Saturday, 15 February 2020

Her Last Breath (Episodes Twenty-One and Twenty-Two)




Episode Twenty-One
“Are you okay?” I stared at Taofeek skeptically. I could have assumed the worst but his face flickered with a smile.

“I’m perfect!” he exclaimed as he pulled into the parkway.

His hands trembled as turned off the ignition and grabbed his phone from his pocket. Staring at him, I could tell that he was overly-excited he would be seeing his first daughter after months of not being around her. I could tell that he wished he could get to wherever she was in a few seconds and pull her into a tight hug.

“Who knows where she would be now. That girl,” Taofeek smiled as he dialed her number.

Aliyah picked at the first ring. “Aliyah, where are you?”

I watched as he pressed the phone to his ear and listened to her. “A restaurant in the airport? Don’t you know their food is ten times the usual price…you were hungry…okay, we’ll be on our way.” He said and hung up the call.

“You wouldn’t believe it. Aliyah bought food from a restaurant here. Can you imagine how much she’d have spent? Well, I’m sure her mother had given a lot of money,” Taofeek was saying as he pulled off his seatbelt. “Let’s get going. We need to leave here on time so that we won’t get stuck in Ketu traffic.” He stated as he opened the car door.

I took a deep breath before alighting from the car. This was the moment I dreaded so much- the moment I would get to be with Aliyah, my husband’s daughter. Honestly, I thought getting married to a man with children out of wedlock would be easier…but it wasn’t.

‘Taofeek loves Aliyah as much as he loves me. If you love Taofeek, you should love Aliyah. Aliyah is only a teenager, you can handle her.’ I muttered as Taofeek held my hand while we walked down the road.  

We hadn’t arrived at the restaurant when someone yelled ‘dad’ from afar. I could spot Aliyah, who was dressed in a red jumpsuit and black blazer, waving at us…or Taofeek. As we got closer, I noticed she was putting on gold heels and her veil had a row of beads that sparkled in the afternoon sun.

“Dad!” she screamed in frisson as she jumped on Taofeek in excitement. He pulled her into a tight embrace that lasted for minutes.

“How could I have missed this naughty little girl so much?” Taofeek chuckled as he pulled away and stared at her in awe and admiration.

“Am I not worthy to be missed…Aunty Khayrah, Asalamu ‘alaykum. How have you been?” she smiled at me, stretching her hand.

I shook her hand and smiled in return. “AlhamduliLlaah. Never been better. How was your journey? I hope it wasn’t too stressful.”

“Oh, no. it wasn’t. I decided to pull a surprise for my dad and it turned out perfect. I never knew he had missed me this much. And oh…you guys are the power couple oo. Imagine the way people were staring at you while you held hands,” Aliyah grinned.

Taofeek had shown me a picture of Jasmine. Just once. He never did so after that because of the way I had reacted upon seeing her picture. Believe me, I was jealous of my husband’s ex who was already married with kids. Jasmine had the super-model figure and looks. When Taofeek showed me a picture of her, I saw a tall and fair-complexioned pretty lady with the whitest set of teeth.

“One of her parents has Irish blood.” Taofeek had said when I asked how a Nigerian could look that way.

And Aliyah was her mother’s carbon copy. Only younger and prettier.

“Can we be on our way? We need to beat the traffic.” Taofeek said as he placed his hands around her neck.

While we were walking to where the car was parked, I placed a hand over my forehead to prevent the rays of the sun from entering my eyes and pretended to be busy on my phone.

“How are Hassan and Hassanah? Eyin father of three.”

“Ah, they are fine. I would be expecting another one soon,” Taofeek said with a proud one.

I whipped my head up to see Aliyah gasping in surprise. “SubhanaLlaah. So, you’ll become a father of four. I can’t wait to have one more sibling.” Aliyah was saying when her phone started to ring.

We walked quietly till I arrived at where the car was parked. When Taofeek had stared at me with a look of concern and asked if everything was fine, I smiled and replied in affirmative.
***
“Check out this one. I took this with mom in my room. Yes, I have a room there.” I could hear Aliyah from the living room, talking and laughing in excitement as she showed Taofeek photos she had taken back in Canada.

I muttered in between breaths as I sieved the spaghetti and took bulbs of onion from the tray. On a normal night like this, Taofeek and I would be in the kitchen, talking about a random thing as we make dinner. But tonight, he sat with Aliyah in the living room while I made dinner for them.

“…no. Mom’s hair is longer than mine. Very long, black and silky. Gosh, my mother should have contested for Miss Universe.” I heard Aliyah say from the living room.

I winced in anger as I imagined Taofeek thinking of the woman he had once professed love to. Feelings do not easily fade away. How could I be certain that he doesn’t wish he were in her husband’s shoes?

Water spilled from my eyes as I sliced the onion. I fumed as I watched tears drool down my face. It wasn’t because of Jasmine and Aliyah. It was the onion. But I wasn’t 100% certain!

I tried to drift my thoughts to something else- beans and plantain tomorrow morning. Trying out the red gown to Quwam, my cousin’s wedding. Calling Janet and maybe… visiting her on Sunday. There were so many things to do…better things other than getting jealous of my husband’s ex or disliking her daughter.

I spent about seven minutes to make the fish sauce. I served the food into the three plates and called out from the kitchen. “Food is ready!”

There was no response from any of them. I placed the plates in a tray and headed for the living room. I froze in shock as I spotted Taofeek on a call, grinning sheepishly and speaking in a vibrant tone. Clearing my throat and trying to maintain my composure, I strode over to where they were sitting and placed the tray on the table.

“…how is that my fault? It felt like you had stolen my daughter away from me.” Taofeek snickered as he listened to the caller on the other end.

“Thanks for the meal, Aunty Khayrah,” Aliyah said as she took a fork and started to eat.

I took a plate and turned towards her. “Who’s he talking to?”

“My mother.”

“Okay,” I swallowed hard as I turned on the TV and pretended to watch The Johnsons.

Taofeek ended the call about twenty minutes later with the excuse of having to pray at the mosque. 

“We need to pray Ishai’ at the mosque. I guess I’ll eat when we return,” Taofeek said as he took his plate of cold spaghetti and headed towards the kitchen.

“You both go to the mosque to pray ishai’?” Aliyah asked.

“Yes,” I replied as I wore my hijab.

Taofeek hurried out of the kitchen and headed towards the room. “Please, give me five minutes my love. I need to ease myself.”
***
The sonorous voice of the unknown Qur’an reciter filled my ears and made my eyes misty. One of the reasons I loved to accompany Taofeek to the mosque was because of the calm atmosphere the night exudes. And sitting in the mosque would be the best feeling of the day. Most times, I would wish that I remain there till daybreak.

As I supplicated and glanced at women that walked in and out of the mosque, I reflected on the past few years and the blessing ALlaah had bestowed upon me. I never believed that I would live for more years. I had lost hope that I would find love and even carry my unborn child. Sometimes, I forget that I have a terminal illness. I would read stories of people with a similar condition and thank ALlaah over and over again.

‘Which then of the bounties of your Lord will you deny?’ The reciter read a verse from Suratul Rahman and I couldn’t help the tears that filled my face.

My phone started to vibrate and I knew that it was Taofeek notifying me to leave the mosque. I was about to leave the mosque when someone called my name. It was Mama Kawthar, one of the estate women.

I winced as I turned slowly towards her and gave a pretentious smile. “Asalamu ‘alaykum, Mama Kawthar. How have you been?”

“Wa’alaykumu salam warahmatuLlaahi wabarakahtuhu. AlhamduliLlaah. You haven’t been attending our meetings.” She scanned my face closely, expecting an explanation.

“I’ve been busy. You know this is my first pregnancy experience. It hasn’t been easy. And…”

“Your husband doesn’t approve of you attending the meetings again, abi?”

“Well, yes.”

Mama Kawthar smiled. “But you’re not restricted from paying me a visit?”

“Ah, no. You’re my Muslim sister.”

“Okay. I’ll be expecting you tomorrow oo. I’ll prepare a special delicacy for you. If you like yourself, don’t come,” she laughed and I joined.

“Thank you, Mama Kawthar. I have to be on my way. My husband is waiting for me.” I smiled at her as I walked out of the mosque.

“What took you so long?” Taofeek asked with a frown as I joined him on the dark path.

“I was discussing with Mama Kawthar.”

“One of the women that attend those ridiculous meetings?”

“Not tonight, Taofeek. Not tonight.” I said in between breaths as I started to walk away.

Taofeek hurried to meet up with me. “What is wrong with you? You’ve been acting weird since this afternoon. You even called me by my name. Taofeek.  Tell me if I did or said something that got you offended.”

“What happens to the phrase, ‘leave me alone’?”

“I get it. Pregnant women act moody sometimes.”

“What did you just say? So, you’re implying that I’m acting crazy? If the other women you impregnated acted moody, that doesn’t mean that I would do so!” I yelled at him.

It was pitch black but I could register the shock that engulfed his face. “What has gotten over you? Don’t you know that we’re outside? What is it, Khayrah? I’m trying to find out what is making you upset and you’re making it all worse. You know what? I’m leaving.” Taofeek said as he started to walk down the path.

 I cleaned my eyes and walked slowly towards the house, wishing no one would be present. Not Taofeek or his daughter.




Episode Twenty-two
I woke up with a throbbing in my head. Not just because Tijani had appeared again in my dream. But because I had spent a major part of the night tossing, holding my stomach in pain and sweating profusely. It had been long I felt that sick.

When I woke up the next morning, it felt like I had spent the night carrying heavy metal objects.  My bones hurt and I struggled to take steps towards the bathroom.

Taofeek noticed that I wasn’t feeling okay, but he was too angry to ask. I could see his mouth quivering as if to mention a statement, then he would fix his eyes on the Qur’an and continue reciting.

I was a step away from the bathroom door when I felt a strong urge to puke. I opened the door with a loud thud and poured the slimy liquids from my mouth in the water closet. A gurgling sound came out of my throat as I bent and continued to puke.

“Are you okay?” Taofeek’s voice came as he poured water on my head.

“I feel sick…” I muttered as I rested on my head on the wall, feeling almost unconscious.

Taofeek flushed and carried me out of the bathroom. He placed me on the bed and covered my wobbly body with a blanket. “You don’t look so fine. When did this start?”

“Last night.”

“Last night and you’re just informing me?” he gave me an incredulous look. “So, if you haven’t puked, I could have just remained here, wondering if you’re sick or not.”

“I’m sorry,” I whispered.

“Look, I’m sorry about yesterday but you know you’re the one at fault. You wouldn’t even tell me what I did wrong.”

“I’m not the one talking to my ex like I’m still in love with him,” I said in an angry tone.

Taofeek jaw dropped. “You think I still like Jasmine?”

“Yes. She is beautiful and all that…but didn’t you even remember that your wife was seated in the same room while you spoke to her for a long time?”

“She is the mother of my child!”

“I didn’t ask you to impregnate her.”

“But I hadn’t even met you, Khayrah, and I was ignorant. You know I’m a changed man.”

“And I don’t want everything to change because your daughter is back. This is hard for me, okay? I haven’t said this before but I’m doing so now. It’s really hard. I’m just trying to get used to all of this. Jasmine and Aliyah…and Funmilayo and Hassan and Hassanah.”

“Sometimes, the past does not leave without imprinting a scar that can never fade away. If I could turn back the hands of time, I wouldn’t have indulged in fornication. But I thank ALlaah for guiding me to the right path and I pray it remains this way until I take my last breath.”

“Aameen,” I smiled at him. “I guess I overreacted. I’m sorry.”

“Oh, yes you did. But believe me, Aliyah has a good heart. You’ll get to love her more than you can ever imagine. She is a lovely girl.”

“You love her so much, don’t you?”

“I love her so much. I’d nurtured her since she was a baby. She has nothing against you. She likes you a lot. At first, she was scared things wouldn’t remain the same between me and her when we get married but she has come to terms with the fact that I still love her as much as I do.”

“I love you, Taofeek.”

“Same here, Khayrah. And I’m bothered about your health. Shouldn’t we visit the hospital?”

“You have to go to work. Let’s watch my condition till the end of today. If I don’t get better, then we can know the next step to take.”

“Okay, love. Let me take my bath and prepare for work.” He kissed my forehead before grabbing his towel and heading towards the bathroom.
***
Aliyah grinned excitedly as she watched me put a spoon of rice into my mouth. I chewed slowly as if I was scared it would taste bad, but it turned out I was wrong. The meal was very delicious.

“You love it?” Aliyah chuckled.

“I do!” I laughed as I took more spoons.

It was over four hours since Taofeek left for work and Aliyah had promised to make breakfast- a delicious Italian dish she had learnt from her mother. She called it Paella.

“I’m a good cook. My dad taught me how to cook when I was seven.”

“Nice,” I smiled at her as I continued to devour the delicious meal that had a unique taste, different from the regular fried and jollof rice that I ate at least thrice a week.

“Aunty Khayrah,” Aliyah started, clearing her throat. “I didn’t really mean to get my dad upset by not returning to Nigeria early. I guess I just needed to change the environment. I forgave my mother for leaving me when she narrated all that happened.”

“What happened?”

“My mother was the pretty innocent only daughter of a wealthy father. She had only her father who was overly-protective of his only child. So, when she started studying in the university and she met my dad, she didn’t know what love entails,” Aliyah chuckled and then continued. “She called him a playboy. He didn’t love her but she was madly in love with him. Well, she thought he loved her until he broke up with her barely a month after they met. The painful part was that he started a new relationship with another lady from the same department. She was devastated and she felt her world was over. She didn’t know the worst was to come. She got pregnant and her father couldn’t take it. He withdrew her from the school and waited for her to deliver the child. Thereafter, he commanded that she take the baby to the father and flew her to Canada immediately. My mother spent those years thinking about me and praying for my welfare. Years after, she found love and got married. Then, she was too ashamed to come back for me. Her husband urged her to return to Nigeria and look for me, which she did.”

“I’m so sorry about that. Well, your dad is a changed man. I’m sure he regretted all he did and have learnt his lessons the hard way.” I laughed as I glanced at Aliyah and noticed that her eyes were moist.

“You’re lucky. I mean you have a loving sister who is like your best friend. Spending these few minutes with my siblings in Canada is a whole new experience and I enjoyed every moment. I grew up in dad’s family house and….my grandfather wasn’t really nice to me at first. People weren’t nice to me. They saw me as a taboo,” she smiled ruefully.”

“We should thank ALlaah for being a merciful God who forgives us of our sins and guide us right.”

“Yes. AlhamduliLlaah.” Aliyah remarked as she sipped from her cup of water.   

I stared at her and cleared my throat, willing the words to come out. “Growing up was fun…but it all ceased in my third year in the university…when I was diagnosed with cancer.”

Aliyah watched me with sympathetic eyes. “How did it all start?”

“I felt sick most of the time but it wasn’t a big deal to any of us because I’d never been a very healthy child. I usually parade the hospital for one treatment or the other since I was little. But it became worse and my parents knew that we had to consult a doctor. It was then that the doctor broke the dreadful news. But he gave us hope because the cancer was in its early stages. He made us hopeful that I could live longer than I would ever imagine.”

“How did you take the news?”

“Or how did people take the news? They started to stare at me on campus like I was a dead person walking in the land of the living. I would be walking to the lecture hall and overhear people whispering, ‘Chai. This young lady has cancer. I pity her oo. Imagine counting your last days.’ That would break me and I would sometimes spend the rest of the day in the toilet, shedding tears. I couldn’t cope with studies. I failed most of the courses. I had to withdraw from the university. I secured an admission to further my studies at the University of Nottingham. A week before I travelled out of Nigeria, my mother convinced my father that I remain in Nigeria because she couldn’t bear to see me stay far away without knowing how I would fare. So I remained at home and enrolled in an online bachelors programme.”

“I’m sorry, Aunty Khayrah. I didn’t know you went through all that.”

“That’s not all. Before all this, I was in love with my neighbor. His name is Abdul Lateef. You know these love stories you would see in movies where a man would wash his car downstairs and his lover would stare at him from afar, watching his abs and smiling seductively at him? That was our love story. We were madly in love… I mean, I was madly in love because when I reflect on the past, I wonder if he truly loved me. Abdul Lateef deserted me when he discovered I was terminally ill. So, I was all alone with my family members, until I met Taofeek, your father.
“We met on Facebook. He sent a message…and messages sprouted out of that single message and before you know it, we were head over heels with each other. We met and got married. The same Khayrah people had imagine would never get married, tied the knots with the best husband in the world. Aliyah, your father is a blessing from ALlaah. I met him when I’d lost hope in life. He proposed to me when I counting my last breath and just waiting for death to arrive. Your father have given me reasons to live, love and be happy.
“You see, cancer has taught me a lot. To appreciate life and remember that our stay on earth is limited. When I received the news, I became more conscious of ALlaah. I started to use the hijab and study more about the deen. I also realised that being terminally ill is a way of being conscious of life that could end any second. One of my colleagues in school, who had consoled and wished me well, died just a week afterwards. She had no terminal illness and no flick of an idea that she was just counting her last breath.”

“Aunty Khayrah, you should write a book to tell the world about your story.”

I laughed loudly as a smile passed across my face. Taofeek was right. Aliyah was a sweet child with a pure heart.” That’s just a cliché. I do not even own a diary. Really I don’t have…” I was saying when my phone beeped.

I picked it up from the table and realised that I had a new message.

Don’t forget your promise oo!
-         Mama Kawthar.

I jumped up and packed the plates into a tray. “Aliyah, would you like to accompany me to a friend’s house. She stays in the estate.”

Aliyah shrugged. “Okay. I’ll just go to my room and change my clothes.”

“Okay,” I replied as I strode towards the kitchen.

Suddenly, everywhere appeared dizzy and I struggled to maintain composure. At that very minute, the contents I was holding fell on the ground. I could hear the cracking of the ceramic plate as I slumped and became unconscious.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Her Last Breath (Episode Twenty)




Taofeek
A grin was plastered on my face as I changed into a simple t-shirt and a pair of shorts. Khayrah was very excited to see her family members. I chuckled as I heard their vibrant voices from the living room. My surprise was the best!

I had sat down on the bed to change into my shorts when my phone buzzed with a new notification. It was from Funmilayo.

I’m sorry to bother you. I know you have a lot of expenses to make…but please, remember that your children have started school and they need to pay their school fees. They also need to eat. I hope to hear from you soon.
-          Funmilayo.

My face felt paralyzed as I read through the contents. I jammed on my phone’s keyboard to reply.

I’m so sorry, Funmilayo. I am broke. The month will end in the next four days. I’ll send you something by then. Thanks for your understanding.
-          Taofeek.

I clicked ‘send’ and walked out of the room to meet only Fadilah and her father in the living room. Khayrah’s father had his phone pressed to his left ear as he spoke earnestly while Fadilah sat on the sofa, watching the TV.

“They are in the kitchen,” Fadilah smiled at me as she noticed my questioning eyes searching for Khayrah and her mother.

“Oh….” I stuttered. “I thought as much.”

Sincerely, I’d never quite related well with Khayrah’s family members, asides her mother. Her mother had soft and understanding eyes that usually portrayed the love she had for her daughter.

‘Khayrah loves you so much. And I know you love her. So, I love you both for loving yourself.’ She had remarked on a particular evening when I had called her to relate my worry about Khayrah’s state of health. It was when she was still brooding over the loss of Tijani.

Her last statement still rang in my memory. It meant a lot to me. She knew we both love ourselves deeply…but Khayrah’s father was different. I would feel nervous whenever I was relating to him. He acted nice and polite and he always offered to assist us in whatever way he could…but there was still something about his questioning eyes. Like I had gotten married to his daughter because of his money.

“Brother Taofeek?” Fadilah called as I shook my head and regained myself. I hadn’t noticed that I had been staring at him for long- the man who was dressed in a white kaftan and black cap. Khayrah’s father would be in his early fifties. He was of average height and had chocolate-coloured skin and small, beady eyes. Fadilah was the direct replica of her father, only that she took her mother’s complexion and eyes.

“Yes, Fadilah. I hope you’re enjoying your stay here?”

Her face flickered with a smile, revealing her wide eyes like that of Khayrah’s. “I am. Your house’s cool. You’re very handsome. I don’t know if I’m allowed to compliment the looks of my sister’s husband,” she laughed. “But in all sense, you are. The day you two met, my sister could not sleep. She was so crazy about you. Now, she’s pregnant. I mean, my elder sister is pregnant. The same person that shared the same room with me. We would dance delightfully when our parents were fast asleep and talk about how we imagined our future husband. One of those nights, Khayrah had placed a pillow beneath her blouse and feigned pregnancy.” Fadilah laughed again and I joined her.

“What I’m trying to say is that time flies so fast that you can hardly realize that things are changing. Events are occurring and as they do, we pass through several phases in life. Sometimes, when I look back at those days, I wonder if they are real. If they truly happened. And I’m grateful for life and love, and hope. I watched my sister shed buckets of tears. We thought she would leave so soon. We gazed at her like that would be our last. But here she is, happily married and expecting her first child. Alhamdulillah.” Fadilah stated as she cleaned streaks of tears that fell from her eyes.

“I’m sorry for blabbering, brother Taofeek. I just felt so overwhelmed visiting you and seeing the glow on my sister’s face. Please don’t tell her I said any of these.” She smiled at me in a pleading manner, revealing the intensity of her red-painted lips.

Fadilah was dressed in a red kimono and black veil. Her face glittered, courtesy of the Tara brown powder Khayrah had told me her sister saved money to purchase. I glanced at her petite stature and skin, the colour of papaya. And I wondered how two siblings could be different. Khayrah was selectively shy. She had this excellent aura that swept around her. Khayrah would study an environment critically before being her real self. Well, I saw a different side of Fadilah today. I never knew she could reflect deeply.

“I won’t. Let me go check on them,” I remarked as I turned to leave. I spotted Khayrah’s father, who was now resting on the wall. He was still deeply concentrated in his phone’s conversation. He greeted me with his eyes and I smiled in return as I sauntered towards the kitchen door.

I heard voices as I attempted to turn the doorknob.

Does he know…I’m scared…isn’t pregnancy…the doctor assured…let’s keep praying…

I heard filters from the conversation Khayrah had with her mother. In order not to get caught eavesdropping, I walked away and headed for the room.

Settling on the bed, I read John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars for the seventh time and pondered over deep words the author had written. I had read the book for the first time during my final year in the university and I had no flick of an idea that a similar incident would happen to me. That I would fall in love with someone who is counting her last breaths.

I had spent five minutes reading the book when my phone rang. I picked it up. It was Ridwan calling.

“Asalamu ‘alaykum, bro. How are you and how’s the family?” I greeted cheerfully.

“AlhamduliLlaah. They are fine. Little Zulaihat also sends her regards,” he chuckled. “I actually called to ask if you’ve gotten your bills settled. Have you found anyone to lend you some money?”

“I haven’t oo. But the month will end in four days. I believe we can manage until then. Thanks so much for your care.”

“You’re welcome. How’s your pregnant wife doing?”

I laughed proudly. “Healthier than ever. That reminds me, I spoke to dad yesterday. His legs still hurt him. But he said it’s getting better as he’s using the drugs administered by the doctor.”

Ah, AlhamduliLlaah. I’ll call him today. Old age ehn. Who will ever imagine that our energetic father will suffer from arthritis?”

Abi oo…” I was saying when Khayrah entered the room, smiling teasingly and pulling me up with her onion-smelling hand.

“Food is ready,” she whispered as she kissed my right cheek.

“Ridwan. I’ll call you back.” I said in a frisson as I tailed her.
***
“All the time Khayrah and I made the meal, Fadilah sat in the living room watching the TV.” Her mother frowned at Fadilah as she served the meal on the dining table. I took a seat beside her father as I perceived the nice aroma of fish stew wafting the atmosphere.

“But mom, you know I don’t like cooking. Who made it compulsory for all women to like cooking?”

Khayrah’s mother scrunched up her face as she glared at Fadilah. “Eri eleyi ni! Who told you cooking is not compulsory for women? Even if you hire a cook and let her do all the meals, she’ll end up snatching your husband. Look at your sister. Remember how she would sit in the room and expect Hafsah to do everything in the kitchen? By force by force, she has fallen in love with cooking,” She said as we all laughed.

I dipped my spoon into the plate of boiled rice and fish sauce, turned part and placed a spoon in my mouth. It was at that moment that Khayrah’s father cleared his throat.

I willed myself to swallow the food as I imagined what would come next. He never cleared his throat except that something big would be coming up.

“Taofeek?” he said in his usual high-pitch voice.

“Hmm?” I swallowed hard and turned towards him.

“I heard about a group Khayrah attends. A cancer support group. And I was wondering, why would she decide to attend such a group?”

“It’s a beneficial group. They talk about healing from pain…and she has also made friends from there…” I prattled.

“Friends that die every day like chickens? Friends that remind her that she would die soon? I heard she was very sick when she lost a dear friend few months back. What’s his name again…yes…Tijani. I think she gains nothing from attending such a group,” he blurted out and the air felt still for a minute.

Everyone was quiet save for the occasional clacking of spoons against the ceramic plate and peering eyes that travelled questioningly amongst ourselves.

Khayrah’s mother chuckled nervously and broke the silence a minute later. “You made a good opinion, my dear, but why don’t you discuss this with Taofeek after the meal?”

“Yes, fabulous idea,” Khayrah smiled.

My phone buzzed in my pocket and I picked it up hurriedly. Since my financial situation grew worse, I’d had the fetish for checking my phone repeatedly as if someone would suddenly consider to send me money and I would receive a credit alert.

Surprisingly, it was the credit alert I had been yearning from. But…it was from someone I never expected. It was from Khayrah’s father!

Stealing glances at them, I noticed Khayrah and her mother glanced at me and looked away immediately. I knew at once what had happened. Khayrah had told her mother about my financial condition. Her mother had asked her husband for help. Khayrah’s father had sent the money and he hadn’t stopped to wonder if I could really cater to the needs of his daughter.

My legs felt wobbly and I gulped a cup of water. My forehead had beads of sweat and my hands shook unusually. I felt ashamed and unworthy of being a husband. I could eat no more with several thoughts going on in her father’s mind.

“Excuse me,” I said politely as I walked out of the dining room.

I headed towards the balcony and inhaled the fresh air that swept the surrounding. Tears burnt my eyes as I replayed the scenario over and over again in my head. Was Khayrah’s father indirectly mocking me by asking those questions? How would her family see me? As a husband who cannot cater to his family’s needs? Why would Khayrah tell her mother about my financial situation? Why do I have to be wayward before now? If I didn’t have children out of wedlock to cater for, wouldn’t my life be simpler?

“Darling,” Khayrah called as she joined me in the balcony.

I didn’t respond. I was infuriated. She shouldn’t have told her parents. She shouldn’t have. We could have worked it out as a family.

My face softened a bit as Khayrah hugged me at the back. “I’m sorry, my love. I never knew it would happen this way. Even if you won’t tell me, I knew you were broke and I was just trying to help…”

“Trying to help?” I yelled as I removed her hands that surrounded my back and turned towards her with a glaring look. “I never asked for your help. Why did you tell your mother? Why?”

“You needed help but you were too proud to say it. You wouldn’t even tell me, your wife. And my dad is wealthy and always ready to assist us…”

I stifled a snort of laughter. “Always willing to help? Didn’t you witness what played out some minutes ago? He believes I married you because of his money.”

Khayrah frowned. “No, don’t say that. He doesn’t think so. I’m sure of that.”

“He does, and most people think so too! I’d overheard people in my street gossiping about me. They called me a fornicator who got married to a woman with a terminal illness because she’s from a wealthy home. People say this and that. They make assumptions about me. And you still want me to ask your father for help?”



Khayrah winced as a tear dropped on her cheek. “Who cares what people say? We both know how we feel for each other, Taofeek. You love me and I can feel it deep down my heart. I can never appreciate you enough for loving me despite knowing my health condition. I don’t care about your past because I trust my husband and I am certain that he would never cheat on me. So, who cares what anyone says? What matters is us. We shouldn’t stop loving and caring for each other every passing minute. And I think you’re making assumptions with regards to my father. Maybe he doesn’t show it but he appreciates you a lot. And he doesn’t think you’re a gold-digger. I’m a hundred percent certain. Please, darling, let’s leave all elements of doubts aside and fight all obstacles together. I want us to be a hundred percent sincere. You should tell me when you’re broke. I should tell you that Tijani has been appearing in my dreams.” Khayrah said as she looked away.

I gasped in surprise. “Tijani?”

She bit her lower lip nervously. “Yes.”

“How long has this been happening?”

“Four months. I’m sorry.”

I pulled her into a hug. “It’s okay. We’ll discuss that later. I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Khayrah replied when my phone started to ring.

“Oh, gosh! Why does this phone keep intruding on our special moment? Should I yank this object away?” her face broke into a joyful smile.

“Yes, let’s.” I chuckled as I checked the caller ID. It was an unknown number. I clicked on the answer button and pressed the phone to my ear. “Hello?”

“Surprise. Since you refused to pick my calls, now I’ve used a different number. I am in Nigeria! Come and pick me up at the airport, dad.”

“Aliyah?”

“Yes, Aliyah. Come and pick me up. I’m waiting!”

“Okay,” I muttered as I hung up the call.

“Aliyah is in Nigeria?”

“Yes, she just arrived. We should pick her up. What will we tell your family members?”

“We’ll sort it out.”

“Yes, we will,” I replied as we both laughed.
“Wait, I’ve got no appetite for the meal anymore. Can we visit a buka on our way to the airport?”

I looked up dazedly at her face. “You haven’t visited a buka before, like ever?”

Khayrah rolled her eyes. “Oh, please. Don’t mock me now. Let’s go.”

“You’re still the weirdest being I’ve ever met,” I snickered as we left the balcony.
***
While I drove to the airport, Khayrah kept talking about Aliyah…and children…and Aliyah…and children.

I knew she was nervous that Aliyah had returned. Khayrah had never been good with children…talk more than a teenager. I had spotted the anxiety appearing in her face since Aliyah made the call. But I’d missed Aliyah. I’d missed my first daughter. The one I’d held in my arms and wept tears of joy. I’d miss her vibrant laughter and angelic voice. I’d missed the way she would roll her eyes and pout her eyes whenever she wanted a thing from me. I’d missed Aliyah so much.

“…children are the gift of life. Yes, they can be trouble. But they are sweet and innocent…” Khayrah was saying as she opened another wrap of bubble gum and started to chew.

“I never loved children. I never even imagined living with them. But the day Aliyah had been placed on my hands and I just stared at the beautiful being cooing and wriggling her hands. And I fell in love with her that minute. Even when Jasmine dropped her and fled off, I gladly nurtured Aliyah till she grew up. It was hard but I tried my best to be a good father.”

Khayrah surveyed my face thoughtfully. “Is that why you couldn’t forgive her?”

“She left me and started staying with the woman that left her years ago, without prior notice. It hurt me deeply.”

Khayrah held my hand and rubbed it with care. “But she has realised her mistake. You ought to forgive her now.”

“I have forgiven her long ago. I just wanted her to know that what she did was wrong.”

“Okay,” Khayrah replied as I pulled into the parking lot.

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