All Richard wanted to hear was “All is done” or something close. The therapist refused to tell him that. Instead, he chose his everyday words that didn’t fit. The man arranged his spectacles the way he did when about vomiting something important.
“Disorders might take years to heal, but it does heal with the right approach. The hospital has done its part. What is left is hers. And yours. She would leave the hospital, but that doesn’t end her therapy. It’s only a transition from one phase to another. The new phase is very fragile and has to be done perfectly. She is now at your watch, yours, and no one else’s.” He pointed a finger to Richard. “You’re now the one to do the talks. You’re now her therapist. She should be able to confide in you, so you can be aware of any lapse she makes, and if such happens often, do the good of coming here. If this phase is done perfectly, her illness would forever be history.”
That would have been easy but for the way the therapist had sounded. Never expect anything good from the doctors; that didn’t apply to only those in the surgery wards. Worse here. Worse in a psychiatric hospital. “Any idea on how to do that effectively?”
“Stay close and be very sensitive. I know it isn’t easy for a man of your status, considering your work and all, but spare some time for the woman.”
Now that his work needed time, he had been asked to cut out of the little he had, the little he shared with his woman.
“What if she remains here, then I will come see her at intervals? Maybe spend few minutes after closure from work.”
“Here?” The therapist’s left cheek folded up. “Right now, here is a cage to her, which is the last thing you’d want.” The therapist paused and Richard sensed the formation of another set of words—another set of dangerous words. “She’ll have to lodge with you, or you lodge with her. You’ve been the one with her since her therapy began. I can’t risk you being too far from her, because your work won’t allow you see her much often. And I can’t risk her staying in a house alone, not at this stage of her recovery.”
Non-sequitur. Worse than what he had thought.
He didn’t live alone. He lived with a woman; that was supposed to make the therapist come up with another option, but it didn’t. Make your partner close to her, he said. They were both women. It could be an advantage and would reduce the workload.
The truth that Ezinne had never been a fan was hard to deny. The girl stole her perfume, and that was not a thing to like someone for. “What if I can’t have her in my house? And of course, I can’t stay in hers.”
“I didn’t expect to have trouble from you.
The trouble I think I should have is getting her to agree lodging with you or you with her. This last phase can either strengthen her health or melt it back to its very bad onset.”
“How many weeks are we talking?”
“All goes well, then it may not exceed a month.”
A month. That contained four weeks that housed so many days.
“You should go see her before the day gets darker.”
It was already dark enough. He rose and headed for the door.
Richard lingered over cutting out a piece of fish from its chunk. He cried over his toothache that denied him beef as he watched Jide slice his. Jide carved beef the funny way Ezinne did—into small squares. It was interesting to know not only Ezinne sliced beef into squares.
Jide sometimes looked at his wristwatch as though a thirty-minute break in a cafeteria was a sin. No, it wasn’t a sin, Lauren had called him she would be coming and like he had said, he didn’t want her to wait any minute in his secretary’s.
Richard wondered why the white girl liked Erneto so much. Her dad had an office like Jide’s. If she so much liked offices, that would do, rather than perching in and out of his company at her will. “Why exactly is she coming to Erneto?” Richard asked Jide, trying not to sound too grim.
“I don’t know. She called this morning, saying she would.”
“When is her school resuming?”
“They have. Her phone call was from school.”
Now, he was sure she was that type of girl.
Serious girls never left school for no important reason.
Jide’s phone rang. He answered it and told someone to meet him at the café. Lauren.
“She reminds me of my little yellow nephew.
You’d think this nephew of mine is from overseas,” he said.
“Have I seen that one?”
“No. She stays in the east.”
Through the glass wall behind Jide, Richard saw Lauren dawdle, topped with a bobble hat too small to swallow the whole of her blonde hair.
She approached them without missing a smile, and dragged a chair to their middle, grazing the tiles. Sweat circles edged her earlobe the same way her red lipstick thickened at the edges of her lips.
“Jide… you’re not in a suit jacket today,” she said as if it was a good thing.
“I’m not always in a suit.”
She turned to Richard. “Bad we can’t say the same for Mr CEO.”
“He didn’t use to always be like this,” Jide said, and Richard knew exactly where his friend was headed. The topic never left his mouth.
“How?” Lauren asked.
“You’re sitting with an old soldier.”
She whirled to Richard with bulged eyes that might fall the next minute. “Is that true?”
Keeping her inquisitiveness hanging wouldn’t be the best thing to do, especially for one with such zest. “For a little time. I went through the academy and served in the forces for some time.”
“Hmm, interesting. So was it a field marshal, commander or…”
She gathered her eyes at him. “What do those ones do? Are they the ones that shoot guns?” She imitates a gun with her fingers, sticking out her middle and fore finger. “Pardon me, I haven’t watched many army movies.”
“Every soldier shoots guns.”
“So you’ve fought? You’ve put bullets in the enemy’s skull?”
Introducing topics on the dining table of two men wasn’t the best thing a teenager should do.
Keeping her quiet would have conveyed the message, but Jide didn’t allow that; he introduced the peacekeeping mission in Syria, giving her more things to talk about.
“Peacekeeping,” she said. “You risked your life to maintain peace in a country that isn’t yours. That’s generous. So how did you end up in a suit instead of a uniform?”
“Dad died. I had to take over his business.”
She dropped cheeks and kept the face of a year old baby, the kind of face everyone kept when they hear of a death. “Oh…my condolences. And you’re managing the business pretty fine.”
“I travelled to LA to do some catching up, did fast learning.”
“Business suits you more than the army.”
He considered that as a compliment. “How is school?” he deliberately ended the topic.
“School would be fine if the lecturers could try some nice and stop giving me too much attention because I’m not as black as them.”
Only bad students blame lecturers, as only bad recruits blamed commanders. “With time they might grow nicer.”
“Hope the eyes on you have reduced,” Jide said.
“It’s still there. I’m seriously searching for another white to share some of the stares.”
“Don’t put much hope. You might not find any white.”
“You might find,” Richard said and focused on Jide. “Ezinne had two white course mates.
Before she and I went to bed last night, she told me of a funny, foreign course mate.”
“Your girlfriend?” Lauren asked.
The word had many substitutes. Searching for one wouldn’t have done her any trouble. “Yes. She attended the State’s university.”
“Two. Two whites is many enough. I’d be glad if I could find one to join me.”
“Would you eat something?” Jide asked her.
“No, I’m good.” She glanced at Richard’s plate. “You don’t eat meat or you’re abstaining.”
“Why? You’re Catholic?” She asked with a stare that carried something resembling surprise. Perhaps, she was thinking men who had served in the forces couldn’t be Catholics.
“I’m abstaining because I have a toothache.
But I’m Catholic.”
“A devoted one or just by the name?”
“I’m a full time Catholic, a parishioner of St. Vincent de Paul.”
Her white teeth flashed between her lips. “You’re not.”
“He is,” Jide helped.
“My dad is a knight of St. Jude. I know the entire tenets of the faith.”
“Meaning?” Richard asked, searching for anything funny because her teeth still flashed out.
“You’re going against the tenets. The church forbids living in the same house with a woman who’s not your wife. You just revealed you have a girlfriend whom you live with. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but… I merely thought you were the type who obeyed all the rules.”
She was right, undeniably right, but that didn’t mean he was not a Catholic. “We’re courting.”
She chuckled, the kind that neared a laugh. “Fine excuse. I didn’t expect less. Well, no one is crucifying you. Everyone does it.
Everyone tries to balance both worlds. Truth is I do it. My dad would say Jesus could meet people like us in the wrong world when he comes. That shouldn’t be your prayer—our prayer.”
The word “balancing” was too extreme. He wasn’t balancing both worlds. He wasn’t.
Even if he were, he would end up marrying his woman. He breathed in some of the hot air. It was a bad thing her words were true. God forgive him.
She reached for Jide’s glass and drank the remaining wine. “It’s not alcohol,” she said to Richard, “so stop whatever you are thinking. To why I’m here, I wanted to invite you two to my matriculation.”
Richard allowed that take him from his thoughts. “When is it?”
“13th next month.” She faced Jide. “Say something.”
“Is that why you came from school?” Jide asked.
“Actually no. I’m home to see my dad. And seeing you in person will tell you how serious I am.”
“I can’t guarantee coming.”
“What day is 13th?”
“I’ll be working.”
She slackened face and pushed out lips like a sU-Ckling child. “Please just say you’ll try.”
“Yes, I’ll try.”
“Richard, you’re coming?”
She asked again, and Richard shook his head.