As she sped along the Third Mainland Bridge, she listened to the rumblings of thunder and felt very disturbed and afraid. She was not afraid of the thunder nor of the rain that was only a few minutes from falling, no… rather she was afraid of the Honda CRVshe was driving!
The engine spluttered and coughed again, dying… taking away her only means of getting home! Desperately, she stepped on the brake bringing the car to a jerk, turned the key in the ignition lock and the engine came to life with a slow whine. She revved the engine and moved on, praying and hoping that the car would get her home or at least to the tail end of the Bridge at Apongbon, where she could possibly hail a taxicab home.
She kept thinking of what she would do to Pa Yinusa, the forty-five year old man who was the Chief Driver of her father’s fleet of cars and who was also responsible for the perfect functioning of all fourteen private cars and twenty-two company cars. She imagined her father’s reaction when she would tell him what had happened, that she, the heiress to the AKINBODE WILLIAMS’ throne, was nearly stranded on the Third Mainland Bridge! She felt furious and horrified at the thought of being stranded and screamed at the car in annoyance.
“You’d better get me home or else…” – She hung her threat unfinished, as was her usual practice. As if taking this as a challenge, the engine spluttered finally and gave out, waiting for her to make good her threat. The last thing she saw before the battery died, taking off the dashboard lights that illuminated the car, was the clock showing that it was ten-fifteen p.m. She started the car again and again but it was to no avail, the battery was completely gone! She opened the door, locked it and started walking towards the end of the end of the Bridge. She walked on for about twenty minutes but all she could see ahead was total darkness that was being penetrated by the headlights of cars roaring dangerously past.
“When I get you Pa Yinusa, I’ll make sure I have your head!” she swore angrily. Though she was well aware of the fact that she could not do such, she uttered the words more out of irritation than desperation. Left with no other alternative, she started back towards her car, cursing herself for even taking the car out.
“GRROWWLLL!” The growl of thunder was becoming very disturbing; the lightning that followed was very sharp, momentarily blinding her. Angrily, like the spoilt brat that she actually was, she slammed her handbag on the floor, screaming in annoyance.
It was as if a thin layer had been holding the rain in check and her screams had pierced through this layer, because immediately she ended her screams, the rain started. A heavy downpour of rain began; painful, stinging, hard drops of rain that fell crazily. She was all wet to the skin by the time she eventually got to the useless, immovable car!
“How am I going to get out of here?!” she screamed, asking no one in the darkness surrounding her car as she fumbled with the key to the door, the next flash of lightning scared her so much that in her panic the key dropped from her wet, cold hands. Resignedly, she knelt in the puddle being formed by the crazy rain and searched for the car keys. By the time she found the keys, she was all dirtied and muddied.
Panicky, she fought desperately to close the door against the strong wind. After a furious battle, which drained practically all the energy from her slim delicate fingers she eventually got the door closed and locked. She howled in frustration at her helpless situation until she eventually fell into a deep, depressed sleep.
* * *
“Tap… Tap… Tap…” A lyrical rapping on the window came to her in her sleep.
“Hello… Hi… Miss, Hey!” – A voice, masterful; strong; soft; sweet and masculine drifted in through the windowpane. The beam of a powerful field-torch fell on her face and she was forced to open her eyes, drawing her out of her disturbed sleep. She checked her wristwatch and gasped in shock… it read twelve-thirty a.m!
Reality slowly crept into her system and a horrific realisation stole across her consciousness – “I’ve been stranded here for the past two hours…” – She felt a chill sipping through her bones.
“STRANDED!” The word hit into her brain with full force and instinctively she opened her mouth to scream.
“Hello! Hi!” – The sweet masculine voice came through to her again, and she looked towards the window. She saw outside the window a man, crude looking, anger in his eyes, his face pressed to the window, a field torch in his left hand. She felt adrenaline pump through her veins.
“RAPE!” – The word loomed into her mind. She looked at the man with wide eyes and heard him speak again.
“Hey! I want to help you. Open up” – His face held a soft, kind expression. She pressed the console and the window rolled down an inch before it stopped of its own accord.
“Oh I see. Dead battery,” – he muttered.
“Excuse me Miss, I was just passing by and I happened upon your car. I was wondering if I might be of help to you. It could be very dangerous for you here, alone. Especially if the wrong kind of person notices you.” – She couldn’t note any trace of threat in his voice, rather she noticed concern and a trace of anger.
He felt angry because the lady he wanted to help wasn’t quick in responding, the result of which he was getting unbearably wet and cold, and to compound it, a trailer roared pass, narrowly missing him and splashing him with dirty water from the road! It didn’t even have headlamps! He hissed angrily.
She tried speaking but her voice had not regained its strength, so she nodded her head to indicate a positive response.
“Hop out then and I’ll try to get you home safely,” – he said, still feeling angry, he didn’t even glance at her. Clutching her handbag, she moved out of the car, locking the door securely. She followed the stranger to his car, which to her horror was an old, rattling, wheezling Volkswagen Golf 1974 model! Staring at the car contemptuously without any attempt at hiding her disgust, she stepped back from the door he held open for her.
“That’s all I can offer, if it pleases you not, you are free to get out of my way while I proceed,” – he barked at her angrily. He hated wealthy people, especially spoilt rich brats and this girl was one of such. He felt so angry that she didn’t even have the modesty of hiding her repulsion for the old car, and perhaps for him too. He told himself she must have immediately rated him a social misfit for riding such a car, a no-do-well!
“I never knew it was a frigging spoilt lady out there… had I, I wouldn’t have wasted my precious time stopping,” – he muttered repulsively.
“No! no. no… please …thank you,” she said, smiling apologetically. – “I feel rather like an ingrate. I should be thanking you,” – she said, entering the car.
“That had better be so,” he replied coldly, muttering the words under his breath.
“Where do you live?” he asked after manoeuvring the rattling VW car back on the road.
“Awolowo Road, Ikoyi,” she answered, glancing at him fearfully. She wondered how physically violent he could become if tempted, if he could openly voice out his repulsion towards her blunder. “Did I even blunder?” she asked herself self-righteously. “When did showing repulsion or rejection become a crime?”
“That’s a long way out of my destination,” he stated after a few seconds of silent contemplation. “but I’ll get you there.” He nodded after saying this, as if to confirm what he’d just said.
After a few minutes of pregnant silence, which was making the rich young lady nervous, she spoke up rather foolishly, though just to break the silence.
“Today’s rain is unusually heavy.”
“This is June, remember? I thought the rain is usually very heavy in June,” he answered sarcastically.
“Ehn…?” She felt stupid.
“Yes,” – he replied non-commitantly as he had lapsed into his own thoughts.
“Well, it’s heavy tonight and you know what?” she spoke conversationally, trying to break the silence permanently and also trying to make up for her earlier rudeness.
“I won’t if you don’t tell me,” he replied, without emotion in his voice or on his face, which was a white mask.
“I… I …I have been out there since ten-fifteen p.m. Perhaps I would have spent my entire night there had you not come around.” She was trying to sound grateful and at the same time draw him into friendly lines.
“Oh yeah?” was all he said.
His cold response hurt her deeply. She felt the pain of being unwanted and rejected. She fell into an uneasy silence, sad and hurt. She took a good look at him…a long look, she saw a crude face with sprouting beards and a distant, sad look in his eyes.
“Why?” she wondered. Both of them maintained the uneasy silence until he pulled into Awolowo Road.
“Where do you live here?” he asked.
“Number 98,” she answered, darting him a glance again. She felt oddly attracted to him, but she felt afraid of talking to him again in case he shut her up with his monosyllabic answers.
“Look… I … am grateful for all you’ve done. It was very kind of you,” – she squealed uneasily.
“No problem,” he said offhandedly, without even a glance in her direction.
“Excuse me!” she exclaimed angrily. “Why the long face? Do you have a problem?” she blurted out. She couldn’t withstand such treatment. She was at a loss wondering what he found so repulsive about her, at least he had offered her help of his own accord, so why the hatred?!
Despite her anger and despite his obvious repulsion for her, she felt oddly attracted to him! Someone who obviously loathed her so much… unbelievable! She felt it could be as a result of the totally different treatment he was giving out to her. She was used to being sought after, but now here she was, being snubbed so glaringly.
“Who told you I had one?” – he asked, looking at her from head to toe as though he were inspecting a merchandise, and looked away uninterestedly, disgust highly eminent on his face.
“I need no one to tell me so, your action is enough to tell…” she said, nervously licking her fine lips.
“Home at last!” he sighed, parking the car just outside her home. She looked out and saw no rain but her home, magnificent, mighty and beautiful, a grand architectural masterpiece blazing in the darkness.
She turned to him and said desperately, “I’ve got to see you someday soon… to thank you properly.” She added the last few words to justify her desire to see him again, soon.
“There’s absolutely no need for you to do that, I don’t need your financial compensation,” he said, staring ahead.
“Please, I have to see you again…” she pleaded, desperation in her voice, tears in her eyes. She couldn’t fathom why she felt for this stranger this way.
“I don’t think that’ll be a wise gesture.” He glanced briefly at her and at the mansion.
“Why?” she asked indignant over his coldness.
“Look, I helped you just for helping’s sake, not because you’re a lady or anything else, so I do not expect anything in return. A simple ‘thank you’ would suffice.”
“And I enjoy my life the way it is now, I don’t want to associate with anything that’ll continually remind me of my status.”
“No… forget that please. I…I could pick you up for a… a… date. Where do you live?”
“USA” he replied sarcastically.
“USA?” she echoed dumbly
“Yeah, the United States of Amukoko. I bet you don’t know where that is, do you? he said, mockery in his voice. He stretched and yawned loudly. “Look lady, I have had a long day.”
“Oh… Okay. Can we meet for lunch at Mr. Biggs, the one located at Broad Street,” – she proposed.
“Oh!” he sneered “I thought you said you could pick me up for a date a few minutes ago, but now that you know where I reside, you decide you can’t pick me up anymore. I understand, a spoilt brat like you couldn’t come down to Amukoko, the stench could kill you and neither can I pick you up, the dogs would bark at the jalopy I ride, right?” His eyes blazed with the fire of hatred as he spoke.
She felt at a loss of words for what to say, he had pinned her thoughts, but now she knew his hatred was not directed personally at her, but at all wealthy people! Didn’t he think he could be wealthy in future?
“Anyway, I’m not interested in you!” he spat out vehemently.
She felt stung and cheapened “What gave you the stupid impression that I am in any way interested in you either? You poor egocentric fool! All I am trying to do is show some gratitude for you might have very well just saved my life, and instead of playing along, you think I’m like those cheap sluts you come across everyday of your wretched life who are so hung up over you that they are practically blind to the bestial nature in you. Anyway, it’s no fault of yours, you lack civility, you’ve allowed your hatred for the influential cloud your reasoning, and I don’t think there’s a crime in being born into a wealthy family. Who knows maybe you’ll hate yourself if you become wealthy tomorrow or do you think you stand no such chance?” Angrily she alighted from the old Golf car. “Anyway, thank you!” she spat venomously.
He sat still for a minute or so; once more his face was a white mask, devoid of any emotion. “I’ll try to be there…” he spoke, the words heavy on his lips. With neither another word nor a wave, he pulled unto the road and roared off.
Abike stood still in the early dawn, looking at the retreating car. She felt unfamiliar tunes play in her heart. Never had she seen anyone show so much contempt towards her; lots of young men, handsome promising ones at that, had always fallen out of their ways to please her. They were always charmed by her perfect combination of wealth, beauty, brains, and power! But this poor young man was different, so different! He hated her wealth, he hated her personality! She tried consoling her hurt ego by telling herself that his hatred was directed at wealth and influence and not really at her. “I don’t even know his name,” she smiled sadly.
She let herself into her own wing of the mansion without attracting the attention of anyone except the security personnel who all expressed surprise at the odd time she was returning.
Once inside, she peeled off her wet clothing and entered into the bath for a hot shower. As the jet sprayed her, she felt all the tiredness returning, washing away the emotions and excitement. She closed the spray and towelled herself dry. Falling into the six-foot waterbed was the best thing to ever happen to her that day.
She closed her eyes and the face of the Cold Stranger flitted into focus… He who was neither charmed by her wealth or her beauty. She felt angry at him for his almighty conduct, she cursed him for being cold to her instead of falling over her, she felt an heavy lump in her heart, a lump she couldn’t fathom nor explain, after a long time of tossing restlessly on the bed, she fell into a deep sleep still wondering why he hated wealthy people so much and why he’d taken this out on her…