It was 11:36pm. Ochuko approached the main entrance of the building where she once called home. The main doors were a tad-bit faded but the name-boxes with the number of each apartment, was in a worse off situation having outlived the door by about twenty years, so Alfred Williams, the concierge said. He liked to smile a wry smile in belief that he was the unofficial resident curator of the building. But as Ochuko walked through the doors, she could hardly notice any of these, as she climbed the stairs up to apartment 308. She fought back tears, while the warmer air of the stairway, flushed the cold of the late winter night off her face; as memories of the last few years flooded her mind.
Getting her degree in Public Relations from the Delta State University Abraka, she had high hopes of a flourishing career in Human Resources beyond the ‘four walls of a university’ as Tega and Aghogho, her elder brothers always loved to say with that tone of ‘been there, telling you how it is kid-sister’. She had hardly rounded up her compulsory one-year National Youth Service Corps program when she got a marriage proposal from Omasan.
He was her childhood ‘first and only’ love. Their families both lived at Ikomi road, Sapele, Delta State. They attended the same privately-owned primary and secondary school, in the town of Sapele which appealed to parents of means or those willing to financially stretch themselves to give their kids quality education in the harsh economic environment that had become Nigeria. Often in the same sphere of interest, like the same intra-school sports teams, the press and debating society, they struck up a friendship inspired by a necessity of proximity, later sliding into romance when he got through with secondary school; a few months months later, he got admitted into Stanford University to study International relations.
It was a whirl-wind period for Ochuko as she got engrossed in marriage preparations reveling in a fairy tale dream-come-true for many young Nigerian women willing to be the model and not contravene society’s timing, tastes and dictates for when a woman should get married. Omasan was the right husband prospect, his family had the ‘connections’ right up to the top of the new civilian government, so they set him up in the Nigerian embassy in the United States of America where he had worked for the past three years before deciding to ‘settle down’.
America, the land of the brave and home of the free welcomed the newlyweds, in the spring of 2000 after an elaborate marriage ceremony in Sapele.
Marriage was a roller-coaster for the first five years with the birth of Maureen-a baby girl, promotion for Omasan as the liaison officer for the North- American diplomatic trade corridor with lots of trips following. Ochuko had to give up her dreams of a career to tend the budding family and raise Maureen. But five years after the birth of Maureen and seven years into their marriage, Ochuko had lost a lot of glow; she was emotionally distraught coming to terms with the burden of loneliness and the philandering escapades of a highly successful husband, her in-laws’ constant accusations over her inability to get a male child, combined with her parents’ insistence on ‘respecting her vows’ as a true African; forbidding her from reporting her husband to the authorities for the physical abuses she was intermittently receiving from him.
Things had come to a head such that Miss. Ogundipe, the recently posted attaché from the Nigerian high commission in the United Kingdom, offered to help draft a formal complaint when she ran into Ochuko crying in the ladies room, at the welcome party for the Nigerian first lady who was visiting America for the fifth time in two years.
As she stood before the apartment door, she remembered that chilly Friday morning about 1:30am. Omasan hadn’t come back home and Maureen just wouldn’t stop crying. Also, an hour before, her in-laws had called and derided the empty calabash she had become-not able to give them a real ‘child’; soon after that, her mum had called to remind her about the family’s three-day fast and warned her about taking the issues of her bedroom to the sitting room more less those ‘American societies’. She didn’t know the moment she started screaming nor could she remember how long she had been screaming at Maureen to stop crying, all she remembers now was the police breaking into her apartment with Mrs. Corrington hovering in the distant background. As she got shackled, she realized there were fragments of glass all over the marble floor and that was when she felt her blood trickle down her arms.
Now, it had become Ochuko’s custom to walk up the stairs at about 11:30pm every night in an effort to see her daughter since a restraining order was placed on her. She didn’t want to be seen by her former neighbours or Angie, Maureen’s new nanny. She knew Mrs. Corrington, a retired nurse who lived in the apartment down the hallway slept at 10:30pm, while Dennis Reid, the other occupant on her floor was away to South Africa for three months on contract. All this profiling she had done those endless nights when she had sat up waiting, crying and aching, hoping that Omasan would choose that night to come back; she imagined hurrying to bed and hoped that his fingers would slither beneath the sheets and yank off her lingerie-she could hardly remember the last time any man was inside of her. She shook off her reverie – he never came earlier than 3am, and then he slept on the couch and was off at 5am again.
It was now 11:45pm. Ochuko stared at the door again, turned around and began walking away, she trudged towards the bridge that with a few other destitute people, had become her home since she ran away from the rehabilitation centre. She stood lost in a multiplication of thoughts as she leaned on he cold banisters of the bridge, staring into the endless darkness. Then with her daughter’s picture held tightly to her chest she jumped…with the wind in her hair and a smile breaking on the side of her mouth, she plunged head first into the river; she couldn’t swim!
THOUGHTS BECOME THINGS; MIRACLES ARE AGGREGATES OF YOUR CHOICES… TOMORROW BRINGS BETTER!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!