I drove through the streets of Benin without knowing exactly where I was going. All I knew was that I needed a quiet place to be, a place where no one will talk or make noise. I wasn't going to stop until I found such a place. But there was none. I drove myself to a hotel and rented a room. I remained locked up for the rest of the evening. I silenced my phone, preventing it from ringing out. Night soon came and after several thoughts flooding into my head and making me cry, I fell asleep.
By morning, I woke up to almost a hundred missed calls from Ruth, Daniel, Tony and even Zion. Then there were txt messages, even Facebook messages and whatsapp messages from Ruth, pleading with me to talk to her as she was confused about the whole issue. Then there were messages from Daniel, begging for forgiveness and saying he truly loved me. At least he confirmed that he was paid to love me, but as time progressed, he claimed he really fell in love with me. How could he really love me and not tell me the truth? How could he really love me and still collect the money Zion was paying him? And Zion, he had the guts to rent me a boyfriend. I was going to highlight all messages and delete them when my eyes fell on a message from Tony. It read:
"Hello Kelechi, I don't even know where to start. But first, thanks for coming over yesterday. Although, Zion lamented badly after he didn't see you again. I hope you are well. I just wanted to let you know we will be transferring him to a Lagos hospital tomorrow morning or early afternoon. And then we will fly him abroad for proper treatment. I filed charges against Comfort yesterday. She's cooling off in police cell. She wouldn't bother either of you again. I don't know if you can see Zion before we go. He really wants to see you. Please".
I sighed. Very soon he'd be in Lagos, then abroad, wherever that is. I shouldn't care. I shouldn't even see him again. But of course, my heart had a mind of his own. I hurried home to freshen up. Ruth was home, in the sitting room. She looked like what the cat dragged out of bed - unkept and very tired. The bags underneath her eyes were signs she didn't sleep the night before. An empty wine bottle laid carelessly by her side.
"You've been drinking?" I frowned.
"Kelechi", she called, "I'm glad to know you're well. And it looks like you slept perfectly well last night".
"Have you been drinking?" I asked again.
She smiled, wearily. "Shouldn't I? After everything my own friend, whom I regard as a sister, told me last evening".
"I was pissed. I still am. I have every right to be".
"You should have at least told me what my crime was. I deserved that much",
She was right. I accused her without telling her what the problem was. And then I stormed off. Who does such a thing to a friend turned sister? She was suffering as much as, if not more than, I was. I could almost tell she had been blaming herself. I threw my car keys on the table and sat on the opposite couch.
"I didn't meet Daniel by accident", I revealed, "Zion paid him to be my boyfriend so I could move on" I looked up at her. She wasn't surprised at my revelation. "You don't look surprised".
"I'm not. He told me everything after I yelled at him yesterday. You're angry with me because I pushed you to accept him".
"Its not your fault", I sighed. "I shouldn't be angry with you. You only wanted the best for me".
"I'm glad you realize that", she sat up on the chair, picked up the empty bottle and stood it on the table.
"What other revelations did Zion make yesterday? Why did he leave you to a paid boyfriend?"
"Its a long story", I sighed, throwing myself against the back rest of the couch.
"I'm all ears".
It was 10:55 when we finally drove down to Faith Mediplex. I had asked Ruth to stay behind and get some sleep. But she insisted on coming with me. When we arrived, I called Tony and he came to meet us at the reception. His smile was a broad genuine one from the heart.
"Thank you so much for coming. I deeply appreciate your concern".
"How come you're the only one here?" Ruth asked, ignoring his thanks
"How do you mean, please?"
"I mean, what about the rest of the family? Dad? Mom?"
He sighed. "Zion doesn't want to have anything to do with them. So they come over just to see the doctor and me, for progress report. They too have felt very bad for bringing such a dangerous person as Comfort into our lives. I'm sure they have learnt their lessons form this".
"I hope so", that was Ruth.
"I don't want to see them", I said. "I don't want more drama",
"There will be none", Tony assured me. "They are not around now".
He then took us in. Zion was awake, and a pleasant sight too. The bandages were fresh but the machine he was connected to had been removed. Upon our entry, he smiled broadly.
"Thanks for coming", he said to me. "Hi Ruth".
"Hi Zion", Ruth replied. "Hope you're getting better?"
"I am. Thanks for coming".
"I'm here for my friend. Not for you", she countered.
"I know. All the same thanks",
We sat on the empty seats Tony brought in. Ruth spent the next 30 minutes throwing questions at Zion about our past, why he didn't come clean with me and why he thought a paid boyfriend was what I needed. Half way into the discussion, the door opened and Daniel stepped in.
"Good morning." He greeted everyone. He didn't look surprised to see us. In fact, he ignored our angry expressions. "Hi Kelechi, hello Ruth," he said to us. We ignored him. Seeing that we wouldn't talk to him, he walked over to Zion's side. "How are you feeling today?"
"Better. Now that you are here", Zion said, trying to sit up. Tony moved to help him and then placed a pillow at his back for support and comfort. He turned to me. "Daniel has something to say. And being that we started this, I think he has a right to air his mind".
"I already know what you're going to say", I frowned at him.
"No. You don't", he sighed. "I agree I was paid to date you, to make you fall in love again and move on. But what we had wasn't all a lie. I did fall in love with you. And I did tell Daniel here I was truly in love with you and wanted to take things further. He gave his permission at the time, I guess he felt you were better off with me. But with recent developments, it is quite clear he still has feelings for you and wants you back. If you reject me, I will understand. But I want you to know that I really love you. My only mistake was not coming clean with you after I discovered my feelings for you were much more".
"So your marriage proposal was not a paid one?"
"Liar. Zion said he still pays you". I accused
"Yes. He still paid", Tony confirmed. "But we realized yesterday, after Daniel called and asked why he was being accused by you, that something was not right. I did account checkup last night and discovered that he actually returned the money paid since last two months and asked that Zion stops paying him. Zion's secretary was in charge of that, as Zion didn't want direct dealings with him. I investigated this morning through phone calls to certain key staffs, it turns out Zion's secretary kept all the money Daniel returned and continued to pay it to herself, pretending to be paying him".
I was speechless at the revelation. How much worse could things get?
"I love you, Kelechi." Daniel spoke after a brief silence, "and Zion here, loves...."
"Just shut up. Both of you toyed with me. Leave love out of this",
"You shut up too", I waved Zion to silence. "You made decisions for me and executed them without my permission. Every pain we have suffered would have been avoided of you had just opened up to me. But no, you rented me a boyfriend. And you", I turned to face Daniel, "all those gifts you gave me, they were paid gifts. Right?"
"The gifts of the first two and half months were. After that, the other gifts were genuine".
I looked away, obviously still hurt by the whole mess.
"Don't call me." I interrupted Zion. "I'm only here until you get better. After that I will move on"
"Kelechi. Look I..."
"Stop it! Daniel. Please stop. I liked you a lot. And I was sure I would fall in love with you. But now I see that everything you did to get and keep my attention were paid for. Maybe when I get to know the real Daniel, I will not like him".
"That is not fair", he complained. "You have experienced the real Daniel for two months plus".
"I'm not aware of that".
"I know you hate me right now..."
"I don't hate you. I'm just disappointed and I don't think I want to go on with us. I just knew you were too good to be true. Guys wouldn't tolerate the stupid things I did to you all in the name of testing you. So just go. No amount of plea will change my mind".
"Sure" Daniel said, sadness taking over his expression. A brief silence passed before he spoke again. "I just hope you find it in your heart, someday, to forgive me. And I hope we can become, if not a couple, at least best of friends", he placed a comforting hand on Zion then, "I hope you get well soon, bro."
"Thanks", Zion replied. "I hope you find it in your heart to move on. I'm sorry I cut in. I didn't realize I still loved her deeply and still wanted her".
Daniel nodded. But said nothing. Within seconds he headed for the door and left. It was just Tony, Zion, Ruth and I.
"So what now?" Zion asked, his eyes pleading. "I now know I shouldn't have decided for you. I know I shouldn't have sent you away. But can you find it in your heart to forgive me?"
"I don't know. Too much has happened already. You paid him to help get you out of my heart. And he succeeded, 70%",
"Please, let me make amends. I don't want to lose you a second time",
"You didn't lose me. You sent me away, remember?"
"Like I said before, I'm only here till you get well. Afterwards I will move on".
Ruth placed a hand on mine. She gave me the look that said, 'are you sure this is what you want? Remember you love him dearly'. I nodded at her, although I knew it wouldn't be easy. I had lost Daniel. Yes he was paid, he eventually loved me and returned the money. Thanks to Zion's secretary for all the deception. But I was sure I didn't want to go back to that relationship. Then there was Zion. I knew he had been through a lot. I knew he was at a point where he needed support. I planned to give my full support until he was well.
"I know you're angry", Zion finally spoke, "But I'll do my best to make it up to you. And I'll do everything necessary to win back your love and get your forgiveness. I won't quit. I just won't".
The door opened then. A woman stepped in, carrying a baby, less than a year old, in her arms. I recognized her as Tony's wife. She was heavily pregnant, leaving me with the question of why a heavily pregnant woman had less than a year old baby in her arms. How did she give birth and take in again so fast?
"Good morning", she greeted. We responded with a good morning too. Then she greeted her husband before going over to Zion's side and asking how he was, while placing the baby on his laps. He responded that he was trying, although he could be better. He carried the baby in one hand with so much love and something told me this was his son, the one Comfort had for him.
"Hi Mario, how are you?" He asked the little prince.
"Arrrrtaatttaaaarr!" He responded, shrieking. Zion laughed, so did Tony and his wife. I couldn't help but smile.
"Meet my son, Mario", Zion said to me. "Would you like to carry him?" The expression on his face showed he was scared I would reject the little joy.
"Yes please", I responded, just to put him at ease and also satisfy my longings to hold and look at the child properly. I stood up, went closer and carried little Mario from his dad. Upon looking at me, he smiled broadly. It was heart warming, and I instantly knew he was the only good thing in all the trouble we had gone through. "Hi" I said.
"Arrrrrtaaa!" He responded, raising both hands to touch my face. We laughed.
We remained silent for a while, then Tony spoke up. He pleaded with me on behalf of his brother, saying also that he blames himself for not standing up for us when his parents insisted on the other woman. He really wished we could get back together and work towards our future, as he was sure, we still loved each other very much. I played quietly with Mario, while listening to all he said. My heart was divided. To stay or not to stay? To give in or not to give in?
About 30 minutes later, the nurses and doctor arrived. It was time for Zion to be transferred to Lagos and then the UK, I later learnt. And depending on how the treatment went, he could be gone for anywhere between 5 months to one year. Zion pleaded that I go with them. Tony's wife would remain in Nigeria and he would have no one to help him care for little Mario as much as a woman would.
"What about your mother?" I asked, "She will be glad to take care of him here in Nigeria. After all, he is her grandchild".
"I don't want her anywhere near my son, until I am sure I can trust her again".
I nodded in understanding. A woman who could do such to her own son, even if she was repentant now, still needed to be trusted. But what about my life, my business and the people I loved? I didn't want to go, but one look at little Mario's broad smiles melted my heart. I couldn't refuse taking care of him. So I agreed and Ruth, bless her heart, promised to keep business afloat until my return.
It's a year now since we returned from treatment in the UK. I don't know how Zion did it, but he sure got back my forgiveness. He got back my love and we have been together since then. His son, Mario, is now my son too. The cute little angel contributed in our make up in his own funny ways. I couldn't separate from him, hence I couldn't separate from his father. I just hoped, that in the nearest future, I wouldn't begin to see traits of his mother in him. For then, I would need to work towards correcting those traits and if I don't succeed, then I'll know that I have made a serious mistake.
©Karo Oforofuo. February 2017
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