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“Why are you dressed like Santa Claus?”
Deola looked at her elder sister as she got down from her car, a frown on her face.
“Good evening sis, I’m doing well thank you and it’s great to see you too.”
“See this pikin o. Who has time for your sarcasm? Why are you dressed like Santa Claus? What’s with the red dress and white jacket?”
Deola shook her head. Teni was too much to handle.
“It’s Valentine’s day. I don’t look like Santa Claus, I’m just dressed for the occasion. Why are you dressed like you’re attending a funeral?”
Teni laughed in spite of herself. She’d worn an ugly black dress to work just because and she’d been amused by the comments she got.
“Come here jor.”
She pulled her sister close and hugged her tight.
“It’s great to see you but really, you should call next time before showing up.”
“I’m sorry. I really did want to surprise you.”
“Surprise me ke? Abi you should be surprising your husband.”
“We had to postpone our own vals to next weekend because of the meeting so I decided to surprise you instead.”
Teni unlocked the door and they walked in.
“You people and this your mumu fussing over valentine sef. You should have seen my office today. Lord! I wanted to die!”
Deola laughed as she set her bag down.
“You’ll never change. See me really hoping that you got a date for tonight.”
Teni hissed. No be only.
“Actually, I was gonna have a date with my bottles till you showed up.”
Deola laughed at the look of mock disappointment on her sister’s face. Teni walked out and returned a few seconds later with her bottles in tow.
“You really should stop drinking. It’s not healthy.”
“Mama, don’t lecture me o. I’m only drinking for the occasion na. Shebi everyone is doing something for the occasion.”
Deola shook her head.
“I brought something for you.”
She opened her travel bag and brought out a lovely cake decked in red and white ribbons. On it was written “Happy Vals day to le awesome sis.”
Teni looked at the cake uncertain how to react.
“Okay, this is just weird. You know I hate Valentine’s day, then you go and get me a cake-“
“You don’t need to get all mushy or cranky. You’re just an extremist. Sit on the fence for once in your life and just say ‘thanks, I appreciate the gesture.’ Kilode na?”
They laughed together and settled in different couches. Teni asked about Deola’s meeting and they proceeded to have a lengthy conversation. Deola talked about her work, her husband and the children with Teni listening keenly yet thinking about how to tell her sister what she had made up her mind to do. Thirty minutes into the conversation, Teni opened the red wine and the American Honey and proceeded to mix both with the Smirnoff ice in the right proportions in two glasses. Satisfied with the taste eventually, she added some ice and handed a glass to her sister and kept one to herself. It was going to be a long night and she was only getting prepared for it.
Bobby woke up Saturday morning and proceeded to get ready for the funeral. His outfit was pretty simple; black t-shirt on black jeans and a black blazer. The weather was hot but he could endure it for a few hours. He packed his bags and double checked that he carried the tickets for Ese and himself and proceeded to leave the hotel.
He got to the church a little late and managed to find a seat three rows behind Ese. She was seated with her mother and twin little girls. His heart went out to her. He knew it was only a matter of time before she crumbled. He really needed to talk to her.
He looked around him. The church was ancient. He wondered how many years ago it was built. He sighed. He hadn’t been to church in a long time. With all the fake propagators of divergent gospels, he’d all but given up on religion. He was just drifting these days. He listened absentmindedly to the preacher and when the service was over, he made his way to Ese’s side and squeezed her hand. Ese smiled and withdrew hers seconds later. She could see all of Gabe’s relatives watching her like a hawk.
The place was crawling with police men like Josh had promised and she had heard all the whispers. She couldn’t even lie to herself and say she wasn’t afraid. She walked side by side with her mum and daughters and made her way to the car. The driver headed to the burial site and she reached into her bag for her small brown leather Bible. She hugged the Bible close to her chest and looked outside the glass.
“Jesus, be a fence all around me every day. Jesus I want you to protect me as I travel along the way…”
Her phone vibrated beside her and she stopped singing and picked it up.
I’m going to be here all through. Just look behind you at any time and you will see me.
She smiled as she read Bobby’s text. Maybe she could talk to him after all. But she would wait till they were safely back in Abuja. The car stopped and she got out with her mother and walked towards the grave where Gabe’s remains would be laid to rest. She felt her knees weaken and her lips quivered. It was going to be over in a matter of minutes. She had to admit, as much as he had made her life miserable the last few years, she would greatly miss his presence; the idea of just knowing that he was somewhere around. They’d had their worst moments but they’d had a few good ones too. The thoughts of the few happy memories brought tears to her eyes as she stood by the unearthed sand beside his grave. It was all too overwhelming. She forced the tears and thoughts back and looked around at the fast increasing crowd scouting for Bobby. Her eyes found him eventually. He wasn’t as close as she would have wanted but it was still alright. He smiled at her, silently assuring her that it would soon be over and she smiled back.
She listened to the preacher say a few words and as the coffin was lowered into the grave, she felt a sharp pain stab her heart and she turned away abruptly. That was Gabe, her husband of five years and her companion of six. He was gone. Ese felt a wave of dizziness sweep over her and her knees wobbled. Her mother burst into tears and in a matter of seconds, loud wailing broke out all around her. With all the energy she could muster, she dredged up the last bits of self will and turned to face the grave. She picked some dirt in her shaky hand, threw it over the coffin and helped her daughters do same. Gabe’s mother was wailing and raining curses on her but she didn’t care. She turned around and began to make her way away from the graveside. She would not stay and watch them fill up the grave. Her mother continued sobbing as she walked behind her. Her daughters who could not understand why everyone was crying around them clung to her and joined in the crying. It was all too much. She sought Bobby in the crowd and nodded to him. Bobby quickly began to work his way towards her.
What happened next, Ese would never be able to fathom. There were policemen around alright and her weeping mother walked closely behind her but somehow, two young men managed to yank her daughters off, grab her and begin to run. She yelled and kicked but they wouldn’t budge. Pandemonium broke out all around and the police men started shooting and everyone began to run. She was pretty slender and lightweight and one of her assailants who was much bigger than she was swung her easily over his shoulder and continued running. Ese had never felt that much fear all her life. The young man who carried her kept running like he was in the Olympics. Her screams and feeble attempts to hit him did not make any difference. She was thrown into the back of a waiting jeep and the driver sped off.
“I’m never getting married because I’m certain I won’t find the man of my dreams. I stopped searching a long time ago.”
Deola looked at her sister like she had gone mad. It was early Saturday morning and they were lying in Teni’s bed. Teni had finished off the red wine and four cans of smiroff ice the previous night. She’d had just the one glass Teni offered her and insisted that she was alright. Teni had fallen asleep while they talked and she managed to get her to her room. She’d woken up with a headache in the morning but seemed somewhat cheery. They resumed their light conversations and out of the blues, Teni dropped the bombshell that she was never getting married. Deola was sure it was some sort of joke. It had to be.
“You’re joking right?”
Teni shook her head.
“If you can’t find the man of your dreams, make do with whoever is available nau. People will start saying you cannot find a husband.”
Teni laughed and shook her head.
“You don’t know what you’re saying. You think I care about people and their unending poke-nosing? I’m yet to find a decent man that would love me unconditionally, respect me and not be a douche bag. And as that’s unlikely to happen, I no dey marry.”
“Aunty, it’s only Jesus that loves unconditionally-“
Teni caught her short.
“Then let me marry Jesus!”
Deola was exasperated.
“Marriage isn’t just about love but compromise and sacrifice too”
“Don’t be silly. I know that but you’re really not getting my point. Compromise and sacrifice on whose part?
You meet a guy and he’s interested in you. He goes all out to woo you. Texts all day, romantic dinners, kind, thoughtful gestures… it’s all fine and dandy in the beginning until you fall. The moment you fall and decide to date him, he stays sweet for a few weeks and gradually turns into the ultimate douche bag. Suddenly you’re the only one doing all the calling. Only you making all the sacrifices and compromises. At that point, he’s conquered you and so he moves on to his next target but he keeps you around because it makes him feel good. You give 100% but you’re lucky to get 30. I’m done getting shafted by men darling. I no do again.”
Deola sat up in the bed like she’d been slapped. It was the first time her sister was sounding this bitter and hurt. Truly there was so much she wasn’t aware of.
“Maybe it’s not how you’re seeing it. You know men love differently than women. A man could love you in his own special way-”
“I don’t want anyone loving me in their own special way. That’s just BS. Love me in a way that I would know I am loved. Love me in a manner that makes me feel loved.”
Deola was not sure what to say. Nothing prepared her for this conversation she was having.
“Look, don’t try to ‘handle’ me. I’m not a kid. I’m your frigging elder sister!”
Deola winced. Since when did Teni start using swear words?
Teni noticed the look in her face and her eyes softened a little bit.
“Excuse my language but for the love of all that is holy, quit treating me like a baby. I’m a grown ass woman and I know what I want. I turn thirty two in a few weeks and I already know that I do not want to get married. I’ve carried enough of men’s baggage to know that none of them is worth it. Marriage isn’t for everyone.”
Deola was close to tears. She was really hurting for her sister.
“But the Bible says it is not good for one to be alone…”
“The Bible said it is not good for ‘MAN’ to be alone and last time I checked, I’m not a man.”
She said it lightly expecting her sister to laugh but she didn’t.
“Dee, honestly, let’s just drop this. Even Paul said it is not compulsory to marry. Shebi Paul was in the Bible too.”
Deola didn’t know what else to say.
“You’ve made up your mind. So that means I won’t have any nieces and nephews from you.”
“Wrong. I’m going to do artificial insemination. I’ll have a kid or two.”
Deola looked at her sister like she’d gone mad.
“Artificial insemination?! What are you thinking?!”
“My life, my business darling.”
“No! Your life, the business of everyone that cares about you-”
“Wait, what’s that sound?”
Deola assumed she was trying to cut her off.
“Don’t do that. There’s no sound.”
“No, for real, keep quiet first.”
Deola kept silent and sure enough, a ringtone floated into their ears.
“Is that your phone?”
Deola shook her head.
“No, that’s not my ringtone.”
Teni was puzzled. She got off the bed and picked her hand bag. The phone went silent but soon started ringing again. She looked into her bag and saw a Samsung S4. It was not her phone. She used an iPhone 5. She was perplexed. How did this phone get into her bag?
“Pick it up nau.”
“It’s not my phone.”
“But it’s in your bag. Pick it up.”
Teni did as she was told and hit the speaker button
The voice was rich and clear. It was a man’s voice.
“Good morning. I believe you have something that belongs to me.”
Teni was confused.
“Two things actually. My phone and my heart. Hi, I am Benjamin Tariye.”