(Continued from The House Manager III)
After Robert follows Mercy and the two nurses inside the emergency centre, Ruth is left to tend to the children. A uniformed ambulance driver gets onto the driver’s seat of the Noah, and with Ruth and the kids still inside, drives the car away from the emergency centre onto the general parking. That will create space for ambulances or other people coming with emergencies. He switches off the engine and is about to hand over the key to Ruth when the children’s cries touch him. On seeing his mother being stretchered away, Kyle has also joined his brother in crying.
“Are you their mother?” the ambulance driver asks Ruth. His name tag announces his name as Bruce Owiti.
Ruth considers the question. If her plan succeeds, she will be the children’s mother in the next few days. But as at now she is not.
“No, I am their aunt,” she says finally. “Their mother is the one who has been taken to the emergency centre.”
“I am so sorry. Can I take you to the cafeteria so that we can get them some food to distract them?”
“I don’t have money.”
“Don’t worry about money. I will pay.”
Reluctantly, Ruth agrees. Bruce calls his boss at the emergency centre, a lady called Magdalene, and tells her where he can be found in case he is needed. It turns out that Bruce is excellent with kids. After buying them potato chips and soda, a meal that their health freak mother allows them only on very special occasions, he charms them with wild stories about his crazy adventures with the ambulance he drives. Ruth suspects that the stories are exaggerated, but they do have the intended effect. They boys are hooked, and they forget their worry about their mother for a moment. Even little Jude, whose attention is normally very limited, is awed by ‘Big Bruce’.
Ruth realizes that she actually likes this man. He would have been a good prospect for a husband, had she not set her eyes on her boss. She decides that she will have to get his number, just in case Plan A fails.
Inside the emergency centre, two words are ringing in Robert’s head: clinically dead. It means that had he not come home when he did, she would be dead (fully dead?) by now. Fortunately, although the doctors said that she had been clinically dead for several minutes, there is hope because she has been successfully resuscitated. But that hope is very thin. The doctors said that she might be brain dead, which they can’t know right now because if the brain cells were starved of oxygen they might die later even though they are still alive right now…it is all very confusing to Robert. He doesn’t like all those phrases with the word ‘dead’ on them. He stubbornly refuses to believe that he will have only eight years with Mercy. She simply cannot die now.
From the moment he met Mercy, he somehow knew by instinct that they were meant to be together. That is why, even when she doubted him, he never doubted her. When he met her, he was about to ask another woman to be his girlfriend. That relationship would have ended in marriage because Lucia is a good woman, and she was his best friend then. But the moment he laid his eyes on Mercy, he knew he wouldn’t-couldn’t-marry Lucia.
Lucia is still one of Robert’s best friends at St. Daniel’s, twelve years after they arrived at about the same time. She is a Mathematics and Chemistry teacher, while Robert is a Physics and Chemistry teacher. Robert had been posted by TSC while Lucia had been hired by the board. The school was having a shortage of Mathematics and sciences teachers. The arrival of Lucia and Robert was expected to ease the burden in Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics.
They hit it off immediately, partly because they were the newcomers, and partly because they shared a subject, Chemistry. Their desks were also next to each other in the science department, and whenever they went to the staffroom, also known as the teaching staff common room, they would sit together. They became so close that everyone thought they were dating. But they weren’t. Robert knew she loved him, but he wasn’t sure about his own feelings. He loved her as a friend, but he did not see her as a romantic partner.
With time, however, he started considering her for marriage. He was ready to settle, and she was his best friend. Don’t they say that one should marry his best friend? She wasn’t the only one who was interested in him though. There were at least three other female teachers who were vying for his attention, and he knew it. One was on teaching practice, so that was dealt with when the term ended and she left. The other two were more problematic.
One was an English & Literature teacher called Beth, and she was the more aggressive one. She used to openly flirt with him. She was not deterred even when he told her that he was not interested. She tormented him until he got married, then she stopped talking to him until she got a transfer to another school.
The second one, Elosy, was more subtle. She used to send him sweet text messages, and initially used to invite him for dinner at her house. When she realised that he would keep on declining, she started packing snacks for him and would deliver them to his desk every morning. Sometimes it would be a cake she had baked, or pancakes or fruits. She had been told that the way to a man’s heart is through the stomach. Robert used to share the snacks with Lucia, and when Elosy found out, she stopped talking to both of them. Or rather she stopped talking to Robert, because she had not been speaking to Lucia in the first place, no doubt because of Lucia’s closeness to Robert. Fortunately, Elosy had been employed by the board, and when she finally found TSC placement, it was in another school.
Robert would probably have married Lucia had Mama Blessing not hired Mercy when she did. On the first day Robert laid his eyes on Mercy, he knew that she was the woman he wanted to marry. Mama Blessing must have noticed, because she assigned Mercy to him; Mercy would now be making his shirts under Mama Blessing’s supervision, and that gave them something to talk about. He asked her to be his girlfriend three months later.
The first person he knew he had to tell was Lucia. He knew she would be hurt, but he was counting on her maturity to handle the situation well. When he told her, she was understandably heartbroken; she cried a lot, which prompted him to hug her. It was the first and last time he hugged her. In a twisted way, they had been in a relationship even though they had not been officially dating; and Robert understood that. Unlike Elosy and Beth, Lucia did not stop talking to him, which probably showed the genuineness of her love for him. She did not even move her desk away from his. They remained friends, although they reduced their after-school interactions out of respect for Robert’s new relationship. Robert was honest with Mercy from the word go, and he told her about Lucia, Elosy and Beth, just like he had told her about his exes Daisy and Daniela.
Lucia met another man a year later, and she got married while Mercy was still in college. Robert was one of the groomsmen in the wedding. Robert and Lucia’s husband Isaac managed to craft a friendship such that when Robert finally married Mercy, they chose Lucia and Isaac as the best couple. Lucia got a TSC placement and was retained at St. Daniel’s two years after she was hired by the board.
Robert and Mercy have been married for eight years now, and in spite of Mercy’s earlier insecurities, they have had a good marriage. They have grown to be very close friends. Robert cannot imagine a life without her by his side; their life was just beginning. He is not very religious, but he makes a prayer asking God to spare the life of his best friend, partner, co-parent and lover.
When Robert calls asking where she and the children are, Ruth panics a little. What if the doctors have discovered that Mercy was poisoned? Her mother has assured her that the chemical is undetectable, but still, you never know with modern technology, plus her mother is illiterate. What does she know about chemicals? Her fears are however allayed when Robert comes and thanks her for her help.
“I am going to need you to take full charge of the children, because I will be spending a lot of time in the hospital,” he says.
“How is Mama Kyle?” Ruth asks. Her mother has already told her, via text, that Mercy will not recover. She might stay alive in hospital for a few days, but she will leave in a casket. As Robert drives them home, Ruth starts plotting her next move. She knows that she has to capture Robert’s attention before other women start circling in.
After putting the children to sleep, Ruth approaches Robert with a cup of black coffee. He has been sitting on the sofa since they arrived, saying nothing and not even moving a muscle. His food is still untouched. Doctors told him that it is pointless to spend the night in the hospital, because he will not be able to see Mercy. They will only allow him to see her tomorrow after they are done doing tests.
Ruth places the cup of coffee in front of him.
“Please Baba Kyle, take something. You need to be strong for Mama Kyle.”
She has showered with scented soap, so she knows she is smelling good. Her night dress is revealing, and she does not have any inner clothes.
“I am not hungry,” Robert responds without looking at her.
“Then at least take the coffee.”
“I am not thirsty.”
“Then allow me to comfort you.”
She takes his hand and squeezes it. When he does not respond, she becomes bolder. She sits on his lap and nibbles at his ear.
“It is going to be alright,” she whispers, before kissing him on the lips.
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Image by Ha Pham from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/sunflowers-girl-dress-flowers-5594899/
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