Damage Control #9

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Read Previous episode here

***

Leslie propped the pillows behind Ojiugo, trying to ensure her maximum comfort in bed. The sheets had been changed to bright shades of pink and purple. The room itself had undergone some transformation. Ojiugo had remarked a few times about how dull the place looked so just before she came home, Leslie spent hours redecorating. He changed the position of her bed to give a better view of the window and on the walls, he put up colourful wallpapers, landscape paintings and some of Ojiugo’s favourite quotes. For all his hardwork, he had been rewarded with eyes that shone bright and a warm smile the second she walked into the room.

“You transformed it!” she had said with child-like delight and Leslie found pure contentment in that moment.

“Can I get you anything?” Leslie asked once he stepped away from the bed.

“Some water please.”

Leslie stepped out of the room and returned momentarily with a bottle and glass in tow. He placed the bottle on the table by her side, right next to a monochrome picture of them sitting side by side on an extensive patch of grass. Ojiugo took the glass he offered with a smile and sipped from. As she set it down, she noticed the picture and she smiled.

“I liked it there you know. I know I gave you such a hard time on that trip, but I really liked it.”

Leslie smiled in return.

“True confessions. I wonder how many more of those I’m going to get in the coming weeks.”

Ojiugo grinned widely.

“Look who’s making jokes now.”

Leslie swallowed hard and turned away.

“I know I don’t have that much time left Leslie. Thank you for not making it tough.”

With his back still to her, Leslie shrugged and focused on smoothening the sheets at the end of the bed.

“Have you heard anything about Belema yet? Did you ask Ikem about her?”

Leslie sighed and he turned to face Ojiugo again.

“No darling. I didn’t. And you must stop worrying about her too. It’s how we landed in the hospital again. Stop doing this to yourself please. It’s hurting me too.”

Ojiugo’s face fell.

“Sorry. I’m just wondering how she’s doing and something about her has me really drawn to her. I can’t get her out of my mind.”

Leslie smiled mischievously.

“I’m getting replaced by a woman. So that’s how you choose to swing in the latter days?”

Ojiugo laughed softly but soon began to cough. Leslie’s face was overcome with concern as she held her head tenderly.

“Sorry love.”

Ojiugo nodded and once the coughing subsided, she was wearing a smile.

“Made wants to come by and spend next weekend with us. That woman will be the death of me Les. And she wouldn’t let me say no.”

Leslie snorted in an attempt to keep from laughing but failed.

“One weekend honey. Let her come and stay. Please.”

Ojiugo turned away. Made was her best friend. When Ojiugo lost both parents in a plane crash at 6, Made’s parents took her in and the two girls grew together like sisters. Work kept them in different cities but they stayed in touch often. Made cried her eyes out when she found out about the cancer. Ojiugo kept it hidden from her for over two months and when Leslie got tired of the cover up, he told Made the truth. As much as Made was always busy with work, she created time the very weekend Leslie told her and flew down from Calabar. Made was such a worrier. And that was the major problem Ojiugo had with her. It was why Ojiugo kept the issue with her health a secret and it was also why she didn’t want Made coming over now. Because Made would worry and fuss and probably burst into tears at random occasions without warning. It would stress her and she did not feel up to it.

“If you say so. But she’ll be your headache when she starts with the drama. I love her but even you know she can be more than a handful.”

Leslie smiled and rubbed her hands.

“I’ll take care of her darling. Not to worry.”

Ojiugo smiled and shut her eyes, falling asleep almost immediately. Leslie observed her for a few minutes before getting up and leaving the room. Once outside, he took in a really deep breath then exhaled slowly. Just before leaving the hospital, he had another talk with Dr. Ikem who encouraged him some more to give Ojiugo as much support as he could emotionally. He spent a few hours surfing the internet, trying to look for clues on how to deal with a loved one who was nearing their death and he did find some helpful information. It was why he easily flowed with Ojiugo’s jokes today. Usually, whenever she attempted to make some light hearted comment on the topic of her limited time left, Leslie would take it to heart and get in a mood. But he was gradually understanding and accepting that it was part of her coping mechanism, a way to find her peace and he was not going to stand in the way of that anymore.

He also knew Made would be better off not coming by the house but he had no means of keeping her away. She loved Ojiugo too much to not visit her in her final days. He sighed as he contemplated what to do in the one week before she turned up then he suddenly remembered Ojiugo’s comments about Belema. He decided he would try the house one more time and probably set up camp there till someone came to tell him where Belema was. But that would have to be tomorrow. He was tired and needed to get some rest himself.

He went into the kitchen and took some beans from the freezer to microwave. Ojiugo would likely be asleep for a long time. He would use the opportunity to get some shut eye before he had to cater to her again.

***

Mrs. Ochoga looked like she had just been hit by a truck. Belema would had laughed had the circumstances been different but she knew there was no room for humour. She had come to the end of herself. She was tired of bottling things up. She needed her mother and as she sat there holding her gaze and waiting with bated breath, Belema hoped that her mother would prove an ally and come through as a mother would, just this once.

“Is it Seun’s?” Mrs. Ochoga finally asked

“Yes. But I can’t tell him and I can’t keep it either.” Belema said.

Mrs. Ochoga had no words. She stood up and walked to the other end of the room and folded her arms, looking out the window.

“Mum?”

“Yes?”

“Say something please.”

“Like what? That my first daughter keeps trying to embarrass and disgrace me?”

Belema gasped in shock. Here she was, having just opened up to her mother and the first reaction she got was fear for her mother’s image as opposed to concern for her wellbeing. She cautiously dropped the wine bottle she had been holding and just as quickly as she had opened her heart, she clamped it shut again.

“Well, I’m sorry all I have ever done is embarrass and disgrace you. I’ll take care of this myself. Don’t worry.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?” Mrs. Ochoga snapped. Even in her anger, she remained passive. She could not bring herself to yell or throw things around the house, even though that was exactly how she felt on the inside.

“First you try to commit suicide, and now you want to commit murder?”

“I never said anything about murder mum.”

“Really? So abortion is what? Life transformation?”

“I didn’t say anything about an abortion either and would you just stop jumping to conclusions? I hate it! This is exactly why I gave up the first time. You don’t listen. You don’t care and you don’t try to protect your children. It’s always about you and what you want or how you feel or what people would think of you. Not a single thought ever goes to your children. But that’s fine. I don’t even care anymore.”

Belema rose and walked out of the room, leaving her mother standing by the window with tears in her eyes.  As she walked to her room, she heard Nengi and Olanna laughing in Nengi’s room and another wave of sadness hit her. She greatly desired a bond with some friend similar to what Nengi had with Olanna but no one in her life came close. The gulf between Seun and herself was widening daily and there was nothing to do about it. She got into her room and slammed the door shut but seconds later, someone was knocking on it.

Belema lay in bed and refused to acknowledge the person. She was certain it was her mother coming either with some other weak apology or to further berate her but she was not in the mood. The knocking soon stopped and the door opened cautiously and Olanna peaked through it with Nengi bearing over her. Belema looked at them and was oddly reminded of cartoon scenes with mice peering to be sure a cat wasn’t about and the image made her laugh. Olanna then opened the door fully and the two girls poured into the room.

“Sorry, we weren’t sure if you were here” Olanna began to say.

“Stop lying jor” Nengi interrupted.

“We heard you come in and slam your door like you were trying to cause an artificial earthquake. Are you okay?”

Belema smiled inspite of herself.

“Yeah. Your mother wears me out, no matter how hard I try. But you already know this.”

Nengi grinned.

“Well try this on for size, I want to put Olanna up for sale for the exact same reason.”

Belema laughed and looked from one girl to the other. Olanna had a twinkle in her eyes and shrugged when Nengi made the remark. It was obvious the girl had no intentions of going anywhere.

“Your sister is being a complete learner. One guy likes her and is making all these romantic gestures but she is forming for him as if good guys are not scarce in the market. Meanwhile Valentine is around the corner.”

Nengi jumped into Belema’s bed, picked up a nail file that was lying on it and began filing her nails.

“Well, since he is so good, why don’t you have him?” she retorted.

“Because he wants you, not me.”

Belema smiled warmly and watched on in silence as they continued their banter. But in her heart, she was grateful for her baby sister who she knew had come to her room to provide comfort without knowing the details of what had her upset. And Nengi never bothered questioning her or pushing to share more than she was willing to per time.

She soon noticed that Nengi had launched into a monologue while Olanna busied herself rummaging through Belema’s book collection.

“You only have romance here.” Olanna remarked suddenly.

“Huh?” Belema looked up.

“Your books. Is it only romance you read?”

Belema smiled.

“Yeah. Those are the ones that interest me the most.”

“Hmmn. Okay. But I think you could try other stuff sha. Maybe you’d find some other thing that appeals to you.”

“Yeah? Like?”

“Non-fiction? Biographies? Self-help books?”

Belema made a face

“Ugh. I hate those.”

Nengi and Olanna burst out laughing.

“I swear. Nengi knows. Bunch of self-absorbed people telling you how they think you should live your life. No thanks. I’ll pass.”

“Save your breath Ola. I have tried and failed with my sister on that one. She won’t budge.”

Belema smacked Nengi with a pillow and the latter laughed some more.

“I get persecuted for the truth. But issokay. Jesus was killed for the truth.”

Belema shook her head and got off the bed.

“Why don’t you bring me one of your most favourite non-fictions books and I’ll give it a shot.” She said to Olanna.

Olanna smiled brightly.

“Sure thing. Tomorrow.”

“I need some fresh air. You guys fancy some pizza? Maybe we can go to Dominos?”

“Yessssss!” Nengi yelled excitedly, jumping off the bed in seconds.

“Food will kill you.” Olanna teased.

“Then I shall die happy.”

Belema smiled and shook her head. So maybe she did not have a friendship like Nengi had with Olanna but she at least had both girls and occasionally shared in their friendship. In the interim, that would most certainly do.

***

Mrs. Ochoga woke up the following morning with a nagging pain in her chest. No matter how hard she tried with Belema, she always ended up failing. They did not have the special bond most mothers had with their first daughters and it made her sad to know that Belema thought her selfish and uncaring. She wondered what she could have done differently. Belema was 30 and responsible for her choices but there was no doubt that those choices would always reflect on her one way or another. And why did Belema not want to tell Seun?

Someone knocked softly on the door and she turned on her side and invited them in. The door opened and Nengi walked with a smile as radiant as the sun. The girl was always so bubbly and energetic.

“Hi mum!” Nengi called out cheerily.

“Hello dear.”

Nengi walked to the bedroom windows and pulled the drapes apart. Sunlight came pouring in, forcing Mrs. Ochoga to shield her eyes.

“I didn’t see you last night and you haven’t gotten out of bed this morning. Was the fight with Belema that bad?”

“What did she tell you?” Mrs. Ochoga asked tiredly.

“I haven’t asked her yet. At least not directly. If she didn’t tell me with all the hints I was dropping, I take it she’s not ready. So I’m here asking you instead.”

“Go and ask your sister Nengi, because I am tired.”

Nengi went and sat beside her mother in bed.

“Mum, she’s still recovering and I think we should handle her with care. I don’t want us to do anything that will send her back to that depressed place where she tried to commit suicide.”

“Nengi, your sister is an adult and I will not walk on egg shells around her just because I’m afraid of doing something that will make her want to kill herself again. So somehow that’s my fault too?”

“I didn’t say that mum.”

“Then what are you saying? Because Belema blamed me yesterday for her suicide attempt.”

Nengi sighed

“Mummy, I’m very certain she didn’t mean that. Maybe she just got really upset over whatever it was you guys were fighting over and she said that because she was angry. I don’t think she meant it at all.”

Mrs. Ochoga remained adamant.

“Just tell your sister not to do anything stupid again. I need some peace and sanity in my life.”

She got out of bed immediately and went into her bathroom. Nengi sighed again. Who had cursed her with this unending charade that was her family?

She stood up and walked out of her mother’s room. She honestly did not want to know what the fight was about. She just wanted Belema to be happy again and for her home front to not be chaotic. But that was apparently too much to ask for.

As she walked into the living room, she was surprised to see a tall guy in glasses sitting with Belema. Something about the young man was vaguely familiar but Nengi could not place it. They both looked up as she walked in.

“Hello,” Leslie said with a smile

“Hi.” Nengi returned the smile.

“Nengi, this is Leslie. He’s the boyfriend to the woman who rescued me on New Year’s Day.”

Nengi’s smile warmed up some more.

“Oh hi, it’s nice to see you again. But why are you here so early in the morning though. Everything okay?”

Belema stared at Nengi in shock and tried to make subtle faces to keep her from making further tactless comments and Leslie laughed.

“We were just concerned. Actually, Ojiugo is. She hadn’t heard from your sister here in weeks and each time we came here, we never met anyone at home so I promised her I would come and check one more time, really early, in the hope that I would at least find someone here.”

“Ohh. Right. Well, it’s nice to see you again.”

“Same here.” Leslie responded warmly.

To Belema, Nengi said

“Belz, can we talk later? I’ll be in my room.”

“Sure.” Belema responded and Nengi walked out.

Belema turned her attention back to Leslie.

“Sorry, you were saying?”

“Ojiugo would like to see you again. She’s actually been worried about you.”

“Well, that’s sweet of her but I don’t think seeing her again would be necessary. I mean, you could just tell her I’m fine and won’t be taking another dive anytime soon. My family has been supportive and I’m on medication.” Belema said politely.

Leslie’s tone was urgent when he responded.

“But you need to. I’m begging. It would mean so much to her.”

Belema shook her head.

“I’m sorry. And I know this might come off as rude, but I don’t think we have any further business with each other. She rescued me, I’m grateful for that. But I don’t want to force a friendship. It’ll be awkward for me. I’m really trying to forget what happened that day and I don’t see how visiting her will help.”

Belema stood up to indicate she was done with the conversation but Leslie remained seated. He took off his glasses and looked her straight in the eye.

“Ojiugo is dying. She’s got cancer. The least you can do for the woman who saved your life is grant her dying wish.”

Belema gasped and promptly sat down again.

“Jesus! I had no idea.”

“Of course you didn’t. But please, this is important. She got so worried about your disappearance, she landed in the hospital again a few days ago. She’s got a limited amount of time left Belema. Please. One dinner. Come by the house, talk to her, listen to her talk. A couple of hours at most.”

“Yeah, sure. Sure.”

She stretched out a hand and took Leslie’s.

“I’m so sorry. Honestly. This must be so hard for you.”

Leslie shrugged and pulled his hand back then put on his glasses.

“I’m alright. I’m crazy in love with her and will do any and everything possible to ensure she transits peacefully. There’s nothing else to be done.”

“What kind of cancer please? If you don’t mind my asking that is.”

“A tumour in her brain. We discovered it late and surgery was not an option.”

Belema swallowed hard and fought the tears that were pooling in her eyes.

“When do you want me to come? I can come with you right away if you like.”

Leslie shook his head.

“No. Tomorrow night. Valentine’s Day. If you don’t already have plans. She can’t leave the house so I’m making dinner and having one or two of our mutual friends over. She needs as much cheerful company as she can get.”

“Alright then. Send me the address and time please. I’ll be there.”

Leslie nodded and stood up.

“Thank you for your time.”

He walked out of the house and into his car, all the while thinking how he did not like Belema. He thought she was a selfish ingrate. He had not wanted the cancer to be a bargaining chip. He had hoped that she would be willing to come see Ojiugo just at the mention of her worry and concern but her reluctance had annoyed him. But he reminded himself that this was for Ojiugo and the mild irritation Belema brought him was a small price to pay for the peace of mind of the woman he loved.

 

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Damage Control #8

Hi everyone!!!  And we are back!! Yayyyy!!!

First off, thank you so much for your patience. An even bigger thank you to those amazing people who kept bugging me about completing this series. Chief culprit, Yemi Ajala who protested by initially refusing to read or share anything else on the blog until I finished this. Lol. This is for you darling. Hope we are cool now. Then this is also for Titty. Your last comment was the final push I needed. I had given up on this story somewhat till I saw your comment.

So for everyone else wondering what is going on, I’ll explain. Two years ago, I started this series with a woman (Belema) attempting suicide on the 1st of January. She was ironically found and saved by a woman (Ojiugo) who had a cancerous tumour in her brain and had been given 3 months to live. As at episode 7 which was the last I posted, Belema had left town and was trying to find her sanity in Abuja in the company of her eccentric younger sister (Nengi) and Nengi’s best friend Olanna. Seun, her exboyfriend and best friend was stuck in Lagos worried about her because she had shut him out. Belema is quite the stressful character. Lol. Dr. Ikem, Ojiugo’s personal doctor also sadly broke the news to Leslie (Ojiugo’s boyfriend) that Ojiugo might not live up to March. So all caught up now are we? Still go read previous episodes if you missed them. The story will make a lot more sense that way.

So why did I leave the story unfinished? Life happened. I entered a crazy season at work and it took a serious toll on my writing. But here we are. Just look at God!!! Haha. I’m talking too much. Here’s the new episode. Please share and leave your comments behind. They make writing even more worth it for me. Don’t just read and run. Let’s talk. Let me know what you think. Thank you!

***

Leslie stared at Ikem in shock, eyes gradually going blank. He opened and shut his mouth a few times but no words proceeded from them.

“I’m sorry. I did a scan last night. The tumor appears to have grown some more and I don’t even understand why because the drugs she has been taking are meant to stop the growth at least.”

Leslie gave no response still.

“Leslie, this is rough. But I couldn’t possibly lie to you about how bad things are.”

Leslie nodded. He stood slowly from his seat and walked out of the office, heading back to Ojiugo’s private ward. Dr. Ikem did not stop him. .

When Leslie walked in, Ojiugo was still asleep. Leslie sat beside her and held her left hand, rubbing it gently. He had tried to ensure that Ojiugo took her pills religiously but with Ikem’s recent revelation, he feared she may have been skipping some of them. He recalled how she had complained that the drugs left her exhausted and feeling listless and knowing how vibrant and energetic she was, he understood that this was a frustration.

Ojiugo’s eyes fluttered and she opened them slowly.

“Hey.”

“Hi babe,” Leslie responded with a forced smile. He was not about to let her in on his panic.

Ojiugo trained her eyes on his face as though searching for something that would wipe the confusion that was apparent on hers.

“How, how did I get here? What happened?”

Leslie blinked.

“Sorry?”

“How did I get here? I don’t remember anything.”

Leslie gulped.

“You- we were having dinner last night and the headaches resumed and got really intense and your pills didn’t work so we came here.”

Ojiugo still looked confused.

“Maybe they gave you something that knocked you out badly. I’ll go get Ikem.”

Ojiugo nodded a little uncertainly and Leslie left the room, his head spinning. The memory loss had begun to set in. That much he was certain of. He burst into Ikem’s office and said curtly,

“She’s losing her memory. She doesn’t recall what happened last night.”

Ikem stood up and hurried out of the office with Leslie. As he walked into the ward, his face lit up with a bright smile.

“If it isn’t the sexiest woman on the planet! Hey beautiful!”

Ojiugo chuckled lightly. Her voice was tired when she spoke

“This ashawo man. What did you people give me? My mind is so foggy and I can’t feel my right hand properly. I can barely move it.”

Ikem’s smile dimmed a little bit and he went to her side and helped prop her up. He ran his hands over her arms and massaged her right leg slowly, watching her for reactions to his touch but she barely gave any. He subsequently surmised that paralysis was beginning to set in as well.

“Alright, you have to rest some more boo. I need to go review some of your previous scans and then I’ll let you know what I think, okay?”

Ojiugo nodded and Ikem signaled to Leslie as he walked out. Leslie kissed Ojiugo on the lips before walking out.

“I’ll see you in a bit.”

Once back in Ikem’s office, Leslie shut the door behind him and looked into Ikem’s eyes.

“It has begun, hasn’t it?”

Ikem nodded gravely.

“Look, I don’t want to raise your hopes but at this point, I think it’s best to let you know. There’s a specialist in India I’ve been trying to contact for the longest time now. I just got an email before you came in. I’m trying to see if he can see Ugo, only so we exhaust all our options. But just in case he has nothing to offer, you must begin to prepare yourself. Ojiugo will not be here forever.”

Leslie nodded.

“When can she come home?”

“Tomorrow. Let me observe her for the rest of the day. Excuse me.”

***

Seun rubbed sleepy eyes as he mechanically unbolted his front door. He had slept through his alarms and was surprised to wake up and find that it was well after 10am. Then Belema’s call came in shortly after he opened his eyes and she said she was at the front door.

“Hi,” he said with a yawn. Belema smiled nervously and responded with a shy “hey”.

They stood there looking at each other for a few odd seconds before Seun stepped aside.

“Come in.”

Belema walked into the house and immediately wrinkled her face. The house looked a mess- an empty vodka bottle lay on the center rug, empty KFC packs were strewn across the floor, a crumpled shirt lay haphazardly across the couch and a blanket was on the floor, right next to a pillow that partially buried a laptop.

Belema stepped carefully over the items and stood by the couch looking at Seun a little uncertainly.

“Your place is so messy.”

Seun ran his hand over his head and shrugged.

“Good morning to you too.”

“Sorry. Good morning.”

Seun walked close to where she stood and began picking items from the floor one after the other, tossing them in a heap on one of the couches in the room. He then sat on another couch across from Belema and indicated for her to sit down.

Belema sat down gingerly and clasped both hands together.

“So?” Seun urged.

“I don’t know where to start but I swear, I’m really sorry.”

“I don’t need your apology babe. At least not now. I just need an explanation of what has been going on the past two months. Because I am completely lost.”

Belema exhaled.

“I dunno. I just got to a really bad place I guess.”

“And you couldn’t talk to me?”

“Seun, every time I told you I was depressed, you told me to cheer up and go out more and be happy. You always said ‘do something fun’ as if that was all there was to depression but being sad had nothing to do with it.”

Seun regarded her carefully but Belema looked everywhere else but his face.

“Well, I thought you just needed to do something more fun, I didn’t realize it was anything serious but when it got serious, you should have told me.”

Belema sighed.

“You don’t get it do you? Was I supposed to come to you and say ‘hey I think the whole world hates me so I just want to take a dive into the ocean?’ especially when you couldn’t deal with the basic symptoms before things got worse. I had to see a therapist Seun. I was placed on medication.”

Seun’s eyes dimmed and he felt instant regret and guilt.

“Babe…”

Belema’s eyes clouded and Seun went to sit beside her and wrapped an arm around her.

“When I went to Osogbo for a few weeks in October last year, it was not for work. I was getting treated then.”

“I’m so sorry. I should have taken this more seriously. And please believe me, the whole world doesn’t hate you. I don’t even know why you would think that. I would never have forgiven myself if anything happened to you. Plus mumc and Nengi would never have recovered.”

He rubbed her arm and slowly, she leaned into him, brushing her face against the stubble on his cheek.

“It’s just been so much to deal with.” Belema whispered.

Seun sighed. He didn’t know what else to say.

“Do you feel better now?” he asked after moments of silence.

“I think so. I mean, I’m getting there. I went out a lot in Abuja with Nengi and her friends. I had fun.”

“Ok. Good. You actually put on some weight so that is good. But how can I help going forward? What can I do? Because I honestly don’t want a repeat of January 1st. If you’re ever feeling low, please talk to me. We’re best friends Belz. I love you.”

Belema sniffed and withdrew from his hold.

“Yeah. I’m okay now.”

Seun barely noticed the slight shift in her eyes.

“Okay. Good. Do you want something to eat? I can make some noodles.”

Belema smiled and shook her head.

“No. I’m good. Aren’t you working today?”

Seun looked around the house as if suddenly aware of the time.

“Yeah. I swear I’ll get fired one of these days. I slept through my alarms but that’s because I was up all night working. Didn’t get to sleep till like 5 this morning. But I’m sure there’s nothing serious happening there, otherwise someone would have called me.”

“Okay.”

“I need to go shower. What do you want to do?”

“I’ll just head home. Haven’t seen mumc. I came here straight from the airport.”

“Oh? Where are your bags then?”

“Nengi took them home. We came in together and shared a cab here. They dropped me off and went home.”

“I see. So how are you going to get home?”

“I’ll get an Uber.”

“Alright. Get one then, let me clear up these stuff.”

Belema brought out her phone and Seun took the heap of items on the couch to his bedroom. He returned a few minutes later and Belema was already on her feet.

“The driver is 2 minutes away.” She said.

“Alright. I’ll come by the house later this evening if that’s okay.”

“Yeah, sure.”

Seun gave her a warm hug and she felt somewhat stiff in his arms but he said nothing about it. Her phone began to ring.

“That must be the driver. See you later.”

She stepped outside the house as she answered the phone and Seun shut the door after her. Their friendship had taken a major hit and things felt different now. He just hoped they would find a way to get back to where they used to be.

***

Loud laughter emanated from Nengi’s bedroom with the door slightly ajar. Nengi was spread out on the bed with Olanna beside her.

“You like Jide jor. Stop fronting.”

Nengi released another set of giggles.

“You are on your own o. I don’t know what you are talking about. He is cute and funny, but who that one epp abeg? Those are the ones you never take seriously. They are too much trouble.”

“Trouble or not, it doesn’t change the fact that you’re interested. Meanwhile when I was saying we should go to Abuja, you were doing shakara.” Olanna said with a tease.

“I’m admitting to nothing. It’s like I told him before we left, we won’t see again. No point.” Nengi said finally and pushed herself off the bed.

“I really think your dad is so cool though.” She added as she began unpacking a bag that sat close to the bed. Olanna’s eyes lit up.

“I swear! Can’t believe I grew up without him. We have so much in common!”

“Did you guys get to talk about that though?”

“Nope. The first time I tried to raise it, he just said something about having to make tough choices and skipped the topic. We were having so much fun, I didn’t want to ruin it.”

“Is he coming back to Lagos again?”

Olanna shrugged.

“I dunno. I’m not even sure what the situation is with him and mum.”

“Have you asked her?”

“Nope.”

“Hmmn.”

Nengi emptied the bag of all its contents, sorting dirty clothes into a laundry basket and returning unused clothes to the closet. As she rummaged through the bag one last time, a sudden frown appeared on her face. Olanna who had been watching her raised a brow.

“What is it?”

Nengi pulled out a small box and held it up.

“What is this?”

“Uhh, open it?”

With her frown still in place, Nengi opened the box to reveal a gold chain wristwatch.

“Wow. That is beautiful!” Olanna gushed. She got off the bed and snatched the box from a shell-shocked Nengi and took out the wristwatch delicately before strapping it over her wrist.

“If it is jazz now, that’s how you will just disappear.” Nengi remarked.

Olanna giggled.

“This is so pretty! Oh look! There’s a note.”

Nengi rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to her bag. Olanna opened the note and read from it.

A golden woman has no hiding place.”

Nengi turned around sharply.

“Is that even a thing?”

Olanna began to laugh.

“Girlllll, this is definitely Jide. That dude has the hots for you.”

Nengi rolled her eyes again.

“No. He has the hots for my backside. And he ain’t tapping that.”

Olanna burst into loud laughter and Nengi shrugged.

“You know me. I’m not wearing that nonsense. I don’t even like chain watches. You can keep it. I’m even going to block his number sef. I don’t have time for stress or drama.”

Olanna looked disappointed.

“You’re really not interested?”

“Did I carry water in my mouth when I said it before? Madam, keep the watch. You have early Valentine’s present. Congrats.”

Olanna shook her head.

“You are something else.”

  • ***

Mrs. Ochoga lay in bed in her room when the door opened softly and Belema walked in.

“Hi mum,”

Mrs. Ochoga sat up with a smile.

“Belema. Nengi said you were back but went to see Seun.”

Belema nodded and went to sit beside her mother on the bed.

“How are you?” she asked.

“I’m fine o. I missed you girls o.”

Belema smiled.

“I missed you too mum.”

She hesitated briefly then continued.

“I’m hoping we can talk. I feel like I owe you an explanation.”

Mrs. Ochoga gave her an encouraging smile.

“Only when you’re ready darling. Just take your time, as much of it as you need.”

“I’m ready. I just got overwhelmed with everything and you and I haven’t been that close and there was no one to talk to.”

“And Seun?”

“Mum, it’s complicated with him. I think the only reason we dated was because I told him I was in love with him. It wasn’t because he wanted it. And you, you were so preoccupied with your own worries, I didn’t want to burden you more.”

Mrs. Ochoga smiled sadly.

“Belema, I know I may not have been everything you wanted me to be as a mother but I am still your mother. I still love you like my life depends on it and I will still sacrifice anything to keep you happy. You scared me. Really. I felt like I had failed you.”

“Well maybe you did. After dad left, you just quit on life. You lost your essence. You lost yourself. We couldn’t count on you for strength or support. You just stopped living.”

Mrs. Ochoga swallowed a lump in her throat. She knew Belema was right.

“I’m sorry. I just kept hoping that things would change and we would go back to where we were as a family. But that’s never happening again. I know that now.”

“What caused this grand revelation?” Belema asked, her tone hinting at a tease.

“Nengi trying to break your father’s head with a pestle.”

Both women chuckled lightly.

“Yeah, Nengi is something else.

I want to try again mum. Start over. Find my happy. Can I count on you?”

Mrs. Ochoga nodded.

“Yes. Even I want to start over.”

Belema smiled warmly.

“Do we start with a hug?”

Mrs. Ochoga laughed.

“Of course.”

Both women shared a warm hug and Mrs. Ochoga suddenly pulled back and went to a corner of her beside and produced a bottle of wine. Belema began to laugh. She could not help herself.

“Really? When did you start drinking alcohol mum?”

“But it’s only 6%” Mrs. Ochoga argued.

Belema smiled.

“No judgment. Shebi it’s new beginnings?”

“Mhmm. And I don’t have any glasses here. So here goes.”

She opened the bottle and raised it up between them and said

“To fresh starts, to fixing things that were broken and to letting go of the past.”

She then took a huge gulp and passed it on to Belema who took a light sip.

“To fresh starts mum. And while we’re at it, I’m pregnant.”

Damage Control #7

I sincerely apologize for not posting this last week. Life happened. I am really sorry. To make up for that, I have brought this here today and I will post a bonus episode after this and then return with the regular one on Thursday. 😀 Enjoy this.

Previous episode

Mrs. Ochoga sat in her living room, legs crossed, a warm smile on her face. Pastor Bolaji, a young man in his forties sat across from her.

“I’m not worried. They call me every day. Well, at least Nengi does. And they seem to be doing quite well.”

Pastor Bolaji smiled.

“I’m glad to hear that. Young ones can be a handful sometimes. I wish Belema was more outspoken though.”

Mrs. Ochoga laughed softly.

“That is wishful thinking. Belema has always been quiet and it got worse after their father left.”

Pastor Bolaji looked at her intently for a while. It was as though he could see more than she was letting on.

“Are you really okay ma?”

Mrs. Ochoga smiled

“I think so. Maybe not a hundred percent but I’m gradually getting there.

It’s been a lot of pressure the last few years and this January has come with its own share of trouble. I didn’t imagine I would start out the year like this.”

“Yes, the year certainly started out rather strangely for you.”

“It did o. But I’m thankful to God. The truth is, for a really long time, I’d been holding on to the belief that my husband would one day return to me but apparently, that’s never going to happen.

I saw it in the way he treated me this last time he came here. And then the way Nengi spoke to me. Nengi made me realize just how foolish I have been. That girl is young but she is so full of wisdom. She might not communicate it tactfully, but she is full of wisdom.”

Pastor Bolaji burst out laughing.

“Yes! Nengi is something!”

“I tell you! She says the first thing that comes to her mind without thinking to restructure it first.”

Pastor Bolaji nodded, still laughing

“Yes. And I’ve been talking to her about it. She’ll get better in time. I believe.”

“I hope she does.”

“Anyway, I’m glad to hear that you’re doing okay.” Pastor Bolaji said

“Yes I am. As a matter of fact, I just started thinking of relocating. Maybe find a nice place on the island to move to if we can afford it.”

“Really? That would be nice.”

“Yes. I just need to do something different. I’ve been too safe and stayed in the same place since Nosa left. Nothing about me has changed. I need to start living. But I’m still thinking about it.”

“That’s really nice to hear. I’ll keep praying for you.”

Mrs. Ochoga smiled.

“Thank you.”

Pastor Bolaji stood up.

“Let’s say a quick prayer now. I need to get back home.”

Mrs. Ochoga adjusted her blouse and stood up as well.

***

Seun lay on his couch with a bottle of Absolute vodka stuck to his chest. The bottle was half-empty but his eyes still looked clear. He had not heard from Belema in two weeks and Nengi who was out of town as well had simply refused to tell where she was or how she could be contacted. Their mother had told him the girls were in Abuja but she did not have Belema’s phone number.

Seun was angry. Belema was selfish and conceited. Why did she feel the need to constantly live her life as though no other people existed? He cared for her deeply, he was ready to do anything to make her happy but for some reason that was not enough?! What was the reason behind her attempt at suicide and subsequent sudden disappearance? What exactly was going on with her?

Seun moved the bottle from his chest to the couch and went to his bathroom to ease himself. He returned a few minutes later and took another swig from the bottle. If he were to be honest with himself, the truth was, he was not really angry because Belema was selfish. He was angry because there was something huge burdening Belema and she was not talking to him about it. It hurt to know that she could keep something from him, no matter what it was. They were best friends. She meant a lot to him. Why would she have anything that she could not talk to him about?

Had he somehow given her the impression that he did not care? Was that why she broke up with him and went on to attempt suicide? Was he the problem? Yes, he did not want to be stuck in a relationship that was not so exciting but was there another way he could have handled it instead of almost visibly jumping for joy when she asked for the time apart? Seun scratched his head and drank some more.

He had not touched alcohol in two years and now this. He sighed, picked up his phone and dialed Nengi’s number. Maybe he needed to just go down to Abuja and try to find them. Belema had to talk to him. Her silence was really bothering him. The call rang out the first time and Seun tried it again and the sound of happy laughter greeted him alongside a stuttered “h.hello?”

“Hi Nengi. What’s up?”

Nengi screamed playfully and dashed off from wherever she was, probably in an attempt to find a quiet place to talk to him. He could hear her panting

“Hi uncle Seun. Sorry. We went swimming and Ola was trying to pour water on my phone.”

Seun tried to smile but failed.

“It’s fine. Good to know you’re having so much when I’m here worrying to death about your sister.”

He heard her sigh.

“I’m sorry. I really want to give you her number but I can’t. I promised her. You know how touchy she can get. But she’s doing really good. Much better than when she was in Lagos. Ola and I have managed to convince her to go out with us a few times and she’s seemed happy.”

“And you think I’ll ruin that? Nengi, did she say I did something wrong? Am I the problem here? What did I do?”

Nengi was quiet for a while and Seun realized that he was hurt even deeper. Belema was fine, she was safe, she was having a great time and she didn’t want him to be a part of it.

“Uncle Seun, it’s not like that. I promise to try and talk to her again this evening. I promise and I’ll try to see if she can call you.”

Seun shook his head.

“There’s no point. Don’t bother.”

Seun hung up and turned off his phone. He picked the bottle again, shut his eyes and drank from it until it was almost empty.

He walked into his room, turned off the lights and drew the curtains tightly together. The room was semi-dark and he lay on his bed feeling grouchy. What was he to do? Get on the next flight to Abuja? He had to work so he could not attempt that. Seun shut his eyes and soon he fell asleep.

It was nightfall before Seun woke up again and the pounding headache he was feeling was largely responsible. He sat up in bed and groaned, temporarily unable to fathom why he had such a bad headache and why there was a nagging thought on his mind that he could not immediately place. And then seconds later, he remembered the call to Nengi and he sighed.

He got off the bed and walked out to his living room. His blackberry phone was flashing a red light and he picked up the phone. He had 4 missed calls from a number he did not know and a couple from Nengi. He tossed the phone on the couch and went back to his room. He did not feel like talking to anyone.

He turned on his laptop to get some work done but something tugged gently at his heart and he could not focus. He let out a frustrated breath and went back to his phone. The unknown number was calling again and he got to the phone just in time.

“Hello?” His tone was gruff

“Seun. It’s Belema. Good evening.”

Seun sighed and sat down heavily on the couch, saying nothing.

“Are you there?”

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry. I owe you a lot of explanations and I’m really sorry.”

Seun did not respond still.

“Are you there? Can you hear me?”

“Yes.”

Belema’s voice sounded timid.

“Please say something.”

“I haven’t heard from you in over two weeks. I have spent my days and my nights worrying about you, wondering what I did wrong. I have spent the entire day getting drunk and trying to convince your sister to get you to talk to me. Do you really think I’m the one who ought to be ‘saying something’ right now?”

Belema gulped.

“Errm. No. I’ll take the first flight back tomorrow and come straight to see you so we can talk. I’m really sorry ife mi.”

Seun simply said “ok” and then hung up. He turned the phone off and went back to his room.

***

Leslie drummed his fingers restlessly on his laps, chin resting despondently on his left palm. His glasses hung loosely on his face and his eyes were tired. He was seated on a small chair by a hospital bed. Ojiugo lay in the bed, eyes shut, peacefully asleep. The door opened softly and Dr. Ikem walked in, his expression grim.

“She’s still asleep?”

Leslie looked up and nodded. Ikem went to Ojiugo’s side and touched her forehead. He held her hand, checked her pulse and then gently laid it back on her side. He took some notes and scratched his head. Then he turned to Leslie and said

“Let’s go to my office.”

Leslie nodded, took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes then he put them back on and followed Ikem out of the room. As they walked to Ikem’s office, Leslie noticed how quiet the entire place was. The hospital was not really bustling with activity and very few nurses were about.

“Please sit down.” Ikem said.

Leslie did as he was told.

“So what’s up? When do you think we can go home?”

“Explain to me again what happened with Ojiugo last night.”

Leslie looked surprised by the question.

“Err. Well, we were having dinner and we were discussing that girl’s disappearance…”

“What girl?”

“The one that tried to commit suicide on New Year’s day. Belema?”

“Oh! Okay. Go on.”

“Yeah. She said she was really worried about her and she felt Belema had probably gone and hurt herself. The last time they communicated was about 2 weeks ago when we went out to meet her at the mall. She said she gave her a stern talking-to and Belema has not contacted her since then. Number never goes through, we’ve been to that house at least 4 times but never met anyone. She was really bothered by it.

Then the headaches started shortly after that and the pills wouldn’t work so I had to rush her down here. That’s it.

Why did you ask?”

Ikem ran his hand over his head and cleared his throat before speaking.

“If Ojiugo will stay 3 months with us, we have to ensure that she does not stress over anything. She must not think or worry about anything Leslie.”

Leslie’s eyes went red

“Ikem. I have tried and I keep trying. Ojiugo is stubborn. I can’t help what she thinks about. I can’t even get her to sit in one place, how much more control her thoughts!”

Ikem stood up and walked to a small fridge in a corner of the office. He brought out a bottle of water and a glass then poured some for himself. He looked at Leslie who immediately shook his head. Ikem took a sip and set the glass down. Leslie noticed his hand was slightly shaky.

“Leslie, I’m not blaming you. This is tough on you already and I know you’re doing all you can…”

“Why are your hands shaky?”

Ikem looked a little surprised.

“What?”

Leslie repeated himself.

“Your hands. Why are they shaky?”

Ikem looked at his hands as though suddenly aware of their existence. Then he looked up at Leslie who was trying to hold his gaze. He turned his eyes away and sighed.

“Ikem. What is it?”

Ikem swallowed hard and pulled his nose a couple of times.

“Ojiugo might not make it to March Leslie.”

Damage Control #6

This episode is dedicated specially to Henry Belleti 😀 and Ose, two major fans of the blog who both have their birthdays today. Henry’s an awesome friend as well and has a voice that would literally make your ears tingle. Happy birthday to you two dearies! May all your biggest dreams come true.

Enjoy.

Previous episode

Belema sat at a table at the Barcelos restaurant in Leisure Mall. It was pretty late and that floor was almost a ghost town but she could hear the music coming from the Beer Hugz café upstairs as well as the one coming from downstairs. It was a Friday night and people were really out for the turnup. Belema sighed. She could never understand how people felt comfortable going to clubs and being caught up in crowds with lots of loud music. She already had a headache and the music was barely getting to her ears.

She brought out her phone and twirled it in her hands. She should just go home. This was really pointless. Asking Ojiugo to come meet her at the mall this time of the night and then sneaking off without telling anyone was really not smart. What had she been thinking? And what was the guarantee that Ojiugo would show up? What if she sent a message to say that it was too late? She didn’t even know where she lived. Belema dropped the phone and wrapped both arms around herself. She used to be content with her life, boring as it was. How on earth did she get to this point? It had to be thinking. She had been thinking too much. Way too much. Just like she was doing at the moment.

Belema exhaled loudly and hissed. She got up, picked up her phone and walked out. She would take the medication. The drugs would make her sleep a lot and render her useless for a bit but she would take them. As she took the steps down, she saw Ojiugo get out of the front passenger seat of a car and she sighed. She really didn’t feel like talking anymore.

Ojiugo walked briskly towards her. Belema forced a smile as she shivered slightly in the cold.

“Hi!” Ojiugo’s tone was upbeat. She hugged Belema and Belema held her closely, struck again by how small she was.

“Hi. Sorry I made you come out so late.”

Ojiugo smiled as she pulled back.

“Naah. It’s alright.”

Ojiugo looked around at the different people eating and drinking at the tables a bit far from them.

“What do you want to do? Have a drink? Something to eat?”

Belema shook her head vigorously.

“No. Actually I’d rather just go home.”

Belema clasped both hands over her mouth almost immediately and Ojiugo laughed lightly.

“It’s fine.”

“No it isn’t. I made you come out here. I just keep oscillating, I can’t seem to make up my mind.”

“Trust me, that’s fine.  I used to do that to Leslie too.”

Belema looked at her oddly.

“Really?”

“Mhmmn! I’ve had my moments. I still have them occasionally. I can be a big pain like that. So I’m not judging. I have thrown more pity parties for myself than Miley Cyrus has gone crazy so, yeah.”

Belema looked at Ojiugo and suddenly burst out laughing.

“What kind of comparison is that?”

“Well, do you know how many times that girl has gone overboard with her madness? It’s hard to keep up. That’s pretty much me and my pity parties. But I’m done with them. Or at least, I like to think so.”

Belema just stood staring and then Ojiugo took her arm.

“Come on, let’s leave this place. We look like two lost children.”

Belema smiled and nodded. She let Ojiugo lead her to the car where Leslie was seated behind the wheel. Ojiugo tapped his glass lightly and he wound it down.

“Can we talk in the car for a bit babe? Do you mind?”

Leslie nodded vigorously. His motions reminded Belema of an Agama lizard and she smiled.

Leslie got out of the car and shook Belema’s hand. Belema thought he had nice eyes hidden behind the glasses but she wasn’t sure. There were lines beneath his eyes as well. He looked tired. Actually, worried. More worried than tired. She realized she was staring at him and she turned away.

“You guys be good now. Can I get you anything?”

Belema shook her head and Ojiugo smiled.

“We’ll be fine dear. Just go and chill for a bit. Where’s your phone? I’ll call you when we’re ready to leave.”

Leslie patted his trouser pockets.

“It’s here.”

He kissed Ojiugo on the forehead and walked away.

Ojiugo opened the backseat and they both got into the car.

“What’s wrong with him?”

Ojiugo was surprised by the question.

“What’s wrong with him how?”

“He’s got these worried lines underneath his eyes. I can tell there’s something bothering him.”

Ojiugo smiled.

“What are you now? Psychic? Because his eyes are shielded by his glasses.”

Belema shook her head and ran her fingers through her braids.

“No. I’m just very observant, even without meaning to.”

“Alright.”

There was a brief pause and then Ojiugo spoke.

“How’s your sister?”

“She’s okay I guess. Probably still pissed off at my dad. Can’t say I blame her though. The man is just really annoying. After all he’s done, he just shows up at our house and starts giving orders like we owe him anything.”

Belema stayed quiet after that and Ojiugo kept staring in silence.

“My family is a really complex one. Everything that can possibly go wrong in a home has gone wrong in mine. Everything that can go wrong in a person’s life has gone wrong in mine. And I’m tired. Really.

I’m in love with someone who feels nothing for me. I’m pregnant for a guy whose sole reason for dating me is because he feels sorry for me and no one else would. ”

Ojiugo’s expression remained blank.

“And I’m here yapping to a random stranger about my woes. Am I not pathetic?”

Ojiugo smiled.

“Belema, everyone has been through stuff in their lives. I’m not trying to undermine what you have been through, but people have dealt with worse and survived.”

Belema laughed.

“Were you ever molested as a child? Did you get beaten and blamed when it was discovered? Did your father suddenly walk out on you and your family and move in with some girl who is a couple of years younger than you? Do you know what it means to be in love with someone who feels trapped being in a relationship with you?”

Ojiugo was stunned by Belema’s revelation but even more by the calm manner in which she reeled out the revelations. Her eyes however did not betray her surprise. Her head absorbed the information and stored it to be processed later and with the same blank expression, she said

“Regardless, you get a shot at life. You get a chance to actually live and deal with everything that you have been through. Some people don’t”

Belema looked at her like she had suddenly sprouted wings

“Do you even know what you are saying? Do you have any idea what it means to deal with all that alone? Nobody cares! Everyone is too self-absorbed to bother about how you’re doing or what it is you’ve been through or how you’re coping. No one, not even my mum or sister know the half of what I’m dealing with! You don’t even know!”

Belema’s voice was a few notches higher than when she first started speaking but Ojiugo’s tone remained even.

“You don’t get to throw a pity party tonight Belema. No you don’t. You’re dealing with a lot but so is everyone else in the world. Nobody’s life is a walk in the park. Life is actually a jungle. Only the strongest survive. That is the simple truth. You do not get to play the ‘my pain is greater than yours’ card. Everyone is dealing with stuff. Accept it.”

Belema’s eyes were watery. She breathed loudly for a few minutes and eventually calmed down, adjusting herself to be more comfortable in the seat. Ojiugo remained in her position, blank expression still in place. Her head had begun to throb softly and she knew it was only a matter of time before it got worse. She had learned to avoid yelling and avoid loud noise as much as possible in a bid to reduce the headaches but they still came all the same. She took a deep breath as she watched Belema try to sort through her emotions. It would seem that no one had ever given her such a hard talk. She hoped she hadn’t been too tough. Her heart was burning with several questions but she held her tongue. The time was not right.

“Can I go home now?”

Belema’s small voice broke cut through her thoughts. Ojiugo shrugged.

“Sure. Let me get Leslie. We’ll drop you off.”

Belema nodded and Ojiugo got out of the car. Belema took a deep breath and wiped her eyes. No one had ever spoken to her that way in her entire life. No one. The therapist that she had seen secretly shortly after her father absconded had been nice and kind, always with sweet, flowery words of encouragement. Belema had only given her little bits of information. But this? This felt like being in training camp. Only difference was Ojiugo had not yelled at her. It felt odd though, Ojiugo was much smaller than herself. How did she managed to sound so stern?

Belema exhaled loudly as Ojiugo and Leslie returned to the car. She stayed quiet through the drive, only giving directions to her house. As soon as they dropped her off, Ojiugo said

“Get some sleep. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Belema nodded, thanked them and walked in through the back door. She was tired. She went to her room, took off her clothes and lay on the bed. She thought for a few minutes before she finally drifted off to sleep but for the first night in a long time, she slept with a smile on her face.

***

Nosa woke up the following morning and dialed Grace’s number. It rang out twice and he wondered why she wasn’t picking up. Grace was an early riser. He called Oghosa instead and she picked up on the first ring as though she’d been sitting by the phone with her finger on the answer button.

“Baby, you dey alright so? I don dey try your number since yesterday but you no gree answer phone. Fear wan catch me o”

The sound of her voice made Nosa smile.

“I dey o. No vex my darling. Too many things for here. I’ve been busy.”

“Bhet, you no tell me wetin happen o. Why you rush go Lagos like that na?”

Her tone was a bit indignant.

“E no dey serious like that. I don sort am. I fit come back today sef but e go be for night.”

He heard the excitement in her voice as she responded

“Ah! Very good! Benny don miss you sef. She don dey cry for her papa since.”

“I dey come. No worry. Just give am kiss for me.”

Nosa hung up shortly after. He needed to go back to Benin. At least no one would try to break a pestle on his head there.

He tried Grace’s number one more time and when she didn’t pick up, he got dressed and left the hotel. He took a cab straight to the airport and bought a ticket to Benin. The flight was scheduled to leave at 1pm. Nosa didn’t mind. He would wait. He took his ticket and went to find something to eat.

***

Nengi woke up to the sound of persistent knocking on her door. She took a quick look the gold chain watch on her wrist and groaned. It was 9:15am. Who on earth was trying to break down her door that early on a Saturday morning?!

She got off the bed and rubbed sleepy eyes with the back of her palm as she walked to the door. She opened it and was surprised to see Olanna standing behind it, a huge smile on her face.

“Hey sleepyhead!”

“Aww mehn! How do you just show up here like this?!”

Olanna pushed past her and went to seat on the bed.

“How are you still sleeping by this time?”

Nengi stood by the door and scratched her head, a frown on her face.

“Err, it’s my house and it’s a weekend?”

“Mehh. Not good enough. Go and wash your face let’s talk.

Where’s Belema?”

Nengi shook her head and sighed.

“I swear, you are one of the major problems of this world. We need to throw you away and restore world peace.

Belema should be in her room I guess. Sleeping like every normal person.”

Olanna chuckled and sank further into the bed while Nengi went to wash her face in the bathroom. Olanna moved the pillows in an attempt to prop them behind her back and what she saw made her blood run cold.

Nengi walked out of the bathroom, a towel over her face. She walked to her bed and then took the towel off as she sat down. Olanna sat staring at her, a frown on her face. Nengi looked curious

“What’s up? Why do you look like I just robbed a bank?”

Olanna produced a packet of cigarettes from underneath the pillow and her tone was accusatory.

“I thought you quit.”

Nengi sighed.

“Give me that.”

“No. You were supposed to talk to me or pastor Bolaji anytime you felt like smoking.”

“I did not smoke that!”

“Yeah? Well, two sticks are missing!”

Nengi hissed.

“So? Will the world come to an end? I nearly broke my dad’s head yesterday when the nutcase walked in here trying to boss everyone around! I’ve been under pressure. I needed to take something.”

“Nengi, you’ve got to learn to manage stress differently.”

“Don’t lecture me”

Nengi snatched the packet from Olanna and stuffed it under her duvet. The two friends sat staring at each other for a while both angry and hurt. Eventually Nengi stood up, walked to her dresser and leaned on it.

“Did you come here to bug my life or help me chill? Because if you’re going to stare at me like that all day, I’ll just take the rest of those cigarettes and find some place to smoke my sorrows away.”

Olanna tried to stop a smile and failed.

“I’m sorry I judged you. I love you so much, I hate to see you go back to the old you.”

“I’m not going back to anything. I just need to chill.”

Olanna stood up.

“Yes. And that’s why we should take this trip to Abuja together. We’ll hang out with my dad, you’ll surprise Jide…”

“I can’t leave my sister now Ola. Anything can happen. We haven’t even spoken.”

A soft knock sounded on the door. Belema opened the door gently and walked in. She smiled stiffly when she saw Olanna.

“Hi Ola, how are you doing?”

Olanna smiled back warmly.

“Good, thanks. You?”

“Never better.”

“Are you going somewhere?” Nengi asked. She noticed Belema was fully dressed and had make up on.

“Yeah. Actually, I’m taking a trip. I’m going to Abuja for a month.”

Nengi’s jaw dropped.

“Oookayyyyy???”

Belema actually laughed.

“I need the time out. Change of environment, that typa stuff.

I’m not going to do anything crazy. Believe me.”

Nengi was nodding slowly but obviously in doubt.

“I’m serious. Have a little faith in me. Please.”

Nengi sighed.

“I broke my old sim. I’ll get a new one this morning and register it then I’ll call you. Can you please not give anyone the number?”

Nengi’s eyes popped.

“Are you for real?!”

“Yes. Not even Seun.”

Nengi sighed again.

“Okay. But if you don’t send me that number, I’ll find you and kill you.”

Belema laughed again. She walked close to Nengi and hugged her tight.

“We’ll talk later tonight. Ijust need this time out.”

Nengi nodded.

“Fair enough.”

Belema walked out as quietly as she had come in and shut the door. Olanna cast Nengi a questioning look.

“You up for Abuja trip now?”

“Hell yeah. If I know my sister, she’s probably planning to go and jump off the NNPC towers. Someone needs to keep an eye on her.”

Olanna burst out laughing and Nengi shrugged.

“Haba! Give the babe some benefit of doubt na.”

“Okay. Maybe not NNPC towers. Maybe Federal Secretariat.”

Olanna laughed again and shook her head.

“You are a case! Let’s go see her off.”

Damage Control #5

Episode 4

Nengi’s breathing was heavy as she stood before her parents. Nosa’s eyes were popping. One second later and the pestle would have hit his head. He had stepped back just in time.

“I hate you!” Nengi yelled

“I hate you and I wish you were dead!”

Nengi threw the pestle on the floor and pushed past both her parents as she rushed outside.

Mrs. Ochoga was weeping loudly, heart racing in her chest. First her older daughter had tried to commit suicide then the younger one just tried to commit murder. What was going on? Who had she offended?

“Belema…”

Nosa’s voice was subdued. Belema whose eyes had never left his face turned around and walked back into her room shutting the door gently behind her.

Mrs. Ochoga threw herself on the floor and burst into fresh tears. Nosa stood staring at her for a few seconds until something melted in his heart. He knelt beside her and tried to hold her but Mrs. Ochoga kept flailing her arms all over.

“Grace, calm down, please.”

But Grace didn’t listen. Eventually Nosa left her and walked outside. He looked around but couldn’t find Nengi. Nosa was shocked. What had he done that was so terrible that his own daughter would try to break his head? And when did Nengi get that violent?

Nosa sighed and massaged his forehead distractedly. Why had Grace called him? No one needed him here. What has the point of having him come home if his daughters didn’t want to see him? His phone vibrated in his pocket and he brought it out and checked the ID of the caller. It was Oghosa. Nosa silenced the phone and replaced it in his pocket. He exhaled loudly.

As it stood, he had two options. Find a hotel to stay the night and then try to make peace with the girls the following morning or take a bus back to Benin. There would be no flights at that time. He stood pondering for a few seconds and eventually walked back into the house. His bag still sat on the threshold where he’d left it. Grace was sobbing silently on the floor. As soon as he walked in, she looked up at him

“What did I ever do to you Nosa? What?! Why wasn’t I enough? Ehn? Why weren’t we enough?”

Nosa swallowed but said nothing. There was no answer to that question. Life happened. People changed. Did he still care about his immediate family? Yes. But they were no longer a major part of his life. Why was that so hard to understand? Oghosa made him feel alive. Their little daughter kept him up and about all the time. What Oghosa and Benny offered, Grace and her grown up girls couldn’t. Why were they so bitter?

“Nosa, if I ever did anything, I am sorry. Forgive me. But please, you need to come back. See our family. Everything is falling apart. Please.”

Grace crawled to Nosa and held him by his trousers

“I’m begging you… If I ever meant anything to you…Please…”

Nosa shrugged her off.

“Grace, stop. Stop it.”

This was becoming a tad bit annoying. Why was he here actually? What was he supposed to do? Belema wasn’t going to talk to him about wanting to commit suicide. So really, why was he here?

“I’m going to a hotel to sleep tonight. If the girls want to talk tomorrow, call me. If I don’t hear from you by noon, I’ll go back to Benin.”

He didn’t wait for a response. He just turned around and walked away. Grace felt her heart shatter into a million pieces. She would never learn. This time, she couldn’t burst into tears. She just sat there staring into space.

***

Ojiugo was half-asleep in Leslie’s arms when her phone rang. She turned and tried to reach for it but Leslie gently restrained her. It was past nine at night.

“You should sleep darling.”

Ojiugo nodded . The phone rang out then started ringing again. This time Ojiugo insisted and picked it up. The number wasn’t registered on her phone.

“Hello?”

There was no response.

“Hello?”

Ojiugo was just about to hang up when someone responded on the other end

“Sorry. Did I wake you?”

Ojiugo rubbed her eyes

“No. I wasn’t really asleep. Who’s this?”

The voice on the other end sounded somewhat uncertain

“Belema.”

Ojiugo sat up quickly and cleared her throat

“Hey! How are you?”

There was a sigh. Then

“Tired. Just tired. And I can’t sleep”

“Okay. You wanna talk?”

“Yes. But. I dunno. I’m not sure what I want to talk about.”

Leslie looked at Ojiugo curiously as she got out of bed and walked away from him all the while nodding her head as though whoever she was talking to could see her.

“Okay. That’s fine. You can tell me how things went with your family today”

“Well. Pretty good. My ex pissed me off and I walked out on him, my sister nearly killed my dad but I’m hoping that next time she’ll be more successful. Things went pretty good”

Ojiugo looked like she had walked into her own surprise wedding. She opened her mouth and shut it a few times but no words came out.

“Are you there?”

Ojiugo nodded again. Then realizing that Belema couldn’t see her, she croaked

“Yes.”

She heard Belema’s smile through her voice

“I’m not crazy. I’ve just had a rough day.”

“Ha. You can say that again. Would you like me to come pay you a visit? Is it okay if I come over to see you?”

“Uhh. Tonight?”

“Mhmmn”

Ojiugo began mentally planning what she would wear and how she would get to Belema’s house wherever it was.

“No. I don’t think so. Maybe tomorrow. It’s late.”

“Oh. Okay. Sorry. I really wasn’t thinking.”

Belema laughed lightly

“It’s fine. Thanks for offering. Anyways, I know this is weird, me calling you up this late and saying I want to talk and you don’t even know me. I don’t even know what I’m thinking sef.”

Ojiugo smiled

“It’s cool. Sometimes, it’s just a lot easier to talk to a complete stranger than it is to talk to someone familiar.”

Belema seemed to think for a while before she answered

“I don’t know… Look. Am I bothering you? It’s late. Shouldn’t you be asleep or something?”

Ojiugo sensed that Belema was about to withdraw.

“Naah. Let’s talk. I’m here.”

“No. Sorry. Let me just try to sleep. I think I’ll go take the meds. I haven’t taken any since I got back. They’ll make me fall asleep. Goodnight”

Ojiugo heard a click and Belema went off. She turned to Leslie who had a questioning look on his face.

“Belema?”

Ojiugo nodded.

“I’m worried about her Leslie. She’s dealing with a lot.”

“Obviously. She did try to take her own life. But you can’t make that your problem.”

Ojiugo fired him a stern look and he quickly apologized.

“My bad. Sorry.”

***

Mrs. Ochoga lay in her bedroom, her head throbbing slightly. She had taken some panadol for the massive headaches she’d felt earlier on and they had abated somewhat. There was a soft knock on the door but she didn’t turn. Nengi walked in and stood at the foot of the bed.

“Mum?”

Mrs. Ochoga turned and Nengi knelt down

“I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean to get you upset earlier on.”

Mrs. Ochoga was touched. She sat up slowly and tapped a spot close to her on the bed. Nengi got up and sat beside her.

“Nengi, he’s your father.”

“Not anymore. He lost that privilege when he walked out on us three years ago. Why do you even still talk to him? I could have sworn that you’d lost his number or something.”

Mrs. Ochoga smiled.

“You’re young and feisty and you won’t understand. I love your father regardless of what he might have done. He is still my husband.”

Nengi sighed

“The only reason I’m here talking to you is because pastor Bolaji said so. And then because I love you. But if you keep this up mum, we won’t have a relationship anymore.

I hate him. I really do. I hate how he treated you- how he treated us. And I hate how he walked in here trying to boss everyone around like he never did anything wrong.

And I hate that you called him here without talking to Belema or myself first. I’m just really pissed!”

“Nengi, I am a human being you know. I can feel too. Your sister tried to take her own life. I was upset and confused. I didn’t know what to do.”

“You should have talked to pastor Bolaji! He’s been our father since now, hasn’t he?”

Mrs. Ochoga sighed.

“Nengi, can we not argue tonight?”

“I’m not here to argue. I came to say I’m sorry. And I’m also tired. I’m hurting too but I’m not rushing off to talk to some ex who treated me like shit and then dumped me.”

Mrs. Ochoga winced and Nengi immediately regretted her comment.

“I’m sorry mum.”

The older woman reclined her back in the bed without a word and Nengi got up and walked out. She closed the door quietly behind her and went to her room. Her mother was too weak and it really angered her. How could any human being let another human exercise so much control over them all in the name of love or marriage? It was just really stupid. How could her mother not see that there was something wrong with being in love that much?! Could you even call that love? A situation where you were losing yourself over someone who didn’t even acknowledge your existence. Nengi thought it was the height of folly but she would never say it to her mother’s face

Nengi’s mind strayed towards Belema and she sighed. Sometimes, she wished she could run away from the nollywood drama that was her family. Her phone buzzed and she picked it up. It was a ping from Olanna.

Babes, you’ve missed all my calls and haven’t returned any of them. I’m a little worried. You alright?

Nengi really didn’t feel like talking to anyone but she decided to indulge Olanna. They were pretty close after all. She found Olanna’s number in the heap of missed calls on her call log and dialed the number. Olanna picked almost immediately

“Hey Nengi. How far?”

“Shebi you will let the phone ring first before you answer?” Nengi teased.

Olanna laughed and Nengi could hear the relief in her voice

“As I’ve now been waiting for your call since nko?”

“I’m sorry dear. Today was just somehow. What’s up?”

“I dey. How’s Belema. She’s back home yeah?”

“Yeah. Ola, this whole thing has me worn out, I swear. Then my mum now called her husband and the man had the guts to show up here today. I was really close to breaking his head with a pestle!”

“Whoa! Nengi!”

“What? I hate him. You know that. Belema does too! Anyways, I’ve spent too much time talking about this. How far?”

Olanna inhaled deeply and Nengi heard it through the phone. She felt sorry for Olanna. She knew she was a difficult person to manage when she got angry but she couldn’t help it. There was nothing to be done.

“I’m okay Nengi. I’m thinking of coming over to your house tomorrow so we can talk about the trip to Abuja. I don’t know if you’re still interested.”

“Ah. I’m not sure o. Every man on the planet is suddenly annoying me. I’m not sure I want to fly all the way down to surprise some crush. I told you this was a bad idea from the start. Now more than ever, I’m convinced.”

Olanna knew her friend enough to not push the matter further.

“Alright. But I’ll still come tomorrow to see you and Belema. Is that fine?”

“Yeah.” Nengi yawned and suddenly realized she was sleepy.

“Yeah, that’s fine. I want to go and sleep dear. Let’s talk tomorrow.”

Nengi hung up, tossed the phone on the bed then went straight to the bathroom.

***

Belema stealthily crept out of her bedroom. She checked the living room and kitchen to make sure no one was around and then carefully unbolted the back door. It was pretty dark and the weather was slightly cold but she didn’t care. She shut the door behind her and walked away occasionally glancing over her shoulders to ensure that no one was following her.

Nobody would ever really get her. Was there really any point? As she walked, she considered going back home but some force she could not decipher kept forging her along and so she continued to walk, one step after another.

Damage Control #4

Episode 3

Mid-life crises are common to most men. It is that period in a man’s life when he suddenly realizes that he’s growing old and really scared of ageing. So he just goes crazy and does all sorts. If you’ve seen Father of the Bride, you’ll understand. A little. For some men, the phase passes without much damage done but some others aren’t as lucky.

Nosa was a very successful man. He ran a large scale fish farm and poultry in Lagos and Benin and he was doing incredibly well. When he quit his banking job to start the business, people thought he was crazy. It took Nosa about 8 months to grow his farm in Lagos and become a major reference point for restaurants and bars. His fish and chickens were some of the biggest available and so people paid good money for his supplies.

Nosa’s wife Grace and their two daughters were very supportive. Belema who was an accountant managed his accounts for him and working together brought them really close. Nengi did all the research required to keep the business moving. If there was a new chicken feed in the market, Nengi knew it. If a new restaurant opened, Nengi was at their doorstep requesting to supply them with fish and chicken. His girls were incredible.

2 years after breaking grounds in Lagos, Nosa started up another farm in Benin. It was actually Nengi’s idea. Nengi travelled with him, scouted the market and did most of the work. And just like the Lagos farm, the Benin farm thrived. It was all too incredible. Because Nengi and Belema couldn’t be in Benin all the time, Nosa hired Oghosa to manage the business in Benin. He paid her good money and she ran the business pretty well.

Soon, Nosa stopped frequenting Benin. He would only go once or twice in a month. Well, that was up until his 52nd birthday. Two months to his birthday, Nosa made a trip to Benin to check on things as usual. Oghosa took him on a tour around the farm and he was impressed by how well things were going.

They sat in her office to talk afterwards. Oghosa was beautiful but Nosa had never noticed. Something changed that day however. Nosa had been talking about his upcoming birthday and how he felt like he was growing old. How the conversation went from business to personal, Nosa would never be able to figure out. But Oghosa indulged him. She teased him a lot and had him laughing like he had not laughed in a long time. Oghosa insisted he was really young at heart and did not look like he was 50.

Nosa enjoyed her compliments and without meaning to, he found himself flirting with the girl who was young enough to be his daughter. Nosa thoroughly enjoyed the time spent with Oghosa and rather than return to Lagos the next morning as was scheduled, he stayed an extra day to enjoy her company. Oghosa didn’t mind. She actually prepared him a lovely pepper soup dish which they enjoyed together.

That could well have been the beginning of Nosa’s problems. No one noticed anything different about him when he returned. No one thought it odd when his trips to Benin became a weekly occurrence. And just like that, Nosa’s life changed.

Two weeks after his 52nd birthday, Nosa packed a bag and left the house in Lagos without a word to anyone. He rented a three-bedroom apartment in Benin and moved in with Oghosa. He completely cut off from his family.

It took the ladies over a year to accept what happened. A lot of hurtful words went back and forth. The business in Lagos suffered and eventually shut down but the one in Benin continued to thrive. Grace and her daughters pieced their lives back together and moved on. And Nosa? He just went on with his life. Oghosa made him feel great. He became this playful, crazy person around her. He dressed casually all the time and spoke pidgin English all the time as well. He said it made him feel younger and less serious. His was a rather obvious transformation agenda. It was clear for all to see that he had really changed.

Of the three women, Nengi seemed to be the hardest hit. She hated her father and there was nothing anyone could do to change her mind. She never spoke about him. He was pretty much dead to her. Nengi was a hothead. Everybody knew that but she also had a really large heart. Nengi was a great lady actually. She was the kind of person who was really lovely to people but if she got hurt, she would shut down a person and never look back. And that was what she had done with her father-shut him down and never looked back.

Their mother, Grace on the other hand seemed to handle it better. Although she reverted back to her maiden name, she harboured no hatred in her heart. She wasn’t the strongest woman alive and occasionally, she would send Nosa text messages, checking up on him and praying for him. Nosa hardly ever replied but she ensured that she sent him messages at least twice a month.

Belema was actually the hardest hit but no one knew that. Belema could not believe that in spite of how close they were, her father would throw everything away and go off with some random woman. Belema had always been an introvert but her father’s betrayal caused her to retreat further into her shell. She took the hurt to heart and nursed it till it became an integral part of her.

Belema and Nengi had not communicated with their father in about two years. For the both of them, he was a forbidden subject. Their mother tried to respect their wishes but this one time, she knew she could not deal with the chaos on her own. Belema had tried to take her own life, Nosa needed to know. So Grace called Nosa and the following morning, he was on a flight down to Lagos. Regardless of whatever madness might have been going on with him, Nosa knew that he needed to be there for Belema.

Nosa sighed as the plane landed at the airport in Lagos. There was going to be a lot of drama. He knew it but he was not prepared for it. He also knew he would never be prepared for it. He had not seen the girls in two years and he wondered what they looked like. They both hated him, he knew, but there was nothing to be done. He shrugged and got up from his seat. He retrieved his small bag from the overhead compartment and got off the plane. He found a cab and gave the address to the house on Bode Thomas then relaxed in the back seat.

***

Belema sat in Dr. Ikem’s office, her expression blank. Dr. Ikem wrote the last prescriptions for her, mostly anti-depressants and flu medications. Belema had caught a cold. Ikem looked up and smiled at her.

“You’ll need to take these religiously. Don’t miss out anyone.”

Belema looked at the prescription and studied the varying pills beside the paper and she cringed.

“I hate pills. Can’t you give me injections?”

“Not really.”

“Why are you giving me anti-depressants?”

“We talked about this Belema”

Belema’s tone was firm

“I told you I’m fine. I’m not going to go jump off another bridge. But don’t give me those pills. I’ve taken them before, they made me feel utterly useless and I gained a lot of weight.”

Ikem looked shocked

“You’ve treated for depression before?”

Belema looked away slightly embarrassed.

“Yes.”

Ikem immediately looked concerned. Belema had talked to him some more the previous night but she had not told him everything about herself and he understood that. These things took time. Ojiugo was willing to talk to her as well and Ikem was only glad to have both of them talk. He expected Ojiugo to walk in at any minute.

“Belema, these things aren’t easy to get through but you need to take your medication and then find the required willpower to pull through.”

Belema said nothing.

“What do you do for fun?”

Belema sighed

“I’m tired of answering your 21 questions. Can I please go now?”

Ikem smiled and nodded. There was a soft knock on the door and Ojiugo walked in looking bright and radiant as always. Ikem’s heart dropped. It was heart-wrenching to know that she was not going to live longer than 3 months. As though she could read his mind, Ojiugo grinned.

“Three months is a long time, you can’t be rid of me faster than that. Chill.”

Belema turned to see the lovely petite lady standing behind her. Belema thought she looked vaguely familiar but she wasn’t sure. Ojiugo walked up to her and sat next to her.

“Hi Belema, how do you feel?”

“Uhh good?”

Ojiugo smiled and stretched out her hand

“I’m Ojiugo. We went swimming together on New Year’s day.”

Belema looked at her oddly for a few seconds and suddenly realization hit her and she gasped and covered her face. Ojiugo laughed.

“Yikes. I’m sorry.”

Ojiugo nodded

“It’s fine. I just found it ironic. You were trying to die, I was trying to live. Life is strange.”

Belema shrugged.

Ojiugo brought out a card from her purse and handed it to Belema.

“We should talk sometime. Please, call me.”

Belema smiled warmly and collected the card. Ojiugo had a presence that was warm and pleasant. Belema instantly decided that she liked her.

Belema stood up.

“I really need to go home now. I’m sure they’re waiting to hold a hearing session on my matter.”

“Naah. No one will stress you. I’ve told your fiancé and your sister. They’ll go easy on you.” Ikem said

“I actually saw them outside. I left them with Leslie.” Ojiugo said.

Belema nodded.

“Thanks.”

She gathered the medication on the table and walked out. As soon as she sighted Seun and Nengi with Leslie, she took a deep breath and walked in their direction, her steps slow and unhurried. She was tired.

“Hi.”

Belema stood before them awkwardly for a few seconds and Nengi suddenly rushed to her and embraced her tightly.

“You scared me shitless Belz. You really did. Don’t you ever ever try this again, ever!”

Belema felt the lump in her throat and she swallowed hard. “I’m sorry boo.” Belema said softly

Nengi broke into a sob and Belema held on to her tighter. Her mind felt totally woozy. It had been a long time since she held Nengi this close and an even longer time since she saw Nengi cry. How could she have tried to hurt Nengi? She really hadn’t thought the entire thing through. She had been selfish.

“I’m sorry love. Really.”

Nengi sniffed and pulled back.

“I kept thinking, oh shit, I’m going to have to deal with mum’s drama all by myself now. Nobody to complain to.”

Belema laughed and pinched Nengi’s side.

“Really? That’s all I’m good for? Handling mum’s drama?”

“Well, and cooking too. I would have died of starvation as well.”

Belema shook her head. She really wanted to cry but she couldn’t bring herself to. There was too much she needed to sort out in her head. Way too much.

She looked at Seun, saw the frown on his face and sighed. She wasn’t in the mood for a fight. Seun had to have the common sense to not go off on her.

“Hey.”

“Hey. Good to see you’re on your feet now.”

His tone was void of emotion

“Yeah. Thanks”

“Can we go?” Nengi asked. She did not like the tension at all.

They bid Leslie farewell and walked out to the car park. Belema and Seun sat in front while Nengi took the back seat. The drive back home was a quiet one with Nengi occasionally passing comments on other road users.

As soon as they got to the house. Nengi got out and walked into the house. She knew Seun and Belema needed to talk.

Seun turned to face Belema in the car but she kept her face straight ahead.

“What did I do wrong Belema?”

She ignored him. Why did it have to be about him?

“I’m talking to you. What were you trying to achieve? Hurt the people who care about you?”

“I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone Seun.”

“Really? So you took a dive off ThirdMainland bridge because you assumed we would throw a party for you?!”

Belema opened her side of the door, got out of the car and walked into the house. If Seun would not be sensitive to the fact that she was hurting then he needed to go and have his head checked.

Nengi was seated on a couch texting on her phone. She looked up as soon as Belema walked in.

“You guys talked already?”

“Not really. I’m tired.”

Belema walked into her bedroom and plopped down on the bed. She did not want to think about anything. She just wanted to sleep.

***

Belema did not know how long she had been asleep for but she woke up with a jolt. She could hear loud voices coming from the living room. Her heart thudded softly in her chest as she swung her feet off the bed. She could barely make out the voices but they were loud. Someone seemed to be really upset about something.

The moment Belema walked into the living room, her blood ran cold. Nengi stood in the living room, pestle held raised high, her voice several notches higher. Their father stood at the threshold of the house, his voice equally just as high.

“I swear to God, if you take a step into this house, I will bring this pestle down on your head!” Nengi yelled. Her eyes were bright and fiery and every vein stood out on her neck

“You better shut up there! I am still your father.”

“You are not! My father died three years ago. Just go away!”

Belema remained frozen where she was. She could neither move nor speak.

Their mother who stood between Nengi and their father was the first to notice Belema. Mrs. Ochoga had tears in her eyes.

“Belema, please tell your sister to put that thing down. Please.”

Nengi turned around sharply and Nosa turned to see Belema as well. He made to move forward but Nenngi turned around and raised the pestle again.

“I’m not joking. If you come near me, I’ll bring this thing down on your head o. Go back to the slut you’re staying with.”

Nosa ignored Nengi. His voiced dropped slightly and he called out to Belema

“Belema, are you okay?”

Belema just stood there.

“Belema?”

“Get out.”

Her tone was dead, her voice was low but clear.

Nosa was slightly surprised.

“Belema, I came-”

“Get out!”

Nosa shook his head. These girls obviously thought he had made the trip from Benin to Lagos to play hide and seek. He pushed Grace roughly out of the way and took a step forward and in that second, Nengi gripped the pestle tightly in both hands, raised it high and swung it at him, aiming directly for his head.

Damage Control #3

Previous episode

The last place Nengi ever imagined she would be on New Year’s day, was at a hospital. Worse still, at the bedside of her only sister who had tried to commit suicide. Nengi’s eyes were red from crying. It had been a really long day.

Nengi turned tired eyes to the wall clock in the room. The time was 7pm. She had not slept since the party and she was exhausted.

Belema looked peaceful in her sleep and for the umpteenth time, Nengi wondered what could have driven her sister to suicide. There had been no signs, no unusual behavior, nothing whatsoever. Belema had always been the quiet one so nothing had seemed out of place.

Mrs. Ochoga walked into the room sniffing.

“Is she awake?”

Nengi shook her head.

Since they got the call at noon that day, Mrs. Ochoga had not stopped crying. Nengi was tired.

“Mum, you need to stop this. What would you be doing if she was dead?”

Mrs. Ochoga ignored her younger daughter and walked up to Belema’s side. She tapped her gently

“Bella, bella”

“Mum, stop.”

Nengi’s tone was sharp and she regretted it the next second. Everyone was stressed.

Seun knocked softly on the door and opened it. Nengi stood up and went to hug him. Seun’s eyes were red as well. He had not caught any sleep either. He patted Nengi’s head as he hugged her.

“How are you dear?”

“I’m tired.” Nengi sighed. She motioned towards her mother and Seun walked towards Mrs. Ochoga, still holding Nengi’s hand.

“Mum?”

Mrs Ochoga’s lips trembled as she tried to speak.

“Seun, see your friend…”

The tears began trickling down again and Nengi sighed.

“I’m going to find the doctor.”

Nengi walked out and shut the door. Belema needed to wake up and start offering explanations. How dare she attempt to take her own life? How could anyone be that selfish? So while people celebrated the New year, her own family would have been thrown into mourning?

“Hello!”

Nengi looked up and saw the doctor smiling at her.

“Hi. Good evening.”

“You alright?”

Nengi opened both hands and shrugged.

“Who’s in there with her?”

“My mum and her fiancé”

“Oh good. Come let’s take a walk.”

Nengi shrugged and fell into step beside him.

“How close are you two?”

Nengi rolled her eyes.

“Not close enough apparently, seeing that she tried to take her own life without as much as a ‘hey sis, I hate you guys so much so I’m just going to take a dive off third mainland bridge.’”

Dr. Ikem smiled.

“What’s your name again?”

“Nengi.”

“Nengi, don’t be angry with your sister. Please. Right now, she needs all the love she can get.”

Nengi stopped and folded her arms.

“Please, don’t tell me that. All we have ever done is show her love. She’s my big sister. We talk all the time. So I am absolutely clueless as to how she would wake up and decide to kill herself.

I look up to her a lot. I used to think she was cool. Now all of a sudden, she’s this loser who tried to commit suicide.”

Dr. Ikem sighed and extracted Nengi’s right hand from across her chest.

“Nengi, you’re hurt, tired and frustrated and that’s understandable. It’s been a long day. I think you need to go home and sleep then come back tomorrow morning. And you need to take your mum with you as well.

I placed your sister under some heavy medication. She’s really not likely to wake up anytime soon.”

Nengi nodded.

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Belema will be fine. And so will every one of you. You just need time to sort it all out. But go home and rest. You should be able to talk to your sister in the morning.”

Still holding Nengi’s hand, Ikem turned back and walked towards Belema’s room.

When he opened the door, Mrs. Ochoga looked up. Ikem walked to her and held her hands. He advised her to leave with Nengi and return in the morning. With a little persuasion from Nengi and Seun, she agreed.

Seun offered to drop them off and return to keep vigil by Belema’s side. As soon as the three people left, Ikem walked back to Belema’s side and he saw the tears trickling down her cheeks. Her eyes were still shut.

Ikem took her hand gently and Belema opened her eyes. Ikem couldn’t help but notice how beautiful they were. Her pupils were brown and made even more distinct by her clear white sclera. Her lashes were long, black and perfectly curly.

“I’ve made a terrible mistake.”

Her voice was barely audible.

“Hey. Nothing that can’t be fixed. You’re alive. That’s a starting point.”

Belema tried to sit up and Ikem helped her by propping the pillows behind her.

“Everyone is angry with me.”

“I think they’re more worried than angry.”

Belema covered her eyes and sobbed softly. Ikem reclined his back in the chair and watched her.

His phone began buzzing seconds later and he pulled it out of his pocket. It was Ojiugo.

“Can I take this outside? I’ll just be a minute”

Belema nodded and Ikem walked out quickly.

“Hi Ugo, what’s up?”

“I’m fine. Leslie won’t let me come to the hospital to see Belema. The headaches started again and he’s forcing me to stay in bed.”

Ojiugo sounded like she was sulking and Ikem laughed tiredly.

Ndo dear. Have you taken your meds”

“Mehh. Daalu. How’s she? Has her family come yet?”

“Ugo, have you taken your meds?” Ikem’s tone was firmer

“Yes! Leslie has been policing me all day. What do you think?”

Ikem sighed.

“You’re just a handful. Anyways, Belema’s mum and sister came here with her fiancé. I’m not sure what the story is but no one noticed any signs of depression. I’m going to speak with the fiancé sha. Need to know if things were good between them. This entire thing is so odd.”

“Wow. This life ehn. Strange things keep happening all the time.”

“I know right? Sha, she just woke up. She’s crying but I think she might want to talk. I need to go back to her.”

“Alright. Sorry I can’t be there with you. I’m really curious about her.”

“I’m glad you can’t be here Ugo. Get some rest biko. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

Ikem wished her a goodnight then hung up and went back into the room. Belema had stopped crying. He put on what he tagged his most understanding smile and sat beside her.

“Do you want to talk?”

Belema seemed to think for a few seconds then she asked

“Are you going to judge me?”

The honesty of her question took him completely by surprise.

“Umm. No. I certainly will not.”

“Sure?”

She looked like a little child who was afraid of getting scolded for skipping school.

“You have my word Belema.”

Belema took a deep breath.

“Okay.”

Ikem waited for what seemed like eternity before she spoke again but it was actually two minutes.

“Seun does not know I’m pregnant. And that is because he doesn’t love me and I can’t afford to be with someone who does not love me.”

Ikem looked at her intently and she continued.

“Actually, all my life, I have been surrounded by people who do not really love me. People just endure or pretend or act nice because they feel pressured to do so. I can see these things and I’m tired of being a burden. I’m tired of losing the ones I love and being stuck with people who merely tolerate me because they feel sorry for me.”

Ikem’s eyes betrayed his lack of understanding. What was Belema talking about? How could she claim no one loved her? The three people who had surrounded her bedside a few minutes earlier looked like they all doted on her. What was she on about?

“You promised not to judge me.”

“Huh?”

Ikem looked up. He hadn’t realized he’d taken his eyes off her.

“You promised not to judge me but I can see it in your eyes. You think I’m foolish and don’t know what I’m talking about.”

Ikem composed himself and smiled

“I’m not judging you dear. I am only digesting and processing the information you just shared.”

Belema looked doubtful and in a matter of seconds, the vulnerability and child-like innocence were gone from her eyes.

“I’m tired, I want to sleep.”

Ikem thought for a bit but it was pointless. Belema eased herself back under the sheets and shut her eyes.

Ikem sighed. There was nothing he would not encounter in this his profession.

***

Nosa felt tiny fingers flutter across his face and he reluctantly opened his eyes. Cute little eyes met his with an adorable smile that revealed missing teeth. His two year-old daughter Benita giggled loudly. Nosa sighed and tried to brush her hands gently off his face. He needed to sleep.

Benita chose to climb over him instead. This time Nosa heard a louder giggle from across the room and a tiny click from what must have been a camera. Nosa opened his eyes fully and sat up. His face felt funny. He looked at the Oghosa who was bent over in one corner of the room giggling loudly and then he touched his face.

Benita laughed some more and rubbed his face as well. When Nosa looked at his hands, he shrieked.

“Wetin be this na?!”

Oghosa was on the floor, clearly in stiches. Nosa jumped off the bed and ran to the bathroom mirror. What he saw startled him. He had makeup smudged all over his face-green red and brown colours stood out in different patches. He sighed and began to wash them off frantically.

Why were women so mischievous? And how had he not felt any of that while it had been ongoing?

He came out of the bathroom, a stern look on his face.

“Oghosa, which kain thing be this na? Man pikin nor fit sleep for im house again?”

Oghosa had Benita in her arms. She smiled at him

“Nor vex. Na Benny start am.”

Nosa’s look softened as he looked at his daughter. The girl was too cute for words.

“Two of una dey craze abi?”

Benita stretched out her arms to her father and he carried her.

“Make I see the picture wey you snap.”

Oghosa picked up her phone, swiped her finger across the screen a few times and put the phone in Nosa’s face.

Nosa screamed again

“Ah! Osanobua!!!”

Oghosa burst into fresh spasms of laughter at the look of horror on Nosa’s face.

“Wetin dey give you laugh? You think say e funny abi?”

Oghosa tried to comport herself but failed.

Nosa hissed. For a second, he looked like he wanted to hit her but he changed his mind. He dropped Benita on the floor and stalked out of the room.

Nosa went to the living room and lay on the couch. Oghosa was just troublesome. Why on earth had she put makeup on his face? Why?!! It was one of her many acts of mischief that she always managed to get away with. Everyone told him she had cast a spell on him and Nosa was tempted to believe them. He was fifty-five, she was twenty-six and she had his mumu button nicely tucked away somewhere.

Oghosa walked out of the room with Benita in her arms.

“My love, you still dey vex? Na play we been dey play na.”

“Which kain yeye play? You know say I been work throughout today. Man need to rest na. You come put that una yeye colour for my face. I resemble woman?”

Oghosa knelt in front of him and looked genuinely remorseful. Benita’s face fell as well.

“I’m sorry. No vex. Abeg”

“E don do. Oya stand up.”

Oghosa smiled.

“That your banga soup still remain?”

Oghosa nodded.

“Oya, go make me another starch quick quick make I chop.”

Oghosa got up and went off to the kitchen.

Nosa picked Benita and tickled the little girl till she laughed really hard. She wrapped her tiny arms around Nosa’s neck and Nosa’s heart warmed some more. He inhaled her baby scent and kissed her neck.

He heard his phone ring in the room and he went quickly to get it. As soon as he saw the caller, he frowned. Why was Grace calling him? They had not spoken in over two years. Their only form of communication with each other had been text messages where necessary but Grace had not called him in a long time.

His tone was gruff when he picked up.

“Yes?”

He heard a small sniff.

“Grace, na wetin? You dey okay?”

The lady on the other end of the line cleared her throat and spoke

“Belema tried to commit suicide today. You need to come to Lagos.”

Nosa was stunned

“Which Belema?”

“Belema. Your daughter.”