Eight grueling hours later, Daniel arrived in Lagos. He took a bike straight form the park and headed to his place. He’d drop his stuff off before he stormed Linda’s place. Men! This feels good.
He met his land lord at the gate of the compound. He looked at him like he was some ghost.
“Danieli? You this boy, you no well o! In fact your head no correct at all, at all.”
“Baba, wetin, ehn? You don start again?” he couldn’t keep the smile from his face. The man felt mocked and grew sterner.
“My rent don increase o! You hear? Hundred ‘pisent’ increase.” He ground out, bobbing his head up and down. “So make you pay me the one wey you owe.”
Daniel laughed heartily, further annoying the man, “No problem baba, hmm? I’ll pay you your money.”
He half jogged into his room as baba Ijebu hissed noisily, wishing he could wipe the silly smile off his face.
He dropped his travel bag, pulled out his prize letter from the side pocket and dashed out. The sun had begun its westward journey when he headed for the Odi’s. He hoped to high heaven Mrs. Odi was in. He was going in for the kill. He couldn’t contain his wicked joy at the look she’d give him. Defeat? Apology? Probably, but certainly not disdain or disrespect. Ha!
The Odi’s residence was bubbling with activity when he arrived. Women of all shapes and sizes were scurrying about carrying plates, pots and pans. Whose birthday was it? Linda? no, not until three months. Her mother probably, But she would have said something.
He suddenly felt very ashamed of himself. The son-in-law who forgot his mother-in-law’s birthday? That wouldn’t do. He made a mental note to make it up to her. He’ll buy her something nice, later.
The wide open space beside the house was well lighted. Halogen flood lights were hung in very corner. There was a well decorated canopy with grey and white balloons, her favourite colours.
Daniel moved closer, surprised her mother will throw such a big party for her birthday amidst their present issues.
There was a drummer, beating mercilessly on his talking drum. Women were dancing feverishly, ‘spraying’ money around. He caught sight of Mrs. Odi as she turned in his direction. She was so lost in the joy of the moment; her eyes were closed as she did an ecstatic dance routine. Oh, it is her day after all. So where was Linda?
His eyes caught a man in silver and grey aso oke. He had on a traditional Yoruba cap turned up at the edges. He was smiling and spraying money around, as he gathered up the extra yards of material swaying around him.
Next to him, he saw her. His breath caught in his throat as he looked on. The highlights in her wide silver and grey head tie, gleaming under the flood lights. She wasn’t smiling but she was dancing.
Black dots danced across his eyes as confusion reigned in his mind. His hands felt heavy, all of a sudden, too heavy to hold the letter. His prize letter. His ticket into the world he craved, a world of relevance. He caressed the letter as he looked over at her, the one that should have been his companion, his soul mate, swaying to the tune of another man’s music.
Sorrow flooded his soul as he dragged his feet back the way he came. Why stay and watch. It felt like his funeral, and then he felt fifty years older than his age.
He laid down in the darkness in his dingy room, his tears soaking his flat mattress.
Spent and drained, he turned to the wall and stared deep into what had become the worst night of his life. Tomorrow he would leave, he would pursue his dream, companion or not, he owed himself that much.
Linda wiped her tears with the edge of the aso oke. The harshness of the fabric hurt the delicate bags under her eyes. She had refused to go home with Biola, ignoring her mother’s threats and pleas. She had no moral duty to do that. After all, they weren’t married, only engaged. The thought of spending that night or any other night with the strange man was too much to bear.
What made her think she could do this? Marry another man? Whom she had only known for a few weeks, just because his father was a friend to her late father and had promised to get them back on their feet after they had had everything taken away from them? No. it hadn’t gotten that bad.
Her mother had tried to convince her that it wasn’t all about the help, the money or the property. She would have to marry soon anyway, having finished from the university and all, why postpone the evil, huh….good day? But she knew better.
As a matter of fact she sensed the situation wasn’t right at all. Something was fishy about this Biola guy. Why couldn’t he get a wife on his own? Were there no eligible ladies in Chicago or wherever he had surfaced from?
She stretched her neck to look outside her window. Well wishers who knew nothing of her inner turmoil were still loitering around eating, drinking and exchanging pleasantries. She settled down for the night wearing jeans and a turtle neck blouse.
Her plan had to work, it just had to. She had had to make a decision. To marry or not to marry? She would see how it felt at the engagement ceremony; how it felt to be forced to make such a life changing decision and then she would decide on her own.
Right now, she was more than decided. The whole farce had annoyed her sore. She was sure of one thing. She couldn’t marry Biola, no, not if she wanted to remain sane.
At a quarter past four the next morning her phone rang. It was Grace, her partner in this crime of love and hate. She stole out of the house on tiptoe, praying she wouldn’t rouse her ever vigilant mother. Grace was ready with her travel bag a little ways down the road in front of her own house.
They got to the park and Grace hugged her, tears in her eyes. She pressed a little paper into her hands containing that much needed PH address. She would stay over at Grace’s sister’s place for a few days until NYSC orientation camp opened. Then she would call Daniel. He wouldn’t have to know what she’d done, what she’d been through. Because then they’d be together and all will be well.
She hoped she was right.
Daniel sat in front of his apartment, his heart heavy. He heard his phone vibrate on the table in the room. He ignored it. He had left it on silent mode for two days now and threw himself into reading cases and training materials. The phone kept vibrating. His patience wore thin and he finally took the call.
“Daniel?” it was Linda. Her voice was quiet and kinda tired “Daniel, I’ve been trying to reach you. You didn’t take my calls, why now?”
“I’ve been busy.” His tone was curt and straight to the point.
“Look I’m sorry I haven’t called you for a few days now, I’ve had…..”
“Of course I understand. How was the celebration?”
“Celebration? What are you talking about? What have you heard? Has anybody told you anything?” she forced down the bile rising in her throat.
“Try what I saw.” Her breath caught in her throat at his words.
“Daniel, I need to see you. I’ll explain everything, please.”
“Linda, I’m busy right now. Call me later, ok?” He shut the flip phone violently and hissed. He ran his hands over his close cropped hair and paced the floor.
Should he listen to her? After all he saw? No. he was no fool. She had some under ground plan working and he wasn’t part of it. What was she thinking? Letting all that they had go? No! What was he thinking, believing her. That she’d stick with him, love him till the end.
He suddenly had a headache. He walked down the hallway to the large first aid box, searching for an aspirin. Kenny, one of the Barristers who’d also been hired, was walking down from the other end. They both shared a strong love for books, especially detective style stories and a room.
“Hey, Dan!” Kenny yelled as he always does. “Guess where I’m coming from.” He snapped his fingers in Daniel’s eyes. The poor guy practically cringed.
“Spare me the details Kenny, I have a headache. Plus I have a lot on my mind.”
He kicked the box shut and headed for their room. Kenny followed.
“Bros, this your girlfriend issue?” he shook his head in mock pity. “You’re way in over your head here. Look, I told you before, only a ‘slow’ guy will have that kind of trick pulled on him, and I mean slooowwww.” He spinned a book in his hand which Daniel hadn’t noticed before. He grabbed the book and flipped it over, smiling at the title.
“Thanks for rubbing it in, Kenny. I appreciate the concern.”
They reached their room and Kenny flopped on his bed.
“You’re welcome Bro. Have I told you about my new theory for surviving the dating scene?”
“I’m sure I’ll do well without it.”
“No really, I should tell you. It’s ‘the farther, the safer’” He paused, savouring the sound of his own voice. “You see, Chicks are like fire; they warm you up when they’re around, but get any closer? … they burn.” He pointed to his head, “Get it in here. I mean it.”
At midnight two days later, Daniel had not yet had a wink of sleep. He tossed and turned, working every nerve in his troubled body. What to do now? He loved Linda, he loves Linda. He had dreamt of their life together. Their little kids, two of them just like she wanted. The girl would look like him and the boy like her.
He got up and walked to his drawer. He pulled out a picture of Linda they had taken on the motion ground on campus. He smiled and caressed it. Was it over? Really over?
He had never considered himself a weak man, so how did he fall for this? Or, was she for real?
He dragged his feet back to his bed and dropped heavily on it.
Kenny’s phone beeped and zinged. Sleepily, he grumbled and pressed talk. Daniel could only hear his part of the conversation.
“Hello?” Kenny bit into the receiver. He didn’t look pleased with whoever was on the other side “So? Look I was sleeping! Can we like, do this tomorrow?” he scratched his head in mild frustration as he listened. He stole a look at Daniel and found him staring. He shrugged and looked away. “Fine, do as you please” he hung up and hissed.
“Be with them once and they think they own you, how dreadful!” he looked to Daniel for some understanding. The look he got was one of accusation. “Hey, don’t look at me like that! What am I supposed to do? I can’t have my life back? Just because of one night? Pleaseee!” he threw the covers over his head and struggled to get back to beauty sleep.
Daniel shook his head in amazement. He couldn’t believe all he just heard. He wasn’t one to judge anyone but that was wrong! Or wasn’t it? Well, it had to be, considering Kenny got such calls from different girls at different times.
Oh whatever! It wasn’t his business after all.
He got up from sitting at the edge of the bed and walked out to the hallway in front of their room. The sky was lit with stars. He leaned on the rails and tried to let his mind wander, but it was all Linda.
Did she still love him? She’s here in PH. She had called to see him but he didn’t know what to believe. He thought of all the times they’d had together, was it all a lie?
Her words flashed across the evening sky “Whatever happens, you’ll never forget me, never.” He weighed them in his heart.
At exactly four am, after he had tried unsuccessfully to catch some sleep, Daniel picked up his phone and dialed her number; she picked up on the fourth ring, her voice heavy with sleep.
“Hello?” Daniel hesitated; it kinda felt good to hear her voice.
She sat up fast like she’d been hit by a lightning bolt.
“Daniel is this you?” her heart beat crazily, fear and uncertainty squeezing at her lungs.
“Huh, yes it’s me. I’d like to come see you at the camp. How is that?”
“Yes, you can. When do you want to come? Today?” she said checking the time.
“Yeah, today’s fine with me, four in the evening.”
“Daniel? It’s not what you think. I swear I never meant for it to happen, I was in a fix and had to make a decision. But you are my decision, you and only you.”
“I didn’t know what to believe Linda. It was all…” he struggled to find the words to describe how he felt on that night, watching his life disappear before him and being helpless to do anything about it.
“I know, and I’m sorry. I never meant for it to happen.” She burst into tears as she relived the pain her foolishness had caused him. “I’m sorry.”
“Hey babes. Don’t cry, okay. We’ll sort this out. See you at four, right?”
Her heart soared at his words. “Yes.”
“Okay. And by the way I’ll be wearing a certain blue Nike jacket a dear friend gave me.” Linda chuckled despite her tears, remembering the Jacket she had given him when they first met.
“Then, I’ll be the one with her heart on her sleeve…”
Daniel hesitated at her words, a tiny smile played at the corners of his mouth. If this was the Linda he’d always known, she hadn’t strayed one bit. He couldn’t wait to see her that evening.
“Four then.” he double checked.
“Four.” Her heart soared to high heavens.