No matter how strong you may be, no matter how resolutely you might stand, you can never keep a beating heart from responding to an offer of love and care.
And if someone goes the extra mile for you, or sacrifices something dear so you can be happy, though your mind may try to hold back, your heart will long for it.
It was November 2014; the first time I had to console someone who had lost a parent. No matter how long you might rehearse, you can never be prepared for things like that.
I was still in front of Ruth’s family house when I heard a loud wail from one of the rooms. I entered cautiously and greeted those I could recognize.
My Pastor was also there.
With a well-practised sombre look, I took a seat beside the televison placed against the wall facing the entrance. From the position, I could see all the photos hanging around the sitting room.
One of those was that of Ruth holding her late mom around the neck with both of them laughing with dim eyes.
I had been in the room for over five minutes before I saw Ruth’s younger sister walk through the room.
Impulsively, I stood up and called her by name.
She stopped in her strides and turned back, looking at me curiously.
I knew she couldn’t recognize me and I introduced myself as a friend of Ruth’s. She managed a smile and told me Ruth was sitting with some of her friends at the back of the house.
I stood up and walked silently towards that direction, trying to calm my fraying nerves as quickly as possible.
When I got to the backyard of the simple house, I found myself standing before a sight I hope to never see again.
Three friends were beside Ruth and held her arms and shoulders while she held on to her mother’s picture and smiled bitterly.
It was a duplicate of the photo I saw in the sitting room before then.
She wasn’t actually crying but the smile on her face betrayed the sorrow that laid deep in her heart.
For a second, I didn’t know if I should move nearer to comfort her or stay afar off and look on in pity.
But the ache I felt in my chest couldn’t make me stay away.
I walked towards the group of friends and crouched beside the last lady on the left side of Ruth, and as I did so, I could see the darkness that laid under Ruth’s eyes.
It was obvious she had not had a good sleep for the past two or three days.
I waved my right hand and greeted, ‘Good morning Ruth, how are you?’
I had thought she had seen me before I called but I was wrong. She looked up sharply when I spoke her name and again, managed that sad smile.
‘Oh! Victor, you are here too, Good afternoon’, most of her friends turned their faces towards me and I nodded at them in silent salutation.
Two or three stood up from hovering around her and I was able to sit just beside Ruth.
In an act so unpredictable as it was unexpected, I gave in to my instincts and placed my hand on her shoulder- the one closest to me.
She wasn’t perturbed by the kind act and none of her friend’s face showed any sign of disapproval.
‘I’m so sorry for the loss,’ I spoke the words slowly and held her shoulder more firmly.
‘She is in a better place, and we will all meet and see her one day. She was always good to me.’ I continued.
Ruth smiled then and looked at the picture on her hands again. Seeing her smile urged me on to speak further; and I did.
‘I remember when she often tease me and call me her son-in-law when I was a boy.’ I smiled as I recalled one of such times.
Ruth’s smile grew wider and she responded, ‘Yeah. Don’t mind my mom.’
The comment made me laugh and her friends that heard it couldn’t help but smile too.
‘I loved that mommy sha,’ I said as the sad countenance that had clouded my face and humor since I got there began to drift.
‘I loved her too… I still love her’, she corrected herself.
As her smile faded, I slowly drew back my hand from her shoulder and couldn’t say more.
We sat there in silence for another one minute or two, with one of her friends also sitting not too far away, pressing her phone.
‘Hope you have eaten today,’ I asked her.
When she hesitated before answering, her friend answered for her,
‘She has not eaten. Since yesterday, we have tried to make her eat something but she has refused.’
‘Ah! No, please eat, please.’ I implored, facing her and pleading with beseeching eyes.
When she looked up at my face, she smiled and said she had no appetite.
‘I understand, but at least, to garner strength, eat something.’
‘Okay,’ she said, ‘But not something too strong.’
‘Your wish is my command’ I spoke the words with a hint of laughter in my voice and raised my hand to my foreheard in salute.
She smiled again and the sight made my heart tender towards her.
‘I’m coming.’ I excused myself and left Ruth with her friend.
I walked down the street until I saw a kiosk where I bought two energy drinks, a bunch of banana and five oranges.
I also bought canned drinks for her friends.
As the woman returned the change of my payment, I was grateful I had some money on me, even if it was actually the last money to my name.
When I returned to the house, I met Ruth and her friends having a sing-along of the popular hymn, ‘Farther Along’.
I had to stand some distance away from the group and appreciate the tune and unison of their voice as they sang the solemn song.
It was a tear-jerking song and I was soon feeling sorrowful as I stood and listened.
When they were done and preparing to start another hymn, I walked towards them and handed the packages over.
The friends appreciated the gesture and when Ruth opened her parcel and looked inside, she smiled.
She looked up at me and said, ‘Thank you Victor. I really appreciate this.’
She sat down and started with the energy drink.
When they were all done eating and drinking, her friends, for one reason or the other, left and it was just Ruth and I seated facing each other.
I fixed my eyes on her face and tried to read her expression.
Her mom’s picture was no longer in her hands to distract her, so she looked back at me and smiled before evading my gaze.
She looked beautiful, though I doubted if she’d had her bath that morning.
‘How are you doing?’ I asked, filling the silence.
She smiled and said, ‘I’m fine.’
I pondered if it was appropriate to talk about the past and I realized it would be best for her to think and talk about things other than her mom.
‘It has been over a year since we’ve talked.’ I tried to sound as jovial as I could.
Ruth welcomed the change in topic and answered,
‘Don’t mind me. My last months in the University were so hectic that I had no time for myself.’
‘I thought as much…’ I rubbed my palms together and maintained my disarming smile, ‘It seems you changed your number.’
‘I would have tried to keep in touch.’ I added.
‘I’m sorry I didn’t call too, I just kept postponing it.’ Ruth apologized.
A few seconds of silence passed between us before the next words escaped my mouth;
‘Not one week passed by since then without me thinking about you and the little time we’ve spent together.’ I measured the words as I said them and looked away from her face.
She smiled and said nothing. So I went on,
‘What do you say we spend sometime away from all this gloom tomorrow?’ I said, deciding to push my luck.
She didn’t answer very quickly and spent a moment thinking about it.
‘Please try and do something that can cheer you up. Ehn?’ I went on trying to convince her.
‘I…I…I don’t know…’ She wasn’t confident about the suggestion.
I smiled and reassured her,
‘Just to change scenery, you know. Try and make yourself happy.’
It wasn’t a very sure answer but eventually, she nodded her head and agreed.
‘Maybe day after tomorrow will be better,’ She said.
I was glad we agreed on the compromise and I told her so.
Some minutes later, the family called for a meeting and I said my goodbyes to Ruth and her friends.
Later that evening, Jide called to ask how the visit went and I told her it went well.
‘She will be okay. She is slowly recovering from the shock.’ I gave the brief reply and didn’t give any other extra information.
Jide thanked me and ended the call from his end.
I was reading an e-book on my phone around 10pm that same day when I got a text message on my phone.
It was from Ruth.
‘Victor Victor, I am really grateful. I appreciate your care and I’m glad to have you as a friend. Thanks for making me smile today. Goodnight, see you on Friday.’
I read the simple and direct message over and over again and stressed the repeated mention of my name.
‘Victor Victor’ I read the part repeatedly until it became a song in my ears.
I rolled on my bed from left to right, right to left again, and played slow sweet songs through my phone until I slept off.
I could hardly wait for Friday.
‘The Root’, Episode 9.