Stephen gave the child a pack of chocolate. He had developed a habit of giving candy and chocolates to every child that visited his dental clinic. It made the child’s experience endurable, regardless of the procedure he or she was brought in for. Most times, it was usually the removal of a bad tooth. It didn’t matter if he was available or not, he had instructed his staff to follow suit. He had been running the clinic since he completed his internship at Lagos University Teaching Hospital. He inherited a ten bedroom duplex amongst other things from his late father and had converted the ground floor into a clinic and the upper floor into his living quarters. His patients loved the fact that he was accessible. He had two other dentists working with him, three nurses and a few non-medical staff. He hoped to set up branches of the clinic in different parts of the country at the end of the year and at least three other branches in the West African region.
The mother and child waved goodbye and walked out of his office. His personal assistant came in immediately.
“Sir, there is someone here to see you.”
“Who?” he returned to his seat behind the oval glass desk.
His gaze flew back to her smiling face. He had not seen his childhood friend in a while. It was intentional. He had come up with one excuse or the other over the past few months. He knew he would have to face him one day, but, was he ready?
“Let him in.”
“Okay sir,” she retreated and closed the door behind her.
Stephene rose the moment the door opened and Bassey walked in, “To what do I owe this impromptu visit?”
“You are the busy one,” Bassey approached the desk.
“Business has been very good,” he circled the table and shook hands with his friend. He towered over him. His six foot figure made him look like a Greek god.
“At least you have a large staff,” he released his hands.
“Yes, em… what can I offer you?” Stephen placed both hands on his hips.
“Why don’t you explain this?” he brought out the invitation card from his pocket.
“Oh…” he recognized his wedding invitation card. He took a step back and leaned on one of the leather chairs in front of the desk.
“Is this why you have been avoiding me?” Bassey threw the card on the glass desk.
He grinned, “What do you want me to tell you?”
An angry expression took over his fair face, “You stole my fiancée.”
Stephen started to laugh, “Come on man mi. Darn it, she called off the damned wedding.”
“After you brain-washed her.”
He scratched a spot on his eyebrow, “I am going to marry Lovejoy, nothing and no one can stop that from happening.”
Bassey took a closer look at the man he used to call his friend. There was something off about him.
“You have had it good all these years; it is my turn to feast.”
“Feast? On what doesn’t belong to you? What rubbishing are you spouting?”
“Do you think you are the only one that will make it?” his tone raised a pitch.
Bassey watched him with keen interest.
“I am taller than you, much more handsome, broad shouldered and all, compared to your skinny self.”
His friend’s disdainful look astounded him. He was beginning to think that Stephen was jealous of him. He folded his arms across his chest and paid attention.
“I don’t know what babes see in you. They melt at your mere presence and flock around you like bees. Every girl I ever liked was in love with you,” he pointed an accusing finger at him.
He swallowed hard. His friend had been envious of him all along. How come he didn’t detect it?
“We set up dental clinics around the same time, but, yours picked up faster than mine.”
“What are you talking about? Look at this place, you are more successful,” he looked around him.
“I have always loved Lovejoy. You were going to marry her and I decided to do something about it.”
Bassey shook his head in disbelief.
“I convinced her that you were sterile and eureka! She became mine.”
His eyes became red. He gritted his teeth and clenched his fist.
“At long last, I have something you can never ever possess in a million years, lucky me,” he winked at him and laughed.
Suddenly his friend attacked him. Both men swerved from one spot to the other, pushing, kicking and hitting each another. They landed on the tiled floor with a thud.
Stephen pushed him off and sat on the floor, “You are crazy!” his breath came fast and hard.
“You allowed jealousy and envy to ruin our friendship,” he lashed back at him.
“What friendship?” he eyed him.
Bassey shook his head and got up.
“You are invited to the wedding.”
His personal assistant came in, in a hurry. She looked at both men, and then backed out.
“You can have her,” he adjusted his blue checkered long sleeve shirt.
He chuckled, “She is already mine.”
“I don’t want someone who didn’t trust me enough to confront me, regardless of how convincing the evidence against me was.”
“Whatever, your loss, my gain,” he got on his knees and rose.
Bassey took his eyes off him and marched out of the large office.
The moment she saw the silver car coming through the gate, she sneaked out of the flat and ran to meet him. He staggered out of the car and locked it. He straightened himself and noticed his neighbour’s daughter heading his way. He hissed. He was in no mood for her charade.
“Uncle Bassey, welcome. You are late today. Did you attend to a lot of people? You must be tired,” she tried to pat him on the back, but, he slapped her hand off. Her shocked gaze lingered on his emotionless face. He strode towards the one storey building and left her standing by the car, wondering what had come over him. He climbed the stairs and met Halima and Simisola at his doorstep.
“Doctor welcome,” they chorused.
He ignored them, unlocked the door and went in. They exchanged glances, wondering what was wrong with him.
Bassey went straight to his room, got out of his clothes and locked himself in the bathroom. He came out an hour later, clad in his boxers, and went straight to bed. He had no appetite. Food was the farthest thing from his turmoil mind. His encounter with Lovejoy and Stephen had been a bad experience. He turned on his side and reached out for his phone. He went through his phone book list and placed his younger brother and sister on a conference call.
“Hello… Bros you no dey sleep at all?” he heard his younger brother’s voice.
“It is almost midnight for heaven’s sake,” his younger sister complained.
“Shut up, shut up, see this children wey they born yesterday.”
He heard them laughing. Their voices soothed his aching heart.
“When was the last time bros called like this?” Imabong asked.
“That time now,” Eno responded.
“Oh okay, Lovejoy matter,” Imabong whistled.
“Serious matter o,” Eno chimed in.
He listened to their chit-chat and sighed, “I met her today.”
“What?!” Eno exclaimed.
“Who?” Imabong wasn’t sure he heard him clearly.
“Lovejoy now,” his sister answered quickly.
“Ehn-hen… where?” Imabong’s curiousity accelerated.
“She is…” her face flashed through his mind’s eye, “She is getting married to Stephen next month.”
“Wow! She didn’t waste time,” Eno sounded disappointed.
“Which Stephen?” Imabong asked.
“Stephen Edet,” Bassey replied.
There was a moment’s silence.
“Stephen Akpos Edet!” his siblings chorused.
He could discern their surprised state in their voices, “Yes, my childhood friend.”
“This is unbelievable!” Imabong hissed.
“He planned it. He told her something false about me and she called off the wedding.”
“This girl is dumber than I thought,” Eno hissed.
“Why didn’t she ask you?” Imabong felt angered.
“She just believed your friend like that,” Eno hissed again.
“Na so I see am o,” Bassey sighed heavily.
“I can still remember how her parents rained insult on us and called us unprintable names the day we went to their place,” Eno sounded sad.
“What did he tell her sef?” Imabong’s voice was laced with gloom.
“He convinced her with a fake doctor’s report that I was sterile.”
“Eh! See gbege,” Eno cried out.
“Sharp guy. That your friend messed up. See lie,” Imabong felt distressed.
“Lie from the pit of hell,” his sister added. “I will let dad and mum know.”
“Come to think of it, bros you dey sterile?” his younger brother asked.
“Imabong!” they chorused.
“What? I supposed ask now.”
“Where did Stephen get a fake doctor’s report?” Eno wanted to know.
“Beats me,” Bassey couldn’t imagine the length at which his friend went to deceive his ex.
“Bros sorry o.”
“Hang in there.”
“Should I come over after work tomorrow?” his sister asked quickly.
He frowned, “No, no, no, Eno thanks. I am fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“I said I am fine.”
Imabong’s laughter rang in their ears, “Eno won go clear bros kitchen. Ah… Eno, na wa for you o.”
“Have a blessed night you two.”
“Goodnight bros,” they chorused.
He hung up and lay on his back. He felt relieved after talking with them. It was therapeutic. His parents would be so disappointed at Stephen. At least, they would know why Lovejoy called off the wedding. He closed his eyes and said a prayer. He lay all that concerned him at God’s feet.