Thursday, 18 July 2019

Her Last Breath (Episode Four)


Taofeek
“Who do you want us to see this time around oo?” My father asked with a mockery expression playing on his lips as he sipped from his mug of tea.

We were having breakfast on a Friday morning and I had decided to bring up the topic of visiting Khayrah’s family. I had been very reluctant to tell my father because I knew this would happen…the dreadful moment he reminded me of my bad past and how I couldn’t run away from it.

“My fiancée, Khayrah.” I bit my trembling lower lip as I spread margarine on a slice of bread and fold it into two.

My father spilled tea on his shirt in astonishment. I could see my younger brother from the corner of my eyes, gasping in disbelief.  Aliyah sat beside the kitchen door, eating hurriedly as she dipped bread into her cup of tea. She had always tried to avoid my father…she never wanted to see the look of hatred on his face whenever he stared at her. My father had never showered any iota of love for my daughter, what with the fact that she was given birth to out of wedlock.

We were four in number; my father, my two brothers (my elder and younger brother) and me. Since my mother died last seven years as a result of a heart attack, my father had taken the responsibility of taking care of us without considering remarrying.

“Fiancée? Did I hear you right? Which fiancée again? You want to get married?” he wrinkled his forehead in confusion.

I stared at his small eyes and wrinkled face, the silver streaks of hair that filled his hair indicating that he wasn’t growing younger… I remembered when I used to be his favourite…when I would sit in his room and listen to him talk about the history of politics in Nigeria. It wasn’t an interesting discussion but I always yearned to spend time with him…to watch the way he demonstrated with the movement of his hands and the way his ‘Adam Apple’ bobbled whenever he swallowed saliva. Everything changed when I got transformed into a different version of myself.

“Yes, father. I have decided to get married and raise a family.”

“You want to turn Mr. Responsible after you’ve ruined your life abi? What happens to the three children that you have? Have you told your supposed fiancée that you have three children out of wedlock?”

I raked my uncombed hair and stirred the tea which now tasted like agbo. I shouldn’t have brought up the topic! I was wrong!

“I have decided to let go of my past and focus on the present. No, I haven’t told her but I will…”

“You will? Aren’t you scared that she would call off the engagement because of your past? Ha-ha! Do you think you can let go of your past? How can you do so when you have three children?”

I sighed deeply and stared at the ceiling, fighting the tears that filled my eyes. Maybe he didn’t realize that he was saying all these in the presence of my younger brother and my daughter!

“Father, I have realized my mistakes and I am ready to make amends. That’s why I want to get married to the woman I love…”

“I need to leave now so that I’ll meet up with my coding class.” Jaleel muttered, standing up from the sofa and holding his tray of food. He was already dressed in his usual black t-shirt and a pair of jean trousers. Jaleel, who was awaiting an admission to study Computer Engineering at the University of Ilorin, was currently learning software development in a techie company. I knew he was trying to escape another episode of our father’s nag. Jaleel was the type who would sit quietly in the living room and mind his business. He preferred to read books or get engrossed on his laptop instead of engaging in a discussion.

“Okay, Jaleel. Please, do not be like Taofeek. Follow the footsteps of your elder brother. You see that he is happily married and he has a legitimate child. Taofeek is too overwhelmed with his ‘fine face’ and that is what has been distracting him. Do not be like him oo!” he warned Jaleel, raising a finger into the air.

“Yes, father.” He said briefly, walking into the kitchen to drop his tray and leaving for the door.

I grabbed my cup of tea and stood up. It was a long day ahead and I didn’t want my father to keep making me feel guilty for the sins I’d sought repentance from Allah.

“I need to prepare for work and dress Aliyah up for school.”

“Okay, go and prepare your daughter for school. Baba Ibeji!”

I ignored his last statement as I beckoned for Aliyah to follow me to the room. I could see a teardrop on her face as she changed into her uniform. “What is wrong?” I asked.

Aliyah did not respond. She packed her books into her schoolbag and wore it at her back. “Can we start leaving?”

“I need to grab my tie. I’ll be back.”
***
I could see the stares of admiration and the winks from several ladies as we were walking down the road. The boldest amongst them had even stopped me to request for my number. I am handsome and good looking, no doubt about that and it was what had made me commit several mistakes.

‘Taofeek, you’re too handsome. I want to be your girlfriend… You can’t be single, Taofeek! If you are, I’m willing to date you…I’ll give you anything in the world if you agree to be my lover…’
Women had flocked around me since I was very young, gushing about my looks and fighting over who would win my heart.

“So you want to get married?” Aliyah finally talked after her refusal to say a word to me.

“Yes. She’s a good woman.”

“Will she accept me as her daughter?”

I cleared my throat and glanced at the yellow buses that were grinding and hooting on the road, the conductors hanging by the door and yelling at the top of voices to call out to people. Of course, passengers trooped in, fighting themselves in a bid to board the buses.

“Daddy?”

“Yes, I’m sure she will. She is very nice and understanding. She will make a good mother.” I prattled, hardly believing if Khayrah would accept my three children as hers…if she would still agree to go ahead with the marriage when she realizes the truth.

“When will you tell her?”

“Very soo…”

“Hey! Asalamu ‘alaykum Taofeek and Aliyah. I guess you’re heading to school. Let me drop you off.” Zaynab said, smiling as she parked her green Toyota Camry beside us.

Zaynab was a divorcee who also had a daughter that attended An-Noor’s College. She had proposed marriage to me but I bluntly refused. I didn’t want to join her to school but because we were late, I entered with Aliyah.

“I’ve told you that I can assist you in dropping and picking Aliyah from school every day but you just want to stress yourself.” She laughed, singing along as she was playing Maher Zain’s Paradise.

“Don’t bother ma’am. Shebi it’s just along the road that leads to my workplace? Aliyah is my daughter, so let me take care of her.”

“Okay oo!” Zaynab replied as I noticed my phone vibrating. It was undoubtedly Khayrah, the love of my life.

“Asalamu…”

Eku ise, ogaa. So you cannot even call to ask of my welfare?” She said in a sing-song voice.

My heart beat faster at the sound of her voice. Now, I understood how it felt to be in love…how eager one could be to spend the rest of his life with that person.

“I’m sorry, love. Shey, you’ll reply to my teslim first? Asalamu ‘alaykum.”

I could notice that Zaynab stopped singing and turned towards my direction. I could also notice that Aliyah scoffed in irritation, at the word ‘my love.’

“Wa’alaykumu salam. How are you?”

“I’m fine. Are you at work?” I asked.

“No, but I’m preparing for work. Are you prepared to see my family next week? You’ve told your dad?”

“Yes, I did. He can’t wait to see you,” I lied, biting my lower lip.

“I can’t wait to see him too. Fadilah sent her regards. I’ll talk to you later. I need to have breakfast and take my drug…” she was saying then stopped abruptly.

“Drugs? Are you sick?”

“Oh, no! I meant multivitamins. I take them to make me healthier.”

“Okay, will talk later. Bye!”

“Bye, my heart.” She said before hanging up.
“You’re now engaged?” Zaynab asked immediately I pulled my phone away.

“Yes, I am.”

“Well…a second wife is still allowed.” She smiled at me as she pulled into the school’s building.

My phone vibrated again. I thought Khayrah had called back but I was wrong. It was Funmilayo! I ignored the call and stepped down from the car, holding Aliyah in one hand.

A message notification popped up that very second. It was a message from Funmilayo.

“Hassanah has been vomiting since morning oo! She is not feeling fine and she needs to visit the hospital. We also need more money for their food oo…I’m sure Hassanah has fallen sick because of the ogi I bought from Mama Sulia last night. If you care about the lives of your children, reply ASAP and send money!!!”

My face was filled with sweat as I returned the phone to my trouser pocket. I was done for!
***
“If men were allowed to cover their faces, I’d have told you to do so too. You’re too fine!” Khayrah said, staring at me through her rounded spectacles.

I roared in laughter as I gingerly placed my phone on silent, to prevent the risk of Funmilayo calling to request for more money.
We were seated in a corner in Domino’s building, the same spot we had first met each other physically. Khayrah was putting on a brown hijab and black gown, glancing at me lovingly and lowering her eyes intermittently in a bid to lower her gaze.

I remembered how the weekend played out…how I had visited her family to seek their daughter’s hand in marriage. Khayrah’s family members were the opposite of what I had imagined. They accepted me with open arms and were very nice and hospitable.

Khayrah’s mother kept instructing their housemaid to add more salad and fruit juice for me and her father smiled all through the meeting, talking about how his daughter had said lovely things about me and how he had been eager to meet me in person. Her sister was also jovial and friendly. She told me about how Khayrah had laid sleepless on several nights, thinking about me. I had been honest with regards to my financial status. I told her father where I worked and how much I earned.

“I like the fact that you’re hardworking and ambitious. I’m not the kind of father who would want to choose a man for his daughter because of wealth and status. I’m a father who would want his daughter to marry whomever she loves and desires.” He had said while we were having a private conversation in his library.

“Do you love my daughter?” he had asked, staring at me with scrutinizing eyes.

I stared confidently, picturing the loving face of the woman I had fallen in love with. “Yes, I do. I love Khayrah.”

“Will you accept her even if you realize that she isn’t who she is?”

I quirked my eyebrows in confusion. I didn’t understand what he said…but what would make me stop loving Khayrah? No idea. “I’ll keep loving Khayrah for the rest of my life…no matter who she is or what she turns out to become.”

He smiled in relief, pouring more water into his glass cup and staring around the library. “Would you mind if I offer you a position in my company? It’s up to you to accept or decline my offer.”

“Can I get back to you on this?” I had requested and he agreed to wait for my response.

“Taofeek! Didn’t you hear what I just said?” she waved her hand to my face, startling me from my thoughts.

I laughed again. “I did. You said I’m too fine. What do you I do now, my heart? Should I wear a mask to shield my handsome face from ladies?”

Khayrah took a slice of pizza from the box. “I think that will do. Sometimes, I close my eyes and imagine the number of girls that have stared at you for that day. Gosh!” She grinned, revealing her milk-coloured teeth.

I imagined being her husband…waking up to her beautiful face and placing a kiss on her luscious lips. “Let’s get married and live on a deserted island. A place where it will just be the two of us. Imagine how amazing that will be!” I chuckled.

“Yes, it will be fun. I have a question for you.” She said, sitting upright and returning the half-eaten slice of pizza to the box. She wore a serious look and for once, I thought she knew about my children.

“My father offered you a place in his company. Are you going to accept it? I’m asking because I know you might not want to accept the offer, considering that he’s your father-in-law…but this will be best for us. We’re getting married soon, Taofeek. His staff earn a reasonable income every month and working there will create an avenue for you to advance in your skills and rise in rank steadily. Please, accept this offer,” she pleaded.

“I’ll think about it…” I was saying when I noticed a distraught look on Khayrah’s face. She gasped in fear as she shook her head and stood up abruptly from the chair.

“What is wrong? Are you fine?” I asked with an eager tone.

Her hands shivered as she widened her eyes. Without replying, she started walking at a fast pace towards the entrance door. Khayrah had just gotten to the door when she fell flat on the floor, her breath loud and faster.

I jostled towards where she laid, my heart juddering in my chest.

‘What could have happened? We were just talking and eating together…what could have caused this?’ I wondered, shaking her body and calling her name. Khayrah’s eyes were closed and her hands were numb. I felt like all that happened was a dream.
The security officials had called an ambulance and Mr. Lolu had entered the building, dancing in fear and dialing the numbers of her family.

I couldn’t do anything. I held her in my arms with moistened eyes. I had no idea what had happened but I didn’t want that moment to the last I would spend with Khayrah. I believed she would be the woman I would spend my old age with.

The ambulance arrived five minutes later and Khayrah was pulled into it, my thoughts wandering to the moment my mother was being taken away.

I didn’t want that to happen to someone I cared about…not again. Not Khayrah!  

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