Monday, 19 August 2019

Her Last Breath (Episode Seven & Eight)



Khayrah
I slumped on the bed, feeling drained and exhausted after cleaning the room, folding my clothes, and that of Fadilah. I had swept and mopped the floor at the wee hours of the morning when Fadilah was still asleep and the sun hadn’t set in the sky. My mind was a whirl of confusion and I couldn’t sleep throughout the night. My thoughts were transfixed with all that had happened in the restaurant…the way Taofeek’s face had jolted in shock when he heard of the dreadful news, the way he had revealed his secret…that he had three children.

But come to think of it, why would Taofeek have three children? Three children out of the wedlock at the age of what? Twenty-seven? It sounded implausible!

I folded my favourite gown, the one I had worn on my first meeting with Taofeek. That day was one of the happiest days of my life and I could hardly sleep. I spent all night, thinking of Taofeek’s face and wondering how lucky I was to be getting married to such a handsome and lovely man.

I should have known that things would never work out…that I only wished to get married and have children like other women…but it would never be possible.  Tears streaked down my face as I remembered Taofeek’s bright face and the way he had talked about how we would spend our lives together, swinging his hands back and forth and widening his eyes with glee and hope. I had stared at his wide arms and imagined being in them…resting my head on his chest and listening to his heartbeat. I could hardly wait to stare at him longingly without feeling guilty, hugging him tightly and kissing him deeply. I had wished that he would one day be mine…but it would never happen. Never happen!

“Khayrah?’’ Fadilah said slowly, tapping me on the shoulder.

Startling with surprise, I dropped the clothing I was holding to the floor and cleaned my wet face. “You’ve woken up?”

“Yes. Have you prayed subh?” Fadilah yawned with sleepy eyes, her mouth wafting of a foul smell.

I winced, covering my nose with my hands. “I’m off-salah. Go and wash that your smelly mouth before it pollutes the room.”

“Okay Mama,” Fadilah chuckled, plodding towards the toilet door. “This one you woke up to clean this room…”

“Go and perform ablution before mom reaches here.” I interrupted her with a warning, in a bid to change the topic because it was heading to what had happened yesterday.

Fadilah nodded in return and entered the bathroom. We never wanted our mom to march into our room and remind us about salah before we wake up. She would scream at the top of her lungs and sprinkle water on our faces if we were still in bed till fajr time. I stared around the room. It was as neat as a pin. I needed to engage myself in several activities, in other to avoid thinking of Taofeek and all that transpired yesterday.

Taofeek! The excited look on his face when he told me about his promotion. The way he had reacted when I told him about my ailment. The moment he confessed and opened up on his secret.

I glanced towards the shelf, where my phone was lying. A part of me wanted him to call me and plead to have me in his life again, irrespective of when I would be leaving this world. A part of me wanted him to send an SMS, expressing his undying love for me and how he would love and accept me irrespective of the fact that I was dying.

A sudden buzz my phone gave made me shriek in anxiety. I fastened my pace towards the shelf to reach for my phone. Unlocking my phone in a rush, I saw a new message from Facebook. It wasn’t from Taofeek. But it was from another man.

Asalamu ‘alaykum.
-          Talhah Munir
A surge of excitement seeped through me as I replied the message. It was the same way I had met Taofeek. This could be the perfect replacement!

Wa’alaykumu salam.
-          Khayrah Raqeeb.

I smiled eagerly as I watched the received icon tick, showing that the message had been delivered. He had just read the message and he was typing.

I imagined how Talhah would look like. He might probably be more religious and handsome than Taofeek. That would be Taofeek’s loss! Haha! He would sleep in front of the gate, begging me to accept him into my life, just like Abdul Lateef had done. He wouldn’t bear to see our wedding pictures! Talhah and I together, hands in hands while we smile widely and wave at our wedding guests. He would cry till his tears dry up and he wouldn’t be able to cry anymore. He would then start writing books, advising people to cherish the one they love and stand by them no matter what.

‘I left her because she has cancer. That is the biggest regret of my life. I lost a diamond. I lost Khayrah.’ I imagined Taofeek saying, while he wallowed in regret.

The vibration my phone gave as a new message popped up almost made me jump out of my skin. A sly smile appeared on my lips as I cleaned my eyes before reading, imagining seeing a sentence such as: ‘You’ve been my crush for over a year now. I just mustered the courage to chat you up.’ ‘Are you still single and ready to get married?’ etcetera.

Was up pretty lady. Hw r u? I lv u
-          Talhah Munir.

My face creased to a frown as I blocked him and threw my phone on the bed. Oh, he was one of those unserious men who slid into lady’s inboxes to flirt. Why did think he was different from Taofeek? Didn’t he turn out to become someone who had been engaging in illicit affairs?

No! I couldn’t really imagine myself getting in fists with several baby mamas and raising children who weren’t mine. What was even the possibility that he had changed… that he had stopped fornicating?

I placed my hands on my forehead, willing these sorts of thoughts from clouding my mind. The room was neat and there was nothing else to do. Throw the clothes on the floor and re-fold them? Scatter the room and start re-arranging? My family members would start to suspect that I might have probably gone mad.

I left the room and headed to the kitchen. There would surely be tasks to finish in the kitchen: the making of breakfast, washing the dirty dishes and cleaning the floor.

Hafsah shivered in fear as she spotted me entering the kitchen, the knife she was using to cut green vegetables falling to the ground. I knew she had to be surprised. I couldn’t recall the last time I stepped my foot into the kitchen. Hafsah was saddled with the responsibility of cooking the dishes and serving us with whatever we wanted. The kitchen was like her room. She would wake up before dawn to start preparing what we would have for breakfast.

“Sorry oo! I’m sure I startled you.” I smiled at her, entering the kitchen to realize how much things had changed. The brown carpet had been replaced with white tiles. The gas cooker was different from the one we were previously using. The cupboard was designed with zebra print and there was a new refrigerator!

“It’s fine…” Hafsah smiled uneasily, trailing me with suspicious eyes as she bent down to pick the knife and continued chopping the vegetables at a slower pace.

“I came to assist you. What do you plan on making for breakfast?”

“Boiled rice and vegetable soup with fried fish.”

“I’ll help you make that. You can go to your room and sleep.” I stated, taking the tray of vegetables away from her.

Hafsah gasped in disbelief, giving me an odd look. “But…you…mom…” she spluttered.

I gave her a reassuring smile. “I’m serious, Hafsah. Go and rest. You work so hard, you should rest.”

“Okay,” Hafsah replied as she walked out of the kitchen.

I chopped the vegetables, wondering why it wouldn’t slice as thin as the one Hafsah had done. I knew that I had a lot of work to do in terms of the kitchen.

“Khayrah?” Fadilah called as she entered the kitchen, convulsing into laughter. “When did you start to cook…I mean, when was the last time you touched a spoon or seasoning cubes? I’m surprised you can find your way into the kitchen!” Fadilah smirked at me.

“Whatever!”

“You’ve cleaned our room and you’re making breakfast…what is going…oh, that reminds me, he is here again oo!”

My face jolted in shock as I stared at her with an eager expression. “Taofeek?”

“No, not Taofeek. The pest is here again. Ensure you take pesticide along with you.”

“Who is the pest?” I asked with furrowed brows.

Fadilah rolled her eyes. “Abdul Lateef! That’s the only pest I know of.” She shrugged nonchalantly and opened the refridgerator to grab a bottled water.

Without saying a word, I returned to the room to wear hijab and stormed outside, reading to give Abdul Lateef the piece of me.

He was standing in front of the doorway, dressed in a white- crisp shirt and black trousers. He sighed loudly and glanced at me with a sad look, before lowering his eyes. Abdul Lateef was my first love…the person I had written about in my diary.

I filled my diary with stories about him, the reasons my love for him was unexplainable…the way I savoured the smell of his strawberry shampoo, how I would struggle to lower my gaze because of his small and bright eyes, curvy lips, curly and dark hair, and long beautiful fingers. His smile was just everything. I loved to see the glamour his white neatly arranged set of teeth displayed and the way his nose creased whenever he smiled. If I were to write an epistle, regarding what I loved about him, words would fail me. But now, all I could see was a man who had betrayed my love and trust.

“Asalamu ‘alaykum, Khayrah. How are you?”

“Wa’alaykumu salam. I’m fine. What are you doing here?”

“I miss you. I miss so much…and I want you back. I’m ready to do all it takes to have you. What do you want me to do? I’ll do anything in the world to have you back.” Abdul Lateef said with all seriousness, his eyes slightly raised, the way they did whenever he meant what he was saying.

“I want you to leave me alone. I’m going through a lot right now and I don’t want to be put into pressure. You had your reasons for ending our relationship and nothing has changed.”

Abdul Lateef walked closer to where I was standing, making me nervous and jittery. He sighed deeply and stared at me with pity, rubbing his right thumb over his forehead. I could still perceive the sweet smell of his favourite perfume, the smell that made me imagine taking strawberry and grape. “No one will want to get married to you because of your condition. If Taofeek knows about it, he’ll leave you…”

“He knows about it.” I replied blankly, pulling my face away.

From the corner of my eyes, I could see the way his eyes widened in delight. “And?”

“It’s complicated Abdul Lateef. We both kept things from each other. We cannot be together anymore.” I stated morosely, blinking away the pain that was evident in my eyes.

“Khayrah, do not forget all we shared. The memories, the promises we made to each other, the way we had planned on having our wedding and travelling to Paris to spend our time alone in the ‘city of lights.’ Do not make these dreams dash away because of a silly mistake I made. I love you and you love me. We both know that and we can’t deceive each other. I’ll give you till the end of the day to decide on accepting or rejecting my proposal. If you still want to be with me, the one true person who will love you sincerely, then let me know. If you don’t want to, then I promise to never disturb you again. But remember this, I love you more than you can ever imagine.’’ Abdul Lateef said and walked away.

I stood at the same position for over a minute, wondering if I was making the worst mistake by not accepting him back into my life. Maybe he was right. No one would accept me for who I am. I was tempted to run to his house and tell him that I had accepted…but I changed my mind. After all, I still had until night time to make a decision.

“Will you accept?” Fadilah asked as I entered the living room. It was obvious that she had been eavesdropping on our conversation.

“I don’t know. Maybe this is the best option.”

“Whatever decision you want to make is up to you. But, do not forget when he had ended the relationship. When you had pleaded in tears that he does not leave you but he wouldn’t even listen to what you had to say. When he invited his new lover into the compound and the way she had done things to spite you and make you feel jealous. Do not forget all these when making your decision.”

“What did you hear about you making breakfast, ehn Khayrah? You want to make breakfast and you haven’t even finished chopping the vegetable lataa ro? Are we going to feed on raw vegetables?” My mom interrupted our conversation as she entered the living room, still dressed in her white nightgown.

“I’ll head to the kitchen now and continue,’’ I stated, plodding towards the kitchen and glad that I didn’t have to respond to Fadilah’s statement.

“Do you have an appointment with the doctor today?” my mom asked.

“Yes,’’ I replied blankly, walking faster towards the kitchen door.

I was not in the mood to engage in any discussion with anyone. My mind was clouded with a lot and any discussion about my illness would make me disconsolate.

“Faizah and I want to hang out this afternoon. We wouldn’t mind if you join us.” Fadilah remarked, reading through her phone.

As much I hated to be around Fadilah’s best friend, Faizah, I was eager to leave the house and clear the troubling thoughts away from my head.

“How about her appointment with the doctor?” my mom inquired.

“We’ll leave for Ikeja City Mall immediately after leaving the hospital. How about that?” Fadilah smiled, raising her hands.

I sighed deeply. “Okay.”

  


Episode Eight
Khayrah
Faizah was the tallest woman I had ever set my eyes on. She had chocolate skin with long legs and big, red lips. She was undoubtedly pretty and so full of herself. Of all the times I had been around her, she would frequently talk about the number of men that were dying to make her their wives, and the new rich man that had promised to buy her a car or sponsor her trip to Dubai. She was the worst talkative I had ever come across. Faizah would keep talking and cut you off whenever you had something to say. Sometimes, I would wonder why she was the best friend of my sister. I dreaded the moment she would pay us a visit at home and place her feet on our bed, staining the bed sheet with chocolates and talking about how unusually quiet I was and how strange it was that I didn’t have friends. I would never dream of being here, but I was desperate to leave the house.

“Fadilah, your sister is so weird. I’ve never seen a friend visit her. She is usually alone, doing things I don’t understand. How come you guys are sisters?’’ She would say in mockery tones.

Now, I was sitting in the KFC section in Ikeja City Mall, munching on a chicken drumstick and gazing at Faizah as she kept talking about her new fiancé, Ibrahim, who was the son of a wealthy and influential politician based in Abuja. Now, she was talking about a man she had recently met and how she wanted to hook him with Fadilah.

“This guy is soooo rich and handsome. Way handsome than that Rasheed who wants to leave you for one yeye Ph.D. programme,’’ Faizah snorted.

She was dressed in a blue and yellow pinafore, and gold veil, Fadilah dressed in a similar outfit and hers of green colour.

I studied how uneasy Fadilah looked at the sound of Rasheed’s name. Yes, she still loved him and she would be willing to take him back. Rasheed was Fadilah’s first love and the only man she had dreamt of being with. It came as a surprise when she decided to end their relationship because he would be travelling out of the country for four years.

Fadilah sipped from my bottle of orange juice and pressed her lips tightly. “But…”

“Oh, please. Don’t tell me any love yen yen yen. He loves you and decided to leave you? Please, don’t tell me that. I will hook you up with someone that you’ll love so much.” She said, then turned towards me, scratching her head. “I could have hooked up your quiet sister too, but…you know…”

“I have cancer? Don’t worry, Faizah. I don’t need you to hook me up with anyone…” I was saying when someone walked in.

It was Rasheed! His eyes were fixed on Fadilah as he walked towards our table, his face looking solemn. Five years before, Fadilah would never dream of getting married to someone like Rasheed.

‘I want a tall, dark and handsome man with white sparkling teeth.’ Fadilah had fantasized when we were talking about our dream man. However, life happened and she fell in love with someone we never expected. Someone who was the direct opposite of her dream man.

“Asalamu ‘alaykum everyone. Please, I need to speak with you, Fadilah.” He pleaded with guilty eyes.

I knew that he had come to beg her, to tell her that their lives were incomplete without each other. Fadilah tried to hide the excitement in her eyes as she moved to a different table to talk to him, watching him longingly as he talked slowly and with passion.

“They look so perfect together.’’ Faizah gushed as she grinned at them.

I rolled my eyes at her. Some minutes ago, she was talking about hooking Fadilah with a richer and more handsome man. Now, she was gushing over them. Such a pretentious friend! That was why I never considered having a friend.

I wished that Taofeek would do the same…appear out of nowhere and beg me to return to his life. But I couldn’t wait any longer. If Taofeek would not come to me, I would go to him. We love each other and we should be together, no matter what. Cancer or children, we were meant for each other.

Picking my phone from the table, I dialed Mr. Lolu’s number. “Please come and pick me up. We’re heading to Fushia Company Ltd. at Ogba.”
***
Fushia Company Ltd. was a richly-furnished office composed of a large number of workers. The workers sat in cubicles, working with full concentration and typing away on their keyboards. I had always dreamt of working in such establishment but I just couldn’t, not with my condition. My dad had offered me a position in his company but I had declined it.

“I’ve informed Mr. Taofeek that you want to see him. Please, kindly wait for a minute.” The fair-complexioned receptionist with a face filled with excessive makeup said in a sing-song tone, struggling to speak like the British.

“Okay, thanks.’’

I retouched my face with powder and adjusted my hijab, feeling scared and nervous. I had never done this. I had never begged a man to be with me.

“You can go in now. His office is the third to the left.”

“Thanks,’’ I muttered and walked towards the door, breathing hard and willing myself to knock on the door.

“You can do this,” I muttered to my face, stretching my shaky hands and knocking on the door.

“Come in.” I counted to three and entered the office.

Taofeek’s office was a medium-sized office that was wafting of a sweet fragrance. Taofeek focused on his laptop with a frown, then looked up as I strode towards his table. Gosh! He looked more handsome than when I had last seen him…when I had walked out of the restaurant. I shouldn’t have done that. I shouldn’t have walked out on him.

“Asalamu ‘alaykum Khayrah. To what do I owe this visit?’’ he sounded very professional as he rubbed his weary eyes and glared at me.

Taofeek was putting on a red and black shirt, and his skin glowed brighter than before. Was that because he had been promoted to a higher position?

“I came to beg you and plead that you forgive me for walking out on you the other time. I am sincerely sorry and I hope that we can start again. I will accept your children and your past…and all your flaws. I love you so much and I can’t do without you.” I said in sobs, tears coursing down my face.

‘’Do you really love me?’’

Really? Why would he be asking such a question? ‘’Of course, I do. I love you very much.”

‘’Or you are looking for someone to get married to…anyone to get married to…because you’re left with no choice? You’re coming back here to beg me because you’re left with no choice. You’re scared that you’ll find no one. You just want to fulfill your wish of getting married to anyone. Be it Taofeek or AbdurRahman or Yusuf…anyone at all. You wouldn’t have accepted my past if you had better choices, but you’re here because you’ve looked around and you know you’ll be all alone.”
“No. I love you. I love you very much, Taofeek. I’m not here just because I want to get married. I’m here because you are the one I want to be with. What do you want me to do to amend this…I’ll tell my father to buy you…’’

Taofeek’s laughter interrupted my speech. I felt very offended as I watched him glare at me in irritation. ‘’That’s it right? To buy me off? To find a pauper you can buy off and get married to before it’s all over? If that’s your plan, then you have failed.”

“No…that isn’t my plan…’’

‘’You have cancer, Khayrah. Remember that.’’

“I shouldn’t have come here.” I yelled, covering my tear-soaked and walking out of the building.

I would have caused a scene as I stumbled on my way out of the company building, bawling my eyes out till I entered the car.

I buried my face in my hands and allowed the tears to flow freely down my face. I shouldn’t have done this. I had humiliated myself. Maybe Abdul Lateef was right. No one would be able to love me because of my condition.

“Aunty, sorry oo! Man no worth to dey cry for oo! No cry abeg.’’ Mr. Lolu said, turning back and glancing at me with pity.

I ignored him and dialed my mom’s number. ‘’Okay, customer. See you again.’’ My mom said as she picked at the first ring, obviously bading goodbye to one of her regular customers at the shop. ‘’Khayrah, how are you?”

I blew my nose into a napkin as I replied. “I’m not fine. I went to beg Taofeek in his office. I humiliated myself and he wouldn’t accept me. Why did I come to this world in the first place? To face all these? Why can’t be like you or dad or Fadilah?” I whimpered in anger.

“Astagfirullah. Everything in this world happens for a reason oo! Omo mi, I’m sorry about everything. I wish we didn’t have to go through all these but I am certain that ALlaah tests his servant for a reason. You are not the only who is affected by this. We all are. Every single morning I pray, I ask ALlaah to restore your health and grant you long life. Do you think I’m really strong? That’s because I try to appear strong whenever I’m around the family. I try to appear strong so that you won’t lose hope. When I’m alone, I cry and wish that this had never happened. But we will be patient and prayerful because this is a test from ALlaah. We will never lose hope because we have faith that things would get better by ALlaah’s will. If Taofeek’s isn’t the one for you, he won’t come back and you’ll find someone who’ll sincerely love you irrespective of what you’re going through. Do not allow this to make you feel sad. Remain grateful because there are people who are worse off than you. Keep praying and hoping for ALlaah’s mercy and healing. Please, Khayrah, I love you so much and I won’t want you to brood over this.  I’ll leave my shop with Bukky and start coming home. Please, get home and take a rest. I’ll join you shortly.’’

‘’Okay mom.” I threw my phone on the chair and stared out of the window, reflecting on all she had said.

Some seconds later, my phone buzzed, signaling a new message on Facebook. I hissed loudly, knowing it would certainly be from men like Talhah.

My phone buzzed repeatedly and I picked my phone, wondering who had sent me messages. My eyes almost popped out of its sockets when I saw Taofeek’s name.

Asalamu ‘alaykum Khayrah. How are you? I stumbled upon your profile and I must sincerely say that I’ve been overwhelmed. Can I know more about you?
-          Taofeek Adewale.

I smiled widely as I started to type. It was the first message I had received from Taofeek. It was how we started our relationship. It meant that he was ready to start all over again.

Wa’alaykumu salam. I think I love you already!!! Please, can we get married?
-          Khayrah Roqeeb.

Khayrah, I’m sorry for the way I acted earlier. I accept you, no matter your condition. Whatever it is, we will fight it together as a couple. We will make each day count.
-          Taofeek Adewale.

I’m sorry for hiding this from you. Please forgive me.
-          Khayrah Roqeeb.

I also hid secrets from you. We’re both guilty.
-          Taofeek Adewale.

I’m excited to be their mother. I’m not very good with children, but I will learn to become a great mother to them. So tell me, what other secrets are you hiding?
-          Khayrah Roqeeb.

Lol! I roll on the bed when I sleep. I eat more than you can ever imagine. I pick my nose when no one’s watching. I hate beans and yam. I can’t kill cockroach to save my life. I hate reading. Hahaha! Now tell me yours.
-          Taofeek Adewale.

My head is bald. I have few strands of hair left on my head…
-          Khayrah Roqeeb.

You’re my real African queen! Something else?
-          Taofeek Adewale.

Yes. I squeak when I sleep. I’m not working. I can eat rice throughout the year. I’m scared of death. I don’t have a single friend. There are more I can’t recall now.
-          Khayrah Roqeeb.

I love you despite your flaws and imperfections.
-          Taofeek Adewale.

And I love and accept you too!
-          Khayrah Roqeeb.

      Don't miss out on the previous episodes:

     Episode One


     Episode Three

     Episode Four

     Episode Five

     Episode Six
    

Friday, 16 August 2019

Please, do not copy my stories.


I would possibly be gulping down a bottle of Bigi Apple or chewing a piece of ram meat when I received a message on my page. I had opened the message to read what it contained. It was a message from a lady, seeking permission to share one of my stories, Flaming Home.

“Thanks for taking the time to reach out to me and seek my permission, sis. You can only share the blog link that directs readers to the story on the blog.” I had sent and she replied, informing me that she would abide by my rule.

Still making the eid holiday memorable, I was preparing jollof rice in the kitchen when my phone buzzed with a new notification. An honourable sister had mentioned me in a comment. I knew what it had to be…I knew it had to be linked to the message I had received a day before. And my guess was right. I had clicked on the notification to see published episodes of my story, Flaming Home.

Fine, the person had acknowledged me as the writer of the story, but that did not change the fact that it had been copied from the blog without authorization. I sent the lady a message, asking why she had decided to share my story despite what I had informed her about.

She explained that she had started sharing the episodes before someone- who is a friend of mine- had sent her a message, warning her to seek the permission of the original writer. She apologized and that was it!

Just so you know, stealing a writer’s work is like dipping hands into a pot of soup, without knowing what the cook had gone through to prepare such delicacy. Sharing the work of a creative person without knowing the efforts the person had pulled through to come up with that is like taking loads of pieces of jewelry from a bank, without knowing how the owners had gotten them. No one can truly appreciate the efforts of a creative person who sits and create imaginary characters, narrate stories, create the time to type and edit them, and upload these stories for people to read, for free!

Just so you know, you are NOT allowed to copy my stories from my blog and share to other platforms, without seeking my permission.

If you did not know and you have been sharing my stories, now you know.

JazakumuLlaahu khayran.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Her Last Breath (Episode Six)

Taofeek
I was pacing back and forth in my office, wondering what would be the outcome of the meeting and how I would be able to handle the presentation which would be held in the next thirty minutes. I wondered why the so-called presentation had to happen on the same day I would be meeting Khayrah to reveal what she had been hiding from me…what everyone had been hiding from me.

The presentation would hold soon and I needed to report financial statements and tax returns to the management before noon. When Khayrah had asked where we could meet, I had suggested that we meet at Treaties, a restaurant located on the same street where I worked.

Khayrah had promised to reveal what she was hiding after breakfast on the day she was discharged from the hospital. I had spent close to an hour at her place, talking to her family members and eating pancakes and fish rolls prepared by Hafsah.

Khayrah had accompanied me to the end of the street when I was leaving for home, sighing deeply and occasionally glancing at me. I knew that what she was about to say would be something so grievous, that it might affect our relationship.

Tears streamed down her face as she stopped halfway and stared at me. “I cannot tell you. Not now, not today. Not even tomorrow. I’m scared of telling you this and I hope you forgive me when you realize the truth. I’m scared because telling you now might make it the last time I’ll be seeing your face. Can we see on Monday? I promise to tell you everything!” she had pleaded and I nodded in response, fighting the tears that had swelled my eyes from falling.

Today was finally the D-day! The day I would find out the truth…the truth that Khayrah had kept away from me.

 A sudden knock on the office door startled me from my thought. Daniel came in that second, smiling graciously. “Fine guy! How you dey now? You just dey fresh anyhow like butter! Me sef wan get fine face like you oo!” He laughed, striding towards the table and taking a seat.

Daniel was my closest colleague at my workplace. A tall and lanky man who hailed from the Eastern part of the country, he had a jovial nature that always made me cheerful, even on days that I felt disconsolate.

“Fine face no dey bring money oo!” I chuckled, resuming my seat and playing with the stapler on the table.

Daniel roared in a staccato of laughter. “But e dey bring fine babes…”

“This babe I wan marry…I no know wetin she wan tell me. I just dey confused. I no fit concentrate.”

“Khayrah? What happened?” Daniel’s eyes widened in shock as his face turned serious all of a sudden.

“There’s something she’s hiding from me. It might cause our relationship to end. I spent last night ruminating over what could have happened. It’s possible she found out about my children. It’s possible she hasn’t gotten over her ex. It’s possible she doesn’t want to continue with this, because of my financial status…anything could be possible, Daniel.” I placed my hands over my head in frustration.

Daniel patted me on the shoulder. “You’ll be fine, I promise. You’re strong and brave. I’m sure you can handle this. I would have invited you to our usual hangout at the beer parlour tonight but I just remembered you’ve turned alfa!” Daniel guffawed as he marched towards the door. “Please, be fine.”

“I will,” I winked at him in assurance.
***
I raised my hands in supplication and thereafter, bowed down to praise Allah for His uncountable blessings. I thanked Him for guiding me to the right path, despite the wrong deeds I had committed in the past. I prayed that He continued to keep me steadfast on the right path until I take my last breath. I thanked Him for a successful presentation and for receiving great news about my promotion at my workplace. I prayed that my meeting with Khayrah would turn out successful and that we would work out whatever issue she brought forth.
After performing two rak’ah of nawafil, I kept my lips busy with praises as I walked down the road, recalling the events that had occurred within the space of one hour. After the successful presentation, I had been invited by the Chief Accountant to his office. It was then he broke the news that I had been promoted to the position of a Senior Accountant. It was unbelievable! I never expected the news!
‘If Khayrah wants to end this because of my financial status, then this is good news!’ I muttered, walking towards the restaurant at a faster pace.

Khayrah was seated at the tail end of the room, engrossed in her phone as she sipped from the flask she always took around. She always kept to time; I wondered what made her imbibe to time management strictly. She was putting on a red gown and black hijab, her spectacles glistening in the room.

Walking up to where she was seated, I smiled and greeted with the salam.

Khayrah whipped her head up. “Wa’alaykumu salam.” She replied and lowered her eyes.

It was very unusual for her. On a normal day, Khayrah would furrow her eyebrows and accuse me of getting there late as usual. This time around, she smiled weakly. Khayrah looked sick and ashen. She looked thinner than the last time I set eyes on her. I wondered if she had fallen ill again.

“I’m sorry. I had to perform salah before heading here. How are you? I hope you’re in a perfect state of health?”

“AlhamduliLlaah. I have something…” she was saying but I cut her statement in a surge of excitement.

“I have a piece of great news for you. But before that, I have a little concern. You look sick, my love. Have you been sleeping with mosquito net?”

“It’s not about mosquito net, Taofeek. There’s something I need to tell you…”

“I have something to tell you to. I just got promoted to the position of a Senior Accountant. This translates to an upgrade in my monthly salary. I don’t know what you want to tell me but if it’s about the fact I’m not rich enough…”

“Please, just let me talk!” Khayrah yelled in frustration, tears streaming down her face.

It was then I knew that it was more than what I had expected. It was not about my financial status…it was worse than that!

Dreading to hear the news, I placed my shivering hands on my head and said silently. “Are you still in love with Abdul Lateef?”

“I have cancer, Taofeek. Yes, you heard me right. I have cancer. I was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia last year. I am dying, Taofeek. I wake up every morning, knowing that my days on earth are limited. It’s like counting one’s last breath. I’ve undergone several weeks of aggressive chemotherapy. To keep the disease under control, I am receiving low-dose chemotherapy and radiation therapy to kill cancer cells. I am also receiving on-and-off maintenance treatment. Since acute leukemia patients usually have extremely low counts of healthy blood cells, we are usually given transfusions of red blood cells and platelets, and we receive drugs to fight infection and to reduce nausea and vomiting that may arise as side effects of chemotherapy.  I didn’t slump at Domino because of Malaria. I slumped because of this! I do not need mosquito net…I am dying and my days on earth are limited.” Khayrah said with shivering lips. Tears had filled her face and she was bawling loudly, catching the attention of others in the restaurant.

My eyes widened in shock and disbelief. I had imagined several stories Khayrah might have planned on telling me. But I hadn’t expected it to be as worse than this! Cancer, the deadliest disease, was what Khayrah had?! I found it unfathomable. On second thought, I imagined that she could be joking…maybe she had planned with her parents to test my love for her…but this was different! No one would lie about having cancer! Khayrah had cancer! Khayrah was dying! The woman I planned on spending the rest of my life with had limited time to spend on earth.

I stared at her with moistened eyes, wishing that someone would wake me from my slumber to inform me that I had been dreaming.

“Tell me this isn’t true. You can’t have leukemia, Khayrah. We planned on spending the rest of our lives with each other. You can’t…”

“I am a monster, Taofeek. I am a selfish and inconsiderate woman with no regards for human feelings. I should have told you this from the onset. I knew that no man would want to walk down the aisle with a dying woman…not a woman who might leave the world before her wedding night. Abdul Lateef left me because of this. I just wanted to fulfill my wish of falling in love and getting married before I die. I’m really sorry, Taofeek.” Khayrah pleaded in tears.

“I…I don’t even know what to say…” I prattled, wondering if I even knew anything about the woman I wanted to get married to. I wondered where to start from after feeling fulfilled that I had found the one. I wondered if I could still get married to Khayrah, after knowing the state of her health.

“Please forgive me. I’m sure you’re probably wondering what words to tell me…how to tell me that the marriage wouldn’t hold. I’m used to this, Taofeek. Abdul Lateef, a man whom I loved with all of my heart broke off our engagement when I least expected. I won’t be surprised if you do so too, and I understand why you have to. I was at fault for hiding such grievous news from you.”

“I’m also at fault. We hid terrible things from each other.”

Khayrah arched her brows in concern. “You didn’t hide anything from me…”

“I did. I did terrible things in the past. I engaged in illicit affairs with different women. I have three children out of wedlock.”

Khayrah cleaned her wet nostrils and glared at me. “Three children?!”

“Yes, Aliyah, Hassan and Hassanah.”

“I can’t believe this. Why would you hide this from me? You know what? We’ve both wronged each other and this won’t work.” Khayrah said, grabbing her bag and storming out of the building.

I didn’t try to stop her because it was right. We couldn’t be together. I couldn’t get married to a dying woman. Khayrah couldn’t also accept the fact that I had three children.

As she walked out of the building, I critically studied her physique for the first time. How hadn’t I noticed that she was too thin and frail to look normal?
***
“Cancer? Haba! That’s too much oo! So, when you finally decided to settle down, you didn’t see any woman but one with leukemia? B’e ko yi se tobi to, ehn Taofeek?” My father said in an exasperating tone as we all sat in the living room, listening to all that had transpired yesterday.

Jaleel was seated at the right corner of the room, whipping his head up intermittently to show that he was a part of the discussion while he was engrossed on his laptop. Lukman, my elder brother, had visited and he was sitting beside me on the wide sofa.

“Cancer ke? Why didn’t she tell you before now? It wasn’t right to keep such a thing away from her fiancé. It is very wrong!” Lukman continued.

“But I also hid my children from her. I should have told her before we started this whole marriage plans.”

“Hiding her health status is worse than this oo! Well, thank God this is all over and you’ve just gotten promoted. In sha Allah, you’ll find a better woman who will be your rightful wife. I’m going inside to rest, jare.” My father remarked, walking into the room.

Lukman turned towards me with scrutinizing eyes. “Do you still intend to go on with this?”

“I’m going inside, bro. I also need to rest.” I stood up but Lukman tailed me as I entered my room. “Do you know what it means to get married to her? She’ll be dying anytime and you’ll be left heartbroken.”

“How about us? We will die anytime, too. Who has the probability of not dying before those diagnosed with cancer? This ailment can be seen as a reminder of death. Several times, we go about our various businesses, without thinking that we could depart this world at any point in time, with no warning. But those with terminal illnesses are pre-informed about the vanity of this world. They are aware that death could appear at any point and as they count their last breaths, they are more conscious about Allah and the last day.” I admonished him.

Lukman sighed deeply and gazed at me. “I want to invite you to a ceremony. With your handsome look, you’ll surely catch one or two ladies there. Is it not you? I wonder the number of ladies you’ve been with!” He winked at me.

“What of your wife and child?”

Lukman snorted as he walked towards the wardrobe. “Marriage life is not that easy oo. I want us to go alone, without a company. I miss my single life sha,” he replied.

“Without Aliyah?”

“You can’t take your daughter everywhere you go to. We’re going alone to this ceremony.”

“Okay…” I was saying when my phone started to ring. I checked the caller and it was an unknown number. “Hello, who’s this?”

“How is my daughter? I hope she’s fine?”

“Who’s this?” I asked with a shaky voice.

“Jasmine. I just returned to Nigeria. I need to see my daughter.”

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