Monday, 2 September 2019

Her Last Breath (Episode Nine & Ten)



Episode Nine
Taofeek
“Shouldn’t we invite your mother’s old friends? They would feel offended if they realize that you got married and they weren’t informed.” My father was saying as we all sat in the living room, watching the TV.

Excitement seeped inside of me as I listened to what he had just said. Yes! I would be getting married in less than a few days. Just like that! Taofeek would become a married man…married to the most wonderful woman on earth.

Yes! It seemed unbelievable…not because I’d never dreamt of getting married but because I had never expected it to be so soon…I had never seen myself getting married for real…

Okay, calm down Taofeek. You would be getting married. Don’t get too excited…people had gone through this phase and they never died out of the excitement of their big day. You’d be fine!

I knew I wasn’t fine. This minute, I would feel exhilarated thinking of my wedding day and getting married to Khayrah. The next minute, I would be anxious and scared, wondering if I would make a good husband and if all the cliché tales I’d heard about marriage were all true.

“Oko iyawo! Otun ti ronu lo abi?” Lukman guffawed, tapping my arm and reviving me from lost thoughts. “Who would have ever thought that Taofeek would feel this way before getting married?” Lukman said with a mockery grin playing on his lips. He had visited to assist with the wedding preparations and spend time with the family.

“Who would have ever thought that he would get married? People do change…even after having three chil...” My father was saying but Lukman interrupted him, in a bid to change the topic.

“Father was asking if we should invite mom’s old friends. You know they were really supportive after we lost her?” Lukman said.

Talking about my children was not the right thing to say at such a moment…not now, not ever. And Lukamn knew that.

“Khayrah and I are planning on having a really small and simple wedding. I don’t think we can invite them. And it would be unfair to invite some of them while we neglect the others.” I replied, Lukman and Jaleel, nodding in approval.

Aliyah sat on the sofa at the left-hand corner of the living room, reading a book and glancing intermittently at the TV screen with a scrunched up face. She had worn a doleful look since I revealed my plan of getting married.

Even when both families had met and I had introduced Aliyah to Khayrah, she had tried to appear calm and friendly, but I could feel the flame of anger burning inside of her.

“So, that wealthy and influential family wants a simple wedding for their first daughter? Is it because she is sick?” My father stated, clasping his hands and raising his eyes- the way he did whenever he found a thing hard to believe.

“Father, please. Khayrah is sick but she’ll be fine in sha Allah. I want to have a bath and get dressed. I have places to visit before the end of the day.” I remarked, frowning as I sauntered out of the living room.

About a month ago, my father had called me privately to be certain that I really wanted to go ahead in getting married to someone diagnosed with Leukemia. Lukman had also asked me the same question. He had even suggested that I take a month break to think things through and reconsider my decision. Even Khayrah’s parents had asked me if I knew what it would to take to be married to their daughter. Yes, sometimes, I would wonder if I was making the right decision…but well, I knew this was right. I knew that my heart told me to do so.

Lukman tailed me into the room, watching as I grabbed my wedding checklist from the table and skimmed through.

“Like play like play, this man will be getting married in a week time. Like play like play oo! Taofeek will become someone’s husband. Hehehe!” Lukman chortled, slapping my arm repeatedly and gazing at me like that would be his last time of seeing me.

My face lightened in amusement as I shoved his hand away. “Yes, I would. It’s like I’ve gotten multiple butterflies in my stomach. Sometimes, when I close my eyes and try to sleep, all I think of is how the wedding would turn out to be. I would wonder if it would be as perfect as planned.” I said morosely, gazing at Lukman as he gave me a thoughtful and concerned look.

“I felt the same way too, before getting married to my wife. Everyone would feel that way; except one is not excited about getting married. It is very normal to feel you have butterflies in your stomach, Taofeek. You are fine.”

Lukman smiled at me, watching me with concerned eyes. He strode towards the window, looking deep in thought. “When are you meeting Jasmine?”

I raked my hair as my face tightened. “We’re meeting this afternoon, at Mr. Biggs.”

Lukman nodded in response. He didn’t need to say a word- we all knew what it meant. Ever since Jasmine made that call to inform me that she had returned to Nigeria and she wanted to see Aliyah, I knew that a lot would happen; things I would never imagine.

We had agreed to meet at Mr. Biggs and I imagined what the outcome of the meeting would be every minute- a lot was going on in my life. First, I was getting married and second, my daughter’s mother had just returned and she possibly wants her daughter back.

The day would be filled with loads of activities. I needed to see Jasmine and also stop by Funmilayo’s house to see my children. When I had called to inform Funmilayo that I would visit them, she had squealed in surprise and shock, doubting my sincerity and asking a series of questions.

“I just want to see my children. I haven’t seen them in months. I have no evil intention, Funmi.” I had informed her on the phone and we had agreed that I would come in the afternoon before she leaves for her salon.

Lukman was about to talk when someone knocked on the door. I knew it was Aliyah. I knew she would ask me about her mother and the reason she wanted to see me.

“Come in, Aliyah.” I said, watching as she entered the room with lowered eyes. Greeting us, she stood in front of me, as if waiting for Lukman to leave the room.

“Rofi’ah’s PTA is today. I want to get home on time so that I can drop her mother off. I’ll see you later. Take care of yourself, Aliyah.” He smiled at her and gave me a knowing nod before leaving the room- the nod signified a wish of good luck as I set out to achieve several tasks before the end of the day.

“So…” Aliyah began, toying with the hem of her blouse and glancing at me with a nervous expression.

“Let’s sit, Aliyah.”

We sat on the bed, glancing at several places in the room and willing ourselves to utter the words that were hanging in our throats.

“The yam and egg sauce we had for breakfast was marvelous. Jaleel is such a good cook. It’s no doubt that his fingers are gifted. Asides coding, he is also a good chef.” I made a burst of nervous laughter but Aliyah didn’t laugh in return. She blinked her eyes and gazed at me thoughtfully.

“My mom is back in Nigeria and now she wants to see you? Does she want me back after she dumped me with you ten years ago?” Aliyah said morosely, her eyes turning moist in an instant.

“I don’t know what she wants. I can only tell after we’ve met. It’s just thirty minutes away. I’ll head there now and know what she has to say.” I said blankly, staring at Aliyah and knowing full well that she doubted every word.

“What does she look like?”

I stared at her lovingly and smiled. “Exactly the way you look.”

They had the same fair, smooth skin, bright eyes that looked like they would pop out of its socket, thin pink lips, slender body and long legs like that of a supermodel. It was these features that got me attracted to Jasmine at first sight.

We had met at a friend’s party on the island. Jasmine was seated amongst her friends, sipping from a glass of wine and smiling graciously, her white-coloured set of teeth glistening and standing out. I had gazed at her with passion and lust, wondering how a lady would be that beautiful and would smile graciously like the world’s happiness was contained inside of her. Walking towards Jasmine and her friends with a look of confidence, I approached her with the sweet words I had mastered back then and Jasmine agreed that we go on a date.

Our first date was more than I expected. We fell for each other instantly and agreed to begin a romantic relationship.

“I love handsome men!” Jasmine had exclaimed as she stared at me in pleasure, nibbling at her pie and trailing her fingers over my head.

Our relationship kick-started but turned sour not long after, when she got pregnant for Aliyah.

“Dad?” Aliyah patted her hand, reviving me from my lost thought.

“Yes, my love?”

“She doesn’t love me. She left me and went away without returning. Now, she’s returning after ten years? Is that fair?” Tears streaked down her face as it turned tomato-red. I pulled her into her arms and listened to the sound of her sob on my shoulder and felt the wetness of my collar as her tears poured on them.

“She loves you, dearest. Every mother loves her child. Let’s see what she has to say.”

“And Aunty Khayrah? You’re getting married, dad. Can things remain the same? I lost my mother years ago and now, I’m losing you. Will you still love me?”

“Nothing will diminish the love I have for you, Aliyah. Nothing in this world. I promise.”
***
Jasmine was already seated at the left-hand corner in Mr. Biggs building, holding her phone and absentmindedly staring through the glass and watching the busy road ahead of her. It was the same spot she was seated upon when she blurted out the dreadful news about her pregnancy. We had had a series of date in this building, thereafter shopping for chocolates and biscuits at Super Savers supermarket, located beside Mr. Biggs.

I was just seeing her after ten good years, save for her Instagram and Facebook posts where she gushed about her partner and displayed lovely places she visited in Italy.

No doubt, she looked prettier as ever- fairer and glowing skin, bright and lovely eyes and rotund. She was putting on a red sleeveless blouse and a pair of jean trousers. Her fingers were filled with several designs of rings, with nails painted deep red, and she wore a bracelet with the inscription: ‘Ade mi.’

“Hi, Taofeek.” Her face crinkled in a smile as she watched me sit in front of her.

I smiled in return, watching her closely and then lowering my gaze. “How have you been?”

“I’ve been good…”

“It’s obvious from your lovely pictures on social media.” I interrupted her speech with a chuckle.

Her eyes wore a sad look as she smiled slightly, sipping from her bottle of Pepsi and staring at a distant place.

The atmosphere fell silent as I stared around and wondered what next to say. But my head was filled with lots of questions: What was she doing here? Why did she return to Nigeria? Does she want Aliyah back? Why would she return after ten years?

“What would you like?” Jasmine smiled sweetly as if knowing that my head was a whirl of confusion.

I stared at her confusedly. “Huh?”

“You haven’t ordered anything. Should I get you a bottle of Coke?”

I cleared my throat and willed myself to begin. “I don’t want a bottle of Coke or anything. I want to know why you’re here.” I blurted out, seeing the spasm of shock that engulfed Jasmine’s face.

She replaced that with a smile, nibbling at her meat pie and swallowing hard. “I’m the worst mother on earth. I left my daughter without even caring to check up on her. It is over ten years and I don’t even know what she looks like. I feel so guilty. I am a bad person.” She said as her eyes were filled to the brim with tears.

I never liked what she did and I never imagined forgiving her totally for dropping Aliyah with me…but I had a feeling of sympathy as I watched her break down in tears. “You’re not a bad person, Jasmine.”

“I am. I’m a very bad person. I shouldn’t have done that.” Her face had turned tomato-red; just the way Aliyah’s face usually appeared whenever she was angry.

“But it’s too late.”

“It’s not too late, Taofeek. I’ve realized my mistake and I want to make up for the old times.”

What? Wait, what? Jasmine thought that she could just appear out of nowhere and mend things like a cobbler or carpenter? I wouldn’t take any of that!

“After ten years? You think you can just pop out of a hidden cave and say ‘Sorry, I’ve realized my mistake’ and all will be over? Do you think Aliyah would ever forgive you for what you did? Can you even stare at her in the face and tell her that you’re her mother? How did you even know she bears Aliyah?”

Jasmine buried her nose into a handkerchief as she sobbed openly. I felt great pity for her. Yes, I had once thought I loved her but now, all I thought of was Khayrah; the woman I would be getting married to.

Jasmine cleaned her nose and whipped her head up, blinking away tears and smiling ruefully. “I’ve been studying you for a while now…before I made that call. I arrived in Nigeria last month and I decided to check up on the latest development before notifying you that I’m back. It was then I discovered that you’re working as an accountant and our daughter’s name is Aliyah. That she is my carbon copy and she attends Graceland Secondary School at Magodo. I learnt she is in JSS 2 and she has a best friend named Maryam. I also discovered that you’ll be getting married soon.”

I stared at her incredulously, wondering if other people were spying on our lives. “Whoa! What else did you discover?”

Jasmine pulled her plate of meat pie away and folded her hands together, looking serious. “Look, I know that I am a bad mother and I admit it. I also know that I cannot make up for all the mistakes I’ve made in the past. However, I want to try. I’ll try to win the heart of my daughter. I’ll do all it takes.”

I couldn’t avoid asking, “Why made you change? What happened?”

“I got married six years ago and…well…I have two kids. Well…Jamal found out from a family member that I have a child, which I had hidden from him. Gosh! It wasn’t funny at all, Taofeek. Family meetings upon meetings. His family convinced him to divorce me but he just couldn’t do it. He loves me that much. We talked and agreed that we would be together, I would return to Nigeria to make amends and get back to you and my daughter. That’s why I’m here.”

I nodded sympathetically and replied, “I’ll talk to Aliyah and get back to you. I promise to give you a call before the end of the week.”

“Thanks so much. I really appreciate it. And I wish you a happy married life!”

I smiled at her.  “Thank you. I should be heading to Oshodi. Just so you know, I have two other children, Hassan and Hassanah.”

Surprise stole over Jasmine’s face as she gasped in shock. “You what?”

“I have two other children. But I promise I’m a changed man.” We convulsed into laughter and I ordered for a bottle of Coke before leaving the building. We spend the next thirty minutes talking about how the past few years had been and what we’d learnt and improved on ourselves.



Episode Ten
Taofeek
How did it go, love?
-          Khayrah Roqeeb.

I sighed deeply and massaged my temple, watching as buses ground and hooted in the scorching sun. Passers-by walked with hastened steps as they pushed through the crowd, looking confused and beleaguered and clamping their bags tightly to prevent any incident of theft.

It went well. Couldn’t it better!
-          Taofeek Adewale.

I remembered how the meeting went with Jasmine. I recalled getting to Funmilayo’s house and taking my children into my arms after such a long time. I cherished the moment they squealed ‘daddy!’ as they flopped on my legs and held me onto them like they never wanted to let go. It was one of the most memorable moments of my life.

Funmilayo had served me rice and fried pepper sauce filled with chunks of smoked fish- the meal I had relished eating from her when we were still together. We would eat together from the same plate, kiss each other deeply and spend the rest of our time together, dipping chunks of fish into each other’s mouths.

“I’m happy for you. You are a good man, Taofeek. Your children love you and it’s obvious. Thank you for taking good care of them.” She had said softly as she watched them lovingly.

Funmilayo had also changed. She looked prettier and she didn’t appear as skinny as before. Times had truly changed and the good thing was that we were all getting better and improving on ourselves.

Are you on your way here?
-          Khayrah Roqeeb.

Yes, I’m close to your house. Will be there in the next twenty minutes. Can’t wait to see you, darling!
-          Taofeek Adewale.

I miss you so much. Come quick, I’m waiting.
-          Khayrah Roqeeb

Miss and love you so much!!!
-          Taofeek Adewale.

Love you too, my husband!
-          Khayrah Roqeeb.

“Owaa o!” I yelped at the conductor as the bus tottered towards Allen junction. Alighting from the bus, I crossed over to the other corner of the road to board a keke marwa to Khayrah’s house.

I arrived at the white-painted building ten minutes later, looking drained and exhausted. It had been a long day and what I really wanted was to have a cold shower, flop on my bed and sleep till evening. But I needed to see Khayrah. I longed to see her bright face and the way her nose crinkled whenever she smiled. I loved to see her and imagine how my life would be filled with happiness when we get married.

Entering the compound, I could spot loads of canopies, plastic chairs, tubers of yam, a basket of tomato and red pepper, a bag of rice and other provisions occupying the space in the compound. Everywhere looked jam-packed and smelt of onion and cabbage. It was obvious that they were preparing earnestly for the wedding.

Abdul Lateef was heading out of the compound when I stepped in. He was dressed in his usual t-shirt and jean trousers and he had been jabbing on his phone with fixed eyes that he hadn’t noticed me until he raised his eyes. Our eyes met briefly and I could spot regret and jealousy evident in them but his face glinted suddenly.

“Asalamu ‘alaykum groom-to-be.” He smiled pleasantly, taking my hand in his.

“Wa’alaykumu salam. How have you been?”

Abdul Lateef placed his hands on his forehead as if to say: ‘I haven’t been fine. You took my love from me…now my heart is shattered.’

However, he replied with: “AlhamduliLlaah, I’ve been fine.”

“Great. I guess we’ll see soon.” I smiled at him.

I had started to stride off when he called my name. “Wait, Taofeek.”

“Yes?”

“Thank you for everything. I mean, for making Khayrah feel happy again. For feeling the space I couldn’t feel. For loving her unconditionally. Thank you so much.”

“You don’t need to thank me. I love Khayrah and that’s what matters.”

***
My face blanched in shock as I entered the living room. I didn’t expect it to be that crowded. There were some elderly women Khayrah had called her paternal aunts and a frail-looking man whom she described as a distant cousin. Their faces appeared strange because they hadn’t been around during our introduction ceremony. Her father was also around and his face lit up in delight as he caught sight of me.

A young lady I hadn’t met at all had a riveted stare at me- just the way most ladies would do when they see me for the first time. Fadilah was seated beside her and I assumed at once that she would be Faizah, Fadilah’s lousy and nosy best friend. Khayrah had said so much about her and I knew at once that she would be the one.

Khayrah was seated beside her mother on the large sofa, staring at me with amusing eyes as they twinkled in delight and I stared back, blowing her an air kiss and winking at her. She was putting on a white gown and black hijab.

“Asalamu ‘alaykum warahmatuLlaah wabarakahtuhu, everyone!” I greeted them pleasantly.

“You’re welcome our husband! Come and have a seat. Hafsah, please get him a cup of cold fruit juice.” Khayrah’s mother said sweetly, surveying a brown and red fabric with great interest. “Eyin omo isi yin! You don’t even want a grand wedding that will shake the whole Lagos! Imagine, I didn’t even choose aso ebi for my friends. I can’t even invite most of them…”

“You can, ma. You can invite your friends,” I stated as I watched Khayrah roll her eyes.

“You don’t how many friends my mom has. If you tell her to invite all her friends, we’ll be having an additional fifty guests at the wedding.” Khayrah said in mocking tones as the whole room erupted into laughter.

Khayrah’s mother beat her playfully with the fabric. “Go and discuss other things about the wedding jare. We need to have a little grown-up meeting.”

“Taofeek, come along. Let’s go to the balcony.” Khayrah beckoned as I tailed her, followed by Fadilah and Faizah.

“Oh gosh! He’s so handsome. Khayrah is sooo lucky.” I could hear Faizah gushing behind us while Fadilah whispered that she behaved herself.

But she couldn’t. As we settled on the couch in the balcony, Faizah couldn’t help but grin at me.

“Your drink, sir.” Hafsah came in that second with a tray of juice.

“Thank you.” I replied as I grabbed the cup and gulped it in less than a minute.

“Faizah, let’s assist Hafsah in making lunch while we allow the soon-to-be couple some ‘alone’ time.” Fadilah dragged her out of the place.

I sighed deeply and stared at Khayrah, noting how strained and weary she looked. “You’re also stressed?”

“Yes, my love. The wedding preparation is exhausting and overwhelming. I can’t wait for all these to be over.” She said, putting her hands over her face in frustration.

“I feel the same way too. It will all be over. It’s just a matter of a few days. We’ll get married and become the latest couple in town. Bella Naija should cover our love story; the best love story I’ve ever heard of.” I raised my hands in the air with a wide grin plastered across my face.

Khayrah frowned slightly and stared at me. “How did it all go? Jasmine and Funmilayo?”

“It went well.”

“Are you sure? Are we safe?’’ Khayrah searched my eyes for the truth as if I had things hidden in them.

“I assure you that we’re safe.” I smiled at her. “What is it? You’re hiding things from me?” I remarked, searching her eyes with a doubtful look.

“Nothing really…” she said, turning her face.

“We’re getting married, remember? We shouldn’t keep secrets from each other.”

“Okay, I’ll tell you.” She said, sitting upright and gazing at me. “I’ve heard several tales about marriage. I heard that it comes with more challenges…challenges that outweigh the fun part of it. I heard it takes patience and endurance to live with someone. I heard I’ll find out scary and new things about my partner when we get married. I’ve heard a lot and I’m kinda scared. Can we really do this?”

“I’ve thought about this same too. Lukman told me scary things about marriage. But I want to risk taking this adventure with you. With any other woman, I would be doubtful, but with you, I’m certain we can do this together.” I said matter-of-factly, imagining how I would be having such conversation in some days’ time- hugging Khayrah tightly, fiddling with her ear and whispering such statement in her ears.

“Yes, we will do this together. It will be like attending one of the toughest courses in school and studying hard together to make an A.” Khayrah laughed loudly and I joined, wondering who would compare marriage with a course, if not Khayrah.

“You’re so hilarious. By the way, I met Abdul Lateef on my way here today. He was thanking me for making you happy and all the blah blah blah that some exes say. I’ve been meaning to ask, what is he doing here? I mean, why he is living in the same compound with you?”

As much as I trust Khayrah, I was still bothered that Abdul Lateef was living beside her and they saw each other every single day. I knew that he hadn’t forgotten totally about Khayrah.

“Abdul Lateef’s father and mine are close friends. Because of this, they agreed to built their houses side-by-side in the same compound. I’ve known and liked Abdul Lateef since I was ten. However, his family relocated to Canada when his father got a job there. Abdul Lateef remained in Nigeria to complete his university education and he has been the one occupying the house since then.” Khayrah stated, looking lost in thought as if reminiscing the old days. “Wait, are you jealous?”

“Sorry to disturb you, lovebirds. Can I see you for a moment, Taofeek?” Khayrah’s father said, stepping into the balcony.

I stood up immediately and rubbed my hands around my jean. “Sure. Why not?”
***
“But…sir…I don’t think I can accept this. I mean…I’m not trying to reject your gift….but this is just too much.” I prattled in exasperation, gawking at the red Toyota Nissan parked in front of us and the new-sparkling set of keys that he dangled in front of me.

I had not expected any of these. Neither the house nor a car. Khayrah’s father had offered me a house as well as a brand new car as a gift for our wedding.

“You didn’t accept my offer to work at my company. You’ll reject these too?” He asked with a look of disappointed evident on his face.

“I appreciate all these but I’m not getting married to Khayrah because I want to be compensated. I don’t want this gift to be a form of compensation for marrying your sick daughter.” I said matter-of-factly, staring at the brand new car and imagining myself driving it to work on Monday morning.

“I’m not offering you all these because my daughter is sick. Please Taofeek, I’m begging you to accept these from me.”

He had a pleading look on his face. He truly wanted me to accept all of that. But wait, why should I reject all these? Stretching my right palm, Khayrah’s father smiled broadly and dipped the set of keys on my palm.

“Congratulations!” He smiled and walked away, leaving me to admire my new car and confirm if I was dreaming or everything was a reality!

A/N: Whew! Finally, I got these two episodes out. I'm sorry for such draggy episodes but Episode Eleven will be better in sha ALlaah (Khayrah and Taofeek's wedding will be the centre of the next episode!)
I sincerely apologise for being away for such a long time. Now, I've returned and I'll try my best to make up for all we've missed, in sha ALlaah. Happy reading!!!💕💕💕

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