Sunday, 17 June 2018

A Chance For Love Episode 23

Episode twenty-three
Grave

"I will make your life a living hell."
***
"Sometimes I really don't understand him." I stabbed a potato chip with my fork and shoved it into my mouth.
I'd been nagging endlessly over Raheem taking sides with the enemy. Flora and Amarachi had barely even said a word. Their silence didn’t bother me anyway. I'd rather have them say nothing than take sides with the enemy.
From the corner of my eye, I could see Raheem, Farah and Mary staring at me from their table. They were obviously talking about me. Losing appetite, I shoved off my tray and took a sip of my water.
"Victoria," Amarachi called. She reached out to hold my hand. "You have to calm down and think about this with a cool mind. Raheem is only trying to help. He is doing the right thing. Everybody deserves a second chance."
My face wrinkled with confusion. Prior to this moment, I'd thought I knew her, and that she wanted the best for me. But it turned out I was wrong. Weren't we supposed to be best friends? Wasn't she supposed to understand and support me?
"I thought you were my friend," I said, snatching back my hand. Although I tried hard to shroud my rage, success eluded me. "But here you are, supporting the woman who wants me dead. Who knows, she could be faking the memory loss!"
"Not everyone survives a bullet to the head," she said. "But that woman is alive. For a reason."
"To kill me," I said. "Because she failed the first time." I glanced at Flora, hoping she was on my side. But I knew better.
Throwing my hands in frustration I yelled, "My God! What is wrong with you people?"
"If God has given her another chance, who are you to deny her?" Amarachi asked. "Vicky, you are my friend. All I want is for you to be happy."
"I am happy without her," I said. "If you really are my friend, then you should know this." I bolted to my feet and stormed out of the cafeteria.
I returned to class, my heart heavy and weighing me down. I plopped down on the seat that was once Cynthia's. There I sat, drowning in my hopelessness as I watched hours roll by.
Once the closing bell went off, I grabbed my bag and dashed out of the class. I heard Amarachi call after me. Tuning out her voice, I dismounted the stairs.
***
I had thought I'd be able to distract myself from thoughts that sought to break me, but hours of trying to write my story proved me wrong. I'd ripped out over five pages, all in the name of starting a new chapter.
Sighing, I tossed the book to the floor and lay down in bed. I curled myself into a ball and squeezed my eyes shut, hurling myself into a sea of memories.
A knock at the gate caused my eyes to fly open. I gathered myself to my feet and advanced to the gate. Raheem flashed me a smile as I unlocked the gate. I made to smile back when a movement behind him caught my eye. My stepmother.
I scowled at her. "What is this woman doing here?"
"She's been discharged," Raheem said.
"And so you brought her here?" I fumed. "This is my house, Raheem. Not a charity house. How could you bring in a stranger without consulting me first? Who does that?"
"This is also her house," Raheem said. "And she will be staying here."
The woman sniffled. She turned away and wiped a tear with the back of her hand. Her tears could fool anyone. But not me.
"Please go in," Raheem said to the woman. "We will be with you in a moment."
Tentatively, she advanced toward the house. Too broken to speak, I could only welcome the hard lump in my throat.
Raheem had chosen her over me. The same Raheem who told me I was what mattered most to him had placed my evil stepmother ahead of me.
"Why are you doing this to me?" I asked.
"She has nowhere to go," he said. "Nowhere but here."
"My father's house is not a charity house," I said.
"She is your father's widow," he said. "How could you forget that?"
"She tried to kill me," I shot back. "Twice. How could you forget that?"
"The woman who tried to kill you died six months ago," he said. For how long would he keep deceiving himself? If the woman had died back there, then what did we have here, a ghost?
"Will you not give this brand new person a chance?" he asked.
"She died?" I asked. "It is settled then. I don't do ghosts."
Glaring at him, I walked through the gate. I could use some fresh air.
"Where are you going?" I heard him ask.
"To see someone who truly understands me," I said. "Since that is a task too big for you."
Everyone else had chosen the murderer over me. But this one person would always support me. Blocking out all thoughts of the drama in my life, I approached his resting place with a calm heart.
***
My footsteps ripped through eerie silence as I walked down rows of tomb stones. I fixated my gaze on the one I'd come to visit. Branches of trees reached out as though groping for an unseen prize.
The smell of old stones and dust filled the air. Gravel crunched underneath my feet as I proceeded, counting each step.
Underneath each tomb stone laid an empty shell, what was left of someone who had once been living. Here they were, faded into nothingness, devoid of any emotions, leaving nothing but memories.
Dad would have hated this place. Had he had a choice, he wouldn't be here. He'd always hated extended moments of silence, especially one as eerie as this.
My eyes searched every tomb stone in sight, hoping to find Cynthia's name engraved somewhere. Although I knew how pointless this was, I couldn't help it. After her disappearance from the morgue, Raheem and I had visited every graveyard in Port Harcourt, but none of them had Cynthia's body. So where had she been buried?
I arrived at dad's grave and sagged to the ground. Tears stung my eyes and blurred my vision. "Dad, if you hadn't left, none of this would have happened."
Although he could hear nothing I said, pouring out my heart to him would bring some measure of relief. I would rather spend the rest of my day here, with him, amongst the dead, than ruin it with the sight of that vile woman. The dead, after all, could not harm me. But the living could.
Climbing atop the grave, I curled into a ball and closed my eyes. I thought back to those moments I had him with me. I could stay in his arms without saying a word. He, more than anyone else, had understood the unspoken words embedded in my silence.
Today, just like the good old days, I would fall asleep in his arms. It didn't take long for sleep to find me. I embraced it with open arms.
***
My eyes fluttered open. A headache greeted me as I reached full consciousness. I didn't know for how long I'd been asleep, and I had no idea how I'd awakened on my bed.
In the middle of my slumber I'd felt someone cradle me. But instead of awakening, I'd melted into his arms. Without a doubt I knew it was Raheem. Why had he come to help me when he'd shown me just how little he cared of my happiness?
Someone knocked at the door. I gasped, jumping out of bed. It took a moment to remember I now shared the house with the witch.
"Vicky," she called.
Memories of six months ago flooded my mind. Was this her trying to kill me once again?
"poo!" I dashed to my dresser drawer, where I'd hid dad's gun. Reloading it with some bullets I’d found in the study, I’d kept it within range, just in case the witch tried to attack me again.
Grabbing the gun, I spun around to train it on the door. The door creaked open. My grip tightened instinctively. Today, I would not be the victim.
The woman stepped into the room. Gasping at the sight of the gun, she threw her hands in the air, sending a tray of possibly poisoned food crashing to the floor.
I remembered the first day I’d accidentally broken a plate. She'd starved me all day. Today, I would have her taste her very own medicine. For everyday she spent here, she would pay for the way she'd dealt with me in the past. This was my promise to her.
Her lips quavered as she tried to speak. "Vic...it...it's...only me."
I cocked an eye at her, scanning her thoroughly to be sure there were no hidden weapons. Finding nothing, I lowered the gun. "Clean up the mess."
Trembling, she nodded. "I'll go get—"
"Whatever," I said, waving her off. She turned away and disappeared into the passageway. Taking my gun with me, I stalked into the bathroom. A few minutes under the shower, and I stepped out, into a sparkling clean room.
I clothed myself in a gray polo shirt and a pair of black skinny jeans. Spending the day here was the last thing I wanted to do. I needed to be away, in a quiet place, where I could escape reality and make progress with my ongoing novel. And was there a better option than spending the day with dad?
Grabbing my phone and my writing materials, I shoved them into my backpack and set out for my day with dad. I stepped out of my room, only to see the evil woman coming after me. I rolled my eyes and kept walking, telling myself I'd seen nobody.
"Victoria," she called.
I whirled around to face her, my pointer jabbing the air toward her. Gritting my teeth, I said, "You will address me as miss. Do I make myself clear?"
Without waiting for her to assimilate the order, I added, "That is one of the rules you must follow if you wish to stay here."
I turned toward my room and pointed. "Do you see that door? It leads to my room. That place is strictly out of bounds."
The woman stared unblinking, too stunned to speak. My heart soared at her helpless state. Yesterday, she'd been the one in control. But today, the tables had turned, leaving her at my mercy. And what choice did she have but to do all I asked of her?
"Now, for rule number three, come with me." I advanced to the main door, and through it. The woman, my new slave, followed by footsteps. Once we were outside, I slammed the door.
From outside, the door could only be opened with a key. And I had the key in my backpack. "Rule number three. This house is mine. And I do not trust strangers enough to leave them all alone in my house. You will be outside till I return."
Without waiting for her response, I headed for the main road where I stood, waiting for a cab. Almost immediately, a taxi pulled over.
"Where to?" the driver asked.
"Catholic grave yard," I said.
He seemed to ponder over my destination for a moment or two. I always got this reaction from commercial drivers. Try as I might, I could never understand their fear. Why would anyone live in fear of graveyards, seeing it as a place that should never be visited? Why fear the dead, when they lay asleep, unable to lift a finger at anyone?
"Get in," the man said.
I settled in the back passenger seat. The driver started the engine, never stopping for anyone till we arrived at my destination. I handed him his pay and stepped out of the car.
I'd only taken a few steps when I stopped dead in my tracks. Raheem's bike was parked a distance away. How had he known he'd find me here?
He was mistaken if he thought I'd gotten over what he did yesterday. I would never forgive him for making decisions for me.
If I left now, then he wouldn't know of my coming. I turned around, hoping to make a clean escape, but there he was, standing only an inch or two away. My face contorted with confusion. How had he come so close without me noticing?
Amused by the look on my face, he burst into laughter. "Easy. It's only me. Why do you look like you've seen a ghost?"
"What do you want?" I asked, folding my arms.
"To talk to you," he said. "What else would I want?"
"I'm not in the mood to talk to you," I said. "I'm here to have some quiet time, and I don't want anyone to ruin this moment."
"Is this you getting angry?" he asked. "Wow. You should know by now that you can't stay mad at me. I'm way too charming."
He winked at me. And in that moment, he looked even more charming. But I didn't let it get to me. By bringing that woman into my house and life, he had ruined what was left of my happiness. And I just could not play along with this.
Unable to restrain myself, I let it all out. "Who do you think you are to interfere in my life like this? Just who do you think you are, Raheem Kadir? You're trying so hard to unite us. Why? Where were you when she abused me day and night? Where were you when she tried to kill me? It was just me. I had to go through hell all by myself. Do you even have any idea how I hurt? And here you are, making decisions about my life. If this is how relationships work, then I'd rather stay single for all eternity.”
I could see the hurt look in his eyes, but I couldn't take back my words. Even if I could, I wouldn't.
"I'm done, Raheem," I said. I knew better than to make rash decisions. I knew I would regret ever saying this, but still, the words spilled out of my mouth. "I can't have you interfere in my life like this, making decisions for me like I'm incapable of managing my life myself. I know I made a promise to your mum, but—"
I took a moment to steady my wobbly voice. Blinking away the tears forming in my eyes, I went on, "I can't go on like this. I can't live like this, I'm sorry. It's suffocating and I can't take it."
Tears glided down my cheeks. I would be leaving behind my first love, and every memory we ever shared. Although this hurt, I had to do it. If I didn't, he would someday. Lately we'd been having too many disagreements. Sooner or later, this was bound to happen.
"Hey, calm down," Raheem said. "I mean, wow, slow down, will you? I didn't hear a word you just said."
Perfect liar. Why did he have to be so perfect?
He gripped my arms and looked me in the eye. And there, the tears I'd tried to hide were out in the open. He collected a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped my tears. "Calm down, okay?"
I nodded.
"Good," he said. "Are you free tomorrow? We should go see a movie or something."
"Okay."
"Alright. I'll pick you up tomorrow." He planted a kiss on my forehead.
"Raheem, I—" The words died on my lips. How could I even think of saying those magical words, when barely a minute ago, I'd broken his heart?
"I know," he said. "I love you more."
Although he'd said this a number of times in the past, I could still feel a dance of butterflies in my stomach.
"I'm sorry about what I said," I said. "I shouldn't have acted like that. I’m just so insecure, I—"
He pulled me into a hug. "Shhh. it's okay."
In his embrace, I felt whole again. I felt my worries slither away. If I could, I'd hold him forever and never let go. But his ringing phone said it was time to let go.
"Perfect," I groaned.
Raheem chuckled. "Sorry." He pulled out his phone. "Sorry, I gotta take this call."
Moving away from me, he answered the call. He spoke fluent Iraqi. Arms folded, I watched the road, waiting for the call to end.
"I have to go," he said. "Call from home."
"Okay."
"Come, I'll drop you off."
Drop me off? Not a chance. I didn't want him finding out that I'd locked my stepmother outside and left her to starve. He would hate me for it. And I didn't want that.
"I'm not ready to leave," I said. "I need to see dad first."
"Toria—"
"I just want to stay a while. I'll be fine. Promise."
His eyes roamed the graveyard in search of a reason to stop me from staying. Finding nothing, he sighed.
"I'll be fine," I said. "And besides, this is not my first time."
"Very well then," he said. "But I'll ring you every five minutes."
"Feel free,” I said.
Smiling at me, he shook his head and walked to his bike. He mounted it and waved at me. Grinning, I waved back. I watched him speed out of sight.
Once the roar of his engine subsided, I pulled out my phone and dialed Peter's number. "Good morning. Come pick me from the graveyard."
"I'm on my way," he said.
I hit the end button. It would take no less than thirty minutes for him to arrive. I walked over to dad's grave and pulled out my writing materials. Hopefully, I could write the infamous chapter eight.
Barely an hour later, I smiled down at a wonderfully written chapter. My fairy godmother would be so proud of me. I looked toward the road just in time to see Peter pulling into view. Tossing my writing materials into my backpack, I strapped it on and headed for the car. Peter had already stepped out to hold open the back door for me.
"Good morning, Miss Vicky," he said.
"Hello, Pete." I'd told him a number of times to add no titles to my name. But he was bent on treating me like a boss. What could I do but accept his extreme politeness?
Ever since I returned to my father's house, he'd been treating me somewhat differently, as though he were seeing me in a different light. Sometimes, he'd even commented on how good I looked.
I giggled at the thought of how Raheem would react if he heard about this. He would definitely try to find me a driver old enough to be my grandpa. But that would only come after he'd failed to get me a female.
"A penny for your thoughts," Peter said, stealing a glance from the rearview mirror. He flashed a smile that couldn't even compare to my Raheem's.
"It's nothing," I said. I rummaged through my backpack for my earpiece. Finding it, I rammed each piece into my ear and blared Skillet's Comatose. This way, I'd be shielding myself from further questions.
Well into the twelfth song, I felt Peter slow down. I raised my head and found him staring into the rearview mirror. Now what?
He glanced back at me. I turned off my music to hear what he had to say. "Isn't that your mum?"
"What? Where?" I whipped around, and there she was, walking in our direction. She cradled a kitten in her arms.
"Pull over," I said. Peter did accordingly. While we waited for the woman to meet us, I rapped my fingers on the window.
Oblivious of our presence, or pretending to be, she made to walk past us. Peter honked to get her attention. She turned around, eyes narrowed to slits as she tried to look through the windows.
She grinned at the sight of me. Rolling my eyes, I returned my gaze to my phone and played the video, Pain, by Three Days Grace. I heard the door slam as she climbed into the front passenger seat.
"Can I have the cat?" I asked.
Beaming at me, she presented the kitten. Poor little darling. White as snow, I'd name her Snow if she were mine. And I'd never let her out on the streets, because predators roamed around, looking for an innocent soul to devour.
"Sorry," I mouthed to Snow, just before winding down my window. I tossed her out like she were trash.
Peter and my stepmother screeched out incoherent words. Thanks to the music, I couldn't make out a single word.
My heart reached out to Snow. I hoped she hadn't broken a bone or two from the fall. I cringed at the thought of what I'd just done. But I'd only done it to prove a point. If I wanted to come off as cold and emotionless, it was time to start acting it. All my life I'd given room for emotions and feelings. But where did it get me?
As we neared our street, a brilliant thought occurred to me. My stepmother had questions about her past. Why delay when I could fill in the information gap right this instant?
In the past, she'd made crying an integral part of my life. But from this day, her tears would flow. I would make them outflow every single tear I'd shed.
Pausing my music, I said, "Turn around, Peter. We are taking this woman to see her husband."
"We are going back to the—?"
I cut him off before could say the word. "Yes, so turn around."
Peter made a U-turn, heading back to the graveyard. My stepmother looked out the window the whole time.
"Where are we going?" she asked.
"Wait till we get there," I said. "For now, just sit back and enjoy the ride."
Once again, I inserted my earpiece to tune out whatever conversation would ensue between them. This time, I watched Raheem’s video. Last week, he'd performed a song titled 'Crawl'. His smoldering gaze burned into me from the video, and it seemed as though he were actually staring at me.
After moments of browsing through my media, we arrived at our destination. I turned off my music and detached the earpiece from my ears. Stepping out of the car, I turned toward my stepmother and found her frozen in place, unable to climb out of her seat.
If only Raheem had told her himself, then we wouldn't be here. But no, he had only told her she had a daughter — me. He'd left the many untold stories to me. And what could I do? I had to see to it that she knew the most important things about her life.
Peter held open the door for her. I rolled my eyes at his kind gesture. My stepmother needed no special treatment.
Her beady eyes swept around the graveyard. "Why...why are we here?"
I smiled at her. "We are here to meet your husband, aren't we?"
She nodded. "He...works here?"
Had she seriously asked me that? How could someone who worked in a graveyard own a mansion?
Ignoring her thoughtless question, I led the way to father's grave. The crunching of gravel behind me told me she trailed after me, as expected. I halted in front of dad's grave.
"He...he's dead?" she asked, her eyes devoid of any emotions.
I hadn't expected her to be affected by the news anyway, considering that she had no memories of him. And besides, an evil woman lived inside of her. I doubted memory loss could change her completely.
"No," she whimpered, dropping to the ground. Peter made to help her, but I held out a hand to stop him.
Her sobs perforated the silence building up. And although I knew better than to feel sorry for her, my heart, the traitor, hurt like it'd been stabbed all over with a two edged blade.
She smoothed her palms over the writings engraved on the tombstone. ‘Emmanuel Brown. 1973-2012.’
"How...how did this happen?" she cried out, gripping the edge of the tombstone. Her body trembled as she bowed before the grave. The raw emotions in her weeping voice clawed at my insides. But I would not feel sorry for this woman.
A misguided tear escaped my eye. I wiped it off and prayed no one noticed my broken spirit.
"That's enough," I said.
Playing deaf, she sobbed on. More tears would come where those came from. I would drown her in a sea of her own tears.
"I should feel sorry for you," I said. "But I'm not."
She raised her gaze to meet mine. Her eyes, puffy and bloodshot, made to fool me into believing she deserved sympathy, but I didn't let it get to me.
I walked slow circles around her. "And does that make me a bad person? No, because you deserve every single thing that happened to you. Sympathizing with you is what would make me a bad person."
I looked down at her, and on her. It spelt power, and power drives one crazy. I wished I could make a painting of this scene; a painting of me on my feet, and my stepmother on her knees. The gravestones standing tall like an army of the dead, added a touch of dark to the scenery. Beautiful, in a twisted way.
To spite my stepmother, I would definitely transform this dream painting into reality. And I would display it in the living room, for every guest to see just how hard she'd fallen.
"Life has gone easy on you," I said. "It has deprived you of your memory, making you live peacefully while I dwindle away in the flames of the heated past. I cannot watch this go on. No, you have to know everything, just so you can hurt like I do."
My stepmother rose to her feet. "I don't understand."
"Let's start from someone," I offered. "What did Raheem tell you about your past?"
"He only...told me about you," she said. "He said you'd be the...one to...to tell me every other thing."
"And who am I?" I asked.
"What?"
If she were a child, spanking her for the dumb look on her face would be in order. Moments of glowering at her told her I wouldn't repeat myself.
"My daughter," she said.
"What?" I asked as though I hadn't heard correctly.
"You are my daughter."
A fit of laughter stole me over, forcing tears out of my eyes. I laughed so hard, my lungs burned. "Daughter? Do you honestly think someone like you can give birth to someone like me? Or have you ever seen a guava tree bearing fine apples?"
"I don't understand."
"What is there to understand?" I yelled. "I am nothing of yours. We do not relate in anyway. I do not have your bad blood flowing in my veins, thank God for that."
"Victoria," Peter called.
"Stay out of this," I warned. Returning my focus to my stepmother, I said, "You claim to be my mother. But can a mother do this?"
I turned my back at her and flipped open the lower half of my top, letting her catch a glimpse of her malevolence.
"Oh my God," she shrieked. "I...I did this?"
Wordlessly, I pulled my top over the scars. I started off toward my car, but she dashed after me, as expected. Catching up with me, she stood in my way and took my hands in hers.
She sobbed. "Forgive me. Forgive me, please. I...I can't justify my wrongs. All I ask is that you—"
I snatched my hands from her hold. Tears sprang to my eyes. This time, I didn't try to fight them. I let them create a path along my cheeks. "Do you know what hurts me the most? It isn't that you always treated me like a plague. It isn't that you tried to kill me twice. No, what hurts me the most is that you failed at being a mother to your very own daughter. Had you been thorough about your duties as a mother, then she would still be here. I can forgive you for every other thing, but for Cynthia's death, there is no mercy. I will make your life a living hell. It doesn't matter to me that you have no memories of the past. There is no peace for the wicked. Keep that in mind."
I turned to leave, but once again, she reached out to hold me.
"Wait, wait, please," she begged.
"Don't touch me, woman!" I shoved her off.
Stumbling over a grave, she lost her footing and toppled over. Her head slammed into the tombstone with a cracking sound. My stomach twisted into a painful knot, but I held back from advancing to her. Peter, on the other hand, sprinted to her side.
She grunted in pain and touched her temple, right where a trail of blood snaked along her skin.
"I'm fine," she said, brushing off his worry.
"Peter, let's go," I said. "Leave her be. I'm sure she's fine. She survived a bullet to her head. There's nothing to fear. She's death itself. Now, come, let's be on our way. I'm sure she can find her way back home."
"We can't just leave her here," he said.
"One more word and you're fired." I knew just how much Peter needed this job. He would do anything to keep it.
"Go," my stepmother told him. "Go. I'll manage."
Resisting the urge to look back at her, I climbed onto the back seat of the car. Peter sauntered to the driver's seat and started the engine. He pulled away from the graveyard, his neck turning toward my stepmother.
"I really don't think this is a good idea," he said.
What was wrong with everyone? Why did they all feel they could tell me what to do? Last time I checked, I hadn't hired a personal adviser.
Lips sealed, I counted down to when I would arrive home. Peter would definitely try to talk me into doing the supposedly right thing, making it take forever to arrive home. Reaching for my phone, I found escape in music, once again.

To be continued

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