Sunday, 17 June 2018

A Chance For Love Episode 12

Episode twelve
Friends

"I don't think we can be friends. We are from two different worlds."
***
An hour or two ago, I had stridden into the sickbay, hopeful that the end of my drip session signaled brighter days ahead. But here now, I headed back to class, my hope drained to nothing. What would become of Cinderella without her fairy godmother?
Half-way up the stairs, I stood face-to-face with Raheem, the last person I wanted to see at the moment. He stood motionless for a second too long, giving me the idea that his haughtiness wouldn't let him step away for me to pass.
I side-stepped, but he mirrored my move, making me almost bump into him. Clenching my fists, I sidestepped again, but there he stood, blocking my way yet again.
"What's your problem?" I asked, my voice softer than what I'd gone for. Curse my ill health and today's news.
Raheem grinned. He obviously cared nothing about my off mood. If anything, it seemed to intrigue him. "Aren't we destined to always run into each other right here?"
As subtle as I could, I examined my surroundings. I noted his point. We stood at approximately the same place we'd stood on our first meeting. But today's meeting differed greatly, as evident in the way he stared at me. His eyes held no trace of hate or irritation. Rather, he regarded me as he would a friend. Did he see me as a friend? After the time we'd spent trying to unravel the Bloody Miri case, it would only be natural for friendship to ensue.
"Are you okay?" he asked, searching my eyes.
"Why would I be?" I asked. "You make me sick."
Smiling, he bit his lower lip. "Ah. Look what effect I have on you. Intense."
"Do you need something?" I asked.
He seemed to ponder over my question for a moment or two. Done, he shrugged. "None that I know of."
"Then I want you out of my way," I said.
"Such a hurry to get rid of me," Raheem said, clutching his chest in mock pain. "And just this morning, you badly needed me back as your seatmate. Touché."
"What? I never said anything like that." Or had I?
Raheem chuckled, his eyes twinkling in a way that made my heart leap. Although he could not see the colors of emotions inside of me, I inwardly cringed at the unseen mess unfolding.
"So you think, Miss Brown," Raheem said. "So you think. Weren't you the one trying so hard to get madam Charity to make me return to your seat?"
I never had any intentions of making him return to my seat. If anything, I wanted him to rot somewhere else. But I would not stoop so low to explain myself to him. And he probably knew better than to expect an answer.
"You lied about the Hypermetropia," I said.
A proud smile settled on his face. For a moment, I felt like a pupil staring up into the proud face of her teacher after solving a brain-tangling equation.
“Of course,” he said. "Oh, and about what you said back there, thanks."
I couldn’t believe I'd allowed him engage me in a conversation. I could just walk away, make it all end. But every fiber of my being willed me to stay back, and against my will, I found myself easing into the discussion.
"What?" Although I knew nothing good could come out of this, I had to know what he referred to.
"About me looking like a rockstar." Raheem punctuated his statement with a drop dead gorgeous wink.
"I didn't mean that," I said in a futile attempt to shield my reputation, although I knew the harm had already been done. Now he saw me as no better than those other girls drooling over him. How could I have let the rockstar thing slip?
"Sure you didn't," he teased.
"I didn't mean that! I would never compliment someone like you." My face wrinkling with disgust, I made a fanning gesture.
He glued his lean body to the balustrades. "Someone like me?"
I couldn't help but notice the open road calling out to me. With nothing in my way, I could leave now. But here I stood, rooted to the spot, spelled by Raheem’s irresistible aura. He spelt trouble. Him and all the messy emotions he brought with him.
I’d thought staying away from him would come easy. But here I stood, barely even one day away from him, but already aching to spend just as much time with him. Days ago, I'd been in a hurry to rid myself of the hellishly addictive emotions he triggered. But for some reason I could not fathom, I died to feel them all over again. I'd never been such a fool.
Knowledge of Stella's departure had left me vulnerable, emotional. And I couldn't do a thing about it. Against my will, my mind had worked to find someone with which to fill in the void she'd left. And it chose Raheem.
I stared into the sinfully handsome face that rubbed me off speech. As though he'd been waiting for me to hold his gaze for the umpteenth time, he asked, "Do you have a problem with me?"
Of course. Had I not had a problem with him, I would be able to gain control of my limbs and escape from his line of sight.
"All racists can rot, for all I care,” I said.
Raheem's brows furrowed. But why would he be bothered about the statement I'd just made? More than once, I had already clarified my stand against racists, and although I cared nothing about how he felt, I noted he hadn't been bothered then. So why now?
"I am no racist," he said.
Although I wanted to stick to my first assumption about him being racist, I knew holding on to it would only be an act of foolery. His actions these past few days said a lot, kicking racism out of the question. His hate for Sir Amadi had a reason other than racism. And then, the sluttiness of Cynthia and his other fangirls had earned them his attitude. I doubted he'd act any different had they been white.
A wry smile turned up the corners of my lips as I remembered the case with Ingrid, a science student from Madrid. Obviously, she'd also thought him as racist, and her white skin as an advantage. But she irritated him no less.
And me? Did he despise me? Two days ago, I'd scream out a 'yes'. And I'd be as sure of it as I was of being a girl. Now, though, yes seemed wrong. And I had many points with which to back up this claim.
While there were many people to choose a sidekick from, he had chosen me. Who would want to spend so much time with someone he despised? If he despised me, wouldn't he treat me the same way he did the others? But here I was, with him trying hard to engage me in a conversation.
With a snap of his finger, I snapped out of my thoughts. He gawked at me, still expecting me to speak. I thought back to the statement hovering in the air; the statement of racism.
"Okay, maybe you aren't racist," I said, defeated. "But you receive special treatment from everyone. You don't even try to discourage it."
"How on earth am I supposed to discourage it?" Raheem asked.
I shrugged one shoulder. "You could just ask them to stop or something. Give them the idea."
He held up a finger. "Wait. You're jealous?"
Jealous? Was that the word? Prior to now, I could have sworn Raheem had a devilishly sharp brain, especially after he successfully exposed Nengi's schemes. But now, he had altered my perception.
"Excuse me?” I asked. “Why on earth would I be jealous of you?"
"Wow,” he said. “If looks could kill. You should go easy on me, Toria. Keep treating me like this and you'll be driving me back to my ruined country. I bet you'd love to hear of my death."
"Don't joke about things like that," I said. Just to let him know my I'd heard my petname slip off his tongue, and that my opinion about it hadn't changed, I added, "Rah."
Although I acted like I only intended to irritate him, deep down, I wanted him to get used to my nick for him. His numerous fangirls flashed across my mind. I hoped none of them had the guts to 'Rah' him. Not even in a slutty chit-chat with their friends, or in the dirty black box of their minds.
I cringed at the thoughts running through my mind. Did I even have any right to think like this? To be jealous over him?
Diverting my mind from this evil emotion surging through me, I watched him feign indifference as though he hadn't been pissed off by the petname. Although he only did it to match my nonchalance, I felt a flicker of hope within me.
My wandering mind returned to our ongoing conversation. Securing my attention, he said, "I'm only repeating the things you said when Sir Amadi introduced me to the class. According to you, I'd be blown to bits in the twinkle of an eye."
At the snap of his fingers, I cursed the moment I'd said those awful words to him. Nobody deserves to be blown to bits. I shuddered at a mental image of tens of people, maybe hundreds, lying helplessly on the ground as the Iraqi war raged on. These people had families. Families that would never see them again.
Families like the Kadirs' who had lost a member in the Baghdad suicide bombing. As much as I wanted to pry, to find out about his other family members, if they were all safe, and how they'd coped during these heated times in Iraq, I knew he would not welcome my probing.
Raheem's mock innocence stole me over. "What now, Miss Brown? You don't look so thrilled about me dying anymore. What has changed?"
"Only fools joke about death," I said.
"Blowing me to bits was your idea. So we're together in this, I guess. Seems we're stuck being partners. Seatmates. Sleuths. And now, partners in foolery. How exciting." A bubble of laughter erupted from his lips.
The other Raheem deserved being blown to bits. But not this one. Now I felt like a horrible person. "I'm sorry I said that."
"What?" he asked.
"About you being...blown to bits. I was just so annoyed, I—"
"Don't apologize," he said.
I'd been wrong about him all along. He should at least let me apologize. It would make me feel more human than monstrous. "I really am sorry."
"You said you wished me dead because you were annoyed,” he said. “Annoyed about what exactly?"
"You were an ass," I said. His subtle nod told me to elaborate. "First, you called me a sleepwalking zombie. And as though that wasn't enough, you regarded me as though I were less than vermin."
"Bullocks! I made you feel like vermin?"
"Less than vermin." I corrected. A wry smile stretched my lips.
"Now I admit I really was an ass." Mirroring my smile, he raked a hand through his hair. "Would you blame me though? I’m forced to school here, and as though that isn’t enough, I have tons of fangirls to deal with. When I should be thinking of a way to convince my dad to join us here where it's safe."
I gasped. "Your dad is still in Iraq?"
Raheem raised his brow at me and I knew I'd overstepped my boundaries. I took a step back as though the literal move would be any good.
"Sorry,” he said. “But I don't discuss my family with strangers."
"Oh," I said, hoping I looked as indifferent as I sounded.
"Yeah, so, how about we try to be friends? Like get to know each other all over again?"
"Don't flatter yourself," I said. "I don't think we can ever be. We are from two different worlds."
"Huh?" Raheem said, his voice drenched with an amusement I couldn't understand. "Relax, please. I'm not asking for a date or anything. You intrigue me is all. So let's take a shot at it?"
"I intrigue you?"
"Scratch that. Toria, I want to be your friend. Will you reject me?"
He wanted to be my friend? He had to be teasing. I stared into his eyes for a clue. Anything to give him away. But found him eagerly waiting. The genuinity of his proposal unnerved me. Friendship was no big deal. But Raheem had made it clear from the start that he could go on just fine with close to zero friends. So what had changed?
"Why me?" I blurted out. "You reject everyone else. I should give you a taste of your own medicine."
"Fair enough."
Silence built a bridge between us. And while this seemed to unnerve me, I couldn't say the same about Raheem. Taking his time, he gawked at me as though seeing me for the first time. With folded hands, I looked away, only to hear him burst into laughter.
Before I could ask, he said, "The perfume I wore the first day made you sick and drove you away from me. But today's perfume seems to win you over."
I rolled my eyes. He needed more than a good perfume to win me over.
"I thought you were going somewhere?” I asked. “I mean, you were hurrying down the stairs."
"Yeah,” he said. “I was headed somewhere. But that won't be necessary now. I've got what I was going to fetch. You."
I smiled. Although I knew he'd joked about it.
He smiled back. "There. You should always smile. Hiding your beauty behind a grim face isn't cool."
"And hiding the Western High student in you behind stubbles, a stylish hair and unfitting shoes isn't cool either."
When he clenched his teeth, I knew I'd struck a nerve. Clearing his throat, he said, "Go get your stuff. I'll wait for you at the lot."
I opened my mouth to speak, but he cut me off. "Unless you want to trek home. But I doubt you have the strength for that. Then again, I'm probably wrong, since you have the strength to annoy me. If you had a wristwatch you'd know the closing bell went off almost an hour ago. Seems you had a hangover at the infirmary. So, are you letting me drive you home?"
So much for forgetting to wear my wristwatch today. Raheem gave me a moment or two to think things over. Walking home would make me arrive an hour late. And my stepmother wouldn't be pleased. Hell! I was already an hour late. Things wouldn't go well. And I didn't want to make it all worse by prolonging my away time. A ride from Raheem would sure he helpful.
"I will find you at the lot," I said.
"It takes you eons to make up your mind over petty things,” he said. “How long then would it take you to reply yes to a date?"
"You have to ask to find out," I said.
"Very well then." With an old fashioned bow, he said, "Go on a date with me?"
"No."
Grinning, he took a squint at his wristwatch. "Half a split-second. Now let's see how many split-seconds it takes you to fetch your bag and meet me at the lot."
He turned on his heels and descended the stairs. I headed for my locker, grabbed my backpack and strode to the lot.Resting against his car, with dark sunglasses hiding his gorgeous eyes, he glanced at his watch."Two minutes,” he said, seemingly impressed. “Did you run?""I need to be home early," I said. "That's the only reason I accepted your help.""It's a little too late for that now. Arriving home early, I mean." He walked around the car and yanked open the front passenger seat. "I'm sure your family will understand you didn't mean to turn up late."I wouldn't be so sure if I were him. Ignoring the door he held open, I reached for the back door. "I don't need help getting into a car. And besides, here's where I'll be comfortable."Raheem watched me climb into the car. Before I could protest, he helped me shut the door. With a subtle shake of his head, he said, "A gentleman's got to be a gentleman.”Grateful for the tinted glasses, I smiled as I watched him shut the front passenger door. Once sat behind the steering wheel, he strapped on his seatbelt, started the engine and turned on the air conditioner.He pulled out of the school premises. "Which way is your house?""Left,” I said.He took a left turn and glanced at me from the rear view mirror. "Are you cold?""I’m fine." Could I say otherwise? Being with him triggered an unsettling feeling in my stomach, turning me back into the quiet girl I once was. I found myself counting down to when I'd get home.Embracing the cold overwhelming me, I hugged myself. Atleast, I knew that feeling, as opposed to the foreign ones Raheem triggered."So, Cynthia Brown is your sister?” he asked. “Or is it just a coincidence with the surname? Because I see nothing similar between you two.""We are sisters," I said. Although if he asked Cynthia, she would say otherwise."Wow," he said, the word heavy on his lips. "Really. I could never have imagined. That is, without the surname thingy,and the fact that you come to school in the same car. You are from two different worlds. The only similarity is thatyou're both in the same school, same class, you're both really bright students. And then the surname thing, which leads me to the conclusion that you share the same parents."For the next few moments, he kept mum, probably wanting me to speak. It didn't take long for him to realize I would not sever the silence."Twins?" he asked."No."He tilted his head to look at me from the rearview mirror."Aren't you both 17?""She's August. I am October." I knew my honest answer would only make him probe. But what could I do? Lying wasn't one of my strong points, unfortunately."How is that possible?" he asked. "Unless of course, there's something you aren't telling me.""Of course," I said, focusing my attention on the road."Keep going. Straight ahead till you reach the junction. From there, it's left till you pull over.""Got it," Raheem said. He slid back into the conversation I didn't want to have with him. "It's weird. The kind of relationship you have with your sister. Aren't siblings close? If I had a brother or a sister in my class, we would be really close friends. But that's not the case with both of you. Problems?"I didn't remember being obliged to answer every question he had. Determined to end this conversation without a word, I kept my gaze focused outside. Perhaps when his next questions went unanswered, he would get the message."Don't worry," he said. "She'll come around. Siblings fight anyway."‘Not a fight that goes on for a lifetime', I almost said aloud."Your parents. What do they do?""Mum manages dad's factory,” I said. “She's home almost 24/7 though, so let’s call her a semi housewife.""Typical. And dad?"An image of dad drifted to my mind. I blinked, willing it back to the unlit corner of my mind. I couldn't dwell on my hurt now. "He's…dead."Raheem hadn't expected a news like this. His momentary quietude told me so. "I'm sorry about that," he said, his voice comfortingly soft."Now you know everything about me,” I said. “Tell me about you.”Guilt snarled at me as I realized the dishonesty in my words. I'd made him believe he knew everything about me, when in reality, my life could fill volumes of books, and hebarely even knew the prologue. Then again, did I trust himenough to disclose this to him?"What can I say?" Raheem said. "We relocated from our country because of the bloodshed and all. Trying to fit in here.""Do you like it so far?" I asked."So far so good," he said. "What can I say?”"And your father?" I asked. Raheem played deaf to my question. "That's not fair now, is it? I told you about my father. And besides, you made me believe that once we became friends, you would tell me.""He stayed back," Raheem said. "He owns a hospital and doesn't think it proper to leave the sick and injured and flee. We're trying to make him understand that his place is here. Family must come first. Not some other people. But then again, these people have lives, families, and hope.But still. I don't know what I'd do if I lost him.""Your dad is a hero," I said. "He will be fine. His good heart and the Almighty will keep him safe. You believe in God, don't you?"Raheem didn't seem pleased with my question. "Do I look like someone who doesn't?""Your dad will be fine,” I said."I am scared," he admitted. And in that moment, an almost irresistible urge to comfort him with more than words tugged at me. "I know my dad is a hero. But this isn't fantasy, Miss Brown. This isn't fiction. This is real life. A place where heroes don't live to tell the tale—""Hush," I said. "Don't say things like that.""But it's true. And you know it. I'm just really scared, and Ican't help it. I know I sound overly emotional, but I ring him every minute. Hearing his voice and knowing he's alright is what keeps me going.""I know this is hard for you,” I said. “But trust me on this one. He will be fine. He will come back to you.""He better,” Raheem said. “Or I swear I'll go get him myself."Going back there would be suicide. How could he let such thoughts cross his mind? If he didn’t fear death, he should at least consider those who cared about him."Tell me you're kidding,” I said."I won't be kidding when things get rougher than they are now and...” He trailed off, his eyes burning into something on the other side of the road. I followed his gaze and founda teenage girl hanging around with a boy most likely in his mid twenties. But why were they the object of his fury?Pulling over, Raheem yanked off his seatbelt. "Wait here."He darted out of the car and zigzagged across the busy road. Honks blared at him, but he paid them no mind, not even slowing his stride till he reached the couple.Once there, he pulled the younger girl away from the boy. Glowering at him, he spat out some noticeably unfriendly words. With every word, he jabbed his right pointer toward the boy. And although I strained my ears, I could not make out a single word."Have you lost your mind?" the boy said, his voice only loud enough to reach my ears.Raheem spoke, his voice still inaudible. His hands lashed out, shoving off the boy. The boy jumped a step backward,and the next moment, he lunged forward, poised to retaliate.The girl sprang forward, placing herself between the boys. "Please, Iyke. Let it go."The fight, whatever had triggered it, had drawn the attention of many. I stared, unblinking, trying to figure out what relationship Raheem had with the girl."Stay away from us," Raheem roared. "Or the next time, it won't be funny." Grabbing the girl by the wrist, he led her toward the car. She turned back to give her other friend one last glance.Raheem let go of her as they neared the car. He stood by the driver's seat and waited for her to occupy the front passenger seat, but she just stood there, gripping the handle and glowering at him."Get in right this minute, Farah Kadir!" Raheem said.The girl, Farah, yanked open the door and plopped down onthe seat. Raheem did the same, the slam of his door echoing his sister's. Without a word, he started the engine.Moments passed, and no one said a thing. If it were up to Farah alone, the silence would last an eon. Arms folded defiantly, she looked out the window. She could be mistaken for a Nigerian, save for her reddish brown hair and her accent."I can't believe this," Raheem said. He obviously didn't want to use the menacing tone he'd used on the other boy with his sister, and so he'd stayed quiet to extinguish the rage burning intensely inside of him. "You aren't fully recovered and can't start school. But you're fit to hang around with Iyke! Hell! You're starting school on Monday!""I am yet to recover," Farah said."Do not infuriate me with your lies!" Raheem retorted."How come you were even with him anyway?""He came over,” she said."What? Mum let him? Good lord! You're only thirteen!""Fourteen!" Farah corrected.Raheem flicked his right hand. "Whatever!""You're forgetting he's our cousin," Farah muttered."Do not call that son of a gun my cousin!" Although Raheem did a good job at keeping his voice calm, the menace lingering in it didn't escape my notice. "You know what kind of life he lives. Smoking and heavy drinking andgambling. Not to mention wild partying and his criminal records. Is that the kind of a person you want to associate with? I'm having a word with mum as soon as we're home. She is never to let him meet with you again. Unless under my supervision."Farah let out an animated grunt. "Good lord. Why do I have a big brother?""Because you need someone to stop you from walking into hell,” Raheem said."There is no way I’m starting school on Monday,” Farah said. “Those kids will laugh at my inability to hear without an additional pair of ears."She had a hearing disability? I could never have guessed she relied on hearing aids. Surely, if I hadn't noticed, then the kids at school wouldn't either."Curse that stupid bomb," Farah said, dissolving into tears.Raheem fumed. "Had you stayed home like I asked you to, your ears would be intact. But you! You had to sneak out to see a movie! A very lame movie. As though you would die without it. And did you see it in the end? No!""Don't remind me,” Farah said. “Please. Now, I regret stepping out that day. I shouldn’t have. I didn't know.""You didn't know?” Raheem’s voice rumbled. “Just how many times did I ask you not to leave home once you wereback from school?""It could have happened anytime!” Farah yelled. “Even when we were going to school!""But it didn't! What if I had lost you? Do you think I can cope with that? Do you think mum can live through another loss? She hasn’t even gotten over Uncle’s death! You didn't even think of that, did you? Now, you're out with Iyke, despite my warning to stay away from that no-goodboy. You never learn to listen to elders, do you?""Don't sound like a sage,” Farah said. “You're only 17!"Raheem raised his eyes to the rear-view mirror, and they met mine, making me shrink back in an emotion close to fear. I'd listened in on a private conversation, knowing more than I should. What next?"You said after the junction, it's left?" he asked.Farah turned away from the window. “Huh?”She still hadn't realized a third presence. Not until she heard my response. "Yes."Her head snapped in my direction. I noticed her emerald green eyes, just like Raheem's."What? There's someone...?" Turning to Raheem, she smacked his upper arm.Raheem grunted. "What the hell?""You should have told me we were not alone," she said. "I would have put on my best act, saving the drama for when we got home. Now you've made me mess up my first meeting with her. God knows the impression she has of me now.""Sorry," Raheem said. "You should have told me the bomb also damaged your sight."Waving him off, Farah returned her focus to me. "She's beautiful!"She twisted around in her seat and trapped my hand in a firm handshake. "I'm Farah!"I beamed at the little darling. "Victoria."Gasping, she gripped Raheem's shoulder and wiggled her full brows. Ignoring her, Raheem hummed a tune.She returned her attention to me. "Sorry. I didn't know someone else was here. I'm sorry you had to listen to such a messy conversation. Raheem and I, we're always like that. But I'm still his little cupcake.""I'm sorry about the war," I said."Blah,” she said. “It's okay. Like, I get to mute him out when he talks too much. I just yank out my additional ears and ta-da! I don't hear a thing he spits out. That's an advantage."Raheem hadn't stopped humming."He's told me a lot about you," Farah said."Farah!" Raheem warned."This boy, he tells me everything. Sometimes I wonder what I am. A human diary?" Flipping back her hair, she went on, "When he told me you got sick, I knew it had to be that cursed perfume of his. To be honest, it makes me sick too. ""Farah!""And then I asked him to use mine," Farah went on. "After much persuasion, he did. He said he was going to approach you and note your reaction. He said if you reacted to that one as well, he would stop using fragrances, because obviously, he was planning to get close to you.""I am going to kill you," Raheem muttered under his breath.Farah chuckled. "Not before I kill you with this exciting behind-the-scenes, sweet brother. You should be indebted to me 'cause my bottled love potion worked, and now she's coming home with us.""She's not coming to our house," Raheem said.Farah's face dropped. "What?"When she got no further response from Raheem, she turned to look at me, her eyes cute like a puppy's. "You aren't?I shook my head. She pouted. "But…but...why?""Because she has a home,” Raheem said.Farah's face lit up. "Oh, you're giving her a ride then? Amazing! Raheem never gives any girl a ride. Private space intrusion. What has changed?"Raheem played deaf to her question. But at least he had stopped humming that dreadful tune. The sign board of Crystal Avenue stole my attention, and my joy. If it were up to me, I'd stay forever in the company of my two new friends."Uhm...I am okay here," I said."Here?" Raheem echoed, his gaze locked on the street. He slowed down, and it took forever for him to brake the car."Are you sure?"His question almost made me laugh out loud. How wouldn'tI be sure where I lived? I could tell he also wished I could stay longer, but his ego would never let him admit it."Where is your house?" Farah asked. "If it's inside the street, I'm sure my brother doesn't mind. Let us drop you at your gate.""No," I half-screamed. "No. Please. It's trouble.""Please," Farah insisted. "It's no trouble. I'm sure Raheem would be honored."She cast her brother a side-glance, willing him to speak. But he said nothing. He just held the steering wheel in a death grip and stared straight ahead."My stepmother is going to kill me!" I said, my voice giving away my fright."Okay," Raheem said. "Bye.""Bye." Flashing Farah a smile, I climbed out of the car."Hey," Farah called. "Can I have your number? I'm sure my brother is dying to ask for it, but he's too arrogant for hiscomfort.""I don't have a phone, Farah."Farah held her breath. She looked over at Raheem, and when he didn't return her stare, she redirected her stunned gaze to me. "Are you serious? Who doesn't have a phone in 2017?"

To be continued

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