Sharon was almost done dressing, she just needed to choose the right set of earrings and necklace to go with the armless green blouse and black jean. She drew out her jewelry box from the second drawer, very conscious of the death trap in the first. She picked up a flower shaped earring designed with some shiny green stuff that looked like some form of precious stone, and advanced with it to the standing mirror. The image she caught on he mirror made her heart sink.
“I’m going out with Dave on a date tonight. Sha Sha, how does this look on me?” Blessing asked.
Her sister hardly talked to her. They could spend months in silence, even as they shared the same bedroom. It bothered her a lot because Blessing was all she could call a role model but Blessing didn’t seem to be bothered that they were living miles apart. She in fact enjoyed it as it stretched. She hated the family, hated their home, and their mother especially. It was puzzling to Sharon since their mother showered all the love on Blessing. She wondered what secret lay between the two… Tonight was one of those unusual nights she wished would last forever. Her lovely sister was in a cheerful mood, she couldn’t help sharing in that cheerfulness.
“You know what I think Ble? I think you’d be getting your first real kiss tonight.” She said, and Blessing laughed heartily.
“Silly girl, fantasize for yourself. Who told you that I’ve not had a real good kiss in my life?”
“Wow.” Her eyes grew large with amazement. “How does it feel? I mean, the way they show it in movies, is it really that sort of feeling?”
“Go get a boyfriend dear. That’s God’s blessing to womanhood. Men, guys, boys. If you don’t have one, you’re missing.” Blessing slipped into a flat-soled shoe. Knowing she was a tall lady, she never bothered about heels.
Blessing was wearing a light green top that clung tightly to her body, and with loose neck, exposed her well packed bust. Tight black jean went with the green top. The jean accentuated her curves, and with her hair boundless, and falling to her shoulders, she could kill any man that made the mistake to look.
“Don’t waste that wide opened mouth. Use it to wish me luck.” Blessing said.
“Oh.” She flustered. “Okay, to my sister and queen, the best luck in the world follow you on this your date. But wait a minute, is this Dave very charming? I mean like in the …”
The memory which had been droning on in her deeper subconscious began to fade at this moment. Sharon watched the first drop of tears race down her cheek. She felt weak and tired all at once. She looked exactly like her late sister had looked that night; it was more than a coincidence, she thought.
“You never said why you hated me so much, but you did hate me.” She said in a shaky voice, as she picked the second pair of earring.
“I’ve tried to love you, but I found out I was a loser in love. Mom had come with a magic formula. Do you know that Ble?” She asked the still apparition in the mirror.
“Be a winner in hatred and gain love. This is greater than the math’s almighty formula. I’m sorry I failed to win your heart, but I promise not to loose in hatred. I promise not to stop until everything about you goes to the grave with you. I’m sorry big sis.”
She touched the necklace that hung around her neck, it was the most expensive necklace in the box. Touching it seemed to give her a sense of appropriateness, a sense of righteousness, and justice. It strengthened her in mighty volumes. She tried for a smile, and it came out strong as a grin, not faltering the least as she had expected. She picked up her purse and left the room.
On passing her mother’s room, something prickled her mind, it was a reminder about carefulness. She lingered a little beside the door, listening to the humming drone of something, and being marked by the rays of light flowing from the large cracks in the wooden door. She soon understood what it was she ought to be careful about. She made a beeline for the sitting room, straight to the glass table at the centre of the room. On the second level of the table, where old newspapers, magazines, and some not too important documents were forgotten, she took out a small address book. A huge cloud of doubt began to loom over her mind as she thumbed through pages. It disappeared the moment she happened on what she wanted. She sighed her relief.
Sharon punched the telephone number of Amazing grace from the address book into her phone and dialed it the moment she was done. It was picked on the first ring.
“Doc Al from Amazing grace Hospital.” A glacial voice said. She shuddered.
“Uhm… Am I not supposed to have gotten the receptionist… Or something.” She stammered.
“You won yourself some luck dear.” The voice coughed laughter. “Well, over here, we operate a form of central administration that is quite informal. Do you understand me, lady?”
“Not so very much, but it doesn’t matter. I called to -”
“Oh dear me, where have my manners gone to?” He interrupted. “I’m sorry Lady. Please what is your name, where are you calling from, and what can we do for you?”
Who is this clown? She thought to herself, wishing she could punch him through the phone. She drew it away from her ears instead and waited for the feeling to pass away.
“I was about telling you what I wanted but you interrup-”
“Oh! Never mind me. And you know what? I’m so sorry for the interruption.” The voice of Doc Al from the other end interrupted again.
“I want to know if a certain Mr. Ochuko is in your hospital.” She continued, relentless of her anger.
“Could it be the one whose daughter is suffering from a first degree burn?” He asked. And then, “Oh sorry. But hope you wouldn’t mind if I ask who you are. Would you? You know, some many funny developments have taken place here in the past twenty four-”
“No Sir, I don’t mind. I’m his wife.”
“Oh dear, I knew it. That slick bastard.” He said with some glee.
“Excuse me.” She said, sounding offended.
She was trying hard not to let her anticipation show, her body seemed to be trembling with it. Best to play it patiently to the end, she thought.
“Oh please, Lady, Ma. I really didn’t mean it. I mean.” Doc Al coughed into the phone. “You see, I think this is some confidential stuff, but I hate infidelity.”
“If you feel it should be best kept confidential, then-”
“Oh no. Don’t get me wrong Ma. As much as I respect my patients and in your husband’s case, my patient’s ward, I uphold good morals to the highest.”
“Fine then.” She said, her patience running out.
“I’m sorry, but I think your husband have been cheating on you.” He paused a little to let the news sink in. “There’s this other very beautiful patient, who… well, what she’s suffering from doesn’t matter. But your husband knew her all along and he forced me to.”
“To what?” She screamed into the phone.
“I’m sorry ma. If this is beginning to get under your nerves, I can just stop here.”
“No. Please go on.”
“Okay. He forced me to discharge her. Well this was just in support of her pleas to be discharged anyway.”
“They left the hospital together.”
“What of my daughter?” She asked.
“Oh, I was so carried away that I left that. You see, someone attempted to take her life. It scared me so much because such thing have never happened in Amazing Grace since it began to operate. I think it scared your husband too, because he wouldn’t trust us to continue treating her. He took her away. I’m sorry for the slight breach, I call it slight becau-”
She ended the call, forcefully ending that apologetic tone. She could feel anger, an unrefined kind, simmering away in the pit of her heart. She looked into space for some seconds, and then all of a sudden, hit her phone on the table.
“Damn it! Damn me. I’m such a loser.”
There was the loud noise coming from her mother’s room to be grateful to. She was very glad her sudden outburst had not called her mother’s attention. She dreaded the all knowing look her mother would have on her face, as she gave her another round of seminar on doing things right. The old woman had sensed it all along, had known somehow. It wasn’t comforting that her mother knew she had failed, it wasn’t comforting either that she was still alive.
“I have to end things for good this time.” She said. She picked up her purse from the chair and strode back to her room.
From the first drawer, Sharon drew out the complete bunch of belladonna berries, the leaves were totally useless to her since she didn’t know how to use them. She regretted not accepting the cyanide pills from Al Mohammed. The L-Pills would have ended this thing for good, and very quickly too. The berries were still in good condition though she had not taken the preservative instructions seriously. She found a small wrapper, bundled up the berries in it, and put it into her bag.
While passing her mother’s room this second time, she called out loud, “Ma, please switch off that humming thing. It’s too noisy.”
“Too noisy is very good. Going out again?” Her mother screamed back.
“Yes. Would be back very soon.”
“Okay, deal well with whatever you’re going to deal with.”
She paused at the entrance door, held her breath for a while, then stepped out into the now hotter afternoon. At the gate, she met Tunde and Tracy again, they were playing a game of bottle corks this time. She wondered if Tunde had finally returned the rubber bands to Tracy. It wasn’t her business anyway. She passed without them noticing, they were totally absorbed in the game, and from the heap of corks lying beside Tracy, it was clear that Tunde would be the one doing the whining soon.
She was off to Ochuko’s place again, and this time, she wouldn’t return until she was sure Lucy was completely taken out.
* * *
It seemed like they all were comfortable with the silence, it stretched for minutes uninterrupted by anything, not even the drop of a needle. Then all of a sudden, Bobo was out of his seat, and beside Casmir. He grabbed a handful of Cas’ shirt, using it to choke him.
“Hey, what is this?” Cas said, speaking as if through a mouthful. “The guy’s blocking off my air passage. And I’m not going to touch him, though I can figure he was the one that burnt my neck last night and socked me out with an unexpected…”
Before he could say blow, Bobo landed him a punch in the mouth, his upper lip puffed up like an inflated balloon almost immediately.
“You see, you both watched him to it again.” He wriggled his neck for air. “I’m just going to take it all for you, Sandy.”
Ochuko ran over and seized Bobo’s hand as it was about dealing the second blow. Close to Bobo, he could feel the heat of his anger. It was sizzling hot.
“The bastard almost killed Sandy last night, and he boldly shows his ugly face here again.” Bobo panted in Ochuko’s arms. “I’m going to kill him today, if I don’t, call me… See just let go of me. You hear me?”
Casmir took the opportune moment and ran to Sandy who was standing there at the centre with tears spilling down her cheeks. He knelt beside her and took one of her hands.
“Sandy please, come with me. My time is very short. I’ve got the police behind me.” He said.
“No, Cas.” She shook her head. “Its over between us. Please leave, I’m begging you, please.”
Fresh tears strolled down her face. Cas could see how much she was trying to withhold those tears, knew it was how much she was also trying to wash their long bitter-sweet relationship down the drain. He was at fault in everything, he had screwed up everything, but he was contrite now. He wanted to love her properly this time, if only she would give him this one chance to begin again.
“My guy.” Bobo cried, still trying to struggle out of Ochuko’s grip. “I’m done with you, don’t let me start it with you all over again. Let go of me, let me show somebody the way to his grave.”
“Oh God!” He screamed. One arm slipped out from the lock, it bunched up into a fist and found Ochuko in the belly. Ochuko took it in, gritting his teeth, then twisted the hand back into the lock before the other slipped free. “My man, see for yourself na. See that slippery bastard, he’s trying to take advantage of her softness.”
“You won’t win this fight through violence.” Ochuko replied calmly. His voice was almost soothing.
Sandy went to a chair, sat quietly in it, covered her face and began to weep. Cas crawled up to her on his knees.
“Sandy please believe me, I’m a changed person. And I’m very well prepared to marry you now.”
“Now you can say it because it’s that easy for you.” She sniffed. “Where would the joy of that marriage be when my mother who have always wanted to see me on that beautiful white gown, and carry my babies is lying cold in the mortuary?”
It came like a punch to Cas, it whipped out all he had to say. He just knelt there with mouth wide open, exposing his unbelief.
“I was just a chess game to you Cas, you could move me around the board the way you wanted. I loved you with all my heart, Cas. God could bear witness to that.”
“And I loved you too Sandy.”
“Shut up! You cheater.” Sandy shrieked, it accompanied an equally glass crackling slap. “I’m sorry Cas. But please leave. Please.”
“Sandy, just look at me. Look deep in my eyes.” He took his hand away from his red cheek, and took her left hand. He linked his fingers in hers, and noticed that it had linked smoothly without even the slightest of impediments. It came to him them like lightening.
She drew her hand forcefully out of his, noticing the shocked look on his face. She stood and backed him, he stood also.
“Sandy.” Cas called softly. “Where is the ring?”
She didn’t reply. She went on sobbing into her palms.
Something in what Ochuko said calmed Bobo considerably. He was no longer struggling. Ochuko though would take no chances, he still held him in a death grip, afraid that Bobo would strangle Cas to death once let free. And together in silence, they watched the scene.
“Sandy you have to answer me now.” His voice gained pitch. “You have to.”
“I’m not wearing it.” She turned abruptly to face him. “Don’t you grasp things well. I told you earlier that it’s over between us.”
“I’m begging you Sandy. Please get into your room, to wherever you have kept my ring, and put it back on.”
“And what would you do if I don’t?” She advanced closer to him, tiptoeing so that she could stand face to face with him.
Cas looked at the two men. They appeared to be locked in each other’s hold like two scared boys. The picture was funny to him, but the situation wasn’t. His claim of authority on her was broken, she had taken off his ring. It was like his birthright walking away from him because of his hunger for a plate of hot porridge. Sandy had gone wild, he could see it in her eyes. What under the sky had given her the courage to take off his ring? Their precious engagement ring. Maybe one of these men had convinced her to do so. Maybe she now had one, or even both of them’s rings on her fingers.
Cas frantically grabbed both of Sandy’s hand and looked at them. Bobo struggled harder, almost slipping free this time, but Ochuko held him again.
“What is wrong with you Cas? You want to rape me again?” Sandy screeched.
At the sound of the word RAPE, the circuits in Ochuko’s brain snapped free. Years past – those poor, bitter years, he called it – he had watched his only sister raped by four hefty boys. He was just a boy then, and they were still living in heir hometown at Agbor. He and his sister had gone to the stream to do some laundry when these huge boys sprung out from the bush. Two quickly held him, while the other two grabbed his sister. They tore her clothes into shreds in a matter of seconds, and then took turns doing the nasty job. Even the two holding him firm switched turns one after the other with the other two, just to have their own share. They knocked him out of consciousness before fleeing the scene. The memory of his sister sprawled there on the ground, wounded and crying, with so much blood soaking the sand, came to him then. He let go of Bobo.
Cas was holding Sandy by the shoulder and vigorously shaking her. “Where’s my ring! Go get me my ring!” He kept screaming, and, “damn it, do you know how much that ring cost me?”
Bobo charged Cas like a bull; he didn’t see it coming. He gave him a hard blow on his side. Cas doubled over, leaving frightened Sandy to flee for safety. He looked up in shock at Bobo who was hunched beside him.
“You don’t hear.” He coughed. “Did I not mention here that I didn’t come for you?”
Bobo slapped the shock out of his face, anger quickly replaced it. In a flash, Cas hit Bobo in the belly. Bobo clutched his belly. Cas struggled to his feet, grabbing Bobo in the arm.
“You should have just let me have her back cooly.” Cas said.
He biffed Bobo on the nose, his neck snapped, and blood flew. Bobo got up, bleeding from nose and mouth, he had his bloodstained teeth clenched in a lunatic grin.
“You want it man to man, right? You’re going to have it.” Bobo said. He gripped Cas’ crotched. Cas howled in agony, slapping Bobo’s hand weakly. “You’re going to learn it the hard way my friend.”
Sandy was with Ochuko now, sobbing into his shirt. It was all like a nightmare to her, she couldn’t understand why all these things were happening. He held her firmly, stroking her hair. They both were trembling. Him in anger, while she in sobs. Standing there, they looked like the sane survivors of an indoor party that had gone berserk.
“Let me take you to my house, Sandy. What do you say?” Ochuko asked.
Sandy shook her head. “Why is all this happening? Where has it been my fault in all of these?”
The sadness in that sweet face was heart wrenching. He slowly wiped away her tears, struggling against the urge to kiss her. That felt like the best thing to do. He could kiss her long enough for her to forget all her sorrows. He drew her to him instead and slowly began to make his way to the door. He expected her to resist, but she didn’t. Together, they walked the small length of the room to the door.
“Fool, they are getting away.” Cas said. He had intended it to be a scream, an exclamation, but there, it had come out as a weak whisper.
Bobo looked up in time to see their backs passing through the door, but then, the fist of the man he was comfortably sitting on connected on his bleeding nose. He screamed.
“Bastard, you broke my nose.” He cried. “You’re a dead man already.”
And so did they enter into the next round of their mad tussle.