Juliet Onuh opened the door to Jerry’s room and saw him standing at his usual position by the window. He’ll always stand there whenever he is provoked, or agitated, or when he is running away from himself. Like a snail, Jerry easily retreats to his shell once any potential disturbance to his peace is envisaged. He turned, immediately his door opened, to face his mother. One could ascertain from his red shot eyes that he has been brooding over some very unpalatable things.
“It was back then, after finishing from college of education, Ankpa and I went back home to stay with your grandmother at Onitsha-Igo that I met him” Juliet started, dragging each word as slow as a broken down train would move, that was aside the fear that was springing up therein.
“Mum!” Jerry stressed, “You should spare me the tales. Please take me to my real father, that’s all I’ve demanded from you since yesterday morning”
Juliet straightened out on the bed where she sat with her legs pressed together. She had rehearsed this speech for several hours before now but her grossly aggravated nervousness has progressively resulted in fear of ruining the sweet relationship she enjoys with her dear son.
“Please listen to me son” She pleaded, but Jerry would have none of it, flaring out as though a valley of dry leaves was just lit by a match stick.
“Listen to you? Damn it mum” He yelled, hitting hard on the rod. “It wouldn’t be wrong if I say you are heartless. When were you going to tell me please? When am about to die? For Christ’s sake am over twenty five years old, when were you going to tell me?” He asked, pointing his right first finger at her angrily. “Oh when I marry Tonia, right?” he added a sarcastic laughter “You are self willed, you are selfish mum, you are…”
“Enough!” His mother screamed and got up venomously from the bed. “Shut up that running mouth of yours before I forcefully shut it for you. Nonsense!” she spat. “How easy does one share a rape scenario with her own son? Eehn! Tell me! How easy is it to say that you were raped by one of your husband’s friends few months before your wedding?” she asked, trying to still keep her voice up as she gradually broke down in tears.
Jerry’s eyes and mouth opened at the same time and his nerves involuntarily calmed. He saw reasons to listen to her tale because the question she just asked sounded unbelievable. He quickly left the window to go hug his already wailing mother.
“I am sorry Jerry, I couldn’t bring myself to say it” She pleaded with a trembling voice as soon as Jerry wrapped his hands tenderly around her. Jerry said nothing more, letting her cry on his chest in silence but many activities went on in the market place of his own head, buying and selling, tremendous exchange of goods and services alike. That’s aside his regret over yelling at her in the first place.
“Okpanachi was the bravest hunter in our village, Onitsha-Igo, and also headed the vigilantes’ group. He used to like me a lot, way before Jacob even came from Okura, our neighbouring village, to ask for my hand in marriage. Okpanachi’s bravery and courage made every beautiful maiden in the village fantasize about being called his wife someday in the nearest future. Some told me they would kill to have him, but he had all his eyes on me.”
Juliet withdrew from the hug and sat back dejectedly on the bed once again as she continued with her story. She told Jerry how she never yielded to Okpanachi’s proposal before leaving the village for her three-year NCE program, hoping the young man would have gotten over her by the time she got back.
But it wasn’t so.
The only government secondary school then was shared by all the neighbouring villages in the area and that was where she taught English Language after her graduation. Jacob who was at that time rounding up his M.Sc program at the Ahmodu Bello University, Zaria took the students special tutorials in preparation for external exams whenever he was around.
That was where they first met.
She was secretly admiring the young handsome young man with so much intellectual prowess. He wasn’t like the other young men in the village, he wasn’t like Okpanachi, he was different and she also felt different about him. And the very first day they came in face-to-face contact one sunny Thursday afternoon at block A corridor, she knew he was the one.
She was rushing towards the rest room with so much speed that she didn’t know when they both collided. Jacob’s gentle stare and smile poured ice on her body. That was the beginning of persistent visits from him. Every evening, every day, as long as he was still around. They would both sit under her father’s banana plantation a little distance away from the main house and would talk for hours nonstop.
She usually took the remnant of her father’s grease from the store so Jacob could apply to the wheels of his bicycles that were already wearing out due to the red muddy roads. For her, it initially felt like a mere tingling sensation but before she could realise it, she was absolutely head over heels for Jacob.
One night, one of those rare times Jacob would agree to spend the night with them in her mother’s hut, he asked her to marry him. The hut was tiny and usually cold at night but the chirpings from the local fowls her mother kept in their little house just in front of the bedroom made the air and atmosphere a bit warm. Mama went to bed earlier as usual while they both sat on the mat under the full moon, talking and dreaming about their future lives together. Of course, she agreed to his proposal.
“Anya dachi ke” Jacob admonished them to go to bed when he realised they’ve talked past midnight and Juliet nodded in the affirmative. He then went to join her already snoring younger brother on his bamboo bed while she quietly went to lay beside mama till morning.
Days ran into weeks, weeks into months and every of the arrangements was almost half way done. The both families had been introduced and the parents gave their consent as regards marriage plans but as the native custom, the couples-to-be must not be seen together alone at ungodly hours. This, they say, makes ‘Ojo’ look down with mercy on their union. So it took them almost a week to take permission from her disciplinarian of a father to let them stroll a bit far under the moonlight.
“Onenyi! Abeleke?” Jacob greeted Okpanachi fondly that night as they both strolled hand-in-hand. Jacob and her wanted to savour the radiance from the full moon, alone, on the muddy streets. They wanted to also experience the weighty joy and happiness that filled all the inhabitants of Onitsha-igo immediately they sighted the new moon three days earlier. The moon always meant the onset of the much awaited new yam festival.
“Onobule we de i?”
Jacob nodded in the affirmative when Okpanachi asked him if Juliet was his woman. Juliet wondered in her heart why Okpanachi would ask a question that had obvious answers as that and why he suddenly turned cold when he got one. It was after that night Jacob told her they were both classmates back then at Federal government college, Okura.
“I thought that gesture would chase Okpanachi away from me. But to my surprise, no, it didn’t.” she said, shaking her head spitefully, “It even got him fiercer and more determined to get me the more.” Jerry kept his gaze fixed on his mum, neither stopping nor interrupting her.
It was the tradition of their people that the soon-to-be bride should spend quality time with her single friends before her ‘level’ changes, and that was how Juliet had to take a walk with her two friends, Abigail and Chide some few weeks to the wedding.
She shut her eyes firmly as she told the story like she was reliving it all over again. She recalled how Okpanachi met them on the road and said Jacob demanded his woman be brought to him as quick as possible
“They were both friends and he was to be one of the grooms men at our wedding so I couldn’t have suspected anything as I followed him eagerly. My mind was preoccupied with what could have possibly happened to Jacob for him to call me over to his place, for him to break the tradition. I walked as hurriedly as my legs could carry me to meet up with Okpanachi’s pace. Everywhere got darker and darker as we walked through the lonely foot path opposite the one leading to the village stream.” Juliet said, wiping up the tear dropping down her cheeks
She described in sorrowful tears how Okpanachi had lifted her up in that darkness into the nearby bushes. The bushes drowned her voice as he came on her like a wounded beast.
Jerry grabbed his mother’s trembling body that seem to be splitting into fragments soon with the way she wept soberly. He nosed her hair as though petting a child but he had more questions on his mind, like…
“Where is Okpanachi now mum? Where is my father?” He asked. His pain struck eyes begging for a genuine and sincere response from her. Juliet stared at her grown-up son. She could remember in a flash the difficulty she faced with telling Jacob about the rape incidence and pregnancy that eventually resulted. That was one of those times in her life where Abigail played the ideal role of a true friend- she kept on encouraging her to let Jacob not find out by himself. Jacob, however, walked out on her the day she opened up to him with all the little energy she gathered, but two days later he walked back into their house and into her life. She was over-elated. He said he accepted her the way she was, that he was ready to face all the harassments the elders would greet him with. He also said it will remain between the both of them alone for as long as she wanted. And that’s how it has been over the past twenty five years.
“Mum?! ” Jerry said, trying to draw back her attention
“Yes son…” she replied calmly. “Your father…” she took a deep breath and held it.
Mum stood up from the side of the bed where she sat so Dr Wale could take his seat beside me. I haven’t seen the doctor today. It was only the nurse that came in to reset my drip earlier but that was not bothering me as much as the fact that I haven’t also seen Jerry today. I felt much better yesterday after sinking in those words of his so much that I was able to open my eyes few minutes later but he was already gone by then. I’ve been hoping since morning that he would show up, but that wouldn’t be happening anymore because night is drawing closer already.
“My strong Moppet” The doctor complimented, looking directly at me.
I took my eyes away in shyness but he continued. “How are you my sweet girl?”
I turned back my face towards him and I was surprised to see Dr. Bukky coming in.
“Mummy!” I ‘exclaimed’ joyously with my extremely weak and tired voice as she bent over me. She pecked my forehead, apologising over the length of time it had taken her to come check on me. That, according to her, was because her daughter-in-law in Georgia recently put to bed.
“No problem ma. I can’t say about living but am alive” I replied.
Since I regained consciousness, I’ve been feeling a terrible pain on my lower abdomen, so unbearable that am unable to talk most times. I am still optimistic for a kidney donation miracle because obviously my clock is ticking faster now.
“So it’s a chance as you already know darling, but I assure you that my team and I would do all we can.” Dr. Wale said, almost whispering.
He had that smile. The same one that made me less nervous when I transited into his care, the same one that gave me assurance and gust to live well with my condition up till now that am two years away from my silver jubilee. That smile, though on a much older face, ageing every day, the same smile remains.
“What is a chance, please?” I muttered with confusion worn all over my face like a mask.
Dr. Wale turned in the direction of my mum. She was shaking hot pap in a cup for herself. Yes. Herself. I can’t take in food anymore neither can I normally urinate. Thank God for dialysis and intravascular fluids. So much for loosing kidney functions resulting from sickle cell disease. The way mum’s countenance fell on hearing the doctor’s question baffled me a little. Dr Bukky sat with Success, they both were engaged in a discussion that I wouldn’t have heard even if I eavesdropped.
“You haven’t told her yet?” Dr Wale asked mum.
“Told me what please?” I retorted giving mum a questioning look. “Please, someone should talk to me.” I began sounding really nervous now, it was then mum loosened up her face and then a smile began forming until it started dancing around her lips.
“We have a donor, Baby” she screamed, jolting Success and Dr. Bukky from the side where they sat.
I was confused on what to do at first. I felt like getting up, I felt like rolling on the floor, I felt like screaming, I felt like wailing. It sounded too good to be real.
“Oh God! Thank you” I said out loud as hot tears streamed down my cheeks. Those were tears of joy… true joy!
“Yes Moppet. The surgery would come up in the nearest possible time” Dr Wale said,
“Right away doctor” I opined with ecstasy. That made him laugh
“Your donor needs to complete undergoing the pre-donation tests and counselling sessions before we do the transplant. But it won’t be longer than forty-eight hours from now. We have it all covered.”
I pressed my lips against each other, nodding my head to an unheard rhythm. Mum and Dr Bukky were talking with so much excitement. I haven’t seen mum’s face been lit up this much in a long while.
“Who is this God-sent that is saving my life, doctor?” I asked
He looked down at me and shook his head from side to side.
“We don’t have any specific identity about the fellow. In fact, for conditions like this we most often than not receive donations from altruistic individuals so it didn’t sound strange to me when the fellow preferred to be called ‘Anonymous’”
“Anonymous?” I stressed, straightening out my head on the pillow.
To be continued…
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