The man looked up and his eyes locked with Helen’s.
Her heart skipped painfully in her chest and goose bumps prickled through her body like death was trailing a finger along her spine. She shivered hard and immediately whipped her head back to the road.
Blood of Jesus!!!She thought or said aloud, she wasn’t sure which; her ears were humming. She found herself short of air and her skin felt like a spider’s egg had exploded on it. The jingle of the gold rosary dangling from her rear-view mirror grew unnaturally loud. She stared at it as if hypnotized; her foot was still on the accelerator and her hands holding the steering wheel straight but she couldn’t have been more unaware of her surroundings than a cadaver. Dead memories were resurrected and their ghosts haunted her.
His hands were everywhere
Pulling and tearing at her school blouse
Dirty nails digging into her flesh as he tugged at her bra straps
Her crazy screams reverberating through the empty building
The stone nearly knocking her out and her blood blinding her
His hand tightening around her neck…
“Scream all you want, no one would hear you”
Helen ground her teeth together to stop the scream that threatened to escape now and her hands tightened on the steering wheel.
“Stop it” she rebuked herself “He’s not the one, it’s not possible.”
Loud, angry horns made her jump. She blinked repeatedly and tried to focus; she was still on the road but then, she had stopped moving. The blaring horns got angrier, forcing her to look at the rear-view mirror; a car was closely behind her and the driver didn’t look happy. Helen put her hand through the window and gave a wave of apology while trying to remember how to operate a car. A voice in her head begged her to drive on, to forget about what she thought she had just seen; it was better not to scratch on a wound, it was better not to know. But that same curiosity that killed the cat made Helen take an unceremonious U-turn at the next junction and drive back to the round-about where she had seen the man. She willed him to still be there, and he was; perched on his bike like every other okada man at that junction. But while the others called out eagerly to potential customers, the man seemed to have taken a break from the task and was ravenously eating the okpa in his hand. And as Helen parked her old Toyota Sienna by the other side of the road, across from him; he finished with the okpa, flung the wrap away then bit open a sachet of water and sucked it dry. Helen pulled the gear into ‘park’ and said a quick prayer before looking out the window. She stared at the man; her eyes narrowing on his face. It was a futile attempt; no one could possibly see another’s face clearly from such a distance. She knew what she had to do but for the life of her, she couldn’t bring herself to move closer; the need to know was still strong but fear that he might see her and recognize her -if he was the one- was quickly overpowering it. But eventually she did; she moved closer, after making up her mind to give him only tentative glances. She drove slowly, very slowly around the Nnamdi Azikiwe statue, trepidation mounting on her as she got closer. Her heart had relocated to her ears and was beating with such force she shook from it. And though she was propelling her car forward, her back was pressed hard against her seat; unconsciously trying to bolt away. One by one, she passed the bike men; her eyes never leaving the man at the end of the line. His head was down -in attempt to keep the sun away from his eyes- so he didn’t see her coming, till she got to him and lowered her front passenger’s window.
Chike glanced at the car and peered in at the driver that was gaping -wide mouthed- at him. He wanted to scowl at her but after taking in her clothes; he forced himself to keep a pleasant face.
They no de teach them manners again? He wondered dryly and glanced back at the woman. She was pretty and young and looked to be in her early thirties, now that was old enough to know that ‘staring’ was rude. He studied her face and was sure he didn’t know her, so what was her problem? And hadn’t he seen her drive by before? Was she lost?
“O gini?” he asked, bending forward but she didn’t answer.
He’s the one.
It was unbelievable, just plain unbelievable. The years had definitely taken its toll on him; wrinkles lined his forehead, the corners of his eyes and mouth. And where his face had been bony and lean, it was now full of flesh and cheeky making him appear cherubic. But there was no doubt in Helen’s mind because there, by the side of his face, was a patent proof; an old scar that ran from his temple to his cheek. Keloids marked the poor stitching making it an ugly and visible scar. He must have lied to people about the origin of the wound but Helen knew. Eighteen years ago, she had used a piece of metal to create it. Helen’s heart neared its exploding point.
Oh my God!!! What am I going to do?
“Are you lost?” he asked genuine concern deepening the wrinkles on his face. Helen cringed at the force of déjà vu that hit her; he had once asked her that same question. She blinked rapidly, struggling to stay conscious. Her eyes were on fire with unshed tears as she stared at the man that had left her with an eternal wound. And either he was a very good actor or he didn’t recognize her. Helen leaned on the latter and it pained her.
‘How can you not remember someone you ruined’ she wanted to scream ‘when all I think about is you’
“Yes, I’m lost” she answered instead, just like she had said that day and then was unable to stop the words that followed “I’m looking for Bricks Estate off Cult road. Can you take me there?”