“I’m proud of you man.” Max was telling me. “So you’re finally going to settle down. That’s good. Really good.” He said beaming.

“Yeah. I’ve never been surer of anything. I’m at a really good place in my life right now.” I said feeling different. I had never seen a happier Bola since the morning I proposed. It was quite a joy to watch the unconscious smile on her lips and the adoration in her eyes when she looked at me. I felt lucky.

When I called my mom to tell her about the engagement, she sighed with resignation; all hopes of her match-making gone to flames but she was happy. I had hoped that she would get off my back with talk of grand kids and such. How wrong I was! After trying unsuccessfully to pry with guile if Bola was already pregnant, she came out straight and asked.

“Mom, she’s not pregnant.” I said patiently.

“Why?” She asked, surprised.

“What do you mean by ‘why’?” I asked, not too surprised at her insistence. I knew what was coming next.

“How do you know she can bear children then?” She asked seriously.

“Is she not a woman? That’s what women do – bear children.” I said, toying with her.

My mother sighed disappointed before she continued. “Stop acting like a child who is unaware. Don’t you know that before you purchase goods in the market, you must properly examine them to be sure you got a good bargain?”

I burst into a fit of laughter as my mother spoke. She sounded so serious. “Mom, this is marriage; not a commercial transaction.”

“What will you say after a year and she doesn’t give me a grandchild?” She asked relentlessly.

“Ah! So all you care about is your grandchild?”

“I don’t have much left to hope for in this life. My grandchildren are the last satisfaction I’ll gain in what’s left of my life. And you know I will not always be around.”

“Oh c’mon mommy! You’ll live forever. Stop acting like you’ll be no more. You’re the strongest woman I know.” I said, chiding her gently.

“I’m not going to live forever, oh. Hmmm, aburom mmuo.” She said.

“Stop being pessimistic now, eh…mommy?”

She sighed and didn’t speak about the issue further. We went on to discuss about arrangements to visit Bola’s parents and other ancilliary matters after which she advised me to be careful. We both knew specifically what she was talking about but didn’t draw the matter any further.

I was a bit uneasy after the call because it brought back the nagging worry that there was still a lose end. I hated loose ends because they had a habit of coming back to bite you in the arse when you least expected it. I could take all the precautions in the world but it still wouldn’t be as certain as knowing what your ill-wisher had in mind for you. Well, I found out soon enough.

It happened two days after I returned from formal introductions with Bola’s parents. We chose the weekend for convenience. I had gone with Alex, an old childhood friend I hardly saw because of the Lagos hustle, Gbenga – a work colleague, my cousin Emeka and of course, Max to Ogun State where Bola’s parents resided. It was a cheerful affair and Dr. And Mrs. Walter Okikiola proved to be a handful pair. They seemed to complete each others sentences as the never-ending questions came on and on. A few of Bola’s uncles, cousins and family friends were present but her granny – who spoke queen’s English was the star of the day as she kept fussing over me, telling me what a nice looking chap I was.

Dr. Walter Okikiola was a consultant gynaecologist who had a very successful private practice in Ogun State. I began to understand why he wanted Bola to follow in his steps. Mrs. Evelyn Okikiola was a branch manager with one of the old generation banks. They had three daughters and I finally met the other two; Ola, a journalist and Temi, an engineering student in Babcock University. They were a happy family and I was glad we would be joining forces soon.

Bola came back to Lagos on Monday morning as she was on the evening shift. I didn’t get to see her because I had already left for work but we talked for hours on the phone as she regaled me with tales of what transpired after I had left with my entourage. I promised I’d pick her up when her shift ended at 6pm if I didn’t get the chance to stop by. My day was already looking to be a very busy one as I had to visit the site and meet clients, make payments and purchases.

It was around 4pm that I found some time for myself. I decided to surprise her figuring she wouldn’t be expecting me till much later. When I drove into the hospital premises, she was at the entrance with several colleagues. Her face lit up at once as she saw my car. As I parked, her colleagues dispersed as she left them and walked towards me.

“What are you doing here by this time?” She asked, quite glad to see me. She gave me a hug and a peck.

“I just had some spare time and thought I’d see my baby.” I said, holding her tightly.

“Grandma has called twice already today asking about you. You better call her.” I laughed, recalling how fussy she was.

“I will. In fact, let me call her now…” I stopped short as I saw the familiar figure of Lola walking towards us. She was dressed in casual jeans and a t-shirt with a fanciful leather hand glove and a red scarf for her hair. Her hand bag was strapped to her shoulders which she looked into from time to time She didn’t look too well. Bola saw my gaze and turned; I heard her catch her breath.

“Your ex.” She whispered.

“I know baby. Just wait for me here, let me see what she wants.” I said softly. She nodded. I walked towards Lola and stopped when she got close.

“Tony.” She said, smiling at me. A smile that still had traces of shock and bore a hint of malice.

“Lola.” I said, keeping my face expressionless.

“I didn’t know I’d meet you here.” She said, shuffling her feet.

“Neither did I.” I said quietly. She regarded me for a few seconds.

“Congratulations on your engagement.” She didn’t do much to hide the bitterness in her voice.

I hid my surprise well. She had been doing a good job of keeping tabs on me. “Thank you.” I said.

“I wanted to congratulate her too for stealing my man.” She said maliciously and loud enough for Bola to hear.

“Your man?” I sighed in exasperation. “Does Joy know you’re here?” I asked as I began to scroll through my address book to find Joy’s number.

She was fast but I was watching her the whole time. She pushed me aside suddenly and bolted towards Bola who had been resting on my car watching us intently. Bola straightened up defiantly as she saw Lola approach. I reached out and caught her right hand which held something that I didn’t see on time. I jerked her backwards roughly and the little bottle she held spilled on my right hand and parts of my shirt.

I watched in horror as the liquid fried the skin on my hand and created black holes which dug their way to my chest, on the spots it came in contact with my shirt. The speed at which my skin deteriorated as it came in contact with the odious liquid was amazing! Lola and Bola screamed simultaneously!

Knowing what the contents of the bottle was, I ignored the pain temporarily and knocked it off Lola’s hands. She seemed shocked at the fact that my skin was burning as she stared hopelessly. The little bottle smashed on the floor releasing what was left of its contents. A little smoke design rose from the shards of the broken bottle. Bola was screaming for the hospital security, two of them were sprinting with amazing agility towards us. Lola knelt close to me, crying and saying “I’m sorry” over and over again.

I hurriedly peeled off my burning shirt, ignoring the searing pain on my hands. Bola by this time had gripped Lola’s hair after discarding her red scarf and was raining blows all over her body totally berserk. It was a quite a frightful picture of her in her nursing outfit beating the shit out of Lola. The security guards managed to pull Bola off who was in tears as she struggled out of their grip and ran towards me.

“Baby, I’m so sorry…what kind of madness is this?” She wept as she examined my hands. By this time, there was quite a crowd outside watching the unexpected spectacle. Bola’s colleagues rushed to my side and led me inside the hospital. As we got to the entrance, a gurney was waiting where I was told to lie on immediately and my acid-burned hands were put on ice. There were a couple of blotches on my chest. Bola caught up with the gurney and continued to weep at my disfigured hand.

“Its alright, baby. I’ll be okay.” I said, smiling amidst the pain, trying to soothe her. She nodded through her tears. I smiled and closed my eyes. At least, I was able to save her. I became conscious of the familiar smell of the hospital and laughed at myself. I was here again, thanks to Lola!

*aburom mmuo – I’m not a spirit.

Malcolm O. Ifi.