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“Dearest, sorry I did not get to reply your mail earlier. I had series of meetings in Abuja with the president and it’s been really hectic. Unfortunately, I will not be able to offer Khalid a job as you requested. You know how politics gets complicated sometimes. The best I can do is welcome him to carry out whatever projects you have in mind on contract basis. I’ll be in South Africa by Sunday night. I should return in two weeks. Make arrangements for us to have a special dinner somewhere nice with your mum and whichever of your siblings is in town when I return. Love always, Dad.”
Ella read the mail twice. She was on her way to the airport that Friday afternoon when it came in. She had been so certain he would oblige her. What did he mean by complicated sef? Mtscheeew.
Suddenly she did not feel interested in pursuing Khalid anymore. The venture was looking more stressful than it would be rewarding and just like that, she changed her mind. She pinged a friend instead. What she really needed was a distraction. The summit had been enlightening but it had been no fun. And Khalid! The clown had to flaunt his fiancé in her face at the gala nite. She hissed again.
Babe. I’m on my way back to Naija. Where you dey?
-Hey princess, I’m in Lagos o. Trying to get my groove although I think I’ll go to Dubai on Sunday
-Really? Sounds good. This week has been crazy. I need to chill.
Things didn’t work out with Le Prince Charming?
-Naah. I’ve given up on him. Need another distraction.
Want to come along then? We could spend the week together and catch all the fun we want. Shop, swim, laze around all day…
-LOL. That’s exactly what I need right now. Help me book the flight, I’ll sort you out when I come in. I’m flying to Abuja. I’ll take the last flight out to Lagos tonight.
– 😀 ok babes. Travel safe and keep me updated.
She replied that she would and slipped her phone back into her bag. Cynthia was one of the few close friends she had; the one who checked her excesses most times and the one person she could always be honest with. Cynthia had been against her decision to pressure her father into sponsoring Khalid for the summit but she did not listen. Stubborn lady that she was, she hardly ever listened. Oh well, that phase was over. Unto the next.
“Hi Dr. Olivia, I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch. I trust all is well with you. Please I need to speak with you as soon as possible. I’m getting married in a few months and the panic attacks seem to be returning. My fiancé is amazing and I feel like I do not deserve her. I did not tell her about the incident from many years ago because I’m certain she will not be able to handle it. I’ve tried your number severally but can’t get through. Please send me a number I can reach you on. Cheers. Khalid”
Khalid hit the send button and relaxed in the car. The cab driver had dropped Aisha home first before heading to his place in Maitama. He’d had yet another attack at the airport when they ran into one of Aisha’s friends. Aisha had introduced him as her fiancé, stressing that they were getting married in a few months. The way the guy looked him over made him nervous and the voices came flooding in. He excused himself and rushed off to get a bottle of water. If Aisha thought his behaviour weird, she said nothing about it.
He sighed. She was so proud of him, so excited to show him off, he did not know how to handle it. All she could talk about on the flight back was how to go about preparations for their wedding; creating a page on Facebook for the event, renting a hall, the dresses, cake, music, everything. With each plan she brought up, he could feel the world caving in on him, suffocating him and making it difficult for him to breathe. He requested for water several times and she finally gave it a rest when she noticed he did not quite share in her excitement. He promised to come see her mother on Saturday after he had rested so they could discuss, agree on a date and commence planning.
Khalid’s father had been a Muslim before he died and his mother, a Christian, had not bothered re-marrying. Every time he spoke with his mum about her marriage to his father, it was always with mixed feelings. His father had been a wonderful man and he regretted that they had not spent so much time together. Life was not fair at all. A director in Ministry of Finance, he had died when Khalid was just six years old. His mum would always insist that their seven years as a married couple were the best of her life. It had been a difficult union to happen. His father was Muslim, his mother Christian, but it had happened all the same. Both families ostracized them and after his father’s death, the amount of persecution that followed his mum was most unbearable. He grew up without any ties to his extended families because his mother ensured that none of them came close to him; especially her family. They had tried to re-connect with them after his father’s death but his mother refused. They relocated from Kano to Port Harcourt and life went on okay.
Khalid and his mother bonded pretty well. He was an only child but she did not raise him to be overly dependent on her so he turned out alright. By the time he finished his NYSC and launched out as a young economist trying to right the wrongs in Nigeria, she could not have been any prouder. She shuttled between countries in Africa, running shelters for abused women and catering to the needs of homeless children. He made sure he called her every week and once a month, she came into Nigeria to spend a weekend with him and catch up. She met Aisha on one of such visits and they got along well. His mum was excited by the fact that she was from Southern Kaduna like herself and she asked after her often. He needed to call her and talk to her about the wedding. She had not been able to come last month but was due back in two weeks. He looked forward to seeing her.
His mum did not know about Seye’s death until she came to attend his graduation and met Dr. Olivia. She did not judge him but she certainly did not exonerate him either. He got series of lectures on the importance of making the right decisions for a long time after that but he did not mind. It felt a little price to pay for Seye’s death.
He sighed again as the driver pulled up in front of the house on Uruguay street. He looked again at the big house that would sometime be home to himself and Aisha. His mum had bought it two years ago through a friend who worked with one of the government parastatals. Being here alone sometimes felt really lonely. Suddenly the idea of getting married to Aisha did not seem so scary anymore.
He paid the cab driver and walked into the house. He was quick to notice the pair of brown casual slip-ons left carelessly by the welcome mat. He shook his head. Tayo was in the house. Sure enough, as soon as he shut the door behind him, Tayo came down the stairs and into the living room.
“Maza! Ya ne?”
He laughed tiredly and hugged him.
“Ogbeni I dey alright o. When did you get in?”
“Last night. I’ve got an interview with this Travel Agency on Monday so I thought I’d come in here and chill till then.”
Khalid smiled. It was nice to have Tayo around. His madness was soothing sometimes.
“That’s good. You finally want to get a proper job.”
“If I hear! You know me now. Na mumcee. Popcee is even better. He’s pushing for a bank job but not so hard. Mumcee is sha pushing for a job even if it’s as Dangote’s driver. That woman will drive me nuts someday.”
Khalid laughed and shook his head.
“Naah. You’ll probably beat her to it”
He proceeded to walk up the stairs with his bag and Tayo trailed behind.
“Ha! I no gree o. I’m the best of all her kids. She knows sef.”
“Or you have managed to convince yourself that seeing you’re the most non-compliant”
“Whose side are you on sef?”
Khalid laughed some more. Tayo was just a clown.
“Side? Dude, there are no sides o. I’m just saying”
They walked into his room and he dropped his bag. Evidence of Tayo’s presence was visible all over. From the unmade bed to the clothes scattered and empty SFC disposable packs. A half-empty bottle of coke was somewhere in the mess
“Ogbeni, you know say I no get house-girl abi?”
It was Tayo’s turn to laugh.
“Wetin you wan carry house-girl do?”
“Mumu! Who wan clean this place?”
“Oh! Na you na”
Tayo grinned and patted Khalid on the back. He collected the bag from Khalid, put it on the bed, opened it and proceeded to help him unpack. Khalid just shook his head.
“You came in last night and look at the level of damage you’ve done”
“Whatever jor. You should be grateful I’m here.”
“Oh I’m grateful alright. Your madness is soothing sometimes.”
Khalid laughed and walked towards the bathroom. I need to take a shower.
“Ahan. What’s all this wedding notes I’m seeing here?
Bestman, Tayo? Who dey marry?”
He held up the notepad and waited for an answer. Khalid walked out of the bathroom and sat on the bed.
“Aisha and I are getting married in six months.”
“Wow! Are you serious?”
Tayo’s face lost all trace of humour for the first time since Khalid walked into the house.
“Yeah. We agreed on a date in Ghana. I’m going to see her mum tomorrow so we can talk about it.”
“Thanks, I guess.”
They were silent for a few minutes then Tayo spoke.
“Are you sure you’re ready for this?”
“I think so. I mean, I’ve got all these speaking engagements that fetch me money. I’ve got these organizations I consult for. I think I’m ready financially.”
Khalid sighed. Tayo knew him too well. They had been friends for a very long time
“I had a panic attack in Ghana. I had another on our way back. I sent Dr. Olivia a mail today. I’m hoping to hear from her soon. I really want to be with Aisha but sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve her.”
Tayo sat down.
“Have you thought about telling her about Seye?”
“You know I can’t do that-“
“Khalid, what happened, happened. That was six years ago. Maybe if you tell her, you won’t have all these attacks.”
Khalid shook his head.
“No way. I can’t do that. You seem to have forgotten Maryam. I tried to start the relationship with her on an honest note; laid all the cards on the table, yet she walked away. Maryam and I were great together but the relationship did not last more than six months and you and I know it’s because I told her the truth.”
“Tayo, don’t bother. For the first time in six years, my life seems to have meaning. I need you to help me keep it that way. I love that I find peace with Aisha. Don’t make me lose that, I beg you.”
Tayo sighed again.
“Alright. I won’t raise this again. Let’s chill till Dr. Olivia gets in touch with you and we’ll see what she says.
Tayo got up and continued unpacking. He brought out a pair of shorts and the huge grin returned to his face.
“God bless the day we became friends.”
He folded the shorts neatly and stuffed them into his own bag.
Khalid flew from where he was seated and grabbed the bag.
“You dey mad o! Drop my shorts jare! Wetin sef? Na only me get friend?”
They both laughed.
“Oluwa o! Such violence! Kai! Na only shorts o! Ahan! If na Aisha I wan move nko? Wetin go come happen?”
Khalid laughed and hugged the shorts.
“Try am first na. Na thunder go fire you be that!”
Tayo laughed and shook his head as he continued unpacking
-Hey you, you didn’t go on your honeymoon yet you managed to forget me. Well done o.
Bode waited for a while but got no reply. Her recent update read “Hello Abuja!” but it was about thirty minutes ago. He dropped the phone eventually and went on to other business.
Three hours later, he finally got a reply.
-Hi dear. So sorry. Came back really exhausted. Been sleeping.
-Ha. Guessed as much. It’s okay. How are you now?
-I’m alright. What’s up?
-Nothing much. How was your trip?
-It was great o. I really enjoyed myself. Twas really nice to finally get a break off work. I did dream about my supervisor once. She was chasing me back to work with a cutlass. 😀
Bode laughed out loud. Aisha was so silly.
-HAHA. LOL! For real?
-Nah. Just kidding! 😀 How are ya?
-I’m great. Missed you while you were away. I had to ask myself if I was sure I hadn’t grown feelings for you.
Bode read his message and surprise washed over him. Did he really just send that? He had just let his fingers type, did not let his brain process the thought before he typed it out and hit the send button.