SUNDAY, JULY 13TH 2014
George was restless. As restless as a hungry lion. What happened this morning had set his body on a fire that would not quench. When he saw the way his wife’s body had peeled from the hot water and how she had writhed in pain, something within him snapped and a secret he had thought was buried had come haunting him. When Pauline had declared how much she hated him, her words had seared his heart, leaving a big hole that would never be filled. Truth was it was he that should have borne the scar. It was he that should have suffered all the years. It was he that should be asking for forgiveness. It was he that…
“Dim, abeg come help me rub my back. You know say this belle no easy.” Nneka sat beside him on the double-couch.
George did not move an inch, his eyes staring into the empty space.
Nneka noticed his still expression. “Dim, you still dey angry with me? No be your fight I fight? That ogbanje no wan leave, so I use force push am out.” She moved closer to him, rubbing his chest. “Okay, no vex. But you suppose know say na my love for you and our pickin make me do am.”
George cast two cold eyes on her. “Our pickin?”
“Yes, our pickin. Abi you no want am again?” Nneka studied his expression and did not like what she saw.
George took her hands off him and stood up from the couch. “Don’t follow me.” He ordered as he walked to his bedroom.
Nneka was confused and wondered what it was she did wrong. She was trying to protect him from that foolish Pauline and now he looked like he was actually angry at what she did. Truth was when she came back and met them talking, she had been very scared and had acted out of fright. What would become of her if the man and his wife reconciled? She did not want to go back to the village and be called all sorts of names. And what about the baby? It was his, after all, wasn’t it? A little guilt sneered at her. You dey sure? You don forget your different escapades with Azuka and Obi? She shook her head. No, this baby was George’s. She had it while with him, under his roof, and no matter what it would cost, she had every right to stay in this home. Her place was beside George now and if she had to repeat what she did this morning, she would do it with joy. No ogbanje would take her place.
George locked the door quietly behind him and headed straight for his cellphone on the bed. He needed to make a very important call, one he had been avoiding for a while now. He dialed the number and waited for the call to be picked.
“Hi, George. What’s up? Been a while.”
“There is trouble, Femi.” George was in no mood for nitty-gritty.
The person on the line took the cue. “What is it?”
“What! Does she know?”
George released a frustrated sigh. “No. I haven’t told her.”
“Then what is the problem?”
“It’s the silence, Femi. I thought I had gone past this, but it has come back to haunt me.”
“You know I told you to tell her from the beginning, but you refused.”
“Well, it was better to keep quiet about it and save my marriage than speak up and destroy it.”
Femi could feel his friend’s disappointment across the phone. “Well, so what do you want me to do? Tell her for you? You know it isn’t my responsibility to do that. I am your doctor, not your mouth-piece.”
“You are making feel more terrible, Femi.”
“You should be. You better go and tell her now before it is completely late.”
“It is late already. Pauline moved out of the house. Actually, I sent her out of the house. Another woman lives with me now and she is pregnant.”
“What!” Femi sounded stunned. “You know that isn’t your baby, right?”
There was some silence on both ends. George staggered backwards and fell on the bed. The way Femi had plunged the truth at him had left him dazed.
“George, are you there?”
“Yes, I am.”
“I am sorry your marriage had come to this, but if you had listened to me and had told Pauline before now, perhaps, she would have been understanding. That woman loved you, George, but it is clear you took her love for granted. You are my friend and I must tell you the truth.”
“Oh God!” George felt like crying.
“That baby you think is yours isn’t. You have got to send that woman packing and bring your wife back.”
“That would not be easy.”
“Well, you should have thought about that before you sent Pauline out.” Femi sounded very serious. “God gave you an egg to protect, but you threw it on the floor that it broke and you know how hard it is to get spilled egg together, but it isn’t impossible. You can have a second chance.”
“Thank you, Femi. I’ve got to go and get my wife back.”
“Good. Guess my work is done.” Femi concluded before he cut the call.
George jumped off the bed and picked his car keys on the drawer. Then he dashed out of the room.
“Where you dey go?” Nneka came out of the kitchen with a cup of water in her hands.
“I am going to bring my wife back and before I return, make sure there is no trace of you in this house. If I return and find you around, ten buckets of hot water is the least you will suffer from.” He walked out the door and down the stairs hastily as fast as his legs could carry him. Femi had mentioned a second chance. Maybe he still had a shot at it. Maybe his wife would still forgive him if she still had a soft spot for him. He brought out his phone and dialed her number. He would gather what was left of the egg and make the best use of it. Give me a second chance, Jesus. Make my wife love me again.
“Ola!” The name tore out of Pauline’s lips before she could realize it. “You are here!” She fought with all her willpower not to get out of the chair and jump into his arms.
Ola dropped the full paper bag in his arms, shocked at the bandaged arm. “I thought you said it was only a minor accident.” He moved closer to her, his face etched with worry. “What happened to you?” Then he noticed the tensed atmosphere in the hospital, the uniformed police officers who carried a man who looked half-dead and covered with blood out of the building. “What also happened here? There is a little crowd in front of the hospital too.”
Pauline stood up. “You won’t believe any of it, if I told you. Please let’s go inside.” She led him out of the reception to the room where she had been admitted. “I am just glad no life was lost. That man they carried out came into this place to kill a young girl just next door.”
“What! For what reason?”
“I don’t know the exact details, but what I picked up was that it involved drug business. I think the girl messed up the plan and the man was sent to kill her before she could expose the people involved.”
“What a mess!”
“Yes.” Pauline sat on the bed. “But it’s okay and I’m glad you are here.” Her eyes flew to the bag in his hands. “And you got something for me.”
Ola smiled. “Well, it was not really what I wanted to get, but it was the best I could lay my hands on.” He placed the bag on the bedside drawer and emptied the content.
“Beverages and drinks.” Pauline tried to hide her disappointment. What else did she expect? That was what a friend would bring his sick pal.
“Well, and I got this too.” Ola brought out the last item. It was a yellow rose inside a beautifully-designed get-well-soon card. “Just to make your day more cheery.”
Pauline collected the item with trembling hands. He got her a rose? That communicated something deeper than what she thought, even if it was just a yellow rose. “Thank… Thank you so much. I… I really appreciate this.” Her eyes caught his and they held for a minute, before she became uncomfortable and averted hers. “Thank you for your care, Ola.”
Ola closed his eyes for some seconds, trying to gain control of himself. Did he just feel some current pass between them? Did he just notice how her eyes went all soft and inviting as if she was communicating something to him? She had appreciated him for his kind gesture, but deep within himself he knew he wanted to do more, to be more. But Pauline had built a hard shell around herself, as if she did not want anyone close to her at all. Starting from when they met at the University, when he had been her fellowship’s pastor, to the time of the rape incident and especially after that, Pauline had made it clear by her actions she did not trust anyone anymore. And when he had tried to be close and develop a relationship with her, he had always met with a brick wall. So he had recoiled and always acted out the part of the fellowship pastor, and nothing more, though sometimes he had wished he could be more. But her cold attitude had driven him away, and the fear that she may not want to be more than he wanted her to be had kept him apart from her all these years, coupled with a conscious effort to forget about her and carry on with his new life. When he stumbled upon her picture on Facebook, he could not resist the urge to reach out to her again and the business trip was just perfect timing. So he had made the call he did not want to make and here he was. When he eventually met her again last Friday, the feelings he thought he had overcome had come flooding back. But as much as he tried to reach out, she still tried to hold back from him, as if she was protecting herself from him. She should, because his feelings for her was dangerous, not only to both of them, but also to their families. She had a happy family with two beautiful girls and an adoring husband and he… well, he had his own family too, though he hardly saw his kids after the divorce, no thanks to his wife having custody of them. He needed to get out of here before he said something silly.
“Where is your husband?” He found himself asking as he regained control. “I thought you mentioned he was around.”
Pauline didn’t know how to respond. “He… He…”
The door opened and Ezinne walked in with a phone in her hands. She handed the phone over to Pauline. “It’s your husband. He wants to speak to you. He is on his way.”
Ola stepped back, trying to hide the disillusionment raging his body. “I should leave.” He said with a forced smile.
“Wait!” Pauline raised her hand. “Just hold on a bit for me, please.”
The way she pleaded made Ola’s heart melt, but he knew waiting was not a good decision. “Okay, I will be outside.” He concluded before walking out the door.
Pauline placed the phone against her ear. “Yes.” She sounded as cold as ice.
“Pauline, I am so sorry.” George sounded very broken over the phone. “There is something I need to tell you urgently and I am on the way to the hospital. In fact, I am almost there. Please forgive me for what happened this morning.”
“There is no reason for you to come, George. And there is nothing you want to say that will change anything. Our marriage is over. You got what you have always wanted with another woman. Please I beg you, don’t come and create more trouble for me. Go back to your new wife.”
“It is not what you think. Pauline! It is…” The line cut, leaving George more frustrated. He increased the pace of the car. He needed to get to his wife before it was too late. She sounded like it was too late.
Pauline felt an overwhelming sense of satisfaction when she cut the call. Who did George think she was? That she would forgive him and forget the agonizing years in he made her life hell over a fake phone call? He must be kidding!
“That was the man you told me about, right?” Ezinne asked, pointing at the door. “He looks really cute, but we both know nothing can happen between you two.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you just spoke with your husband and I think he is coming to beg you. He sounded very sorry over the phone. I think you should give him a listening ear.”
“He never gave me a listening ear all these years. He doesn’t deserve mine.” Pauline disagreed. “You of all people knew what I went through. It is because of him I am in the hospital. I cannot believe you are taking his side, Ezinne.”
“I am not taking his side. I am just trying to find a solution.”
“Well, keep the solution to yourself.” Pauline walked towards the door. “I played the gullible wife for years. Today, I have outgrown that.”
“You are making a mistake, Pauline.” Ezinne advised. “That man out there has his own family too. You are emotionally distraught right now and are prone to take some actions you may regret later.”
“When you are married, Ezinne, or if you ever will, and you go through what I have gone through and survive, then you can have all the right in the world to advise me on how to solve my problems, okay?” Pauline opened the door and stormed out angrily.
Who was Ezinne to judge or advise her? Pauline thought furiously. Ezinne was her friend, not her counselor. It was she who wore the shoe that would know where it pinched. It was she who bore the scar of humiliation on her body. Funny how everyone usually had an opinion on other people’s matters, without minding theirs. Ezinne should get married first, before she was qualified to air her views on marriage matters. Pauline walked straight to the reception where Ola was waiting for her, as he should be. But what she saw when she arrived the room stopped her on her track.
Ola was chatting happily with the elderly woman as if they had known each other before. When he turned and saw her, he stretched his arms at her. “Come here, please Pauline. Let me introduce you to this wonderful woman here.”
Pauline walked slowly to them, her eyes never leaving the woman’s.
“Mrs. Williams, please meet Pauline, my good friend.” Ola introduced before he turned to Pauline. “Pauline, meet Mrs. Williams, my elementary school teacher over thirty years ago. Isn’t that amazing? She did not change much at all.”
Lola appeared calm as she stretched her hand for a handshake. When she felt the hands of the younger woman, she sensed some stiffness. “Nice to meet you again.”
Pauline muttered a rigid response, her eyes still on Mrs. Williams, and still wondering how this could have come to be. She never would have thought, in her wildest dreams, that Ola would know this woman, this woman who liked poking her nose in other people’s affairs. When she first saw the woman and her ‘goddaughter’ thief-girl, she knew they were trouble and had tried as much as possible not to cross their path. She had failed, falling into her arms like a pack of stick.
“I need to leave now, Mrs. Williams. It’s so good to run into you again.” Ola gave Lola a big hug.
“Good to know God has made you great, Ola. Don’t ever forget to serve Him more.” Lola patted his back.
Ola turned his attention to Pauline and was short of words for a second. He pulled her into a deep embrace, whispering aloud. “Take care of yourself, Pauline.”
Pauline relaxed into those strong, protective arms as if she belonged there. She had never felt safer, more loved at that moment. It was as if she should remain there, as if that was where she was meant to be. Her arms tightened around him and she could feel a tear trying to slip from her eyes.
“WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?”
The trio looked at the entrance and saw a big man standing there, looking very angry as if he just witnessed something he hated to see.
“George!” Pauline drew out of the embrace.
“You better start explaining to me what is going on here before I lose my temper permanently.” George walked into the reception, looking every bit like an irritated animal. He turned to face Ola, who looked very confused. “What were you doing holding my wife in your arms like that?”
“You are her husband?” Ola pulled back.
“It isn’t what you think, George.” Pauline tried to defend them.
George looked like he just got a blow to his heart. “I cannot believe what I just saw. I thought I was coming here to get another chance with you. I didn’t know I was coming here to get a broken heart, to see you in the arms of another man.” He spat at Pauline. “I was right all along. You are guilty of adultery, you love another man.” He shook his head pitifully. “No wonder you were eager to make me not to come here. You could not wait to be with your boyfriend.”
“You know that is not true, George.” Pauline retorted at the top of her voice. “You sent me out of our matrimonial home, remember? You felt I was barren and got another woman who is now pregnant for you, remember? Your new wife poured hot water on me that got me into this hospital, remember?” Pauline pointed a finger at him. “You have no right to come here and accuse me of adultery when you yourself are guilty of same.”
“It’s okay!” That came from the elderly woman. Lola could not believe how things were turning out. “We can settle this elsewhere, not in an hospital.”
“But you told me you had kids. Mary and Martha you called them.” Ola asked Pauline. “You were lying to me?”
Pauline didn’t know what to say. She shook her head, words escaping her mind. Tears gathered in her eyes. “It is now what you think, Ola. Please let me explain.”
“No, there is no need.” Ola stepped away from her. “I don’t want to be part of this charade. He looked from one person to the other. “Excuse me, please.” He walked towards the exit and when he passed by George, he stopped. “And I am not her lover. Never has, never will.” He walked out of the hospital without a backward glance.”
“Don’t even think of coming back home.” George told Pauline. “We were a mistake from the start.” He turned his back and walked away.
Pauline broke down on the floor, very flustered and confused. Soon, the tears starting falling like a flood. She had lost everything. EVERYTHING.
Lola watched the younger woman weep away and her heart broke. She wished she could help, but the poor woman had always snubbed her. She dipped her hands into her purse and brought out a card. She knelt beside the young woman. “If you need to talk, please call me on this number. I will be glad to help you.” She stood up and walked back into the room where her ‘goddaughter’ was being prepared to leave.
Pauline stared at the paper on the floor. She didn’t want anybody poking into her life. She didn’t want any advice from anybody. She just wanted to be alone. Calling the woman was the last thing she would do, even if it was her last breath. She picked up the card and squeezed it as hard as she could. Her life was over.
Bola sat rigid against the black leather seat of the car with her bandaged left leg and arm carefully tucked in comfortable positions. She was very tired and had just gone through the most horrifying moment of her life. In the last few hours, she had been forcefully involved in a drug deal, had nearly lost her life in a motor accident and had almost been murdered in cold blood by the man she thought was her way into a better life. Her life had been a roller coaster, going round and round and always ending up where she started, without a purpose. Stagnant.
She took a quick peek at the woman sitting at the other edge of the seat. The way her hands were placed calmly on her laps showed she was someone who had everything under control. She had come to Bola’s rescue before, when Bola had almost been put behind bars after her theft incident in the Mall, and here she was again, helping her out of a precarious situation. As much as she tried to deny it, Bola knew she owed the woman her life. If not for her, she wondered who she could have turned to. When the woman had stepped into the room after Bosco had been disarmed, Bola had jumped off the bed into her arms. Suddenly, the person she had once turned her back against suddenly became her only hope of safety and salvation. And for the first time in her life, she was grateful. Someone had shown great kindness to her and had not asked for something in return.
A little nudge on her left made her turn to see her little brother, sitting in the middle, smiling up at her. He looked so happy that Bola could not resist returning the smile. He had been a brave hero, her knight in shining armour, without whom everything would have gone sour. He had been the one who had made the call that would save her life. She ruffled in hair and tried to kiss him on the forehead.
“You should be careful not to stress yourself at all.” A woman, dressed in a nurse’s attire and sitting in the front seat, advised. “Today has been a long day for you.”
“For all of us, actually.” Lola replied. “Once we get home, we need all the rest we can get. It’s been an eventful day.”
Lola turned her head to the young girl. “What happened today is a miracle you should thank God for. That He brought us together again is astonishing, isn’t it? And at the point where you needed urgent help. I should get in touch with your parents and tell them where I am taking you.”
“No!” Bola yelped. Then she calmed down. “I mean you cannot tell anyone where I am.”
“Why?” Lola could not understand why the young girl would want to keep her location secret from her parents.
“I don’t have a family. It is just my brother and I.”
Lola faced her fully. “You mean you don’t have a family? What happened to them?”
“Nothing.” Bola was getting nervous. Couldn’t this woman not just stop bothering her with questions?
“Baba sent us out of the house.” Tomiwa cut in, much to his sister’s annoyance.
“And your mother?” Lola asked, a bit flustered by the response she was getting.
As Tomiwa was about to answer, Lola placed a hand above his mouth. “Our mother died when she gave birth to Tomiwa.” She lied. “And since then we have been living with our father until he sent us packing.” If only the woman could stop asking these irritating questions.
“Why did he send you packing?”
Bola was fed up and this time, she shouted. “He didn’t want to have anything to do with us anymore! Please stop asking questions and if we will be a liability to you too, please stop the car and let us get out.”
The silence in the car was deafening and all eyes were on Bola. Bola clasped a hand over her mouth, too ashamed of the foolish words that just fell out her mouth. Now, everyone would see how ungrateful and disrespectful she was.
“It’s okay.” Lola’s words were gentle and calm. “You have gone through a lot of stress today and are going through a lot of trauma right now. It is my fault. This isn’t the right time to bug you with questions.”
Bola stared at the woman’s eyes and tears filled hers. How could the woman still be kind to her after what she just did? “I… I am sorry. I did not mean to be rude.”
Lola smiled sweetly, patting the girl’s head. “It’s okay, dear. You were only acting out of strain. I am sure when we get to know each other better in the coming days, you will find I am just trying to help. And just to get this out between us, I do not see you or your brother as liabilities, okay?”
Bola could hardly respond and she fought to hold back the tears. She turned her head, facing the window before they could spill. Right now, she was very confused at the turn of events in her life. And as much as she tried to appreciate the kindness being shown to her, it seemed the bad side of her would always show up, that side that had grown to be selfish, suspicious and scared of any benevolence directed at her, as if there was a darkness within her, holding her from reaching out to the light that shone her way. Would she ever overcome that part of her?
Lola relaxed into the seat, her eyes closed. She had been slightly shaken when the girl had shouted back at her. Everyone had. She had enough problems of her own already, and now she had to take on another person’s problems? And the person happened to be a girl who would have none of her and did not appreciate her kind gesture. This would be worse than she thought. Obviously a very bad decision on her part.
I cannot do this, Lord. I just cannot. This is more than I can handle.
Why don’t you leave that to me and do your part.
Lola opened her eyes wide as she recognized that familiar Voice. What part is mine, Lord?
It’s so simple. Simply trust Me. Is anything too hard for Me?
Nothing is, Lord. Nothing is. Lola smiled within herself as she adjusted herself into a more cozy position as her breathing became more even and sleep she had been fighting finally took over.