your uncle?” Udale faced Laibe who stood aloof like her skin was disjointed from every bony attachment in her body.
Laibe ran over to her uncle and held him tightly. The older stood up and received the deserving hug in full measures, drawing and pressing her small body closer to his. It’s one thing he had always struggled to get Laibe come to give him willingly, coming now, he should make full proof of it. He put his hand on Laibe’s back and pulled her chest firmly against his even more.
“This is a big surprise, brother”
Ocholi’s voice broke them off the hug. Udale was reading the writings on the carton bearing the phone all the while. Laibe felt really shy now. She rushed back towards Ocholi, walking like she was stepping on hot coals. Matthew readjusted his jean trouser and sat down gently with that fulfilled smile still plastered on his face.
Udale pushed the phone back to Ocholi.
“Lee, let’s go arrange your phone at the veranda.” Ocholi suggested, getting up.
“Finish you dinner first. And why the verander if I may ask? There is more than enough space in the sitting room in front of you.” Udale questioned.
Ocholi particularly didn’t know why his sister in-law has become so suspicious of everything all of a sudden. Initially, he thought it’s a joke but this is gradually turning to serious stuff and it’s beginning to irritate him already. He kept staring expressionlessly at her for a while.
“Auunty! Uncle, thank you again. Thank you so much. Ocholi, oya lets go fix my new phone.” Laibe giggled excitedly as she packed her stuff into the nylon that it came in and ran off with it. Ocholi swallowed; put his hand in his pocket and walked majestically after her.
“Your show of love to my little girl is so overwhelming…” Udale turned in Matthew’s direction.
He blushed and scooped another spoon of rice into his mouth.
“Thank you Honey. The other time I saw some dresses you bought and one special card. How is it that I don’t know how to do all these ehn?” she placed her two hands against her chest regretfully.
“Special card?” Matthew asked, sounding confused.
“Yeah! Special card. Wait. Or you weren’t the one that bought it?”
Mathew shook off some thoughts from his head as his wife faced him squarely now.
“No… I mean… yes I did” he stammered, “…did she show it to you? I mean, how did you see or learn of it?” He demanded with some manageably gathered boldness.
Udale smiled, “Nah! She didn’t show me. She couldn’t have. I know I’m not that close to her as you are. I found it in her room a long time ago. When o?” she asked no one in particular and answered herself before Matthew would talk, “ yeah, her menarche day. That evening we got back from Enugu and I was confronting her about crying in class and so on…”
Matthew chuckled lightly while shaking his head, “ what a mother she has. I guess you haven’t been in there since then.”
“Haba nau!!” she gave a look of displeasure. Seeing no need for long explanations, she let it be. “Well, I was there today when they were taking long to come for dinner and I saw them dragging some paper like that. Those children though!!” she lamented.
“What paper?”
“How would I know, your brother is an artist and he is really bent on making Laibe one.”
Matthew heaved a loud sigh of relief, reasons best known to him.
“… I want her to become a nurse like me, you know? She is so smart and learns very fast. I mean, see how fluent her spoken language is after barely two years. The medical field is obviously where she belongs, a nurse or even a medical doctor is not a bad idea right?” she paused to look at Matthew, he wasn’t listening to her. His mind seemed far away. Very far a way for that matter. She slapped his hand and he jerked back.
“What’s on your mind, Honey?” she demanded an explanation with her eyes and hands at the same time.
Matthew swallowed and readjusted uncomfortably on his seat.
“My mind? My mind is here. You were talking about eherrrmm…” he tried to joggle his memory.
Udale hissed dryly, “ you see? And you said your mind was here. Anyway, I was talking about Laibe going to the sciences rather than the arts as Ocholi is bent on making her.”
Matthew smiled faintly, “No problem. Wherever she wants to go is good and when we get there Baby, we will cross the bridge.” He finalised as he dug his fork through the large turkey lap on his plate. Splitting it in pieces, he put one in Udale’s mouth before putting the next in his.
“One, let’s charge the phone before switching it on as directed, your eagerness wouldn’t let us. I’m sure this would be your work henceforth. You no go do any better thing with your life again o, e sure me scatter!” Ocholi teased the girl that was trying hard to navigate the corners on her new phone.
Laibe gave him a wicked look, “Which better thing?”
Laibe turned towards him only to see the paper again.
Oh God! Is Ocholi going to weary life out of her.
“Why did you do this?” he asked, sounding extremely serious.
“Not again Ocholi”
“Why do I think something is wrong somewhere?” he pressed on.
Laibe’s patience was running out. She needed to seal Ocholi’s mouth before he succeed in launching an avalanche on her.
“Lee, you can talk to me. What is wrong?”
“Wrong where nau?” Laibe snapped in provocation and that sent Ocholi aback. She calmed down and decided to say something, anything.
“Well, Helen my friend doesn’t talk to me anymore. She packed her things from my seat. I even think she is teaming people up against me.” She said quietly. Sounding remorseful.
Ocholi’s eyes were as round as large doughnuts.
“Why? What’s wrong?” He asked.
“She thought I betrayed her. Her crush who is our senior colleague says he loves me and not her. The stupid boy went behind me to tell her I accepted him. I don’t and can’t even love him to start with. God knows I wouldn’t forgive Ezekiel if he makes me lose my friend…” she cursed, “what am I even saying? I’ve lost Helen already.”
Ocholi sighed, “this is really a dicey one!”
“Yes it is!” Laibe affirmed.
“But that doesn’t answer this anyway”
Laibe turned to see Ocholi still waving the white paper at her.
She swallowed.
To be continued
Episode 23
Laibe was almost tip toeing through the staff room as she headed to her form mistress’ ‘special’ office. The young woman had succeeded in getting a hold on her finally today. Laibe had consciously avoided Miss Mary over the last two weeks. Yes! Surely, she comes to call attendance every morning in the class but Laibe found a way of quickly responding to her name and running off shortly after that; before Miss Mary would have the luxury of her five minutes interactive session with the class, which now cannot be every day anymore as the new principal seem to prolong the morning assembly session into the period for the first class. Indeed, she is the best form teacher ever, and following the class all the way from Js1 till now is one of the very many good things that has happened to them, Laibe in particular, in this school.
It is time for ‘prep’ as they call it – a time when everyone is to be seated quietly in their various classes and normally reading, though some never-do-wells would still make a hell of noise while others take their time to have a good nap. Whatever works for you! This would last for an hour and the extracurricular activities last the next and last hour before closure by 5pm. Laibe had been reading, from the long break period, stretching into this prep time. She likes going through all the notes given to her in class at least once before the end of that very day, especially that she most times doesn’t know how her night would turn out when she gets home. She’s resigned to her fate, and that’s in making good use of the time here while still in frightful anticipation for the worst. Helen wasn’t in the class all along and Laibe actually felt worried. Helen also loves using her prep time well. In fact, she used to be Laibe’s greatest motivator until now that they are no longer on talking terms, they can’t possible read together as they always do anymore. Barely ten minutes before game-time, it’s her class’ turn to have games today, Laibe felt pressed.
All thanks to her Uncle, Matthew, she had developed some little interest in Badminton. There’s a court in the house where she would play with him those Saturdays he is around. With time, when she acquired little boldness to come out to play, she started playing it in school too, most times with Helen.
This Ezekiel-induced quarrel with Helen is causing her so much more than anyone else can imagine. She is coping anyway. At least, she had attempted reconciliation about twice all to no avail. Obviously, Helen would still be mad at her a little longer. The painful part is that she didn’t do anything, but who would she tell that to? Her friend wouldn’t even give her a chance to explain? Or Ezekiel, who told a lie against her? The last person she wanna be seen having a conversation with anytime soon would be our dear Senior Ezekiel.
It was as she headed to the bathroom that she ran into Miss Mary. The latter ordered she come down to the office immediately she is done easing herself. Laibe right there knew she was done for. Her form teacher is very observant and disciplined. She particularly feels Miss Mary pays so much special attention to her and instead of that making her feel proud, she feels more so uncomfortable all the way.
At the door, she made sign of the cross. All thanks to what Helen had put into her whenever she is tensed. There is this magical relief that flows in after that sign is made and she would immediately feel like going to confront a lion. Laibe had thought about possible questions Miss Mary would be asking her in there and had joggled her brain deeply to get a strategic, even if not a convincing answer for each of them.
She wouldn’t be lying.
It’s just ‘covering up’, she convinced herself.
It can only be either of two things; about her sudden malice with Helen or the continuous reports teachers give Miss Mary about Laibe’s fast-becoming-an-habit absent mindedness in class, as it appears to be dealing a big blow on her grades day after day. Laibe hoped for the best as she held down the door knob
“It takes you forty minutes to ease yourself huh?”
Miss Mary greeted her with a yelling voice immediately she opened the door. This frightened her so much so that the pen in her hand almost fell off. Ocholi had been the recurrent recipient of these her frightened responses to everything. The very latest, for instance, was in her breaking one of the tumblers at the dining table. It wasn’t her fault, she tried to make her mind believe her in futility.
She was meant to be alone in the house… or so she thought, as everyone should have gone out as usual. This was last two weeks Saturday afternoon. Those thoughts, those replays that come like horror movies started taking merciless spins round her head again and again as she tried to rest, till she dragged herself off the bed.
“Cleaning the dining should distract me a little,” she said as she carried a towel from the kitchen, put soap into the water in the bucket in her hand and got at her forced duty. Unfortunately and expectedly, that didn’t help. At any time her eyes followed through the corridor that led to her bedroom, her head begins to spin afresh. She was about moving the rack holding tumblers with her eyes still fixed on the passageway when Ocholi spoke,
“Is there anything you lost on that corridor?”
She tittered backwards involuntarily, gravely frightened as flush of hot air gushed over her face. Needless to say that Ocholi’s voice sounds exactly like his elder brother’s. She tried, but couldn’t catch it before one of the tumblers fell off the rack and split in pieces immediately it kissed the tiled floor. Ocholi, who apparently had been standing there for God-knows-how-l
ong, kept unbelievable eyes on her for some minutes. Ocholi had been a difficult nut to crack, her extremely sensitive and curious interviewer who also stubbornly refused to give up on asking her questions she cannot provide answers to. Every time he came on holidays, she feels as though brought under a Criminal Investigation Department’s detention. Obviously he had this strong conviction that something was really wrong, and all that began after the Confluence Beach holiday. The first one, of course, she’s been there two more times after that. She had tried in vain to persuade Ocholi that there was no cause for alarm but she wouldn’t even believe herself if told that.
“Lee, what is the problem? You haven’t still told me why you did that …” Ocholi had started again, as they both bent down to pick up the broken pieces of the tumbler.
“Why I did what?” Laibe put in quickly.
“Same thing! The paper!!” Ocholi replied, giving her a knowing look.
“Oh! I thought we were over that Ocholi?” Laibe muttered out, sounding irritated.
“I thought so too, until I confirmed that just any voice and action keep startling you.”
Laibe smiled, smiled so broadly. She knew that her smile somewhat has an effect on Ocholi. If not for anything, it would reduce the pressure he is putting on her.
“I didn’t know there was anyone at home. Your voice scared me.” she said. Partly true and partly lies anyway. Perhaps changing the topic would help.
Ocholi tried to argue further but she found a way of escaping again this time as usual. The way was by asking him to show her how to use the Twitter app on her phone. And even after Ocholi had gone back for about a week now, the young man seem not to wanna give up on pressing into her. He calls her often and would end it with ‘Laibe, what is the problem?’
Then, however was she going to say it?
“That I… I … how would anyone want me to say such a thing?” she would let out a frustrated smile all the times she had thought of this while staring back at herself in the standing mirror in her room.
She is back here now to face another panel before her form teacher, and one more interesting personality; Miss Mary had called Helen too. This is even tighter than she envisaged and she needed to gird her loins as well if she must pull through this without having that emotional attack she had in class about a year ago.
“I’m sorry ma!” she simply and hurriedly apologised in response to Miss Mary’s confrontation, not wanting to prolong stories.
“Sit down!”
She looked at her teacher, like she wanted to see her voice. The only seat available for her to sit was beside Helen. This is difficult right? Helen hadn’t said anything to her in so long a time now that she is beginning to get used to her new life – the one without Helen in it, that is. She noticed Miss Mary’s eyes all over her and she knew better than to raise suspicions. She quickly took her seat, avoiding the two people’s piercing eyes as much as possible. Well, Helen wasn’t particularly looking at her in the first place.
“A classmate of yours confided in me that you both are fighting over a senior prefect…” Miss Mary started. Characteristic of her to go straight to the point at all times. She turned questioning eyes to the two tiny females in front of her. She wasn’t really expecting them to respond so she continued anyway.
“Your friendship was so beautiful to let a boy define or ruin it, don’t you think so?” she asked again and got silence as response, “Ehn?” she slammed hard on her table when they were taking forever to respond to her.
“Yes… Yes ma!” they both chorused as though it was planned.
“I have spoken to the prefect concerned. What we talked about is none of your business by the way. Basically, your minds are too shallow for anything termed a relationship now, do you understand me? Do you?” Her voice rose for the second time.
“Yes we do Ma’am…” their heads were bent to the ground.
“And you Helen, sort out whatever crush you have on Ezekiel as soon as possible, is that clear? When you are ready, you would find more than enough worthy young men seeking for your precious hands in marriage, and those men would not be eyeing your best friend. There is a big difference between response and responsibility…”
Helen’s tears were dropping now. All these over-pampered children. Too much of love stories and movies make them fantasize about impossible and naughty things in real life. As Helen sobbed, she affirmed strongly within herself how much it hadn’t been worth the stress all along. She regretted having to hate Laibe for something she was innocent of. As Miss Mary spoke on, guilt overwhelmed her and before she could stop herself, she ran into Laibe’s hands and gave her a long warm hug.
Laibe spread out her petite hand to accept the whole of Helen who was bigger than her in all regards. She didn’t know if she was expected to cry as well. These days, unlike before, tears are the most sought after commodities in her eyes. She can’t bring herself to cry even when she wanted to… needed to. She must have finished all the tears left in her eyes after those horrible series of events and sleepless nights. She held onto her friend like a lifeline and was grateful this day is finally here.
“OK, you both! Enough of the lovey-dovey and say what you should…” Miss Mary’s voice broke them away from the hug but they still held each other’s hands looking back at her like she just spoke the Northern part of the German language. Just then, the meaning of the words sank into Helen and she immediately turned over to Laibe…
“I’m sorry Lee, it won’t happen ever again.”
Oh that? Laibe thought as a smile flashed her face, “I’m sorry my beloved friend. It didn’t happen and can never even happen.”
They fell into another round of hug again as Miss Mary watched them fondly. She is grateful she had been able to attend to one part of her mission. With the emotional outpouring from Laibe, it would be wise she reserved the next part for another time.
It is almost closing time anyway, permitting them to go isn’t so much of a difficult thing for Miss Mary. One, she was the teacher on duty this evening and secondly, she really wanted the duo to make up for lost times at least for the few more minutes they have today before it is officially closing hour.
“Is your brother or aunty coming to pick you up today?” she asked and Laibe shook her head from right to left. Aunty Udale hasn’t been herself for some days now, especially since Baba’s ailment worsened. Fortunately for her, the health workers in the state are on strike. That has resulted into her living almost a sedentary lifestyle lately – stays indoors from morning to night and only walks from bedroom to kitchen to make their meals. Laibe, ever since Ocholi returned back to school, is usually given transport money so she would take a motorcycle back home. She dreaded the insensible speed with which these ‘okadas’ ply the rough roads yet she’s got no choice.
“What about you Helen?” Miss Mary turned her attention to the giggling damsel in front of her.
“No aunty! Dad and mum travelled out. Our cousin’s wedding, actually. I’m also supposed to take okada down home, but would rather trek the whole distance with my cutie Lee here…” she said, squeezing Laibe’s hand in hers. Laibe smiled alongside Miss Mary. It seems Helen was even more excited that they are back together than anyone else.
“Make sure I don’t get report that you both got home late by tomorrow morning… Did I make myself clear?”
“Yes Ma’am!!1” they screamed excitedly and dashed out of the office before Mary could say anything else.
She watched them run off the passage of the administrative building till they disappeared from her sight.
Miss Mary sat back into her chair. Still with that smile dancing around her lips, she grabbed her phone.
At the gate, they presented the note Miss Mary gave them to the gateman who opened the gate for them without hesitation. Laibe turned in Helen’s direction and they both gave a knowing smile as the older man opened the gate. Just when they were about stepping through, they stopped. They thought they heard someone called Helen, and later called Laibe, but since the school was rowdy cos it is time for extracurricular activities now, they weren’t sure. Making to move forward, they heard their names once more, and this time turned to see Senior Ezekiel running towards them. Not knowing exactly what to expect as he drew closer, they decided to let their hearts rest till at least he got to them.
“Hi ladies”
“Hi… HI” They chorused the response excitedly and politely at the same time.
It didn’t take long before Ezekiel suddenly realised that the gateman was standing there waiting to shut his gate behind the girls.
“I’m coming sir, I wanna have a talk with them” Ezekiel requested humbly and the older man, who is said to be a member of the ‘man O war’ only smiled in response.
“Wow!” Laibe thought. That was a first one for her, the smile on the old man’s face that is. She hadn’t seen that before, not in almost the three years she had been in this school. She finally had to conclude in her head sometimes last year that he was paid to frown.
“Your both eyes could fall me down, you know?” Ezekiel confessed immediately he got closer to them. Sincerely, the type of gaze and stare the duo were giving him was quite scary and it took his exceptional carriage, confidence and charisma as it’s characteristics of all the prefects in this school, to still come close without stammering.
Helen let out a faint smile with her hand still holding onto Laibe. The latter gave her a scow, the ‘I thought we agreed no smiles’ kind of look. Guess the poor Helen of a girl still had her little monster crush on ‘senior Ezekiel’ as everyone called the cute, dark and slim boy standing before them.
“So where are you both headed? It’s not close of school yet” Ezekiel tried to lighten the tension in the air.
Laibe scoffed and Helen looked away.
“Okay! Look here please, I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t have come in between you both. I knew Helen liked me, but I didn’t think it was that deep…”
“Mtcheeee…” Laibe drew a loud hiss, cutting in on Ezekiel, “… Of course, you men are always that insensitive, Mtcheew” she hissed dryly again.
“Well, I don’t know what you mean by ‘we men’, I’m only talking about myself here Laibe” Ezekiel defended.
Laibe’s eyes has literally turned as red as scarlet, “Of course, you won’t know. You can never know in fact…” she spilled out angrily, “Just because someone is in need of love, only because you know we seek love, attention and acceptance, you derive pleasure in taking our pride away from us, you derive satisfaction in reducing us to nothing less than a piece of rag. Why are you men so heartless?” Laibe was screaming on the top of her lungs now. Helen tried to squeeze her hand lightly earlier when her voice started rising, but she didn’t even feel it. It feels like a smoke, too hard to be constrained in the muddy four walls of the kitchen of her voice box. Her eyes were firmly shut while she spoke and a thin line of tear dragged down her cheek now.
Helen had become more uncomfortable, so was Ezekiel. The security man was beginning to make moves from inside the compound like he would soon open the gate.
This is not good, Ezekiel thought within himself. What exactly has he done to deserve all these outpouring? Especially that this isn’t the first time. He was only giving a simple apology for crying out loud. He swallowed and looked on at the girl that’s just screaming like a wounded elephant.
“The next time you want to treat a woman like trash just because you know she is in need of love and attention, remember that it was a woman that bore you” she spilled out like the words were hot searing coals that would burn her tongue if not said that fast and quick.
“Ok! Laibe, just shut up already!” Helen almost yelled, speaking out for the first time since Ezekiel got here. She was fed up with whatever emotional outpour her friend was doing right here in public. Yea! Public.
Ezekiel alone is enough public eye before Helen, things should be done pronto and well-coordinated before him and not making a public show of shame at any point. She held onto Laibe tighter and dragged her away into the main road. Ezekiel was too dumbfounded to say or do anything. He just stood there like he had been glued to the ground watching the two girls as Helen pulled the reluctant Laibe all the way to the road. He didn’t know what to think. Laibe has been every shade of mystery lately, sometimes, she is all outspoken and violent, at other times, she is returned to her shell and not saying anything, and at other awkward moments, she seem to be thinking about something only her knew about. What was going on? He asked himself again and the opening of the gate brought him back to planet earth before he could decipher an answer. He quickly adjusted his tie - nothing happened to the tie actually - and headed in before the security man would have the luxury of asking him about who and why someone was shouting. He didn’t have answers to give so he wouldn’t give him a chance to ask in the first place. He bowed lightly as he crossed the gate into the compound, keeping his head straight up, he moved towards the administrative building. There was something he needed to urgently find out.
This was meant to be a making up moment right? Of course, that was why Miss Mary permitted them to leave school few minutes to closing time. Helen had attempted to start up a conversation ever since they got on the lonely road that linked the school and the expressway. Whether it was the confusion as to what necessitated that show that’s stopping her from talking, or that the look on Laibe’s face could sting with venom, she cautioned herself just to stay quiet and enjoy the speechless walk. Laibe, as usual, had dragged all the ropes on the handle of her strap back, Tightening into a knot on her sides, it felt like she was trapped in a seat belt. That’s what she does anytime she’s beginning to want to stay off the world. It would look like a flight off the planet to a ‘thought world’ only her had access to.
Helen had to call her attention when she saw that the black Toyota Camry that’s approaching them had drastically reduced in speed so much so that it appears to be crawling right now.
“uhmmm?” Laibe gave that her questioning look again and it came quite irritating to Helen. How was it possible for someone to walk without being aware of her environment? It beats her imagination.
“The person in that car was staring at you” Helen said, pointing at the car that had just passed them with nothing longer than a mile distance.
“Me?” Laibe pointed her finger to her chest like she didn’t believe what her friend just said now, she then continued, “…but there are two of us here, right?”
Helen shook her head from side to side, “I know, I know! But the person was looking at you, so seriously, so engrossed. I’m not joking!”
Laibe hissed and stepped up her pace.
“Perhaps if your mind wasn’t so far away, you would have noticed” Helen said amidst trying to hasten up her steps to meet up with Laibe’s. Just then, her tone changed from the loud way it’s been a while ago to somewhat whisper…
“Oh! My God! He is reversing. Laibe, let’s hurry!”
It was at this point Laibe actually turned back to look at the car in question. It look so new, the tires, the mirrors, everything on the car was sparkling. If the person in the car was actually staring at her as Helen here claimed, then it’s not safe now that the person is reversing back towards their direction. She couldn’t even see whoever was in the car to start with. All thanks to tinted mirrors. Guess, ‘let’s hurry’ should actually be the action at this point, Laibe thought within as she increased her steps furthermore.
The car wouldn’t stop. It was as though whoever was in it was coming for them actually. It wasn’t coming across as something funny anymore. Though they are almost close to the main road, it is still about at least five fences to get there fully. By ‘fully’ it means, to get to a place where one can easily shout for help and get help. Helen’s heart was palpitating as she held tightly on to Laibe’s hands. Since Laibe can walk as fast as the speed of light, at a point Helen thought, people win ‘award for walking’ in the villages.
As they walked faster, the speed of the car increased as it still reversed backwards, now they heard the honk and it appears as if the person was asking them to stop but they did not stop. They cannot even stop. As if what they feared had finally befallen them, the car came to cross right in front of them in a way they had no choice than to stop. Though Laibe’s heart was also beating hard against her chest, she needed to be a source of strength to her extremely babyish and pampered friend right now. One person has to be the man in every situation.
She shoved Helen behind her as the car came to a halt. Laibe had this unshaken confidence within her that they would rather end up taking everyone here to the hospital than for the owner of this car to hurt them. She waited nervously, trying hard not to bend over to see whoever the person is, till he or she gets down. It’s even more scary that the fellow is taking almost forever to sought himself out in the car and come out, especially when he had practically blocked people from walking. Moreover, the route is not frequently navigated by cars and motorcycles. Helen had started breathing out so long that the breaths sounded like the sounds of talking gong at a typical village new yam festival.
Finally, the door of the car opened and the four eyes belonging to the two girls standing couldn’t wait for who would be the first to identify whoever this person is that’s taking the living day out of them.
Episode 24
“Touch my palms to be sure I’m not a ghost, like we were taught in Sunday school.” He said, mimicking the teacher.
Laibe giggled, “Really?” She gave him a questioning look and continued, “Of course I know you are not a ghost anymore. You drove Helen home and here you are driving me home as well, a ghost wouldn’t possibly be this tangible. It was the way your car was moving on that lonely road that got the both of us agitated, especially that that route has a reputation for kidnapping.”
She rattled on, relaxing more and more into the soft leather chair in the car. She threw her school bag to the back seat earlier so she could relax better and especially use her seat belt. Her aunty mustn’t hear that she was in a moving car without her seat belt on.
He kept looking at her, with the characteristic way he always looked back then. His eyes boring holes on her body till she started feeling shy and uncomfortable. He hadn’t changed much; he is still wearing his big shoes – timberland, as they call it. Just that this should be the original and expensive brand as opposed to the one he used back at the village. He would always say in defence that his shoes should show his kind of work, because he was made for the farm.
He has also learnt some gentlemanliness and good looking business, Laibe thought. His dreadlocks look so clean, one would think it’s braided hair he had on. Needless to say that the recent glistering of his fair skin has hidden the bulk of the tribal markings on his face. She also needed to be sure she wasn’t sensing any form of foreign accent in his voice. For real! His once scattered and unarranged dreads look as attractive as C. Ronaldo’s sporting waves now - that’s in addition to his well-trimmed beards. Money truly answereth all things. Look at Omachoko looking all beauteous. Her hand involuntarily landed on his shoulders at the last thought, with a smile plastered on her face.
“What?” he gaped when Laibe’s hands landed on his shoulders heavily… well lightly maybe, because her hands are nothing to be compared with his.
“Why are you staring at me like you are just noticing my presence here?” Laibe questioned him, sticking her tongue out of her mouth while at it.
“You… You know… I can’t stop marvelling … I mean, I can’t stop wondering how grown and changed you have become within this short time… three years right? Or two?” His eyes still bore absolute unbelief in them.
“See who is talking! Oh! You think I’m not marvelled as well huh?” she retorted.
“Ehnn!!! C’mon, look at you, you speak English so fluently, knowing all the phonation and intonations. You know all the exclamations as well. OK! I guess I’m not so surprised because that’s what you have always wanted.”
Laibe smiled, more like blushed away the statement. On this aspect, her grammatical prowess that is, she feels so fulfilled at the moment. At least everyone is commending her – Ocholi, her Aunty, her uncle, her classmates, her teachers and now him? This is some grace really.
She cleared her throat after he killed the engine in front of their gate.
“But seriously, how did your farm at Ofabo buy you this big and costly ride? What am I saying? You must have borrowed it right?” she questioned with curiosity written all over her face.
Omachoko broke out into a loud train of laughter. He laughed so much that the car key he just removed from the key hole fell off his hand.
“You didn’t have to specify the location of my farm, did you?”
Laibe rolled her eyes, “Well, I need to be sure that you are not into some 419 games too.”
Omachoko laughed even louder, “It feels good to know you still care…” he winked at her and she gave a smirk, “…Of course not. I am not into any game. Anyway, Laibe, we would have to talk better some other time, OK? You said it was a make-up moment for you and Helen, I’m sorry I interrupted the comeback moment.”
She sighed, “No problem, Helen and I would always have our time. The most important thing is that we are back now. But you? I’m seeing you for the first time in three years. The last time, you were still peddling your much-talked-about inherited bicycle, and right here, you are cruising a Camry, don’t you think I deserve an explanation of some sort?” she sounded serious now and Omachoko noticed that in her tone. He needed to tread with caution, Laibe would always be Laibe regardless of the years that had passed.
“I know right? I know! But…”
“No but, let’s go into the house, I’m sure you want to greet aunty too, even though you still don’t know my aunt’s husband till now.”
Omachoko took in a deep breath,
“I couldn’t have known him. He, unlike aunty Udale, almost doesn’t come to the village…” he paused to think, “…OK, let’s do it this way. You alone would go in today, I’m just coming from an errand and my boss is still waiting for me. You see the time?” He took up his hands to glance at his glistering wristwatch like he was showing her.
This is incredible, Laibe thought.
“So I may have to make it down here some other time. Definitely, within the week.” He begged with his eyes.
“I saw you mistakenly today, according to you. How will I see you again? How am I even sure you didn’t come there looking for me in the first place?” She asked like a statement.
Omachoko quickly nodded his head from side to side, “Nah! I told you I’m running an errand. We have a work going on up that Opulega area where your school is and I was just on my way there to settle the labourers when I saw someone that looked like you. Remember, I was driving slowly at first? I needed to be sure my eyes were not deceiving me. Then I recalled Baba telling me you got enrolled into Aleka Academy that year. That recollection made me sure it was you, so I reversed faster and came to double cross you both.”
Laibe chuckled, “Na wa for you o! It’s your boss’ car after all?”
Omachoko smiled and slide the question away as though he didn’t hear her.
“So you see, I still need to go back to Opulega and return to town before 7pm today. Permit me to go, please! I will call you when I plan to come over.”
Laibe started laughing. “Call me? Do you have my phone number? How are you even sure I have a phone?”
“Well, I was just hoping you do.”
Laibe slapped him on his shoulders again, “You will not change ‘Choko.”
Opening the door, she got down after pulling her bag from the backseat.
“Here…” Omachoko handed her an official card, “…the other number at the bottom of the card is the most reachable and available. Call me anytime, with your number I suppose, or better still with anyone’s, I’ll call you back.”
Laibe stared at the little paper in her hand in awe; the company name on it look very familiar to her. She just couldn’t recall where she had seen that before.
This is incredible, she thought again as more questions and suspicions flew through her mind but she had to be considerate; the young man is running out of time and since they were going to be talking over the phone, there is no need keeping him longer.
“Alright!” she turned to him smiling.
Omachoko smiled broadly too before kick starting the car,
“Remember you are still here…” pointing his right hand to the left side of his chest without taking his gaze off her. Typical. “…now, always and forever.”
Laibe only smiled sheepishly.
Omachoko stepped on the accelerator and drove off with an alarming speed.
Laibe stood still for a moment still staring at the official card in her hand before dropping it. She didn’t need to knock on the gate. She saw when the gateman opened to peep at them after the car halted initially. She knew he surely had left the gate open seeing it was her. She pushed it and walked into the compound, thrusting the card in a pocket opening on her school bag before her aunty or anyone else at home would see it. Just like the case of the white paper two weeks ago.
She walked briskly through the sitting room, seeing that there was no one in. Her aunty must be sleeping inside, she supposed and it wasn’t normal to have her uncle at home. She would just dash into her room and into the bathroom. She needed to ponder on the ordeals of the day while those cold water ran down her body under the shower. Starting from Miss Mary’s reconciliation mission, to her outburst on Ezekiel, to seeing Omachoko and then this familiar official card. A lot of things to ponder upon indeed. As she walked briskly through her most dreaded corridor, she made efforts to be as quiet as possible. Walking like she had hot coals littered on the floor she passed through. Her aunty is a deep sleeper, she know. In fact, she also know that the woman would not wake up even when a home theatre is set sounding at the highest volume close to her bed, but she didn’t want to take the risk right now.
“Boys now drive you home from school, right?”
She almost froze to her bones when she heard her uncle’s voice as he came out from the kitchen behind her. What is he doing there… or better still, what is he doing at home at this time? He was supposed to have travelled back to Lokoja this morning, at least so she overhead him telling her aunty.
“You heard me. Toyota Camri, Black.”
She was shocked even more and her eyes couldn’t hide it.
“Now don’t stand there staring back at me like I’m talking to a deaf fellow. Who was that person that drove you down?” His voice roaring and thundering now.
Laibe’s legs started shaking. Sweat, profuse sweat gushed down the back of her neck and soaked the white part of her school uniform. What was she going to say now? It was obvious the man had seen them… seen her, Omachoko didn’t step out of the car with tinted mirrors. Possibly, he was viewing through the wide window in their bedroom. The window was perhaps specifically designed for such a time as this.
“Laibe, after all these, you still move around with little boys? What do they have to offer you? Money? Food? What do they offer you that I haven’t? OH! Of course, a ride in Toyota Camri…” He sounded sarcastic saying that.
Laibe stood with her head inclined to the ground. She didn’t know what to say and how best to answer. At this point she was hoping her aunty would come out and interrupt them. Perhaps she would be able to explain better to her. She would be able to say it was Omachoko. At least aunty, unlike Uncle Matthew, knew Omachoko a bit well. She would be able to explain what exactly happened and why he drove her home. Apart from the fact that her uncle didn’t look like he would give any listening ear to her, she also always feels so tongue-tied when it comes to talking with him. The reason is known to the both of them.
“Don’t think your aunty is going to save you today my dear. Didn’t you marvel why I’m home? We both couldn’t leave you alone in the house. She is far away in Ofabo.” He explained like he read her mind.
“Ofabo? What happened to Baba?” she rose her head to ask this one, looking straight into her uncle’s eyes from her bottom height.
“Oh! You can talk? I thought you are suddenly deaf and dumb.” He said, approaching her hastily. Laibe’s heart started pounding fast, beating against her rib cage. She didn’t know what he was up to walking that fast towards her. Or what has she said wrong now? Asking about what was wrong with her grandfather shouldn’t provoke anger now!
As Matthew drew nearer to the little girl that was taking involuntary steps backwards, a mischievous smile tug around his lips. Only God knew what was going on inside that head of his.
Laibe got to her door and quickly opened it. She literally jumped into the room and slammed the door behind her, just before her uncle could get hold on her. She leaned her back against the door tiredly when she was sure the door bolt was fixed. Scanning her eyes through her room, as if to be sure there wasn’t any loop hole through which the seemingly angry man outside would pass through to come meet her in here.
Anger? Seemingly. This isn’t anger in that sense.
She waited, her heart racing. She waited for him to knock the door… hit it hard with his large hands till the door would break down and there would be nowhere else to run to. She also waited for him to scream her name, mutter some threatening words to her till she opened the door in fright. She waited… but in vain. She didn’t feel his presence behind the door and her palpitations started reducing. She slid down the door with her back till her buttocks touched the floor. Drawing in her legs, she held them tightly to her chest. She heard a pop sound and got startled. Looking in the direction of her dressing mirror, she realised it was her phone; she had forgotten to put it off before leaving here this morning. She tried to remember something she planned to do when she got back to her room. She tried hard for a while before it popped up in her head that she planned to call Omachoko when she gets into her room too.
“What if Uncle is actually at the door?” She thought about this as she dragged herself up to go pick her phone.
Missed call from Ocholi.
Message from Umali.
She threw the phone back on the table without opening the message. She had an idea what would be in there. Just then, she realised she had thrown her bag on the floor while walking backwards to escape her uncle’s hands.
“Oh my God! And the card is in it!” she silently cursed her luck. Getting to the bed, she fell into it like a bird would her nest.
Matthew thought it wise not to knock on Laibe’s door. He had something better pictured in his head. Turning back to leave, he saw the school bag Laibe left off on the floor in her haste to escape from him. Not seeing any use of it, he walked past it. Then, something… a thought popped in his mind and he walked back, bent over to pick up the bag. He saw whoever was in that car hand over some paper to the little girl when she got off the car. He saw the shock and confusion on Laibe’s face while she read through the inscriptions on the card he supposed to be an official business card. Since he started walking downstairs almost immediately Laibe opened the gate, so he could reach the kitchen before she got to the door, he couldn’t really tell where the girl kept the card. He needed to find it and ultimately find the fellow that has the guts to not only toy with his little girl but also drive her to the front of his own gate. Feeling a flush of jealousy and rage over him, he decided to check the bag. Laibe’s school skirt has no pocket provisions; the only place where a pocket is, is on the breast pocket of her white top. While talking with her a while ago, he was sure he saw no sign of paper or anything at all on her breast pocket.
“It’s definitely in this bag.” He affirmed as he took his seat on one of the chairs in the dining room.
“The fellow had better be out of this town by the time I see this card before I get hold of him…” He said boisterously, getting down to business.
Laibe jerked up. The loud ringing from her phone woke her. She hissed dryly while using the back of her hand to clean her drowsy eyes. Turning her head in the direction of the wall clock, she snapped out of the bed,
12:59? She screamed.
Looking at herself, only then did she remember that she had probably dozed off still wearing her school uniform. How could she have slept this deep? She threw the sandals on her legs to the other end of the room and slipped into her bathroom slippers. She needed to get her school bag no matter what now.
Dinner? That wouldn’t be necessary tonight as the last thing she would need now is her uncle sighting the very least of her. She would just tip toe out and pick her bag from where she left it. She only hope and pray that he hadn’t moved it away or searched inside it for the card. Turning down the key in its hole with the most care she could afford, she scanned with her eyes to be sure the veranda was not just safe but that no sound was coming from the TV in the sitting room. It’s past midnight and everyone should normally be sleeping now. She was surprised when she saw her bag laying at the point she left it and in the same way she did.
“Could it be true? That her uncle didn’t ransack her bag?” This is unbelievable, she thought, but the physical sign here signifies that is the case. She felt a little bit relieved as she held on to the brown bag and pulled it from the floor. There is no time to start confirming anything at this moment, so she ran back straight into her room and locked back the door. She thought she heard movements somewhere in the house while at the passage or maybe it was only her mind playing a smart one on her. She moved the key in the hole twice and attempted rolling the third time again before remembering the maximum was two times. She left off the key hanging on the door to come sit on her bed. She still felt legs walking somewhere around and whenever she turned, she saw no one. That alone had erased her initial plan of taking a shower before sleeping. She would just quietly switch off her light and cover her head with the pillow on the bed.
She looked at the door again,
“Let me remove the key and hide it under my pillow, if uncle knocks and threatens I open the door, I would tell him I can’t find the key.” She smiled at her own smartness and removed the key as she said this, switched off the light from the wall switch, managed to get her phone from the table through the darkness till she fell onto her bed.
She dropped the key inside one of the pillow cases and pulled the other pillow over her head. Thankfully, all the rooms are soundproof somewhat, so she could respond to the ringing on her phone. She saw the call that woke her up was from Umali, just then she remembered the girl had sent her a text earlier on.
“Laibe, make we talk tonight. Ebi de too.” she read out the text.
Oh! Laibe grumbled, contemplating if it was wise for her to actually talk tonight. If she had read this text when she got in without assuming Umali was sending her the usual ‘someone asked me out today’ message, she would have been able to program her mind well enough for a sleepless night. Now she actually have no choice; she can’t dash the hopes of her friends, especially that Ebi would be with them tonight.
‘Wherever her husband went to though’, she chuckled mildly.
She would call back. Airtime isn’t a problem for her as her Uncle always topped her phone anytime he topped his. That’s aside the wow free night call service her service provider offers. She had wondered sometimes ago since she started talking with her friends over night, most times with Umali and very rarely Ebi, how she would have survived without MTN Xtra cool as the tariff plan is referred.
“I think say you wan sly me again tonight…”
Umali’s voice came up loudly through the speaker of her phone.
“Isn’t it past midnight where you are?” Laibe asked, trying to have Umali reduce her voice.
“Nothing like night for Lagos, sho!!” she responded bluntly, increasing her tone even more and continued without waiting for Laibe to talk, “… lemme connect Ebi, she de on hold at the moment”
“Come, is Ebi…”
“Hi girls!” Ebi’s voice came up, interrupting what Laibe was about to say earlier.
“Ebi, good to have you here tonight. Where is our husband?” Laibe asked.
“I tell you una say him de work for manufacture company. Tonight na night shift, na why I fit follow una talk be that. Him go kill me if e hear say I de talk on top phone for night…” Ebi explained, rattling in Pidgin English. The two started laughing at the innocence with which she spoke.
They were such a solid and resolute piece of a triad. In fact, Ebi was the last person among them anyone would suspect can get married this early. She had always wanted to be this very renowned fashion designer right from time, back then at Ofabo, even when she knew nothing on the sewing machine. Guess, the separation had weakened their resolve a little. Since it was Umali that first called Aunty Udale asking to talk with Laibe after she got a little strong footing in the Lagos she went to about eight months after Laibe left for Ankpa, Laibe was shocked when Umali told her Ebi had to forcefully be married off to one of pa Alfa’s sons that worked in Kaduna. The story was so long; especially the protest and hesitation from Ebi’s side but she later had to yield in. Her father had ‘hernia’, so the doctors said and an operation needed to be carried on him. There was no money but there’s a daughter worth more than the money. Trade by barter had to be done. Though Ebi never liked the fact that she is married at barely sixteen already because she would always complain about the exorbitant age gap between herself and her beloved husband but she ought to endure everything. More so, her husband had enrolled her in a tailoring workshop. Since tailoring is very lucrative in the North, she should be able to fix herself and her life up soon enough. Isn’t that what growth is?
“At least, hers is legal” Laibe mistakenly spoke her thoughts out before she could stop herself. They had lost her in the conversation a while ago.
“Wetin de legal Laibe?” Umali attacked her like she was waiting all the while. The haste with which Umali’s normal soft voice has drastically changed into a rough girl’s marvels Laibe as well.
“Answer o…” Ebi said from her own side.
Laibe swallowed, “I’m sorry I wasn’t really talking. It was only a spilled thought.”
“Spilled thought?” They both chorused like they planned it, before bursting out into a mocking laughter.
“…spilled thought ko, spilled milk ni. Ejor, make we speak Igala, I no de for all these enefu this night.” Umali expectedly opined, speaking both Pidgin English, Yoruba and Igala together in one sentence.
Everyone had no choice now, they all have to switch back to Igala. Laibe on her own part was struggling with the flow. She had no one with which she spoke Igala with in this house and worse still, at school. She is almost getting used to speaking English too fluently that she does code mixing and code switching all the time they talked.
Having Ebi tonight, which is rare, made her the subject of the discussion. Ebi talked about her husband, thirty-three years old; the one room apartment they both live there in Kaduna south. She complained how feeding two square meal was getting difficult by the day yet the man is so in a hurry to get her pregnant. She talked about the beautiful and nice Ameriya who is their neighbour and how the woman has been taking care of her like she is her own daughter. Thankfully, the woman is also the owner of the tailoring shop where she is an apprentice. Ameriya had promised Ebi that she would set up her own tailoring shop for her if she is diligent and hardworking enough. Ebi is so grateful to the woman that she practically put all her heart into the work. At least it’s feeding her and buying her some little home needs. The only frustrating part of it all is that whenever her husband isn’t on night shifts like tonight, he rest virtually the whole of the day till Ebi comes home from work at night and without considering whether the poor girl had eaten or not the whole day, the man would only be interested in performing his ‘role’ as a man, as he always called it. And guess the role? The activities of the ‘other room’. He would do this so much so that Ebi would be so weak and tired yet have to report at the shop first thing the next morning.
“Umu gbogbe kpa me fa.” she said ‘she’s emaciating daily’. This time, her voice broke and the duo knew she was about breaking down in tears as it’s usual of her.
“Calm down Ebi, calm…” Laibe couldn’t finish her statement as she felt a hand tap on her door. In a flash, she felt a key move through the hole from the other side of the door and at this point it was obvious that someone was about breaking into her room.
What would she do now? She thought, dropping the phone quietly under her pillow so the light doesn’t come up. She didn’t even remember to end the call. It was better she didn’t because if she did, calling her back would make the phone ring loud and draw more attention. She tried to joggle her mind as to what to do before the door finally flew open.
It is extremely dark in the room and she could only feel the figure as the figure tried to find the light switch on the wall just beside the door.
“Laibe, Laibe, are you there, wetin happen? You don sleep ni abi wetin?” she could hear Umali’s voice through the phone.
“Wetin happen?” she heard it again but couldn’t respond.
She prayed earnestly in her mind that the proactive Umali would not end the call and try to call back.
“What to do?” she thought in her head as it feels like the figure was taking time to find the switch.
Oh no! Not again tonight.
She thought to scream. She almost screamed.
Screaming would not do anything. It has never done anything for all she know.
She drew her tiny legs into her stomach till she became as tiny as a snail considering the size of the bed. She is doing anything possible, maybe by any means she may become invisible.
Hell no! The light came on and what she dreads the most is about befalling her again tonight.
Episode 25
Udale trudged into the sitting room. She looked really exhausted on the long plus-size gown that dust had added different shades of colours to. Apart from the fact that it took the gateman forever to open the gate for her, she was first thankful to be with her own key anyway, and was totally shocked when her eyes fell on Matthew. He lay scattered on the settee, like someone that just ran a thousand and five hundred meter race. He would not have heard any knocks whatsoever, not when he didn’t even hear her walk in till she tapped him lightly.
“Good morning, Honey!” She greeted, trying to awaken Matthew more now. It is strange enough that her husband would sleep this deep. Matthew never does. She has always known him as a nocturnal being right from time - he jerks up in the middle of the night at the slightest turn.
Sitting up now, he wiped a hand over his eyes to be sure of what… who he was seeing. To be sure if he wasn’t dreaming or perhaps in a close vision.
“Udale!” He exclaimed in unbelief.
“Yes. The old man’s situation has gotten far more critical, I needed to bring him down here first thing this morning.”
Matthew’s face formed into a frown.
“And you choose this very early to do it? Do you know how dangerous it is driving as a woman with a sick man at this ungodly hour?”
Udale was a bit taken aback. She moved her eyes away from Matthew who had now sat up fully on the couch, wearing his boxers and a singlet. Well, the Power Holding Company of Nigeria must have shown themselves and probably flexed a muscle overnight, she concluded; especially that her husband is the least tolerant to heat. Surely that must also be the reason he came to sleep in the sitting room.
“Ungodly hour? Honey, this is eight minutes to nine Am.” She defended, trying to move his eyes in the direction of the wall clock. Her eyes caught the house’s spare bunch of keys on the table in the process.
Matthew felt embarrassed now, “Oh! I am sorry Baby, I must have really slept too deep then.”
“I hope you are OK, Mat?” Udale asked now with concern squeezing her forehead.
Matthew shrugged, “I am. Why? Of course, I am.” He quickly responded, sitting more squarely and continued before Udale would interrupt him again, “…and how is he? Where is he?”
She took in a deep breath. “He was placed on admission. I actually would want him to come home, so I can keep a proper eye on him. The general hospital is going on warning strike… all the state workers for that matter. It would be good if he is with me here, that way I won’t have to worry so much. I had to set a line for him in the hospital first though, basically because I haven’t discussed this with you before, and wasn’t sure how would take it.”
Matthew smiled with a little sense of pride.
“And did you have to come home to do that? You should have called!”
Udale wanted to talk now... to respond. She actually didn’t know why she drove down home instead of simply calling first. She didn’t think Matthew would be home today after all. Apart from the fact that she needed to freshen up and change into something better, she must have been too crowded upstairs to remember that technology has brought distance closer to everyone.
“Ehennnn! What’s up with you, Honey? Shouldn’t you be at Lokoja or one of your work sites today? I mean, you said you were travelling before I left yesterday, didn’t you?”
“I did, guess plans changed...” He used a roguish smile to hide his uneasiness, “…moreover, it was Thursday already yesterday; I felt I should just relax since it’s weekend.”
Udale kept unbelieving eyes on her husband. What he was saying sounded strange to her ears. Not when it’s been over four years, what sort of patronage was that?
“Honey! Weekend? You? Do you have a day in the week you can’t travel? I mean, you are never here over the weekends because of your so called job, or was that a smart way of missing church services?” Udale rose her tired eyelids,
Matthew chuckled lightly, “C’mon now, smart way of missing church?” He laughed at the statement which appeal extremely funny to him. “It’s true I haven’t attended church in a while… In fact, only God knows how long, but to think I am doing that on purpose is to think extremely wrong my dear.” He placed one of his large hands on her shoulders.
“But… that’s what you are insinuating… you…”
“shhhhh!” He placed a finger on her mouth, shushing her. “… it’s obvious you were not expecting to come home and meet me, and now that it is the case, you are not happy in the very least.”
Udale shook her head to disprove him, “Away from it Honey. Just that…”
“Just that nothing, Baby…” he interrupted her again, getting up and displaying his extremely huge stature, “…freshen up if you must… and on time too, let’s go bring the old man down here.”
Udale swallowed,
“Has Laibe gone to school?”
Alarm rang in Matthew’s head realising that today was actually still a working day but as usual he tried not to show it.
“Well, I doubt it. She has a full room to herself, why not check yourself?” He said politely. Picking up the keys, he slid his legs into his slippers and walked in the direction of the stairs.
Udale felt a slight pain somewhere at the back of her head; the type she usually feels when something is not right somewhere, but she couldn’t lay hold on what exactly that is. She dragged herself from the couch and walked down the veranda that led to Laibe’s room.
Laibe jerked and drew backwards towards the wall at the very instance her door flew open. Her heartbeat came out so loud that it almost pushed out through the pink flare flowery night dress she had on.
“What’s the problem? Why are you so scared?” Udale asked in astonishment. It didn’t appear normal for one to be this agitated and tensed up in her own room, especially that it’s in a big and well secured house. She scanned her eyes through the corners of the disarrayed room, raising her legs to avoid stepping on clothes as she drew closer to Laibe who was holding a pillow very firmly to her chest. Udale observed her swollen eyes and it was as though her nose was running as well. Without delay, the older woman used the back of her right hand to feel Laibe’s neck.
“Ha! Omai, are you running temperature or what?” she exclaimed, removing her hand as hastily as possible, like Laibe’s skin burnt her.
“Oh no! No aunty!” Laibe was quick to respond.
“Then why is your body this hot?…” she asked, confusion spewing through her voice. Laibe tried to open her mouth to answer the question but her aunty continued, “…do you roll this much on your bed?”
Udale’s eyes scanning over the scattered room again as she asked this. School bag - half turned out, lay at the foot of the bed. Her school uniforms were laying somewhere else on the floor. One of the pillows was left somewhere very close to her dressing table and the bed cover and duvet are struggling for who would emerge ‘most squeezed’.
“Do you fight when sleeping?” Udale didn’t think this funny as she asked again and Laibe kept greeting her questions with nods. Maybe because it’s been so long she came this early to her room too. But then, this doesn’t look like the usual rolling from one side of the bed to another that a lot of people do during sleep. It appears like a scene in civil war was exactly acted in this room over the night.
Laibe tried to push back the tears that was pushing forth from her eyes. At least, she had to heed to one warning. She must. One thing she made sure to do was not to get up or shift from the position she is now, that would mean shifting both herself and the pillow she is tenaciously holding onto in this case.
“Aunty… I …” she stammered,
“What nonsense!” Udale yelled, “…You think you are still a baby? You would be sixteen in no time from now Laibe yet your room look this unkempt and unhealthy? How long does learning take you?”
Udale rattled on and on. Pouring all the tiredness from the journey and frustrations from Baba’s ‘not responding to treatment’ on the young lad sitting in front of her; shivering.
“And is this what you do when I am not around? You skip school? Is anything wrong with you this little thing?”
Laibe was crying now. Her aunt’s voice kept rising higher and higher giving her no single opportunity to talk.
“What exactly are you good for? You don’t like going to school, you don’t do anything in this house, and again you can’t keep your own room neat? You can’t keep…”
“It’s not me!” Laibe screamed, interrupting her aunty. It has become so unbearable for her to take in, especially that she is not guilty of all these charges pressed against her. She quickly held her mouth with her tiny hands just maybe she could hold back the words she just voiced out. Too late! And she understand that she is done for already. She knew her aunty that much.
“Oh!” Udale clapped her hands lightly and sat beside Laibe, facing her squarely so as to read every detail from her voice, from her moves and from her eyes. “It’s not you? It is me then!” She drew her hand closer.
“No aunty… no aunty!” Laibe shouted apologetically. She wanted to move back but she couldn’t. She mustn’t move an inch away from where she is. Tears poured from her eyes uncontrollably as her aunty held onto her ear, dragging it with every statement she made.
“It’s not you, it’s not me? I gave this room to you alone, so who scattered it then?” she dragged Laibe’s ears harder and the little girl wailed out in pain.
“Get up! You must explain why you can’t keep a single room arranged today.” Udale got up, drawing Laibe’s ears alongside. It became more unbearable because Laibe wasn’t ready to get up from where she was. Her brain sent more and more painful signals to her ears and the wailings increased.
Laibe thought of what she would ever say that can save her from this whole thing right now.
‘Why didn’t I wake up earlier than now?’ she cursed her luck as she cried loudly. Apart from not knowing her aunty would return today, let alone this early, she was so weak she couldn’t have brought herself to waking up at any time earlier than now.
Now she has missed today’s school yet in her aunt’s trouble? All these thoughts tortured her mind and propelled much more traffic of tears down her cheeks.
“What are you doing Udale?” Matthew yelled in anger, slapping her hand off Laibe’s ears. “You want to tear it off?”
“Anything I do to her right now is well deserving. I don’t know the kind of girl I’m breeding here in this house.” She retorted, walking a bit away from the bed.
“That is the most insensitive thing you have said today.” Matthew was screaming at the top of his lungs now. With the way he vibrated, one would think he wanted to beat his wife up. “…don’t you ever lay your hands on this little girl again, ever!”
“Oh!” Udale let out a sarcastic laughter, “… You are the one spoiling her obviously. That’s why today, she didn’t have the sense to go get ready for school. Just because Aunty, ‘the bad person’ is not around.”
“You can say whatever you like…” Matthew responded, turning to look at Laibe who dropped her head immediately to avoid eye contact with him, “…You said we should go pick Baba, and I went on to get ready, only for you to be torturing this girl.”
“Baba!” Laibe jerked up as she heard that. She felt a flush of excitement and relief rush down her body. “… Baba is coming here?” she giggled like she wasn’t the one crying some minutes ago.
“Yes, my girl!” Matthew patted her shoulders. “… I’m sorry about your aunty…”
Udale hissed at Matthew’s gestures and stormed out of the room, heading upstairs to change.
“I know you have missed your grandfather…” Matthew started slowly, wiping any tear that dropped from Laibe’s face while he spoke, just before it begin its journey down her face. He felt like holding onto her petite body in his arms and have her lay head on his extremely broad chest. He felt like stroking her long dark hair and planting soft kisses in them all the way. He felt like holding her soft little body to the warmth of his chest. He felt like many things in one at the moment before he noticed Laibe wasn’t moving and could connect to it.
“Don’t worry. He is very sick though but we would bring him here and you both would have your time again.” He said, trying to get up but Laibe held tightly onto him.
“Is Baba going to die?”
Matthew didn’t see that question coming. The condition may have worsened, undoubtedly, but there is always hope in those who believe.
“Baba would be alright, my girl! Don’t worry your pretty head!”
Laibe took in a deep breath and before she could recover from that, she felt her uncle peck her on the forehead.
“Tidy up the place before we get back. You hear?” He was slow and blinked at her playfully before walking out of the room.
Laibe waited till she heard the door close firmly behind him before attempting to get up. The blood stain on the mattress and that on the pink night dress she had covered with the pillow all this while shone brightly back at her face as she looked at it. She quickly pulled the bed cover off and removed her night dress tiredly, still on the bed. Dragging close a towel from the side of her bed, she tied it around her chest. She landed her feet on the floor and made to move. She felt excruciating pains run from her legs, through back to her head. It’s at this point she realised it was more serious than she thought.
Baba wouldn’t let Udale and her husband rest all through the drive back home from the hospital. If there is anything sickness has not been able to take away from the old man, it was his talking prowess.
Ha! Baba can talk for West Africa.
The most annoying part of his nagging this afternoon was that he is making them repeat the same thing over and over again. Udale is particularly more exhausted than anyone else already. She had to use her position as the chief nursing officer of the general hospital to let them release her father, emphatically stating that she needed closeness to him. Baba woke up some thirty minutes after they got to the hospital and from the point of wheeling him into the car up until now that they are almost at the gate of the house, the old man kept asking after his granddaughter. Udale had told him over and over again that she’s fine but Baba didn’t seem to believe her. His reasons as he made a big deal out of them were that; why didn’t Laibe follow them down to the hospital if she was actually fine, and why is no one saying she went to school, considering it was still a working day of the week.
At a point, Matthew was contemplating saying Laibe was in school and that’s why she didn’t follow them down but that would be dangerous. When Baba eventually see Laibe on getting home, he would wonder why they had to lie to him in the first place and that would definitely heighten his suspicions. It is bad enough that he looked this restless and worked up over her.
It seems the gateman’s efficiency has increased these days as he no longer wait for Matthew to blare the honk countless times before opening the door. That must only be peculiar to Matthew, Udale wouldn’t affirm that.
“Wolale Baba!” the gateman ran over to the parking lot to greet, immediately he was done fixing the hinge of the iron gate into the ground.
Baba seem to be more concentrated on something he was looking for, rather than the excited gateman saluting him.
Matthew brought down the wheel chair from the trunk of the car, the gateman and him set it down before helping the old man out of the car and into it.
Udale walked sluggishly behind them as Matthew wheeled Baba into the house with the gateman carrying some of Baba’s clothes Udale had managed to bring down alongside him this morning. In the heat of the argument with her husband over Laibe, she had forgotten to offload the trunk before going back to the hospital. It was obvious different things ran through everyone’s mind as they moved into the sitting room in silence.
Udale was hoping Laibe would jump out on hearing their car drive into the compound. Of course! It’s her grandfather and she is well aware of his arrival. The whole scenario is quite strange but she, like the other three men in the room, didn’t want to raise any suspicions or cause for alarm first.
Baba’s eyes were still darting round and round the room, searching expectedly for Laibe. She is too happy a girl not to come out and embrace him. Or has she seen them through the window in her room and pained with the fact that Baba had been relegated to sitting on a wheel chair? If that’s even the case, she should at least come out and show her pain here. Everyone knew that cannot even be the case. The wheel chair mantra is because the old man has been too sick for a while and become so weak and weary in his joints. The gateman excused himself after dropping the bags on the floor beside Udale.
“ugbo Laibe de ke?…” Just when Baba decided to air out his curiosity by turning to his daughter and son in-law to ask them ‘and where is Laibe?’ he felt a little hand hold the wall at the end of the veranda in front of them. Slowly, the head of the owner of the hand came out before the body and legs sluggishly dragged themselves out as well - presenting Laibe.
“This girl is getting weirder by the day” Udale thought, as she cleared her throat.
Laibe stood there holding onto the wall like a lifeline and staring at Baba like she didn’t know who he was all of a sudden. It marvelled everyone that she couldn’t even open her mouth to say anything to anyone; let alone have the courtesy to greet. The only thing she had managed to do since her aunty and uncle left was to take a warm shower and soak her nighties and bed cover. She felt pains all over her body, grabbing her legs more than anywhere else. This is a first time and she could suggest why. It hasn’t always been like this and worse is that it chose the wrong time to happen.
“Wolale Baba.” she finally said, breaking the deafening silence that had filled the room for several minutes so much so that the only sound heard was the whirling of the ceiling fan blades.
“Would you come over here and greet Baba? Laibe, is anything wrong with you these days?” Udale couldn’t curtail the whole attitude any longer and yelled before stopping herself.
“Take it easy Honey.” Matthew said calmly, patting his wife on the back.
Udale shrugged, throwing her husband’s hand away. She was mad this time and Laibe was really learning better ways of getting on her nerves. She felt like hurrying over to where she stood leaning against the wall and pulling her into the sitting room by her ears. Perhaps, she would soon tear the poor girl’s ears if she keeps up with this annoying newly found attitude of hers.
Though Laibe jerked at her aunt’s nagging voice, that was the only reaction she could give. Left to her normal self, she would be running towards Baba to embrace him, to hug him tightly, because she’s missed him a great deal, but she cant. Even if she wanted to. It meant a lot having Uncle Matthew stick out for her. It’s really been a trying moment today.
Baba didn’t say a word. He didn’t ask Laibe any questions, he didn’t say more than his initial question to Udale and Matthew neither did he interrupt nor stop his daughter from nagging. Worst of all was that he didn’t look surprised or provoked in the very least. He only relaxed his back against the back rest of the wheel chair and concentrated the entire percentage of his eyes’ viewing ability on his once little girl who is gradually becoming a fully grown woman. He was particular about her eyes and tried to read them as quick as he can.
Matthew left off the wheel chair he was holding and walked over to Laibe. He bent in front of her so as to equal her height with his. Udale hissed loudly and sank into her seat. At this point she was more than convinced that Laibe would visit a psychiatrist or psychotherapist sooner than she estimated. She won’t stand the chance of having a growing adolescent run mad before her very eyes and under her nose.
Laibe bent her head facing the floor immediately Matthew squatted in front of her. It is now a usual thing and Matthew didn’t mind whether she looked back at him or not. Truth is, she never does. The most important thing is that she heard him. He held her little hand in his large palm,
“Pull yourself together and come greet your grandfather.” he said simply, got up and walked back to where the rest were.
Laibe inhaled and exhaled with difficulty. If she were to be an asthma patient, one would think she is having an attack already with the way she was breathing. She wished all these didn’t have to be today.
‘Pull yourself together girl, and go greet Baba’
She felt some flush of motivation somewhere in her lower abdominal region. That was good enough propelling force for her as she made to move but Matthew’s eyes popped open; Udale forgot her mouth wide open; while Baba on his own part couldn’t understand what was happening as Laibe took the first three steps… rather as Laibe practically leaped towards them like she had an injury somewhere in between her legs.
To be continued..


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