01 August 2010

Time Between by Chuks Oluigbo

She felt cold shivers run through her spine as his soft palm touched her face and her neck caressingly. It felt good to be touched, to be held, and she secretly desired for 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 short her daydream. The voice 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 tender care was still there. It had assumed an even greater intensity. It was inviting.

She took a deep breath to savour the beautiful atmosphere which she was already beginning to enjoy. The stench of drugs, that sticky-sickly smell that nauseates the brain, hit hard against her nostrils and her head swayed. She wondered where that disgusting smell was coming from.

She half-opened her eyes. Standing by her bedside and poring 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 whole room in one quick glance. At the other end of the rather small room 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 lost her day-old baby, her first pregnancy since her seven-year old marriage.

Realisation hit her. The fog in her head cleared immediately and it dawned on her that she was still in the hospital. Her mind went to the smell of drugs that she had perceived earlier. It made sense to her now. She looked at the other woman wriggling in pain and wondered whether she would ever be able to get over the shock.

“Good morning, doctor,” she began apologetically. He sensed the remorse in her voice.

“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 go to 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 face and her neck to feel her temperature, but she could not find the voice. Rather she apologised to him in her mind for mistaking his hospital for a white garment church. But it had not been entirely her fault, she said to herself. In her semi-conscious state, his lab coat had really appeared like the type of uniform worn in many new generation white garment churches.

Then she turned the tide against herself and began to apportion blames. Why had she felt so good when Doctor Dan had touched her? Why did she desire for more? When did she become so depraved, so morally decadent, she that had never known the sin of the flesh? Again, 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 had left the hospital. In the meantime, Father Dominic, the hospital chaplain, would be bringing Holy Communion in about an hour’s time. Could she receive the body and blood of Christ in her new state, a state of sin? It would be sacrilege. But what would 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 that 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 room to suspect her? Perhaps it was.

She weighed the alternatives in her mind, and then thought again. Did she really commit a sin? If she did, was it a mortal sin or a venial sin? She debated within herself. One part of her brain said it was a venial sin. The other part said it was a mortal sin 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 that which she had desired. Moreover, she had been half-way between sleep and waking then, and therefore was not in full control of her thoughts. She had only 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 at all, and it could not prevent her from going to 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 off again to Obinna. She remembered her daydream where 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 from where it had broken off.

With that on her mind, she closed her eyes and waited patiently for the dream to come back to her. But instead, her thoughts wandered, and she recalled vividly the genesis of her present predicament.

They had courted now for four years. When they met, it was 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 exhibition stand to admire the paintings on display, and, if need be, exchange some pleasantries with the artist. He had no intention of buying any yet. He would do that in due course. He was not an artist himself. He was a student of industrial chemistry, but he was an ardent lover of artworks, especially abstract paintings.

“Keep moving! Keep moving! No milling around please!” the man behind him 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 into ashes if the vacant spaces around were not enough for him to pass through. Then he saw her. Their eyes met and locked for a time. 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, gave the man the right of passage, and then walked closer 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 my head of department. He organised this exhibition. You would have created a scene and ruined everything if you had shouted back 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. It was not her paintings either. It was something inside her, something he could neither see nor name, but yet knew it was there. It was an intrinsic quality she possessed. She was like a magnet drawing him irresistibly to herself. He wished he could say what it was that attracted him, longed for a revelation, for a sign of some sort, for that tiny inner voice to whisper something to him, to give him even a clue, but none came. He gave up trying and asked instead:

“Did you paint all these?”

She nodded, and then flashed her teeth in a smile. They were immaculate. They shone like beams of white light in a dark avenue. His face lit up.

“They’re beautiful,” he said in a mild voice. “And your teeth too. I love them.” He wondered instantly what gave him the confidence to talk in such a manner to a grown up lady. 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 from her throat. He heard it clearly. It was not pretence. It was not faked. It was sincere. 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; no man ever really does. In the deepest part of the heart of every man is an emotional feeling, a desire, a longing waiting to be satisfied, an empty space waiting to be filled. Deny it as long as you wish, it is still there lurking somewhere at a corner of your heart and tugging at the cables of your very soul. It cannot be wished away. It is natural. Only that women did not enjoy a pride of place in his list of priorities, at least, not at the moment.

He had in the past tried to establish a relationship with a number of girls, but none worked out. None of the girls seemed to satisfy that eternal longing in him; none seemed to fill that gap. He often felt lonely even in the arms of a girl. So he came to the conclusion that it made no sense to keep a girlfriend. As far as he was concerned, girls had only one thing to give, but it was not what he wanted. He needed something more; something really deep and far from physical; 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 the girls felt slighted and gradually began to withdraw from him, but not without first of all 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 a sense of his own importance.

Maria, one of the worst hit, rained curses on him for allegedly leading her on and letting her fool herself thinking that he was in love with her. She called him all sorts of derogatory names: big for nothing, blunted blade of a knife, 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 adventures of his closest pal, Terhile, with women could distract him or weaken his resolve. His mother was dead and he was the only child of his father, the only thing he had left. He would not be a prodigal son to his very enterprising father...

Time Between was written by Chuks Oluigbo and is an except from a forthcoming novel.

Copyright © Chuks Oluigbo 2010.

Chuks Oluigbo studied History and English at the University of Nigeria Nsukka and graduated with a first class. Thereafter, he proceeded to Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria where he got a Master of Arts in History and International Studies. Formerly of The Statesman Newspaper, Owerri, Nigeria, he is now Editor, Arts/Life, Sports 'n' Life Magazine in Nigeria. He is equally coordinator of Mbari Literary Society, Owerri and member of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). He writes poetry, prose, and occasionally, drama.


Myne Whitman said...

I liked this story and it is well written too.

onlyonezee said...

Was not so sure of the POV change. I thought she was recalling. All in all it's a nice piece. Will love to read more of your work.

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