This thing called LOVE – GRACE OCHIGBO
Susan lifted up her head quickly as she heard the door open and close. Did she just doze off on her desk? Unbelievable! She wiped the back of her palm over her eyes to be sure her mind wasn’t playing a smart one on her. As he approached her desk, there was no denying who he was and her face gradually contorted into a deep frown.
“Hi…” He said, so low, almost a whisper.
Susan scoffed and kept her gaze on him without blinking. He must have waited for a response because he didn’t continue immediately, but seeing Susan wasn’t going to say any word, he swallowed and continued.
“Look! I know I messed up.”
Susan rolled her eyes up and felt like hissing, but that would be the extreme.
“What exactly are you sorry for, Detective Samson, sir?”
Detective Samson smiled at the sarcasm in her voice. Typical Susan! She had withdrawn to her shell over the past two weeks – since Caleb’s case got withdrawn and he was released. Miraculously, they all must admit. Susan had deliberately kept her distance from him; not walking on the particular corridor that would make her run into him or pass by the front of his office. She obviously didn’t want to have anything to do with him anymore and she was justified, in every way.
“Listen Susan, I was wrong –” that came out louder than he’d thought to say it. “I was very wrong in the way I handled our last case, OK? I was wrong in the way I talked to you. It shouldn’t be.”
Susan took in a deep breath, picking up a pen from its holder.
“So what do you want now?”
Detective Samson felt his throat tighten. “I want you to forgive me. Yeah. I’m sorry I acted so cowardly all of a sudden. Things just got beyond my power.”
“Now that everything is over, would you tell me about the man that said to come meet him at Lokogoma that night?”
“It was the police commissioner.” Detective Samson responded swiftly and Susan’s eyeballs nearly dropped to the ground. “We met in a large but abandoned building he said belonged to Angela’s father.”
Susan’s eyes widened more than the size of ShopRite doughnuts, urging him to go on.
“You see, Susan, his position was greatly threatened at the time. Memos and reminders kept coming to his table every second about how he needed to quickly close up the case as the big guys were working hard to bury it before the press get wind of it.” He searched her eyes with his and took a seat. “He said he didn’t want to tell me all that before a ‘woman’, that’s referring to you.”
Susan scoffed. The man was gender biased. Their last meeting with him, when he outright shut her up, confirmed that.
“He made me promise, and of course, threaten me too, to quickly withdraw from the search and just make do with what… who we have.”
“At the expense of the suspect’s life? Make do with who we have? Was the pain and torture the young man went through some sort of recreation to you?” Susan’s words came out like bitter pills too hard to swallow.
Detective Samson gave a mild smile. “Exactly. This. The commissioner knew you were stubborn and non-negotiable; that you weren’t going to be an easy buy over. God! I feel so ashamed of myself.”
“That’s why you’ll send someone after me? Was that to also assassinate and get me completely out of the scene?”
“No. No!” Detective Samson was very quick to respond. “God forbid. I couldn’t have supported any ploy to harm you. I don’t even know what you mean by sending someone after you.” His voice was very sincere and remorseful.
Susan took her time to narrate the event on her way to Natako when a red Toyota Camry followed her, took every turn she took, and even parked some meters behind her immediately she brought her car to a halt beside the road.
“I don’t know anything about that.” Detective Samson responded. “Believe me, Susan. I didn’t send anyone after you and I…”
“Well.” Susan cut in. “It’s all over now and we both have learnt our lessons the hard way.” She fixed her eyes on his, looking all formal and serious. “This Caleb’s case made me believe more the part of the bible that says whoever the son of man sets free is free indeed. Permit me to say that the place of detectives is uncalled for when God wants to set a man free.” She smiled at her own strange biblical analysis but she was content her colleague got the lesson.
“But it took a detective in informing the family next door about the situation, alright? So the place of detectives cannot be overemphasized.” Detective Samson jeered but Susan didn’t pick the joke, rather, wasn’t even ready to catch a joke at the moment.
“Everything concerning that Caleb’s vindication was a miracle. Take it or leave it!” She paused to swallow. “None of us could have imagined Angela killing herself, ever. We didn’t know she had NPD. We had eyes on several other suspects not knowing that what killed the giant was right in the giant – our victim was also the murderer.”
“I only hope next time you won’t sell your conscience that cheaply and hurriedly.” She found his face. She’s one woman with so much courage and preferred to look one eyeball to eyeballs when discussing with him or her. “Always remember that both your job and someone’s life are temporary. In fact, everything in the world is temporary. While some temporary things, like money, cars, and houses are renewable, others, like good name and life, are not.” Detective Samson raised an eyebrow, not knowing where she was heading to this time. “If you lose your job today and there’s still life, you will get another one, maybe even better. But if we lose a life today, even with a million jobs, it can never be reversed.”
Samson took in a deep breath but Susan wasn’t done yet.
“In the end, it’s the lives we touch and preserve on the job that matters more than the job we live for!”
Detective Samson swallowed heavily.
That was indeed a deep truth.
Unekwu’s face glowed. Her mother made one of the professional hairdressers who attend their church come over and braided her natural hair. She looked so naturally beautiful and radiant, and inasmuch as the drooping side of her face had not completely aligned with the other side yet, her recovery was too fast indeed.
“Fine!” She responded excitedly to the doctor, giggling.
(You see, this doctor, and all the health specialists that had attended to me over the past months are so kind. They are kind in the way they speak to me, and much more in the way they treat me. They are absolutely wonderful. And I must commend this woman here. Sincerely, all her show of love makes me want to believe that she’s my mother indeed. Well, I may have come to that point when I have no choice than to accept. I mean, I’m in her house for crying out loud. And yes, I’ve been discharged from the hospital, even though I still attend stroke recovery classes. Hello? Don’t ask me when I was discharged? You should actually be more concerned and excited that I’m finally out of that private ward than the time I left there. Who time help?
Back to this woman’s matter, please. Perhaps I should just adopt her as mother, right? Look at you, agreeing to what you don’t know about.
Not to worry. Everything will fall in proper place. Soon. At least, as soon as I can lay my hands – well, maybe my mind on who I was before now.)
“I… want … to be able to run around.” She pronounced the words gradually and slowly till she was done.
The doctor looked and waited patiently, not rushing her; not hastening her.
“You will, darling.” He patted Unekwu’s back. “You’ll be able to run, return to your job, and live back your normal life, as soon as possible. Your mother here is already preparing for that.”
(There we go again. My mother. My mother o!)
Unekwu smiled as the doctor said one or two things to the woman they all refer to as her mother, before walking out.
As soon as the door closed, Ajifa Ikani hurriedly came to sit beside Unekwu on her large bed. The former’s eyes were tender and kind and the liquid in there had become permanently teary. She took her hand to Unekwu’s face and coursed it down towards her jaw bone. Ajifa’s eyes bore so much emotions, she hadn’t been able to express in English language.
As Unekwu felt the woman’s hand glide up and down her face, she slowly drifted to sleep.
Fred Williams dropped the newspaper in his hand and sat up straighter on the couch. He cleared his throat and that jerked Vera’s attention to his position in the large sitting room.
“Oh. I didn’t know you were in, dad!”
A sarcastic smile coursed around Fred Williams’ face.
“Yeah, I’ve become that tiny, my angel.”
Vera shook her head from left to right and drew closer. “C’mon dad! No one said anything about being tiny or not. I was not just paying attention.”
Fred Williams motioned her to move closer and she felt her throat thicken. The man was officially about to waste the little time she didn’t have right now as she needed to meet up with the short time left out of the break.
“Oh. Not now, dad. I have to rush back…” She drew her long lilac chiffon dress over her black fitted trouser.
“Rush back to where if I may ask?”
Vera chuckled, surprised. “I hope my beloved dad hasn’t forgotten that I am a banker by profession. I mean, I’m the acting manager of one of the branches of…”
“And one of the branches of your esteemed bank is Dynamic Group of schools, huh?” The older man cut in.
Vera felt blood dry up from her face. How did her father learn about this – about Dynamic Group of schools and possibly her frequenting the place in the past weeks? Her eyes carried the question her mouth couldn’t voice out and Fred Williams smiled victoriously.
“No matter how the river widens, it would dry up when cut off from its source; when trying to play smart on its source.” He said to the utter amazement of his only daughter.
Goddamnit! She didn’t want to believe that the man had her followed all these while.
She was gradually getting infuriated. She hated when her father result into using parables with her. It usually came across as boisterous and she disliked the sound of it.
“I’m your source, daughter.”
“No, dad!” Vera cut in. “God is my source. God is your source. God is our source.” Her lips quivered but she spoke on. “You are a channel, you are only a channel through which God brought me into the world, dad. The earlier you understand that, the better for all of us because you would stop monitoring my life and wishing mum and I would live our lives completely as a product of your own decisions and ideas.”
What! Had something come lose in the girl’s head?
Fred Williams couldn’t believe in his wildest dreams that Vera would stand to talk back at him.
“So it’s true you have been following that ex-convict around since he narrowly escaped a much deserved death sentence?”
Vera felt her breaths get heavier. “Point of correction, sir. Caleb is not an ex-convict. He was held in custody over something he was innocent of and I guess, the wrong accusers are still paying for damages.” Her right hand sat comfortably on her waist while her left leg tapped impatiently against the tiled floor.
“Oh. Bravo. Now you are an analyst, right, daughter?” Fred Williams was finding it hard to absorb that he was trading words with his little princess. It didn’t matter if Vera became thirty or forty or even ninety, his little princess she’s always been and would remain so. “You are more precious than this, Vera. Don’t you think so?” His voice was lower now, patronising. “You are royalty. You should have nothing to do with persons like Caleb. Have you forgotten so soon what befell your friend Unekwu?”
“It was a mistake, dad. Angela pushed him against the wall. Angela had a behavioural disorder that everyone misunderstood as feeling of love. But I assure you now that Caleb is a changed man. He really knows…”
“Keep quiet, young lady. I’m talking and you are interrupting me.” Fred Williams thundered so loudly that Vera almost fell backwards from her standing position. “What do you know about a changed man?”
He started approaching Vera with so much venom and the latter moved backwards without hesitation. The closer her father drew, the greater her heart skipped beats in rapid successions. Then she felt herself hit another person. Thankfully, it was her mother. Her father’s yell must have thrown the woman out of the bedroom and hurriedly downstairs to ascertain what the matter was.
“You think I’ll just sit back and watch you rubbish the whole name it’d taken me several years to build? How do you want me to face Pastor Ikani? That my daughter is suddenly in love and going out with a man that jilted his only daughter? How do you even want to face Unekwu, Vera? I thought you were best friends? If you think I’ll let my only daughter stoop that low, losing even the littlest pride left in her, then I guess your brain would require rehabilitation sooner than later.”
“I love Caleb, dad!” Vera’s voice rose initially but broke towards the end of the statement. “Please!”
“I forbid you, Vera.” The man charged towards her but she ran behind her mother. “I forbid any of mine or my bloodline to have anything to do with that ex-convict.”
“Honey, please calm down…” His wife finally found her voice. Her eyes bore sore and palpable fear.
“So this is what you and your daughter have been up to in my absence? Mummy Vera!” He sounded unbelieving to himself.
“Dad, please leave mum out of this. It’s my life and I don’t need you or her to teach me how to lead it.”
Fred Williams’ hand stretched over the shoulder of his wife and found his daughter’s cheek. The slap wasn’t as painful as it sounded out loud but a sharp and loud wail from Vera and she already stormed out through the front door.
“Come back here, Vera.” He called out from his position, yelling at the top of his lungs. But it was late. Vera bolted out and ran the distance from the front of the house to their gate, opened it and stormed out, into her car.
“You see your daughter, woman? Do you see what you have turned her into?” He faced his wife squarely and the woman’s leg quivered for fear.
“Honey, please calm…”
“Shut up, woman! Shut up.” He screamed, shutting her up. “I hope you told her where I am from? She shouldn’t push me beyond my limits. I can denounce and disown her at the same time.” He sounded really threatening and bitter. “Do tell your daughter that!”
Mrs Williams collapsed into the couch nearest to her as her husband thumped his feet hard against the stairs on his way to the bedroom. Her family was tearing apart. Her friendship with the Ikanis would soon go into shreds. She knew this. She had seen it coming. She feared it.
Unfortunately, Vera inherited the stubbornness of her father and she could only imagine how much more destructive this wildfire that just started was going to burn.
Caleb glanced at his watch for the umpteenth time.
“You are making us eat up this food in so much hurry, man. Is it because you chose to sponsor lunch today and we can’t eat in peace and relaxation anymore?” Mr Ken pointed his fork in Caleb’s direction.
Anone chuckled and swallowed the food in his mouth before talking. “Why do I feel this outing is just a bribe, ehn? I hope there’s no poison inside this food even?”
Anone sat up straighter. “Seriously!” He feigned seriousness. “Maybe, Caleb would only be secured after getting me completely off the way!”
“C’mon man!” Caleb cut in, still grinning from ear to ear. “We both know that life is sweeter amidst competitions.”
“Exactly!” Mr Ken wanted to continue his line of thoughts but Anone shut him up.
“Keep quiet there, Igbo man. People are talking about competitions and you dare put your cunning mouth.” Anone jeered on. “We are talking about healthy competitions here, Ken, healthy competitions. And not the one you try to intimidate people’s babes because you are their boss.”
Mr Ken shrugged. “Well, that worked well for you both, didn’t it? You got to trust your women better and at the same time, learnt to stay on top of your game. I mean, any woman that can resist advances from Ken…” he sized himself up with his eyes while talking. “…such a woman is take home to mama, boys”
Anone scoffed. “Thank your God you didn’t touch Vera, I would have…” He swiped his fork across his neck to indicate assassination and the other men laughed.
“Chai! Those girls mehn! Those two girls. They were pain in my neck. I mean, how can two adorable girls of their status be innocent and still be able to say a no to whatever they honestly disagree with? It’s rare.” Mr Ken admitted. “Initially, Caleb was all out hating me; thinking I was confusing his babe but you see now? I didn’t need to confuse your babe for you to get confused.”
Caleb threw a serviette at his face but he dodged it.
“Nerve-less, liver-less friend that we have.” He sneered in Caleb’s direction. “We’ve already talked Anone into leaving Vera alone for you, so you better don’t dull yourself. At least, we are being brothers, right?” He winked. “I remember the day we first saw both of them when you guys dropped by my office and you were all smitten by Vera. You had actually gone to their branch in search of her, but then you performed all your transactions with Unekwu’s assistance, because, as you claimed, Vera, was extremely rude and unwelcoming to you… to everyone actually. I don’t know how she ended up working in our bank. The girl has this repulsive character on first meeting, eziokwu!”
“You no see say I go through her old man?” Anone cut in with little food in his mouth. “I’m sure the girl would never have given me a single audience if I hadn’t taken that step. Some girls can be mean sha!”
Caleb and Ken smiled and the latter continued. “But I must say that Caleb should strongly work on his ‘long-suffering’ skills.” He winked again, seeing the other men were obviously confused. “Yeah. I mean. You easily give up on your pursuit, man.”
“How do you mean?” Caleb couldn’t help asking.
“For example; you originally went after Vera. Just when her first impression and attitude turned you off, the next available person became Unekwu. Simply because Unekwu was being professionally ethical and you thought she was the better option. Several months later, when Unekwu’s job became all demanding, no thanks to me too…” he smiled quickly and continued. “You thought Angela as a better option.” Caleb took in a deep breath. “I may be wrong, bro. Forget that we are players…” he glanced in Anone’s direction.
“I get long-suffering, my brother. Overdose of Long-suffering sef. No think am!” Anone defended. “Being on Vera’s case in the past month is the real dictionary definition of long-suffering. I exhausted all tactics to win her heart, mehn. The funny and annoying part is when I call her sweet names and she responds with, ‘Mr Anone’. Jeez!” He let his fork drop suddenly. “That thing kills me.”
Mr Ken smiled and turned to face Caleb. “But on a more serious note, bro, I think we wouldn’t have gone through all these mess if you had stayed focused and glued in pursuing who your heart went out for in the first instance. No matter what; no matter the first impression, Vera would have still eventually come around. Remember, no one can resist love forever.”
“Well, I think ‘que sera, sera’ is the case here now.” Anone cut in, bringing everyone’s attention to his side of the table. Only his plate was near cleared. “Because as fate would have it, the merry-go has gone round and round and here we are discussing Caleb and Vera again.”
Caleb swallowed the words deep in. Things have actually gone round and as the saying goes, destiny can only be delayed, it cannot be denied.
“Thanks, mehn!” He put his palm on Anone’s, bearing a sincere look of gratitude.
Anone shook his head. “I was beginning to get too attached with that fine curvy girl though, but what are friends for? You obviously love her since way back where mine is just trying to develop. She never even gave opportunity for my own affections towards her to thrive anyway.” He admitted sadly. “I still don’t get it though, Caleb. How were you planning on getting married to Unekwu when your heart was still with Vera and your body with Angela?”
Caleb took in a very deep breath and held it.
Mr Ken placed concerned eyes from one person to the other. The atmosphere in the restaurant was getting stuffy and thick with unyielding emotions
“Guys, guys, guys, we are not women to be showing heavy emotions na.” He formed the edge of his lips into a slight smile. “How about we focus on what lies ahead of us?” Their looks carried questions all of a sudden. “Yes. Like… ehm… like Unekwu. Where and how is she at the moment? How is she going to take it with Vera? Is she not going to feel betrayed by her bosom friend?”
“She’s been discharged from the hospital.” Caleb responded quickly. “I learnt about this from the nurse that’d been in charge of her while at the hospital. We were quite familiar then. Right now, I feel I owe Unekwu some explanations and maybe, confessions but I don’t know where else to see her. I can’t go to Pastor Festus’ house. The clergy man will just kill me.”
Mr Ken looked carefully at his friend’s helplessness.
“You will be fine, buddy.” He patted Caleb tenderly. “I have a plan…”
Both eyes fell on Mr Ken reflexively as though planned and he opened his mouth to spill the words when the ringing on Caleb’s phone interrupted them. Caleb quickly reached for his phone and glanced at the screen.
The whole scenario reminded Eneojo of his younger days, when the entire family were forced to watch a live or repeat broadcast of various church services. His father’s favourite would be ‘Redemption way’ because him and his big sister, Unekwu, would always pinch themselves whenever the familiar statement, ‘Let somebody shout Hallelujah’ came out. It could only be one person – Pastor E. A. Adeboye – their father’s mentor and spiritual father. Pastor Ikani could literally stay glued to that particular channel for several hours nonstop, which was not a problem. Right! Their only problem, as kids then, was why everyone would be compelled to watch it alongside daddy.
“You have to learn to develop interest solely on God’s word much more than anything else, much more than African Magic.” Daddy would tell them. And inasmuch as they would both sleep off less than quarter an hour after the message began, their father was just weirdly satisfied with having them all in the sitting room during message broadcast.
The difference between then and now was that, first, daddy would be the one to summon everyone by force by fire to the sitting room, but he had come here on his own volition. Secondly, daddy would make sure everyone carried a pen and jotter and must concentrate on the screen, but he had been on his MacBook in the hour since he sat on the couch and no one said anything to him. Indeed, being grown up is a great achievement.
The thoughts made him smile.
“Yes sir!” Pastor Festus screamed out. “You got that also, right?”
Eneojo quickly sat up. Did the preacher crack a joke coincidental to the time he smiled and his father may mistake him to be all attentive?
“Oh! I…” He didn’t know what response to give but then, his father’s eyes had gone back to the large TV screen. The man was catching so much understanding and scribbling it down on his jotter that it didn’t matter if his son was following or not.
“Sunshine…” Ajifa came to sit beside her husband after joining them in the sitting room from Unekwu’s room and gave him a peck. “Enes, my boy!” she waved in the younger man’s direction and he responded with a grin.
That was all she said, because she was aware of the importance of keeping quiet whenever her husband was listening to his mentor on TV but the vibrating sound from Eneojo’s iPhone drew her attention to him.
Eneojo glanced at the callers ID, picked his phone up and got up.
“Sit down there and answer the call!” Ajifa called out, sounding really serious.
Eneojo wanted to argue but he remembered his father’s presence.
“Hey.” He said calmly, adjusting his Miniso Bluetooth device. He noticed his mother’s eyes all over him and wished he could just disappear from the tight position she had just placed him. “Yeah. Why?” he paused to listen. “No. All is fine. Well, six months is far. But it’s fine.” He answered in monosyllabic like this, giving a brief pause in-between to listen to whatever the person on the other side of the phone was saying. “Listen, can I talk to you later, please?” he glanced in his mother’s direction and her gaze was firmly fixed on him. “No. Not to worry. I’ll call.” He talked more slowly for another few seconds before ending the call. Eneojo held the phone against his chest, hoping and praying earnestly that his mother would just disappoint and not meet his expectation for once.
“You should have at least said your parents wanted to say Hi, right?”
Oh no! This woman never disappoints.
He noticed the preacher was at the ending part of preaching where he would call people out to give their lives to Jesus and his father had already lowered the volume of the speaker a bit just so he could pay attention to whatever his wife was saying over his head.
“Who are we greeting, please?” the clergy man asked, looking clearly confused.
“Well, sunshine, your son is about making us in-laws to Italy!”
Eneojo didn’t know how to feel about this in his heart. This woman! Right from childhood; she has this reputation of spoiling one’s package, at least that’s how him and Unekwu described it. One would tell her something in confidence and she would wait till a full family gathering to let the cat out of the bag. When he told her about Estelle that day at the hospital, she didn’t say anything other than breath hard. That’s what Ajifa would reflexively do whenever she felt pressured to accept what isn’t so right with her.
It took her another two weeks to say anything in that line and that day, she was so kind with her words to the uttermost surprise of her son. She had said something about learning from Unekwu’s situation that people should learn to love the life they live and live the life they love. She made Eneojo call Estelle and spoke to her over the phone too. They’d agreed that Estelle would come over for summer holiday and that’s the time they would relate anything to daddy, because daddy was daddy!
Why the woman was now putting up this show in front of same daddy right now beats his imagination.
“Italy!” the clergy man sounded alarmed and shocked. Ajifa looked convinced and he swallowed when he saw her face. “Well, I trust Eneojo to make the right and godly decision.”
Eneojo felt like ice was poured on his head at his father’s statement.
“You already know I’m proud of all the achievements you have made academically at this young age. Adding marital achievement to it anytime from now would be a thing of pride in the heart of your father, son.”
Eneojo smiled, as though careful not to over-smile. “Thanks dad.”
“God bless you, my son!” he called out, stretching his hand towards him from his position.
Eneojo briskly shut and opened his eyes. “Amen, dad. Amen!” he smiled sincerely. His joy knew no bounds; the geographical boundaries concerning his relationship life had been broken – confirmed broken by his father, their daddy. He turned to see his mother smiling, with the ‘I-told-you-everything-would-work-out-fine’ look and he took in a peaceful deep breath.
Caleb drove the relative long distance from the gate to the car park just beside the front of the house. It was a house quite alright but much bigger than that, it was a mansion – his newly inherited mansion. How one’s life can turn drastically in split seconds became his story when Angela’s family lawyer read out the will to him and aunty Flora.
Angela’s late father had a mansion. A home they’d lived in before the fatal air crash that claimed everyone’s, except Angela’s, life. It was built in the serene urban part of Lokogoma phase 2, right in the heart of Lokoja city but after her parents and siblings’ death and Angela had to stay with her aunty in the U.S, the house was left at the mercy of wall geckos, termites and rodents. In fact, Angela couldn’t bring herself to living in the house when she finally relocated back to Nigeria and didn’t even do as much as visit the place. If she had, at any point, Caleb would have known somehow that there was a place like that.
Also, there was an account belonging to Angela’s father with millions of naira originally willed to Angela and her siblings and funnily enough, Angela’s future husband. Aunty Flora stated clearly that everything now would be handed over to Caleb – every single damn thing with the Okpe’s family name on it. That would include Angela’s states of the art Arts centre.
Before Caleb could die of pleasant shock, the lawyer announced that Hon Daniel Okpe founded the prestigious Dynamic Group of schools and had managed it as a silent proprietor up until his death. The school was still thriving and would yet thrive better now that Caleb gladly inherited proprietorship.
Caleb could remember dropping to the tiled floor in that lounge in the government house and shedding tears of mixed feelings after all these announcements and information were read out. He couldn’t curtail the emotions streaming in his heart. Everything felt like a dream. Aunty Flora said she had asked the lawyer to come over immediately as she would want to tie everything up and leave the country as soon as possible, because the memories of her brother’s entire late family haunted her with every breath she took in Nigeria. She specially solicited that the arts centre be named after her niece as a way to immortalise her and worthy structures be erected in Dynamic Group of Schools and be named after her brother and his wife because that had always been Angela’s wish.
It had taken Caleb less than a week to bring back the life and glow in the dilapidated Okpe’s mansion. Many thanks also to the state governor who singlehandedly handled the renovation, as his way of saying sorry for damages caused. Caleb had arrived at the school last week Monday to the expectant, cheerful and warm welcome of staff and students. He had never felt celebrated that much in his entire life. His passion for teaching hadn’t gone away but with his elevated position as proprietor of the highest rated private school in the state, he had to submerge the urge to teach, at least for now.
He had become so money loaded, including money gotten from sales of Angela’s expensive house in the most luxurious estate in town, alongside properties, that he opted to buy another befitting home for his parents. They didn’t agree though. They had their reasons and he understood with them. Aunty Flora wasn’t as much interested in touching any single dime in the inheritance. She had been sure to follow up until all papers and documents were correctly handed over to Caleb before flying back to the states.
As Caleb reached for the doorknob, he couldn’t believe it’s still the same hopeless life from over two weeks ago that had drastically taken a new leave.
“You sounded urgent on the phone, babe!” He reached out for Vera who was sitting on the large couch, crying. She had been around him more often than not and had her keys to the building as well as his office in the school. He grabbed her shivering body and curled her into a warm embrace, placing soft kisses on her forehead.
“Dad?” He asked, stroking her hair.
“Caleb, they won’t understand that I love you! No one would understand.” She sounded weak, defeated and Caleb felt her pain sting his throat. “Dad forbids me to see you again. He slapped me, Caleb. For the first time in my life, my father slapped me.” She pulled out a little enough to see his face.
The truth was something he recognised as he stared into her teary eyes, wiping a lone tear away with his right thumb. Vera could take the breath from anyone with eyes.
“I know this is strange, Caleb. It’s strange to feel this strong about you; to feel this convinced and settled about you, Caleb. Maybe this thing called Love itself is mysterious. Maybe, it’s always beyond our comprehension as humans. I look at you and see the rest of my life in front of me. But how long can my… our convictions carry us?” More tears gushed down her face and it made Caleb sick to his stomach. “How can I face Unekwu and her family, knowing my feelings had made me betray them? How am I to face the press, the society, my parents and colleagues at work? … how am I supposed to face…”
“You, Vera.” Caleb cut in, shutting her up. “How… how long are you going to face you, face the woman in the mirror and deny her of exactly what she wants, who she wants especially knowing that he needs her like the lungs need air.” His voice was breathy.
Confusion added to the fine lines on Vera’s face.
“Can’t you see it, Vera?” for a long moment, he searched beyond her eyes. “Can’t you now see why it hadn’t worked with anyone else? I would have been married to another, but Angela set confusion in my mind.” He held her right hand. “I would have been dead as a consequence of all the confusion set. I would have been cheaply sentenced to death if not for that timely video, by an unexpected 10year old.”
Vera gave him the ‘where-are-you-driving-at?’ look and he understood.
“I know I’ve caused Unekwu, Angela and their both families so much pain and if I could, I will turn back the time. Can’t you see life disrupting and reshaping everything to bring us back together to the spot… the same spot where we are meant to be? This is destiny, Vera. That’s what love is. Love always brings you back to destiny. Love is destiny. Love is composed of a single soul inheriting two bodies.”
“I don’t know, Caleb. Even when it looked as though you would die the next morning, I was still convinced about you. I tried to deny all of it, but I couldn’t cope.” She swallowed painfully. “I love you not for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you.”
Caleb leaned over and pecked her forehead. “If you live to be a 100, babe, I want to live to be a 100 minus one day, so I never have to live without you ever again.”
Vera stared back at him as though he had bugs crawling out of his ears. “It’s not your responsibility to fulfil every incomplete story of mine, Caleb!”
“Please!” He got down on his knees, placing his palms on her laps.
Vera blinked reality into her love-stricken skull. “No, Caleb. I’m not your first choice neither am I your best choice.”
“But you are my only choice.” Caleb admitted. “You have become my only choice, now, Vera, forever and a day more.”
Vera’s eyes were so glazed it could have flavoured a dozen doughnuts. “Please. Please. If you ask again, I’ll say ‘Yes’. I will step on so many toes in my own view. I want to live at peace with everyone.”
As though her words were something else, igniting a fire concurrently in their souls, they both broke out into long painful wails with tears flooding down their faces like a mighty gushing stream.
LOVE DOESN’T CONSIST OF GAZING AT EACH OTHER, BUT IN LOOKING TOGETHER IN THE SAME DIRECTION.
To be continued.