Here’s Chreez. I won’t say much. His work will speak for him.
“I’m a go getter
Never stop even when i get better.”
This has been a sort of anthem to him and it went beyond that, it served like a talisman – always re-energizing him in his most depressing times – so he chanted ceaselessly inside that inner chamber of his heart that does most of the thinking.
He wasn’t aware that darkness had stolen the day and that the world around had been invaded by vehicles calling noisily through blaring horns and that the street lights’ radiance had surpassed that of the lonely moonlight. The rush of air that slapped hard on his face, hard enough that it felt like a sting, was what brought him back to reality.
“Hell! It’s night already!!” He exclaimed, catching and tucking this fluttering tie back into his suit.
He looked straight ahead, at the bank directly opposite from where he stood and noticed for the first time that the blue awning which he’d always known the bank to possess from time unmemorable was no longer there.
When did he stop being aware of his surroundings?
The answer was not far away, it was right there at that same secret chamber of his heart, tittering noisily. The answer too was simple, just as every answer was, only that we mostly chose to neglect or doubt it because of its apparent simplicity.The answer was that the awareness of the world around him died the day he killed his wife; and coincidentally this same day marked the inception of his prosperity in the business world.
So here is Ochuko, the business sage and tycoon of all times, hurry up everyone, go get your glasses filled and lets celebrate success. This man is not just successful, he is success himself.
“Stop it! Stop it!” He threw clenched fists in the air and picked up pace.
It was Friday evening and he had just won for his corporation some millions of Naira. He was an asset, he knew that but bearing in mind how it came to be, how he suffered to become what he finally was, he chose not to let it get to his head like wine.
They had celebrated the buying over of Atlantic transport group of companies, which looked promising if only managed by the right set of hands (nothing to worry about so far as Ochuko was concerned). He had drunk half a cup of wine and after some time, the atmosphere had gotten soporific – figures clad in thick suit hugging themselves as if for comfort with moving lips which seemed not to be saying anything at all audible, jazz music droning endlessly in the background and beautiful chandeliers splashing disturbingly bright and conflicting colours of lights on the walls, totally in disagreement with the music- so he decided to leave for home.
It was his day, everybody was celebrating him. What right had he not to be happy? But he wasn’t happy. Ugly thoughts had invaded him at the realization of the missing awning.
Who cared about an awning anyway and what right did it have to open the doorway to old, bad memories the way it had just done?
He was beginning to get angry like he mostly did so easily these days.
God should just rid us of our thoughts, especially those perturbing ones, but wouldn’t he still have been an impecunious young man if not for those same unique thoughts which mostly were PERTURBING?
He didn’t kill his wife, he told himself but that seemed like a soothing lie. If only he had allowed her take the flight she had suggested instead of that goddamned bus that he proffered which got her killed in the end. If only he had shut out completely that day, that unique business management way of thinking that now was the crux of his sorrow as well as his abrupt prosperity. There were just too much ifs that would never stop being ifs and change conditions for the better.
Sweat had started trickling down in strategic parts of his body making him feel totally uncomfortable in his expensive black suit but he was a perfect gentleman- it is totally against the rule to remove the suit in such conditions. He was forced to break into a trot in order to board the almost full BRT bus. Finally in, he settled down next to a plump woman who looked unfastidious in her dress but not old. He was sure she was the one emitting much of the heat he felt as there was no tangible reason for his feeling so hot with all the windows in the bus open and the bus in motion, moreover he sat next to the window.
“E put em singlet, e put em shirt. E put em jacket, e put em tie. E put em suit, e say e be gentleman… I no be gentleman at all oh!” She mouthed out Fela’s song, peered at him through the slit of her eyes, nodded her head to some unheard beat and tapped her fingers lightly on the next seat.
He was taken aback at hearing the song, mostly because it came from his seat partner. He wondered if it was coincidence but wouldn’t subscribe to the thought. It was clear to him that she was indirectly mocking him.
He cautiously threw her a glance – to see if he could read some cynical expressions on her face – trying his best to feign that he was unfazed and realized that she actually had an earpiece buried into her ears. Maybe, he thought, it truly was the song she was listening to at the moment. He sighed and decided to let it go but before he could take back his eyes, it happened on another lady, sitting in the next row, almost side by side with his plump seat partner if not for the passageway separating them.
She sat calmly, looking far ahead into… well, NOTHING! There was a certain tranquil about her which radiated an outer as well as his most preferred, inner beauty. He had never felt so distracted by a lady in a very long time like he did at the moment. Seven years since his wife’s death yet he remained steadfast to self denial of the warmth of a woman and at a point, he began humouring himself with the thought that he could become very successful in the celibacy thing if only becoming a priest was good and profitable business.
Her hair looked like they had just come off the hair drier of a luxurious hair dressing salon. It was her natural hair, not black like his wife’s, a dull brown but shiny nonetheless. The dull fluorescent enclosed in white plastic casing, plastered to the ceiling of the bus glowed on her hair and caused it to shimmer. Her face was oval like an egg and possessed eyes that sparkled beneath fairly long lashes, small but pointed nose and a small mouth that boasted of well shaped full pink lips, a sculptor’s delight. He wondered how she would look if she smiled, MORE BEAUTIFUL…
He moved his eyes away from her face but not away from her. He started to trace his eyes to the region below her face – the neck, and the region below that too – when she caught his stare and fixed him a quizzical, scolding look. It felt cold.
He quickly retreated his face and his thought as well as a flood of embarrassment and guilt filled him. Guilt at how much he already loved, wanted and lusted for this lady, more than he had ever felt for his deceased wife. He felt a strong pull towards this lady and knew he would succumb to it and soon enough.
The bus grew hotter still. The plump lady sitting next to him seemed to have noticed the whole exchange of glances. Had he not felt the weight of her stare the same way the other lady had felt his?
God! How visible had the lust shone in my eyes, he thought.
“Every time that i look into your eyes, i see fire in there. Fireee.” His seat partner sang, this time doing little to conceal her smiles.
Anger ushered him into regret, it’s distant relative. Regret at not having gone to work today with his car. He wouldn’t have been sitting next to this lady with an annoying collection of old songs. Well, that saying that there’s always an opportunity in every disappointment could be a conditional fallacy. It tended to be valid on certain occasions, occasions like the one he was presently in. He was glad to have beheld such beauty and felt the way he was still feeling; like a man just out of a straitjacket and relishing anew his mobility after a considerable long period of immobility, but what would he do with this feeling? Nothing?
He shut the thought away from his mind and let it wonder to Lucy, his five year old daughter and sweetheart. She was all he had left and the love he had for her couldn’t be compared to the one he have for God.
God knows he love her more than him.
He knew he has not been as loving a father to her as he had wished to be but it was for the best. Looking critically into it, it was for her benefit alone. He works harder than ever before to make sure he wins her a luxurious future. He would will all he had acquired in the long run to her before he finally gave up the ghost.
She’d be at home now, probably sleeping or listening to one of Miss Sharon’s numerous tales. Miss Sharon is Lucy’s school teacher. He contracted with her to help bring his daughter back home safely each day after school and spend the time with her till he returned from work. It was an inconvenient task for the school teacher but the money he paid was convenient enough- three times her salary.
He chose to care less about how Miss Sharon felt about the job as long as Lucy doesn’t complain and recently, it has become obvious that she loves the job. She tries to be the mother of the girl in every possible way and the little girl sticks to her like a daughter too.
He prayed deeply that he would meet her awake, he longed for the warmth of her hug, the fresh smell of her infant skin and the radiance of her smile.
The bus stopped at a bus stop and a few passengers were debarking from the bus. This was not his bus stop, he still had a long way to go so he decided to while the rest of the time with thoughts of his daughter but not for long, his attention was diverted. He suddenly became aware of the weight of someone’s stare on him so he involuntarily allowed his eyes stray back to her, the beauty that had caught his attention, believing she was the one gazing at him but that seemed not to be the case; this left him in despair but as an opportunist, he let his stare on her linger. He cared less about her catching his eyes the second time neither did he care about the next track the lady sitting next to him would sing. Oh! Not even his daughter seemed to matter at the moment. He had an answer now and it was simple as always.
He wouldn’t be going home immediately he alighted from this bus, he might not even come down at his bus stop. He would surely go get her. He would…
“If you love somebody, walk up to her and tell her how much you love am oh!”
He smoothened his black suit and forced his eyes to follow the movements his fingers were making as they trailed on the suit’s pant, wondering what happened to his resolution of caring less about his seat partner’s song . He was deeply embarrassed and totally irritated. How could this lady have the right song at the right moment? Who was she to mock him with her songs?
“Are you the listener or the singer?” He poked her in the arm.
“What a question?” She said without turning, still moving her head to the sound of the beat, the secret beat only she could hear.
The anger in him was becoming irrepressible but he managed to contain it, reminding himself that he had to act like a gentleman. Everyone who knew him would have known better than to reply him that way. If only this lady had this knowledge, then what?
He shifted in his seat and longed dearly for the end of the journey- the time she’d finally choose to get off the bus. Mr Ochuko dipped his hand into his pocket and plucked out his phone…
* * * * *
Sandy was fighting hard to hold back the tears that threatened to fall at any slight blink of the eyes, she looked far ahead into space instead and it seemed to help. The past 36 hours had turned out to be the fastest and most terrible hours of her life.
It all started sometime around 7a.m yesterday when she went to visit Casmir, her lover and spouse to be. The night before that morning visit, they had had a heated discussion on phone concerning how much longer the wedding was going to take to become a reality. He had heaped excuses upon excuses, all of which roamed around one point – he wasn’t as wealthy yet as he intended to become before finally settling down. She was getting older, the next month would see her become twenty seven years old in age and the pressure from her family was becoming unbearable.
“How would you date a man for five years and yet there are still no plans for marriage? Sandra! Open your eyes, be wise…” her mother had complained while they were in the kitchen preparing breakfast.
She hadn’t missed the sadness in her mom’s face nor the strain in her voice. She wasn’t feeling cool about it either, it had become a restless rat always gnawing at her mind so she decided to remind Cas about their long engagement. She knew how much he hated that particular discussion and how he always felt being pushed – which unfailingly turns up his anger switch – whenever she tried persuading him to marry her at any condition.
She had popped the question to him nonetheless that night and it was met with the same negative resolve and anger she had anticipated. She loved him with every bit of her heart and couldn’t even imagine what would become of her if they didn’t end up together. That particular discussion was the worst of them all, he threatened to shun her completely if she ever asked the question again, pointing out to her that it was lack of trust in him that always prompted the question. She pleaded with him wholeheartedly and even asked if she could come and spend the night with him to make up for the disagreement but he refused. She had gone to bed with a heavy heart and on waking up the next morning she came up with a decision to pay him a surprise visit.
Casmir’s apartment was a silent graveyard and the first thought to cross her mind was that something bad had happened to him. He was an early riser and around such time of the day, he would be whistling some tune in the bathroom while he took his bath, in preparation for work at 8 a.m. She pushed open the entrance door to the sitting room and peered around. Not a trace of him.
She barely restrained the urge to scream as she checked the kitchen. There was no whistling water in the kettle, nor a sign that breakfast was in process. Very unlike him.
She rushed to the bedroom with a thumping heart and met the door half ajar, Casmir cherished his privacy so much, he would never leave the door to his room -his privacy – open.
She cautiously peered into the room, totally sure now that he had been murdered or maybe something less harmful than that, but bad nonetheless and that the villain was still there…
The shape her eyes made out on the bed covered with blanket was big, fat, large enough not to be her Casmir. Who was underneath the blanket?
She looked closely and her heart beat stopped completely.
It was not just a shape, there were two people underneath the wide blanket.
She consciously pushed the door wide open to draw their attention and the tired hinges did their job perfectly well; they squeaked loud enough to bring the two figures on the bed to alert. The blanket moved, all the way to their knees and revealed her greatest fear. The two figures were naked, and the feminine one was dark and beautiful, more beautiful than she was…
Casmir would come after her, she kept telling herself but he never did. She went back home totally shaken and in tears at the betrayal which she never saw coming. How would she let out this news to her mother? She dared not but she needed a shoulder to cry on and possibly some piece of useful advise too but the new discovery that met her on reaching home was worse than the betrayal.
HER MOTHER HAD FALLEN OFF A CHAIR AND WAS PRESENTLY IN THE HOSPITAL!
She spent the rest of the day in the hospital crying and praying. She was about to lose the only things that mattered to her in this life. Casmir had talked her into leaving her job.
“You can’t work in that restaurant anymore, the fire is too hot for you. See, the colour of your skin has changed already and you’re beginning to look old.” He had begged.
She didn’t even give it a second thought. She wanted him and he would marry her, so what he wanted done had to be done. Such is love and love is such. Moreover, he had promised to get her a better job which he never did and now…
He was getting out of the picture, she was the only one left in the frame and she looked ugly in it.
She had no brother nor father, she had come to know just one woman who had led her through the thorns of this earth, making sure she never stepped on any. A woman who was never tired of showing love, who never gave up, well, until now… she was about giving up on her.
Before the day was up, the doctor informed her that her mother was perfectly well, she was diagnosed of high blood pressure, would need to undergo some further tests plus some prescribed drugs that needed to be purchased. It all bore down to one basic truth: HER MOM WOULD CONTINUE TO BE ALRIGHT AS LONG AS THERE WAS MONEY.
But there was no money, so what? Her mom would die?
While leaving the hospital today, she passed a shop with reflective glass door and the reflection of herself she got a glimpse of was so appalling – swollen eyes, unkempt hair, collar bones sticking out and a pale skin. She looked very sick and she knew something had to be done, continuing this way in her grief might see her losing her sanity at the end.
She branched over at SPARKLE’S SALON.
Washing and setting at Sparkle’s place cost one thousand five hundred naira, very expansive when compared to that of the local one room salons scattered around the locality. She would have preferred to be thrift on occasions like this but there was no money to start with to inspire being thrift. She was a regular customer at Sparkle’s therefore she hoped that her long standing customer’s patronage would help her. Moreover, it was far better to explain ones condition to an acquaintance than to someone entirely new.
With these considerations in mind, Sandra confidently walked into Sparkle’s and settled down for first class treatment. It was very easy entering into an interesting discussion with the hairdresser who always attended to her, they laughed when laughing was appropriate and said the “eh yah” when necessary. So charming it was…
But what wasn’t charming at all was when she shared her own sorry story. At first she found it surprising that anyone at all would fail to feel pity for her at such a tale of misfortunes but then she remembered she was still in Nigeria where money mattered much more than people. The long and short of it was that she was made to deposit her engagement ring.
She was again stripped of the things that mattered much to her. Cas had given her that ring, he told her it was pure diamond. She couldn’t tell if it was pure of fake but she was certain of two things – it was beautiful and it looked expensive – not at all a match for the hair of one-five…
“Driver! College bus stop owa oh!”
She was brought back to her sad present and she felt eyes scanning her. She looked towards the direction and caught the eyes, she was irritated at what she saw in them. Though the owner of the eyes looked like a hundred bucks, she was sure she didn’t like him, maybe she would have liked him but her present state of mind was at play. She hate all men!
She fixed him a stern look and he quickly took away his face from her direction. Good.
She had to do something to her condition, she needed money so badly to get her mom out of the hospital and also, she needed to teach Casmir a lesson. She wanted him to know she was no lady to be easily meddled with; there was no way he would get away with this. If it meant killing him, she would do it. A drop of tear finally escaped her eyes and ran down the smooth curve of her cheek.
The bus was slowly coming to a halt, a little distance ahead was college bus stop, by the left. That place had always been home but today, it felt nothing like home, it felt haunted…