Here I Am…

Hi. I’m Jane Kareem. The full name is ‘Janet’ but since Nigerians just don’t seem to love pronouncing English names correctly, I decided to ‘monosyllabilize’ it to ‘Jane’ which is easier to pronounce and is more or less a variety of ‘Janet’. Just so you know, I have a thing for names being correctly pronounced.

Okay! Enough about names. This is my blog (obviously). I didn’t think I’d be having one anytime soon but I was at a camp recently (#BALL2015) and it was made mandatory for every camper to open a blog. So I’ve had it for over a month now but it’s been dormant. But I’m here now. Thank God for that.

I have this amazing gift which I’m eternally grateful to God for – Writing. Yes, I write. It’s amazing how it’s my favourite gift yet I don’t use it like I should. It started with reading and summarising the stories of others. I wanted to have a feel of the words passing through me, and so I’d get storybooks, read them and do a summary. Since then, from things as basic as English Language assignments in school to whatever form writing may take now, it’s my little precious gem.

Thanks to God and some friends, my precious gem has been unveiled and I’m happy about it. Here, I’ll love to take you on a ride into my world. I’ll share ideas, thoughts, lessons, experiences and as much as my heart is led to pour out. I’m very excited about this and I hope you are too.
Leggo!!!

#FromMeToYou
Jane Kareem

Love Quest (1)

If you had asked David Folajimi what he needed to be happy seven years ago, he would have said something like, ‘In no particular order, a great paying job which will enable me to afford a sleek, trendy car, an amazing apartment, preferably at Magodo G.R.A, Ikeja G.R.A, or any of those tush mainland areas. The island is over-reated jare – the floods, mosquitoes, terrible power supply and all. My friends and family are always there, so that’s that. I think that’s pretty much it.’ But looking at his friends with whom he had graduated from the university, he discovered that there was something – or someone – missing from that list.

Bashorun was digging it on the dance floor with his beautiful wife who was a few inches taller than him, but still deemed it fit to rock a pair of high heel shoes. Neither of the couple seemed to be bothered by that though; their faces were filled with smiles. Kachi was carried away as he watched Ndidi, his light-skinned wife helping at the food stand. She walked around to see if there was anyone who had not eaten, and inquired if those who had wanted anything more. Ndidi was blessed with hands that produced some of the tastiest dishes Dave had ever tasted. No wonder Kachi’s stomach was starting to protrude, barely a year into marriage. Clint, the one who married recently was all over his wife, whispering into her ears from time to time, while she giggled in response. Tito, the birthday celebrant, was the only one who seemed to be on the same level with him, only a little higher. He was in what he described as ‘a serious relationship’ and marriage was clearly in view for him.

Dave had never felt so lonely, though surrounded by the people to whom he felt closest. Having studied Finance at Obafemi Awolowo University, he had graduated with a 2’1 and doggedly chased the dream of having a steady and enviable career in less than 10 years. Now, at 28, he was living the dream. He had all he truly desired, except a woman to call his own.

‘Hello everybody,’ Tito’s deep voice came through, interrupting Dave’s thoughts. A voice the people of Lagos had grown to love, listening to him on the radio every evening. Dave had not noticed that the music had stopped playing. ‘Can I have your attention, please?’

People returned to their seats and silence gradually filled the air as they listened to what the celebrant had to say.

‘I want to say a very big “Thank you” to all of you who came out to celebrate with me today. You all made my day. Thanks for the beautiful presents and compliments. I am indeed touched. I would love to mention names, but I don’t want anyone to leave here feeling unappreciated.’ Smiling, he looked around. ‘However, there is one person whose name I have to call, because her presence in my life has done things to me – good things.’

Somebody whistled and the crowd began to clap and cheer.

‘Sade, where are you?’ he asked, looking to his left. He spotted her and stretched his hand towards her. Smiling, he said, ‘Please come.’

Folasade, his tall, slender girlfriend, dressed in a stunning blue dress walked up to him, amidst loud cheers. Tito held her hands and hugged her. After releasing her, he reached into the pocket of his red velvet blazer and produced a small blue box. Sade, astonished at the reality of what was about to happen took a step back and covered her mouth, her perfectly manicured nails visible for all to see. The cheers grew louder as Tito went down on one knee and popped what everyone now knows as ‘The Big Question.’

‘Folasade Omolewa Badmus, will you marry me?’ he asked, smiling.

Sade looked towards the company of friends and family gathered there. Many were recording the moment on their phones, some of the ladies were grinning dreamily, obviously wishing they were in her shoes. She looked back at Tito and laughed.

‘Yes, I will, Boluwatito. I’ll marry you.’ She nodded and stretched forth her left hand as a teardrop found its way out of her eye.

Tito inserted the ring in her finger and stood up, a wide grin plastered on his face. He pulled her close into a tight, warm hug.

Dave laughed loudly, joining the rest of the people to celebrate the couple. Tito had successfully surprised everyone present at the party. He was happy for his friend, but there and then, a weird feeling took over him. He had never felt so single all his life.

***********************************************

Dunni could not help the ‘them-go-take’ smile that was on her face. She was fully prepared for her interview at Jimi Consults on Monday. She had stayed home for six months after the completion of her NYSC programme and was on the brink of giving up when she found the job vacancy for a personal assistant at the firm.

‘How do those people who claim to have been unemployed for three, six years do it?’ she asked Anna, her cousin and roommate. ‘I could die of boredom and uselessness.’

‘This is Nigeria, babe,’ Anna replied. ‘Survival, even in the harshest conditions, is something embedded in our genes.’

Dunni shrugged. ‘Survival, abi suffering in silence?’  she said, rhetorically. She walked to the wardrobe and swiftly picked out three shirts.

‘If I didn’t know better, I would have concluded that you applied some charms to these shirts. Don’t you get tired of them?’ Anna asked, bewildered.

‘Haba! When was the last time I wore any of them?’ Dunni replied. She picked one of the shirts, which now lay on top of each other on the bed. ‘I like this one because it’s peach. Peach is my favourite colour.’ She picked another and continued. ‘This one has some sort of good luck charm in it.’

Anna raised an eyebrow, about to throw another question at her but she averted it quickly with the wave of a hand. ‘Don’t ask me to explain, I can’t.’

Anna shook her head again, watching her cousin revel in excitement. Pointing to the last one, Dunni added. ‘This one is peach too, and again, I love peach.’ Arms akimbo, she continued, ‘Besides, I don’t have many shirts now. How many places do I go to where I am required to wear shirts? Don’t disturb me oh!’

‘I hope you get this job, so you can at least up your wardrobe game,’ Anna replied, a cocky grin plastered on her face.

Dunni rolled her eyes.  ‘Whatever.’ She walked to the front of the dresser and grinned widely. ‘Monday is going to be amazing. I can feel it in my bones.’

***********************************************

A crack of lightning illuminated the sky for a brief moment. Subconsciously, Dave braced himself for the sound of thunder, and it did come. Standing at the window of his large bedroom, he sipped from the cup of hot coffee in his hands, reviewing the activities for the day in his mind. There was going to be an interview for a new personal assistant for him. Ordinarily, he tossed the baton of job interviews to John, his right hand man, but this had to be different. He needed to choose who would take Edi’s post. Edidiong, his personal assistant for about three years, had gotten married about a year earlier and decided to resign after finding out that she was pregnant. Having lost a baby before, it only made sense that she cut down on a lot of activities, especially her job. He could go on a leave for a year and leave Edidiong in charge of his engagements without as much as a worry. He really missed her.

His alarm sounded and Dave knew he had to prepare for work. It was one of those days when he beat his alarm to it. Just then, it started to rain. He sighed as the realisation of how difficult driving would be that morning engulfed him. He did live on the mainland as he had hoped, and even though the floods were not as much here, they still had a fair share of them.

He emptied the cup of its contents and headed for the bathroom.

***********************************************

Dunni scurried out of the house, holding her umbrella firmly. The rain, though reduced now, had come unannounced. She had been woken up abruptly by a loud thunder, accompanied with flashes of lightning.

‘Wow! Is the world coming to an end?’ Anna asked, sitting up beside her.

Dunni laughed. ‘Yes, but definitely not today. I think that’s a cue from God that I need to get ready. Today is the big day.’

She hurriedly stood from the bed and stretched, yawning lazily.

‘Well, get going and let somebody sleep abeg. How big can a day possibly be when it’s raining?’ Anna replied, smirking.

‘Don’t even go there. Use your bad words to ruin my day? Nope. Not happening!’ Dunni shot back, frowning slightly.

‘Yeah, whatever! Anna said, pulling the duvet over her head.

Just as Dunni had expected, there was a long queue at the BRT stop. Exasperated, she grunted as she walked towards the last person on the queue. After waiting for about 20 minutes, she finally boarded a bus. She knew traffic would be crazy, especially since it had rained. She watched cars and buses, move at snail’s pace as their bus zoomed off. Normally, she would have considered catching some sleep, but she was so excited, sleep evaded her.

***********************************************

‘Who’s this amateur?’ Dave bellowed angrily as he pressed the horn of his car, as if to vocalise his annoyance.

The car finally made a u-turn successfully and the road was free for some miles. Still burning with rage, he took a sharp turn and the car’s tyre plunged into a pothole, almost emptying it of its contents. He gasped, hoping that no one was standing close-by. He did not want to be the one to ruin anybody’s Monday. He looked through the rear-view mirror and saw a young lady looking at his car in shock.  He exhaled loudly, preparing himself for whatever she was going to throw at him. He reversed and got out of the car to apologise.

‘Don’t you have a conscience? Did you drive with your eyes closed?’ she began, her eyes half-way popping out of their sockets.

Oh great! He thought. ‘Woman wahala on a Monday morning. Can this get any worse?’

‘I’m really sorry. I didn’t see the pothole quickly. I am very sorry,’ he said, looking at her stained pants.

‘I don’t know how people can be so inconsiderate,’ she continued, still trying to get a smudge off. ‘Because of you have a car now; you feel you can treat anybody anyhow?’

Dave wished he could undo what he had done with the wave of a hand. He was at a loss on what to do to pacify the young lady. She was truly irked but there was a tinge of hope on her face. Or was it just him?

‘Miss, I really do apologise. I am sorry.’

***********************************************

Dunni gazed at the tall man standing in front of her as the apologies kept coming. As much as she tried to dismiss the thought, she could not help but think that Anna’s words could actually be affecting her.

That girl is a witch, she thought.

‘It’s fine,’ she finally said. She was prepared, knowing how Lagos drivers could be. She could not afford to take any chances.

The young man kept tendering apologies much to her chagrin. It was beginning to annoy her. ‘I said it’s fine. I really need to go now,’ she replied as she made to walk away.

‘Well, can I at least give you a ride, just to make up for my mistake?’ he asked.

Dunni was tempted to jump at the offer. She looked behind him, at the car. It was an indeed sleek ride and its owner was not looking bad either, dressed in a well-tailored suit. Besides, she was running late and could really use a ride.

‘Well, what do you say?’ he asked, obviously eager for a response. From the look on his face, she could tell that he was indeed sorry, but did not want to waste any more time there.

‘Fine,’ Dunni replied. He led the way and opened the door for her. ‘Thank you.’

The cold from the car air-conditioner hit her as she took in the nice scent of the car. He joined her seconds after and fastened his seat belt. She did the same.

‘My name is Dave,’ he said after a brief silence.

‘Dunni,’ she replied tersely.

Dave smiled. She had reacted just as he had expected, but he felt the need to at least, put her at ease after potentially ruining her day. He pressed further. ‘So where are you going to?’

‘Somewhere around Brent bus stop.’

‘Oh great! I’m headed in that direction as well. Do you work there?’

‘Not yet, but I will soon. I have a job interview there.’

Dave was impressed at how certain she was that she would get the job. A thought crossed his mind: perhaps she was attending the interview at his company. That would be a very interesting twist.

‘Is it at Jimi Consults?’ he finally asked.

‘Yes,’ she replied, more impressed than shocked. ‘You know there?’

Dave grinned. ‘I work there too.’

Dunni’s eyes lit up. Who would have thought that she could meet someone from the company that morning? She briefly glanced at him. He was going to be her co-worker if she got the job – or her boss? No. He was too young to be her boss. She chose not to dwell on the thought any longer.

‘Wow! What’s your job there?’ she asked.

‘Well, nothing out of the ordinary. I just see a few people, sign some papers. It’s just, you know… There.’

Dave saw her face contort with confusion. He was enjoying this.

‘So do you have any tips for me or something? I heard the job opening is for a personal assistant to the main boss there. What’s he like? I really don’t mind someone giving me a heads-up now.’

Dave wanted to burst into laughter. Smart one, he thought. ‘He’s cool,’ he began. ‘Very nice guy. He could be very serious at work, but if you get a hang of his person, you’ll enjoy working with him.’ He grinned with satisfaction.

Dunni nodded. ‘Thank you,’ she replied. ‘So, how much longer before we get there?’

He swiftly looked at his wristwatch. ‘About five minutes. Are you okay?’

‘Yes, I am. Just tad nervous,’ Dunni answered, smiling. ‘But, I’ll be fine.’

‘Well, you will, but you’re forgetting one thing.’

Dunni frowned slightly. She never forgot anything. ‘And what could that be?’

‘There’s a smudge of mud on your pants.’ She looked down at it and back at him, her eyes accusing him. ‘Look, I’m really sorry. I’ll find a way to fix it.’

How? Like wash it? Joker, she thought. ‘Not to worry, I brought a spare.’

Dave was astonished. She had a spare? That was weird. Had she orchestrated the whole event? Or she could see the future?

Seeing the look on his face, she smiled. ‘Knowing how Lagos drivers can be, especially on a rainy day, I had to plan well. I can’t let anyone ruin this one for me.’

Dave shook his head, laughing. He liked her already.

‘We’re here,’ he announced as he drove towards a black gate.

A security guard was standing by the car by the time he parked. ‘Good morning, oga,’ he said, bowing slightly.

‘Good morning, Adam,’ he replied. ‘How was your weekend?’

‘Fine sir,’ the man replied.

Dunni joined him at the front of the car and together, they walked towards a glass door. He opened it, letting her in.

‘Good morning, sir,’ a light-skinned lady, the receptionist, said as they entered the building.

‘Good morning, Ada. How was your weekend?’

‘Fine sir,’ she responded, grinning from ear to ear.

‘Great!’ Motioning for Dunni to come closer, he added, ‘This is Dunni. Please show her to the bathroom. She’s here for the interview.’

Dunni smiled at her. ‘Thank you,’ she called to Dave as she followed the lady.

***********************************************

Dunni was nervous. About five people had gone in before her and they all seemed to be at the top of their game. She had changed into the black skirt that she had kept in her bag as backup, but it still felt like the stain was there. Soon, it was her turn and she stood, smoothed her skirt and knocked on the door.

‘Please, come in,’ a deep voice called behind the door. She opened the door, ready to face her new employer. She was not ready for the surprise that hit her.

‘Hello Dunni. I’ve been waiting for you,’ Dave said, grinning.

Smokescreen 12 (Final Episode)

It was a windy Saturday evening and the last place Rebecca Bassey thought she would be was at the mall, meeting with Oluwaloseyi Pedro, the girl whose relationship with Chuka had made her very curious and eventually led to a beautifully budding friendship with him. She had seen Seyi just twice but was certain that she would recognize her when she saw her. She glanced at her wristwatch, eager for her to show up. She had said that she wanted to talk about something that was important to both of them.

‘Wow! Okay, but why me? We barely even know each other,’ Becca asked.

‘What I need to tell you concerns you more than it does me and I felt you needed to know,’ Seyi replied.

Many thoughts ran through Becca’s mind and she could not help but wonder what Seyi could possibly know that she didn’t. ‘Does this have anything to do with Chuka?’ she asked.

Seyi sighed. ‘Yes, it does. But please don’t tell him. Chuka is quite conservative.’

Becca was not sure whether to believe her or not. Why would she suddenly be interested in helping her? She was still very curious to know the reason for the bad blood between them.

‘Well, one meeting won’t hurt,’ she thought.

……………………………………………

Chuka drummed his fingers on the table as he waited for Olukunle to arrive. His mother had asked him where he would like to meet him amd he suggested Heaven, the fast food restaurant where he had gone to with Becca. Sitting there in the air-conditioned atmosphere, thoughts of Becca filled his head. He could not talk to her yesterday because Daniel showed up and they didn’t get any chance after that. He resolved to see her in church the next day and tell her everything, against all odds.

He looked up and saw Olukunle walking in his direction, clad in a blue tee shirt and jeans with blue All-stars to match. The man was indeed good-looking, even at his age. He could not blame his mother for falling in love with him.

‘Hi’, Olukunle said as he sat opposite him.

‘Hello,’ Chuka responded. He had promised his mum to be on his best behaviour and he planned to keep his promise. ‘You are not a kid anymore, Chuka. Act like the man that you are,’ she had said.

‘Have you ordered anything?’ Olukunle asked, clearing his throat after.

‘Yes, I had a snack a while ago,’ he replied. He gazed at the man seated across him? ‘Is he nervous?’ he thought.

‘Alright. Great.’ Olukunle replied. His son was all grown up and he had been absent throughout. Guilt bore down on him as he thought of what to say. ‘Did your mother ever say anything about me to you?’

‘Nothing much. She said she got pregnant for you in her final year and kept it hidden from you. She called you after I was born but you angrily shut her out and was not heard from anymore.’

Olukunle was surprised at how indifferent he sounded. He had probably said the story so often, he had gotten used to it.

Chuka, I know that saying sorry isn’t enough to make up for all the pain I must have caused you, but I will say it anyway. I am truly sorry.’

Tears stung his eyes and he made no effort to hold them back. If they chose to flow, he would let them flow.

‘I never shut your mum out intentionally. After I heard that I was a father, I was distraught. I never planned to be one at the time. I was in love with your mother and whether you believe it or not, I love you. But I was arrested with some friends for drug trafficking. I was innocent but it was hard to believe. Virtually all my friends were drug pushers. I served my jail term and had to piece my life back together. Yet, thoughts of you and your mum never left my mind.’

Olukunle swallowed and prayed deep within that his son would see the truth in his words.

‘I found you just by God’s mercy and followed you for a while till I found your mother. I am sorry for everything.’

Chuka felt like there was a crack in his heart from which a warm spring oozed. For the first time in forever, he was certain that he did have a father and could not explain why but he believed him. It felt foolish to run into the arms of this man who had never been a part of his existence. He could see it in his eyes that he was being sincere but he knew better than to trust a total stranger.

‘I’ve heard you and I choose to give you the benefit of the doubt but I really need to know one thing. What do you want from me?’

A weak smile crept up Olukunle’s face. He took a deep breath and gently massaged the inner corners of his eyes with his right hand. ‘I know you can’t welcome me with open arms just yet. Twenty years is a really long time and I am a stranger to you, but I just want the chance to really know you.’ He paused and held Chuka’s questioning gaze. ‘I want to be part of your life. I want to be your friend. I’ve missed too much already. I can’t afford to miss anymore.’

Chuka looked away. This was one moment he had looked forward to all his life. He was baffled and tad scared at how easy it seemed to let this man into his life, but he was willing to give it a trial.

‘Let’s see how that goes,’ he replied, smiling. ‘It’s nice to meet you, dad.’

Olukunle’s face lit up as a teardrop fell to his cheeks. ‘It’s nice too meet you too, son. Thanks for the opportunity.’

……………………………………………

Seyi was unsure about what she was about to tell Becca. Would doing this really bring her and Chuka back together? He would not even return her calls since she threatened him.

‘So, what is it?’ Becca asked, obviously dying of curiosity.’

‘Well, I’m here now. I can’t go back. This will teach that jerk a lesson,’ she thought. She faced Becca and sighed.

Chuka was my first boyfriend,’ she began. ‘We started dating when we were sixteen. He’s older with about three months. I’d liked him way before then but I wasn’t sure if he liked me too so when he asked me to date him, I hurriedly said yes. On his seventeenth birthday, he had a party with some of our high school friends amd they ended up cajoling us into having sex.’

She paused, scanning her face for a reaction but Becca showed none. Rather, her face glowed with pure interest and attention.

Chuka never asked for sex before that and I thought I was lucky because finding a guy like that was rare. He said he loved me too much to hurt me that way. But on that night, with alcohol to give him pseudo-confidence, we did it and left almost immediately. I’d never felt more foolish and used in my entire life.’

Becca shifted in her seat but with her eyes still fixed on her. Seyi was marvelled at how an aura of love exuded from her, even with her silence. There was no condemnation in her eyes.

‘After three days, he came back to me and said he wanted to break up. I asked him why but all he said was, “I don’t love you anymore.” I was angry and disappointed in him but all efforts to get back with him proved futile. Later, I found out that he began to sleep with all sorts of girls for very flimsy reasons. The last person I heard of with him was Cynthia and she’s my cousin.

‘You might not believe me, Becca, but Chuka is after you because he wants to sleep with you. Don’t let his good looks fool you. He is no angel.’

A shocked expression enveloped Becca’s face. Seyi held her hands. ‘If you think I’m lying, ask him to his face.’ She stood up and picked her bag. ‘I’m sorry you had to hear it this way, but the truth needs to be told.’

Seyi walked away, leaving Becca distraught.

……………………………………………

Elsa Okonkwo dropped the novel she was reading to check the time when she heard the doorbell. Chuka had met with Olukunle amd she could not wait to know how it had gone. He could be stubborn when he wanted to and was quite impressed that he agreed quicker than she had thought. Excited, she walked to the door and opened it.

‘Hi mum,’ Chuka said, smiling.

‘Hey dear,’ she replied, opening the door wider. He stepped in and Olukunle stood in front of her, all smiles. She smiled back.

‘Elsa,’ he began, ‘thank you so much for everything. I’m grateful.’

‘You’re welcome. I see you sorted yourselves out,’ she replied.

‘Yes, we did. You are definitely an amazing mother, raising him to this point all by yourself.’

‘I still have my flaws, but that felt good to my ears. Thank you.’ He smiled. ‘Would you like to come in for a while?’

‘No, thank you. It’s getting late. I should leave you two to talk. Thanks again.’

Elsa smiled and watched him walk away. She shut the door and joined Chuka on the couch.

‘So how was it?’ she asked

‘It was okay. It was cool. Better than I thought, actually. It still feels quite awkward but things will work themselves out.’

‘They definitely will. I’m so proud of you, Chuka,’ Elsa said, taking his hands.

‘Thank you. I should go to bed now. Tomorrow is going to be a big day for me,’ he replied.

Everything in his life appeared to be sorted out. All that was left was talking to Becca. It was indeed going to be a big day for both of them.

……………………………………………

Becca was shaken. She had tossed and turned in bed all night, unable to keep her mind off what Seyi had told her. Was that why he acted weird around her? Because she knew his secret? Had he truly followed her to church just to have a way with her. Daniel had been right after all, and she had allowed herself get blinded by fleeting emotions. She had walked into a trap with both eyes open and even invited him over to her house. Disappointment and pain held her down such that she could not concentrate during the church service.

‘Becca, are you okay? You look distracted,’ Daniel said as they watched people file out of the auditorium.

‘I’m fine,’ she said quietly. ‘Have you seen Chuka?’

‘Yeah he was around.’ He paused and quickly scanned the almost empty building. ‘Here he comes.’

Becca looked up and saw Chuka approaching. Instead of the usual flutter she would feel in her torso, a feeling of hope held her. She needed to hear that what she was told was false.

‘Daniel, please excuse us for a while,’ she said.

‘Okay. I’ll be just outside if you need me.’

She mouthed a ‘Thank you’ and watched him walk away. Chuka now stood in front of her. He was not smiling like he usually did.

‘Hey! How are you?’ he asked.

‘I’m okay,’ she replied, scared of what she feared might be the truth.

‘I need to talk to you.’

‘I need to talk to you too.’

She noticed the look of apprehension in his eyes. ‘You go first,’ he said.

‘I met with Seyi Pedro at the mall yesterday,’ she blurted.

Chuka’s eyes widened as thoughts poured into his mind. He blinked rapidly and swallowed.

‘She told me something I found quite ridiculous. Too ridiculous to be true in fact, and I thought I should confirm from you.’

‘Becca, whatever she told you is most likely untrue. She’s quite crazy. She’s not someone you should trust.’

Becca was not moved. Her lips felt heavy but her heart needed to be set at ease. ‘I need a “Yes” or “No” from you, Chuka. I need you to be sincere with me, okay?’

He placed a hand on his forehead and looked away. Seyi had indeed screwed things up. ‘Okay. I will.’

With lips quivering and her heart beating faster than ever, she asked. ‘Chuka, did you become close to me just to sleep with me?’

Chuka held her hands. ‘Becca, it’s not what you think, okay? I wouldn’t hurt you.’

‘I asked for a “Yes” or “No”,’ she replied, indifferently.

Chuka clenched his fists. ‘Yes,’ he said almost inaudibly.

‘What did you say?’ she asked, tears spilling from her eyes.

Chuka tightened his grip on her and moved closer. ‘Yes, but it’s not what you think.’

The tears flowed freely she yanked her hand free from his. With the tears blurring her vision, she walked out.

Chuka felt his heart drop. He sank into a chair amd held his head in both hands. Emotionally exhausted, he walked out and saw her with Daniel, crying in his arms.

‘What have I done?’ he thought.

……………………………………………

It had been two weeks since Chuka saw Becca last. He had called her endlessly but she neither picked his calls nor called back. He waited severally after services but she just seemed to disappear everytime. After explaining things to Daniel, he had promised to talk to her but gave no assurance of her giving a desired response.

He visited Seyi the next day.

‘Why did you do it?’ he asked, more sad than angry.

‘You were going to hurt her, like you did me. I can’t let you go around using and dumping people the way you want. I still haven’t gotten over you, don’t you see?’ she replied.

Chuka sighed. He slipped his hands into hers. ‘I’m sorry for what I did to you, Seyi and I mean it. I was truly sad after that night but every other girl was intentional because I was hurt. Please forgive me.’

Seyi was astonished. She looked into his eyes and they did not bear the defiance that was there the night she threatened him. ‘Do you mean that?’

‘Yes, I do. It’s a long story but I really am sorry for what I have done. I planned to do the same to Becca but something happened along the way and I resolved never to do so again.’ He paused. I’m really sorry. Please forgive me.’

He left her house that day feeling relieved. The session break was almost over and he needed to go back to school. He had to see Becca.

………………………………………….

Becca let the songs pour into her head, perhaps the symphony would soothe her mind again the way they had been doing. She felt someone gently tap her forehead. She opened her eyes and saw Daniel smiling at her.

‘You have a visitor,’ he said.

She turned around and met Chuka’s gaze.

‘Becca, I’m sorry. I was going to tell you the other time I came here but there was no time. Yes, Seyi is right but it’s not entirely true. When I got closer to you, things happened to me and I could not bring myself to hurt you anymore. You were too kind to me for me to go ahead with it,’ he blurted.

Pausing to catch his breath, he moved closer as tears filled her eyes. ‘I’m sorry. Please forgive me.’

Becca wiped her tears and glanced at Daniel who now stood behind Chuka. He mouthed a ‘Please’ and nodded. He had talked to Chuka about it and he had confessed to him but she found it hard to believe. The weight of disappointment she felt almost crushed her. She prayed to bed every night asking God for strength to forgive him even if he was lying.

Daniel walked up to her and held her hands. ‘Say it, Becca.’

She looked at him and back at Chuka. ‘I forgive you. I did a while back but the pain I felt made me stay away. I had to heal. It’s fine,’ she said, smiling as she wiped her tears.

He smiled back and hugged her briefly. ‘Thank you, Becca. Thank you for everything.’

Daniel grinned and winked at her. Finally at ease, she laughed out loud.
……………………

Finally! I successfully completed my very first blog fiction series and it was fun. Thanks for the amazing support. You all blew me away! I am awed at how much love you showed me.

There will definitely be more coming. Thanks a bunch, guys! I love you!

Smokescreen (11)

‘Good evening, mum,’ Chuka said as his mum opened the door. She moved closer to him and hugged him, taking in the scent of his perfume.

‘I’ve been waiting for you,’ she said, smiling. ‘What took you so long?’

Chuka threw an arm around her shoulders and walked in with her. ‘I’m sorry, I went to church.’

Elsa laughed gently. ‘The first time you told me that, I thought you were joking, not until that girl came visiting the other day and she said she was from church. You really are going to church?’

Chuka smiled. ‘Yes I am. Her name is Becca and she sends her greetings. She said you’re very beautiful too.’

‘Of course I am. Where do you think you got your good looks from?’ she replied, obviously pleased with what she had heard. ‘She seems like a really nice person.’

‘Yes, she is,’ Chuka replied. He knew where his mother was headed with the conversation and decided to change it before she got there at all. ‘So what’s for dinner?’

Elsa grinned. ‘I prepared your favourite – Oha soup.’

Chuka smiled. It was like a dream, but things were really back to normal. He was overwhelmed with the thoughts of waking up happy and satisfied with life, unlike how he had been before – deep in a quagmire of bitterness and pain.

After dinner, he retired to his room for the night. He thought of Seyi and the threat she had made. She had always been obsessed with him but he did not think that she would stoop so low as to blackmail him just to get back together with him. Calling her bluff was not an option because if there was one thing he knew Seyi to be good at, it was keeping her words. There was only one option – he had to confess to Becca.

…………………………………………..

‘Your phone has been ringing since forever, Becca. Aren’t you going to pick it up?’ Daniel asked.

‘I’m not planning to. I’ll just call the person back later,’ she replied.

It had been another long day at work. They had just an hour to go, yet it felt like it would go on forever. Becca slumped in a chair and took off her cap. She inhaled deeply and shut her eyes, wishing she could sleep right there. She felt a slight headache and tenderly rubbed her temples with the tip of her fingers.

‘Becca!’ Daniel called. She hurriedly stood and went back to join him. The last hour dragged on slowly but somehow it was time to go home and Becca was delighted. She unplugged her phone and unlocked it. 5 missed calls. She opened her call log to see who had called her. One was a 5-digit number. ‘Definitely these network people,’ she thought. Two were from Emem, her cousin and the last two were from an unknown number. She made up her mind to call them as soon as she got home.

‘Boy it feels so good to have the day off tomorrow. I thought I was going to faint in there,’ she said to Daniel as they walked out of the shop. ‘Is it just me or was today more stressful than usual?’

‘It’s just you oh!’ Daniel replied. ‘It was nothing out of the ordinary. Are you okay?’ He put forth his hand to touch her forehead. She caught it mid-air and lowered it.

‘I’m fine jo,’ she replied, forcing a weak smile. ‘I’m just very tired. That’s all. I’ll probably spend the day sleeping tomorrow.’

‘Tomorrow is Friday, Becca.’

She giggled. ‘Of course I know tomorrow is Friday, I’ll get to rest.’

‘Not really. You seem to have forgotten that you invited Chuka over, and me too of course.’

‘Oh my goodness! I totally forgot,’ she exclaimed, her eyes widened.

‘Well, remember now. So what are we eating tomorrow?’ he asked, grinning from ear to ear like an expectant infant.

Becca shook her head and pushed him slightly. ‘I don’t even want to think about that yet.’

‘You should. That would be the highlight of the day for me.’ Becca smiled and adjusted her bag on her shoulders. ‘Do you think Chuka will come?’

‘I don’t know. He said he would. I’ll just have to wait to find out.’

……………………………………………

Ivan was troubled. Chuka had called him to ask about his conversation with Seyi.

‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ Chuka said, his voice tense. ‘You know how that babe is. You should have said something.’

‘Guy, I was going to tell you eventually,’ he replied. ‘I told her that Becca’s just someone who lives on your street. Like you’re just friends. I wouldn’t spill, you should know.’

Chuka sighed. ‘With someone like Seyi, anything is possible. I don’t know how but she seemed like she knows something she shouldn’t.’

‘That girl is crazy. Resorting to cheap blackmail on top boy matter,’ Ivan said, irritated. He hissed loudly. ‘What are you going to do?’

‘I have to tell Becca. That’s the only way out of this that I can think of. I’m meeting her tomorrow. I have to tell her then.’

‘Wait are you crazy? That’s not necessary. You’re not taking Seyi seriously, are you?’

‘I have to. She wants to get back with me and that one no fit happen – not in this lifetime.’

‘How did we get here?’ Ivan asked, obviously frustrated.

……………………………………………

Elsa waited for Chuka to sit. She clenched her fists and breathed slowly. She was unexpectedly nervous. Olukunle had called her at work and made her promise to talk to Chuka about him that night.

‘You wanted to see me.’ Chuka’s deep voice made her snap out of her thoughts as he settled in on the couch beside her.

‘You know I love you, right?’ she began. A suspicious look clouded his eyes as he nodded. She gave him a reassuring smile and continued. ‘I want you to know that whatever I do is for you, okay? You are my world.’

Chuka nodded, his mind trying to figure out what his mother was trying to say to him.

‘Olukunle called me today,’ she blurted. He shifted in his seat and looked away. Elsa held his hands and squeezed them gently. ‘He wants to meet you.’

‘I thought we met already,’ Chuka replied almost immediately. His voice was laced with as much indifference as he could gather. ‘We’ve been living fine without him. What does he want now?’

‘Chuka, he is your father. He might not deserve that title right now but it does not change who he is.’

‘I’m not denying that, mum. I just can’t figure out what we’re meeting for.’

‘I thought this was what you wanted,’ Elsa said, bewildered. ‘You pestered me over and over about meeting your father and he’s here now. I don’t understand why you suddenly resent the idea.’

‘I grew out of the need for him, mum. I got used to his absence. It’s not hard to figure that out.’

Elsa sighed. Her son was hurting and it hurt her more that there was not much she could do to ease his pain.

‘Can you do me a favour?’ she asked.

‘Don’t ask me to meet him, please. I can’t do that.’

‘Oh I think you can. Think of it like you’re meeting someone I would have married.’

Chula’s mouth fell open. ‘You’re not getting married, are you?’

Elsa chuckled. ‘No, I’m not. But then, if things didn’t turn out the way they did, I would have been married to him and we would still have you.’

Chuka sighed. Elsa tightened her grip on his hands. ‘If not for anybody, please do it for me. It’s okay to be mad at him for not being there when you needed him but it’s unfair to not allow him make amends now that he wants to. Everyone deserves a second chance.’

Chuka gritted his teeth and looked away, frowning. ‘Fine. I’ll meet him.’

Elsa pulled him into a hug. ‘Thank you, dear.’

…………………………………………….

Becca took one last look at her face in the mirror before dashing out to get the door. She prayed under her breath that it would be Daniel. She had convinced him to arrive earlier than Chuka so they wouldn’t have to be alone at all. Clearing her throat, she unlocked the door, and standing in front of her was Chuka. Becca swallowed.

‘Hi!’ he said, grinning.

‘Hey!’ she replied, trying to contain her rapidly beating heart. ‘Please come in.’

Chuka walked in and looked around quickly. ‘You have a nice place, here.’

‘Thank you,’ Becca replied. ‘Please sit. I’ll be right back.’

Becca walked into the kitchen and downed a glass of water. ‘Oh no! Oh no!! This was not the plan. Why is he here so early?’ she thought aloud as she paced. ‘Is this guy doing all these on purpose?’

She took a bottle of water and walked back to the living room. ‘Here you go,’ she said, serving him. ‘You’re quite early.’

Chuka smiled. He bit his lower lip and gazed at her. Becca’s heart thudded and she felt a weird, yet pleasant sensation of warmth course through her body. ‘I came to talk to you.’ He paused. It’s more of a confession actually.’

Becca’s face retained its calm look. ‘I bet you won’t be looking this calm by the time I’m done,’ Chuka thought. He tried to recollect what he had rehearsed earlier, but his memory failed him. Sitting across her was not looking like he had expected it to be. He wiggled his toes and swallowed, trying to overcome the sudden feeling of apprehension that had gripped him.

Becca did not know what to expect. ‘Is he going to say he has feelings for me?’ she thought. ‘That would definitely be pleasant, but he doesn’t act like he does. What does he have to confess? We’ve only known each other for about two months.’ She cleared her throat, as if to remind him that she was waiting for his confession. ‘Chuka, stop scaring me oh. Confession is a big word. Stop teasing me jare,’ she finally said, breaking the silence.

He forced a smile as he gathered courage to open his mouth, which at that point felt too heavy to produce any words. ‘The thing is…’

A loud knock on the door interrupted him.

Becca was startled. Her mind had been fixed on Chuka and what he had to say. ‘Please excuse me,’ she said, standing up to get the door.

‘Hey beautiful,’ Daniel said, grinning.

Becca laughed. ‘Hello handsome.’

‘Hey! I don’t smell food. That’s not a good sign,’ he said as he walked in. On seeing Chuka, he was obviously taken aback. ‘What’s up, guy?’ he said as they shook hands. ‘I see the party started without me.’ He winked at Becca who made a fist at him.

Becca looked at Chuka. She wished that he would continue but she knew he wouldn’t. Their eyes met, he swiftly looked away. Becca wished he could hear her thoughts. ‘Chuka, what are you hiding from me?’

……………………………………………

‘When will he be back?’

Elsa looked at Olukunle. He had not changed. As much as he tried to hide it, she could see very clearly that he was nervous. She let her mind travel back to their days in the university. He had not been the most responsible person back then but he never cheated on her, which was one of the reasons why she loved him. He was stubborn and quite unruly, but she had a way with him that even she could not explain. They had not been the normal everyday couple, but they were in love. That was all that mattered to them.

‘He said he would be seeing a friend after work. He’ll be home soon. Just calm down,’ she replied.

‘I am calm,’ he said, faking a smile.

‘You know, after all these years, you have not changed. You are clearly, nervous, but it’s fine.’

Olukunle laughed. ‘I guess so.’

The sound of the doorbell came through.

Elsa cast him a hopeful glance. ‘That must be him.’

……………………………………………

‘Good evening. Am I speaking with Becca?’

‘Yes you are. Who’s this, please?’

Seyi grinned. If this was the person who wanted to come between her and Chuka, she had to be taken care of.

‘My name is Oluwaloseyi Pedro.’

P.S.: I’m really sorry for not posting this last week. I sincerely apologise for that. Thanks for your support so far!

Smokescreen (10)

Chuka glanced at his phone for umpteenth time and returned it to his ear. He was seated in the parking lot of the mall where Becca worked. He knew that she would soon close from work and he would most likely see her. He had called her phone over and over to ask if they could go for the evening service together. He could not understand why but he was starting to see Becca as a friend, instead of the fish he was trying to trap. Ivan, though tad dejected that he would lose the money, had written it off when he told him that he was done with the bet.

‘I can’t hurt that girl. For some reason, I feel she is a blessing to me,’ Chuka said.

Ivan was bewildered. ‘What has gotten into you? Blessing to you?’ He laughed loudly, throwing his head back. ‘That is clearly a church term.’

Chuka smiled mildly. ‘I actually find that church quite interesting.’ Ivan’s face registered shock and confusion. ‘You should probably come sometime.’

Ivan laughed again, louder this time. ‘You’re joking, right?’

Deliberately choosing to ignore his last question, Chuka replied. ‘You can have your money. You won, this time.’

‘Come on, that’s not fair. You know I was more interested in how you would catch that babe, not the money. You’ve changed the script.’

‘Script? Na my life you dey use do Nollywood?’

Ivan laughed again. ‘You know what? You can keep the money. I feel defeated already.’

‘Use it to compensate yourself then.’

‘I don’t think so. It’s okay.’

Chuka swallowed. ‘And I don’t think I want to continue with this girl drama, it’s causing me too much wahala,’

Ivan stared at his friend intently. ‘What happened to you over the weekend?’

Chuka laughed. It was ludicrous for him to have thought that he could avoid telling Ivan about his reconciliation with his mum. He went on to narrate what happened.

‘I’m glad you’re back together, you know. I kind of rooted for her,’ Ivan finally said.

‘Backstabber oh!’ Chuka replied, laughing.

He looked forward to offloading his burdens with reckless abandon in the evening service. His life was not the same.

Becca was not picking up.

…………………………………………..

‘Hi,’ Daniel said softly as he moved closer to Becca.

‘Hey,’ she replied, barely above a whisper. Her hand travelled to her hair as she tried to smooth the few strands flying off the rest of her neatly packed hair.

It had been almost a week since their fight and as expected, he had kept to himself, saying as little words as possible to her. Being not one to hold on to hurts for too long, she did her best to let him see that even though she was not happy about what he did, she still cared.

‘I need to talk to you,’ he said.

‘No, we need to talk to each other,’ she replied. She picked her bag. ‘Let’s sit for a while before going out.’

He pulled a chair and sat in it and she did the same, facing him.

‘Rebecca, I’m not going to try to make you see things the way I do, but I want you to understand that everything that I said to you was in your best interest. It was all for you’, he started.

Becca nodded. She had always been the one with the listening ear. He often compared her to an old woman.

‘But you were right. I should have asked questions and perhaps presented it even more carefully.’ He paused and took a deep breath. ‘I’m sorry, okay?’

Becca smiled. ‘I’m sorry too. I should have known that you were only trying to protect me, and looking at it from your point of view, I figured that it does seem like it.’

‘Yeah,’ he said quietly. ‘Perhaps you can officially introduce us if he shows up tonight. It’s high time we met, abi?’

‘Yeah sure.’ She smiled and held his hands. ‘I missed you small.’

He scoffed. ‘Of course, small.’

Becca laughed. ‘Ok let’s get going. We can’t afford to be late.’

‘I’ll just grab my bag.’

‘Wait…’ Becca called. He turned to face her. ‘I’m sorry about the feelings stuff I said. I wasn’t thinking right. I shouldn’t have.’

Daniel grinned. He walked back to her. ‘It’s okay. I shook that off already.’ He pulled her close into a warm hug. ‘And Becca?’

‘Yes?’

‘Chuka is a fine boy, but don’t let the crush last too long.’

Becca bit her lower lip as he released her. ‘How did you know? Is it really that obvious?’

‘No, it’s not. I know because I know you. I saw you on Sunday and it was written all over you, at least in my eyes.’ He paused and a smirk appeared on his face. ‘Besides, you once looked at me like you look at him.’

Becca frowned slightly. ‘Be feeling yourself. Go and carry your bag jare.’

Daniel laughed.

……………………………………………

Elsa stared hard at the man seated across her.

‘You really expect me to believe that?’ she asked.

Olukunle looked away and sighed. ‘It’s okay if you don’t. I can’t force you.’

She drummed her fingers on the table between them as she allowed his words replay in her head. She had gotten pregnant with Chuka when she was in her final year in the university. As expected, Olukunle had given her money to ‘take care of it’ with Dr. Kalu, the same doctor who had performed the other abortions. His warning had resonated in her ears the last time she had been there. ‘Don’t let him cajole you into another one because any other pregnancy after this will be a miracle,’ he had said.

She decided to keep the child. As much as she was in love with Olukunle, she could not afford to risk her life. By the time she finished her exams, her belly was starting to protrude so she retired to her grandmother’s house where she had him.

After being persuaded by her mother and grandmother, she had called Olukunle to tell him that he was now a father.

‘You must be joking. What kind of stupid news is that?’ he bellowed. ‘If I was ready to become a father, do you think I would have asked you to deal with it the usual way?’

Elsa tried to explain but he would hear none of it and shut her out. She called several times after that he was never available to pick the call. Thus, she resigned to living life as a single mother. It had been tough, but she had made it.

After struggling with the pain and bitterness she felt towards him, she finally decided to see him. He explained to her that few days after he got the news that he had become a father, he was arrested, along with some of his friends for drug trafficking. He served his jail term and began looking for them when he had settled down.

‘I visited one of my cousins in the neighbourhood and saw Chuka. I knew instantly that he’s your son, so I followed him from a distance. My conviction was further strengthened when I saw him with Frank, your brother. I followed him till I found you,’ he said.

Elsa shut her eyes. ‘And what made you think barging into his life after a lifetime of absence was the best approach? You came with your usual I-am-in-control nonsense, it’s been twenty years and I expected better.’

‘Seeing him face-to-face made all the difference, Elsa. I can’t explain it either. I didn’t come expecting to be accepted with open arms. I thought…’ He looked up at her and saw that she was not interested in his excuse. ‘Elsa, I’m sorry.’

She blinked back tears and nodded. ‘It’s fine. What do you want?’

‘I want a relationship with my son. It might seem late, but then better late than never, right?’

Elsa stared at him. ‘I’ll talk to him, but I can’t make any promises.’

Olukunle’s face lit up and he smiled. ‘I’ll really like that. An effort would be worth it. Thanks Elsa.’

Her face bore no emotions. ‘And one more thing.’

‘Anything you want.’

‘Stop calling me “Sweet love”.’

He cleared his throat and nodded. ‘Done.’

…………………………………………..

Chuka was uncomfortable. The service had gone on well and he had met Daniel, Becca’s best friend afterwards. He had not seen her at the mall and had come to church alone. Pangs of guilt tore through him as he thought of how badly he could have hurt her, even with how much care she showed him. ‘She will definitely hate me when she finds out,’ he thought.

‘So when are you coming over? Friday?’ she asked, beaming with smiles. The innocence in her face tormented him even more.

‘Over where?’ he asked.

‘My house. You didn’t turn down my invitation, you only swerved it in a way.’

Chuka smiled. ‘Friday is fine. I close early from work so I should be able to make it.’

‘Daniel is coming over too. Is that okay with you?’

‘Yeah sure. I look forward to it.’ He looked towards the door and saw Daniel waiting for her. ‘I’m sorry but I can’t wait for you today. I promised my mum that I would be home early.’

Becca smiled. ‘It’s fine. Your mum is really beautiful. Please extend my greetings to her.’

‘Thanks. I will. Good night.’

Daniel approached them just then and they shook hands. Together, they watched him walk out of the auditorium.

‘You’re coming over on Friday,’ Becca said, facing him.

He raised a brow. ‘Why?’

‘I invited him over and thinking of what you said earlier, I’m not sure I want to be alone with him.’

A smug look decorated his face. ‘You should have thought of that before inviting him. But since you’re begging me so profusely, I’ll save you.’

Becca frowned, ‘Joker.’

……………………………………………

‘Chuka!’

Chuka could correctly identify the female voice calling his name even in his sleep. They had had enough conversations to make it a part of him. Seyi Pedro soon caught up with him.

‘What are you doing out here this late?’ he asked indifferently.

‘I wanted to see you. Is that bad?’

‘You had the whole day, why now?’

She frowned. ‘I work too, remember?’

Chuka sighed. ‘What do you want?’

‘I just told you. I want to see you.’

‘What for?’

Seyi was irritated by his bluntness and how obvious it was that he didn’t want to see her. She knew she was going to make a fool of herself but chose to. ‘I’ll just be a fool in love,’ she thought to herself.

‘Chuka, I’ve forgiven you for what you did to me. I want us to get back together.’

Chuka laughed and gazed at her for a while. ‘You’re kidding, right?’ He waited for a response, but got none. ‘Wow! She’s not.’

He dipped his hands in his pockets. ‘First of all, I didn’t ask you to forgive me. As much as I appreciate the fact that you have, I don’t like that you make it seem like I came groveling at your feet, begging for forgiveness. And two, we can’t get back together. Get it straight, please.’

Seyi’s eyes bore defiance as she glared at him. ‘I’m not going to let you go that easily, Chuka.’ He rolled his eyes and she smirked. ‘I talked to Ivan.’

‘How’s that my business? Go and date him if you like, I don’t care,’ he blurted.

‘I would, but I’m stuck on you. And guess who I’ll be talking to next? And I mean a real deep talk.’

Chuka despised the triumph in her voice. She grinned as she flipped her hair gently.

‘Rebecca Bassey.’

Smokescreen (9)

‘Chuka! Wait!’ Becca cried as she increased her pace. Chuka turned and faced her. She was surprised at how much change sadness and pain had caused his face. He stared at her and for a moment, she was scared that his gaze would drill a hole in her face. She searched her heart for the right words to say but none seemed to be coming.

‘Well—’ he said, ‘—what do you have to say?’ His voice was totally emotionless.

Becca swallowed. More than ever, she felt a need to reach out to this new friend of hers who recently began to make her heart flutter. ‘Chuka, it’s okay. If you don’t want to say anything right now, it’s fine. I won’t put any pressure on you.’

She noticed a change in his eyes. He was obviously pleasantly surprised. He looked away and bit his lower lip. He made to say something but kept shut instead.

‘I just want you to know that I’m here, whenever you want to talk,’ she said softly.

Chuka sighed. ‘Thank you. I appreciate the kindness.’ A brief pause ensued. ‘I’ll see you later.’

She nodded and he walked away.

……………………………………………

The gentle, but persistent tapping on his door pulled Chuka out of his thoughts. He opened the door and Elsa stood in front of him.

‘Can I come in,’ she asked. He nodded. ‘We need to talk.’

‘Can’t it wait?’ Chuka asked, his voice laden with frustration and grief.

‘No, it can’t,’ she replied. ‘It’s been three years, and you still won’t hear me out. You need to know what happened; perhaps you’ll stop judging me unfairly.’

Chuka looked as his mother carefully. For the first time in a long time, he noticed that behind her beautifully made up face, a longing and need for something he was not sure of was etched there. Her skin had lost its glow and there were bags under her eyes – she had not been sleeping well.

A feeling of guilt hit him. He had carelessly judged her without giving her the chance to say something. He had shut her out without hesitating and had thrown himself into a whirlpool of craziness and sexual escapades in a bid to rid his mind of the emotions that violently tore through it.

She sat on his bed and looked around. ‘It’s been a while since I came in here,’ she said.

‘Yeah,’ he murmured. He pulled the chair from his reading table and sat in it, turning to face her.

Elsa closed her eyes shut as she remembered the day that the dark clouds which had covered her life had gathered.

……………………………………………

The rain came down in torrents, making it difficult for Elsa to see the road in front of her. Slowly, she made her way around potholes that were scattered on the road like sores on the body of a mongrel. She honked loudly and Kote opened the gates seconds after. She drove slowly into the compound and motioned for him to come over. He took measured steps as he clutched his umbrella firmly.

‘Madam, welcome,’ he said, his deep voice thickly coated with a Fulani accent.

‘Thank you, Kote,’ she replied, smiling. ‘Someone is coming to see me. He’ll be driving a red car, his name is Jeffrey. Please let him in, okay?’ Kote nodded and left just as carefully.

After having a warm bath and changing into thicker clothing, Elsa wandered to the kitchen as she contemplated on how she could meet up with dinner with Chuka. Every year for the past seventeen years, they had had a special meal of his choice for dinner on his birthday and he always insisted that she cooked it. He had decided to spend the day with Ivan and a number of his old secondary school friends. Thoughts of her son brought a smile to her face, he had given her a will to be better and everything she ever did was more for his sake than hers.

She heard a car’s horn just outside the building and she guessed that Jeff, her old friend and partner-to-be had arrived. He was to brief her about some business proposals that he had been considering. She cast a brief glance at the clock and saw that he was right in time. She heaved a sigh of relief, happy that she would be able to make dinner for Chuka. Soon, there was a knock on her door and she swiftly opened it.

‘Hey!’ he exclaimed, his car keys dangling in the index finger of his right hand.

‘Hi Jeff! Please come in,’ Elsa said, grinning from ear to ear.

‘I’m not late, am I?

‘No, you’re not. Hope the rain didn’t disturb you too much?’ she asked, motioning for him to sit on the couch.

‘I’m a fish now,’ Jeff replied, smiling gently.

Elsa laughed. ‘So, what can I offer you?’

‘Since you expect me to act all tush, I’ll simply request for tea.’

‘Na you sabi. I don’t take your kind of tea oh. I prefer chocolate.’

‘At your age?’ Jeff inquired mockingly.

‘I can’t help it, I have a sweet tooth. I’ll prepare our beverage, and then we can get to work. How’s that?

‘Works for me.’

Within minutes, their drinks were ready and Elsa eased into the couch next to him with her mug in her hand. His index finger danced on the screen of his iPad as he tried to find the file they needed on it. Elsa noticed that he was stealing glances at her. She tried to convince herself that she was probably imagining things.

‘Why are you stealing glances at me? Are you okay?’ she asked, fixing her eyes on his.

‘A beautiful woman is sitting next to me and you expect me not to feed my eyes?’ Jeff said, with more seriousness than mockery.

For a while, Elsa was quite disturbed about his comment. It was not the first time he would make an attempt at flirting with her.

‘Guy, hurry up with what you’re doing, so you can find something else to feed your eyes with,’ she replied, frowning slightly.

He smirked and looked back at his phone. ‘Here it is,’ he said, bringing the gadget closer to her. She took the phone from him and scrolled through.

‘You know, I don’t understand why you made it sound like it’s more tech-ey than it actually is. You could have sent this to my mail and I would have gone through it just as I’m doing now,’ she said, her eyes still fixed on the phone.

‘Being with you makes all the difference,’ Jeffrey said with a throaty voice, his eyes flooded with illicit desire.

Elsa, uncomfortable with the situation, stood up. She dropped her mug on the stool beside her. ‘Please excuse me, I’ll be right back,’ she said and walked into the kitchen.

She exhaled loudly and washed her hands for no reason, hoping that it would help calm her nerves. She walked back into the room, picked her mug and sat back on the couch, but with a measure of distance from him this time.

‘I have told you times without number that I do not like it when you talk to me like that, Jeffrey. I don’t like it, and I am very serious this time. Please let this be the last time you try to make advances at me. I am not interested.’ Every word seemed to drain a bit of her energy and she drank hurriedly as if to regain it back with each gulp.

She looked back at him and noticed a sly grin on his face. ‘Why are you looking at me like that? I mean what I said.’ Jeffrey did not say anything, but instead kept the grin on his face. ‘Whatever,’ Elsa said. ‘Let’s just get this over with, I need to prepare dinner.’

‘It’s alright,’ Jeff said. His grin had melted into a smile which sent shivers down Elsa’s body. Soon, she began to feel dizzy and in a matter of minutes, she passed out.

……………………………………………

‘You came and saw me lying in bed with him,’ Elsa said, tears streaming down her cheeks. ‘I never meant to hurt you.’ She looked up at her son who was now standing to face the wall. A long silence ensued and soon, she began to sob.

‘Finding you in bed with him wasn’t what hurt me,’ Chuka finally spoke up. ‘Your silence and withdrawal afterwards was what killed me.’ His voice was shaky and it was obvious that he was trying really hard not to cry.

‘That same day, my friends had forced me to sleep with a girl,’ he said, his voice shaky. ‘I needed to talk to you. I needed you to hold me and tell me that I would be fine.’

Elsa’s sobs stopped as she slowly lifted her gaze to meet her son’s. Her lips quivered and emotions enveloped her, rendering her paralysed for a moment. Chuka joined his mother on the bed and buried his head in her shoulder. I’m sorry for ignoring you all this while, mum,’ he said. He wrapped his arm around her as he let the tears flow unhindered.

Elsa held her son tight and let the reality of the moment sink in. She had longed for this moment for a really long time and a sense of peace flooded her as she held her son like she had found him after a long time of being missing. It did feel like he was missing – she had not been able to tease him when the first few strands of hair on his chin surfaced, she could not talk to him about his feelings and if he was in a relationship, she could not talk about school or anything else. He never wanted to. The silence was killing.

‘I’m sorry for everything, Chuka,’ she said. He raised his eyes to meet hers. ‘I know you’ve probably been wondering why or how Olukunle found us.’ She noticed his hesitation.

‘He is your father, Chuka,’ she admitted.

‘He’s too much of a jerk to be my father. I mean, where has he been all these years?’ he replied.

‘I don’t know either, and believe me when I say I do not know how he found us.’ Elsa wiped a fresh teardrop. ‘He showed up suddenly and before I could come to terms with the situation, you came in.’

She held his hands and looked into his eyes, hoping that he would see the truth in her words. ‘I am truly sorry, my dear.’

‘Chuka raised his hand to his mother’s face. ‘It’s okay, mum. I’m sorry too.’ She smiled gently and closed her eyes. He wrapped his arms around her. ‘I missed you.’

Elsa laughed quietly. ‘I’ve missed you too, son.’

……………………………………………

Lying in her bed, Seyi swiped across the screen of her phone. She stared long at the picture on the screen. It was her eighteenth birthday and Chuka had taken her to see a movie.

‘I am a fool,’ she said, laughing. ‘This mumu hurt me, yet I can’t stop thinking about him.’

She swiped again and another picture popped up.

‘But we were happy,’ she said to herself. ‘We will be happy again. I will make it happen.’

Smokescreen (8)

‘Good morning, Becca,’ Folasade and Folakemi, the most popular twin girls in the church greeted Becca in unison as they walked past her. Their popularity was largely as a result of how difficult it was to differentiate one from the other. They also amplified this by dressing and talking similarly. Becca, however, was able to recognise them quite easily, since they had grown up together.

‘Good morning!’ she replied, grinning at them. She looked ahead and saw Daniel approaching her. She had ignored his calls the previous night and eventually switched her phone off. By this morning, she was calmer and tried to see the good in what he had said the night before. She had had similar thoughts herself but had managed to convince herself that she knew what she was doing and all she needed was to be careful. She contemplated walking away but she knew that seeing him and talking about it was inevitable since they worked together.

‘Hi,’ a male voice said softly, behind her. She turned around and it was Chuka, in all his handsomeness. Her heart began to thud faster and louder and she feared that she would stagger. She blinked severally and cleared her throat. He was grinning from ear to ear and looked pretty excited to see her too.

‘Hey you!’ she replied. ‘Good morning’.

‘Good morning. Did you sleep well?’

‘Of course I did. How was the service today?

Chuka smirked. ‘It was fruitful.’ It was her usual reply to questions like that.

She laughed and hit his shoulder gently. ‘That was not funny.’

‘What? Did I say something wrong?’

‘I don’t know. Did you?’ Chuka laughed as well.

Becca smiled as a feeling of warmth enveloped her heart. He looked even more handsome when he laughed. Seeing him laugh, she remembered the look on his face when he had seen Seyi the other day at the mall. She also thought of what kind of life he lived away from her.

‘What will you be doing later this evening?’ she asked, uncertainty embedded in her request.

‘Nothing really,’ he replied. ‘I told you I spend my weekends with Ivan, but that’s usually on Saturdays. On Sundays, I stay up in my room listening to music or playing video games.’ He paused. ‘Is there another programme here later today?’

Becca took in a deep breath. She did not want to believe that how she felt around him was what was driving her to want to see him again. ‘No, there isn’t. I was wondering if you would like to visit me today.’

Chuka smiled. ‘I’m not sure I’ll be comfortable around your family members. I don’t know why, but I tend to get shy around strangers. I’m really sorry.’

Becca felt a tinge of disappointment. She forced a smile. ‘It’s fine.’

‘When next will you be free?’ he asked.

‘Friday is the only day I have off during the week.’

‘Can I come over then?’

Pleased, she nodded. ‘Yeah sure.’

‘See you later. I have to go now,’ Chuka said, smiling.

‘Okay,’ she replied. He extended his hands and she shook it warmly. It sent jitters through her body and she held her breath shortly. He walked away and she let her eyes follow him lazily. When he was out of sight, she tried to remember what she had been doing before he showed up.

‘Daniel…’ she thought. She looked around, but he was nowhere to be found. She guessed that he would have seen her talking to Chuka again and walked away.

‘Why is all this happening?’ Becca muttered.

……………………………………………

‘Ivan, get the door!’ Yinka shouted from the kitchen.

Ivan stood up angrily, grumbling all the way from his room. His immediate elder brother had visited and decided to spend the weekend. Annoyed that he had to leave the film he was seeing, he hurriedly opened the door.

‘Hey! What’s up?’ Seyi greeted, the corners of her mouth gently lifted to give a mild smile.

Apprehension gripped Ivan as he gaped unashamedly at her. He wished that it was only a bad dream that he would wake up from.

‘Aren’t you going to let me in?’ she asked, impatiently.

Realising that he was far from daydreaming, he opened the door wider. ‘I’m sorry. Please come in.’

Seyi walked in and took in the orange-scented air of the large sitting room. She looked around, taking in the simple but beautifully decorated house. Ivan led her to sit on the couch.

‘I’m still trying so hard to believe that you are actually here, Seyi. It’s been ages,’ he said.

‘Yeah, I guess you can say that, but please snap out of your unbelief,’ she replied, smiling.

‘What can I offer you?’

‘I’m glad you asked. The smell of this place created a craving for a cold orange drink within me. I would like one please.’

Ivan stood up and walked into the kitchen. He returned with a cold can of Fanta.

‘Thank you,’ Seyi said.

‘Who’s the pretty girl?’ Yinka asked, walking in unnoticed. ‘My name is Olayinka.’

Ivan glared at him, but he was not moved at all. He walked towards her and shook her hand. ‘What’s your name?’

Ivan cut in, clearing his throat. ‘Yinka, meet Seyi. Seyi, this is my brother, Olayinka.’

‘It’s nice to meet you,’ Seyi said.

‘The pleasure is all mine, dear,’ Yinka said, winking.

‘Okay. Please leave now. Thank you?’ Ivan said, obviously disgusted by his brother’s attitude. Yinka laughed and walked away. ‘Sorry about that.’

‘It’s fine,’ Seyi replied.

‘So what brings you here today? I am really surprised.’

Seyi adjusted in her seat and glared at him. ‘Actually, I came to ask you something or maybe “things”.’ Seyi paused and waited to see his reaction. Curiosity and a measure of anxiety were all she could see.

‘Okay?’ he said.

‘Who is Becca? What relationship does she have with Chuka?’

Ivan swallowed loudly.

……………………………………………

Sweet love, I am truly sorry about everything. I came to make amends. Please stop shutting me out.

Olukunle let his thumb hover on the send icon on his phone, He had waited for almost an hour in his car, contemplating on whether to go into the house to see Elsa but each time, he remembered the disturbance he had caused the last time he was there. He had flooded her phone with several calls since then but she had refused to pick any. He resorted to sending texts since he was sure that she would read them eventually, even if she would not reply.

He heard the loud bang of a gate and looked up through the windscreen of the car. It was Chuka, his son. His heart raced and he contemplated on what to do. He remembered how he had reacted when he had announced himself as his father. Now, he truly regretted it and had always sought a way to apologise.

‘This is my chance,’ he thought. He looked back in front of him and saw that the chap had not gone far from him.

‘Chuka!’ he called.

……………………………………………

‘Can I go now?’ Becca asked impatiently.

‘Yes, you can,’ Mrs. Bassey replied.

‘Thank you,’ Becca said, relieved.

She had been distressed since she arrived from church earlier, and even after a long nap, she did not feel any better. Strolling was thing she did to ease her mind and she had prepared to go almost one hour ago but her mother had annoyingly delayed her by sending her on various errands.

The smell of fried potatoes wafted across her nostrils as she stepped on to the street and she had her fill of it by choosing to walk slowly around that spot. She smiled at how ridiculously fun it felt to do so as she walked on.

Her eyes caught someone in front of her who looked like Chuka.

‘Something is wrong with you, Becca,’ she said loudly to herself. ‘Everyone is Chuka now, abi? You better snap out of your reverie.’

She walked closer and saw that it was indeed him. As expected, he had his headphones on and was singing along quietly to whatever he was listening to. A sudden wave of happiness hit her and she increased her pace to catch up with him. He had obviously not seen her.

Looking behind him, she saw a man calling him. He caught up with him and touched his shoulder. Chuka turned around.

…………………………………………..

‘I don’t want to talk to you,’ Chuka said, angrily.

He brushed Olukunle’s hand off his shoulders and attempted to keep walking but he gripped his hand.

‘Will you at least listen to what I have to say?’ he asked.

‘I don’t want to and you can’t make me. In fact, I don’t ever want to listen to anything you have to say.’

‘Fine, okay? Fine. I understand how you feel –‘

Chuka pulled his hand free, anger heating up his head. ‘Don’t you dare tell me that you understand how I feel. It is very obvious that you don’t. Do you even feel at all?’

Olukunle made to talk some more but Chuka interrupted him. ‘You know what? Don’t ever talk to me again.’ He put his earphones back on and walked away.

‘Chuka, I am your father. Please…’ Olukunle shouted.

…………………………………………..

Chuka felt his heart freeze. The emotions that raged on his inside were unfathomable as he looked in front of him. Becca was only a few inches away with her hand covering her mouth. There was only one explanation – she had heard his conversation with Olukunle, and more likely, his last statement.

Smokescreen (7)

After tossing and turning for what seemed like endless hours, Daniel finally sat up in bed. He buried his face in his hands and used his fingers to rub his temples tenderly. He picked up his phone to see what time it was. 9pm. He had refused to leave his room since he returned from driving his parents and grandparents to the airport. They were attending the burial ceremony of one of his family members in the village. As much as he pleaded, his parents had refused to let Ejiro go with them.

‘You better take care of my princess in my absence,’ his mother had said, the entire circumference of her big eyes almost in view. ‘You know she will tell me if you hurt her while we’re away. Abi sweetie?’ she asked, facing Ejiro who was standing beside her. The girl giggled.

He was older than her with thirteen years. After having him, his mother suffered many miscarriages. Luckily for her, she got married early so she was able to try for babies many times. Ejiro came and stayed, thus she became the egg of the family.

Daniel adored his sister, and she knew it, but he also did his best to let her grow responsibly without being over-pampered like children born in circumstances similar to hers.

He walked slowly out of the door towards her room and peeped, she was sound asleep. He walked on to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. He took out a bottle of water and drank directly from the bottle. His father hated it when he did so.

His thoughts shifted to Becca. As he drove home with Ejiro earlier, he had seen her walking with Chuka. ‘So that was what she was talking about when she said she would be busy today,’ he thought.

He had slowly grown uncomfortable with Chuka and how he hovered around Becca. At some point, he had thought it was jealousy, but with time, he discovered that it was much more. He resolved to talk to her about it the next day.

………………………………………………

‘You really are going to ignore me, aren’t you?’ Seyi asked as Chuka made to walk up the stairs.

His mother had retired to her room for the night. He had heard her talking to Seyi when he stepped out of his room.

‘Since Chuka is in bed, I guess I don’t have much to worry about. But you are two young people and I feel the need to tell you to be careful,’ she said. She swiftly ran her eyes over Seyi’s body. ‘That was why I insisted that you come with pajamas, not a nightgown.’ She saw the discomfort in the girl’s eyes. ‘Please be ready by 6:30am. Would you like me to wake you?’ she asked.

‘No ma. I set an alarm for 5am already. Thank you,’ Seyi replied.

‘To prevent any stories that touch, I’ll call you when I wake up. Please leave your phone on,’ she said, smiling.

Seyi nodded and Elsa walked into her bedroom. As she dwelt on the words the woman had spoken to her, she shook her head. She had no idea how many times she had given herself to Chuka, blinded by lust.

Chuka had been feeling thirsty for quite a while but he endured it. He did not want to see Seyi at all; he couldn’t bare to relieve nightmares while awake. She was his worst nightmare, after the folks that called themselves his parents, that is. When he thought that they would have gone to bed, he walked out.

He was taken aback when he saw Seyi, still on the spot where he had last seen her. She was engulfed in whatever she was doing with her phone as she didn’t notice him walk into the kitchen. She was most likely playing a game, she loved games and they spent time playing together when they dated.

By the time he came out, he hoped that she would have left that spot. She had indeed left there, except she was standing right in front of him.

‘I have nothing to say to you,’ he replied bluntly and attempted to walk away.

She held his hand and he shot her a look that registered nothing but shock and displeasure.

‘I don’t get why you’re like this to me. I mean I just can’t figure it out,’ she said, her lips quivering.

‘I don’t know why either. So can you let me be now?’ he asked, pulling his hand from her grip.

Chuka, you were the one who cheated on me. You’re the one who called it quits, even though I was willing to forgive you. You hurt me, you jerk. Why are you being like this?’ Seyi asked. Tears streamed out of her eyes.

‘You just said it yourself – I’m a jerk,’ he replied, shrugging. ‘You’ve always been the drama queen, Seyi. So can we get this over with please? You have to wake up early oh.’

Seyi could not believe how blunt he could be even now. He used to melt at her tears but he wasn’t moved by them at all tonight. Stunned and angry, she stormed past him and headed for one of the guest rooms which Elsa had shown to her earlier.

Chuka clenched his fists and sank into the couch, deeply troubled.

………………………………………….

With a smile plastered on her face, Becca sat up in bed. There was a tingle of excitement filling her chest up and the popular butterflies-in-stomach feeling took over her. Absentmindedly humming Dara Macleans’s ‘It had to be you’, she stood up and yawned like a baby, then stretched lazily.

She had thought of Chuka all night till she fell asleep. She tried to snap out of the thoughts by listening to the radio, but it seemed like all the forces of the media had joined hands to amplify whatever thoughts she was having of him. As at the time that she tuned in, virtually all the radio stations were playing love songs. Still trying to battle these thoughts, she slept off.

She had had a really amazing weekend and hoped that it would remain that way throughout. She knew deep within that seeing Chuka again in church would make it possible.

She had to prepare for work so she hurriedly took her Bible and jotter from her bedside desk to prepare for the day ahead. Suddenly, it struck her.

‘How could I have forgotten God in the midst of all these?’

……………………………………………

Chuka looked straight into the pair of eyes in front of him like his gaze was going to drill holes in the pair of eyeballs. Beads of sweat had begun to form on his forehead, yet it didn’t seem like the drama would end anytime soon. A grunt escaped his lips as he watched his hand go lower.

‘I win!’ Ivan shouted, banging the table. He stood up and did the popular shoki move while Chuka watched him, smirking.

‘Wipe that nonsense smirk of your face jare,’ Ivan said, laughing at him.

‘You were only able to beat me because I’ve not been working out,’ Chuka replied. ‘Arm wrestling is a piece of cake now.’

Ivan rolled his eyes. ‘Yeah right. Same excuse. Grow up, jare.’ He paused. ‘But then you really have stopped working out. You seem very distracted these days. Are you alright?’

Chuka shook his head and sighed. ‘Bro, I really don’t understand my life anymore.’ Ivan took his seat opposite him again. ‘So many things are happening all at once.’

‘I don’t understand,’ Ivan said, confusion etched on his face.

Chuka went on to explain how his father had suddenly reappeared after years of absence.

‘How come you never told me all these?’ Ivan asked, utterly astonished.

‘I couldn’t comprehend it myself. How was I to explain it to you?’ He waited. Ivan didn’t look like he had anything to say at the time. ‘Seyi slept over yesterday,’ he blurted out in an attempt to change the topic.

Ivan’s eyes were almost popping out of their sockets. ‘How is that even possible?’ he shouted.

‘She went out with my mum this morning and had to sleep over so they could leave together.’

‘Your life is not one I wish to live right now.’

‘I don’t like it either, but what can I do? It is my life,’

A smile slowly appeared on Ivan’s face.

‘I know you want to say something stupid. You better receive sense,’ Chuka said, laughing.

‘Not really.’ Ivan paused. ‘Did you make out with Seyi?’

He winked and ran out of the room.

…………………………………………..

‘You’ve been stealing glances at me all day but you have refused to say anything to me. What’s up?’ Becca asked Daniel, each word coated with as much seriousness as she could gather.

Daniel paused and glared at her. ‘It’s nothing,’ he replied.

‘You know you’re not a very good liar, Daniel. Fess up, abeg.’

Daniel looked away from her and at the big wall clock. It was just thirty minutes before closing time. They had had many customers that they so they barely talked all day.

‘Can it wait till we close, please?’ he asked her with pleading eyes.

Becca walked away without saying a word. She was really uncomfortable when Daniel went laconic on her. It only meant two things – he was mad at her or he had offended her and needed to tell her. She patiently waited to they closed.

Together, they walked to the parking lot. There were spots where people could sit to talk there.

‘So, what’s up?’ Becca asked. She was fast running out of patience.

‘I saw you with Chuka yesterday,’ he began. The look on her face showed that she knew where he was going but she kept quiet. Becca was not one to jump into conclusions. ‘I have a bad feeling about him, Becca and I’m serious this time.’

Becca sighed and clenched her fists. ‘You have always been jealous of Chuka, Daniel. And I just don’t get it.’ She stared at him and continued. ‘Have you had a fight with him before or something? Because I really don’t understand you anymore.’

Obviously eager for her to complete her statement, Daniel jumped in. ‘No. It’s not that. Isn’t it obvious that he’s coming to church because of you? He’s been hovering over you like he doesn’t have a job. I just don’t get how you don’t see it!’

Becca stood up and picked her bag. ‘If this is because of the ridiculous feelings you claimed to have for me all those years ago, then I think you really have gone too far.’ Anger was bubbling in her bones. ‘You know absolutely nothing about Chuka, you have no right to be jealous.’

‘It’s not that, Becca. What is wrong with you?’ Daniel shouted, standing too. The height difference was very obvious as he had to look down to talk to her. ‘I wasn’t joking when I told you those feelings died a long time ago. We’re way past all that crap now. It’s only right that I care about you. You are my best friend.’

Doing her best not to say the words that her head was producing, Becca took a step back. ‘I am disappointed in you, Daniel. If you really care, you would at least try to ask questions instead of jumping into lame conclusions. Goodbye!’

She stormed past him and walked away. Daniel sank back in the seat, exhausted. ‘What have I done?’