Evening had come in Ochuko’s residence. Golden refractions of the retreating sun on the glass window washed the room Ochuko and Sandy were in. They were deep into their game of chess. After Miss Sharon had left with the berries, they had both invaded the fridge in the kitchen. It gave off a loaf of slice bread, a bottle of strawberry jam and a bottle of red wine. ‘The great feast of bread and wine,’ Ochuko had ranted as he transported their spoil back to the room. Sandy had declared her anticipations of the lunch then, it was her first time to have the bread and wine combination. It came off well and surprisingly, she ate a greater portion of the meal. The game of chess had followed after that and this was their third round.
Ochuko moved his last knight across the board, out of the path of the Bishop, Rook and Pawn guiding the King, but pinning him down to a susceptible position. His next move would see the poor king’s end and there was nothing his men could do about it. He looked up at Sandy who was minutes away from this realization and smiled. She looked especially beautiful with the puzzled expression on her face and with the rays of sunlight radiating her frame.
“Checkmate.” He announced.
“Ehn? Don’t even start. I’m winning this one.”
“Then run away from the knight in his shiny armour with the lethal blade.”
“Oh no!” Sandy cried. “How did that guy get there?”
“The same way he always gets there.”
“You’re a cheat. Cheat! Cheat!! Cheat!! Che–“
“Come on.” He stood and stretched out his hand. “Let’s go see what else the Fridge’s got.”
“Cheat! Cheat!!” She cried on.
He started to the kitchen on his own since she was bent on mimicking a tantrum. She wasn’t doing bad in it anyway, and he was actually finding it stimulating in an erotic kind of way. He was at the small passage that connected to the kitchen when he abruptly stopped. There was something different in the last CHEAT! she screamed. The tone was lower than the rest and he thought her voice wavered a little, like she was on the verge of tears. He stood there waiting for her to scream again, wanting to be sure his ears hadn’t picked up the right sound. The next sound he heard was a wail; it rang out piercingly enough to start goosebumps racing along his arms and neck.
“Oh no.” He rushed back into the room. “Baby, don’t do that.”
Sandy sat with her arms wrapped around her shins and her jaw resting on her joined knees. She hid her face between her legs when she saw Ochuko stride in and tried not to cry. He knelt in front of her and loosened her locked arms.
“Hey,” he said. “It was just a game.”
She looked up at him, sniffling. Her whole body rocked with the next bout of wail to engulf her. She released it almost immediately and he gathered her from the chair and held her in an embrace. She tugged at his shirt and wept bitterly.
“It’s not the game. Is it?” He asked.
She shook her head.
“Talk to me, Sandy. I’m here for you.”
“I’m defeated.” She said. “I really don’t know what I’m still doing in this world. It should just wipe me out.”
He should shush her from making anymore of such utterances. He decided against it however, agreeing with his instinct that it was best to let her pour all of her grief. He stood silent with her in his arms and looked down at her upturned face. He could feel her pain, it was difficult not to, going by the mix of expressions on her face. She looked like one whose house had been burnt flat to the ground. She looked terribly scared and helpless.
“Just how much stabs in the heart can one take before he gives up the ghost?”
He gazed into her face, silent.
“Please answer me.” She cried. “I don’t think I can stand another stab. I think I’ve had enough.”
“Sandy, look at me.” He held her away from him and lifted her face to his. “I don’t know what you have gone through or what you’re currently going through. It looks like you’ve been through more than a lady can stand but I’m here with you now. You have a comforter, me. You have someone who wants to fight beside you. And you know what? The fight is over already.”
She smiled. It was a bitter smile that held thousands of pain bundled tightly together. “I should go now.” She said.
“Stay a while, Sandy. Listen to me, I want you to have little trust in me. I want to help you. I want to be with you. I love you.”
Those three words, he’d said them at last. However, they seemed to have been said at the wrong time. Sandy’s eyes grew large and he saw her fright, stark and unprotected. He remembered just then that she had almost been raped and wished he had said something milder. But was there anything milder than those words? It wasn’t like he had told her he wanted to shag her, and just how could he have refrained from saying what he’d been itching to say?
“Thank you for the nice time.” She said, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. She picked her bag from the next chair and turned away.
He thought he would stand there and watch her go, he actually wanted to do that. She needed time to get off her grief and sort out her emotions. But she was right in his arms again.
He couldn’t stand her walking away from him. His wife had done that, and through his harmless insistence. He can’t loose this lady, she was his redemption and he would take it no matter what. He took her lips by force and felt her body stiffen. Her eyes said the words that interpreted the picture he was creating. ‘Do you want to rape me?’ It asked.
No, he didn’t want to. He let go of his grip on her waist and reduced the pressure of his lips on hers. He took her lips slowly now and tentatively parted her mouth with his tongue.
Sandy understood that Ochuko had drawn her back into his embrace out of a certain inexplicable impulse. She understood perfectly well that he was attracted to her. But whether he meant well for her was what she feared. Cas had appeared as a nice fellow but at the end their relationship had gone down the drain. All the promises, lies; all the hopes, wrecked dreams. She didn’t want any more of those, didn’t want any other man, they complicated life…
But she couldn’t decline his kiss, she didn’t have the will to. She was attracted to him in a way she had never been attracted to the opposite sex. She felt a little twinge of sadness when his hand left her waist. We just got started and it’s already ending, she thought.
When he probed with his tongue, she felt relief and along with it came a wave of passion. She let him play with her tongue, let him kiss her slow and proper and long. At the moment, it helped her forget about the dangerous route her life had taken, it was highly therapeutic. She pressed in on him and he slid a possessive hand over her butt.
Ochuko knew, by the hand he had placed on her butt, that things would take a different course. It occurred to him then to stop, not because he wanted to, but because he needed her to be prepared for what he wanted to offer. He needed her to agree to be his. He broke the kiss and looked at her. She had her eyes closed and her lips slightly parted. He pecked her on the forehead – at the small space between her brows – and drew his hands away from her and into his pocket.
Sandy’s lids fluttered and her eyes flew open. Her mouth opened and closed. Words refused to come out. She rubbed at her forehead, at the exact spot Ochuko had kissed and turned around. She was raddled and it was embarrassing that he had made her feel so. His kiss had made her so.
She turned back to face him. “Thanks for everything.” She said at last.
“Well, I really… I wanted… Actually…” He rubbed the back of his neck.
Sandy laughed then, the sound was rich and pure. Yeah, it was good to know the state of confusion was mutual. She had intended to remain silent till he completed his statement, she really wanted to hear what he had to say, but the man definitely was at a loss of what to say. When she was done laughing, he stepped forward, took her hand in his and looked directly into her eyes.
“Stay the night, Sandy and I promise you, nothing like this would happen.”
“Not even when I show signs of wanting something like it?”
“No, not at all.”
“Alright. But really, you should know I’m the saddest woman alive.”
“I won’t know until you tell me, dear.”
She set her bag back on the chair and folded her arms under her breasts. “Is there a way I can avoid telling you my pathetic story?”
“I’m sorry, sister, there’s no way.” He picked her bag and exited the room.
* * *
Casmir arrived at Amazing Grace hospital at quarter past four. The place was as it was the last time he was here. The only difference was a black Mercedes parked on the far end where the lumbered Ambulance bus whiled away time. There was the caged parrot too, he noticed this as he slid open the glass door. It said something that was either ‘hello’ or sounded like it. He doubted the cage had been there late last night when he had rushed in with a semi-conscious Sandy. But if it had been placed here today, what had prompted it? Had the president announced his arrival at the hospital since his departure? That was very unlikely.
Inside the hospital, he told the nurse at the reception area that he wanted to see the doctor. She asked to know the doctor he had an appointment with and he only stared back at her. First, he didn’t have an appointment with any of the doctors and second, it hadn’t occurred to him that there were more than one doctor in the hospital. He couldn’t recall any form of formal introduction made yesterday. The very nature of his entrance had repelled any that would have happened. But suppose there had actually been some sort of introduction, he couldn’t remember.
“The short doctor with funny round spectacles.” He said when the nurse’s smile started becoming a frown.
“Duh! We have two short doctors here. Doctor Al, and doctor Moses.”
“It must be Doctor Al. That one sounds familiar.”
It really was familiar. He remembered the message he had received, the one informing him that Sandy had left with a stranger. He drew out his phone and opened the message. Below the message was the signature, Doc Al, Amazing grace hospital.
“That’s the doctor I’m looking for.” He reiterated.
“Where’s your card?”
Oh! That’s true, he thought. To show you have booked an appointment with the doctor, there must be a card to verify. He shifted closer to the counter and pushed the visual display of his phone to her face.
“What’s this for?” She asked, irate.
“Take a look at it first.” He said, not minding her mood. She should hang herself with it if she liked, so long as it doesn’t interfere with his meeting the doctor.
She snatched the phone from him and handed it back almost immediately.
“So you expect me to let you see the doctor because of a mere text?”
Dear Jesus, save us, he said, but not aloud. He stared back at the lady behind the counter and wished she knew how impatient he was growing.
“Look, young man. Things don’t work this way in hospitals, this hospital especially. Over here we follow due procedures, we don’t leave any stone unturned.”
And who was talking about jumping over some stones?
“Give the doctor a call and tell him the guy that rushed in an unconscious lady with a broken head last night is here to see him. Would you?”
“And you’re even talking to me like I’m your younger sister.”
Cas realized at this moment that he was wasting his time. The thought of giving the bitch in clean white gown a commendable slap had crossed his mind, but immediately following that thought was a better one: Call the doctor with your own phone. He showed the nurse/receptionist his back but promptly reversed the action to say thank you. He did that out of habit.
He walked down to the rows of seats and sat in the third sit on the first row. He put his phone to his ear and fixed his eyes on the nurse. She was looking at him, only hers was a malicious glare. The doctor picked on the first ring and told him to stay right where he was. He would be meeting with him once he was done with his counselling session with a patient. That was fine to him. He stood up and walked back to the nurse. What he intended to do occurred to him only when he had completed his walk to the counter.
“I’m sorry for my manner of approach.” He said. “A couple of things have gone wrong in my life. I think, on a normal day, I would have been on my smiles the whole time we talked.”
The nurse smiled then, an unharmful smile that actually harmed and disarmed him at the same time. She was beautiful, and almost in the same way as Sandy.
“We all have things to apologise for. I think I owe you an apology too.” She said. “Firstly, because I could have acted more professionally, and secondly, because I should have calmed down after realizing you were not in a good mood. You know, the text ought to provoke you.”
He looked at his legs. He was moving his right foot forward and backward, to and fro like he was kicking an invisible ball tied to a string or steadily dusting his foot on a footmat. Another crazy habit which once learnt, couldn’t be unlearned.
“I was a bad lover. I screwed us up, and we were building something strong.”
“What happened between you both. It sounds like a fight to me. You mentioned rushing in an unconscious lady with a broken head. Did you knock her out?”
“I didn’t do that. Can’t do that to my girl. Well, not deliberately though.” He looked at his legs again. The pedalling foot was gaining speed.
“I bet you don’t feel comfortable sharing your relationship life with me. It’s fine. Most people don’t share stuff like these and it’s also fine because those are our secrets.”
He smiled. “I don’t mind sharing it with you, but first I have to know who’d be carrying my story along with her everywhere she goes.”
“Okay. I’m Janet. Is that okay now?” She flashed him another of her torturous smiles.
“Yes. And I’m Casmir. But almost everybody call me Cas.”
“Oh my God!” Nurse Janet covered her mouth. “That’s the name I intend to give my first son. It’s such a cute name. Wow.”
“Wow.” He agreed. “Maybe it’s a name for cute guys. I’m not impliedly saying I’m cute. I’m just trying to let you know that your boy, when you eventually give birth to him, would be a charmer. Girls would fall at his feet at just his smile.”
Janet started laughing in the middle of his reply and was still rocking with laughter when he was done. When the laughter tapered off, the next words he said got her laughing again. So did their conversation go until the doctor came down with his patient – an aged woman whose smile indicated a toothless gum – and met them. The matter of Ochuko’s relationship was not discussed in the end.
Later that day, while applying her close of work makeup, Nurse Janet would tell her gossip paddy, Nurse Zara that she had met someone interesting today. Zara would ask if he was more interesting than Jude, Janet’s current boyfriend, and all the reply Janet would offer to that question is a dreamy smile, one Nurse Zara knew too well.
* * *
Doc Al offered Cas a chair and went behind his to hang his coat on the coat hanger beside a metal file cabinet. He pulled two cans of beer from a chest fridge and took his seat in his swivel chair.
“Beer?” He offered Cas.
Cas reluctantly took it. He settled it in front of him and shifted his chair closer.
“Be free Cas. Hope I can call you that. Beer doesn’t kill, the doctor beers too.”
“It only intoxicate, I know. I’ll drink later inbetween our talk. I’ve got a couple of questions to ask.”
Doc Al emptied half of his can in a gulp. “Ask on.” He said.
Cas studied the eyes behind the round-rimmed glasses. They were small and humourless, the eyes of a poker player. He could tell what kind of a person one was merely by looking into his eyes. He had known Sandy was a softie this way. The doctor’s eyes were not giving off any vital information, they were unreadable. He could only assume he was a honest fellow who hated deception, but even that wasn’t without the possibility of error.
“Why did you send me the text?” Cas asked.
The doctor laughed, short and shrill. “I wanted to help.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Look, I’m a man advanced in age. I’ve seen things and experienced so many myself. The years have increased my cognitive capacity, and don’t forget I’m a doctor. I sensed you were deeply in love with that lady the moment I set my eyes on you.
Guy with same ability as me, huh? Cas thought.
“You didn’t need to tell me she was your fiancé. I sensed something else. It was that your relationship was in a wreck. I don’t know how it came about but I knew you were trying everything in your capacity to bring things back to normalcy.”
Cas uncorked his beer at this point and took a large swig. Yeah, he needed it now. The doctor was either spooky or he had done a research on him. Whichever way, the result was the same – unsettling.
“So the police came and took you, and I was like, ‘If this man truly possess the characteristics I’ve seen in him, he’d fight his way out and come searching for his woman.’ I’m not surprised that you came.”
“What qualities did you see in me?”
“Of course, fights are discreetly meant to turn dirty.” The doctor continued, ignoring Cas’ question. “Your fight turned dirty when Mr. Ochuko stepped into your girl’s ward.”
“That’s his name, right?”
“Yes, it is. He brought in his daughter, hot water burnt her. He had come into an argument between me and your girl, and when her eyes strayed from mine to him, I knew your girl would choose him over you.”
Cas finished the remaining of his beer in another (single) swig, crinkled the empty can and darted it across the room to the waste basket. He made basket, but didn’t smile like he would’ve done on a good in the office.
“I’ve seen this man you speak of, and another whom I don’t know.”
“Oh! another?” Doc Al laughed.
He got off his chair after first swiveling in it towards the fridge. There was another, he thought, and I’m yet another. The thing was moving out of a love triangle to a love web. It was becoming interesting in a dangerous way. He drew out another can of beer, this one colder than the first set, and flashed it at Cas.
“Another beer?” He asked.
“Yes, please. Thank you.”
He got one more for himself, though he was yet to finish the first, then returned with both to his chair. His dad always said that the fun in drinking with a friend was matching glass for glass, shot for shot, bottle for bottle and can for can, until the whole damn thing was no more. He slid a can over the table to his new friend.
“You still want to know the quality I saw in you?” Doc Al asked.
“Yes. It would do a lot to invigorate me. And invigoration is all I need at this moment.”
He was on his way there anyway. He’d started drinking again, he wouldn’t get off it until he was alcoholically boosted.
“I saw a man who is not easily manipulated in you, a man who wouldn’t stop until he gets what his heart wants. Would you confirm to me that this man is still in youand alive?”
Questions like this needed no answer. Actions, man, actions. Cas emptied the new can of beer. He did this with relish and easily too because it was cold, the exact way he loved his beer. He crumpled the empty in his hand and turned a stony look to the doctor.
“Tell me where to find this Mr. Ochuko.” He said.
The doctor smiled, a humourless grin. “You’ll want another can of beer to toast our new friendship, because I tell you what, you’ll come back to me later and thank me properly for this help. That is what friends are for.”
“Another can for our friendship then.” Cas agreed.