Silence Within Echoes

I always saw myself as the most observant person I knew; and in a way, you wouldn’t blame me, I notice and see things others don’t. So how could I have missed what was so obvious? How could I not have noticed when she changed? Her sombre looks, and bloodshot eyes should have been glaring to me, but they weren’t. In all honesty, I simply overlooked the fact that one of my closest friends was going through a lot.

I guess I could say that we were all busy with our final exams in school, with all the stress of preparing for the exams and working on our projects, I could say that I was too distracted to notice; but then, what kind of friend does that make me? Then before we knew it, project defense came and went, and we were finally graduates. And she went through all these while carrying the burden alone, without telling a single soul.

Somehow, I noticed she wasn’t her usual boisterous self when I saw her again at the burial of another close friend’s father’s burial, but I pegged it down to the sadness of the occasion, and never went further to ask her if she was all right. I just assumed she was. What a friend I was!

So when I came back to school for clearance and met our friend (the one we went for her father’s burial), her first question after the normal pleasantries was,

“When was the last time you saw Chisom?”

“Either last November or December,” I replied, oblivious that a bombshell was to be dropped. We were in January.

“Did you notice that she is pregnant?” she said.

I stared open-mouthed at her, using my index fingers, I cleaned my ears and blurted out, “What did you just say?”

“I was more shocked when I realized it.”

“How did you get to find out?”

“I visited her yesterday, and noticed how she had grown fatter, and her sluggish movements. At first, I didn’t want to believe it, even when I saw her slightly bulging tummy, so I jokingly asked her if she was pregnant. Her widened eyes, and shocked expression confirmed it before she then told me everything.”

“Jeez, how old is the pregnancy?”

“Seven. She’s to give birth in March.”

“You don’t mean it! That must have been around June or July, during the time we were running about for our final exams.” It was incredibly difficult to fathom. I had seen Chisom so often then, and nothing had clued me in at all.

“Yes. I had asked her why she didn’t tell anybody, and she replied that she didn’t want anyone judging her.”

“I can understand her reasons. Still, I’m surprised that she could hide it that well, and none of us her friends knew.”

“My dear oo. I’m still shocked. Just go and see her. She needs our support, especially during this period,” she said, and finally added, “I need not to tell you that you should not let any other person know about this. I only told you because we are very close.”

“Of course, I’m not telling anyone,” I replied, a tad annoyed that she would think I would disclose this anyhow. But isn’t it exactly what I’m doing by telling this story?

And so I planned how to visit her as I mulled over the whole thing in my room. I picked up my phone, and dialed her number; she picked up on the fifth ring.

“My sweetheart!” I exclaimed, trying hard not to disclose the fact that I knew about her.

“This kind of sweetheart of mine that only calls once in a blue moon, I wonder where I got him from.” She always was a lively person, and her jokes always kept me laughing.

“Baby, it’s not like that. I have simply been busy.” It was a white lie, but I couldn’t tell her that I had forgotten to call her; I hadn’t even replied her New Year felicitation message.

“Hmmm… since I have no way of confirming that, let me believe you. So how are you doing?”

“I’m very fine my dear. What about you?” My replies seemed a little hollow to me, but I prayed that she wouldn’t notice.

“I’m as all right as I can be.”

“Are you around?” She was around of course, but I had to keep up the pretence.

“Yes, I am. I’ve I around since last year. I didn’t go for the Christmas break.” Maybe she was afraid of her people? Or just didn’t want to stress herself going to Kwara State and coming back again for clearance. Whatever the reason, I was glad she didn’t travel.

“All right then, I’ll come see you today.”

“No problem. Bring something while coming oo,” she said as I clicked off.

Two hours later, I came down from the bike in front of her lodge. As I brought out the money to pay for my transport, I saw her coming out of one of the shops in front of her lodge. For ten seconds, I stared, with my mouth agape, at her tummy. It was true, she was pregnant. And she did so well to conceal it, her big blouse doing a good job at that. After payment, we went upstairs, and we chatted animatedly about other things—how tough life after school is, the state of the economy, and even how to raise money for business ideas.

“Sweetheart, what will you take?” she asked later, as I lay on her bed.

“I’m seriously famished, anything will do.”

“Will you eat spaghetti?” I nodded, and she went to the business of preparing it. As she moved up and down, I couldn’t pry my eyes off her belly, it was bulging indeed, but it was hard to notice. It took expert eyes or prior knowledge to discern that she was with child. I said a silent prayer for her, thanking God that she wasn’t among those who had big tummies when they become pregnant.

As she prepared the food, we chatted the more, and when she was done, we ate in companionable silence, all the while, I thought of how to raise the topic of her pregnancy without sounding offensive and hurting her. Then before I knee it, I dozed off.

When I woke up, the time was 5.45pm—I would have to go soon. Still, I was tongue-tied, and didn’t know how to ask her such a question. I wore my shoes, and stood up to leave. But I saw a book that got my attention, and I sat on a chair, picked up the book and flipped through the pages. Then I saw it—the final proof of her condition. Nestled within the pages were some documents which were her antenatal hospital papers.

I closed the book, and decided to take the bull by the horns; I stole a glance at her, and she looked so forlorn, so distracted by thoughts of so many things that I let it out.

“When will you deliver, Chisom?” I asked, staring at her.

She gave a shocked laugh. “So, Chinaza later told you. The doctor told me that I would deliver in March.”

“Do you know that you’re the strongest person I know?”

“How do you mean?”

“My dear, I know if of very few people that can manage pregnancy while at the same time, taking final exams, and defending their projects.”

“It wasn’t easy, Stanley.”

“What of him?”

“You mean the guy responsible?” I nodded, and she continued, “He’s taking full responsibility. He’s a Yoruba guy in his thirties. He also graduated with us.”

“Oh, that’s great. What of your parents?” I asked, “How did they take it?”

“You know my father is late, and my mother, she’s very kind and supportive. At first, she was angry, and had asked me, “ ‘Where’s your taste in men?’ ” when she learnt that he was a student. But she later came around.”

“Again, I say that you are a very strong person. I’m very marveled that you could hide it so well—even from me.”

“My dear, I was trying to protect myself. I didn’t want anyone to judge me unnecessarily. So I decided to keep it to myself. Even during Chinaza’s father’s burial, I was always quiet. Chinaza used to complain about me then, but she didn’t know that my mind was scattered in a million directions.”

“Yeah, she had complained to me then. No one could have guessed…” my voice trailed off. 

“Thank God I don’t have a big tummy. Most people do not realize that I’m seven months pregnant. And it wasn’t that I planned it!”

“I can understand,” I reassured her. 

As I held her hands, and looked into her watery eyes, I could see her letting go of do many worries and fears, I could feel her heaving a sigh of relief; it was good to have someone who understood your situation without judging you. 

“So what will you name the child?” I asked. 

“I… I don’t know.”

“You have to name the child after me. Thank God both boys and girls can bear Onyeka, my Igbo name.”

“That’s left for the father to decide,” she said, smiling. 

“That’s none of my business, I’ve said my own oo.” She let out a good-natured guffaw that left me overjoyed as I climbed down the stairs of her lodge. And as I went home that day, my prayer was that she would safely deliver her child so that she could face her dreams once more. 

I had no doubts that she would be successful, she already had all it took, moreover, she was a very strong woman. 

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