By Chuks Oluigbo (Nigeria)
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By Chuks Oluigbo (Nigeria)
* * *
She felt cold shivers run through her spine as his soft palm touched her face and neck. It felt good to be touched, and she secretly desired more, though she dared not say it. She dared not even show it. How could she openly show such emotions? How could she show that she enjoyed a man’s touch? It was so unwomanly, so unAfrican, and ungodly too.
“How do you feel this morning?” he asked, his voice full of tender care.
She rolled over on her side to the wall end of the bed and ruminated on the voice she had just heard, the voice that had distracted her sleep and cut her daydream short. It sounded familiar. She had heard it somewhere before, but it was certainly not Obinna’s. This one had a certain slant of baritone to it, unlike Obinna’s, which was a straight bass.
“Nora, are you okay?” he asked again. That tenderness was still there. It had assumed an even greater intensity; it was inviting.
She breathed deeply to savour the beautiful atmosphere that she was already beginning to enjoy. The stench of drugs, that nauseating, sticky-sickly smell, hit her nostrils hard, and her head swayed. She wondered where the disgusting smell was coming from.
She half-opened her eyes. Standing by her bedside and looking into a file from the upper corners of his bespectacled eyes was a man in white. What! she exclaimed under her breath, and quickly closed her eyes again. What was she doing in a white garment church?
“Oh! Thank God you’re awake,” he said when he saw her eyes blinking. “I’ve been standing here for ages. You need to get up now so that you can eat and take your drugs.”
Drugs? What drugs? Her mind raced. She opened her eyes wide and took in the small room in one quick glance. At the other end was another patient, a young woman who looked rather too old for her thirty-three years, and who had been going through extreme emotional trauma since she had lost her day-old baby, her first pregnancy in her seven years of marriage.
Realisation hit her; she was still in the hospital. The fog in her head cleared and the smell of drugs now made sense. She looked at the other woman thrashing in her bed and wondered whether she would ever be able to get over the loss.
“Good morning, doctor,” she began apologetically. He sensed her remorse.
“No need for apologies,” he said with a touch of professionalism. “I understand your situation. I’ll call in the nurses to attend to you while I prepare your discharge papers.”
As he left the room, Nora wanted so much to call him back, wanted to tell him how good she had felt when he had touched her to check her temperature, but she could not find her voice. Instead, she silently apologised to for mistaking his hospital for a white garment church. But, she said to herself, it had not been entirely her fault. In her semi-conscious state, his lab coat had really appeared like the long flowing white gowns worn by members of many new generation churches.
Then she turned the tide against herself. Why had she felt so good when Doctor Dan had touched her? Why did she want more? When did she become so depraved, so morally decadent? She had been in a state of grace until this morning, but now she had sinned. She had freely and willingly entertained impure thoughts and desires. Now she would have to go to a priest for confession, but that would be when she left the hospital. In the meantime, Father Dominic, the hospital chaplain, would bring Holy Communion. Could she receive the body and blood of Christ in a state of sin? It would be sacrilege. But what could she do? What would Father Dominic think about her if she did not receive communion? He trusted her so much. And her parents? They would soon come to pick her up. What if their coming coincided with Father Dominic’s? What would she tell them had prevented her from receiving the body of Christ, which is life itself? They might never trust her again. Was it better then to commit sacrilege than to give them reason to suspect her? Perhaps.
She weighed the alternatives. Had she really committed a sin? If she had, was it mortal or venial? She debated within herself. One part of her said it was a venial sin; the other part said it was mortal since it had to do with sexual immorality, a violation of the Sixth Code of the Decalogue. The first part argued strongly that it was nothing serious. After all, she had not seriously desired it, and even if she had, she did not get what she wanted. Moreover, she had been half-way between sleep and waking, and therefore had not been in full control of her thoughts. She had been tempted, but had not fallen into sin. Temptation and sin were certainly two different things.
She told herself that the first part of her brain was right. What she had committed was only a venial sin, that is, if it could even be called a sin, and it could not prevent her from receiving communion.
Convinced that the argument could not be contradicted, she made the Sign of the Cross, said the Act of Contrition just in case, and then settled down to wait for Father Dominic, her parents, the nurses, and for Doctor Dan to come with her discharge papers.
As she waited, her mind drifted again to Obinna. She remembered her daydream in which she had been playing with Obinna at the village square and singing sweet lullabies with other village children; that glorious dream that Doctor Dan’s soft touch and tender voice had cut short. She wished the dream could continue where it had ended.
With this on her mind, she closed her eyes and waited patiently for the dream to return. Instead, her thoughts wandered, and she vividly recalled the genesis of her present predicament.
* * * * *
They had courted for four years. When they met, it had been a case of love at first sight. He had been walking about in the crowded New Arts Theatre like every other person who had come for the exhibition, pausing in front of each stand to admire the paintings on display, and exchange pleasantries with the artist. He had no intention of buying any yet; he would do that in due course.
He was not an artist; he was a student of industrial chemistry, but he was an ardent lover of artwork, especially abstract paintings.
“Keep moving! Keep moving! No milling around, please!” the man behind Obinna nudged him. He turned to look at the man, his eyes burning with anger. He wanted to shout back at the man, to tell him to go to blazes and burn to ashes Then he saw her. Their eyes met and locked. He read the message in her eyes; it seemed to say: Don’t – he’s old enough to be your father. He lowered his eyes, let the man pass, and then walked to her stand.
“Thank you,” she said, smiling at him. It was contagious; he smiled back.
“For what?” he managed to ask.
“Well, that man is the head of my department. He organised this exhibition. You would have created a scene and ruined everything if you had shouted at him.”
“Thank God I listened to you,” he said. Then, as an afterthought, he added, “But the man should also thank his stars for you. You saved him.”
His eyes moved to the paintings, then back to her face. She was beautiful, but it was not her beauty that captivated him. Nor was not it her paintings. It was something inside her, something he could neither see nor name, but yet he knew was there; an intrinsic quality she possessed. She was like a magnet drawing him irresistibly to her. He wished he knew what it was that attracted him; longed for a revelation, for a sign of some sort; wanted that tiny inner voice to whisper clue to him, but none came. He gave up trying, and instead asked, “Did you paint all these?”
She nodded, and then flashed a smile. Her teeth were immaculate; they shone like beams of light in a dark avenue. His face lit up.
“They’re beautiful,” he said mildly. “And your teeth, too. I love them.” He wondered instantly what had given him the confidence to talk in such a manner to a mature woman. He was usually shy.
“You’re very funny,” was her only reply. She showed no offence, no sign of displeasure. Instead, a light chuckle escaped her throat. He heard it clearly; it was not pretence. It was sincere, not faked. It came from her heart of hearts, and it sounded like a love song to his ears.
* * * * *
He was not usually crazy about women. Not that he hated them. It was only that women were not high on his list of priorities; at least, not at the moment. He had tried to establish relationships with a number of girls, but none had worked out. They hadn’t satisfied that eternal longing, that gap, in him. He often felt lonely even in the arms of a girl. So he had come to the conclusion that it made no sense to have a girlfriend. He needed something more, something deep; something that surpassed a mere physical relationship; something that could satisfy the yearnings of his innermost heart.
In spite of this disposition, girls flocked around him like bees around a honeycomb. But when they did not get the kind of attention they wanted from him, many of them felt slighted and gradually withdrew from him, but not without first spreading word about his impotence. Some even said that he was neither a man nor a woman. Others simply dismissed him as an arrogant, snobbish fellow who was filled with self-importance.
Maria, one of the worst hit, rained curses on him for supposedly leading her on and letting her fool herself into thinking that he was in love with her. She called him all sorts of derogatory names: “big for nothing”,; “blunted knife blade”, and “a hunter who paraded an empty gun”.
But none of these taunts bothered Obinna. He knew what he wanted and kept his mind focused on his dream. Not even the many romantic adventures of his closest pal, Terhile, could distract him or weaken his resolve. His mother was dead and he was the only child of his father. His father was the only thing he had left, and he would not be a prodigal son.