PLEASE MARRY ME – 15

PLEASE MARRY ME – GRACE OCHIGBO

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

AYEGBA

         Honestly, for a long time I was unable to gather my acts together and it was impacting on my training negatively. I kept pondering over mum’s words again and again.

Vee was happy with me. That, I was sure of.

From the way she smiled at me to the puppy-like shyness in her eyes whenever I walked into the room, there was no doubt she felt the same way about me. Severally, I’ve told her ‘I love you so much, Vee’ and she’d responded with ‘I love you so much too, Ayegba’.

So, how could she possibly run after someone else?

Or, what different ‘something’ could whoever came around in my absence have shown her enough to make her trade every single thing we shared?

          These and many more thoughts tortured me day and night. One day, I wake up mad at Vee for everything she was making me go through, the next day, I am mad at mum for ever making it easy for her to even escape at all. I was sure she was behind it. Either ways, I let bitterness overwhelm me. I felt dead inside. My throat constantly felt as if someone was thrusting a handful of itching mites inside. I felt empty in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. It was similar to how I felt the day dad died. Even that was milder. Little wonder, they likened heartbreak to death feeling.

          When we were halfway through August, our commanding officer broke an unexpected news to everyone. We were being deployed to Sambisa forest to face the insurgents.

How so?

It sounded impossible until we saw the official release and the increased rigor in our training. It was then reality dawned on us all.

       Later in the year when we arrived at Sambisa forest, I willed myself to move past my pain at all cost. The sadness was still there, but not raw anymore – it became an empty unhappiness – the kind that never easily lifts. I felt like I could hear a news that’s as bad as the death of my mother and not feel a thing. My surroundings were exactly the same. Everything – sky, ground, building – all the colour of desert dirt. Yet none gave me any emotion. I knew I needed emotions. I needed emotions to feel alive, to feel love.

      I stayed up late into the night every night even when a considerable task laid ahead of us the next morning. I rolled from one side to another holding a secret conversation with the lady called sleep who’d also deserted me like Vee.

         One fateful night, I flopped onto my back and stared at the dark ceiling. Next to me, Mona was snoring. Rumbling like a slow freight train. I forcibly closed my eyes and tried to find that calm place in my mind. The one I needed to find every night before I could fall asleep these days. Mona and I had read the bible that night, the book of Jeremiah chapter one. In it was the verse I thought about often when we were out in the hot danger zones. “Be not afraid of their faces, for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the lord.” Indeed it was only God that was keeping us through each passing day.

         Two more soldiers had died on our second week. Two guys I knew closely. They’d been traveling in a caravan from one location to another when a car loaded with explosives and traveling the opposite direction crossed the middle line and drove straight into them.

My company and I had seen the fireball from a mile away. Suicide bombers. More terrorists. More insurgents.

          A long sigh pressed through my lips. We should have twice as many troops in Sambisa Forest and around every hot spot in the Northeastern part of Nigeria. Additional surveillance equipment should be brought in, and the army and the marines should be given the green light to do whatever it took to get the insurgents. I hated that we seemed often to be sitting ducks, always on the defensive and never making the first move.

But how could we have increased our efforts when some powers that be were not behind us fully, completely?

         I got up and flicked up the light overhead. Sleep was useless. Maybe I’d find some peace if I spent time looking through some of the pictures Vee and I had taken together on my phone. That was the sole reason I sneaked my phone in after all.

        I studied the photo of Vee and I. We were out in the backyard of the house. She was laughing so hard. She was so beautiful. On the outside, yes. But that wasn’t what I saw when I looked into her eyes for the first time. I saw the person she was on the inside, her soul. She’d promised me that she was going to channel all her energy into studying hard while I was away, so she could “be like me when she grew up” she said.

I smiled at the thought. Vee… I ran my thumb over the image of her face. You should never have left me like this. I promised you I was coming back. Didn’t I?

I yawned and swiped my phone’s screen slowly, taking in the light that came from Vee’s eyes, her smile. People think soldiers were young men who had no fears. But that wasn’t true. Every day it was an effort to head out to the forest knowing that something could happen to me, something that would keep me from ever seeing Vee again… if she was still alive.

That was my secret, courage in the face of fear.
I smiled at the last final photo, the selfie we took in my room the night to my departure. The two of us looked about as happy as any couple in the world. We never knew we were hours from saying good-bye… forever.

Twice, Mona had made concerted efforts to steal a glance at whatever it was I stared at on my phone at night. All to no avail.

I yawned again. The elusive calm filled my mind. I tiredly dropped my phone deep down into the pocket of my baggy fatigues instead of deep underneath my box where I usually hid it. And in what felt like five minutes, I heard Mona’s voice in my ear.

“Come on, lazy bone. Get up!” Mona was in his boxers, one leg in his fatigues, one foot trying to find the other leg hole. “We’re late.”

“Late?” I shot up in bed. “What about the alarm?”

“Didn’t go off, I guess. A few guys from down the hall pounded on the door.” Mona jumped a few times in place and pulled his fatigues all the way up. “All I know is we have five minutes before the caravan takes off.”

Five minutes? I groaned. I was up and ready in seconds because I slept in my fatigues. With a minute to spare, we hurried outside and jumped into our spots in the military vehicle – me, behind the wheel as the assigned driver for that mission.

“You guys would have got us in trouble today.” Idris, the guy whose room is next to ours jeered.

“Yeah, well –” Mona was still tucking his pant legs into his boots – “lover boy here kept the lights on all night.”

“Not all night.” I started the engine. Waited until the car in front of me pulled out and then I gave a burst of gas and our vehicle fell into line.

“Girl trouble, huh?” Idris continued. “Forget about her, Ocheme. Distractions are never good.”

“She’s not a distraction.” I mouthed a sarcastic thank-you in Mona’s direction. “I am doing really okay.”

“Right. He can’t fall asleep until he’d counted all the stripes on the ceiling.” Mona elbowed me, his eyes dancing as I steered the vehicle with one hand.

“How sweet.” Idris said. “Did you get briefed on the mission today?”

“Last night, same as everyone else.” I replied, ignoring the way the bumpy road jarred my back.

“We’re checking out another abandoned building, right?” Mona leaned his head against the doorframe and closed his eyes. “if we can stay awake.”

“You better stay awake. Those merciless insurgents don’t hesitate in pulling the trigger on any uniformed man.” I kept my eyes on the road. Ahead of us the caravan of cars was hard to see through the cloud of dust coming up off the road.

The merciless insugents. I let the words roll around in my mind, my soul. We’d done these sort of trips many times. We get a tip that gunfire or bombs had come from so so location, and then we go in kicking down doors and breaking in. Too many times to count. Medics willing to work the frontline were always needed. It was always bloody.

I stifled another yawn and held the steering wheel with both hands. Most of the time out in the field, I didn’t have time to remember Vee or the numbing pain on the left side of my chest from persistent thoughts of her. But that fateful day, we were traveling from one end of Maiduguri to the other. I was driving so most conversations weren’t directed to me. The two and half drive meant plenty of time to think about Vee. I allowed my mind to daydream about the day I would find her and how the drama would play out.

I would ask her one important question immediately, the one I couldn’t wait to ask. I let my mind imagine it all taking place. How I would get a ring, take her down to a waterfront and we’d find a cruise ship. We would go on a private late night sail, and there – right under the blanket of stars and galaxies, – I would ask her to marry me.

I imagined her eyes glazing hot as the dusty wind sweeps against my face. She would hug my neck and tell me yes over and over and over again. And we would talk about churches and flowers and colours and bridesmaids. And the months will pass and we would hold the wedding reception as a private beachside party in the cool of the night.

She would look like an angel in her beautiful white wedding dress and I will stand there, trying to breathe as she made her way down the aisle and –

      The explosion happened so fast I didn’t have time to react. One second I was standing in a church somewhere in Ankpa, dressed to the nines, watching my bride, Vee walk down the aisle towards me, and the next…

Nothing had been louder in all my life. It shook me and mixed with the sound of breaking glass and disintegrating metal. The pain hit then, ripping through me with a heat and intensity that left me dazed. I couldn’t draw a breath, couldn’t feel my legs, couldn’t see anything but deep wet red and muddy brown, and fire and smoke.

Vee!”

I screamed her name because maybe that was part of the dream too. Maybe I’d fallen asleep and the sliver of fear, the one that never quite went away, had magnified a thousand times over and created a hellish nightmare. Yes, that had to be it.
“Vee!”

I shouted her name, but I couldn’t hear myself, couldn’t make the words loud enough to actually be heard. And then, in a rush, the explosion faded, the noise stopped, and I felt myself land hard against the road.

That when I realized what was happening. I wasn’t dreaming. I must’ve hit a roadside bomb. Somehow the cars in front of us missed it, and ours…

Ours had taken the hit.

The hot feeling grew worse with every attempt I made at breathing. And what about my legs? I couldn’t feel them. I opened my eyes, struggled to see a sliver of light. God… no, not now. Please, don’t let me die here. I need to find Vee.

Vee! Again the sound of my own voice wouldn’t quite clear my throat.

“Vee… I am sorry. I never meant for this to happen. I wanted to come find you…

There were feet shuffling near my head, feet and the shouts of voices.

“Ayegba!” It was Mona, I’d know his voice anywhere.

“Mona?” I blinked hard, once, twice, and finally… finally opened my eyes.

My friend was kneeling over me, his uniform and his face were splattered with blood and dirt. And something else. Tears. “Mona… what…” I coughed. Couldn’t catch my breath. “What happened?”

Mona clenched his fists and leaned his head back. “Help! Someone get us help over here! Now!”

“Mona…” My strength was leaving me. The burning feeling was worse, but now it felt like my lungs were filling up, like I was drowning, only there wasn’t any water and my mouth was parched. I held out Mona’s hand. “Talk to me, Mona.”

“Ayegba, hang on, please.” Mona dropped to his knees and took my hand. “They’re coming, okay? Help is coming.”

“What… about my legs?”

“Don’t look, man. Keep your eyes on me, okay?” He looked over his shoulders and the intensity in his scream was frightening. “Hurry! We need help now!”

I turned my head just a little and there were two of the guys in the car with us earlier, their bodies ripped to shreds. A roadside bomb. That must have been it. Those guys were gone. No one was hovering over them, no one looking to help them.

So that meant that I still had a chance, right?

I was alive. Mona was calling for help. But what about my legs? And Mona … what about Mona?”

“Mona, my guy, are you okay?” my eyes were closed again, and I fought to open them. Blood was trickling down the right side of Mona’s face. “You’re injured o, My guy … put … put pressure on that place.”

“No!” Mona sounded panicked. He shook his head hard and lay his entire body across me, across the upper part of my legs just above my knees. “We have to stop the bleeding.” He shouted again. “We need to stop the bleeding. Someone … someone, help!”

I wanted to say something but it felt drugged, like I was in the middle of an intense sleep and nothing – nothing at all – could wake me. I was getting married, wasn’t I? Watching Vee walk down the aisle toward me?

“Stay alive, Ayegba. Hang in there!” Mona was crying now. Mona, the almighty Mona who never took anything very seriously, was crying. “Don’t leave me! Please, Ayegba, don’t leave me!”

“Okay…” I ran my tongue over my lower lip. “Mona… my… guy… pray.”

Mona nodded, his motions quick and jerky, frantic. “God!” He stared up at the sky. “God … help us! Please!”

I gave a slight nod. I wanted to say something more but my mouth wouldn’t work. I couldn’t draw a full breath. The heat pulsing through me was too great.

“Ayegba!” Mona was crying harder. “Remember you have to find your girl, man. Your love. Remember? Don’t quit on me.”

Running feet came up from a couple directions and I could hear other voices.

“Too much blood loss…”

“There’s nothing to save …”

“Get him on a stretcher …”

“He is still breathing … we have to try.”

The words and sentences blended together, but they told me what I already suspected. My legs were probably gone. Mona was lying across me, and that’s all that had kept me from probably bleeding to death. Just like the two soldiers on the other side.

Soon, they were trying to move me but I didn’t want to go. Not until I could talk to Mona. I squinted and black circles rolled around in my vision. I was out of air, out of strength.

“You have to stay alive to find your girl, buddy.” Mona dragged his free hand across his cheeks. His nose was runny, and his tears mixed with the blood on his face. “Remember you mum too. You’re all she’s got.”

I saw my life draining away. I felt dizzy, desperate to close my eyes and get back to my dream, the one where Vee was walking toward me. My beautiful bride. The pain was unbearable, the heaviness and burning and heat that filled my body. Tears streamed down Mona’s face as the stretcher moved but he wasn’t shouting, wasn’t screaming for help anymore.

“I love you, Ayegba. Please don’t go.”

I felt myself smile. Deep inside me, I felt my heart struggle. Beat … beat. Long pause. Another beat. My pulse slowed down and faded.

Vee, please take care of yourself wherever you are for me.

Her face, her deep brown eyes, were the last things I saw.

My thoughts blurred and my eyes closed, and in the flash of an instant, the darkness was filled with a million shining moments.

****

They probably got me to the hospital just before I drew my last breath because that’s how I could have survived such explosion. My survival shocked everyone, including Mona. I stayed in the Intensive Care Unit of the military hospital for nine months and two days. The doctors repeatedly said my recovery was a huge miracle.

Shortly after I was discharged, I was summoned to the appear at the base, where the ‘almighty council’ shall be sitting on my case.
Aside the pain on the posterior part of my left foot, in my opinion, I was fully back. But the council had other plans.

“Ocheme,” the highest ranking officer called out to me. He was struggling to fix his gaze on me or the white paper in his hand.

He started talking and talking and talking. How that judging from antecedents, I’d proven incapable of the rigour of being in the Nigerian army. That the last mission, to them, was a silent last chance to see if I could prove my bravery yet again.
No.

They didn’t plant the roadside bomb.

A reliable source disclosed to them that the insurgents got details of that morning’s trip from one of the officers on patrol. He emphasized that one of the gravest offenses as stated in the armed forces Act was communication with and/or aiding the enemy. He quoted something about part twelve, section forty-five, subsection D of the armed forces act. Or, so I heard.

“… whoever furnishes the enemy with arms or ammunition or with supplies of any description…” he reads on.
They’d found a cell phone in my fatigues. Whatever that means. I wanted to interrupt him. To tell him that I had no contact with no enemy and that my phone being in my fatigues was a terrible mistake on my part. Instead, I let him read to the end.

“…liable on conviction by a court martial, to suffer death…” my heartbeat skipped a million times at the mention of death. “…or any less punishment provided by this act.”

The officer closed the book and held my gaze. His eyes carried immense pity for me. Here was a just wounded-to-the-point-of-death soldier who just returned from almost a year long hospital admission facing the council. He must have imagined how unlucky I was. He cleared his throat and began talking from my acknowledged feats, especially in the first few months, until the drastic withdrawal season. He proceeded to say that my carelessness cost them the lives of fellow soldiers.

 I let him continue nonstop as I listened on. I knew where all those would eventually end.

“Considering all these, we have decided to let you go.” He said finally at the same time with my thoughts.

I watched my world spiral to an end right in front of my very eyes.

Mona walked to the door after I entered the room. He’d heard about the decision of the council before I got out. His father told him. It was because of his father that I wasn’t charged to court or executed in the first place. Mona said he explained everything to his old man – what I used my phone for, that is – but there was a limit to what he could do considering the conditions. I defaulted and must be made to face the wrath of the law, however little.

“Buddy!” Mona called from his position afar off, hanging onto the door frame as though afraid to draw nearer me. “Promise me you’d pick up!” The words sounded hard falling off his lips.

I looked at him with a tightening in my throat and saw tears welling up in his eyes. “I will. And… be good too.” I said as I dragged my bag over the concrete floor.
Outside, the soldiers assigned to escort me led me out of the base, each flanking me in front and behind.

****

         Lagos rightly felt like the next place to go. It’s not called ‘a no man’s land for a reason’. I couldn’t go back to my mother. Aside being mad at her, I didn’t think breaking the news that her son had been expelled from the army would do any good to her emotional state.

        A friend from my university days agreed to accommodate me for two months during which period I planned to get a job and move out. My mind considered a million job options I should take up and nothing quite fitted. Everyday, as I walked the street, I imagined running into Vee.
Funnily enough, one evening, I saw a lady from a distance. She had same body build and walked exactly like my Vee. I immediately left off the apples I was buying and ran across the expressway in a flash to find her. By the time I arrived, she’d walked into Landmark centre, so I dashed in afterwards even when she was out of sight. I scanned through the transparent glass doors of all the shops lined up in front of the auditoriums, ran into the auditorium to meet it empty. I let my shoulder drop in frustration as I trudged back to the door.

“How may we help you?” a lady’s voice startled me from behind.

I turned around to see someone wearing rubber gloves and holding onto a mopping stick. Drawing closer, I saw it’s the same lady that made me run like Michael Bolt even with an injured foot. She wasn’t in the dress she was wearing when I saw her anymore. She’s changed into a not so neat cleaner’s uniform. And… of course, she’s not Vee.

“I… ehm…” I stammered and took few steps backwards. “Never mind!” I said and dashed out of the auditorium in a hurry. Her eyes must have trailed me down the road, thinking I’d gone bananas but I cared less.

I let the cool misty air ushering in the cold night flog my face as I walked on. I had not the slightest idea how long I’d walked so far, I continued anyway, preferring it to joining a danfo. I turned into sharper bends, looking out for a solitary road where I can let myself drown in my thoughts.

How life had shown me pepper within a short unimaginable time.

As I walked on, down the lonely street I’d turned into, I heard some loud voices from a narrow corridor leading somewhere not visible from where I was standing on the left side of the road. Taking calming breaths, I hurry in that direction, my footsteps echoing sharply around the deserted area, sounding overly loud in my own ears, like the booming heartbeat of a condemned prisoner. The smell of smoke, and other substances my nose couldn’t quite place came stronger as I drew nearer.

        When I leaned in to peep, I realized what was going on but it was too late because the supposed leader of the three had seen me. He muttered some threats on how I was going to die there for poke-nosing. It was then I sighted a young man lying helplessly on the dirty floor. His nose filled with a whitish powder and he looked numb and… maybe dead.

        Instinctively, I hurried over to him and tried to raise him to a sitting position but he dropped down my hand, collapsing onto the floor like a sack of sweet potatoes. A part of me feared that the three boys might attempt to beat me up. The other part of me was ready to unleash hell on whoever drew near me. They may just become the dumping ground for all the pain, anger and frustration I’d swallowed in all my life.

“Let’s help him.” I pleaded on seeing breath fade away from the young man’s chest.

The three guys laughed me to scorn as though I’d just hosted a stand up comedy. They drew long hisses, picked up their jackets and bottle of gin and left. I was afraid. The dying young man must have inhaled a dangerous substance, maybe weed. If he dies in my hands, I may be finally charged for murder.

Murder.

Another charge.

Perhaps I should run away. Leave like those guys too. Moreover, I don’t know him neither do I owe him.

I gently let the stranger’s back down, dusted my palms on my jean trousers and walked towards where I came in from.

At the exit, I couldn’t bear to leave so I dashed back in and started searching his body for anything: phone, ID card, any emergency stuff. Unfortunately, the only items there were his car key, three credit cards and a few one thousand naira notes.

I got frantic and at loss for what next to do. Maybe, handpick him and go out in search of help? Again, I affirmed that it shouldn’t be my business but I was under some sort of compulsion to save his life.

           My forearm mistakenly pressed down the car key in his pocket as I struggled to lift him. A loud security alarm sounded loudly outside. I dropped him hastily and hurried over there only to see lights blinking from a car I’d just admired so much a while ago. It was the only one parked on the street, so must be his.
With that, I lifted him into my arms, dropped him at the backseat of his car, asked Google for the direction to the closest health facility around. When my screen popped with all the options, I marched hard on the pedal and swung the car back to the road.

        Thankfully, the doctor in charge of the hospital I found appeared to know the young man’s father. Everyone, actually. The nurses smiled at him knowingly as they set his line. Perhaps, he was a regular there. Drug addict?
Barely half an hour later, a young lady who introduced herself as Shakira, the younger sister to the patient, arrived. She thanked me immensely for my kindness, insisted I gave my number to her because, ‘her father specially demanded for it.’

I was taken aback with the effrontery with which she said it. Like her father was someone whose instructions must be obeyed with fear and trembling.
I simply shrugged and began to walk out. I was halfway out the door when she said.

“Please, sir! My brother would love to thank you in person when he is fully awake.”

Eh en! That made more sense. You can’t bully me to collect my own number.

I gave her the phone number and disappeared from the room in a hurry. At the gate, I ordered a cab which arrived almost immediately. In a few minutes, I was on my way to the distant part of town where I had only a few more days to be accommodated.

****

My thoughts while growing up were that jobs grew on trees in Lagos and the only hard part of it all was to arrive the city first and foremost. But haven spent six months jobhunting in vain, I affirmed the popular saying that ‘the hustle is real’. The laminated copies of my documents were already getting worn out at the edges from excessive exposure to sun and sweat.

In no time, I got really frustrated with the entire thing that one particular day I decided I might have to shamelessly just return home after all. Whatever it would take to face my mother, I was ready. That was the day I got a call on my phone. It was from a strange number. I wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone but when the phone wouldn’t stop ringing, I slid the receive button.

“Hey!!!” an excited tone called out from the other side of the phone. “You remember me? Shakira?”

I rolled my eyes. Like how in the world was I supposed to remember her though?

“Hi Shakira. How’s your brother’s health now?”

“He’s totally fine now. Many thanks to you…” She started her series of appreciation all over again and I just listened on, not stopping her.

“You are welcome.” I said calmly when she was done.

She proceeded to tell me about her brother’s intention to meet me up and how he’d been calling me all morning, yet no response. My eyeballs popped out. I removed the phone from my ear a bit to see the screen. Only then did I notice the call from the number I picked up was different from the one calling since.

“Okay. He can call right back.” I said and she thanked me before the call went dead.

Expectedly, Shakira’s brother called me almost immediately. Judging from his voice, he sounded totally fine and okay. Said he wanted us to meet in person. I hesitated but he soon overpowered my hesitation and he even offered to come pick me from wherever I was in Lagos.

        We drove into the intercontinental hotel where he’d booked a table in the private lounge just for the two of us. That was my first real meeting with Luke, considering the fact that he was unconscious the first time, but in a few minutes, we were already talking, giggling and laughing out loud like old friends.
His father, Chief Adedokun Makanjuola was the incumbent senator representing Lagos central senatorial district. He had his first degree in business administration at the University of South Wales, and thereafter went to Harvard business school but had to drop out because of consistent poor grades. He said his father was beyond displeased with him and the last event had made the older man threaten to seize every single privilege he’s enjoying if he wouldn’t get responsible.

“Can you imagine? If my father has money, is that not my money? Since when did my father’s money stop being my money?” he angled his eyebrows but I was too stunned to respond.

So much wasted potentials and opportunity and privilege. That was all I saw in the young man that ranted in front of me.

“Just last night, he froze all my credit cards.” Luke announced and my blood pressure rose up. Hopefully, the both of us would not be made to do ditches when we’re unable to pay.
As though he heard me, he smiled.

“Don’t worry. Not really all of them. We all have that savings account our parents must never know about, huh?”

I blinked. That’s fallacy of generalization, I guess.

“So back to my story. He froze the accounts and said to not let me in on any privileges until I come up with a business plan. How ridiculous?”

“Then come up with a business plan, man.” I said matter-of-factly. Or, was he expecting me to support him ab initio?

He furrowed his forehead. “Business plan on what? A brewery, a hotel, or a bar? What sort of business does chief want me, the only Luke Makanjuola, the hottest Lagos big boy to do?”

I hesitated for a moment. “Let’s begin with your passions. What are you passionate about?”

“Ehm!” he gives me a questioning look and I urge him to speak on. “Women.” My eyeballs popped out but he wasn’t even done yet. “Women … sleeping … sleeping with women.”

That he still had a coy smile on his face while spilling nonsense from his mouth made me feel like stabbing him but I kept my calm.

“Now, you see all your passions are difficult to monetize.”

He burst into a loud thundering laughter, racking the table between us. After a minute, I joined in the laughter. When he finally caught his breath, he faced me squarely.

“Tell me about you. What do you do? What did you study? Where do you work?”

The questions were rather too much for me but I decided to start from somewhere, conscious to avoid the part of my life where I ever enlisted in the Nigerian army.

“Well, I studied Real estate management from the prestigious university of Benin…” he looked at me as though expecting more, like a long list or so. I saw the disappointment in his eyes when I shrugged at him, indicating that I was done.

“Ever considered starting a real estate company here in Lagos? Hear they make mad money.”

Well, the idea never popped in my brain. Largely because of funding but now that Chief Makanjuola’s son said it, who was I?

Our next two meetings bordered around my real estate company business plans. I tried to run everything by Luke but he wasn’t quite interested. All he wanted to talk about were women. Hot sexy women, he called them. He wanted us to skip to the part where I would be finally ready to meet his father. The older man had been looking forward to meeting me anyway. Luke convinced me to convince his father that we drew the business plan together and planned to run the company as partners if he gave us enough capital.

No doubt, chief was blown away by the beautiful business plan. He had his doubts about my claim of drafting it together with Luke and those doubts were confirmed when he asked Luke a question from the second page of the proposal document and the latter didn’t know what to say. Luke felt very embarrassed as his father laughed him to scorn.

“Boboyi, o tì dàgbà diè.” The man told him in Yoruba that he wasn’t getting any younger and he must learn to make his own money.

Chief asked me to move with Luke into one of his many luxury apartments on the Lagos Island. According to him, he needed me around to keep an eye on his boy. Luke was only two months younger than me but his thinking prowess was more or less that of a toddler. Forgive me.

For obvious reasons, chief saw to our business booming in its first few years. He introduced us to the 1% of the 1% of Lagos. Overtime, Luke got his acts together and brought in his A-game into the business. Our combined professional skill set – real estate management and business administration – moved our company to become the number two real estate firm in Lagos within just two years of establishment.

         Life slowly moved from the miry ground to wining and dining with multinationals, including top government officials of countries looking to set up or own structures in Nigeria. Chief was our plug to so many mouth-watering contracts and the most amazing part being that, he wasn’t interested in any cut. He was simply fulfilled realizing that his son was finally maximizing his potentials and much more so grateful to me for being a lifesaver and more. And although, it’s no written code, Shakira, Chief’s only beautiful daughter, would be the family’s show of appreciation to me for all my contribution to the life of their only son.

****

Vee is in Lagos today. In fact, her conference centre is just three buildings down my street. I know this shouldn’t be the only thing on my mind considering the backlog of work I still have to sort, but it is. I snagged one of the agenda for the event she’s attending so I could keep my schedule clear. I’ve cancelled two appointments already. One with Lagos state internal revenue looking to partner with us on two ongoing developmental projects, and the other with Shakira.
Yeah.

Shakira.

It didn’t go well with her. She demanded in a high pitched screech, that I was to tell her what happened while I was gone. Why I have changed so drastically. I’ve told her repeatedly that no one is pregnant for me but she’s not buying it. The way she’s obsessed about pregnancy is starting to scare me.

I wanted to meet Vee at the car park, but didn’t dare ask when she was due to arrive. I am trying so hard to keep my cool even when I am tempted to take the rest of the day off, visit the conference centre and see if I can find her. We are having lunch at the White Orchid Hotel in two hours. She’s having a two-hour break then and I intend to make the most of it. My phone buzzes and begins to ring. It’s the hotel manager.

“Mr. Ocheme, calling to confirm your reservation, sir.”

I couldn’t stop my smiles. “Be serious, Idowu.” The manager is our friend, Luke and I. How he conveniently sound professional on days like this still beats my imagination.

“I am serious, Ayegba. Going through your reservation list, this our guest must be really special.” He says and waits, as if it’s a question demanding an urgent response.

“Well, Idowu, it’s just a meeting.”

“This is some fancy and romantic lunch for just a meeting, my friend.”

“It’s her first time in Lagos. I need her to have a feel of the exotic life here.” I lie through my teeth. But technically speaking, it’s not a lie though.

“I hear that, Mr. Ocheme.” Not again, I groan. “Well, as a VVIP guest, the manager himself has to call you.”

We burst into loud bouts of laughter and chit-chat for a minute before the call goes off.

A soft knock sends me almost running to the door, but I hesitate.

“Come right in.”

Luke walks in like a tired elephant who just devoured his wife.

“What’s up, man? You’ve been evasive since you returned, you know?” he takes off the lone button on his designer blazer and takes his seat.

I smile nervously. Hopefully this conversation is not about Shakira.

As I make to respond, there’s a beep on my phone and I pick it up.

Done with morning session in forty minutes. See you soon.

Like someone being summoned from the underworld, I jump to my feet immediately, pick up my tuxedo and wear it over the long sleeve I’ve been wearing.

“Wait… did you hear me at all?” Luke asks, dragging my attention from fitting my cuffs properly. “And… where are you going?”

I drag in a deep breath. “Victory is in town.”

Luke’s eyes glaze so much it can flavor a dozen doughnut. “Victory? Like Victory?” He picks a copy of the company’s letterhead from the table, pointing to it. “Victory Victory?”

I nod in the affirmative.

Amazement fills Luke’s eyes as they are announcing to me that I owe him full details of this gist.

“Wish me luck, man.” I say, rubbing my sweaty palms against my white handkerchief.

“Please be a good boy, like daddy. Don’t take her to your house o.”

“Will you shut that hole in your face?” I say jokingly before hurrying out.

TO BE CONTINUED

TODAY’S POP

  • What’s your perspective of story so far?
  • Do you think Ayegba can break free from Shakira without a war?
  • Please say a word of prayer for every frontline soldier out there. These guys risk a lot just to safeguard lives and properties. Also, observe a minute silence for all the fallen heroes in the country’s fight against insurgents since 2013. God will keep their families safe in Jesus name.

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About Grace Ochigbo

Grace Ochigbo
Grace Ochigbo is a Christian, storyteller, inspirational speaker and the Founder of Gemstone Sickle Cell Aid Team, a non-profit organizations working to end Sickle Cell Disease. email; ochigbogracious0@gmail.com

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