PLEASE MARRY ME – GRACE OCHIGBO
The drive to Ibadan is messy. I don’t even know when it started raining but the slightly wet road made driving difficult. I take in a few deep, calming breaths when I pull into her estate. She’s decorated outside of the house with white and green lights. There are candle lights in each window. There’s a green wreath with a large red bow hanging on the front door.
The door swings open. Vee is standing in front of me. She is angered, her brows sinking in.
“What are you doing here?” she yells at the top of her lungs.
I am wishing by any strand of luck that Attah is not inside. I should have practiced what I was going to say before now. No. Instead, I just got hysteric that she wasn’t taking my numerous calls all day and decided to come find things out for myself.
Now, I can’t look at her.
“No…” she raises her hand in a flash it almost hit my face. “I don’t want to see you anywhere near Attah and I.”
I step forward, up the short flight of stairs.
“What’s going on?” I ask.
She steps away creating space between us, only for me to step closer. Her head shakes, she can’t look at me and she’s not even trying to.
“Vee…” I say as I reach for her but she bats my hand away.
“Don’t call me that.”
“What the hell is wrong?” My eyes flash with rage.
“Nothing.” She answers sharply. “Just stay away from me and my son’s lives.”
“Our son.” I seethe.
She laughs at my term our. “Are you sure about that Ayegba Ocheme?”
The look I give her is one of confusion and hurt. She can see the pain in my eyes. “What the hell are you talking about, Vee?”
There’s nothing more frustrating than a woman who doesn’t tell you what’s wrong when you ask her. I want to grab her and shake the answer out of her. She stands in front of me, her shoulders hunched, refusing to look at me, to show me her beautiful eyes that I can read like an open book. She sways from one foot to another like she couldn’t take it anymore, like I am playing stupid deliberately, then she dashes in and returns with an envelope.
“This.” She says through tears as she slams it into my chest. “You are married and you had the shameless boldness to come back into my life?”
I pull the envelope from her hands and tear it open. I read the first page, then each one after. My eyes read over words like custody, visitation, child support and paternity test to determine if the child known as Attah Ojonugwa Monday is my son. The last page does me in – it’s a court wedding certificate of my supposed matrimony to Shakira.
My face turns white.
Vee crosses her arms over her mid-section like she’s been punched repeatedly. She doesn’t bother to wipe the tears that have started cascading down her beautiful face, now marred by deception with my name attached. No wonder she’s asking me to leave her and Attah’s lives. I have never doubted being Attah’s father but these papers are telling her I am.
“Where did you get this?” I demand.
I grip the papers, crinkling them in my hand as I shake them.
She rolls her eyes and turns away from me, pissing me off even more.
“Just get the hell out of me and my son’s lives.”
She shakes her head. “Just leave!” she yells, her hands instantly cover her face.
I can’t, I won’t. I will not move an inch without having the answers I want from her. I grab her arm and pull her into the house. She resists, fighting me as I drag her through her sitting room to the dining area. Attah is obviously not in this house. Two days ago, she’d said something about children boot camp organized by her church for the week.
I push her onto a seat and with my hands, block her from standing up.
“Who gave you these papers, Victory!” I hate saying her full name but it gets her attention.
She looks at me, determined.
“You know, I thought we could work at this co-parenting thing, but I was wrong. I don’t want your money, Ayegba. I don’t need it. Attah and I have managed this whole time on our own so you don’t have to worry about me stealing your money and sucking you dry.”
“No, let me finish.” She holds up her hand
“No!” I yell at her. “I will not. Tell me who gave you these god damn papers. There’s no postage so I know they were hand delivered. I’m really about to lose my mind here, so just tell me already. Did Shakira travel to Ibadan?”
“Why does it matter?”
“Because it’s bullshit!” I scream. “I didn’t do this. I don’t want any paternity test. I don’t want custody of Attah. I am not married for crying out loud.”
I leave off the seat and turn away. “I love our son, Vee. I love him so much. I would never do anything to hurt him. Never.”
I try to calm down.
“Her name is Shakira Makanjuola.” Vee’s voice isn’t so audible but I can make meaning out of her words. “She says you both were only able to a court wedding because of your tight schedules and the traditional and white weddings were meant to come up as soon as you returned from your last trip to see your mother.”
Shakira could go this far? This is the last straw.
“Listen to me,” I say, pulling Vee’s chin up so she’s looking at me. “Shakira is Chief’s only daughter. Remember Chief I told you about? Luke’s dad?” I give her a questioning look and she nods in the affirmative. Such a pity I didn’t mention Shakira to her that day and it had to get to this point. I thought I could handle her myself. “She’s made it obvious she likes me ever since the incidence with her brother. Chief was also looking to see if something could work between us because the man desperately wants to bring me into their family. Initially, I tried to play along – which you shouldn’t be mad about anyway – I tried to force myself to love her to no avail. Yes. Shortly before my journey, I wanted to damn love and just go ahead with Shakira as a convenient option because obviously you were not coming back and time was not on my side too.
“It was part of what I wanted to discuss with mum but when she attempted bringing up your issue, I got so infuriated and left the house. Little did I know I was going to meet you at Mona’s place. Listen, I see Shakira like a little sister and I have told her that severally. Right now, she has clearly overstepped her boundaries. I don’t know how she knows about Attah but I’ll find out. The last thing I want to do is to hurt you. I love you, Vee.”
“Please don’t take Attah away from me,” she begs. I hate seeing her cry. I hate the look of despair on her face. I am going to kill Shakira for doing this to Vee… to us. We don’t need this drama in our lives.
I push a few strands of loose hair behind her ear. “I want every part of you in my life, Vee, when you’re ready.”
We walk back to the sitting room leaving the papers on the dining table. I’ll deal with them later. The first thing I need to do is call Luke. Somewhere along the line, in those early days when he confronted me about hurting his sister’s feelings, I’d told him about Vee. The whole truth. He said he perfectly understood my plight but advised I handle Shakira with care so she doesn’t develop bitterness against me. Moreover, chances were that I may never see my Victory again. Now, looking back, I don’t know if that advice was worthwhile.
A strange idea drops in my mind and I sit up.
“Can we go to Lagos? There’s something I want to show you.”
She looks stunned. “Whoo… like now?”
“Yes, Vee.” I urge on. She turns a face of confusion towards me and I am sure what she’s about to say.
“I can still bring you back today if you want. Attah is still at boot camp. And… work can wait.” I smile at that statement and she smiles too.
We simply allow our hearts communicate with one another through the silent drive to Lagos. Life is full of unimaginable turns and twists and taking a closer look, only a fool will deny the hand of an almighty divine being – God – in everything.
I wave at the excited gateman as I bring the car to a halt at my reserved parking lot. Vee is quiet, obviously refusing to run ahead of herself.
“Ehm… by now you know I co-own a real estate company. THIS DAY says we’re the best in Nigeria and I think second best in Africa now, I am not sure, but that’s their wahala o.” I chuckle and her face lights up in excitement. “Forgive my asking but do you know anything about real estate?” I ask, unbuckling my seatbelt.
“Not really. But I know a top real estate manager.” She turns to look at me. “And I’m crazily in love with him, even after all these years.”
A genuine smile flashes across our faces as we get down from the car. I clutch her right hand in mine, leading her towards the gigantic skyscraper that’s our company.
“Wait, what?” she pauses abruptly on noticing something. The exact thing I wanted to show her. She turns curious eyes to me and I nod in the affirmative, a smile firmly plastered on my face. “How?”
“There’s no better name, Vee. None.”
“V.I.C.T.O.R.Y. H.O.M.E.S.” She reads out our company name written on a shiny gold plate midway up the building.
When we enter my office, she’s wowed by so many things but most importantly, a framed photograph. It was one of those she’d taken on my phone back then. I’d printed it when I returned to school and it’d been amongst my things ever since. When I had nothing physical left of her, I had to frame it. Not professional or fine by any standard, but anything to remind me of my one and only true love.
“Awwwn! You still have this? God knows, the Ileanwa Photography herself can never take a photo like this ever again. Chai. Look at the angle sef. Did I not see sunlight to use at least? I was so crude.” She jests.
Seeing her move around my office like she owns it makes me want to have her here every day, but I’m afraid. She was with Mona for a while and you can’t just turn off one’s emotions. I know she loves me but I will wait until she’s ready.
The sound of the doorbell saves me from making an error in judgment. Swinging the door open, her back is facing me but I’d know her anywhere. She turns and smiles as she steps in.
“Hey, Ay baby,” she coos. I swat at her hand when she tries to touch my face with her long fake fingernails.
I turn at Vee’s gasp. The look on her face isn’t anger but hurt. I walk over to her and place a hand on her shoulder.
“You have asked me about this before.” I say, raising a letterhead paper from my desk and flashing it in Shakira’s face.
She mumbles. “Ehn eh! Victory Homes. Wait, what? You named the company after her?”
I shrug. “My entire life and if, peradventure, I have to come back to the world after this one, everything is and will be named after this woman I love and the child we have together.”
Shakira blinks and a tear drops down her face.
“I love this woman, Shakira. I do. Please, I need you to understand that. I see all you tried to do and I forgi…”
“No, baby. No. You know you cannot do this.” She hurries in my direction.
I turn to find Vee intercepting and pointing a warning finger in Shakira’s direction. “This is our office space and you need to leave right now. You’re not welcome here.”
“Is this what you want, Ay?”
I can’t help it. I smile at Vee and wink. “Yeah. She’s the boss. If she says go, you go.”
“You’ll be sorry when chief hears about this.”
I step closer to her. “Chief will understand that nothing can stand in the way of true love.”
Shakira stumps her feet hard against the floor as she walks to the door. She takes one look at me and shakes her head. I know she’s about to cry and I don’t care. As soon as the door closes, I pull Vee into my arms and hold her as if this is the last time I’m ever going to get the chance.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. I am so sorry for not being there for you.” I tell her repeatedly.
She strokes my face, comforting me when I should be the one down at her feet groveling for forgiveness. With one single message all of this could have been avoided.
Another sound from the door jostles us back to the room. Luke walks in dispirited. I know. Shakira must have gone to his office and cried and lied and done whatever would make her appear innocent. I feel terrible that the lady is pained this much but there’s nothing I can do. And to be honest at this point, I don’t mind losing everything. I’ll give anything just to be with my Vee and our son.
“Victory.” Luke says her name like it’s a song. “It’s nice to finally meet you in person.”
I glance at Vee who’s wearing an unsure grin before returning my eyes to Luke.
“Look man, I’m sorry about your sis. Whatever chief decides is okay with me.”
Luke manages a soft smile. “I told him a long time ago, bro.”
Alarmed, I leave off Vee to face Luke squarely. “What do you mean?”
Luke begins to explain how he’d told his father my story about a year ago. That I had been unable to get over a girl I loved so deeply, that I consider Shakira a good girl but I don’t want to use her to fill a void because she’d be hurt in the end. Chief had been amazed at such depth of love that could last a decade of absence. He even tried to dissuade Shakira from pressuring me but women will always want that exact thing they want. Not a lookalike.
“Thank you, dude.” I say, at loss for words.
“Anything for you, bro. You saved my life. My father proudly introduces me to people as his first son since you. I can never repay that. So…” he walks past me to Vee. “Don’t be amazed that the company’s name is Victory Homes. Left to Ayegba, he’d brand every single space he owns with your face and name. He loves you deeply, Victory. There’s no questioning that.”
I watch Vee swallow against a tightening on her throat. “I love him too.” she says most assuredly.
My face brightens with a smile. Just then, my device on the table buzzes and begins to ring out loud. I grab it like Spiderman, swipe the receive icon and place it against my ear.
“Yes. This is he, how may I help you?” I wait for the person on the other end of the phone to speak. “What? My mum?” I exclaim.
Vee and Luke draw near me immediately as I remove the phone and smash it hard against the floor.
To be continued.
- Do you believe that nothing can stand against true love? Can you share a practical example, if possible?
- Describe Luke in three words.
- What do you think happened to mum?