(Friends, my apologies for being so late. Thank you for all your comments and feedback. This is the last chapter; enjoy it. Above all, let real love spread and check all prejudices. Check out other chapters if you have not done so.).
It was Uzor’s birthday and he completely forgot until he was standing in the morning assembly with his colleagues. A slight tinge of hurt flashed across his mind. Joy had not called or sent a text to wish him happy birthday. He shrugged. This was her first celebration of his birthday. Besides, he had turned thirty-one and it would do him no good acting like a nine-year old angling for a birthday cake and gifts.
The beep of his phone during break time made him smile. Joy remembered, he thought. But it was Tiwa.
‘Hello, Tiwa. What’s up?’’
Tiwa’s calm tone sent a small man somersaulting down Uzor’s spine.
‘‘Good morning, Uzor. Please, in God’s name, come to our place ASAP. Make any excuse you can but come for Joy’s sake.’’
‘‘Joy? Didn’t she go to work? What of you?’’
Tiwa took a deep breath. ‘‘I am on leave.’’
‘‘What of Joy? What is wrong?’’
‘‘Can’t talk over the phone. Please, ejoo, come over if Joy really matters to you.’’ She cut the line before Uzor could reply.
Uzor gazed at his Nokia phone as if it could tell him what was going on. Women, the mystery of creation, he concluded. I hope all is well with Joy. A thought flashed across his mind. Is she pregnant? That only makes things easier. But why not tell me directly? Why go through Tiwa? Why must Tiwa sound as if she is planning a funeral? He silently but vehemently rejected the implication of the comparison. He steeled himself and went to see Mr. Adegbenro, the Head Teacher. Minutes later, with the official permission to be absent for the rest of the day in his pocket, he took off in a commercial tricycle.
Tiwa opened the door at his second knock. She looked disturbed but managed a wan smile.
‘‘In the sitting-room. Come in.’’
Joy was curled up on the sofa looking like a kitten whose mother died before her very eyes. Her face was a blank mask and she appeared to have aged and lost weight since Uzor last saw her forty-eight hours ago.
‘‘Nne, what is it?’’ Uzor moved to the sofa and made to take her in his arms.
‘‘Leave me, please.’’ The sorrow in Joy’s voice was heart-rending.
‘‘What is it, Joy? What is wrong?’’ He could not think of anything he had done to hurt her so badly. But then the female antenna is wired differently from the male’s. Agony lashed his heart as he took in his girl’s bloodshot eyes and dishevelled appearance. He sank beside her.
‘‘Some one tell me what is going on.’’ He stared imploringly at Tiwa.
‘‘I should not be here,’’ Tiwa said softly. She gave her friend a hard gaze. ‘‘Tell him and get it all over with.’’
‘‘Tell me what?’’ Uzor turned to Joy. ‘‘Are you pregnant?’’
Silence replied. He sighed.
‘‘God, that is nothing to cry about. I will accept my baby, no matter your decision about our relationship. I won’t turn my back on my responsibility.’’
Tiwa turned away but her snivel indicated that Uzor had touched her emotion at a raw spot. Gosh, will he take back those words if he knows? she wondered.
Joy’s heart fluttered with choked hope. She looked helplessly at Uzor.
‘‘Don’t break my heart, Uzor. Biko. I can’t bear it any more.’’
Uzor took a deep breath. The tension in the room was almost concrete. He got to his feet and walked towards the TV stand to give himself some space. These women were confusing him more and more every passing minute.
‘‘Joy,’’ he spoke with a calmness he did not feel. ‘‘I don’t know why you are suffering. Clearly I am part of it and I don’t know how I am involved. Please tell me whatever it is. I can take it.’’
The silence that followed must have lasted for ten years. Tiwa sighed.
‘‘I will be in my room if you need me,’’ she said. She was gone before any of them could speak, making no effort to check her tears.
Uzor turned to Joy, his eyes pleading.
‘‘I am osu,’’ she said and collapsed on the sofa, sobbing.
For almost a minute Uzor stood still, unable to believe what he had just heard. When it sank in he spoke gently.
‘‘You are osu?’’
‘‘Yes,’’ sobbed Joy.
What happened next was not supposed to be part of the script. Joy found herself swept up in a strong embrace. She was too surprised to resist as Uzor almost roughly landed his lips on hers. The kiss was so passionate that her tear ducts were temporarily dried.
‘‘Want some more?’’ Uzor asked when he released her.
‘‘So I am not less than human in your eyes?’’ Joy asked.
‘‘Where did you get that idea? I am osu myself and it is no reason to jump off the Third Mainland Bridge.’’
‘‘Eh?’’ That came from Tiwa who, unable to restrain herself, had come out when her friend broke out in soul-shattering sobs. Joy was struck dumb.
‘‘Yes, I am osu. What some misguided folk among my people call outcast.’’
The boulders that fell off Joy’s shoulders were almost visible. She sank back in the sofa, too relieved to continue standing. Uzor sat beside her. Tiwa sank in a chair opposite them.
‘‘Why didn’t you tell me?’’ Joy asked when she regained her voice.
‘‘Because it is a non-issue as far as I am concerned. I learnt of and accepted my status since I was nine.’’ He paused, suddenly contrite. ‘‘Maybe I should have told you. Sorry, but being an osu does not define anyone. It is a label, pure and simple.’’
Tiwa smiled her first real smile in two days.
‘‘Will you eat now, Joy?’’ she asked.
Joy nodded. Uzor looked at her curiously.
‘‘So you have been starving yourself for how long? Two days?’’ His tone was stern.
Joy’s reply was an eloquent silence. Uzor got a grip on his anger.
‘‘What led to this behaviour?’’ he asked.
Tiwa got to her feet. ‘‘While she tells you I better rustle up some glutton’s delights for her, and you, too.’’ Everyone laughed as she left.
Uzor turned to Joy. ‘‘Tell me everything,’’ he said.
Joy did. She kept nothing back. About how her former lovers dumped her once they learnt she was osu. How the last one, Odinaka, cancelled all marriage arrangements. Since then she had developed an aversion for Igbo guys till Uzor did his artless magic.
‘‘That night you proposed, remember?’’
‘‘I did not see my period at the end of that month. Scared, I told Tiwa who advised a medical examination. The result confirmed my fears but how was I to tell you?’’
Uzor took a deep breath. Everything was falling in place, including her response to his proposal.
‘‘Before now I confided in Tiwa. She knows about my past and told me to come clean with you.’’
‘‘She is a good friend. Hold on to her.’’
Joy nodded. Suddenly she put her hands on his shoulders and bored her eyes into his.
‘‘For not trusting you enough to confide in you.’’
‘‘Nne, we are human. Besides, orientation on this osu business differs.’’ They were about to start kissing when Tiwa burst in with:
‘‘Maggi Kitchen is here. Eat now, find a bed later.’’
Everyone roared. ‘‘Na wa!’’ exclaimed Joy.
Uzor got to his feet and waited for Tiwa to set the table. Then he embraced her.
‘‘Thanks. You are a good pal.’’
Tiwa shrugged. ‘‘I told her but she was just being a big baby. Your love for each other is the ultimate truth, not labels. Anyhow, sha, do something before her belle shows.’’
Joy’s face radiated her feelings as they sat down to eat. Tiwa is right, she reflected. Now the sun can shine freely in my sky.