The microphone did not pick properly. Richard strained ears to hear the words of the man on the podium, the CEO of Cherlet Bans. The man spoke on how the establishment of his quarry industry was a blessing to Nigeria and he would do anything to attain the zenith. The assembly listened as he spoke, offering him their smiling faces. Richard sipped some of his Vino Rosso and looked back to the man. He sipped a second when the man left the podium. Jide refilled his wineglass and began tapping his fingers on the table.
A young, white girl ambled towards them, blonde to the hair, walking as though the floor was the catwalk in those fashion shows Ezinne sometimes watched. The girl most likely was the daughter of the COO of Cherlet Bans, the only white man present. She stopped at their table and stretched her red lips into a smile, smelling of expensive perfume. Richard didn’t smile back.
“Hi.” She lengthened her smile, showing a set of well-arranged teeth. What would make a white teen stop at them? Jide gave her a polite smile.
“You’re the daughter of Mr Brett?” Richard asked. It would be bad manners to keep mute to a foreigner.
She leaned on the table and pinned it with her hands, her blonde hair almost dropping down her face. No child leaned on the table of two adults. At least, no well-trained child.
“I believe you’re the Chief Operating Officer of Erneto,” she said to Jide with a bold American accent, slow and nasal, the r in every word showing forth itself, and announcing that she was from one of those North America countries. “We met earlier, remember? You met my dad and I at the onset of the ceremony.”
“Of course, I remember. White people aren’t that easy to forget”
“Obviously. Especially when you are the only white in the midst of blacks.” She did a faint chuckle and removed her hands from the table, straightening herself. “First, I apologize for intruding on you two. The crowd is too much. I might not see you any other time. I only came to ask a simple question.” She angled her head to Jide. “Are COOs in Nigeria’s quarry companies workaholics? I just thought you’d know that since you’re a COO.”
What concerned her and the operating officers being workaholics? Richard mused.
A long fold arched Jide’s forehead. “What makes you ask that?”
“My dad was too much a workaholic in Canada. I want to know what to expect here.”
“It depends on what you define as workaholism, and it’s something contingent on the individual.”
“Are you one?”
“I wouldn’t say I am.”
“What’s the name?” Richard asked in a bid to end her gall questions.
“Richard, Jide-o-for. CEO and COO of Erneto Aives. You two were introduced.”
“It’s Jideofor,” Jide corrected. “Jide should be simpler.”
“You love openings?” Richard asked, as teens did not attend openings. Then say white teens.
“If openings had a haters list, I would rank in first. My dad insisted I come with him.”
“Hope you’re a bit entertained.”
She chuckled and folded her hands. Something resembling a bangle or a wristwatch clasped her left wrist. It was so tiny like a bangle, and yet, had the shine of an expensive wristwatch that had its watch hidden in the tucked side of her wrist. “You call this entertained? I’d lend you a dictionary to find another word.” Lifting the wine bottle from the table, she eyed its label. “Vino Rosso. Spanish. Can I have a taste?” Her hands were already held out for Jide’s wineglass, and that confirmed she wore a wristwatch, one with a very tiny watch Richard wondered how she read the time.
“You’re of age?” Richard held the glass and drew it away from her.
“Almost. A year remaining.”
“Then you shouldn’t.”
“I only want to try a taste.”
She rolled eyes to Jide as though asking him to intervene, and then returned them to Richard on Jide’s uncooperativeness. “I’m sorry. I never knew people here still waited till eighteen.” She set down the bottle with faded smiles. Her faded smile was better than the former.
Richard turned his head to the white man sitting at an edge of the rotunda. He had many resemblances with his daughter: same blonde hair, small curved nose, and tiny lips for their ages.
Slow music started. Couples rose and began dancing. They moved slowly with the music. Richard’s feet itched. He would have doubled his efforts in persuading Ezinne to come to the opening.
“You two didn’t bring dates?” Lauren asked with a tilted head.
“We came alone,” Jide said.
She stretched her hands to them. “Can I steal one of you for a dance? If that’s the only entertainment I get. I mean, look, everyone here is old enough for me to call dad. I don’t want to just sit alone and watch the daddies and mommies dance.”
Richard gave a look at her dad. He wasn’t dancing, only talking with another suited colleague. Why couldn’t she go dance with him instead of wanting to pick from men she just met and knew nothing about? Canada needed to give her teens some education.
“Would you receive my hand?” she asked Jide.
Jide did a weak chuckle. “If that will keep you entertained.” He stood and held her hand.
“I’ve never danced with a black man.”
“So we’re even.”
Richard sipped and watched them follow the music’s pace. A dancing Jide had always been worth admiring, from the onset of secondary school. The girl did okay except dancing with Jide didn’t fit her. A school boy less tall would have fitted. Her head settled below Jide’s chest, her multi-coloured necklace shimmering under the chandelier light.
Soon they began talking. The music changed and laughs joined their talks.
“Ezinne, which tie fits?” Richard asked, holding two ties. A ruby and a green.
“The green,” Ezinne said from her corner of the bed, where she was seated, pressing the toothpaste’s tube against her toothbrush so that the paste slid out onto the bristles.
He hung the ruby in his wardrobe, took the green over his neck and began knotting.
“Why the hurry? It’s six,” Ezinne said and looked up to the wall clock which read some minutes after six.
“I have three tasks. I’ll start by going to the filling station to refill, a hospital, and then the office. Thirty minutes back would have been the right time to leave.”
“That girl hasn’t been discharged?” Ezinne asked, her tone rising. She dropped her toothbrush on the bedstead.
“She’s recovered from the accident. It happened that she is suffering from kleptomania. I admitted her into a psychiatric hospital for psychotherapy.” He knotted his tie to a near perfect V and pushed the knot higher to achieve a perfect V.
Her cheeks slackened and she stayed quiet for a moment.
“Surprised she is a kleptomaniac? I was, too. I thought Nigerians were immune to those kinds of illnesses. I felt for her and figured sending her to a psychiatric hospital wouldn’t be too bad. I should finish what I’ve started. It won’t be good if she goes stealing from others the way she did me. No one would want another accident.”
“Doesn’t she have a family?” She budged from the bed’s edge, causing the steel cup on the bedstead to fall to the floor and its water spilled on the lower of her nightgown. The fabric glued to her legs. She ignored.
“If she does, it is evident they don’t care.”
“When did you do this?”
He sprayed perfume on his suit’s shoulders and huffed out the little that went into his nose. “The week’s beginning.”
“And you’re just saying it.”
“You’ve never really paid attention to her.
What’s the need bothering you?”
“We still should have discussed it before you had her transferred. Don’t you think catering for someone’s medications is something you should not keep from me?”
“There was no time for a discussion. It wasn’t premeditated.”
“Why didn’t you tell me after?”
“You didn’t place any interest in her. I didn’t see it as a priority.”
She set gaze at the hem of her nightgown which was now wet with water.
“Okay, I might have come home tired and probably forgot,” he tried a reduced voice and prayed it removed her ashen face.
“We talk about everything, Rick, to the slightest of things.”
He ambled to her, looped an arm round her waist and drew her closer. “I’m sorry. We should have talked about it.” Her toothbrush on the bedstead had fallen to its side, its colourful paste glued to the wooden frame.
“Next time anything like this happens, please we sit and talk.” She wrung the lower of her nightgown, expelling water to the floor. Before picking his car key, he made sure her dropped cheeks were livened. He picked her toothbrush and pressed the toothpaste against it, aligning the paste in the straight form she always did.
He arrived at the hospital and marched to room forty-four. On the bed, a lady sat by Ivie and the two women muttered to themselves. He settled on the chair by the door, far from the window which did little to better the poor work of the ceiling fan. Soon, he began rocking. His wristwatch said he was thirty minutes late, and a drive back to Erneto Aives might take another twenty if he’s lucky to escape traffic jam.
The lady with Ivie finished and waved to him. She opened the door and stepped out, her shoes leaving brown spots on the rug.
“Sorry for the wait,” Ivie said, almost a mutter. “She’s my counsellor.”
A sachet of medicines lay on the desk. They were antidepressants. It was boldly written on the sachet. He reached for it and read the written words. “Does this kill the urge?”
She didn’t reply, and that gave him his answer. She walked to the window and slid it open. The early ginger rays brightened the room.
“Have the urges reduced so far?”
“It comes and goes.”
The best he could do was to believe that was an improvement. He brought out a book from his briefcase and tossed it to the bed. “I stopped by the therapist office. He told me to give you this. It’s a book on your issue. It will help.”
She thanked him without looking at the book, without a glance. “But—” Her cheeks flattened as she held the book and sat on the mattress. “I don’t think it’s necessary.”
“You have a problem with reading books?”
“Books on therapy.”
Instead of leafing through with shifting eyes, eager to read every page, every line, she did nothing but held the book and stared at its front cover. Trained psychotherapists recommended it, as her therapist had said. It contained others’ experiences that might help fight her urges.
“Everyone has a distinct way of handling disorders. I have to find mine. Following others may worsen my case.”
The best her pessimism would do was to worsen her case. The doctor had to drive out that spirit from her. “Where did you get that notion from?”
“I’m twenty-six. I’ve lived with this illness for as I can remember. Do you think I haven’t tried all odds?”
“No you haven’t, ’cause this is the first time you’re trying a hospital when it ought to be your foremost action.”
She opened the title page of the book. “That’s because the first time I openly admitted to being a kleptomaniac was in this hospital. The most difficult task is admitting it to the next person.
Going to a psychiatric hospital is as though admitting it to the world.”
“What’s your own experience? What kills your urge?”
“I don’t know.”
He tried placing all faith in the therapist since none could be placed in her, not when she didn’t place any in herself. “The therapist will help you find that.”
“He won’t,” she said immediately.
“You don’t know. You haven’t tried a hospital.”
She closed the book and la!d it on the bed. “My mum did. Her situation worsened. Everyone grew tired of her. Even my dad sometimes grew weary of the situation. That’s how it goes, that’s how it all ends. It’s something you have to learn to live with.” She looked straight at him. “Most people who try helping disordered patients grow tired.”
“Don’t talk that.”
“Aren’t you going to your place of work? It’s almost nine.”
He glanced at his wristwatch and rose. “We’ll continue this talk another day.” The talk had to continue. She lacked faith in herself and the doctor. How then would she be cured? She needed to put faith in something. If not the therapist, then herself.
“Please, you shouldn’t worry about me. I don’t want to make anyone disappointed,” she said.
Being disappointed was highly unlikely. Admitting her illness was part of the healing process. She was healing but simply didn’t realize it. A little more self-belief would hasten the process.
“Drive safe,” she said.
He began opening the door when she hailed to him.
“Back then at the department store when I took your perfume, I would have sought a way to return it.”
He walked past the door. It helped to know he was not treating a woman who stole from him in the right mind, but a parish member who only happened to be ill-fated.