A COSTLY DESIRE
It was a dark, rainy night and the raindrops continually splashing against the metal window frames made sleep especially difficult for Julius. He was more concerned however about his heavily pregnant wife who had gone to bed that night having eaten nothing owing to a slight fever.
It was a long gruesome day; he had spent a good part of it standing before a disciplinary committee at the company’s headquarters in Ikeja, responding to several counts of allegation of misappropriation of funds contained in an anonymous letter to the Company. He had tried without success to figure out which of his colleagues or even superiors would do such a horrible thing against him at a time he was expecting his first child. The conversations of the day replayed in his mind as he grinned his teeth in anger.
As much as he tried to, Julius could not stop worrying about Mabel and what may become of her should the board decide to lay him off. He lies on his back, his side, his other side and then put his arms under the pillow, and coughed out loud.
Sleep eventually swept him off.
But after what seemed like a few hours, he was awakened. He lazily looked at his gold platted wristwatch which he usually keeps on a wooden stool next to the bed. It had been a wedding present from his uncle in Benin. The time was 2:08am, they had retired to bed at 11:00am the previous night.
“Baby, what is it?” he called out in a weak sleepy voice
“I’m hungry, really hungry” Mabel grumbled
“Oh, dear. It’s pretty late you to eat anything now” He said.
“No, I want crap soup” She retorted.
Julius sat up unable to believe Mabel. It was past 2 in the morning; how reasonable could her request really be? He was going to get her the whole pot of crap soup in town first thing when day breaks.
“No, I want it now” she nagged
“Now?” he still couldn’t believe she was serious
“Yes, now” she emphasized” the Chinese restaurant is some 5 minutes’ drive away in the day. You can make it in 2 at this time”.
Julius knew from the years of his association with his wife, dating back from their days in the University of Port Harcourt, that it was pointless dragging further as it was hopeless waiting for her to declare it was a prank all along. He had a good mind to refuse out rightly, go out and sleep in the guest’s room and damn the consequences. Eventually he would be able to pacify her in the morning.
Yet he looked closely at her and decided it wasn’t her doing entirely, he reasoned. She was heavily pregnant with his first child- a boy hopefully- and pregnant women are renowned for their weird cravings.
He got up, changed into a tracksuit and a Chelsea football club jersey, and groped his hands through the papers on the table searching for the car keys. He got them.
“alright, I would be back shortly, 15minutes at most” he kissed an excited Mabel and went out. Moments later, the car engine started. She parted the window curtains and watched him drive out of the compound and unto the tarmac.
What was supposed to be a 15 minutes affair turned into an hour and half and even at that, there weren’t any signs of Julius’ car approaching. Mabel began to get worried. She dragged her heavy legs off the bed and measured her steps to the sitting room. She dialed her husband’s phone line only to hear the phone ringing back in the bedroom- he had left it at home.
The next 30 minutes were nerve-wrenching as she waited some more hoping to see the light of an approaching car. Her appetite for the crap soup was by then gone- completely. The only thing she craved for then was the sight of her husband, and nothing more.
She could feel herself shaking as she desperately tried to calm her rising tension. She watched, listen and there wasn’t anything other than the silence. She found no comfort in the songs of the crickets and croaking of frogs.
Momentarily she thought she had the sound of a car approaching and rushed to the window. There was nothing, the rain had resumed in light showers by then.
At length, she gave up and sank on her knees, and began to pray.
But what could she tell God? That she selfishly pushed her beloved husband, Julius Okojie, out into the streets of Lekki, and into the waiting arms of robbers, kidnappers or some greedy, trigger happy police men? Had they tried to harass him and shoot him when he tried to resist?
“Oh, Lord, please” she whispered through clinched first and trembling lips. Beads of sweat were breaking all over her body.
Finally, she decided that was it, she was going out to go find him, no matter what. She was sure something had gone wrong, because Julius would never leave her alone for 2 hours. She looked once more through the window, up and down the streets. No car lights anywhere.
Then finally she saw lights. But they were several car lights approaching the house, not just one. She hurriedly went into the sitting room.
Moments later, there were heavy knocks on the door. Voices, none of which belong to Julius, were speaking in hush tones.
She opened the door, and there stood before her three men, two in blue Nigeria police uniforms and one in plain clothes.
What is happening?
“Good morning, madam” the tall lanky youthful one in plain clothes greeted
“Yes, good morning” Mabel answered with her heart beating at a rapid rate
“You are Mrs. Okojie, Mabel Okojie, I suppose?”
“Yes, I am”
“I’m inspector Darius Ademola of the Nigerian police” he flashed an ID and introduced the two other older men with him. She let them in
As they entered, Mabel fears were finally confirmed. Julius must have gotten into trouble with the police just as she had feared.
Inspector Ademola sat beside her with a twitched face and sad expression careful with the choice of words he was going to employ.
“It’s about your husband, madam” the young handsome inspector began finally.
Mabel’s heart began to pound in her ears. The entire world, as she had known it, was reeling and throbbing. Her eyes wide-opened for she was in that strange state of stupor half-way between life and death. She sat upright and listened to the inspector.
There had been a robbery at the Chinese restaurant shortly after Julius had arrived and placed his orders. The nocturnal operation had lasted more than an hour with fierce gun battle between the robbers and the special anti-robbery squad. In the end, 2 of the armed robbers were apprehended alive while the 3 remaining in the gang were gunned down as they tried to escape. Julius had been shot while trying to protect the 2 young Nigerians and their Chinese co-workers on shift that night. The bullet had caught him at the waist region, wounding him significantly. He was still breathing and conscious when the medical team rushed him to the hospital. He had in fact been the one who directed them to the house.
“ha-ha ha-ha ha-ha” Mabel let out a disbelieving laughter and stood up clapping almost as if telling the police men to quit bluffing and show her to her husband.
“this is just a dry lame joke” she kept telling herself as she kept pacing round the room in labored steps. But it wasn’t a prank and the reality eventually sunk in as she collapsed to the floor.
From his bedside in the hospital, Mabel continually blinked her eyes wishing to discover that it had just been a nightmare all along. The images of the previous night began to play in her mind. She could see Julius in the midst of the chaos boldly planting himself in front of the terrified youngster, unmoved by the muzzle of the robbers’ guns. She could hear him scream her name as he slumped to the floor clutching unto his waist. She could…………
The following morning, 24hours after the incident, the Nigerian police force announced they were going to honour Julius, who was still in comma, regardless of whether he makes it through the scheduled surgery that morning or not. His act of bravery would not go down unrewarded. Closely following that was his company’s promise to handle all the hospital expenses; the Chinese restaurant were arguing, pleading to be allowed to do that. By late evening, Inspector Ademola brought an elderly Chinese man to meet with Mabel. He was the Chinese consular in Nigeria and had come as the official representative of the Chinese government. Julius and his entire family are from that moment and henceforth honorary Chinese citizens with full rights and opportunities.
However, in spite of it all, the media coverage, social media hashtags and memes, Mabel knew in her heart that she might never fully come to forgive herself any time she looks at her now crippled husband, that’s if he makes it through the surgery. He would still be running around the house poking her sides if she has not foolishly and selfishly sent him out that night. She might never forgive her self.
She broke down in tears as he held unto him, all the regrets in her heart pouring out with the tears. As she wept aloud, a soft masculine hand smoothed her hair and she stopped sobbing almost immediately. A familiar voice, faint, almost as if from the world of the dead itself whispered her name;