Sunday, 17 June 2018

A Chance For Love Episode 20

Episode twenty
Loss

"You taunt me by asking me that. You should already know the feelings I have for you."
***
Screaming myself into consciousness, I bolted upright in bed, and before I could register the woman who sat beside me, she threw me in an embrace. I clung to her, my eyes round with fear.
"Hush now," she said, patting my back. "It's only a dream."
Her voice, almost magical made to drown my worry. I found myself giving in to her warmth. My eyes adjusted to the room. I'd never been here. I'd never even met this woman. How did I get here? What did she want from me?
Breaking out of her spell, I pulled away. Yesterday’s events flooded my memory. I saw Raheem's pain as he watched me pass out.
"Raheem," I said. "I need to see him."
The woman smiled at me. "Raheem is fine."
A fierce pounding in my head forced me to relive yesterday’s events. My whole body ached like I’d been pounded in a mortar. Taking advantage of my apparent weakness, the woman reached to hold me.
I shoved her off and sprang to my feet. My bruised body groaned at my suddenness. "Don't. Touch. Me."
She looked up at me, the softness of her gaze tickling my fear. "I know you've been through a lot, but you are safe now. Just calm down, please."
I held her gaze and willed my thumping heart to stabilize. Only when I'd gotten a grip of myself did the image before me become clearer. The woman before me was no stranger. I'd seen her once. Her face could not be so easily forgotten, but the cloud of insecurity hovering above me and the absence of flawless makeup on her face had hidden her away from recognition.
She smiled knowingly. Her arms flew open and I threw myself into the embrace. I melted into her arms, and in this moment, I felt safe. The Kadirs seemed to be gifted in keeping me safe.
I broke the embrace but didn't let go of her hand. She held a glitter in her eyes; a glitter that spelt no harm had come to her son. My Raheem was alright. But still, I couldn't get past the fact that he'd endangered his life for me.
"Thank goodness you're awake," she said. "We've all been so worried."
"How is Raheem?" I asked.
"He's in one piece," she said.
I had to see for myself that no harm had come to him. I'd die if something happened to him for my sake.
"Where is he?" I asked.
"Here." Raheem's voice caught me off guard. My gaze darted to the doorway and there he stood, gaping.
A smile broke out on my face, but he didn’t return it. Unsure of how to react to the boy who had risked his life to save me, I stood motionless. His flawless face had earned a seemingly deep cut just below his right ear. I traced it with my sorry eyes, noting how it stretched along his cheekbone.
My stomach clenched as I found a bandage wrapped around his palm. This only happened because of me. If only I hadn't dragged him into this...
Raheem cleared his throat. "I will send word to your family so they come get you." His voice held no emotions. Love, hate, it showed nothing. Not even pain. With distant eyes, he looked past me, at his mother, and then he walked away, taking with him a part of me.
I stood rooted to the ground, fixating my gaze on where Raheem had been standing. Even in his absence, his cold gaze left me frozen. Mrs. Kadir gripped my shoulder from behind. Turning me to face her, she wiped away the tears I hadn't even noticed gliding down my cheeks.
"Do you hate me too?" I asked.
She raised her brows at me. "What?"
"Your son risked his life because of me," I said. "He got hurt. It's all my fault. Surely, you must also hate me."
"Hush," she said. "Don't think like that, ever.”
Taking me by the hand, she led me to perch with her on the bed. “No one hates you for anything. Whatever happened wasn’t your fault."
"But...what if something had happened to him?" I asked.
"What if something had happened to you?" Farah’s voice made known her presence.
Mrs. Kadir scooted closer to me, creating space for Farah to plop down beside her. Farah clung to her like a child.
"My son has been different," Mrs. Kadir said. "These past few days, he's been aglow in a way I've never seen him. It's almost like when he was with Jameela. But it isn't quite the same. At first, I used to think it was the relocation that made him a different person. But then I realized it wasn't. It was a girl. You."
"Me?" I asked. What had I done?
"Yes," she said. "You, my dear. You have mended the deep cuts Jameela carved into his heart."
I shook my head and looked at Farah, hoping she could help clear up her mother's misunderstanding. But Farah didn't seem ready to join in the conversation. The serious look on her face matched her mother's. This brought an unsettling sensation to my stomach.
"I haven't done anything," I said to Mrs. Kadir.
I'd thought this would take away the gleam in her eyes. But it didn't. "Maybe you haven't done anything. But that is about to change. I need you to do something for me."
"Anything," I blurted out. Her son had risked his life to save me. Surely I'd do anything they wanted me to.
She took my hand in hers. "I want you to promise me something, Victoria. Promise me you will never break his heart."
I slipped my hand out of her grasp and placed it on my lap. Why would she ask that of me? "I'm sorry, but...Raheem and I aren't together."
"I didn't say that you are," she said. "See, my son likes you a lot and all I care about is his happiness. I won't be at rest until you promise me his heart is safe with you. He is a rock on the outside, a really tough person who's hard to approach, but on the inside, he's a very soft person."
"I understand your fear," I said. "But I don't think I'm in any position to promise you this. Raheem and I aren't in any kind of a relationship."
"Just promise her, Vicky," Farah said.
An image of Raheem confronting those men, alone and unaided, flashed through my mind. I gulped down the image. If Raheem were in my shoes, would he even hesitate to make this promise? Without hesitation, he had promised my stepmother and my fairy godmother that he’d keep me safe. He’d risked his life to save me.
"I promise,” I said.
"Thank you." Mrs. Kadir ruffled my hair and planted a kiss on my forehead. I froze for a second too long as my dad wheezed across my mind. On the day of his death, he'd given me a casual kiss before leaving for work.
"I'm off to make breakfast," Mrs. Kadir said. I stared unblinking till she walked out of view.
Farah feigned disappointment. "I was hoping you'd have questions about how he managed to fight those men and win."
"I was hoping you'd tell me how he managed to fight like that,” I said.
Yesterday's Raheem was one I’d never seen before; one I'd never imagined. He'd turned from rockstar to martial artist. "Where did he learn to fight like that?"
"This brings us to one of those stories you will never hear from him," Farah said. "Remember Jameela? The girl who broke his heart?"
"Yes,” I said. “Is she dead yet?"
Farah gaped, her words dying on her thin lips. And then, she clapped a palm over her mouth, giggling. "To the Kadirs, yes. So, here's the story of how my cool rockstar slash loner brother became Jet Li. After Meela's betrayal, he started to take pleasure in martial arts. It became his new lifestyle, his new way to vent out his anger. He'd even enrolled in some local fight clubs. It broke our hearts to watch him live with so much pain. We tried so hard to get him to quit. But he never did. So, mum and I devised a means."
"Mum faked an illness," she explained, her eyes glowing with mischief. "The doctor said she broke down because she was thinking too much. He said things would get worse if she didn't take care of herself. She had to stop thinking. But she didn't. She said she'd rather let the sickness claim her life than watch her only son make violence his way of life. Raheem's so predictable. He stopped engaging in every form of violence just so mum could recover. Till this day he doesn't know we deceived him."
Graceful as a princess, she advanced to the open windows. There she stood, staring at something I couldn't see from where I was sat.
She gestured me over. "Come.”
Eager to devour the sight that stole her over, I hastened to her side. I lowered my gaze and found Raheem dusting his car with a blue towel.
"What do you see?" she asked, her voice dropping to a whisper. "You see him cleaning his car. He probably has plans to go out. But is this all?"
"Tell me what I don't see," I said.
"I see anger in his eyes," she said. "Ever since last night, he's been like this. Cold, distant, reserved. And most of all, hurt. When he's like this, he speaks to no one. He hasn't said a word to either mum or I ever since."
I mused over the words Raheem had told me moments ago, and the cold gaze he'd shot his mother. He'd talked to me. This had to mean something.
"As typical of him, he goes out when he’s in this mood. He spends days away from everyone and everything. And then he only returns when…"
If I let him go without thanking him for what he did yesterday, I'd never forgive myself. I made to leave, but Farah grabbed my arm.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"I need to talk to him," I said.
Farah sighed. Her gaze drifted between Raheem and I. "What makes you think he'll talk to you?"
"He talked to me moments ago.” Retrieving my arm, I bolted out of the house and only halted a few steps away from Raheem. He held open the door to the driver’s seat, and made to get in.
"Raheem!” I called. “Raheem, wait."
Raheem clenched and unclenched his jaws as I took another step toward him. He made no attempt to look at me. Farah's question resounded in my head. 'What makes you think he'll talk to you?'
"I'm sorry about last night," I said. I studied him for a reaction. Finding none, I went on, "You got hurt because of me. You risked your life to save me. Words can't describe how grateful I am. Had you not come to my aid..."
I trailed off. I couldn't even say the words. Those men would have killed me, or worse. Yes, people of that sort do worse things than death to anyone unlucky enough to cross paths with them.
My gaze rested on Raheem's bandaged palm. I covered his hand with mine. I'd expected him to flinch, but he didn't. He still didn't turn to look at me.
"I'm so sorry you had to risk your life like that." Tears gathered in my eyes, threatening to drop, but I blinked then back.
I wrapped my arms around him. I felt him stiffen. His hands hung limply at his sides as he probably contemplated on whether to accept the hug or shove me off. I wanted nothing but for him to let me stay in his arms, where it's safe. Just this once.
I breathed, holding him close and savoring the moment. I savored the smell of peppermint entangling with the air he breathed out. I didn't want to let go. I'd found the person who could keep me safe from all harm. When he'd promised my fairy godmother he'd keep me safe, I hadn't thought much of it.
I kept my arms wrapped around him. And in the warmth emanating from him, I found soothing relief. His hands found my shoulders. With a gentle shove, he wordlessly screamed his indignation towards me overstepping my boundaries. His rejection stung like a slap to my cheeks.
Once again, he made to climb into the car. And once again, I got in his way. Literally. "The wounds from yesterday, are there more?"
He still didn’t meet my gaze.
"Raheem—"
"Your phone's screen was severely damaged yesterday.” After what seemed like forever, he’d finally spoken. I beamed at the sound of his voice. "I'm taking it for repairs. But I can't be on my way with you standing in my way."
"You don't have to—" I said.
He held out his palm, silencing me. "I didn't tell you that because I needed permission. I'm just doing what I know is right. If you'd just get out of my way and let me get going."
If only he knew how he hurt me with his coldness. Then again, he probably knew, but couldn't be bothered how I felt. He obviously seemed to regret what he’d done for me last night. Why then had he done that?
And now, he seemed to be helping me with my phone out of obligation. I'd be much content with nothing, than having someone subject me to this torture, making me feel less than nothing all over again.
Too hurt to speak, I stepped away to let him pass. He bumped my shoulder with his arm as he made for the car, but he didn't even take a moment to acknowledge this.
I turned to face him. Or at least the back of his head. "If you hate me so much, why did you have to save me?"
Raheem halted. Once again, I'd stopped him from leaving.
"I need answers, Raheem Kadir.” I turned him around to face me, but his gaze didn't stray from the ground.
"You should have just left me there to die. Why did you have to act like you cared when really you don't? You hate me so much that you won't even look at me, won't even speak to me. Just tell me why you—"
"I feel a very strong emotion for you," he said. "And it isn't hate. It stuns me that you think like this. You of all people should know that I..." Trailing off, he made no attempt to speak again.
"You do not hate me?" I asked.
"How is that even a question?" For the first time, he held my gaze. I gaped at the rue-cheerlessness carved into his eyes.
"Even after you risked your life like that?” I asked. “You could have died out there, Raheem."
"And so would you. I couldn't forgive myself if anything happened to you. I'm just…" He raked his fingers through his hair. "I failed you. Can you ever forgive me? I should have protected you. Those men were never meant to touch you, to hurt you the way they did. It's all my fault you got hurt.”
"Raheem, what are you saying? I'm fine. Nothing happened to me."
"Did you see what state you were in last night?” he asked. “Do you know what it's like to see you like that, in that state? In a pool of your own blood? I felt I'd lose you. And it's all because I wasn't paying attention to priority. If only I'd been more attentive, more capable of looking out for you, I would have been able to stop that bastard from hurting you. Maybe I don't deserve you. I mean, I couldn't even protect you. I can't forgive myself. This is why I've been avoiding you. I'm unworthy to behold your face."
"Do I mean this much to you?" I asked.
He stared deep into my eyes. "You taunt me by asking me that. You should already know the feelings I have for you."
"Then who are you to forgive yourself when I declare that there is nothing to forgive you for?" I asked.
I caught a glitter in his eyes. It mesmerized me how his features softened, matching mine. He held me with a gaze so intense, I found it magical. I could feast my eyes on him all day without even blinking.
"I know your life hasn't been an easy one," he said. "Many times, you had to cry and sigh. But I am here now. I can't promise to turn your life into a bed of roses, for that would mean taking you out of this world. But I can promise you this one thing—"
I held out my hand to silence him. "Don't."
The gleam I'd seen in his eyes fell to its death, and I ached for it right away. But I didn't want him making any promises. A promise, to me was a lie.
Although I trusted Raheem wouldn't intentionally lie to me, he would still be lying by making me promises. I, more than anyone else, knew for a fact that promises were meant to be broken. It didn’t belong to the one promising to choose this. Life had its own way of breaking even the sweetest of promises.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"Yeah. I just...I'm wary of promises." I braced myself for his reaction. He seemed to understand. "I want us to take this one day at a time."
He cupped my face in his hands. "One day at a time it is then. No promises."
Silence crept in between us, our gaze unfaltering. I felt his hands slip to my waist, a tad out of my comfort zone. To be honest, this new chapter with Raheem had already slipped out of my comfort zone before he even reached out to touch me.
My heartbeat quickened at the foreign gesture. Raheem barely moved a muscle. His eyes told me he'd give me all the time in the world to adjust to the whole new world we'd tossed ourselves into.
Holding on to his gaze, I willed my heartbeat back to normal. Butterflies fluttered in my stomach as he leaned in for what I knew to be a kiss; a kiss to seal the deal that we'd become an item.
I drew in a breath and closed my eyes. Raheem's breath hovered above my nose for a second too long. His lips found my forehead, and there they rested, glued to my skin. Where had he been all my life?
Bursting out of the house like a mad horse, Farah headed straight at us. I lowered my eyes and stepped away from Raheem. Although she'd obviously be the number one fan of ‘Rahtoria', I just couldn't bring myself to look at her. Not after she'd found me in her brother's arms. Like a diabetic kid caught red-handed with a slice of cake, I trained my eyes on my feet.
"What's wrong?" The panic in Raheem's voice forced my gaze away from my feet.
Farah stood before us, her body trembling. Her eyelashes, clustered and moist, told a story of tears. "It's Maggie."
"Who's that?" Raheem asked.
Farah sobbed, staring at her phone. "My new bff. She isn't answering my calls. I have a bad feeling. I think she's dead."
"So because she didn't pick your calls, she's dead?" Raheem asked. "Wow, to think that I'm still alive. I have 100 lives, do I not? Because I've lost count of how many times I failed to—"
"Boko Haram struck last night," Farah said.
Blood drained from Raheem's face. "What?"
"The bomb blast happened at the very same place Maggie went. I'm just so scared, Raheem. Report confirms sixteen dead and eleven severely injured. I'm just so scared. I have to go to the hospital. I need to be sure my friend is still with me."
My lips stayed glued to each other. At times like this, words eluded me.
Farah simmered with impatience. "Take me to the hospital. Please, just take me to see my friend." She glued her palms together as though saying a prayer.
Raheem pulled her close, giving her a shoulder to cry on. He patted her head as she sobbed. "Calm down, please. No harm has come to your friend—"
She broke free from his hold. "How do you know this? You said no harm would come to uncle, but where is he now, Mr. No Harm?"
"I'm sorry,” he said. “I'm just trying to help is all. It hurts me to see you like this. Just get a hold of yourself. Please."
"How do you expect me to stay calm?” she yelled. “She's like a sister to me."
I moved to her and smoothed a palm over her arm. "Raheem is right, Farah. You have to calm down. We do not know for sure that Maggie is dead.”
"Then why isn't she answering my calls?” she asked. “Why...”
Her ringing phone cut her off. She swiped her fingers across her cheeks and glanced at Raheem and I. "It...It's Maggie."
She sniffled. "M-Maggie?" A pregnant pause followed. And then a squeal. I gaped at her dimpled cheeks as she giggled. “You potato! Why didn't you pick up the phone? I've wasted all my tears on someone who's still very well alive. How cool is that?"
Detaching the phone from her ear, she turned to Raheem and I. "Sorry about that, guys."
Bribing us with a seraphic smile, she returned to her call and started toward the house. "Oh, so you had a bad time? You see, I told you Havana is bad news, but you—"
"Havana?" I croaked, my voice suddenly lost. Somehow, Farah managed to hear me. She halted and turned to face me.
"Where did the bomb blast happen?" I asked.
"At some club,” she said.
"What club?"
"Havana."
Bomb blast. Havana. My heart dropped to my stomach, leaving my chest hollow and vulnerable. The world seemed to stand still, letting me assimilate this news.
A familiar kind of emptiness stole me over. Light as a feather, I felt my body reach for the ground.
***
Once again, I'd awakened on this very bed with no memories of how I got here. This time, though, I knew where I was, and that I was safe.
While Farah paced the room, Raheem sat beside me, his gaze flying through the open window. My hand twitched as I made to shift into a more cozy position. But then, something soft tightened around it. I gazed at my hand, enveloped by Raheem's.
"You're awake!" he said.
Farah rushed to my side. "Vicky. Thank goodness you're awake. I was so worried. What happened? Everything was fine till I mentioned Havana."
Havana club. Boko Haram. Bombing. Death. It all came back to me.
My mind drifted back to a conversation I’d had with Cynthia moments before she left for the party.
'I don't feel good about you partying so late at night,' I'd said.
And then came a voice I feared I'd never hear again. 'For Christ's sake, Victoria, stop acting like I'm a kid. I will be alright. Really. Havana is my second house. Nothing can go wrong there. And besides, I need some time away from all the drama in this house. I need to distract myself. I can't keep dwelling on mum's inhumanity. It breaks me. Which is why I really don't want to spend the night here. Anywhere but here.'
Snatching my hand from Raheem's, I leapt to my feet. "I need to go to the hospital. My sister could be among the injured. Or worse...dead."
"Oh my God!" Farah gasped. "Are you certain that—"
Raheem raised his palm, cutting her off. "When mum comes back, tell her Victoria and I left for the hospital."
***
Raheem probably yearned to tell me everything would be fine, but he held back. Obviously, he knew even a single word would snatch the little bit of composure I had. Even when we were alone for the lifetime it took to arrive at the hospital, he said nothing. Once he parked the car in the lot, I unfastened my seatbelt and reached for the door handle.
He touched my arm. "Whatever happens, please, be strong and know that I will always be here."
“Nothing will happen to my sister.” I pushed open the door and darted toward the building, distancing myself from him and his negativity.
‘Nothing would happen to my sister.’ I recited this like it were a spell; like it could quell my pounding heart; like it could undo whatever had already happened.
These were mere words, and could change nothing. But I had hope. Wouldn't that save me this day?
I burst into the building, my heavy heartbeat the only thing I could hear, the stench of grief smothering me. Raheem blurred past me. He headed for the nurses behind the counter. "Cynthia Brown. Where is she?"
"One moment," the nurse directly in front of him said. While she searched for Cynthia's details, I feared my heart would explode. "Room 13."
The words had barely left her lips when I darted into the passageway she pointed at, my eyes scanning the doors for one tagged '13'. A million thoughts flooded my mind. Cynthia was really here. My sister, the one I loved so much, was here, fighting for her life.
If only she hadn't left for the party, then everything would be fine. No, if only that woman hadn't tried to kill me, then my sister would probably have spent the night at home. What if I had followed her to the party? Maybe I'd have been able to save her.
I slowed my pace as my eyes found the door. I looked over to Raheem and sucked in a deep breath. What awaited me on the other side? Would I be able to control myself when I saw her lying helplessly, stuck in a situation she didn't deserve?
Tentatively, I reached for the door and wrapped my fingers around the handle. The door gave way, letting me into the room.
I could not fathom the scene before me. My stepmother, the stranger who'd tried to kill me, sat beside my sister who lay in bed. But she wasn't really sitting. The wideness of her torso mounted upon Cynthia blocked her of view.
Rage clouded my reasoning and I dashed toward the woman I once called mum. I gripped her shoulders and yanked her off my sister. Yesterday she'd tried to kill me, and today, here she was, smothering her very own daughter to death.
"Get away from her!" I yelled. I had not lost my sister in the bombing. I certainly would not lose her to this woman.
I turned to look at my sister, the beauty I feared I'd never see again. A gust of emotions slammed into me. I clamped my palm to my lips, suppressing a scream.
Her skin, once flawless, had become a shadow of itself. I felt a squeezing sensation in my chest as I drank in the image before me. I wanted to look away, to shield my eyes from the girl who lay on the bed. Her skin had seared to the bone, making her almost unrecognizable.
But what troubled me was the look in her eyes. Cold and lifeless, they told me I had lost once again.

To be continued

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