This Loving Heart Of Mine (3)

The next month saw no communication between Bella and I. A couple of other potential wells came up and we worked harder but all we had were two small deposits and a host of empty ‘holes’.

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No big scores.

I had spent 9 months at the camp when I decided to pack it up and go home. My superiors had estimated 6 months for the Okirika project so I wouldn’t have been disappointing anyone except myself and my team who had worked so hard. Just as I settled down to put together my report, Edet burst in. He was one of my best drilling engineers – a stocky middle-aged Ibibio man who dated only Igbo ladies and always had a tooth pick in his mouth.

The look in his eyes said it even before he opened his mouth. We had it! I grabbed my PPE and ran out the door. My team spent the better part of the next month and a half on site, taking and testing samples, sending and receiving orders and specifications, analyzing, graphing and plotting. When the Gas specs had been reviewed and our find confirmed, we returned to base camp and I sent my team home.

I had to stay back for an extra two weeks with a team of Company lawyers and economists to seal the deal with the government and leaders of the area. It shouldn’t have taken that long but everybody – from the disgustingly obese State Commissioner of Internal revenue generation to the traditional rulers of the area with their kolanut-stained teeth – wanted to grab a share of the Okirika ‘national cake’.

So we had to be extra careful with the deals we cut and the contract document we prepared. The last signature was appended on the contract at 0943hours on a Tuesday morning. A copy was faxed over to headquarters, I kept one while the lawyers kept the original.

I declined the invitation for celebratory drinks and returned to base camp. Ten minutes later, I was out the door armed with just my laptop and my duplicate copy of the contract document. I headed straight for the airport.

My plane landed at about noon in Uyo. I thought of calling Bella at the office but decided against it. I would go home, take a shower, and go surprise her at the office. I wanted to see her eyes widen, her jaws drop, that dimple dip, and her loud laughter announce to her entire workplace that her husband was back. How I had missed her!

The cab dropped me off at my house eleven months after I’d left it. Bella and I never hired a gateman so I just let myself in. She had indeed taken very good care of my car, I mused as I circled the Jeep appreciatively. Her car was parked beside mine – Bella hardly ever drove to work.

I let myself into the house. I walked through my sitting room; there was a strange feeling of newness to it, like when one moves into a new apartment. Yet I could tell that very little had changed. I took off my shoes so I could feel the hard cold tile of the floors and sink my stockinged toes in the maroon red plush rug dead-center of the living room floor. How I had missed this house!

Our wedding-day picture hung just below the crucifix above the flat-screen. She had been so happy on that day, happy and glorious in that white gown. Slowly, reverently, I ran my fingers over the image…eyes shining, lips widened, rows of immaculate little teeth bared in a grin of sheer joy. I felt so terrible for my impatience with her.

How could I have starved her and myself of us these last few months? She is only a wonderful woman with a weakness I understood and should have tolerated. But I can correct it all now, I thought to myself as I walked up the stairs.

On any other day, Bella would throw a tantrum over the carelessly discarded shoes in the living room but not on this day. With the activities I had planned for the rest of the day, she’d be too ‘occupied’ to notice the shoes when we got back home. The hands I put on the railing as I trudged up trembled with boyish enthusiasm and I chuckled at myself.

I shrugged off my jacket as I reached our bedroom door. I pulled my key out before I noticed that the door was cracked open. It was so like Bella to forget to lock the bedroom door. I pushed it open, stepped into our room and…there she was! It was as if my thinking about her habit of leaving the bedroom door unlocked had conjured her because my Bella was sitting right there in our bed, sheets hugged to her chest.

She had most of her hair piled on top of her head and held there by her right hand; her head rested against the huge headboard, the tiny pink earplugs of her iPod were in her ears and her eyes were closed. From the door, I could see that furrow she always had between her eyes whenever she worried. But she looked so beautiful, ethereal, as if she would evaporate the very next minute.

“Bella”, I whispered not wanting to be loud lest she disappear. My heart beat so loud and fast that I was sure my chest would explode. “Bella”, I called again a bit louder. I saw her eyes flutter open, and then slowly, she turned her head towards me. Seeing her jaw drop and emotion flood her brown eyes upon seeing me was all I could take so I stepped forward with my arms outstretched.

But I caught some vibes; something was not right. I stopped. There was surprise in my wife’s eyes but it didn’t look like ‘good’ surprise. She looked scared, no, downright terrified; and she kept throwing furtive glances in the direction of the bathroom door.

It was then my senses came home to me and I realized that the shower was running. But it stopped just as soon as I heard it, so soon that I thought I had imagined it. I turned back to my wife meaning to ask what was wrong. Then the bathroom door swung open…

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