It’s been just a day off this place. Yes. Just a night ago or simply put, just yesterday and everything look different in Laibe’s sight altogether. First it was the usual pathway that led to her friends’ houses. It was as though someone trimmed it to the form of a lawn; like a carpet grass somewhat. Then, Ebi looked fatter than how she used to and Umali appeared to have shed off some height. Yes, height. Funny! But that’s how she is seeing it. She couldn’t understand what exactly was happening to her eyes. Was she having issues with vision already or her perspective to life has quickly changed within a day? So much so that she now see everything as beautiful, as adorable?
Ebi ran the distance to hug her when the former sighted her from afar off. The both of them ran to Umali’s house and after greeting her parents hurriedly, they decided to take a walk to their ‘joint’. That’s where they always sit to talk – quiet and shaded. A perfect place for perfect gossip, courtesy of the three most talked about girls in Ofabo. Ebi and Umali took turns to narrate the ordeals that ensued between the hours of yesterday morning and today to her. They both were careful and meticulous enough to explain every detail, including saying the words as there were spoken and even mimicking the voice of the speaker. They started gesticulating from how Omachoko scared the living daylight out of them when he said someone was kidnapped in Ankpa yesterday morning. Umali mockingly explained the part of Ebi’s uncontrollable tears, demonstrating it in such a scornful way that Ebi started pursuing her round the tree they all sat on its cut branches. Laibe could not control the laughter that was spewing off her mouth and whenever she tried to catch her breath, something seem to make Umali rewind her mocking tales all over again. That’s how they are and have always been. Innocent. Young. Happy.
Laibe couldn’t have asked for any better company all through her life beside these two wonderful girls that make her life worthwhile. From their gist, she tried to sum up in her head whatever could have gone wrong; Baba must have actually thought she was kidnapped and perhaps ordered her aunt to bring her back home this morning as early as possible, those were the conclusions her mind came up with. But she wasn’t kidnapped, she thought within herself. More so, that was not what Ocholi told her. Ocholi connected her abrupt return to something that had to do with her Uncle and the more she tried to joggle her brain, the more she realises that she needed one of either her aunt or uncle to bring her into the exact picture of whatever was going on. She rubbed her first finger lightly against her temples as her head was beginning to ache more seriously. Just then she felt the other girls tickling her and she jerked up. She is always extremely sensitive to touch, sensitive to a fault at that and ever since Umali and Ebi discovered that one day, they continually used her weak point to their advantage.
It was a hot afternoon that day and they were all having a swell time of discussion in her mother’s hut when one of them said something that really pissed her off – It was Umali. Don’t get it wrong, Laibe never picks offenses easily, in fact, people in the village used to think she was a reincarnation of one of their goddesses with the easy way she lived her life and do her things, especially after all the inexplicable events surrounding her life. Some women call her ‘iganya ki ma nuchejun’ which is interpreted to literally mean ‘the sight of indescribable beauty’. Her spirit is warm, receptive, tolerant and accommodative to everyone that came around her but that day was quite different. Umali called her a fool for being so tolerant with one of her customers that kept piling up debt from continuous uncleared purchase of garri. Not as though Umali was totally wrong howbeit the manner of approach was just not it. Laibe didn’t share her worries with her friends to get litigated, did she? She believed she should feel better after talking about a pressing issue with them, why it is said a problem half shared with the right person is half solved.
The ‘fool’ part of Umali’s statement came across as a grave insult which got down all the way through her bones into the bloodstream. She felt like spanking Umali on the head or chasing her out of her house but as she usually is, there is no strength for troubles. She can’t make one and even when one is made for her on a platter of gold, she can’t handle it, so she just kept quiet. The girls tried to appease her, apologise to her in a way that would normally make her laugh yet she sat stiff-necked, just minding her own business. Ebi resulted to tickling after countless failed efforts and Tada! It worked. Laibe instantly burst into an uncontrollable laughter before she could stop herself. When Umali joined in the tickling exercise, Laibe found herself rolling on the floor and begging the both of them to let her go that they were already forgiven. It was from then this act became more than recurrent.
“Yes. What? Yes!” She exclaimed as she tried to keep herself from laughing. To her utter amazement, her friends stopped and burst into a loud thunderous laughter as if they were next in line on the laughing queue. She paused to look at herself, was anything so funny on her body right now? She couldn’t understand whatever made the girls laugh in a way that Umali had to lay bare on the dry leaves littered under this tree. It was when the two had laughed to their fill that they told her what aroused the laughter: It was her English.
Another round of mockery began; just a day in Ankpa and she’s become such a Queen Elizabeth already; we that are local here cannot speak English o; What if she had stayed longer?; Then she wouldn’t remember how to say her name anymore; Umali and Ebi took turns to say all these in Igala like they were talking about someone far away, using a ridiculing voice and Laibe only kept laughing as the duo continued catching real fun out of her.
She didn’t even have plans to give them any response. One would, as a matter of necessity, have to transverse her heart to be able to see how proud she was when Ocholi finally began addressing her in English. They, Ocholi and her that is, didn’t have any much discussion but she understood the few things he said to her at the different points they spoke and when she didn’t know how to correctly construct her response, she only replied him by nodding courteously. She is aware that she doesn’t have much mastery of the English Language yet, but there was no way she would ever improve if she continue keeping quiet because she gets scorned at any attempt to voice out just a word in English by her two other halves. That was part of the core reasons she was very happy to go to Ankpa, knowing fully well that even if her aunty doesn’t enrol her in a secondary school, the interactions she hope to have with neighbours around should make her pick up some basic knowledge.
“Ok! Ínyó mé” She tried to stop them by saying ‘it was OK’. If she does not do this, the girls would not round up the ridiculous laughter that had lingered for about eight minutes already. It worked. Ebi and Umali shook their head with the ‘now you are talking’ connotation. Laibe started smiling at her crazy friends but her smile slowly, till it ultimately vanished when they advised her to reconsider Omachoko.
Had something come lose in their heads? She stared at the duo like her eyeballs would pull out of its cage. Her shocked eyes begged them to seal their mouth but they wouldn’t bulge.
These girls were the same set of persons that killed whatever chances would have been between Omachoko and her. Their talks, blasphemous words and abusive remarks made her wave the poor boy off even before considering. Right here, they are telling her to reconsider listening to him all over again, strongly taking reference from the events of yesterday and telling her how many times Omachoko ran over to Edogbanya’s house – the only man that own a phone in the village – to confirm if he was back from Aloma or not. It’s amazing how people talk with both sides of their mouth over one issue. Laibe knew she was grateful, so grateful to have someone stick his head all out for her like that at his own inconvenience. She was ready to show appreciation but not by accepting his proposal for marriage. It may not be normal around here, still she was only a few months shy of thirteen for crying out loud. They are more things she planned to do with her life other than ending up in the kitchen, sitting room and the ‘other’ room. Plus, Ocholi her newly found crush was still there at Ankpa. Her fate with her crush however, would be determined by whether she is allowed to go back to Ankpa or left to remain here in the end. Whichever way, she has braced up for any of the two.
She noticed deafening silence around her. The two girls had unusually become quiet as they both stared into empty space. She knew something mischievous was about to happen and before she could ask why no one was talking any longer, she saw Omachoko walking towards them through the low scanty bushes. Laibe stole a glance at her friends and they both kept a straight face, like they didn’t know he was coming or better still, like they were also not aware at all. How be it? No one else knew this hide out. It is inside the bush deep behind the Local Government Area primary school, so inside that nobody would hear a thing even if one shouts for help from here. There was no way Omachoko would have known if none of the girls told him. This was a trap, right? She bit her lips mildly as her eyes flashed from one person to the other in quick successions.
Omachoko was walking too slowly and at a point she felt he was crawling. Maybe it was only her mind. Many things ran through it as she tried not to stare at the young man walking towards her direction, their direction as the case should be. When he finally got closer to them, he simply smiled at the duo before taking two steps forward to stand directly in front of Laibe. She is still sitting on the branch of the tree and if there was anything she avoided as much as it depended on her was eye contact with Omachoko.
His right hand was in the pocket of his faded black jean on which he wore a polo whose colour we cannot place but it was a polo all the same. Then, he was too mute for comfort.
“Laibe, wólà ùlé wùnyí” Omachoko opened his mouth to talk for the first time since he got here and what he could bring himself to say was ‘Laibe, welcome back home’.
Laibeplaced her innocent questioning eyes on him.
Could that be true that she was truly back home? Laibe asked herself as she jumped down from the branch on which she sat. She needed to face Omachoko more squarely.
Ocholihad to walk over to the gate when he overhead some heated arguments. Initially, he thought it was just his ears because he had dozed off on the cushioned sofa in the sitting room while trying to watch a program on WapTv since everyone left. The manner with which he was awoken this morning wasn’t healthy for him at all and he knew himself that much. The whole day would be wasted if he had to jerk abruptly from sleep for any reason. All thanks to yours truly – Bro Matthew. He forced his drowsy eyeballs open and stepped out of the building, only then did he see the intense argument was actually between the gateman and someone outside the gate. He had always maintained that this gateman was a thorn in the flesh – No manners, no sense of courtesy and ultimately, he is extremely lazy. Sometimes ago, Ocholi calculated what he would have done with the so much money they wasted on the man’s monthly salary. He tried to figure things out till he saw there was nothing he could do. He can’t sacrifice school and start working as a gateman in his own elder brother’s house.
That would be the height of defamation and a family meeting would promptly be called eventually.
“I believe this is Dr Matthew Onoja’s compound” a woman’s voice greeted him, just when he barely got to the gate.
“Oga, I tell this woman say big Oga no de house. I talk say everybody comot, e no wan go” the gateman broke out and started explaining in Pidgin English. Ocholi was not only startled but was beginning to get pissed up with the unnecessarily loud voice the gateman spoke with. Aunty Udale had told him their gateman had some hearing disabilities. So? He should bring everyone else to his condition by screaming as though we were all deaf as well? Whoever uses a partially deaf old man as gateman anyway, he muttered inaudibly. Maybe that was why the woman in front of the gate had irritation wrinkling her well powdered face. The loud shouts of the gateman was very embarrassing indeed. Thankfully, this area isn’t so busy.
“Yes it is. I’m so sorry about the harassment Ma’am, how may I help you?” Ocholi responded politely, ignoring the gateman.
“I don tell am that one sef” the gateman interrupted.
“Please go into your office. I will take over from here” Ocholi ordered, trying hard not to raise his voice at the elderly man.
The gateman obeyed and in no time he was left standing face to face with the woman who read out the address loudly from her android phone for the fourth time.
“I’m really sorry, Ma’am” Ocholi apologised again and the pretty woman just responded to him with a s–t-eating grin before heaving a sigh of relief.
“At last!” she exclaimed “…It was so hard locating this place, thank God I’m here at last” she said, pulling the large travelling bag behind her as she trudged into the compound immediately Ocholi opened the little gate wide enough.
Ocholi didn’t understand a thing anymore. The face of the woman didn’t look anyway close to being familiar but that was not the only cause of his worry at the moment. He couldn’t say if it were his usual hyperactive eyes or his ‘always assessing’ personality, but the woman looked heavily pregnant.
Though she appears like a well comported person, the type that took proper care of their bodies and try to still maintain their smart shape during pregnancy. With the manner with which she still walked smartly on a black heel and jean trouser, she is undoubtedly civilised to the core. Atop the trouser she wore a flare orange dress, flare enough to hide her protruding belly from the eyes of one someone that is not observant enough.
Pulling in a bag that look like she intends to spend the rest of her life here baffled Ocholi the more and it was at this moment he knew better than not to ask one salient question,
“Who are you, Ma’am?”
“I have come to Matthew’s house finally.” She said, still in her mood of excitement and not necessarily in response to what Ocholi just asked her. Ocholi swallowed and decided to ask the question again till she will hear him and respond appropriately.
“… Please where can I sit? It’s been a long and tiring journey” She snapped just before Ocholi opened his mouth. Wearing back her sunglasses, she headed towards the entrance of the main building without waiting for any further lead or directions.
Ocholi’s legs remained glued to the ground at the gate like an immoveable pillar.