* * *
It wasn’t his first time but he intended it to be the last. Wednesday night it was, had turned out to be the genesis of this world of mess he was knee dip in. To be exact, it was his fifth time, his fifth time of cheating on Sandra. Casmir kept a tab on all the times he had cheated on the lady he would someday marry. They both had reiterated on cheating countless number of times as an unforgivable crime in their long relationship.
Sandra offered him everything he wanted, the happiness, the companionship, the love, the body… she was a complete package – one which was worth saving the wrapper because of it’s charm, attractiveness and beauty – and he had wanted nothing more from a woman other than what he got from her BUT…
… but she had a problem. She failed to understand simple explanations. This has been the only reason for all the arguments and misunderstanding they have encountered in their relationship.
He didn’t want to get married as an average man. Everything in this world worked on a master plan, therefore he had every right to make the things that rotated in his own world agree with his perfect plan.
And the perfect plan was to get married when he was wealthy enough and wasn’t folding his arms on actualizing this plan, neither was it an unrealistic utopian plan.
Casmir was raised along side ten siblings by parents who couldn’t even be classified as poor, they were wretched and unfortunately, he was the last of the cursed battalion. Thank God for their local government chairman who had provided their community with free deplorable public schools, he wouldn’t have had basic education. Also to be thanked was the same God for blessing him with nice brains – that assimilated quickly and retained loads of relevant information – which helped earn him scholarships that saw him through his secondary and tertiary education. His father and mother died of an unknown sickness. Unknown as there was no medical attention given to them. Two of his siblings died shortly after them – three months later – in a fire accident that deprived them of their home and the remaining of his siblings were shared among relatives. He was at school when the fire incident claimed his siblings, it was his final term in secondary school and by the time he had rounded up his schooling, he was all on his own, no willing relative to take him up, all giving the excuse of having their hands already filled.
Luck found him and he was accepted into the home of his secondary school buddy. Barth his friend had a very nice family that was bounded by the thick cords of love. He was accepted with ease and in no time, he blended well. He became the only brother Barth ever had in his incomplete stay in this world. God bless his soul. Barth’s family was not well to do but they had enough to eat and so much love to share.
His friend’s parents were hardworking people and kind ones at that. They provided his freshman’s school fees without grumbling though he knew the hell they passed through to save up to the needed amount. Barth couldn’t continue with school, he was terribly ill, down with Sickle-cell anemia.
This was that type of misfortune that ended up becoming a fortune. Were Barth in good health, he might not have had the chance to attend the university.
Barth died the next year, Casmir’s sophomore year in the university. It was very sorrowful to watch such a tender and kind soul lowered into the ground. Towards the end of that same academic year, he won for himself a scholarship.
He gradually became the child Barth’s parent needed and they poured all their love and support on him. Meanwhile, there was never a concern from his own family concerning his existence. It thus was very easy for Casmir to write them off from his memory as he wholly accepted his new family.
His foster parents were old and graying now, they were the ones he introduced to Sandy as his parents just last year when they had traveled to Agbor, their hometown for a festival.
Casmir’s background was not the type he wished for his enemy not to talk of any child of his, NEVER.
He was almost at the height he hoped to attain, his estate firm was growing at a regular pace, not fast enough but good. He had never gotten to tell Sandy about his background but she could see for herself the progress he was making in his business.
Wasn’t that proof enough for her that he would soon be that man of his dreams and then finally settle down to raise a family with her?
The cheating started right from the first night they quarreled on the subject. They had just returned from the cinema that night and were about having a powerful night together when she popped up the question. He chose to ignore the question and instead tried to get her in the mood but that only succeeded in putting her out of the mood. The night fun was terminated, they exchanged rough words instead and then to seal the already bad night, she told him the words he’d always feared she would say someday:
“I think you just want to use and dump me. Tell me Casmir, have you not used me enough? Prove me wrong now by making just a promise of marriage to me.”
He couldn’t make that promise, it was too costly and so he watched her stomp out of the house in fury. He had never felt so empty in his life the way he felt that night, he needed her but knew he couldn’t have her.
Anger enveloped him and it brought along with it a kind of stirring that was not entirely new to him. He acted upon it and before the night was over, he had calmed himself with a hooker.
Sandy came back the next day to apologize for something she had the right to be angry about and he accepted her back, she was a rare gem and he knew even while he delayed their marriage that he would never find another lady like her. He began nurturing fears about losing her so he bought her an engagement ring to ensure that she was totally his. It worked well, Sandy grew more attached to him but it never stopped the questions from coming as well as the infidelity which was always the product.
Wednesday night’s quarrel was the worst of them all, they had had it through the phone. It shouldn’t even have been a quarrel not to talk of a terrible one where he accused her of distrust. It eventually turned out that way because the discussion came at the wrong time.
Minutes before Sandy’s call, an extremely charming lady had just left Chuko’s office. She was dark skinned, the colour of chocolate and the way her curved hips moved beneath the flower patterned short silk gown as she walked, accompanied with those dimpled smiles she dished him that promised heaven…
It was difficult discussing business with her as his mind kept drifting to already conjured scenes of them under the sheets. She had to call back his attention several times until he finally confessed his distraction, explaining to her that it had been a hectic day and he couldn’t think straight due to tiredness. She seemed to understand exactly what it actually was that distorted his thought process; before he could tell her to come back the next day – when definitely his head would be clear – she had already scribbled down her number on a paper. She handed it over to him and invited him to call her whenever he was ready for business. He didn’t even know what business they had been discussing nor what she had asked for, he was still rattlebrained.
Then Sandy’s call had come through, the cheery tone and the musical voice already working their magic in him, cleansing every trace of lust he had haboured for the other lady before she threw in that question.
Everything changed then.
A brief but remarkable picture of Sandy and the chocolate-coloured lady standing side by side flashed in front of him and the comparison was clear. She was more beautiful than Sandy. He could’ve had her if only he had not dreaded cheating on Sandy and there she was, grizzling again about marriage.
It was all such a wrong timing…
He couldn’t even wait to end the call, his mind had wandered already to the dark-skinned lady and his eyes scanned the paper with her number on it while Sandy pleaded in the other end of the line.
Sandy mentioned something like coming over to his place to spend the night to recompense her act but he was already planning his fifth betrayal…
Casmir shifted in the dark as he retrieved his thoughts and himself to the present. He was sitting with his back to the wall and his hands hugged his knees. He sat in a corner underneath the flight of stairs, a few distance from the entrance to Sandy’s flat. He’d been sitting there the whole of the afternoon waiting for her to come back home from wherever it was she went to. He had a key to the apartment but he wouldn’t get in. It was one thing to show up in front of her doorstep and totally a different thing to be found sitting comfortably in the silent chambers of the house.
He had defeated the loneliness that had threatened to ruin him the previous day after he had lost both women. He didn’t really lose the dark skinned lady, she made it known to him from the start that it was just to be a one night stand and nothing more than that and to affirm that, minutes after Sandy slammed the door on them in total despair, the lady grabbed all that ever was hers and took her leave. He never got to know her name.
Three empty plastic bottles of Mc Dowel’s lay scattered around his feet, one half empty plastic bottle hung clumsily from his right hand and an earpiece had Phil Collins screaming BOTH SIDES OF THE STORY into his ears. These were more than enough company but the sorrow still lingered. Only one could cure him of this and he waited her arrival in silence.
* * *
Sandy shuffled her tired legs through the gate. She had smoothened the card Ochuko gave her and her mind kept recounting the whole events that the day had pushed her way, totally staying clear from the genesis of the whole thing. Well, that was yesterday. Her mind kept returning back to one particular incident and that was the one where Ochuko had helped her to her feet in the bus. She replayed it countless number of times in her head. In most romance novels she had read, the Prince Charming mostly met and stole Beauty Queen’s heart by getting the later out of a mess, by saving the day.
Was that their first meeting?
She rewound back to when she had caught him stealing glances at her, to her immediate action – she had felt like plucking off his eyes, those gray eyes.
How did she know he had gray eyes?
She pushed aside the thought, it was disturbing. Everything about him was. She stuck to when she had caught him stealing glances at her and her reaction as the real first encounter. That was better, she was done with romance and Yes, she still felt like plucking off those pervert eyes of his but…
… but what about the way she felt holding his hand while the silence of the night bore witness?
What she felt could not be mistaken, it was elation, a total departure of her fears and worries.
Hadn’t she even wished they remained that way till the night faded away?
He was handsome, Casmir was handsome too and see where it led her to.
She sighed as she squatted to retrieve the key she had left under the welcome mat, sighed at the thought of that name. As her hands stretched farther underneath the mat, her eyes happened on something on the floor. She got up, postponing the retrieval of the key and walked over to what it was her eyes had made out. It was a plastic Mc Dowel’s bottle. She picked it up and suddenly her nose picked up the smell of alcohol that hung in the air, it was too prominent to missed. She had been so deep in her thoughts that…
someone let out a loud belch from behind her. She wheeled around swiftly and smoothly and came face to face with her worst demon, he was flashing her a clumsy but coy grin.
“What do you want here Cas?” She tried to steady her voice from faltering.
He said nothing, he moved closer to her. She backed away step by little step until her back was to the door. Her heart was pounding mercilessly now and she was almost sure she saw the bulge it left in the wake of each beat. She had nowhere to run to. If only she had opened the door instead of satisfying her curiosity, she would have ran inside and shut him out. Hopefully, it would be shut in a way that would have his head hooked inside the house and the rest of his body quivering in pain outside.
He pressed himself to her, as if to crush her and used his free hand to hold her face in position – to face him.
“I’ve come to kiss away this nightmare Sandy.” He drew his face closer to hers.
This was trouble and like always, it came without permission. With him that close, Sandy almost choked on the strong smell of alcohol. Her mind was sending different warning signals to her brain and all were interpreted in one single word – RAPE.
He was stoned, totally not himself at all and it would be more than a disaster to be raped by someone she wished to comfortably tag her EX. God have mercy.
She felt so helpless, there was every desire to protect herself but what means was there to do so? She was pinned to the door.
“Cas, please just get off me.” She realized her hands were still free and struck him on the face with all the strength she had. It registered but it didn’t stop him from smiling, that humourless grin.
“I’m sorry sweety and you have to believe me when i say i am sorry. I want you back in my life and i must have you back.” He smiled broadly as he smoothened her creased brow.
“Cas you know it’s over between us. You don’t have any right to be here.” She batted his hand away with her shaky one. “I’d advice you leave before i scream.”
“Nobody would come out.” His tone was dead.
The words sent chills running down her spine. Cas had stopped smiling and she wondered whether he had really done something harmful to her good neighbours. It didn’t seem possible that he had done so but she was not thinking well and in this state, everything was possible. What if he killed her tonight for non compliance?
She dearly wished she would be able to kill him first.
“What do you want?” She whispered.
“I want you back Sandy. See i’m not drunk, I am very much aware of what i’m doing and saying.” He lifted the half empty plastic bottle of alcohol. “See, i’ve not drank it all. I know what i am doing.”
“Then you know you are suffocating me.”
“Yes!” He pressed harder to her and the smile came back, the humourless one. “My bed is empty, so is my heart. You once filled them and you still can. And tonight we would…
Sandy saw a dim red glow in the darkness, far behind Casmir, he couldn’t see it. In the darkness, it looked like the tiny red dot of a pointer. Whatever it was, she wished it was HOPE. She held on to it.
* * *
Bobo stood in front of the black gate, rested a hand on it, careful not to push the gate down while he lit up a fresh stick of cigarette.
That was the only problem he had with the stuff, it was way too addictive. A stick led to another that led to another and then after a little time, the whole pack goes empty like a Houdini’s trick.
He shouldn’t be smoking especially now that he was just steps away from Sandy, the girl of his dreams. He dipped his hands in his pocket and they hit hard stuffs enclosed in nylon. Oh! The Tom Tom sweets.
He had forgotten about them completely. Good. Things would go fine now, he would just get done with this stick and lick some sweets to overshadow the breath of smoke. Sandy to him looked like a lady who wouldn’t like guys with breaths of smoke or alcohol.
If there was ever a big, hard and fast rule to winning a woman’s heart, it was the rule of FIRST IMPRESSION.
He had started off with a bad impression already, the bus incident. He shrugged that idea off, telling himself that that was not a first impression but an INITIAL impression which was always subject to change and whenever the change comes, it becomes the first impression. His theory.
He finished smoking the stick of cigarette, dipped his hand into his pocked and set free the mint sweet from its nylon package and into his mouth. He chewed it and it tasted fine, felt right. And then without knowing he was doing it, he fished another stick of cigarette, pushed it between his lips and lit it. The first puff tasted beautiful, felt perfect. He surveyed the sky and realized something strange but he couldn’t place a finger on it. So he left it at that and stepped into the compound, knowing that if he waited to accompany the stick of cigarette with yet another sweet, he might end up finishing the new pack of cigarette.
It should’ve been a big compound but the house was too big that it stole almost everything that was the compound. Somehow it seemed like the house was wider than the fence enclosing it. It was a two storey building, the typical Lagos fashioned flats. He wondered how many rooms the house housed. More than that, he wondered what room was Sandy’s. He should have followed her more closely to ensure proper note taking of every curve and turn.
The fist two apartments that faced the gate had a passageway in between them that housed a flight of stairs and these apartments didn’t have their entrance doors facing outside, instead it was the windows that faced outside. Thus, the part of the apartments that overlooked the fallen gate was the side and not the entrance. Logical reasoning led Bobo into the passageway that held the stairs, knowing even without seeing, that the entrance doors of the two separate apartments would be such that it faced each other.
On climbing the porch that led to the passageway, he heard voices, low but audible enough. He stopped and listened intently. He was sure of one thing, the lady’s voice he heard was Sandy’s (though he’d never heard her speak), thus, he wouldn’t have a hard time searching for her apartment and that was fine but there was another voice and this one belonged to a male.
Who this time? He wondered.
He was very sure he saw the man on black suit finally leave Sandy alone for the night and even watched him walk towards the bus stop.
Or had he left her only to turn around via another route just to pick her unawares?
He waited and listened more.
“My bed is empty, so is my heart. You once filled them and you still can.” The male voice said.
Bobo walked in stealthily, the diminishing stick of cigarette burned in between his lips. He took a spot in front of the door of the other apartment and a few distance away from this man who was already fueling his building rage. The man backed him and that was fine by him. He wished it were the man on black suit, he needed to knock some teeth off his gum and some sense into his thick head and there was no way he wouldn’t do all that, he was at advantage here. All he needed was the right moment.
“And tonight we would become the lovers we used to be, old things forgotten and behold all things..” the man continued.
“All things will never become new. You are drunk Cas. If you weren’t, you would’ve seen the fire of hatred burning in my eyes.” Sandra spat on his face.
“We’ve had our talk sweety.” He slurred the last word. “It’s time to get us back together. We would make love tonight right here and now.”
That was the signal Bobo was waiting for. He took unhurried steps towards this man who was struggling to draw down Sandy’s gown. His other hand pressed her face hard to the door while she struggled to remove them.
Bobo disunited the stub of cigarette from his lips and snuffed it out on the back of the man’s neck. He howled in surprise and pain and clutched at the back of his neck as he did a clumsy turn. Bobo’s fist was clenched and waiting for the man to complete the turn and when he finally did, he let a blow sink into the middle of his face.
It was a hard blow and it sent the man to the ground. His eyes stuttered a little and then went shut. The man went silent.
“Open the door let’s get inside.” Bobo commanded.
“What about Casmir. Is he dead? You have killed him.” Sandy tugged at his hand in panic and fear.
“Open the door before he recovers. Quick Sandy, there’s no time.”
“The key is under the mat.” She paused. “Who are you? How did you know my name?”
He sensed her panic slipping away, she had at least believed him on the fact that Casmir was not dead. He wished he truly wasn’t dead, there was no time to check. Awe was stealing over her now, taking the place of her former fear. He slid the key into the key hole, it was an only key and it unlocked the door. They both got though and he shut the door. Silence enveloped the night once more.
* * *
Just about the right hour in Amazing Grace hospital, the lights went off, PHCN had done their thing. The doctor sighed and left ward 13, leaving Mrs Nweke, Sandy’s mother in utter darkness.
She turned in her bed and watched the doctor leave. A smile surfaced her face, it was a wry smile, it was time. She looked out the window and at the sky, the moon was nowhere to be seen and stars clustered the sky. They were so many of them up there and they had voices, they called out to her. It was her ancestors. They glowed and told her she too can glow with them. She saw her husband, he was on his wedding suit and on his hand was her wedding gown, oh! that gown of splendour. He smiled at her and she tried to smile back but it was difficult, stroke had claimed half of her face. He seemed to understand perfectly well for his smile brightened.
“It’s not death Nkem, it’s a trip. I’ve waited so long for you to accept my proposal of making this one trip with me. We are all happy here as you can see.”
She closed her eyes and let her mind reach out to him, he was as handsome and charming as he used to be back in the days. He took her by the hand and led her away and she went with him. She’d wear the gown and they would unite once again… what a perfect union it would be.
Ten minutes later, when the generator had come on, the doctor came to check his patient and then he saw her eyes and he knew immediately…