A Rose by Any Other Name By Nia Eze

She peered at the street signs as she slowed the SUV down. She mumbled the names of the streets she had memorized and finally, she saw one which tallied with a name she had in her head.
A Rose
A Rose by Any Other Name By Nia Eze
“Mustapha Street.” She said as he turned on her car’s indicator light and turned into the street where a huge gate blocked thoroughfare. The sight was so appalling to her that she almost did not notice that the car right in front of her had come to a stop and that there was a line of waiting cars in front of it. As she stepped on the brakes, Keira contemplated this new stumbling block on the road to her quest today. The line was caused by a small crowd of people who seemed to have created the blockade in order to talk to each car owner as they attempted to drive past the gates. Finally her car rolled up to the gated. “Good day Madam” came the very cultured voice. Keira blinked as she turned to look at the person who had spoken. He looked ‘white’, like he was of Middle Eastern or Mediterranean descent. He was beautiful to look at! Keira felt a smile form on her face simply as a response to the one which had formed on his face. “Good day yourself!” she replied. “Do you live on the street?” he asked “Because I have never seen you around here before.” “No I don’t.” Keira smiled. “I’m actually looking for an address. Cole Street. It’s supposed to be off this one.” She said He frowned slightly as he cocked his head to the side in thought. “There isn’t any street off this one and I really can’t think of a Cole street in the area.” He responded. “Are you sure you have the directions right?” he asked. Keira pulled out her mobile phone and scrolled through it until she got to the message she wanted and opened it. She read out the address which had been sent to her earlier. “It is, 14 Cole Street, Off Alhaji Mustapha Street, Aleko Lagos.” He starred at her blankly for a few moments and said “Nope! Definitely not around here.” “Perhaps, I can ask someone else if…” Keira began. “This is the only street bearing Mustapha in this area and…” he interrupted only to be interrupted in turn by the blare of several horns from the cars queuing behind hers. He looked up at the cars and walked round to the passenger’s side of her car, motioning to the others to open up the gates as he went. When he stood at her passenger door, he motioned that she release the locks on her car and she did as she stared in him in bemusement. She had never as yet met anyone with such overweening confidence. As he hopped into the car, he said as he buckled himself in, “Let’s get out of the line we seem to be holding up.” By the time he was done, she was parked on the side of what had turned out to be a tree lined avenue. The trees were in bloom and each tree seemed to have similar flowers of different colours. Together with the shrubbery and other greenery, it made for a charmingly beautiful street. “I’m Majid. You are?” he introduced as he put his hand out for a handshake. Keira put her hand in his for a return of the gesture and could have sworn that an electric current caught hold of her hand and gripped the rest of her body in a charge that held her immobile and scattered her thoughts. She shook her head discreetly hoping she could unlock her frozen brain by shaking it loose. It was his continued stare however that jolted her from her numb state. Oh lah! He was gorgeous! “Keira. My name is Keira.” She responded through a tongue that felt unusually thick. “Nice to meet you Keira.” He said as he shook her hand and released it “So… Cole Street? Who or what were you hoping to find there?” he asked. “A customer.” She responded nonplussed. “I sell stuff.” She continued by way of explanation. His raised eyebrow cued her to the fact that her explanation was quite lacking. She took a quick breathe and continued “Clothing, accessories, household goods, jewelry….stuff!” she explained even as she wondered why she was being so forthcoming with a stranger sitting in her car! “Ah!” he drawled, nodding his head with a teasing smile. “I see. Does this customer owe you some money by any chance? He enquired. “Not at all! He placed some orders and I was supposed to drop them off at that address. I do an online shopping thin, just started that off.” She shut her mouth abruptly in consternation. Why was she telling him these things? “Well Keira, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but that address does not exist.” He stated. Keira huffed. “How can you be so certain?” she asked in exasperation. “Because, like I said earlier, this is the only Mustapha Street in this area and there are no other streets going off it. It just goes straight down and joins Aleko drive at the other end and that’s it!” he said. Keira huffed again, this time in a mix of exasperation tinged with some defeat. A dead end! And it was the second one today. Never would she have imagined that getting the online shopping off the ground would be so…crushing. It had been a really huge order too; the biggest to have come in through her website in the month since she had started it. At least, she hadn’t received any money that would need refunding. It was a payment on delivery offer. She had been so excited about it this morning. Oh well! Another day, another story! She looked up at Majid to find that he was staring intently at her. She pinned a polite smile on as she said, “Thanks. Perhaps our wires crossed. I have a number I can call somewhere on my phone. I’ll try it again later on.” She said. He sat, just looking at her, not saying anything. It didn’t even seem that he had heard anything she had just said. “Did you hear me?” she asked pointedly. “Oh I did.”He said quietly. Then he flexed himself as if he were unfolding his body in her seat, his gaze a blend of sultry and inquisitive. “You are a really beautiful woman.” He said softly. Keira’s mind flashed the memories of every conversation she had had about talking to strangers and how oyibo people were weird. She wondered if she was about to experience some weirdness firsthand. With the way her day had been going… and here she was blushing. It wasn’t even that she was particularly light skinned, she just blushed really easily. It had always been so and had rendered her a very ineffective liar so many times while growing up. “There’s no need to blush.” He continued. “It’s the truth.” “Thank you Mr. Majid.” She said crisply, “I need to be on my way now.” She continued, indicating that he use the door with her chin. He smiled, really widely. Keira felt it like a drop kick to her stomach. It seemed to pack a physical punch. Goodness! He was…beautiful! She felt like she was literally leaking out through her skin. “It’s been my pleasure Keira. May I have your business card?” he asked. “Y-yes-s.” she stammered and mentally rolled her eyes at herself. She crossed her hand over to reach the glove compartment where she often left some complimentary cards for just such situations. His hand shot out and gripped hers. Again, Keira felt all of her caught up in that static he seemed to create around her. She felt the contents of her brain scramble out of reach even as her pulse raced and her heart thudded in her chest. “Is that a wedding ring?” he asked. Keira looked at her hand and shook her head. “No. it isn’t.” she responded as she pulled out of his grasp and flipped the glove compartment open and took out a card. Resentment and attraction waged a war within her. Why should this perfect stranger have such a…an effect on her? She handed the card to him and released the car locks again. “Thank you so much Mr. Majid.” She began with more starch in her voice than before. “It was very kind of you to help me out. Now, I really need to leave.” She said. He smiled again as he opened the door to climb out of her car. “May I call you? Within the week?” he asked. Keira was sorely tempted to bite out a rude response but settled with an abrupt, “Alright” and a frown. He gave a small wave and finally hopped out of the vehicle, slamming the door shut behind him. Keira felt breathe she had not realized she was holding whoosh out of her lungs. She threw the SUV in gear and navigated it through a U-turn. As she drove out past the gates, she dared not look back through her rear view mirror. She already knew what she would have seen if she did. The thought of the sight made her blood roar in a strange elation. Majid, still standing in the same spot as when he had hopped out of her car, with her card held up to his eyes and his eyes trained on her car with the same fascination with which she was watching him through the corner of her eyes through the rear view mirror. For some reason she did not want to examine too closely, she hummed a nonsensical tune to herself as she drove off. CHAPTER 2 Keira shook her head in disbelief. “It would have been sooooo difficult to call me when it became obvious that I wasn’t going to show abi?” she said, her amazement colouring her voice. Bimpe shrugged her shoulders. “You know how Clara is nah! Once she has set her mind to something, she no dey move!” “So you guys just left?! Hah! Na wa for una o!” Keira said as she continued with her task of re-arranging the beddings she had just received from her supplier. “Once we realized what had happened, we all had a good laugh over it and just ordered some ice cream. Eventually we left. But I’m sure something is in the works for later this week though.” She shrugged as she came around to join Keira in her task. “Hmph! This time, no shenanigans o! Just tell me when and where to show up! Imagine! I missed my own shower because you girls were looking for who to surprise! Hiahn!” Keira shook her head again. “Dear, you know nah…me and surprise…we no dey gel!” Bimpe snorted a laugh at that and they continued their task in companionable silence. Keira’s mind went back to that afternoon. She found that her mind had been sneaking back to that day rather frequently. She had not received any call in the three days since then. She wondered whether he had ever really intended to call. She wondered why she was concerned whether he called or not. She remembered how she had felt when he had touched her and how breathless it had left her. Had it been real? Was she magnifying the incident in her mind? “Keira!” she jerked out of her reverie and turned to her friend’s questioning look. “Hah! Where were you?” She asked drawing a circle against the side of Keira’s head. Keira shook her head as she bent to her task, a small smile forming helplessly on her lips. “Nowhere, everywhere…this wedding…that’s why I wanted a smaller event.” she sighed. “Jude wanted a much bigger event you know.” Bimpe reminded her. “I know.” Keira sighed again. Bimpe dropped the package of beddings she had just picked up. “Babe, is everything okay? She asked, turning a serious mien on Keira. “How do you mean?” Keira went on arranging beddings. “You seem off. Off of things. Like you are lost… gone somewhere else far away.” “How?” Keira asked finally leaving the beddings alone, a frown of consternation forming on her face. “Are you having jitters?” Bimpe asked. “As in bridal jitters? Keira questioned. Bimpe nodded her head. “No! Why should I?” Keira asked, baffled by the question. “You tell me.” Bimpe responded. “Jude…is a great guy. You’ve both been together so long I can’t remember a time when you guys weren’t. And in all of those years, he’s never cheated on you. He’s always been so caring, coddling you like a baby. Everyone, everyone in his family loves you and your parents think the earth and sun and moon revolves around him!” She rolled her eyes. Then became serious again, “Why do I sense a ‘but’? What’s wrong?” “Hiahn! Bimpe o! Which one be this nah?” Keira asked in some agitation. “’But’ ke? There is no ‘but’ o! Is this because I missed the shower?” she continued rhetorically, “But no be me cause am nah? “Of course it has nothing to do with your missing the shower. You couldn’t have helped that ‘auto correct’ happened and…” “There isn’t a ‘but’ Bimpe.” Keira interjected. “Why are you getting so worked up nah? Bimpe questioned. “BIMPE!!!” Keira fake screamed. “THERE IS NO ‘BUT’!!!” There was a sudden silence as the both of them were shocked by the vehemence of that response. Bimpe picked up the bedding she had dropped and continued with her task. After a moment, Keira did the same. They worked on in silence for awhile, each lost in her own thoughts. “You…” Bimpe sighed. “I love you Keira. And I want you to be humongously happy. You deserve to be humongously happy.” Bimpe said earnestly, having turned to Keira as she spoke. “I am.” Keira said simply, overwhelmed by the love she felt for this woman. “Are you?” Bimpe asked. “Yes dear. I am.” Bimpe searched Keira’s face and then nodded. “I just…be sure?” she said. Keira smiled “I am” she repeated as she pulled her friend in for a hug. CHAPTER 3 Keira stared at the phone with a fierce scowl marring her face. “I do not believe this!” she whispered loudly. Did he drop the phone or was that, she peered at the bars on her phone, bad network? She put the phone to her ear but no sound was coming from it other than static. “Hello?” she said tentatively even though she knew the call had been dropped. The question was, was it dropped by her husband or by the network. The dull ache she had been carrying in her heart coalesced into something so acute that it temporarily stole her breath away. It was telling that she would think this at all. Jude. She sighed as she mentally called out his name. She wished she had someone to talk to. Someone who would not assure her that she was making mountains out of molehills and that would not immediately launch into her defense without advising her first. She just wanted to unburden to someone who would not judge and possibly tell her what to do but she had no one like that. She could not think of any one person she knew who could be that for her. She drew in a long breath and gasped out an exhale as she got off her bed. The in-use light on her phone came on and she turned towards it in anticipation. No. it was not Jude calling back. It was just a notification message from her network providers. She went into the bathroom en-suite her bedroom and began her nightly ablutions. The heaviness in her heart translated to her movements. Everything felt leaden, like it was weighed down with loaded weights. Was her marriage failing? Was she being paranoid? Who could she call to ask? Her friends were mostly unmarried and the few that were she honestly did not wish to ask any questions and she would not call her mum! That woman could worry enough for Africa. She breathed heavily. As she walked back to her bedroom, nothing had sorted itself out in her head. She lay back down on her bed, her eyes darting to her phone to see if the screen would light up. She went over every nuance of her conversation with Jude in her head. No, there was nothing out of the ordinary, just something missing. She sighed as she put off the lights and settled in to sleep. The sound of the entrance door swinging open pulled her head up from the papers in her hand. The man who had just walked into her business premises looked around as if trying to get his bearings. As he made a small turn, his eyes finally alighted on her seated off to the side as she was and his eyes widened in recognition. “Hey Pretty Lady!” he smiled as he walked towards her. Keira peered at him closely as she struggled to make out his features against the rays of the sun in her face. She stood and moved out of the direct sunlight to better see him and recognition fired up like lightening through her. “Mr….Majid.” She smiled as the name came back to her in a moment. It was a trait that had stood her well in business. She rarely forgot a name or a face. “Quite an age!” she exclaimed in her best salesperson’s voice as she held out her hand for a handshake. Majid looked at her hand and took it with an amused expression on his face. Rather than shake it as she expected, he raised it to his lips and kissed it. “You are an outrageous flirt aren’t you?” Keira said with a certainty in her voice that bellied her questioning tone. Majid smiled as he let go of her hand and turned to admire the displays. “What…how can I assist you? Are you looking for something in particular?” Keira asked as she tidied up her little work space looking at him expectantly. “You did really good here.” He said, not answering her question. Keira could not decide whether to be offended or pleased. “Thank you.” She finally settled for a polite smile. “Do you want to look around? Are you shopping for a particular item?” she persisted. He turned to her abruptly with a small moue on his face. It should have seemed ridiculous but on him, it did not seem so. “Do you want me to leave?” he asked in what seemed to be a huff. Keira’s consternation grew. This guy was wierding her out. Her mind flashed back to the first time she met him as she responded. “Why… Of course not without my sales!” she tried for an airy mien even as her mind juggled to make sense of him, in her shop, the intense inexplicable attraction she felt for him and his strange behavior. He turned away and walked off towards a display on the other side of the shop. Keira motioned to one of her sales-girls, who had quietly come up to her as she had interacted with Majid, to accompany him. She needed a break from him already. Just then her phone rang out and she picked it up with a feeling of relief that soon turned to unease. It was Jude. She wondered at his call. He usually did not call during business hours and she was surprised and mildly alarmed at the break in norm. If there was something that Jude was, he was a creature of habit. The ringing stopped as she had left it too long to answer. “Weren’t you going to pick that?” came the question from across the shop. Keira felt the frizzle of irritation go up her spine. This man! She turned in a smile and said, “I’ll just go and return the call now. Funke will help you with anything you need.” She bent her head slightly both to indicate to him who Funke was and to indicate to Funke that she was to watch him closely and swept into her enclosed office space at the back of the main area of the shop. She was already clicking the dial button as she shut the door. Jude answered on the second ring. “Hello dear.” He said his voice sounding rushed. “Sorry. I was with a customer when you called.” She responded uneasily. “Oh.” was the brief reply. “Is …hope there’s no problem?” she asked as worry began to cloud her features. “No! No. No problem. I just wanted to hear your voice is all.” Keira’s expression turned bemused. “Just to hear my voice.” She intoned. “Jude, what’s wrong?” she demanded. “Ah ah! I can’t call and talk to my wife out of the blues again?” he asked jokingly. “You usually don’t.” Keira clamped her mouth shut. She hadn’t intended for the bitterness she knew had coloured those three words to leak through her voice. There was a brief silence on the other side of the line. “Keira. You know I’m trying.” “I didn’t mean it to sound so harpy.” Keira rushed to make amends. Jude sighed loudly. “I called to remind you that it’s the birthday party I spoke of tonight.” When Keira did not immediately respond he explained further. “The customer I told you is turning eighty?” “Oh!” Keira exclaimed. “Thank goodness you called o! I had completely forgotten. Ha! Alright, do I meet you at work or will you come home first?” “I’ll come home first. The party will probably run a bit late so I’ll rather freshen up first.” “Okay then. I’ll see you at home. Should I prepare anything for you?” “Nah. It’s a birthday party girl! What do you think?” he said, a smile in his voice and Keira could not resist the answering smile that touched her lips. “Okay. Till later.” She smiled into the phone. “Alright love.” He responded and hung up the phone. Keira held the phone to her ears a moment longer before removing it. She basked in the glow of her husband’s good mood. She realized with a start that she was clutching the phone to her chest like some lovelorn teenager. She straightened her shoulders and walked out of the back room. “I picked this up. I think it should make a good gift for an elderly man.” Majid waved at the artwork on her desk. Keira liked this particular one. It was an abstract carving of what seemed to be a person sitting in deep contemplation. She picked it up and smiled as she felt its familiar weight. “It’s a good one.” She passed it to Funke to gift wrap it. She processed his payment and packed up his beautifully wrapped gift. As she handed it over to him, he held on to her arm. “It’s my father’s birthday today and I wondered if you could attend the small gathering we are having in his honour.” “Oh!” Keira said and her heart thudded in her chest. “A birthday party? Eightieth?” she asked. “Yes, eightieth! How did you know?”He asked in surprise. Keira chuckled. She marveled at life and its serendipity. “I will be attending it with my husband I think.” She couldn’t help the ‘there you have it!’ flair with which she made her announcement. “Really?” Majid asked, his expression shifting back to vaguely amused. “Hm! So I guess I’ll see you there.” He said as he picked up his bagged gift and walked out of the shop without so much as a backward glance. Keira stared after him wishing there was something she could throw at him. The dratted, rude man! CHAPTER 4 ‘It's looking to be a really classy event’, Keira thought as they drove into the event venue. But then, she should have known when her husband mentioned where the birthday would be taking place as they got dressed for it. Beside her, Jude whistled beneath his breathe. “They really put out some dough for this one!” he murmured. Keira shifted uncomfortably in her seat trying to decide whether or not to tell Jude that she had met the son of the celebrant before. Or that she had…what? Found him attractive? Annoying? Had been a bit overwhelmed by him? Pfft! Perhaps she had best just leave it be and play it by the ear if Majid got up to his antics again. Though she rather suspected that he would not, judging by his exit from her shop earlier in the day. Her hand went to her purse to bring out her compact but she stopped at the last minute and turned instead to Jude. “How do I look?” she asked. He gave her a cursory look and took his eyes back to the parking space into which he was trying to navigate their car. “You look fine.” He said as he slid the car efficiently into slot. He turned to look at her more fully and nodded his approval. Keira beamed at him and made to get out of the car. An attendant got to the door before she could and held it open for her. ‘Wow!’ she thrilled in her mind. It had been a while since someone had held a door open for her. The last time had been while she and Jude had still been dating. She shook off the melancholy that the thought brought and determined to enjoy the evening out with her husband. Jude came round the car and waited for her to join him as they made their way to the grand entrance. Colleagues from his office who had just arrived also made their way over to them to say hello. The murmurs of friendly and polite greetings sounded all around her. “You’re looking especially lovely tonight.” The deep voice sent an unexpected shiver down her body. She turned on legs that suddenly felt more like jelly than flesh and bones to see him already extending his hands to someone else in the group around her and politely welcoming them to the party. Finally he got back to her and her husband. “Hello, we haven’t met before.” he addressed Jude. “No we haven’t.” Jude agreed as they clasped hands in a handshake. “I’m Majid, Mr. Rilwan’s son. You are?” “Jude Anakwe.” He answered simply. “Jude Anakwe. You’re that guy!” Majid enthused. “Wondered when I’d get to meet you.” He turned to include the rest of the group, “Come on in. My dad is getting antsy for the party to begin.” They all made their way into the venue, chatting amiably with spurts of laughter punctuating conversations. “What was that about?” Keira asked Jude in a whisper. Jude shrugged his shoulders to indicate that he had no idea what it was. They were ushered to the area where Mr. Rilwan sat with members of his family and very close friends. It was a rather large group. Introductions were made and smiles and jokes were exchanged. Keira watched it all with a strange detachment. The meeting with Majid had put her off her joie de vivre. “So that’s your husband right.” Keira almost jumped out of her skin at the shock of his voice sounding so close to her ear. She found herself looking around surreptitiously to place Jude’s location. She shook her head in exasperation and turned on Majid. “What?!” she fairly barked. Majid drew back in apparently wounded surprise. “I’m sorry if I scared you.” He said with a look of reprimand on his face. Keira huffed and turned away from him. She caught Jude looking in her direction and smiled back at him. “It seems my husband wants my attention.” She smiled politely at Majid as she made her way over to Jude’s side. When she got to him, he held her hand and introduced her to the person he had been speaking with and then they made their way to a pair of open seats at the table that had been colonized by some of Jude’s colleagues. The Master of Ceremonies kicked off the event shortly after and Keira determinedly set out to enjoy herself. She received a lot of compliments on her accessories and she took advantage of the opportunity to promote her business. “You’ve become quite the consummate business woman.” Jude smiled beside her. She glowed at the compliment and smiled back demurely at him. “A girl has to do what a girl has to do.” she quipped. “Indeed!” Jude said as he toasted her with his glass of water. She turned back to look around the large hall. “It seems things are winding down. How soon can we leave?” she asked. “I thought you were enjoying yourself.” Jude responded. “Ehn! But while you have the day in tomorrow, I still have to go to the shop.” Keira retorted mildly. “Okay. Let’s give it a few minutes and then we’ll take our leave.” Keira nodded and began sipping at her drink to while away the time. “I hope you guys enjoyed yourselves.” Keira almost spluttered and peed in her pants at the sound of Majid’s voice booming out from behind her chair and the feel of his hands as they rested on the back of her chair. She refused to turn around to face him. Whatever game he was playing with her, she had decided that it had gone on long enough and she was not going to indulge him anymore. There was a general murmur of agreement around the table as people conveyed their enjoyment of the party. “We’ll have to take our leave though.”Jude said as he stood from his seat and made to pull hers out for her thus dislodging Majid’s hand from their perch at the back of her chair. There were murmurs of dissent around the table as his colleagues tried to insist that they stay longer. “My wife is an entrepreneur!” Jude boomed. “She needs her sleep. She has to be at work tomorrow.” He pulled her gently to her feet and turned to Majid. “I’ll just say my goodbyes to your dad and we’ll be on our way. Thanks, it was a great party.” Majid nodded his acceptance, still standing in a spot, as if Jude’s actions had shocked him while Jude turned them on their heels and smartly maneuvered them to the elder Mr. Rilwan’s table. They said their goodbyes with Mr. Rilwan thanking Jude profusely for his attendance and the ‘lovely’ gift his office had sent. “Thank you so much Madam for gracing us with your presence.” He smiled widely at Keira. “It was really good to finally put a face to Mrs. Anakwe.” He said suavely Keira smiled her response and thought to herself ‘Ah! That’s where all that charm comes from!’ as she thought of the son. Finally, they were able to extricate themselves from the party. As they belted into their seats, Jude turned to her and asked. “Was Mr. Rilwan’s son coming on to you?” Keira felt her spine stiffen in trepidation. This was the first time in a long while that she had felt that ‘something’ she had been missing between them. She really did not want the evening to go sour. She had such plans for both of them. “I wouldn’t know. Wasn’t paying him any particular attention.” She said as she settled into her seat. Jude had stuck the key into the ignition but was yet to turn it. “Do you think that he was?” she prompted. Jude sighed and turned the ignition. The car hummed to life and he navigated it out of the slot and out of the venue. “Why do you ask? Did he do something untoward?” she persisted. Jude shrugged and kept driving. He turned to look at her briefly at her and said softly, “You looked especially pretty tonight.” Keira smiled coyly at him. “You looked very dashing yourself.” She said. “I hope you enjoyed yourself.” He probed. “I did. It was a fun event, very classy. They seem to have tons of money.” She said. “That they do!” Jude replied. He went on to explain what it was they did and the businesses that they controlled. “Oh.” Keira said. “That’s a dynasty they are building.” She remarked, the business woman in her admiring the success of their enterprise. There was no response from Jude and she turned to find him staring intently at her. He wiggled his eyebrows at her comically and she laughed. “So are we working on that dynasty tonight?” he asked. Keira found herself blushing even as she nodded at him. He stepped on the accelerator. CHAPTER 5 “Thank you! Call again soon!” Keira greeted her last customer for the day. She collapsed tiredly on the long sofa where she usually sat just as the door opened again. She almost moaned out loud but had to limit her protest to the rolling of her eyes. It had been a good day and business had been brisk but she was exhausted. She turned to see who had just walked in and saw that it was Bimpe. “Ha! Ol’ girl where have you been? Nah so we dey do our thing nowadays?” she jokingly scolded. Bimpe sashayed over to seat beside her and held out her ring clad hand to her friend. Keira sprang up from her reclining position and grasped her friend’s hand to look more closely at the ring. “It’s a lie!!!” she exclaimed. “Hmm!! Better believe it! I almost passed out when he asked.” “When did this happen?” Keira asked excitedly. “Last night over dinner.” Bimpe blushed excitedly. “Oh Keira! I was so blown away! Can you imagine? Dominic asked me?!” she squealed. Keira smiled at her friend’s excitement even if she couldn’t help teasing her. “And if it had been up to you, you guys probably wouldn’t even be dating by now. Never have I seen two people who like each other as much as you two do and be such slow molasses about it.” “Ehn, thank you o!” she said sarcastically on an eye roll and then squealed another “Thank you!” and wrapped Keira in a tight hug. “So? Have you told your parents?” Keira asked. “What did your mum have to say about it?” “I haven’t exactly told them.” Bimpe’s voice became more subdued with each word. Keira nodded her understanding. “Haven’t even mentioned it at all is more like it.” She concluded. “So what if he’s not a son of Ijebu descended from a lineage of Ijebu predecessors? How does that undermine our relationship? Bimpe ranted. “Don’t look at me!” Keira held up her hands in front of her. “I never said I have a problem with it!” “One could argue that you’re biased.” Bimpe laughed. “After all, it would be me marrying into your tribe.” Keira scoffed. “As if! Someone will soon be up in arms and say that ‘we are not ibos o!’ Please let’s talk of something else. Oh let me look at that ring again!” Bimpe dutifully held out her hands and wriggled it excitedly. “I hope their parents don’t spoil this for them.” Keira concluded as she narrated her story to Jude when she got in from the shop later that day. “Hmm? Ah yes! Let’s hope so.” was Jude’s absent minded response. Keira paused in the recounting of the events of her day to look at Jude again. “Baby what’s wrong?” she questioned. “You seem a bit distracted. Is…are you okay?” she queried. Jude sighed and dropped the newspaper he had been holding in front of his face. “It’s nothing really. Just a bunch of things running around in my head.” He responded. “Wweelll, I’m your wife.” Keira stated “Tell me about it. A burden shared and all that.” Jude sighed again and shook his head. “Don’t bother your pretty head about it.” He said. “Jude? My pretty head runs a business. I’m sure it can withstand the torment of you unburdening to me.” She chided. “It’s just…things. It’s not all work related. There are, you know, issues.” He shrugged. “What happened? Did you have a tiff with your mum again?” Keira deduced. When Jude did not immediately answer, she shook her head on a wry chuckle. “Why would you not just tell her that we have decided to wait a few years before starting a family? What would she do? Monitor how we have sex or what?” “Keira there’s no need for us to tell her that. She needs to know that we are two adults and we can make these decisions for ourselves. She needs to butt out of it.” Jude answered heatedly. “Ehn! I haven’t said that we are not adult nna m’. I’m just wondering if we are handling this well enough. It’s causing unnecessary friction don’t you think?” “Keira, allow me handle this, please.” Jude said sharply. “Okay.” Keira retreated resting her back on the upholstered chair and turning to stare blankly at the television. Jude angrily tossed the newspaper he had been reading and stalked off into the inner recesses of the house. Keira sighed. It used to be that she and Jude could talk for days about practically anything. She tried to track how that had changed in her mind. Barely two years into her marriage, and both of them could hardly have a conversation without one or both of them snapping at each other. “What’s for dinner?” Jude asked from the doorway to the kitchen. Keira looked up at him and felt the tears sting her eyes. He was still her handsome beau. He was no longer the gangly youth that she had met when he was seventeen and she just turning thirteen. He had matured into a handsome man who still had her stomach in knots just looking at him. Her handsome man, who right now was looking blandly at her. “What would you like to eat?” she asked. Jude sighed as he turned to walk back into the kitchen. Keira got up and followed him watching as he rummaged through the fridge. “What would you like to eat?” she repeated calmly even as her heart cracked. “What’s there to eat in this house?” he asked sarcastically, the caustic tone like acid on Keira’s wounded spirit. “There’s soup. And I think there’s a little stew from dinner yesterday. We could do either of them?” she suggested. “Hm! Don’t feel like any of that.” Jude slammed the door of the fridge shut. “What else?” he demanded as he turned to her, pack of juice in hand. He opened the cap and began drinking straight out of the pack. Keira winced. She had been saving that pack for later. It wasn’t even a particular favourite of Jude’s. She wondered if he was drinking from it just to get back at her. ‘For what?!!’ her mind exploded. Was she not entitled to an opinion anymore? It used to be that Jude would talk things over with her before making some key decisions back when they had been dating. Did their being married mean that the dynamics of their relationship had to change? “Maybe jollof rice with that tomato and beef sauce thing you do so well.” he said. It was Keira’s turn to sigh. “I’m not sure I have everything to make it.” She answered as she went to the freezer chest off to the side of the kitchen to check its content. “Mama Risi would still be open.” Jude suggested. “You can pick a few things from her and we should be good.” Keira forced herself to breath in and out calmly. It had been unusually warm today and she had been looking forward to soaking in the tub all that afternoon as she had attended to her customers in the oppressive heat of the day. The air conditioning in her shop had seemingly given up the battle against constantly swinging front doors that let in air that had been heated up by temperatures outside. She had planned to rush straight to the bathroom but had been side-tracked by Jude lounging in the living room and had stopped to talk to him. She straightened up from the freezer chest, closing its top quietly even as she snagged a shopping bag off the hook where she kept them. “Let me go sort that out now.” She said quietly. “I’ll be back soon.” She made to walk out the back door when Jude called out, already going back to the living room. “Please help me get another pack of juice or make that two. I’ll give you back the money when you get back. My wallet is in the bedroom.” Keira stood stock still and willed herself to calm down. “Don’t bother!” she called out in a syrupy sweet voice through gritted teeth. “I’ll just get it though.” And she slammed the door loudly on her way out. CHAPTER 6 “She’s a married woman Majid!” Agnus slapped his two hands together agitatedly to buttress his point. “I know!” Majid replied, a quirky smile on his face. “She…alright. I know she’s married right. But she’s so…not exactly unhappy, just wound up. It can’t be good for her. And that husband of hers!” he held out his hand to ward off Agnus complaint. “No offense. I mean the guy is brilliant and all that but we both know that doesn’t mean he knows what to do with his wife.” “And you know it better than him?” Agnus scoffed. He raked his hand through his closely shaved scalp in agitation. “If you weren’t my friend, I’d give you the trouncing you deserve right now.” “I haven’t done anything.” Majid started categorically. “But I know you! You have a bee in your bonnet over this lady.” Majid shook his head in the negative. Agnus scoffed his disbelief. “Even if this guy is having issues with his wife, marriage is an intricate thing between a man and his wife. Leave them be to work things out for themselves. In fact, focus on finding a wife for yourself instead!” Agnus scolded. “What’s this?” Majid exclaimed. “Do you think it is for lack of candidates that I haven’t gotten married?” “More like an oversupply of candidates!”Agnus scoffed as he picked up the television remote and began to surf through the channels available. “Why are we arguing about this?” Majid questioned half rhetorically. Agnus ignored him and continued surfing through the channels. Majid sighed and picked up his phone. He scrolled through his contact list to a number he had stored there a few months ago. “You know, I met her just before she got married.” He said out of the blues. Agnus paused in his task of channel surfing and cocked his head to an interested position. When it was apparent that Majid was not forthcoming with more information, he prodded. “Did you guys…have a fling or something?” Majid eyed him, “A fling?” he queried in an offended tone. “Yes, a fling.” Agnus reiterated. “Why are you acting offended? Can you remember how many ‘flings’ you’ve had?” “I wouldn’t have had a fling with her.” Majid refuted. “She isn’t that sort of girl.” “Old habits die hard Mahj.” Agnus’ concentration returned to the television. Majid returned his phone to his pocket and turned his listless attention to what Agnus was doing. “Do you believe in fate?” he asked Agnus. Agnus rolled his eyes as he finally switched off the television and turned his full attention to his friend. “You. Are. Kidding. Me.” He said Majid just kept looking at him steadily. “Mahj snap out of it! It is not even amusing. Come on!” “Maybe, maybe if I hadn’t lost her card and had been in touch with her then, maybe she would have reviewed her options.” “Mahj are you listening to yourself? Maybe…maybe… Mahj she is married. Period. No time for these maybes. Have you even wondered that maybe Fate was saving you from disaster?” Agnus hissed out his scorn of Majid’s philosophy. Majid continued to stare at the blank space in front of him. “She’s not happy with him.” he said lowly, more to himself than to his friend. “You are looking for an excuse.” Agnus blasted. “Usually, I admire you compulsive obsessive streak. It does get things done with amazing thoroughness but this here is the downside. You never know when to pull back! Mahj trust me, this needs pulling back.” Majid turned an amused gaze to him. “When did you do a specialization in psychiatry?” he asked jokingly. Agnus sighed. “You are going to do this aren’t you?” he asked despairingly. “Just to be sure she’s okay.” Majid answered. “Will it help if I said she’s okay?” Majid laughingly rebuked him with a look. Agnus took a deep breath. “I guess we are going to do this.” He said. “We?” Majid enquired. Agnus turned to him with the same look of rebuke. Majid nodded. “We.” CHAPTER 7 Keira turned over the embossed card in her hand trying to make sense of it. “You say it was delivered by hand?” she asked Funke, her head shop girl again. “Yes ma. Just before you entered. You might have seen him on your way in.” Keira turned the card again. It was an invitation to a prestigious business men forum. She knew of it because Jude’s firm was one of the sponsors for the annual event this year. He was not even invited because only the directors of the firm had been invited. She walked off to her corner and took her seat still looking at the card. She pulled out her cell phone and put a call through to Jude. “Dear have you got a minute?” she asked as soon as he picked the call. “Ah…okay shoot.” Jude responded. “Thanks. I got the invitation card. How did you manage that?” she smiled “Manage what?”Jude asked. “The invitation to the Forum. I just got it here at my shop.” There was no response from Jude. “Jude?” Keira called. She heard him talking to someone in the background for a few moments and then he came back on line. “Keira, you say an invite was sent to you?” he asked. “Yes. It didn’t come from your office?” she asked. “No. I just asked Eni and he says your business was not on our list of invitees.” “Oh.” Keira was puzzled. “So…who else would send me one?” “Well. Perhaps your business is more popular than you think it is.” He quipped. Keira was quiet for a moment. “I didn’t think it was popularity that earned you an invite.” She began. “I thought I heard it said that there was a minimum balance sheet figure.” “Except you have a sponsor, a benefactor which apparently you have?” he ended in a questioning tone. “I have no idea who could have sent me this.” Keira said. “I actually thought it was you.” “Nope. Not me.” Jude responded. “That’s surprising. I can’t think of anyone.” Keira puzzled. “Alright, a customer just walked in. Let me call you back.” She said as she clicked off the phone. Keira was not in a good mood when she walked into the grand salon of The Majestic that afternoon. She showed her invitation to the man at the registration point and was asked to sign in her name and the business she was representing on a register open on the desk in front of him. When she had signed, he gave her a tote bag filled with notebooks, CDs and other supplies that she would need to successfully participate in the forum. Keira smiled her thanks and walked into the grand hall to look for her business’ name card among the nicely decorated tables. She surreptitiously eyed the other participants as they went about their activities, greeting each other cheerfully. Her anger at Jude surged anew. She had wanted him to attend the event with her because her invitation had allowed for a guest. He had turned down her invitation claiming he had to be at the office. A couple of hours after he had left, she had received a call from Eni asking for him. According to him, he had been trying to get through to Jude but his cell phone had been going straight to voice mail. Keira had said Jude was at the office to which Eni had sounded perplexed. After getting off the phone with Eni, Keira had placed a call to Jude which he had picked almost on the first ring. “Babe, are you still at the office?” she had asked. There was silence on the line for a moment. “Why? Is anything the matter?” Jude asked coolly. “Eni called asking for you. He says you were not picking his call.”Keira said. “He sounded somewhat confused when I told him you were at work.” There was nothing again on the line. Keira waited a heartbeat and then continued. “Just said to give you a heads up.” “Thanks.” was Jude’s abrupt response. “I’m about to get dressed. I wish you had been able to come.” Keira complained. “Well, I wasn’t invited.” Jude said with snidely. Keira had been taken aback. “But Jude…” “It was you invited not me.” He corrected in rushed tones. “Anyway, I’ve got to go.” He continued and then added in what seemed like an afterthought, “Have fun.” And just like that he had clicked off. Keira came back to the present with a small shake as her eyes alighted on her name, not her business name on a table. She worked her way towards the table, a little surprised because it seemed to be a larger table. She doubted that had she brought all her staff at the shop, all the seats would have been occupied. As she pulled out her chair, she peered at the other name cards on the table and tried to see what was written on the central one that was facing away from her. The card immediately to her right read ‘Rilwan M. M.’ Keira gasped her surprise. Surely it could not be a coincidence as she looked at the card to her left. It was a name that she did not recognize. She took her seat a frown of consternation gathering on her forehead. “A pretty head like yours shouldn’t wear such a frown. You’ll give yourself wrinkles.” came the teasing rebuke from her right. Keira took a deep breath and exhaled noisily. “So it was you who sent the invite.” She said. “If you mean the one to this event,” Majid stretched his hand to retrieve a bottle of still water from the table, “Then yes! I sent it. Were you excited to receive it?” he asked. “Mr. Majid, I don’t…” “Majid, just Majid. I thought we had become acquainted enough for us to drop the appellations.” Keira shook her head hoping and praying for patience. “Mr….Majid,” she corrected at his tut-tut. “Majid, what are you doing?” she asked in confusion. “Giving a friend a leg up.” He quipped. “A leg up?” she asked like an automated parrot. Majid cocked an eyebrow as if to say ‘You’re not dense, I know.’ “Majid, I really appreciate that but…” “But what Keira?” At Keira’s surprised look “Of course I know your name.” he continued. “You told me remember? On that first afternoon.” Majid continued. “Majid, what are you about?” She asked exasperatedly. Majid opened the bottle of water and took a long drag from it. He turned to look at her watching him, waiting for a response. “I’m just helping out a friend. This is a great place to network. Think corporate gifts for any one of these names. Think opportunities to expand your service base. Think…” “Majid?” Keira interrupted. “I appreciate it. Really I do but that’s not what I asked and you know it.” Majid shrugged with an affected guileless expression. “Did you come on your own?” he asked. “Did you expect someone to come with me?” Keira challenged still staring him down. She saw the beginning of a smile form on his lips. “I imagined your husband might show up with you.” Majid replied. Keira looked again at the seat to her left and no, it was not Jude’s name on the card. “Really?” she asked him. Her only response from him was an even wider smile. Keira turned away from him in exasperation and concentrated on the stage as the moderators welcomed the participants to the forum. CHAPTER 8 She began chuckling again as she reviewed the trade bills that had come in that morning. Funke cut her a side glance but decided to continue with the task of displaying new stock items on the shelf. While it was a good thing to see madam in such high spirits, she could not help but be alarmed by it too. She had overheard snippets from madam’s conversation on the phone with her husband and it had been rather tense. But unlike times past when that was a sure bet that madam’s mood would deteriorate as the day went on, here she was giggling to herself. And the text messages that kept a steady flow all day. How did she know? The message alert on madam’s phone had been going off like crazy. And madam would look at the phone with a conflicted expression on her face and then she would pick it and scroll through. Her reaction had so far ranged from a small smile to hysterical laughter. Only once had she gasped in what sounded like outrage and she had immediately sent off a message. The phone had pinged not long after and madam had grabbed it. When she had read the response, she had smiled wryly and shook her head. Funke watched all this with fascination out of the corner of her eyes. She did not know what to make of it but her gut feeling was that it could not be good. Why? Her rational brain questioned. She had no response to that. Just the bone deep certainty that there were storm clouds hovering. She wondered just what size of umbrellas they would need. “Funke.” Keira called out as she made to pick up her bag, “Please lock up the shop today. I need to step out for an appointment and I am not sure I’ll be back before we close.” She said. “Yes ma.” Funke answered continuing with her task. Keira picked up her car keys and her phone from the small table she had had put in her corner and walked out into the bright sunlight. As she made her way to the car, something niggled at her heart. She tried to place her finger on why she was feeling so uncomfortable but could not. It seemed there was a gauzy film blocking her eyes from seeing clearly something that was on the other side. She shook off the discomfort as she reached her car. Just as she was about to get in it, her cell phone began ringing. Keira dug through her bag for it finally locating it somewhere at the bottom. “Hello?” she answered hurriedly fearing that the call would be dropped. “Hello.” Jude replied. Keira felt her sense of exhilaration deflate. They had been bickering since she returned from the forum on Saturday. It had been a very tense three days and finally, she was done with it. If he was calling her to light into her about something or the other, she quite frankly was going to drop the phone on him. “Are you on your way out?” he asked. Keira looked around suspiciously wondering if he was somewhere nearby spying on her. “Yes. How did you know?” she enquired. “I can hear street sounds.” He said. “Oh.” Keira responded. She got into the car and gunned it to life. “Was there something you wanted?” her voice came out sharper than she would have wanted. “Not really. I…never mind. How’s your day going?” “It’s fine.” Keira replied. “Alright. I’m about to go see a prospective client. Wish me well.” Keira smiled wryly. So he wasn’t going to say anything. “Best wishes Jude. Go get them.” She said as she clicked off her phone and tossed into her handbag which she tossed to the floor of the car on the passenger’s side. She checked her mirrors and proceeded to zoom off. She had less than twenty five minutes to make a thirty minutes trip to the side of town where she was meeting prospective customers that she had met through the forum on Saturday. She smiled again as the memory of how Majid had ‘managed’ the introduction for her crossed her mind. The man was sweet, exasperating, an enigma to her but definitely sweet. Her phone began ringing again but she ignored it. Besides, she was driving. She chuckled again. As if that would usually stop her. She just was not in the mood to have these pseudo-quarrels with Jude. She turned into the address that she was to meet her future client just on the dot of time for her meeting. She hurriedly got out of the car and made her way briskly to her meeting. Jude could wait. She would deal with him later. Jude sat in the darkened living room sipping the glass of wine he had poured himself. Keira was late again. She would usually be home before seven pm each evening but for three days running, she had come in a few after nine pm or thereabout. He knew she was upset with him about the Forum and a few other things but… he rubbed his hand down his face. He had not handled the Forum business well. Now that the bitter sting of panic and jealousy had abated, he could admit it to himself. Shamefully, he had allowed those emotions control how he had responded to what should have been a highlight of the year for his wife’s business enterprise. She was finally making the head way she so badly wanted. He should have stood by her. He should have been there at that forum with her showing her support. He knew how important the success of her business was to her. He had let her down at a critical moment. He heard the key turn in the door and turned on the lights. Keira walked in quietly into their apartment. There was something about the set of her shoulders and the way her head hung that set off skitters down Jude’s spine. “Nne what’s the matter? You’re late again today.” She did not immediately respond. She just quietly shot the door and began locking it up for the day. When she was through with that she turned back to him. “Good evening Jude. I didn’t mean to be late again. Time just got away from me.” She responded. Her voice was bone weary and despondent. She made to walk into the corridor leading into the bedrooms but turned at the last minute to sit across from him on an upholstered chair in the seating room. Jude watched his wife as she took off first her shoes and then began taking off her jewelry. It was odd. Keira usually only did that in the bedroom. She may leave it wherever she dropped it there, in fact she would usually do that, but it would be in their bedroom. “Are you okay Keira?” he asked her, his voice going solemn because it seemed to fit her mood. Keira did not respond to him at first. She just silently finished removing all her jewelry and then she looked up at him. She stared at him for a good long while as if she was searching his face for something. Jude was not sure what it was she found before she began to respond to him. “Are you okay Jude?” she asked him. “I don’t understand.” Jude responded, a confused frown patching his face even as his heart began to thud really loudly in his ears. “Jude. What’s happening to us?” Keira asked. “We’ve never fought like this in all the years that we’ve known each other.” And boy had they had some fights! Jude sighed and shook his head as he tried to honestly think through her question before answering. “Perhaps we are both stressed from work.” He suggested. Keira took in a deep breath and adjusted herself into a less confrontational stance on her seat. “Do we need to take some time off work?” she asked her voice stronger and a lot less combative. Jude was quiet for a moment as he ran through his schedule in his head. “I can’t get off from work right now.” He sighed. “There’s just so much going on right now.” He went on. Keira nodded. “I’m not asking for today or tomorrow. Just…perhaps when this wave of prospects and things slow a bit, maybe we should just take some time away. Just be by ourselves. We’ve both had a crazy year.” Jude nodded. “We should do that.” Keira got up from the sofa and began going into the room without picking up her discarded shoes and jewelry. Jude felt a small smile tug at his mouth as she lived up to that idiosyncrasy. He started to call her attention to it but as he looked at her dragging her feet tiredly, he changed his mind and let her go on. It wasn’t as if it was going anywhere. It would be there when they came out in the morning. He got up and began his daily routine of securing the house for the night. CHAPTER 9 “What if I said I think I might be cheating on my husband?” Clara spluttered as she almost choked on the piece of meat she had been trying to eat. After several thumps to her chest and swatting Keira’s hand as she tried to get her to drink some water, she caught her breath. She wiped at the tears which the coughing had brought from her eyes as she stared at Keira wonderingly. “Say that again?” Keira shook her head and continued to push the food on her plate listlessly. “Keira.” Clara prompted. “Keira look at me!” she ordered. Keira’s hand stilled over her plate and she looked up at her friend. “What did…what? Clara struggled to ask a sensible question. So stunned was the expression on her face as she searched Keira’s face. Keira looked down again and continued with the pushing of her food about the plate. “Keira are you cheating on Jude?” Clara asked clearly. Keira looked up once again at her friend. Clara’s complexion was pale, patsy even. She looked a bit bloated and there were bags under her eyes. Pregnancy was not being kind to her. She had struggled to conceive and now after several unsuccessful IVF treatments, she had finally gotten pregnant. And yet, the pregnancy had not had the good graces to go easy on her friend. She looked plain exhausted. But she was happy. She did not need to tell Keira that she was. Keira could see it in the eyes that glowed with excitement, in the beautifully coiffed hair and manicured nails. In the cadence of her voice as she spoke and the calm cheeriness with which she had greeted her as she had walked into the restaurant where they were meeting. “Keira ogini? You’ve been miserable for a few months now. Don’t think because we’ve not said anything to you we haven’t noticed o!” ‘We’ in this instance being their tight trio of friends, Bimpe, Keira and Clara. “I’m not miserable!” Keira frowned. “I just have a lot of things on my mind.” She defended herself. “What things? What do you mean ‘think’, ‘might’, cheating?” Keira paused trying to think of a way to begin. “There’s this man…” she started. Clara clapped her hand agitatedly. “I’m not sleeping with him o!” Keira rebuked. “So what exactly is going on?” Clara prodded. “Nothing. He’s helping me out with some business things. You know that I’m trying to expand and there are a lot of things that I had not realized about business and services…” she cut off her speech abruptly and shrugged. “Keira! Kay! What is going on? Why are you feeling…are you projecting some sort of gratitude gone wrong or something?” “Do you think that is what it is?” Keira asked hopefully. Clara looked steadily at her friend. “I think you need to cut off from this person.” She held up her hand to ward off Keira’s negation. “No matter how helpful he’s being to you, it’s not healthy for your relationship with your husband! Girl! Seriously!” Keira finally gave up the pretense that she was going to eat and pushed her plate away. “Clara, he has contacts that I would never have known how to aspire to! It’s not as if I’m not aware…of the undercurrents but he’s never come right out and said it or anything that…would be really inappropriate.” Keira shrugged. “I think I can put him in his place if need be.” She turned an entreating look on Clara. “I think you are playing with fire.” Clara stated baldly and went back to eating her food. “Is that all you’re going to say to me?” “Is there something more you need me to say to you?” Clara burst out. “If you can’t see beyond your nose for all the ‘wondrous’ things this guy is doing for you, then what more do you want me to say? Does Jude even know about this person?” “Kind of. They’ve had dealings before.” Keira answered evasively. “So, you met him through Jude? Are they friends?” “No.” Keira’s shoulders slumped. “Look, maybe I phrased it wrongly. We are not having an affair so…let’s just not let it spoil lunch.” She smiled winningly at her friend but Clara did not smile back. “I hope you really know what you’re doing. I pray you…don’t destroy your life.” She shook her head sorrowfully and pushed away her own plate of food. “Do you still love your husband?” Keira was quiet for too long a beat. Clara felt tears come suddenly to her eyes. “I’ll be praying for you but I want no part of this.” She got her bag, brought out her wallet and dropped some money from it on the table. She then stood up ungainly and waddled out of the restaurant leaving a stunned Keira staring after her. Keira settled up the bill for their uneaten lunch and made her way out of the restaurant as well. As she drove back to her shop, her mind went over the conversation she had been having with Clara and her emotions alternated between anguish and angst. How could Clara have imagined she would commit adultery? Would she commit adultery? She would freely admit that Majid was a really handsome man. But then so was Jude. Jude, who alternated between treating her like a dispensable piece of furniture and a prized jewel so often that her head was spinning with it. But he was a good man, a loyal man. Sometimes distracted yes, but he had been her man for most of her adult life. Majid… she checked herself. Why would she compare them? How could she not compare them? She banged her hand against the staring wheel, shaking her head at herself. It was the sound of a horn that jolted her. She stared blankly at the sight unfolding before her. It seemed everything was happening in slow motion or was it that her brain was only slowly processing the situation. It was the sound of the grinding crush that snapped her out of her daze. She had just had a head on collision with another car. And the world went black. CHAPTER 10 There was a see-saw game going on somewhere? No. someone was sawing through something. Keira kept her eyes closed trying to make sense of the sounds around her. Her head hurt with the effort and pressed her eyelids tighter. She thought she heard voices, a voice. ‘Majid?’ She had no idea that she had called out that name as she slipped back into unconsciousness, not realizing that a heart was shattering right beside her. Just as her hand went limp again in her husband’s hand, the door to her hospital room burst open and a haggard looking Majid stormed in followed closely on the heels by a wretched looking Agnus. He took in the scene before him and the look of anguish on Jude’s face and crumpled to the floor staring in stunned shock at the figure on the bed. “She’s not dead.” Jude hadn’t realized that he had spoken out. He looked at the man on the floor before him. The man whose name his wife had called out in her brief moment of consciousness. He had been sitting with her since he got to the hospital the evening before as she wove in and out of consciousness and the first time she would speak, she would call out his name. This man’s name. It took a moment apparently for the meaning of his bald statement to filter into Majid’s understanding. When it clicked, he hurriedly got up off the floor and rushed to the bedside. “How’s she doing? What are the doctors saying?” he questioned with rapid fire agitation. Jude kept looking at him, trying to sort out his feelings towards this man. “Majid, she’s alive and she’s in good hands. I think we should leave.” The friend that had barged in with him spoke for the first time since entering the room. He still stood just inside the door looking very ill at ease. Majid turned partially to look at him and then turned back to the bed to look at Keira’s heavily bandaged form. “What are the doctors saying?” he asked Jude in a quieter voice. “She’ll wake up whenever she will but she’s stable.” He found the voice to respond even as resentment roiled angrily through him. Majid sighed and stalked out the room. His friend made to follow him but stopped and turned back to Jude. “I hope she gets better soon.” He said his eyes full of a sadness that Jude grappled to understand the meaning of. He too turned and left on getting no further response from Jude. Jude put his head on his open palms and drew a ragged breath. Had his wife been having an affair behind his back? He knew that they had hit a rough patch but he had honestly believed they were working things out. What had been going on behind his back? Who was this pompous oaf to think that he had any right to enquire as to his wife’s welfare? Had her ‘relationship’ with him given the man the impetus? The door opened again quietly, almost hesitantly this time to reveal his mother standing there. Tears Jude had not realized where gathering spilled down his face as she hurried to envelope him in her embrace. Agnus caught up with Majid just as he was about to rap his knuckles on the door to the doctor’s office. He made a lunge for him and dragged him off from the door. “Man, are you crazy?!” Majid exclaimed as Agnus forcibly pulled him towards the main exit. “I was just about to go see the doctor. What’s your problem?” Agnus propelled both of them out of the main exit and then turned on his childhood friend. “You know what? That is it!! This absurd game has finally gone on too long!!” he yelled his frustration. Majid began to respond just as heatedly but something in the look on Agnus’ face shut him up. “Do you realize what you’ve done?” Agnus shouted at him. “That was the lady’s husband in there and you barged in and put on such a show for him!! On top of his worry over his wife, you’ve probably left him wondering about the status of your relationship with her!! Are you okay?!!!” he fairly thundered. Majid stared at him, the sharp rejection of his claims dying a stillbirth on his lips as his astute brain reviewed his actions since he had heard of the accident. He had tried calling Keira all evening yesterday but her cell phone had been unreachable. After a very restless night, he had gone by her shop this morning to see if he could talk to her before it got really busy. A lot of the business contacts he had been sending her way had been yielding positive results and she had been extra busy recently. He had been surprised to see that the shop had not yet been opened for business so he had tried her number again. Just as he had been about to turn around and leave, a youngish lady stepped to the door. “Good morning….” He tried to recollect her name from the last time he had been at the shop. “Funke. Good morning Sir.” She greeted as she went about unlocking the shop’s door. “You guys are opening a bit late today.” He had opined. “I had to go by the hospital.” Funke responded and Majid noticed for the first time that her eyes were red-rimmed and she seemed like she was struggling to hold back tears. “I hope you’re okay?” he had asked in polite concern. Funke had looked at him in mild surprise. “Madam had an accident. She is at the General Hospital and they wouldn’t let us see her!” she burst into renewed weeping. Majid felt like the world tilted off its axis and he felt unsteady on his feet. “An accident you say?!” he asked “Yes. Yesterday on her way back to the shop. She has been unconscious and Oga says that she was badly injured.” Funke sobbed as she recounted her early morning visit to the hospital. Majid had not waited to hear the remainder of her tale as he had high-tailed it out of there. He already had Agnus on the phone as he reversed out of the parking lot. He was not sure what gibberish he had spoken to Agnus but apparently he had been able to communicate that he was headed to the General Hospital because Agnus had been waiting for him on the front steps when he turned into the hospital gates. “You know what?” he heard Agnus saying. “Get into your car, can you drive?” he asked. At Majid’s nod he continued, “Go home. Go sleep it off. You look terrible. I will come see when I get off later. I’m still on call till early afternoon.” He pushed Majid towards his car. “Will you let me know how she’s doing?” Majid asked as he turned in a zombie-like stupor towards his car. Agnus sent him a look of pure exasperation but did not deign to answer his question. “They said she just crossed over to the other lane right in front of the oncoming jeep.” Jude recounted to his mother what he had been told by the traffic officers that had rushed Keira to the hospital. “We thank God that it was not worse than this.” She soothed. “Thank God. But this is a wakeup call! She must have fallen asleep on the steering on something. You both work too hard. What are you pushing yourselves so hard for?” she scolded. “Some things will have to change once she’s back from the hospital. I just pray that there will be no permanent damage to her.” On the choked sound from Jude she soothed again, “Nna, it is well. Chineke no n’olu.” The door to the room opened once again to admit a nurse closely followed behind by Keira’s parents. Her mother gasped at the sight of her daughter’s prone, bandaged form collapsing into her husband’s arm. Diokpa stood stock still as if the shock of his daughter’s condition held him immobile. Jude’s mother got up and went to her in-law. “Nne Keira, ozugo! God has been faithful. They’ve been able to stabilize her. She’s stable now. In fact Jude was just telling she has woken up severally.” She calmly shifted the weeping form of Keira’s mum from her husband’s arm, who still looked like he was about to faint, to hers and dexterously guided them both to plastic chairs which had earlier been brought into the room. “What happened?” Keira’s mum asked tearfully. Jude began again, hauntedly, to recount the story he had been told by the first respondents to the accident site but this time, with interjections from his mother. CHAPTER 11 Keira touched the scar that ran along the left side of her face from temple to jaw on a ragged sob. “It’s not as obvious as all that Kei.” Bimpe soothed. Keira sobbed harder. She had missed her wedding because she had still been heavily bandaged as at the time. Bimpe shifted closer to her on the bed and pulled her gently into a hug. “And the doctor says it would fade a bit with time. Indeed IT IS already fading out.” She consoled. Keira could not respond for the intensity of her sobs. “Keira! It is okay!” Bimpe said repeatedly as she rocked her gently as if she were a baby. Finally, Keira’s sobbing subsided and she blew her nose noisily into the handkerchief she was holding. “Have you eaten at all?” Bimpe asked as she held Keira from her to study her demeanour critically. Keira shook her head in response. “I’m not hungry.” She responded dully. “Well you have to eat! You’ve already lost enough weight during your stay at the hospital. You cannot come and loose the remaining one now!” Bimpe bustled both of them up and into the kitchen. She rustled through the fridge and the cupboards trying to put together enough ingredients to make a meal for both of them. Keira sat lethargically on a stool watching Bimpe as she put together a meal. She could barely keep a conversation going with her. She marveled that there was enough food stuff in the house to make a meal. She had supposed that Jude had been eating out. It was not that she was not well enough to prepare him light meals, she was, now. She just hadn’t felt up to it. Now as she sat looking around her, she realized that the kitchen was actually well stocked and spick and span. She realized also that the living area they had passed through on their way to the kitchen had been very neatly arranged. Even the rugs had seemed recently cleaned. “Keira!” she realized that Bimpe had actually called her severally but that she had not responded. She turned her attention back to her a questioning look on her face. “You are worrying me!” Bimpe exclaimed as she put a lid on the pot she had on the gas burner. “Are you okay? I mean apart from the physical aspect.” She waited for a response. When none was forthcoming, she went on, “Clara…said some things to me that are a bit confusing. I decided not to bring it up before but…” she broke off on a sigh and took one of Keira’s hands in hers, holding it tightly. “Why hasn’t Clara been to see me?” Keira asked, her voice sounding a little lost. “She did come.” Bimpe refuted. “But you were so out of it most times then that I’m not certain it registered. You know she had to travel shortly afterwards for her delivery.” Keira nodded slowly. “She could call me though.” She said weakly. Bimpe sighed again. “Perhaps she’s worried that you wouldn’t pick her calls.” “Why would she think that?” Keira asked, genuinely confused. “She feels guilty. For some reason she thinks she was the cause of the accident, that you would hold her responsible.” Keira jerked up in surprise. “Oh no!” she gasped. “Why would she think that? It was my fault. I wasn’t paying attention.” Keira gasped on the clog of emotion in her throat. Bimpe rubbed her hand soothingly on her back. “Perhaps we can call her? I know she’ll be so glad to hear from you.” She suggested. “Yes. Yes, let’s call her.” Keira agreed. They lapsed into a long moment of silence and the only sounds heard were the humming of the refrigerator and the hissing of the pot on the cooker. “What was it that Clara meant by what she said?” Bimpe asked, her voice shocking Keira from her reverie. “What exactly did she say?” Keira asked tiredly. Bimpe huffed, “That you were having an affair, an emotional affair she called it. And she went on and on about a lot of things that I couldn’t make heads or tails of but the summary was that you were having inappropriate feelings for someone.” Keira sighed loudly feeling suddenly overwhelmed by a mix of emotions, grief, guilt, sadness, loneliness and surprisingly, a sense of abandonment. “He’s never called even.” She turned to look at Bimpe. “Majid, that’s his name, he’s never called in all of this.” She said despondently. Bimpe stared at her in shock. “Are you in love with him?” she asked, her voice almost a whisper. Keira tried to process through her feelings but could neither make heads or tails of it. “I don’t know. I’m not sure. I’m angry at him but at the same time I miss him. Jude… is barely even speaking to me. Oh, he’s not being negligent or anything like that. It’s just that…I feel that he’s not here! He’s here with me in body but absent…in his mind?” she finished like she was trying to make sense of her words even as she spoke them. “So do you think if this Majid called, it would make you feel better?” Bimpe asked her frown deepening as the conversation went on. Keira shook her head. “I don’t know!” they lapsed into another moment of silence. “Did I ever say thank you for holding things down for me at the shop?” she asked Bimpe. Bimpe shrugged off her gratitude. “It’s actually Funke you should thank. I just look in once in awhile. That girl has held everything down like a pro! You should see some of the ideas she has introduced. You really should think about promoting her or something.” Bimpe enthused. Keira smiled. “She’s already my head shop girl.” She said. “Perhaps you should make her a manager then.” At Keira’s raised eyebrow, Bimpe continued “Yes! You have to encourage the girl! She wowed me with the way she handled everything, has been handling everything! Even your mum can’t sing enough of her praises. And besides, the business IS expanding. I had not realized how much until all of this. You’ll need a manager, even if it weren’t because of your recuperation, you’d still need a manger.” Keira shook her head in amazement. “I guess I’ll have to look into that.” She conceded. There was another moment of silence. “God bless her.” she said quietly. “Amen.” Bimpe responded cheerily. She got up to check on the contents of the pot. When she lifted the lid, a stirring aroma drifted from the pot. “What are we eating?” Keira asked suddenly realizing that she was hungry. “Porridge yam. With smoked fish, ponmo and other mede-mede.” Bimpe said teasingly. Keira smiled. “Abeg when will it be ready so that we can eat?” she asked. “Soon.” Bimpe responded. “We can call Clara now though and do her longer-throat. I’m sure she’s fed up with awon burger ati fries and all those American things.” She remarked to which Keira responded by bursting into cheery laughter. Bimpe stared at her beautiful friend as she laughed. Scars and all, she reveled in the pleasure of the sound of her friend’s laughter. Jude had called her at his wits end the evening before. “She’s sinking into depression.” He had said his anguish very apparent in his voice. She smiled as she watched Keira wipe tears out of the corner of her eyes as she regained control of her mirth. “She’ll disappear from there and reappear here immediately!” she chuckled. “Clara and orisi risi food.” “Keira.” Bimpe called and when she got her attention, “We all love you. All of us, Jude, Clara, me, your parents, Jude’s parents even Dominic.” She said with a smile and heartfelt sincerity. It was the exactly right thing to say. Keira felt the tears sting her eyes once more as she smiled back at her friend. “I almost forgot.” She said quietly. “I’m trying to believe again.” Bimpe sighed. “Talk to Jude.” She turned again to check the contents of the pot. “He really does love you.” Keira held those words closely to her heart. They were just the seeds of hope she needed. CHAPTER 12 Jude stood by the door jamb watching his wife as she delicately fingered the scar along the side of her face. The wound had healed and scabbed over and those scabs were falling off in some places. But it would always have a scar. It wasn’t so much unsightly as it was surprising. Looking at her from the front, the scar was not visible. It was when she turned a little to the right that it became visible as a line running down the side of her face. She had not yet realized that he was home yet. At least she was not crying as she touched the scar. She breathed out noisily and then jolted slightly when she saw him at the door. “I didn’t realize you were home.” She exclaimed softly. “What time is it?” she asked as she hurriedly got up and gathered up the scarf she had left on the bed. As she made to wrap it around her head to cover her face, Jude stopped her. “It’s not as bad as you make it out to be.” He said softly. Keira stilled as her hand fell from her face. She kept her gaze on the ground, the gesture diffident and so unlike her. “Kei,” Jude called her name, keeping his voice low. “It’s not as bad as you think.” He repeated. Keira nodded and made to move past him but he blocked her exit with his body, the memory of the conversations he had had with Bimpe playing in his mind. “She needs you to reassure her Jude. She’s feeling guilty.” “If nothing happened like she said, why is she feeling guilty?” he had lashed out at Bimpe, his heart squeezing with the pain of the betrayal he had felt. He would put his head on a chopping board for Keira. He was working as hard as he was because he wanted her safe, comfortable, worry free. He had been unable to wrap his head around the fact that his frequent absences had made her feel abandoned. He had thought she would understand. That she had her business to occupy her. They had messed up a lot of things. He had imagined that they were on the same page. They had talked extensively about their hopes and dreams. They had had a large portion of their life time to talk about it, together. He had thought they had been all talked out but recent events had proven otherwise. They had somewhere stopped talking and they had both paid dearly for it. The near loss of their marriage, the close shave with death, the bitterness of betrayal and the loss of their peace of mind. Over the past few days, he had prayed. It was not as if he had ever stopped praying, he always had. But not like he had in the past few days. That had not happened in a long while. He cried all his tears before God. He had railed and then surrendered. He had acknowledged his hurt, his betrayal and his need for revenge. And while he was at it, he had acknowledged his love for his wife, his grief at what they were going through, his bafflement that she could have been lured into ANY kind of affair with another man and that his trust had been so badly broken. Keira peeked up at him and then turned her face to a spot behind him. Before his conversation with Bimpe that would have hurt with the pull of a sucker punch but now he recognized it for what it was, Guilt. “Kei.” He whispered softly. “I love you.” He said. Keira’s eyes jerked up to meet his in surprise. “I never thought you did not.” She replied. “I just wondered if…you loved me enough.” “Enough for what?” Jude questioned. “To die for you? To give up my life for you?” trying to understand what had happened to them. Keira shook her head against his chest. “I would never ask you to give me those things. I would never ask you to do those things for me. Of what use would it be if you died for me? What use?” “What happened? When did you stop believing that I loved you enough?” he asked. Keira remained motionless in the circle of his arms, thinking, trying to sort through her thoughts and memories. “It was never any one particular moment or thing.” She said thoughtfully. “I guess it was a gradual erosion of things. Little things, that ordinarily shouldn’t have mattered but they did.” “Like?”Jude prodded, a peace flowing softly into his heart as she opened up to him. “Good morning kisses. I really missed those. It wasn’t that I thought… you’d be in hurry, dashing out to keep an early morning appointment. I was happy that you were moving up the ladder and that things were looking up for you and that you were enjoying it but I felt left behind. Like you weren’t including me, like you had gone ahead of me and that I was less than you needed.” Jude stiffened in shock. “How could you ever think that Baby?” he gasped in surprise. Keira shrugged. “I had no reason not to think it. Somewhere we stopped saying ‘I love you’ and I guess at some point I began to wonder. Wonder whether I was a bother. Whether…you still loved me the way you use to.” “Is that why? Was that the angle Majid used?” It was Keira’s turn to gasp in shock. Jude shook his head and pulled her back into the fold of his embrace. “I believe you. I believe that nothing happened.” He soothed as he rubbed his hands up and down her now very tense back. Keira had nothing to say for herself. What could she possibly say? “How did you…?” she trailed off not wanting to admit the specter of her near-indiscretion into this conversation. “He came by the hospital the day after your accident.” Jude responded to her unasked question. “He was distraught. No, he didn’t say anything.” He responded to the hitch in Keira’s breath. “He was distraught.” Jude repeated like that should say everything. And it did to Keira. “He never called.” She whispered unable to help herself. Jude gently pushed her away so he could clearly see her face. “Do you…love him?” he choked over the question. “Would you rather be with him?” he asked, aghast. “No!” came Keira’s sharp response as she grabbed a hold of her husband’s shirt. She leaned her head again back on his now rigid chest. “I love you. I now realize that I always have. I was acting out my discontent like a child. Instead of telling you how I felt, I allowed my fear of…displeasing you, worrying you shut me up and see how it turned out!” Tears began to flow profusely down her face. Jude bent his head so that his chin rested on the top of her head. He shook his head at himself. “When did I begin to terrify you so much that you felt that you couldn’t talk to me?” he asked in bafflement. Keira shook her head. “I’m not terrified of you.” She refuted. “I was angry at you. And I acted out by sulking instead of talking to you. I felt you were distant from me and instead of drawing closer I put more space between the two of us till I couldn’t hear you anymore. And neither could you hear me.” “I love you Kei. I have never stopped and so help me God, I will never stop.” he swore solemnly. Keira hugged him closer to her, wrapped her arm more tightly around him. “I’m so sorry.” She said on a sob. “So am I Kei. So am I.” And they stood there in each other’s embrace for a long while. CHAPTER 13 Keira looked over the envelope that had just been delivered to her by Adaobi, her newest shop girl. She sighed as she asked, "When did this come in?" "Last night after you had left." Adaobi replied standing diffidently before her. Keira gave a single nod. "You can go Nne." Adaobi gave a small curtsy and left. Keira smiled. She still found it amazing when she was accorded such traditional respect by her young shop girls. She found that she often forgot that she was indeed a few years older than they were. She tore open the envelope and brought out the invitation card she had known would be inside. She looked over the card worriedly. It could only have come from one person. Even though her business had really expanded in the past year since the last forum, she knew that it had in no way reached the echelons of the sort of businesses that usually got invited to that event. Besides, this invite was again in her name not the name of the business. 'What game was Majid playing at this time?' she wondered. She was tempted to pick up her phone and call him but at the last minute she hesitated. She was scared. She was confused as to how to proceed. Would it be right? What would Jude think if she did call? She shook her head and slipped the card into her desk drawer. She was torn between the decision to attend or not. The door to her office swung open to reveal Funke. "Good morning Ma." She greeted cheerily. "How are you feeling today?" she continued. Keira eyed her suspiciously. "Good morning. You are cheerful this morning." she commented as she booted up her desktop computer. Funke made a playful twist of her body and said, "It is a good morning isn't it?" she smiled coyly at Keira. Keira raised her eyebrow. "It is indeed if it has you so...excited." "Did you get the letter?" Funke asked. "I have a letter?" Keira intoned even though she knew what Funke was referring to. It was Funke's turn to raise her eyebrow, slightly as she explained, "The invitation to this year's Forum." Keira looked up from her booting computer. "Oh! That!" she exclaimed mockingly. Funke smirked as she came around and sat on the chair usually reserved for customers and visitors to the office. "Yes Ma, that!" she said. Keira shook her head wryly. "I've seen it and I don't think I'm going to go." she answered. "Why?" Funke asked in surprised concern. Keira debated the wisdom of discussing her misgivings with her and shrugged. She was as good a head to sound out as any other of her friends. In fact, perhaps she was better because she was not as emotionally involved with the debacle as the others were. "I'm scared." she answered honestly. "Why?" Funke asked again. "I don't know if I can handle seeing him." she said simply. "Why do you think he was the one who sent it?" Funke queried. "Funke, we are bigger than we were, but we are not that big yet. It could only have been...Majid." Funke nodded her head. "Are you afraid he'll cause any trouble? You can...tell Oga Jude. I'm sure he'll do something about it." "That is the other problem. Is it wise for Oga Jude to become involved with this? Maybe it's just best if I don't go." she demurred. "Madam please don't be offended." Funke started. "Do you still like that oga?" Keira was quiet for a moment. "No, not like before." she replied hoping that she was being truthful. "Then there is no problem. I think you should attend. The business we can get from there will be very useful. Consider it his payment for all the wahala he caused you." Keira could not help the chuckle that burst out of her. "Payment indeed!" she exclaimed in cynical amusement. Funke watched her closely. "If you're still worried about attending by yourself, you really should ask Oga to go with you, even Aunty Clara or Aunty Bimpe." "I've heard you Funke ahn! Go back to work jo! Who did you leave the store floor for now?" she hustled Funke out of her office jovially. Keira pushed the dilemma of her attendance of the Forum away from her mind as the business of the day began in full swing. It was indeed a busy day as customers and potential clients kept the front door swinging. By the time the store was closing, Keira was truly exhausted but elated at how well the business had done that day. She gathered up her things from her desk and shut down her computer readying her staff for the routine shut down of store for the day. As she made her way out of the office, her cell phone beeped out a tone. She dug into her handbag and brought it out. It had barely begun ringing before it stopped. Keira hissed wondering who could be flashing her. When she saw the name on the missed call she stopped dead on her track and quickly tucked the phone back into her handbag. She made her way out of the store with a frown on her face barely acknowledging the calls of 'Good night ma' from her staff. Why, oh why would Majid suddenly begin to call her, send her invitation cards again? It was déjà vu. She pondered on what action she would need to take, conjuring up plan after plan and casting them aside as they failed in her mind. If Majid had decided after months of silence to reach out to her, she knew him well enough to know that he would not stop except something drastic happened. She could think of only a few sources for that kind of drastic but she was loath to bother any of them. Her father would probably just 'kill' him and there was no telling what Jude would do. As she went on, the cell phone in her bag kept sounding off as message after message dropped into it. She suspected that a good number of them would be from Majid. She decided she would leave the matter for now. There was at least two weeks or so before she had to make a firm commitment to attending the Forum. She would think of a way to bring this madness to a resounding end before then. CHAPTER 14 Keira located the seat which had her name card in place. As she took her seat, her emotions were a strange mix of unperturbed calm and nervous tension. She brought out her cell phone and began to scroll through her messages in an effort to look busy as none of the other occupants of her table had arrived. Her fingers itched to pick up the name cards flanking hers to see who was going to be sitting next to her but she restrained herself. Besides, she already had a good idea who would be occupying one of those seats and she would not put it past him to be watching her right now to see what she would do. Well, she would not show any sign of nervousness. She refused to hand over that much power to him. When she had told Jude about the invitation to the Forum, she had not been sure what reaction she had actually been expecting but it definitely has not been silence, again. A raging, screaming rant she might have tried to soothe, a period of sulking she might have tried to diffuse but this silence? What was she supposed to make of his silence? "You are looking well Stranger." she heard Majid say as he materialized at the seat to her right. Keira smiled wryly. It really was déjà vu. "Hello Majid." she responded with a calmness she did not feel. She felt rather her belly lurch. He was really a handsome man. "It has indeed been awhile." she greeted. He pulled out his seat and sat in it all the while watching her like she was curiousity. "I've been trying to get a hold of you. Do you not pick your calls anymore?" he accused. "I do." Keira answered simply determined that this time she would not fall prey to his propensity for mind games. She realized with sudden clarity that she was in a fight for her sanity, her husband and their life together. "So you've been avoiding me." he pronounced even as he laid out the contents of his Forum bag in front of him. "Perhaps." Keira answered as she looked around at her fellow attendees. There were a few faces here today that she was certain had not been here last year and she made a mental note to introduce herself to them when the opportunity presented itself. "Are you upset with me?" he asked in a cloying voice that Keira found ignited the slow burn of anger in her. She turned to him with what she hoped was a fittingly irritate look. "Why would I be?" she asked. Majid sighed. "Keira stop this. How are you doing? I haven't seen you since you got out of hospital. Are you doing okay?" Keira nodded, the words of accusation fighting to burst out of her. She held them all back in by sheer force of will. She refused to give this man the satisfaction. She experienced another bright burst of illumination as she realized that this was how he got her every time. However, today, she would refuse to engage. "I'm fine Majid. Thanks for asking." she replied sweetly. "Are you here alone?" he asked. Keira took a calming breath before she could respond, "Yes, I am." Majid snorted softly and turned away. Keira felt the ringing of exploding temper in her ear but she held her peace. She refused to lose it with him. "Can I ask you something?" Majid queried even as the moderators climbed up on the stage. Keira raised an eyebrow at him. "You've been asking them since you sat." she chided. Majid gave a small tight smile in acknowledgement. "Do you really think I would have just kept away, forgotten you like that? Why didn't you ever call me?" For a moment, his questions threw her off balance then she felt her anger freeze and disintegrate leaving an achy, haunting sadness in its place. She felt a headache come on as she tried to understand the meaning behind those questions. "Why would I call you?" she queried. "I came by the hospital the day after your accident. Did 'he' not tell you?" Majid demanded. "My husband?" Keira stated and as she turned to blast him an angry glare, she caught his wince at her bald statement. "Yes, he did. And no, I didn't think to call you." "Why Keira?" he asked plaintively. "I thought we were getting to be good friends." Keira sighed "Was that where we were heading?" she asked as anger and shame began to get the best of her. "Majid they are about to begin. Can we keep this for later?" She picked up the pen and jotter that had been provided by the organizers and began to ready herself for the opening address and speeches. Majid was still turned towards her and his lips pursed like he would have liked to say something but he turned and picked up his own pen and jotter. Keira let out a breath she had not realized she had been holding in at the reprieve she had just been given. Her body shook with trepidation as she imagined what Round 2 would bring. At the end of a long, successful but tasking day, made all the more tasking by Majid dogging her every step, Keira walked down the step on the front stoop at the entrance to the venue that held the Forum. "Keira wait up!" Majid called from behind her as he hurried up to her. Keira did wait. Somewhere in her mind, she decided now was a good time as any to tell him off once and for all. To think she had been so scared in the days running up to this meeting. She had known without a shadow of a doubt that Majid would be here today. She had worried that she would be unable to resist him had he tried to charm her, woo her or just overwhelm her as he usually did. She tamped down on a wave of angry disappointment at Jude for not being here right now. She had wanted him to save her. She had needed to be able to lean on his strength, and where was he now? Probably at home or somewhere else and leaving her to face this menace all by herself. She turned to Majid as he caught up to her. "You're in a hurry!" He said coolly. "Yes, I am."Keira answered as she turned to continue on her way to her car. "What's the hurry? You've been acting weirdly all day." Majid held her hand to stop her from walking away from him. Keira looked down at where he was holding on to her arm and felt a loosening of something inside of her. It was that fear that she had felt and she gloried in the release of it. She had been so afraid, afraid that she would be unable to fight her attraction to him, that she would fall so willingly back into their set pattern but in that moment, fear lost its hold on her. She really would not go down this road again. She quietly pulled her arm away from him and looked at him squarely in the eyes. "You do have a nerve Majid. I'll give you that." she said bitterly. A frown hit between Majid's eyebrows. "How...what do you mean?" he asked. "What are you trying to do?" Keira asked exasperatedly and without waiting for his response continued, "Married! That's what I am! I will not go down this road with you!" she fair shouted at him. "You are causing a scene! What's gotten into you?" he whispered fiercely and angrily at her. "Then don't give me reason to!" Keira fired back. "Walk away Majid. You've done quite enough! We have done quite enough!" she swung away from him to continue towards her car. "What are you trying to insinuate Keira?" his voice had taken on a nasty edge. "What road?" "The road where my head was spinning so wildly that I almost lost my life, my friends and my husband, that road!" She turned again at the foot of the steps to him. "It might have been fun and games to you, but the stakes were just too high for me. I almost lost everything!" her voice alternated between a near shout and a near whisper. Majid was quiet for awhile as he looked at her intently. "Does that mean we can't even be friends?" he asked in a subdued voice. Keira looked at him long and hard, returning the same intensity with which he had looked at her. "Can we be that? Friends and nothing more?" she challenged. "It...Keira!" he sighed and rubbed his hand over his face, his inner turmoil showing through the tortured expression on his face. As he made to look up, his gaze got stuck, transfixed to a point behind Keira. She turned to see what had caught his attention and saw that it was Jude who had just gotten out of his car and was walking towards them. A wild tumble of emotions raced through Keira. She felt elation, joy, angst and exasperation. He would show up now wouldn't he? She stalked off towards him on her way to the car. She was parked two rows behind his. As she passed by him, he made to intercept her but Keira held up her hand to cut him off and kept on walking. "Now you show up!" she mumbled. As she got to her car, she indicated to the attendant that she was ready to leave and got in and started up the engine before she had even shut the door fully. She watched as Jude made his way over to Majid and stop right in front of him in a passively aggressive stance. Part of her wanted to get back out of the car and go towards them but some instinct held her back. Maybe they needed to have this show down. Her 'drastic measure' had shown up albeit late. She spun out of the parking lot at the attendant's go ahead and went on home to wait for Jude. She would have her own show down with him there. CHAPTER 15 Keira paced the length of her sitting room too keyed up to sit in a place. She turned towards the door as she heard the key slide into its slot and turn. The door opened to reveal Jude walking into the sitting room. Just as she was about to go off on him, an amazing sight stopped her. Majid walked in right behind Jude. "What's this?" she flicked her hand to indicate the two of them. "He wants to talk to you." Jude responded as he shrugged and invited Majid to sit down with a spread of his hand. Majid shook his head in refusal. "I won't be here that long. I just want to apologize...and say a few things." Majid said shocking Keira even more. She would never have imagined it possible that Majid would ever feel the need to apologize for anything. He just had not struck her that way. He seemed to struggle to find the words to say as he looked around the sitting room. Anywhere it seemed but at her. Keira stood still, waiting for him to say something. She was just about to lose her patience when he said, "Keira I'm sorry if I hurt you." She felt rather than saw Jude stiffen on his seat. Keira flinched. It was just too intimate. The tone of Majid's voice and the way he had said her name. She raised her gaze to his and flinched again at the maelstrom of emotions swirling in his. Had he really loved her? Was he that good an actor? What would acting benefit him? What did she say to him? What had they been doing? Had they set out to...fall in love? Was Majid in love with her? "I am not sure I had a right to be hurt." she answered honestly. Majid sighed out a breath. "I just wanted you to know that. I apologize if I made things difficult. I never, never set out to hurt you." he said very emotionally. It seemed he was trying to embrace her with his voice even as he kept his physical distance from her. Keira felt the prickle of discomfort on her skin. She was so overly conscious of Jude sitting there, watching the two of them with a very stoic expression on his face. She wondered what was going through his mind at the scene unfolding before him. "I'll accept your apology if you'll accept mine." she said. Majid nodded and turned woodenly to leave. Jude got up to walk him out of the apartment. There was an eerie silence as he let Majid out and shut the door behind him. Keira watched her husband as he locked up and turned back to her. Her feelings of righteous anger had fled. "What happened?" she asked her husband. "How did that come about?" Jude walked past her into the bedroom. Keira remained rooted to the spot as trepidation and shock washed over her. She shook herself free and walked in after her husband. "Jude, why do always do this?" she asked as she watched him slump on to the bed and put his head in his hands. "How long had you known him?" he asked, his voice warbled by his hands over his mouth. Keira looked at him in consternation at his unexpected question. She flung her hands out in her confusion. Jude raised his head and looked at her fully in the face. He looked worn out, ragged and marked by the emotional upheaval. Keira sat quietly beside him on the bed and felt him stiffen at her nearness. She turned to look at him and felt tears sting her eyes. "I don't love him." She said. Jude drew in a longish breath that went ragged at the end. "How long Keira?" he repeated wearily. Keira felt the cold seep into her system and settle around her chest and stomach. "I met him shortly before our wedding." She shook as Jude let out a ragged sigh. "It was just...one of those meetings and we didn't see each other until around the time of his father's birthday party last year." "You met him again at the party?" Jude queried. It was obvious that his brilliant mind was trying to put the pieces together. "No, not at the party. He came by my shop earlier that day." She looked at Jude's profile as she spoke trying to gauge his reaction to her answers. "I never found out if it had been just a coincidence or if he sought me out." Jude remained silent for a long while and Keira sat beside him for as long as she could bear it. "Jude, talk to me. Shout at me, rage at me, yell at me just do anything but be silent." She placed her hand on his arm and shook him lightly. "Please Jude. I am sorry. So very sorry that I put us through this but you are shutting me out again. Please Jude." He put his hand over hers and made to pull hers away from his arm but Keira clung. "Jude." her tone warned him. "Keira I need some space. Just a few hours. I need to think things through." "And when you've thought things through? What happens? Jude please. I. am. sorry." He struggled with some strong emotion and reluctantly patted her on her hand. "Kei, it's for better or worse." For the first time since she had joined him on the bed he looked at her, studying her face. His hand went to the side of her face, to her considerably cleared scar. It was a thin line that marred the soft perfection of her skin but it was no longer as hideous as it had been at first. Jude sighed again as he put his hand down. "I...I just need to come to terms with a few things Kei." He said as he bent over looking down between his feet. "We will be fine." he assured. "Don't shut me out again Jude. Don't..." Keira put a balled up fist to her mouth as her voice broke on a sob. Jude reached out and pulled her into a side hug reflexively and Keira felt the ball of dread in chest relax. It may take a while, but they would be fine. Jude and her, they'd pull through. She crossed her fingers in her heart. CHAPTER 16 Majid had not realized how small a city could be when you were trying to keep out of someone's way. He watched the couple make their way into the shopping mall to the rhythm of his hard beating heart. They were holding hands and talking intimately to themselves. It seemed like they were oblivious to all that was happening around them. They went through the door of the shopping mall and were soon out of his sight. He sighed loudly. He had not imagined that it was possible to miss someone as much as he missed Keira. He had not been cognizant of just how deeply under his skin she had gotten until he had had to give her up wholly. And she had gotten there stuck there like a burr oh-so-reluctantly. Some days he was glad that they never did have that affair. How would he have ever let her go then? Why had he listened to Jude, her husband? He remembered their conversation like it had just happened. As Jude had stalked up to him after his wife's snub, he had looked murderous. Majid had half expected him to march up those steps and deck him one. In fact, he had hoped that he would. He had been feeling very primal as the fear that he was losing Keira to this man had overtaken his common sense. Instead Jude had stopped at the foot of those steps. "You need to leave my wife alone." he had stated with a calm that was at variance with the look of anger blazing from his face. A thousand and one sharp retorts had crossed Majid's mind but one word had snagged the flow of his thoughts, 'Wife'. His mind repeated the word 'wife'. Keira already belonged to the man. He remembered the uncontrolled detonation of his rage as that realization finally sunk in. "You have a funny way of showing that you're concerned." he had bit out sharply, his tongue bitter with the taste of dawning defeat. "It shouldn't be of any concern to you." Jude had responded just as sharply in return. "I would say that as her friend, it is." "Friend!" Jude had scoffed bitterly. "Is that what we are calling it these days? Friends?" When Majid had not responded but had continued to stare Jude down with all the loathing he had been feeling at that moment, Jude had gone on. "Tell me, friend, is it when...do you honestly think I would just let you wreck my home? Let you take my wife away from me?" Majid raised a mocking brow at that question and had been surprised at the steeliness that had stolen over Jude's expression in return. "It would be over my dead body!" His voice had had the force of bullets piercing Majid's flesh as he had spat them out. "You are just the sort that would make her miserable." The force of anger mingled with bitterness propelled Majid down the steps to stand toe to toe and face to face with Jude. "Why? Because you couldn't keep her happy? Because she is more woman than you apparently can handle and so I can't?" "Because she's mine! We stood before the Lord and we made vows, in His Name! And in spite of what's going on with us, if there is one thing I can trust, it's that Keira loves the Lord and she will not take His Name lightly." "Then what was she doing with me?!" Majid asked in derisive tones even as his heart broke in pieces. "Why was she with me?" "Beccause we are all human. We all fall short sometimes. Keira would come around and when she does, if she had ended up with you, she would have hated herself." "Why would you be so sure of that?" Majid had challenged even as his eyes said that he knew what would come next. "Because she loves me as well." Jude had stated simply with an absolute conviction that had had Majid stepping back from him. "You may have beclouded her mind for awhile but it's me that she loves." Jude reiterated. Majid had been speechless in the face of such quiet conviction. For some unfathomable reason, it was in that moment that he accepted just how badly he had wronged the man, the man that was so obviously in-love with his wife. The door on the passenger's side swung open and Agnus hopped into the car. He took one look at Majid's face and sighed as he slammed the door shut. "I take it you saw them." he commented as he belted himself in. "I take it you saw them." Majid responded testily as he backed out of the space. Agnus heaved another huge sigh dramatically. "Here we go again! Are you going to retreat into hibernation again?" he asked with an eye roll but couldn't completely mask the worry in his voice. Majid sent an eye roll his friend's way as well. "I'm fine. I'll be fine." he replied. Agnus riffled through the shopping bag he had brought with him from the mall. "So check this out. Got the new film that wa..." "Why are two of us, successful, handsome and well-to-do guys hanging out on a Saturday all by ourselves getting excited over spy-thrillers...?" Majid eyed the VCD that Agnus had brought out of the shopping bag with such venom that it should have exploded. "Are the ladies in this city blind?" he asked jokingly. Agnus scoffed as he settled more comfortably on his seat. "Speak for yourself." he replied as he pushed down his sunglasses on his nose to cover his eyes and began to flip through radio stations on the in-car stereo. Majid let him channel surf while his mind wandered around. "I need to leave this town for a while." he announced suddenly. Agnus turned to him sharply and said. "I thought you said you were fine." Majid nodded as his throat bobbed with suppressed emotion. When he was certain he had himself under control he continued. "And I am. I just need some time to...just some time." he concluded. Agnus nodded his understanding. He would miss his friend while he was gone but he understood. He looked at Majid's profile as he drove for a long minute and then turned back to looking out the window of the car. They had all been scarred by the events that had happened. His friend would never be quite the same guy he had been before Keira. It had all changed him for the better in many ways. He had grown up some, matured some. He would be a better man in many ways for the experience. He wondered at the cost though and was glad it had not run any higher than it already had. "I'll miss you men!" he said simply. Majid just smiled wryly as he continued navigating the car along the busy road. CHAPTER 17 Keira kept waiting for the other shoe to drop but so far it had refrained from doing so. She was not so sure why not but she was thankful for it. Life was good, almost too good to be true. Jude was...well, Jude was always going to be Jude. There was no need wishing him to suddenly become more spontaneous or less insular. He was Jude and she was learning to appreciate him for who he was. He was patient to the point of heroism with her. That patience was shining through right that moment as she got herself worked up over the invitation card that had arrived that day by hand. "What if he is there?" she asked him for what must have been the fifteenth time since she got in from the shop. "Keira! You have not even opened it. How do you know that he sent it this time?" Jude queried as he busied himself eating from his plate of finger food and trying to keep up with the ball game on television at the same time. Keira was tempted to snap off the television in exasperation. "Jude! This is serious!" she exclaimed. Jude finally dropped his plate on the side stool closest to him and muted the sound on the TV. "Okay. What do you want me to do when you won't open it?" he asked patiently, like he was trying to explain an obvious fact to a five year old. Keira eyed him before sighing. She picked up the envelope with the invitation card still in it from the table where she had dropped it and held it out to Jude. "Would you open it for me?" she asked in a little girl voice that had Jude rolling his eyes at her. He took the envelope from her and slit it open. He pulled out the card and scanned through it before handing it over to her. "It's an invitation to this year's Forum as usual but..." he paused dramatically and Keira felt her breath suspend in worry. Jude smiled as he continued, "It's not to you per se but to the MD, Beautiful things Gallery and Gift stores. Oh! That would be you wouldn't it?" he finished with all the dramatic flair of a stage actor as Keira gasped and grabbed the card out of his hands. She read through the card avidly. "And it's not from Nuclear Inc! It's from the Planning and hosting committee!" she squealed and Jude could not help the answering laughter that burst from him. Her excitement was infectious. She hit him playfully on the arm. "Why aren't you surprised?" she asked and stuck out her tongue at Jude. "It's a big deal!" she said. "Of course it's a big deal." Jude agreed enigmatically. Keira narrowed her eyes at him. "Jude?" she queried. "You do remember that my firm is on the planning and hosting committee for the Forum?" he reminded. Keira nodded her head in response. Jude said nothing else for a while and at Keira's continued silence, raised an eyebrow. "Are you saying...?" Keira cocked her head at him as the puzzle began to fit in her mind. "Did you wrangle this for me?" she asked. Jude shrugged as he picked up his plate and continued eating, turning the volume back up on the TV. Keira gently took the remote out of his hand and turned the mute button back on. "Thank you." she said softly because it was the easiest to say of all the myriads of comments and thoughts running through her head. "You're welcome." Jude mumbled diffidently, stuffing his mouth with food. Keira put her arms around him in a tight embrace and leaned her head on his shoulder. She turned the volume back on on the television and dipped her hand into Jude's plate to steal a piece of fried meat. Jude swatted her hand away playfully but did not succeed in stopping the piece of meat from popping into her mouth. He looked at her for a long moment and shook his head in amusement. He then pulled her even closer to his side as they both continued to watch the ball game. THE END GLOSSARY Nne - Mother, or an endearment for a female person. Nna - Father, or an endearment for a male person. Oyibo - a colloquial word for a Caucasian or extremely light skinned people of African descent. Na wa for una - A colloquial expression indicating amazement at behaviour or circumstances. Hiahn - colloquial exclamation. Jollof - a method of cooking cereals and/or legumes where all the seasonings and ingredients for a sauce are cooked in the same pot as the cereal and/or legume creating a unique and often spicy meal. Ogini - 'What is it?' Chukwu no n' olu - 'God is at work.' Ozugo - 'It is enough'. Ponmo - the hide of cattle and other animals (mammals) boiled till it is soft enough to eat. Mede-mede - colloquial for things considered extra nice and rich, especially food. Abeg - colloquial for 'please'. Awon - 'this', 'those', 'these'. Ati - 'and' Orisi risi - a term of 'and all sorts of' usually used colloquially to refer to a meal which is cooked with a variety of meats. Oga - 'Sir' indicating a 'proper' respect for a male person who is either older than you or belongs to a higher social strata. Wahala - 'inconvenience', 'discomfort', 'trouble'. Jo - 'please'. NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR I hope that I did a better job of editing this story than I did with my previous book, Transgender J. I hope you enjoyed reading A Rose by Another Name as much I enjoyed writing it. I would really enjoy hearing from you if you did. Drop me a mail on niaeze@gmail.com or niaeze@yahoo.co.uk. Turn the page for excerpts from my upcoming books. Love, Nia. An Excerpt from SKYLINE, a novel by Nia Eze. Coming soon! CHAPTER 1 “He graduated magna cum laude from the American university he attended.” “He. Is. So. Cute!!” “Oh my goodness! They’re like…super wealthy.” “My elder sister used to date one of their cousins.” Alero placed a hand to her forehead. It was official. It she heard one more thing about the Adenirans and their golden son, she was just… “Alero! I’ve been looking all over for you.” Maggie, Alero’s best friend for years and years scolded as she sashayed towards her. “Was right here.” Alero smiled. “It was getting somewhat stuffy so I came out for some fresh air.” Maggie cut her a skeptical look that communicated her patent disbelief. “You were a bit overwhelmed.” She chided. Alero began to deny it but Maggie cut into her. “They are a bit much. You get used to them though.” She continued. “Give it time.” She admonished. Alero shrugged her shoulders. It did not matter to her one way or another. She was probably not going to ever be friendly with the Adenirans. The only reason she was at this party was because she had been at Maggie’s place for the week and it would have been awkward to leave her at home while the rest of the family went out for the evening and so she had tagged along. “Come on. I want you to meet Banjo and his sister. They’re pretty nice people so no worries.” Maggie said as she pulled Alero along, half dragging her actually. Sensing that there was no escape, Alero relented and followed docilely feeling like she was being led to slaughter. “Hey! You guys! Don’t you dare start out with me!” Maggie yelled as they reached the group hanging around Banjo. It was a pretty exclusive circle of super rich kids. Alero had indeed met some of them before while hanging out with Maggie. She had never really gotten comfortable with this clique. She had met Maggie on the playground of the nursery school they had both attended and it had been love at first sight for both of them. They had been best friends ever since. Over the years, Mr. Okwara, Maggie’s dad, had made a killing in the financial market. Money had become available to them in abundance and the Okwaras had moved up in life. They had relocated from the Average middle class neighbourhood where Alero and Maggie had grown and moved to the highbrow enclave reserved almost exclusively for the supper rich with the occasional high ranking government official thrown in. It was a testament to the love between both girls that their friendship had withstood the rigours of cross-city visits and the really wide change in their social status. “Where did you get off to Maureen?” someone asked. “Had to go get Alero.” Maggie responded. “Hey Alero!” Mide, one of the guys sitting in a loose circle around the star of the moment hailed. She had met him a few times at Maggie’s as he was good friends with her brother. “Hello Mide.” She responded, a shy smile touching her lips. “It’s been awhile since we saw your pretty face around these parts.” He commented. “Asked Maggie after you and she was babbling something.” That earned him a hard rap on the arm from Maggie. “I do not babble. And stop making those gooey eyes at my friend! Alero ignore him. He’s an inveterate flirt!” Alero wished the ground would open and swallow her up right that moment as it seemed to her that all eyes turned to the ‘intruder’. The girls seemed to eye her up as if she were a potentially dangerous rival that had snuck up on them unsuspected while the guys seemed to look at her again just to be sure they hadn’t missed something. “So you’re Maggie’s friend we’ve heard so much about.” A voice drawled. Had Alero been told that a body could react sexually to a voice, she would have insisted that it was not possible. Her pebbled nipples would have mocked that belief. She turned slowly, mortified at her own body’s reaction to face the speaker. It was Banjo. She knew that. She had just spent about half an hour outside with girls that had giggled every time he walked by or looked in their direction. “Ally, the dude here is Banjo.” Mide indicated with his thumb. “Banjo, Ally.” Alero had to smile at that. Only Maggie and their families called her ‘Ally’. To everyone else, she was Alero. What did Mide mean by calling her Ally just now? She peeked a glance at him and he winked at her in response. She quickly averted her eyes back to Banjo, Adebanjo Adeniran of the great Adeniran dynasty. She had to disagree with those girls, he was not cute. Cute, was something two year old boys were and this specimen, was definitely older, much older than two years old. She began to smile a greeting at him when the look in his eyes stopped her cold. Gone was the drawling, charming young man and in its place was…disdain. Alero resisted the urge to look down at herself to see if her embarrassing reaction to him was on display. “Hello.” She said coolly. To which he responded with a nod and continued his conversation with his friends. Clearly, she had been dismissed. Alero looked around till she spotted Maggie holding court at a corner of the living room. The parents were at the swimming pool area at the back of the house carrying on with their own party leaving the young adults all to themselves indoors. Alero slowly made her way to where Maggie chatted vivaciously with her friends. For the first time in all their years of friendship, Alero felt resentment for her friend. The burn of the snub she had just been given seemed too much for her to bear. It hadn’t been the first time. There had always been subtle shade thrown at her over the years as she had become Maggie’s ‘tag-along’ friend but she had never let it get in the way of her friendship with Maggie. But suddenly it mattered! Oh, how it mattered and she had had enough of it. She tapped Maggie on the shoulder to get her attention. “Hey Ally. I thought the guys intended to keep you for a bit there. They all….” “Would it be alright if I went on home…to your house?” Alero interrupted. Maggie’s smile immediately extinguished. “Why? What’s wrong?” she asked, concern marring her beautiful features. “I just…I’m feeling a bit dizzy. Perhaps I just need to lie down for awhile.” Alero finagled. “Did you eat something…? Did something happen over there?” she indicated the group Alero had just left with a jut of her chin. Alero felt her head turn involuntarily and her gaze clashed with Olly, Maggie’s elder brother. The slight frown of concern on his face was the final straw for Ally. “I can go on by myself. You don’t need to leave on my account. And it isn’t that far. I know my way home…to your house.” “Ally?” Maggie asked her frown of consternation deepening. Ally just waved away her concern and left. As she stepped outside, it felt like the slight breeze washed away the bitterness and pain of the burn she had just been dealt. She may not have realized it then, but in that moment, a few things shifted in her mind that would significantly shape her life in unexpected ways. An Excerpt from UNDEAD - Sarah Jane. A novel by Nia Eze. Coming soon! NB: Some characters from the novel Transgender J are in this story! CHAPTER 1 Sarah Jane made her way around the building back to the front door. She had been around it twice but had not seen any other way in. It had to be the front door. She looked again in the space that 'good ole Doctor Greene' had said the key would be in half hoping that some miracle would have occurred since the last time she checked and the key would be mysteriously where he had said it would be. Sarah Jane blew out a huff in her disappointment. She felt a whirlpool of bitterness opening up somewhere in her, threatening to overwhelm her. She had been back here every month for the past year hoping against hope that she would somehow gain access into the building. No such luck! The place seemed locked down tighter than a crypt. She pulled at the handle to the front door in frustration and rattled it noisily. It wasn't budging, just as it hadn't budged all the other times. As she made to pull her hand back, another hand closed in around hers from behind her. She jerked in shock and reflexively pushed back at the person who had come up so quietly that she had not heard. She felt, even as she turned, the person flung back down the porch steps to the yard. She watched as the person lay still for a few seconds and then begin to writhe as he recovered his breathe. When he turned to look at her, she sagged against a column holding up the porch. "Obi, you of all people should know not to scare me like that." she chided as she walked down the steps to him. "I hope you aren't hurt. I pushed really hard." she commented. "You do push hard." Obi complained, holding unto his side as he struggled to get up off the ground. "I can't seem to help it nowadays." she said. They were both quiet for a few long moments, taking the time to access each other, see how well or not the other looked in the long month since they had last seen themselves. "You look..." "How are..." They both began at the same time. They both stopped abruptly and smiled sheepishly. Sarah indicated with her hand that Obi should go first. "You look...alright I suppose, all things considered." he said on a shrug and he walked up to meet her at the bottom of the steps. "You are too foolhardy for your own good." she scolded as she noticed his slight limp and wondered if she had hurt him more than he was letting on. He sat on the second to last step and patted the space next to him inviting her to take a seat. She hesitated but a moment and then sat down next to him. It felt good to sit with someone and not feel the need to hide what she was becoming, had become. Life in the last few months had not been easy on her. Sarah Jane would never have imagined that her life could ever have turned out this way. She had wanted to be a doctor for as long as she could remember. She had trained for a substantial part of her life to make that dream come true. She had made sacrifices, forsworn relationships that had had so much promise just to fulfill that life-long wish to be a doctor and she had made it. She had been rising so rapidly through the ranks. She had taken an interest in genetics very early in her career and she had pursued it. Her parents had been so proud of her when she had been accepted to work with the revered team of doctors at The Centre. It had been all they could talk about to family and friends, 'Our daughter the scientist!' How it had all come crashing down. She could imagine that there would be a lot of people who would laugh at her now and say, 'Well, it's only fitting what happened to you. You were going too fast. There had to be trouble on that road.' "How are you keeping?" Obinna asked her as he shrugged out of the back pack she now saw that he was carrying. "I'm getting desperate." she answered with her usual forthrightness. Obi clucked his tongue, whether in rebuke or commiseration, she was not sure. He unzipped the backpack and brought out something wrapped in a nylon bag. The scent of peppery, fried chicken assailed her nostrils and Sarah Jane smiled. It started small and then widen as he brought out yet another nylon wrapped parcel and the sweet smell of her favourite soap bar reached her. "You really...thank you." she said softly overwhelmed by her feeling of gratitude for her unlikely friend. When she had run to him for help that day that her world as she had known it had come crashing down in that hospital room, she had not realized that it had to have been the Lord ordering her steps. "That's better! I was getting fed up with your complaining. It's not going to stop me from doing what I can you know." She snorted out a chuckle as she peeked into first the nylon bag that smelled of soap and then the other. She took out a piece of chicken for herself and offered him another which he took smilingly from her. "There's been no luck getting in?" he asked. "None." Sarah Jane answered despondently. "Don't know why you won't let me break in." Obinna griped. She slapped him on the hand in reprimand. "What if it sets off some alarm or there's some...something that's there that it releases." Obinna was quietly thoughtful for a while as he slowly gnawed at his piece of chicken. "I wish I could say your experiences are making you paranoid." he conceded moodily. They both lapsed into silence as they polished off the pieces of chicken and drink that he had brought her. As they both cleaned up with the tissue napkins that he had brought, Obi began to talk. "I've been thinking of something but I thought I should clear it with you first?" At Sarah Jane's nod, he continued. "You know that briefcase we retrieve from Doctor Greene and his clan is still with us at the HQ." "It's evidence though. I thought of it but wasn't sure if it was something I could lay my hands on." she said. "Well the good doctor said that most of it was untested stuff and that he couldn't say for sure what they would do exactly. Perhaps there's something there that could help you." he concluded. Sarah Jane smiled. She always enjoyed a conversation with Obinna. He had a way of going round in circles before hitting the nail squarely on the head. Very squarely on the head. "How do you propose we lay our hands on it?" she asked. And Obi launched into his plans.

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