I was still deep in thought when I felt a hand on my knee. I had almost forgotten I was in Daniel’s office. I opened my eyes and found him staring at me intently. I swallowed a sigh. The poor guy deserves an explanation after this little drama that just unfolded here. And if I am intent on refusing him, it’s only fair he knows why.
“Are you okay?” he squeezed my knee. I could see the concern in his eyes.
“How much of that did you catch?”
He smiled. “Not much.”
“I guess it’s time you hear the whole story.” I said, ready to spill my guts. I’m not sure what I want out of this, but I don’t want to think of it too much, so my hopes will not be dashed. I’d rather curb my expectations than be disappointed when those expectations are not met.
“I’m listening.” He said, and my heart skipped a beat.
“Would you like something? A drink perhaps?” Daniel asked before I could start my lengthy story.
“Yes, please.” My throat had gone dry, probably from tension.
He stood up beside me and went to the fridge tucked into the corner of the room. “What would you like? There is Coke, Fanta, and Maltina. And water too.”
“Water is fine, thank you.”
I watched him as he retrieved a bottle of water and two glasses from the tray on the fridge. He came back to where I was seated, poured the water into the glasses and offered me one.
“Thank you.” I said solemnly, my mind on how polite and courteous he was.
“My pleasure.” He smiled, took a sip of his water, and settled back in his chair, watching me closely.
“Oh my! I forgot you have to be somewhere.” I suddenly remembered the mini celebration party he organized for his staff.
He just smiled and waved it away. “I’ll catch them later.”
Well, I guess I wasn’t going to get off that easy. “Okay then.” I sat back too, nervous now that he was watching me with absolute concentration on his face. I wringed my hands together on my laps. “I don’t know where to start from.” I said, not daring to look in his eyes.
“I’m sure it’s not that bad, Ella. Start from wherever you’re comfortable with.”
That was the wrong thing to say. His words did not calm me like he intended, they only made me tenser. Of course, it was very bad. Better to just start. This night can only end one way anyway, no need to window dress anything.
“I have been married twice.” I started.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the hand lying casually on his thigh clench. I ignored it, and plunged ahead. I couldn’t look at his face. If I do, I won’t be able to continue.
“Both marriages did not work out. The first time, I married very young. We knew each other quite well, but both of us were not prepared for marriage. We didn’t know what we were doing, much less how to go about it. When the situation became so bad, we had to part ways.
“Few years later, I met another man. We worked together and one thing led to another. We dated for a few years, I was reluctant to commit to anyone at this point, but he hammered at my defenses until I agreed to marry him. We were okay for a while, until I got a job somewhere else, then the insecurities, jealousies, physical and emotional battery started.
“He hit me at the slightest provocations. I developed a repertoire of lies which I tell my friends and family. It became quite embarrassing for me. The last time he beat me to a pulp and I was hospitalized for many weeks, which was when I decided to quit the relationship. I was not ready to die because of any man’s emotional imbalance.”
I did not realize Daniel held my hand, and I did not realize I was crying until he offered me a handkerchief. I took it and dabbed at my tears. “Thank you.” I murmured.
“After I made that decision, I spoke to my family about it.” I continued my story. “My family was not very sympathetic. My father expressly forbade it, and mother told me to deal with it, as marriage comes with different challenges. My sister understood, but she advised going for counseling instead of quitting totally. I didn’t listen to any of them, perhaps I should have, but at that point I was barely healed from his last battery, and I simply couldn’t take it anymore. I filed for divorce.
“All through the process, my family didn’t speak with me. When the divorce was final, I decided to have a change of environment; there was nothing there for me anymore. So, I came to Lagos, and I am attempting to put my life back together, and then you come along, threatening to topple the wall I carefully built around my heart. I don’t think I am ready to risk it all again.”
He released my hand and sat back as before, staring off into space. What I would give to be able to read his mind at that moment. The annoying part of it all is I don’t know how I want him to react. My feelings are all jumbled up, and my heart is so scared and confused.
He remained like that for a few moments more, before he finally turned to me and I was shocked by the anger in his eyes. His eyes blazed with intense emotions, and I was momentarily trapped in them.
He took my hand again and squeezed it so hard, I almost yelped. “That was a very sad story, Ella. I’m sorry you had to go through all that. The first one was understandable, you were both young and wanted different things out of life, but the second……” his lips tightened and he released my hands abruptly, stood up, and started pacing.
He looked at me again. “I’m sorry, I just find it hard to control my anger when I hear of a man hitting a woman. In my opinion, it is the lowest, vilest of men that will raise his hands on a woman, no matter the provocation.”
I just kept staring at him, speechless. He finally walked off the anger and then came back to sit beside me. He leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes, and sighed deeply. Suddenly, he sat up and gripped my hands in his. He looked into my eyes, and I knew this was a profound moment for him.
“Ella, I’m going to treat you so right, you will forget that any man ever hurt you. That I promise.” He said fiercely, and pulled me into a hug.
God help me, I believed him. I totally believed him.
I removed myself from his arms to give some distance between us and stared into his face. “That remains to be seen, Daniel. Remember, I’ve been through this before and it is easy to make promises, but it’s not so easy to keep them.”
Although, I believed him in my heart, my head still needed a lot of convincing. The saying ‘once bitten, twice shy’ is very apt. I’ve been bitten by the love bug twice, and both times, it didn’t turn out so well, I needed more than just words to make a commitment to this man.
He sat back and studied me. I could see different emotions play over his face. There was anger, there was hurt, and finally I thought I saw understanding. I couldn’t just take his passionate promises at face value, could I? After all, guys will promise almost anything when they want a woman.
He stared at me for several minutes until I averted my gaze. I stood up and walked to the balcony he just vacated, leaned on the railing and stared at the bustling city of Lagos. Thousands of people went about their daily businesses, living and loving, that is the whole meaning of life after all. Here I am, trying to live and love too; and the cycle just continues.
I felt Daniel beside me before I saw him. I didn’t turn to him though. I couldn’t look in his face, I know looking at him would only weaken my resolve, and then where would I be?
“This is some view you have here.”
“Yes, it is, and I worked so hard for it.” He touched my arm and turned me to face him. “Ella, I’m very tenacious and I always go for what I want. I want you in my life, and I can tell you I’ve never worked this hard to get a woman. But that’s the issue with you, isn’t it? You’re not just any woman. From the moment I met you, I knew you were the one for me, despite your tardiness and snippy attitude.” He smiled at that.
“I can only promise you I’ll work hard to make this relationship work, but then you have to be willing to work for it too. I’m not going to allow you bail on me when the going gets tough.”
That got my back up. “I don’t bail for the sake of bailing, Daniel.” I snapped.
He just kept looking at me. Finally, he smiled. “I’m sure you came to that conclusion a long time ago.”
“Oh, you’re right.” I threw my hands up in surrender. “I know I tend to run when the going gets tough, but I’ve grown a lot recently, and I’ve been able to work on my shortcomings.”
“Ella, I’m not looking for a perfect woman, far from it. I know you’re not perfect and neither am I. This will only work if we both decide to give our very best and work hard to keep us together. I’m ready to go ahead if you are.”
I shrugged. “I’m still scared.”
“That is the risk you have to take, babe. I’m taking a risk here too. I will never know if you’ll wake up tomorrow, decide I’m too much to handle and leave me high and dry with a broken heart; but darling, I love you enough to try.” He hooked a hand at the back of my neck and used it to draw me closer to him. Then, he planted a soft kiss on my lips.
I sighed. “You dived into my heart so suddenly, Daniel. I wish I saw it coming, I would have guided my heart against you.”
“Haven’t you heard? I’m a bulldozer.”
I laughed. He could always make me laugh. “Yeah, right. It was Boyd that really convinced me. That sexy car is a real deal binder.”
“We aim to please, ma’am.” He gave a mock bow, straightened and opened his arms to me.
I walked into his arms eagerly, knowing it was way more than just hugging, that was me trusting him with my heart, hoping he would keep it safe, and that was me willing to take his heart, praying I will hold it dear, and it was also both of us trusting each other with our priciest possession, willing to explore happiness together.
“I love you.” He whispered in my ears.
“I love you.” I whispered back, closed my eyes and said a silent prayer, praying that this time, it would work.
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