“I have know for very long a time that you is a good persons. And… I say my heart… plenty of happy… for the one you did yesterday. But me… I cannot fit to accepting… into marriage you now. I… I will go school first. I will become a woman… big, big woman… and God still saying, marriage him, marriage him… I must not be able to run then again…”[/b] Laibe gesticulated every word as she barely managed to pull through the English sentences. She really wants to do it, speak English that is, as fluent and as perfect as Ocholi spoke with her aunty. She applauded herself in her head for this one she successfully pulled through even though it didn’t appeal to real sense. It was only before Omachoko she could dare this. Anyone else including her friends would laugh her to scorn, as they did some minutes ago without hesitation. Omachoko on the other hand would not, in fact he cannot laugh at her. Not when by staring into Laibe’s eyes, he could capture in them a perfect picture of his future wife and the mother of his kids. Those were what he told her, and as a matter of fact, what he’s been telling her. Well, the most important factor in effective communication, as it’s said, is that the other party should be able to read correct meanings to whatever one is saying, regardless of how crude the mode of communication is. For reasons Omachoko could not fathom, he found himself adoring, getting drawn even more and more to the beauty all endowed in just this one little innocent girl. Her hair is thick, dark and long. It lined her front head so perfectly that she look like a complete African child judging from how hairy she is. Her size: petite. She is slim, isn’t tall, and didn’t look like she would be getting taller anytime soon but he loved her height that way. She is just the perfect Cinderella he see himself as a prince charming falling in love with.
What more can a young man do when his proposal is politely turned down over and over? A point comes when perseverance becomes cheer stupidity and Omachoko right here was almost getting to that point of making a crucial but painful decision.
“No problem Laibe. Whenever you are ready. Don’t forget, you are here now, always and forever” Omachoko responded pointing Laibe’s attention to the position of his heart as he spoke. Omachoko had a fairly good command of the English language much more than anyone else in the entire village. That was because he completed the last two years of his secondary school at St. Charles College, one of the biggest and renowned secondary schools in Ankpa. He was truly close to the kind of man Laibe would want to have something with but she wanted to wait; there is a whole life and lots of time ahead. More so, she is just about beginning the real life, she can’t keep herself trapped down to something called a relationship or betrothal at this vulnerable age thirteen. Laibe smiled shyly as Omachoko spread out his arms while demanding for a hug. Her shy eyes begged him to bring down his hands but he wouldn’t. He wants that hug and would get it now. He wants the feel of having the one his heart beats for hear his heartbeat.
Laibe looked around again. What was Omachoko doing? It was bad enough that her friends left the both of them standing in this isolated place on the guise that they wanted to buy something. She knew as much as her surname that those two girls were just creating privacy for Omachoko. Whatever he bribed them with, she thought within her.
What if someone saw them while they hugged, or better still, while he hugged her? Then the person would gist a neighbour who would gist another neighbour and it would keep spreading till it gets to her grandfather’s ears. She tried to imagine what would become of her when Baba hears that, how disappointed the elderly man would be. All these ran through her mind within split seconds and when she wished Omachoko had given up, he started walking towards her with his hands still widely spread out.
OK! She quickly gave him a light hug and withdrew almost immediately but the young man wanted more and that was beginning to bother her right now.
“No!!!” He exclaimed when Laibe withdrew almost as instant as she hugged, holding tight to her shoulders.
“No!!!” Laibe screamed in response as well when Omachoko still charged forward towards her. She winced herself from his grip, started running slowly round the tree while he followed behind her. Just as they were about going round the tree for the fourth time, she heard loud giggles and she instantly knew that her two lousy friends were back.
They kept saying in Igala, ‘people come and see husband and wife o; God provide our own for us o; we are jealous o. At some point they clapped their hands while words came off their mouth in the gossip fashion. Truly, these girls could be awarded degrees in gossip mannerism. They know the appropriate way to demonstrate each statement. Omachoko only kept blushing quietly. Unlike Laibe, he had no problem with the teases from the girls, not when what they are saying are exactly what he wishes for. Laibe however wanted to explain that it wasn’t what they thought, that they both weren’t playing romantic games as it appears. She wanted to explain that she was trying to dodge a second hug, a more intense hug at that. As a matter of fact, that was all there is but the girls gave her no time to say anything before saying her grandfather and aunty were looking for her in the house.
Laibe’s heart missed a beat at that information.
Could there be any chance that she would still go back to Ankpa? Or have they concluded that she would stay back here? All these thoughts tortured her within as she ran the whole length from behind the primary school, where they all sat, and back home. Baba’s house is perpendicular to the school and only the major road demarcated the two places. Neither Omachoko nor her friends followed her as she ran. Not as though they didn’t attempt, especially Omachoko but she insisted they didn’t follow her. Reason being that she didn’t know what awaited her at home and wouldn’t want, if she has to eventually breakdown in tears before any of them.
“Ugbo elo?” Baba yelled, asking ‘where she went to’ as soon as she barely arrived the compound. His voice sounded a little irritated and that also scared her. She didn’t know whether Baba’s question was actually a question in the real sense of the words or expressions of displeasure. She couldn’t respond even if she wanted because she was panting, panting really loud one would think she would drop dead soon if she didn’t find anywhere to sit and calm down. She looked on at her aunty and couldn’t read anything from the way the older woman stared vacantly at the road before them.
Something must have gone wrong with the way the atmosphere felt, or something went unexpectedly right? She didn’t even know which to pick from any of the options.
Whether it was part of her aunt’s profession as a nurse never to show emotions on the face or not, Laibe wasn’t aware of that, one thing she knew as much as she knew her name was that, none can ever read whatever was up in her aunt’s mind from her facial expression. She masked pain as perfectly as she masks joy.
Laibe stood patiently. She was hoping someone would open up and speak to her.
She was too curious to know her fate.
She decided to ask her uncle if she would be following them back to Ankpa. It is true the man hasn’t said a word to her since yesterday but she wanted to risk it this time.
The presence of Baba should savage things and of course Uncle Matthew wouldn’t want to let Baba in on the fact that things weren’t so right between them. Just when she opened her mouth to let the words in her mind flow out, the Samsung galaxy in her Uncle’s hands buzzed and he wiped at the answer button almost instantaneously,
“Hello… Boyega? … Hello… Network is horrible here… If you can hear me, I will call you back when I get a better reception. I’m in the village”
She heard her uncle say into the phone’s receiver leaving some seconds silence between one statement and the next. With the expression on his face when he first dropped the call, she advised herself to just keep quiet.
Matthew walked over to the car, one of the village young men was washing it. This is common in Ofabo – more like an act of hospitality because the owner of the car wouldn’t even know when the person began washing. He and Baba came out with his wife only to see the young man was meticulously scrubbing the tires of the Black Ford Endeavour that had changed into gelatinous brown from the dusty roads.
Left to Matthew, the car should be left that way till he got back to his car washers at Ankpa, because no matter how clean it would look at the end of this washing, the journey back would return it to brown or even worse than that now that it was fairly wet. He just let the young man finish his work anyway, moreover he had nothing to lose except perhaps the five hundred naira he would hand over to the young man to show appreciation afterwards and with his status, five hundred naira is some piece of change he gave out all the time.
“Mtcheew!” he drew a long hiss in irritation when his phone started ringing again. Not as though he didn’t like the caller’s ID on the screen but because he couldn’t hear him. The network strength was so horrible where he was and even as the calls pulled through, he couldn’t hear anything Boyega was saying at the other end of the phone save some noisy waves.
“Why is Boyega calling consistently nau?” He murmured to his irritated self. Apart from the fact that Boyega was part of the friends he rarely remembers having on his contact list, it’s been a while since they last talked. Calling him persistently and consistently now was a big call for concern.
[/b]“Matthew, you have a call”[/b] Udale called out from where she sat lazily on the veranda. She handed over the tablet to Laibe to go give her uncle and the latter hurried off to where Matthew stood. Udale kept the tablet in her bag for him when he parked in front of the house. She knew her husband quite well and his renowned reputation of losing phones over and over. Whenever he is not with his office bags, he forgets to pick up any of his phones after dropping them anywhere and that has been how three expensive phones had suddenly developed limbs and gone missing within the past one year. They had to both agree that whenever they were in a place and he wasn’t with the bag, Udale should keep the tablet safe for him, the other Samsung was something he could easily put in his pocket as the SIM card on the tablet wasn’t used for calls and only few persons had that line.
Matthew kept muttering some inaudible statements to himself while Laibe hurried towards him. There was no way Boyega would have his other number so who on earth is bothering him at this point? He collected the tablet from Laibe’s hands – more like yanking it off the poor girl’s hand, opened the case and saw the caller’s ID.
Now it became obvious that there must be some fire on the mountain for Ocholi, his younger brother to be calling when he knew quite well they were at the village and he had the leverage to attend to any emergency in their absence. He reluctantly tapped on the receive button as the call came again the second time,
“Yes! What’s the problem Ocholi?”
Laibe’s heart missed another beat as that name was called while standing back and waiting to return the tablet to her aunty when Matthew finishes with the call. She raised her head to look at her uncle’s face and she could literally see how the face contorted into a fiercer one within a minute. He listened with eyes darting from sides to sides, like something was wrong, like something had gone so wrong.
“What! Who?” Matthew exclaimed loudly before he could stop himself. Udale jerked up and Baba straightened out on his chair as well, they both looked on eagerly as if they couldn’t wait for Matthew to be through with the call that’s arousing so much tension on his face. Patience is a virtue at this point.