The blue sky was clear, cloudless, not entirely, an after effect of the rainstorm early that morning. Cool icy wind blew, hitting the skin with a firm grip. The street was empty. Different colours of houses lined both sides of the road. Some were decorated with palm trees, variety of flowers, plants, while others stood out with artworks on the walls and sculptures. He stopped the car outside the white house with a big black gate and honked thrice. He heard the sound of metal. The security guard in green and white uniform poked his head out. He was a short man in his mid-forties. He retreated into the compound and opened the gate.
â€œGood morning sir,â€ the man stood aside and waved.
He waved back in acknowledgement and drove in. He parked the silver Prado jeep alongside three other cars and killed the engine. He picked the black polythene bag on the front seat and alighted from the vehicle. He closed the door and locked it. He sneezed thrice and thought of a hot bath. It would chase the cold away he reasoned. He turned around and headed for the one story building. A tall slim figure raced out of the ground floor flat towards him.
â€œUncle Bassey, Uncle Bassey, welcomeâ€¦â€ she tried to collect the bag in his hand, but he wouldnâ€™t let go.
â€œYou canâ€™t carry it. It is heavy. Thank you,â€ he tried to smile.
â€œWhere did you go this morning? You left while it was raining.â€
He kept on walking. Was she monitoring him?
â€œDid you go to work? I thought you hardly go to work on Saturdays, except when there is an emergency.â€
He glanced at her. When did she start to keep tabs on him? Wasnâ€™t she too young to be nosy? The dark skinned eighteen-year-old girl towered over him with an inch. Her slim frame looked athletic in the blue jeans and red short-sleeve blouse.
â€œUncle Bassey, I think I will study Dentistry like you. You make a lot of money. You drive a very expensive car, you are living in a three-bedroom posh apartment in Ikeja G.R.A, and you run your own dental clinic. How old are you? You are a rich young man.â€
What in the world!
He halted and looked at her closely. Was that how she saw him, a rich young dentist with an expensive car and a posh apartment? It had not always been that way. One doesnâ€™t become successful in a day.
â€œYoung woman, you should really think about what you want to study. Do not use anybodyâ€™s success or failure as a yardstick.â€
She beamed at him, white teeth, rosy cheek, dove eyes.
Was she even listening to him at all? â€œChinyere!â€
â€œHmmmâ€¦â€ she blinked, all her thoughts cleared.
He shook his head. She had not heard a thing. He walked past her and stepped into the building. She ran after him.
â€œUncle Bassey, how old are you?â€
He grunted, â€œNone of your business.â€
She walked beside him, marching his speed with quick steps of her own, â€œCome on, we are neighbours. I amâ€¦ I am like your sister.â€
â€œYou are not my sister,â€ he eyed her and went up the stairway.
â€œI know. How old are you?â€ she followed him.
â€œYou are eighteen years old, add seventeen to that.â€
She stopped and pondered. Her eyes widened with realization. Her hand flew to her mouth and her eyes turned pale. She bit at her lower lip and climbed the stairs to the first floor.
â€œYou are like, almostâ€¦ twice my age.â€
He placed the bag on the floor and fished out the door key from the bunch of keys attached to the key-holder, â€œI am old enough to be your father.â€
â€œYou are not my father!â€ her dark eyes flashed with anger.
He caught a glimpse of her and opened the door. He lifted the bag and walked in, â€œHave a superb weekend.â€
He turned around.
â€œCan I come in?â€ her pleading eyes held his expressionless ones.
She folded her arms across her bosom.
â€œGo home. Your mama needs you.â€
She eyed him, â€œMy mama is sleeping.â€
â€œBye Chinyere,â€ he shut the door and locked it. He carried the bag into the kitchen and dropped it in the sink. It was a good thing that he had gone to the abattoir early that morning. He had been able to purchase different parts of cow, goat and ram meat. He would be able to make enough soup and stew that would last him for a week or more.
His work at the dental clinic had taken a demanding turn due to the number of people that patronized the place. He was able to hire a doctor, a dentist by profession, who had been like a pillar of support for him in the past three months. He had also employed another nurse. The work load had taken a bad toll on the only nurse in the clinic. Now, she wasnâ€™t alone again. While working at Lagos University Teaching Hospital a few years back, he had never thought he would set up his own clinic, although it had always been his dream. It was when his parentsâ€™ Calabar restaurant boomed and became a household name that the idea really came to life within him. He believed that before the year ran out, he would be able to set up another clinic in Abuja. If Jesus tarries, by the time he was forty; his dental clinics should be all over the country.
The door-bell rang. His thoughts faded. He turned off the tap at the sink and wiped his wet hands with a napkin hanging on the kitchen window. He hoped it wasnâ€™t Chinyere. She could be a pain in the neck at times. He wasnâ€™t expecting anyone that day. The only person that showed up at his place unannounced was his younger sister. If she was the one at the door, he would drive her away. He cannot stress and cook while someone else would devour the whole thing. She loved spending her weekends with him. It had become a routine after his fiancÃ©e broke up with him. His sister had taken care of him until he was emotionally ready to return to work. Those six months had been unbearable. If not for her, his apartment would have turned into a pigsty. Nevertheless, it didnâ€™t give her the right to raid his kitchen whenever she visited. He strode out of the kitchen and walked towards the front door. He peeped through the door hole and saw his neighbourâ€™s daughter. His brows came together in a frown. He unlocked the door and opened it.
â€œWhat are you still doing here?â€ his stern voice didnâ€™t dissuade her.
â€œI want to stay with you.â€
â€œGo home,â€ he glared at her.
â€œUncle, please now,â€ her eyes became misty.
He hissed, took her by the hand and dragged her towards the stairway.
He raced down the stairs, pulling her along. She tried to break free from his grip, but he tightened his hold on her. He halted outside her flat and pressed the door bell.
â€œLet me go!â€
He released her and pressed the bell again. The door flew open and a woman in her early forties stepped out.
â€œChinyere, where have you been?â€
The girl pouted, stamped her feet and went in.
â€œI have been looking for this girlâ€¦â€ the woman hissed and looked at him, â€œGood morning doctor.â€
â€œMorning Madam,â€ he turned around and returned to his flat. He met two of his neighbours at his door. They lived directly opposite his flat. He groaned and looked heavenwards.
Oh Godâ€¦ not today.
â€œGood morning doctor,â€ they chorused.
â€œMorning,â€ he feigned a smile.
â€œDo you have salt?â€ the darker and taller one grinned.
â€œMe I need sugar,â€ the other squeaked.
He had left his door wide open. His neighbourâ€™s daughter was responsible.
He walked into his flat with gritted teeth and the ladies scurried after him.
â€œMen, I like coming to your flat. It is so organized,â€ she looked around her.
â€œOrganized with class,â€ the darker one settled on a leather chair facing the 40â€™ flat screen LG television.
â€œAnyone that marries you is luckyâ€¦â€ the other danced around the room, touching and sniffing everything.
â€œDoctor Bassey, you live like a king,â€ she winked at him and parted her dark long legs. The purple mini skirt she was wearing barely covered her lumpy thighs. The matching lilac blouse barely covered her chest.
He looked away in disgust. He had no interest in women who lay all their cards out in the open like wares for sale.
â€œThis is my dream house men,â€ the other sat beside her friend and flashed him a smile. Her shorts which could hardly be called shorts was similar to a granny pantie, but tighter. Her red blouse could hardly carry her heavy chest. Everything was hanging out like over-ripe plantain.
Did he make a mistake by renting the flat? Since the day he moved in, his female neighbours had been after him like flies hovering over faeces. His neighbourâ€™s daughter wouldnâ€™t give him a breathing space and these ones wanted his attention at all cost. He could never date the likes of them.
If his fiancÃ©e had not called off the wedding, he would have been happily married by now.
â€œHalima, Simisola, I am kind of busy right now.â€
â€œDoctorâ€¦â€ Halima cooed, adjusted her blouse and ran her hands over her thighs in a slow motion.
Irritation crawled all over him. He turned away and clenched his teeth.
â€œDoctor Basseyâ€¦â€ Simisola got up, walked up to him and squeezed her heavy bosom. She smiled and blinked her fake long lashes.
He coughed and held the door knob. The girls exchanged glances and chuckled. They walked sluggishly and blew him kisses before stepping out of the apartment. He kicked the door shut with his leg and returned to the kitchen.
I should have been married by now. All this kind of nonsense would have been avoided. This is torture.
He turned on the tap at the sink and continued to clean the red meat. He switched his thoughts to the kind of soup he wanted to prepare that morning.
She powdered her face and stared at her reflection in the hand mirror. Her dark skin looked flawless. Her big dark eyes were similar to that of the ancient Egyptian women, darkened above and below the eyelashes. Her full luscious lips were coated in red. She flashed herself a smile. Her eyes twinkled with pleasure. She liked what she saw.
â€œMake-up guru,â€ one of the nurses approached her. She kept the mirror in one of the drawers attached to the desk.
â€œOne needs to look good,â€ she looked up at the brown skin, tall and plump lady.
â€œHmmâ€¦ I hear you,â€ the nurse leaned on the high semi-circle desk.
â€œYou know I am the face of this clinic.â€
â€œFace of clinic ko, face of Africa ni,â€ the newly employed nurse walked up to them.
â€œI am the one every customer sees before both of you attend to them and transfer them to the doctors.â€
Adanne clapped her hands and began to laugh.
â€œIs Oga around?â€ Ibinabo stood beside the semi-circle desk.
Sikemi shook her head. Her curly shoulder length braids danced around her face.
â€œThe first time I came here, I thought Doctor Sylvester was the owner of the clinic,â€ Ibinabo glanced at her colleague.
Adanne shook her head, â€œHe is not. He assists Oga to run the clinic.â€
â€œHe is like the second in command,â€ Sikemi added.
Ibinabo smiled to herself, â€œOga is so cute. He is short for a man though.â€
â€œHe is not short! I am five feet seven and he is exactly my height,â€ Adanne eyed her.
â€œEhnâ€¦ okay, fine, he is not short,â€ Ibinabo looked back at the nurse, wondering while she was upset.
â€œI am five feet nine inches, I am taller than you,â€ she pointed at Ibinabo, â€œBut, I donâ€™t mind dating someone like Oga,â€ her big dark eyes had a dreamy look.
The nurses turned to look at the receptionist.
â€œHe is too slim for my liking,â€ Ibinabo blinked and turned her head towards the flat screen television on the wall.
Sikemi chuckled, â€œI like him that way, at least, he has six packs and his cropped curly brown hair makes him look sexy.â€
Ibinabo frowned, â€œYou are not his type. You are too tall for him.â€
Sikemi eyed her, â€œWho are you to determine what his type is?â€
Adanne grinned, â€œI am more like his type. I am his height and I am almost as fair as he is.â€
They glared at her.
â€œDoctor Bassey is oyinbo, you are not even close,â€ Ibinabo hissed.
â€œPresently, he is single and available,â€ Sikemi played with a strand of her hair.
Adanne leaned closer to the desk, â€œI thought he was dating that oyinbo babe, whatâ€™s her name now?â€
â€œLovejoy,â€ Sikemi chuckled.
â€œYes, Lovejoy,â€ she nodded.
Ibinabo glanced from one to the other.
â€œThe mumu babe called off the wedding,â€ Sikemi hissed.
â€œAh!â€ Adanne placed a hand over her opened mouth.
â€œDo you remember those six months that oga didnâ€™t show up at work?â€ Sikemi tilted her head.
â€œYes, doctor Sylvester almost died of frustration,â€ Adanne looked towards the doctorâ€™s office.
â€œExactly! Oga was nursing a broken heart that period,â€ she hissed again.
â€œAwwâ€¦ I wish I knew,â€ Adanne rubbed her jaw with her fingers.
â€œI just found out. Anyways, he is back in the market and I am definitely for sale,â€ Sikemi batted her eyes.
Adanne sighed; she had a lost look on her creamy brown face.
Ibinabo absorbed all the information she had gathered. She drummed her fingers on the desk.
â€œGood morning nurses,â€ Bassey walked past them, â€œSikemiâ€¦â€ he beckoned at the receptionist.
They froze with shock. The nurses exchanged glances. They didnâ€™t notice when he walked. They hurried to their office and hoped he wouldnâ€™t query them for gossiping during office hours.
Sikemi sprang to her feet and ran after him. Her high heels made click sounds on the tiled floor.
â€œDo I have appointments this morning?â€ he walked into his office and settled behind the mahogany desk.
â€œNo sir,â€ she followed him in and stood by the large desk, â€œDoctor Sylvester is attending to the patients that came in this morning.â€
â€œOkay,â€ he leaned against the chair and pressed his knuckles.
â€œCan I get you anything sir, tea, coffee, beverage?â€
He closed his honey coloured eyes and opened it, â€œNo, thank you.â€
She nodded, turned around and walked out. She closed the door behind her and sighed with relief. She had thought he would scold her. She noticed that the nurses were peeping through the slightly opened office door.
â€œHow far?â€ Adanne whispered.
â€œWe live to see another day,â€ she winked at them and cat-walked back to the reception area.
Bassey shut his eyes and opened it. Was he dreamy? Did he just drive past his ex-fiancÃ©e? Was that Lovejoy? It had been almost a year, eleven months to be precise, since she called off the wedding. He could still remember the day he went with his family to see her parents and find out why the wedding preparations were stopped. They received the embarrassment of their lives that day. They were driven out with no explanations. He checked the in-coming traffic and reversed the car. He stopped at the bus-stop and looked out of the window. A fair lady in her late twenties stood among the crowd. He was right. She was the one. He smiled and honked several times. Someone standing beside her tapped her on the shoulder and pointed at his car.
She looked in his direction and a surprised look took over her face. She approached him with steady steps. Her jeans clung to her like a second skin, show-casing a round eye-bulging backside. The white and blue stripe fitted short-sleeve blouse complimented her fair skin and revealed a considerable amount of cleavage. He swallowed hard, she had not changed one bit.
â€œHi,â€ she leaned towards the window.
â€œHiâ€¦ where are you headed?â€
â€œCan I drop you?â€
â€œYes,â€ she had been standing at the bus-stop for over thirty minutes. She was on the verge of calling her fiancÃ© and asking him to come and pick her up.
She opened the door and climbed in. He joined the traffic and changed the direction in which he was headed. She stole a glance at him. He looked cute as always. She missed playing with his short curly brown hair. She remembered why she broke up with him and frowned. He turned his head when he sensed that she was staring at him. Why was she frowning? He returned his attention to the road and noticed the stand-still ahead. His facial expression indicated anger. He hated been stuck in traffic.
She opened her bag and brought out an invitation card. She threw it on his laps and looked out of the window. He picked it up and glanced at her. He opened it and saw her full name, Lovejoy Idiongho Akpan. He directed his gaze at her again. She was getting married? She had the right to move on, he reasoned.
â€œWho is the lucky man?â€ he scanned the invitation card again. His heart stopped beating when he saw the manâ€™s name. Stephen Akpos Edet, his childhood friend, his best friend.
She caught a glimpse of him and smiled, â€œWe hooked up months after weâ€¦ we broke up.â€
He glared at her, â€œYou called off our wedding and went after my best friend.â€
â€œIt wasnâ€™t like that,â€ she eyed him up and down.
â€œOr have you two beenâ€¦ were you cheating on me with him?â€
â€œNo!â€ she felt infuriated by his accusation.
He clicked on the air-conditioner button. The temperature in the car had gone up all of a sudden.
â€œStephen and I started dating three months after we broke up,â€ she tried to clarify his misconception.
â€œHow convenient,â€ he wished the car in front of him would develop wings and fly.
She folded her arms across her bosom. He could think whatever he wanted. She wasnâ€™t the one at fault.
â€œWhy did you call off our wedding?â€ the emotion in his voice tugged at her heart.
She darted her gaze towards him and noticed the way his eyes glistered with tears. Hasnâ€™t he gotten over her yet?
â€œWhy didnâ€™t you tell me that you couldnâ€™t father a child?â€ she confronted him.
He blinked. What was she talking about? â€œI donâ€™t understand.â€
â€œYour sperms are weak and there is a ninety percent chance that you might not be able to father a child.â€
He stared back at her, open-mouthed.
For the love of God, this girl is driving me nuts. This is a plot. This is a plan hatched out from an evil mind. This is wickedness of the highest order.
â€œYou know what I am talking about. You were going to marry me in deceit.â€
He shook his head, â€œBrilliant, this is just brilliant. Is this what you told your parents? So this is what you told everybodyâ€¦â€
â€œStephen confirmed it!â€ she erupted.
â€œWhat?!â€ a million thoughts ran through his mind. What rubbish did his best friend fill her up with?
â€œHe showed me a medical doctorâ€™s report. He spared me a life time of pain and shame,â€ she eyed him. She was glad that she found out the truth before he ruined her life. She thought he loved her. If he had confided in her in the first place, they might have worked things out.
â€œAnd you believed him?â€ he stared at her in disbelief.
She took her eyes off him and faced the window. She wasnâ€™t in the mood for an argument. She wished she had not gotten into his car.
â€œYou didnâ€™t even bother to ask meâ€¦ whyâ€¦ why didnâ€™t you ask me first before cancelling our wedding?â€
She didnâ€™t respond. He placed a hand on his forehead. He was beginning to feel a headache. It was impossible. His best friend wouldnâ€™t do such a thing. It was a lie. A doctorâ€™s report? Where did he get that from? Did he really? Could he really? He had known the guy most of his life. What would have been the motive for such an outrageous act?
â€œYou can come to the wedding if you like. I will take a bike home,â€ she opened the door and got down from the car before he could say another word.
His heart rate quickened. If what she said was true, his best friend had a lot of explanations to give.
Stephen gave the child a pack of chocolate. He had developed a habit of giving candy and chocolates to every child that visited his dental clinic. It made the childâ€™s experience endurable, regardless of the procedure he or she was brought in for. Most times, it was usually the removal of a bad tooth. It didnâ€™t matter if he was available or not, he had instructed his staff to follow suit. He had been running the clinic since he completed his internship at Lagos University Teaching Hospital. He inherited a ten-bedroom duplex amongst other things from his late father and had converted the ground floor into a clinic and the upper floor into his living quarters. His patients loved the fact that he was accessible. He had two other dentists working with him, three nurses and a few non-medical staff. He hoped to set up branches of the clinic in different parts of the country at the end of the year and at least three other branches in the West African region.
The mother and child waved goodbye and walked out of his office. His personal assistant came in immediately.
â€œSir, there is someone here to see you.â€
â€œWho?â€ he returned to his seat behind the oval glass desk.
His gaze flew back to her smiling face. He had not seen his childhood friend in a while. It was intentional. He had come up with one excuse or the other over the past few months. He knew he would have to face him one day, but, was he ready?
â€œLet him in.â€
â€œOkay sir,â€ she retreated and closed the door behind her.
Stephen rose the moment the door opened and Bassey walked in, â€œTo what do I owe this impromptu visit?â€
â€œYou are the busy one,â€ Bassey approached the desk.
â€œBusiness has been very good,â€ he circled the table and shook hands with his friend. He towered over him. His six-foot figure made him look like a Greek god.
* * *