As the days went by, my resolve to find out if the flame that once burned bright for Lola had been totally extinguished waned as I became swamped with work. My benefactor had just arrived back in Nigeria and I had to give him a tour of the site to show him the progress we had made with construction after months of greasing the palms of government officials in order to get all permits approved in due time. He was pleased and expressed with pleasure that I was totally capable of handling the project without any supervision. He encouraged me not spare any cost to ensure that everything came out well. My heart almost burst with pride.
So immersed in work was I that I totally forgot about my conversation with Aunty Joy. I was leaving the house as early as 9am and getting back as late as 10pm almost everyday since the last one month. It was stressful but I enjoyed myself immensely and why not? I had a generous expense account with virtually unlimited funds to see the project through and estimation showed we were ahead of schedule. I was confident that the project would be completed in time.
However, I noticed that a certain number had taken to calling me late at night. For the past two weeks, the number called my phone at 10pm every night, regular like clock work. I never picked it up as I had recently developed the habit of not picking calls from unknown numbers. At various times, the caller ID was hidden; at others times, the number which had become very familiar because of its regularity would display. I continued to ignore the call and it stopped after two weeks. After two days of bliss, the calls continued again; this time, it came by 2am while I was asleep. I was so mad, I picked up the phone with every intention to hurl the vilest insults to whoever chose to call me by this ungodly hour.
“Who the fuck is this?!” I said into the phone with sleepy irritation. I perceived the shock from the other end of the line. There was a pause, then the caller spoke.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to call by this odd hour but you’ve not been answering my calls.” All sleepiness disappeared from my eyes as I sat up quickly. My mouth went dry and my heartbeat rate increased in pace as the familiar voice cast me back to the last time I heard it.
“Who is this?” I asked weakly and rather unconvincingly. It was Lola and she knew I knew as well as I knew she knew I knew but she played along.
“Its Lola.” Her voice still sounded like…like…music. I tried to snap out of it and regain my confidence but failed woefully.
“How are you?” I said, my tone softening up considerably.
“I’m ok. And you?”
“I’m great.” I said. There was a long but uncomfortable pause before she continued.
“Joy told me she ran into you last month.”
“Oh yeah. She did.” I said. I suddenly felt angry at myself that her voice had softened me up so easily. Many times, I had played and replayed scenarios in my head of how I was going to give her a piece of my mind in the strongest terms possible for the treatment she gave me; I couldn’t recall a single one…
“Tony…I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry for how I treated you four years ago.” I don’t know why but I was shocked.
“I know in my heart that you wanted the best for me but somehow, I don’t know what came over me…I know now that pushing you away is the greatest mistake I ever made in my life.” Her voice broke as she sobbed for a bit before she continued.
“Can you ever forgive me?” She pleaded.
I was totally overwhelmed because the Lola I knew back then, though sweet was as proud as a peacock. She could argue ferociously in the face of contradicting facts without ever backing down. A trait I found irritating then. Perhaps, life’s cruel experiences had taught her a good lesson.
“I forgave you a long time ago.” I said quietly.
Deep sigh. After a brief pause, I continued.
“And I’m deeply sorry for your loss. I never really heard until much recently.”
“Thank you so much.” She said.
“You’re a lot better now, I hope?” I asked.
“Yes. I am.” She replied after a little hesitation.
“Well, its good to hear from you. Have a good night.” I said, limiting the conversation from going any further. After I ended the call, I was up for another hour with my thoughts running riot about the past. She still sounded real nice and the old longing to see her again returned in a more ferocious manner.
Over the next couple of weeks, she called me constantly on a daily basis and it became clear she was trying to get back in my good graces. Of course, I never forgot the things she said four years ago when she broke up with me but some how, I felt like we were going down the path of reconciliation. She had suggested a couple of times that we meet but I always put her off claiming I was very busy – I really was. I wanted to see her, probably more than she wanted to see me but I was afraid of what could happen if I did. There was no doubt in my mind now that I never really got over her despite all my posturing but I had an advantage; I was dictating the pace in whatever this was turning out to be.
My friend Maxwell was heavily disappointed in me when I told him all that had been happening with Lola recently. He was particularly hard hit four years ago when he learned what Lola had done to me and suggested we gate-crash her wedding and upset her apple cart but I would have none of it. He was particularly furious with what he called “her ploy to get her filthy claws on my wealth” and called her obscene names; “fair-weather bitch”, “gold digger”. After all his entreaties to me not to have anything to do with her failed, he sternly warned me that he was free of any obligation to be nice to her because he never would. I laughed and told him I knew what I was doing.
I finally decided it was time we met after almost a month of phone conversations. I called her for the first time and asked if she would be interested in seeing the new Bond movie with me and she squealed in excitement that she would. I told her I would pick her up from Aunty Joy’s later that evening. It was a friday and I made it a point of duty to round up early at the site and head home to freshen up for my date.
Much to my surprise, I was excited. I felt like a kid who was going shopping to pick up his favorite toy. I made sure I looked my best even though I was casually dressed. Just as I was driving out of my compound, I called her to let her know I was on my way and she replied excitedly that she was ready and waiting. The drive from where I stayed in Gbagada to Surulere was ordinarily a short one but it was a friday and friday traffics are legendary but luckily, I was going against the traffic. I got stuck in a few places but just as I left the bridge connecting me to Ikorodu Road, the road was free so I picked up speed and had just overtaken a slow “danfo” in front of me when a rickety truck sped out of the intersection without warning. There was a squeal of tires as I honked the horn of my car and simultaneously stepped on my brake in panic. The truck made no attempt to slow down and the next thing I felt was the jolt of the impact as the truck smashed into the passenger side of my car! Shards of broken glass flew across my face. The air was rent with the crushing and crumpling sounds of synthetic fiber against metal. The seat belt I wore withstood the impact and held me firmly in place but my head struck the window on the rebound and I felt the window or my skull crack from the force. I was dimly aware as the truck slammed my car against the pavement, deploying the air bags which hit my face with such force that the dancing darkness before my eyes gradually spread over my consciousness like a thick blanket.
Malcolm O. Ifi.
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