It wasn't until the old man patted his buttocks that Okon broke the embrace!!!
His initial plan was to ask for half of the sum but the overwhelming pressure from Mfon lately made him asked for more. As her due date neared, living with her was a daily nightmare. In her usual manner, she constantly harped on her dislike for public hospitals to the point that Okon felt he would lose his sanity.
His earlier arrangement was to register her at the local government hospital which was two streets away. The proximity and affordability made it a preferred choice, but Mfon in her haughty fashion insisted that her child would be born in a private facility.
"No child of mine will be born in a government-owned clinic," she told him one somnolent afternoon in her strident voice.
The way she referred the unborn baby as her child often baffled Okon. She seemed to forget that without his sperm, there will be no embryo.
Luckily for him, one of his neighbours who worked at a Catholic private hospital came to his aid.
"You will get a good discount if you are a Catholic. Father Osita loves members of his church. Just be a regular face at our Sacred Heart meetings, you will get 50% discount."
That was how Okon found himself in the Catholic gathering every Wednesday, praying the rosary and Hail Mary. Father Osita, a tall avuncular figure took a liking to him the moment he set his eyes on him. He usually called him aside after the meeting to inquire about his daily living. Not that he really cared, but he was intrigued by his gentle mien.
He took notice of his punctuality to the meetings, how he composed himself in the gathering, exchanging greetings when necessary, never engaged in light banter or velitations which usually occur during donations for special projects.
He only speaks in that fruity voice of his when asked. Thus, he always called him aside, just to revel in the beauty of his voice, as well as memorise his heart-shaped facial looks: the thick eyebrows on top his rounded eyes, his small pointed nose and thick lips.
Okon, unaware of the clergy's veiled thoughts accommodated the spiritual leader's company. He thought luck was on his side each time Father Osita approached him, but lacked the confidence to tell him about his dilemma. But after a nasty argument with Mfon one rainy Friday evening, he opened up to the Father.
"Father, is there any way you can assist me? My wife is heavily-pregnant and I lost my job after the election last year. I subsist on menial jobs which are not frequent. Other attempts to secure a white-collar job have proved otiose."
Father Osita mentally took note of the word 'otiose'. He would look it up in the dictionary when he gets home. This was one of the reasons he enjoyed speaking to the Ibibio man. His command of English always left him in awe. The other day he told him that he was the first loquacious clergy that he has encountered. Confused at the time of utterance, Osita couldn't decipher if it was a compliment or not.
After half-listening to him, he said:
"Don't worry about the bills. I will take care of it."
Okon didn't know when he hugged the elderly man. He felt a big burden had been lifted off his shoulders.
"Thank you, thank you sir," he said effusively, still clinging to him.
It wasn't until the old man patted his buttocks that Okon broke the embrace. If he expected an apology from the spiritual leader for his inappropriate behaviour, he was mistaken. Instead, Father Osita shrugged, winked at him, did the sign of the cross, then walked away.
From Obidiegwu's place, he went straight to the market. There, he purchased baby clothes, blankets and some toiletries. He was left with two naira by the time he was done, and his list was not yet exhausted. There was still the steriliser, Lady Sept sanitary pad, cotton wool, bandage, methylated spirit and of course the cradle. Mfon had drummed it into his ears that he must buy everything on the list. Her lack of human sympathy was becoming epic every day.
The only monies Okon could boast of at the moment was the N300 left in his savings account. He planned using it for other expenses after the child was born.
Wondering on his next line of action, he decided to rest a while at a fruit hawker shade. He had barely bit into the slice of water melon when he saw his shopping bags being swept away by a football, its contents spilling on the ground.
"Oghene!"shouted a tall, plain brown-skinned woman at a toddler who was giggling as the baby sponge, soap, cream landed on the ground with a thud. She quickly ran towards the bags, catching whatever she can in her fragile hands.
Everything happened so fast that Okon was at a loss. He didn't know who to direct his anger to: the chuckling toddler who looked so innocuous or the woman with protruding eyes screaming and apologising simultaneously.
Written by Vay Sylver.