A story written by INEGBENOISE OSEODION OSAGIE. (07068221839, 08093828575, [email protected])
The therapist’s door was ajar. Richard tapped and entered. The therapist raised head to him and returned them to the small book on his desk. He placed the book atop others and gave eyes to Richard. They were without his round, archaic specs, and were better off without them.
“Your girl’s lack of the necessary attention hinders rapid recovery,” the therapist said. “If you can’t see her regularly, find someone close to her who can.”
“It’s my work. It steals all my time, and I don’t know anyone close to her. You know her kind. They don’t tell friends of their situation, and you’re aware of her family’s absence.”
“You didn’t visit the whole of last week. If you can’t come often, try to keep contact. Get her a phone.” The therapist opened his glasses case, pulled out his pair of glasses and pushed them to his eyes. It wasn’t the round, archaic one, but a rather rectangular one, probably the one he wore on the pictures that hung at every top corner of the office.
“Doesn’t she have one?”
“If she does, then you should ask for her phone number.”
“I’ll do that.”
“It will curb some of the distance, but you should also come in person as many times as you can. You’re virtually the only one who visits her. Patients here don’t tell many people they are in a psychiatric hospital.”
“Is she in?
“You can’t reach her now. She is being desensitized. Exposure therapy.”
Richard wondered what that meant, but there was no need asking.
The sunrays streaming into the room doubled and landed on his black suit, almost whitening the black. They reminded him he had to be on the road before it got jammed. He brought out the phone and SIM pack from his bag and tossed it to the bed. “I’d use that in contacting you,” he told Ivie.
She held the phone and surveyed every side of it, carrying a face that made it difficult to tell if she liked it or not, if his money was a waste or not.
“I have a phone at home.” She laid the pack on the bed.
It seemed his money was going to be a waste. “Why didn’t you go get yours ever since? When you didn’t give me a number, I assumed you had none.”
“I never thought a phone was allowed.”
“Anyway, you now have a new phone and a registered SIM. Better.”
“I’ll go get my old one.”
Nothing worked easy with her, not even accepting a mere phone.
The rays in the room brightened. Brightened rays never met him at any place other than his office. She was supposed to be glad he offered her a new phone. Thus, relieving her the worry of going to her house for her old one.
“Thanks, but the one I’m using still works.”
“Where do you stay?”
“Olodi. It isn’t too far. I will go when I have the time.”
The therapist had mentioned he seldom allowed his patients leave the hospital alone because some of them left and never returned. “The therapist won’t allow you go alone.”
“Is the phone necessary?” Her tone concluded it wasn’t.
“I have to contact you regularly. The therapist said it would hasten your recovery.”
She braced her jaw with a palm. “Thank you, Mr Richard, but how will that hasten my recovery?”
“I’m not a psychotherapist. You should ask the doctor. I believe he has his reasons.”
“Mr Richard.” She held out the pack to him. “I wouldn’t want to delay you for work. I’m thankful, but you should return this.” On his refusal to receive it, she laid it on the bed.
“All right, let’s go to your place and get yours. I will drop you there on my way to work. I think there’s a route linking Olodi to my place of work.”
Her face thickened; a sure sign her next words wouldn’t be likeable. “You’re doing too much.”
“I don’t think that’s too much. You need a phone. It’s a necessity.”
Her cheeks flattened. “I-I don’t—”
That was the part he didn’t like—when her guilt showed up. It shot through her eyes and circled the small sphere of her face. “Ivie, your first encounter with me doesn’t make it wrong for me to help. It wasn’t your fault. You shouldn’t feel any guilt.”
She said nothing, did nothing but eyed the milky rug.
“It’s guilt. You’re not conscious of it, but it’s there. Don’t allow it conquer you. Give some room.”
“I’m not used to this kind of help,” she muttered.
“We should get going. I don’t want to reach my office by noon.”
He didn’t know why the woman fixed eyes to the side window. She could be admiring the passing coconut trees that were encroaching into the main road, or she simply didn’t want to catch his gaze. The second was most likely.
The road to Olodi was not very clear, but the billboards guided and saved him asking her for directions. It didn’t seem she wanted to talk or do anything than stare at the out and play with the crucifix at the end of her hung rosary. He needed to make her talk.
“You’re a Catholic?” he asked.
No? She was a parishioner of St. Vincent de Paul. Or was supposed to. “Your rosary.”
She bobbed head to it as though ignorant it rounded her neck. “I’m not a Catholic. Not a Christian.”
“You’re not a Christian?”
How could she not be a Christian, a Catholic? “I thought I once saw a necklace of St. Vincent de Paul round your neck.” He glanced at her neck for the necklace. It was no more there.
“My parents are parishioners of Vincent de Paul.”
How couldn’t she? Christianity fitted her. “You’re a Muslim?”
Only three base religions existed in Nigeria. He didn’t want to guess the third, those ones who worshipped carved deities and made living sacrifices to the deities in shrines that had all sort of things, ranging from human skulls to full human skeletons. “Then which are you?”
None. That was first he was hearing. Everyone in the country belonged to a religion. “Why none?”
“Religion is a choice.”
“And you choose none?”
He glanced at her neck, at the rosary’s crucifix resting on her chest, so clean and shimmering for an unchristian person. “Then why wearing a rosary?”
She eyed the crucifix and stroked its white surface with a thumb. “My parents are Christians, so there happen to be many of this in my house. I picked one.”
“You should take it off.”
She looked at him and shifted eyes away. “Why do you say that?”
“It’s an abuse to the Christian faith.” He didn’t want to ask himself if he was in the right position to say that. Nonetheless, it abused the faith.
She pulled off the rosary and laid it by the gear. “You’re a Christian?”
“I am, and maybe you should consider being one, too.”
“Religion is a choice, and I have no reason to choose any.” Her words formed without any form of hindrance, giving him no reason to believe she might be unsteady about her absurd choice of sticking to no religion. Everyone on earth needed a higher power to survive.
He drove into Olodi and needed some directions, which she gave before he could ask. He followed the routes she pointed at even though he sometimes doubted if some were actual routes cars could follow, and even if some of them were the backyards of unfenced houses that littered around like the dirt on the streets. They bounced to the potholes, and he watched her to ensure her head didn’t hit the car’s roof. It never could have. She was not tall enough. Even so, he took caution.
He diverged into a junction, and as she directed him, they rode further and stopped front of a manicured lawn fronting an emerald bungalow with aluminium roof and leaded windows. Only few houses in the town had that.
She opened the door and stepped out of the car, promising she wouldn’t stay long.
He pondered on if to follow her in or remain glued to the seat. The second. She opened her gate and stepped in, giving him a small view of the compound. The ground had concrete tiles that seared to the falling rays, announcing that the sun was at its peak. Mondays never caught him this late.
She walked out with a phone enclosed in her hand, a Samsung good as the one he offered. She stepped into the car and he started the engine.
“Your place is good. What job do you do?”
“I do small-scale painting.”
Small-scale painting wasn’t enough to get such a place, unless Lagos had changed.
“My parents own the place.” Her voice sprung up. “They left it and headed north.”
It was good she had a decent place to lay head. “Your painting, how small is it?”
“I paint and sell to interested individuals.”
That should be enough to grant her three solid meals.
WATCH OUT FOR PART 7