I trust that you’ve enjoyed the series so far. Well, this series is not a long one, so this is the last episode that I will be posting here. The concluding part, as well as the entire story is available right here, on Okadabooks and Amazon.
Don’t be a stranger here.
Ben waited outside Fatih’s office with a purple gift bag in his hand. He knew that she would soon close from work and he also knew that if he wanted to get her attention, it would be here. She didn’t like embarrassments, and would be anxious to listen to what he had to say so that he could leave. At a quarter to six, she came out of the yellow building where she worked as an administrator with a beige shopping bag in her hand and a black handbag on her shoulder. He observed her appearance, noting how well the burgundy, pencil gown sat on her slender, shapely frame.
She was scratching her scalp but stopped as soon as she saw him walking towards her.
“Ben, what are you doing here?”
“I came to see you…”
“What do you want?”
“Can we sit down and talk?”
She pursed her lips and shrugged reluctantly. He led her to the eatery two buildings away and they sat at a table that afforded them some privacy.
“Should I get you something to drink… or eat?”
“No, I’m fine. Say what you have to say.”
He put the gift bag on the table and slid it across to her. “I got you this.”
She looked at it as if it was a bomb. He had not gotten her anything in almost two years. “You bought something for me?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Where did you get the money from?”
“I did a painting. Won’t you even open it?”
She put her things aside, looked into the bag and brought out a box of perfume and another of chocolate. Amazed, she stared at them for a while and then said “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he said. Nervously, he reached for her hand but she withdrew. “I miss you.”
She smiled. “No, you miss my money and my help.”
“Okay, I miss that too but I miss you.”
“Yet, it took you a month to come and see me? Are you in trouble?”
“I didn’t want to come to you empty-handed. I was trying to work something out.”
She laughed, she had heard those words several times. “What do you want Ben?”
“Are you seeing that other guy?”
“What? You came here you ask me that…?”
“Are you seeing him?”
She looked away. “Not really.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I can’t wait for you forever…”
“Just give me one more chance.”
She laughed again. “You’ve said that for eight years Ben, I don’t have any more chances left.”
He held her hands and looked at her earnestly. “Please Faith, don’t give up on me now.”
“I can’t give you another chance Ben, prove yourself. Let me know that you have decided to be responsible and I will give you another chance, but not like this. I’m tired of enduring this relationship.”
She gathered her things and rose. “I really do love you, but love won’t put food on the table or put a roof over our heads. Thanks for the gift.”
Chidi was slumped on the couch in his house, he belched and stretched out his legs. Oby joined him holding a brown envelope. She sat and he placed his head on her laps.
“How was your day?” she asked.
“Long. A customer threw a major tantrum today in the banking hall, it took the manager’s intervention to calm her down. I’m tired Nkem.”
She sighed and stroked his hair. “I know… I know.”
“What about you, how was your day?”
“Fine, nothing out of the ordinary. My students asked me what I think the way out for Nigeria is, as their government teacher.”
“And what did you say?”
“I turned the question on them, I asked them to assess the situation themselves.”
He chuckled. “And what did they say?”
“Some of them thought that we should be colonized again, this time by America. Others thought that what we need is a military take-over…”
He chuckled again. “None of them were alive during the military era, I don’t blame them.”
“Let’s talk about something else. We got a letter from the girls’ school today.”
“What does it say?”
She handed him the brown envelope. He got up and read it.
“Are we owing them one-twenty thousand?”
“Yes, remember we didn’t pay Maria’s fees last term. They won’t let them write their exams if we don’t pay.”
“Do you think they will do that?”
“That’s what happened last term. That was why I had to borrow that money from Mrs Ajala to at least pay Elizabeth’s fees.”
He sighed. “We are already owing the cooperative fifty thousand. If we pay this from my salary, that leaves us with fifty four thousand…”
“And my fifty thousand…”
He shook his head. “Just keep it for your use. Don’t we need to start buying things for the babies?”
“Two of everything!” he slid down in the seat.
“Are you regretful?”
“How can you ask me that Oby? Do you want me to say that I regret these children?”
“But you’re acting like it.”
“I’m under pressure. We can barely take of the ones we have. How are we going to cope when they’re born? Where do we get the money for diapers and baby food hmmn?”
Oby folded her arms on her breasts and exhaled slowly. ”We can’t stop hoping for the best Chidi…”
“Hope won’t pay all our bills.”
“Neither will worry.”
“What do you want me to do? Dance around as if I don’t have a care in this world?”
“There’s nothing else can do. Do you want to steal? I’d rather die of starvation than steal. We are doing the best we can, you’re doing the best you can.”
Chidi forced a smile and stared blankly.
“We’ll be fine Nkem.”
Gbenga appeared to be reading but he was really gazing at his laptop, his mind on the conversation he’d had with Mrs Ade. So far, they had been able to get her a lawyer who had promised to try to do all that he could to save her from her in-laws. He was happy and so was she. His status had changed from doctor to friend.
And then he realized that her dressing had changed. Gone was the long gown and loose skirt, she still wore dark colors but her clothes fit better, her lips were no longer chapped, her fair skin now glowed. Gbenga admitted to himself reluctantly that he was falling for this woman. There was something about her that made him feel in control, she needed him and he liked it.
He heard the door to his study open and saw Nife walk in.
“Working again tonight?”
“Yeah,” he replied not looking at her. “I’m working on this paper I want to submit to an American journal.”
She nodded. “I’m ovulating.”
He heard her unspoken words. Come to bed. Let’s make love. We might get pregnant this time. But he refused to acknowledge her subtle invitation.
“Are you feeling off?”
She gave him a weird look. “No, I’m not.”
They looked at each other awkwardly.
“Well, are you coming to bed?” she asked plainly.
“Not yet, I’m on to something here.”
She smiled icily and nodded. “You’re too busy for us to try to be happy.”
“Nife, don’t be like this.”
She turned away and shut the door.
Chidi got a message from her early the next day as he walked into the banking hall.
I’m coming to your office today, I have some business to conduct with your bank. Hope you’ll be there.
He was suspicious, he wondered why she would come to his branch when there were numerous branches closer to her office. He wondered if it had anything to do with their childlessness. He replied.
Hi, not sure that I’ll be in today. But I’ll tell one of my colleagues to help you.
She replied quickly.
Don’t bother, I’ll just go to the branch close to my office. Have a nice day.
He smiled, his suspicion confirmed. She wanted to speak with him directly without telling him so. Chidi hissed in disappointment and shook his head. Gbenga had not told her yet.
When Ben got to his gallery, he met his fellow shop owners in front of the building huddled together and talking agitatedly. He joined them and poked Harrison.
“What is it?”
“The landlord wants to sell the building.”
“That’s we heard this morning. His agent came to give us an advance warning.”
“He wants to sell the building.”
“Yes, we’re trying to see if we can appeal to him. We will have to increase our rent. Some are saying, forty-five thousand, others are saying sixty thousand naira per month.”
“Forty-five thousand naira?!”
“But we were paying twenty-five thousand naira before. At forty-five thousand naira per month, we’ll be paying more than half a million every year!”
“Look, we all have to do something to persuade him not to sell.”
“What if he takes our money and still sells?”
“He won’t, he’s an old man, how much money does he need?”
Ben put his hands on his waist and sighed. He wasn’t even making up to twenty thousand naira a month. He wondered where he would get half a million naira a year to pay his rent. From the recesses of his mind, Bella’s words flooded his mind.
You’re suffering Ben, I want to give you a way out.