“You were going to sneak away?”
“Sneak away? Why would I do that?”
“You forgot our deal?”
I looked at him, trying to figure out what he was talking about. I was so tired, I couldn’t think straight. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Daniel.” I frowned.
“You’ve been working too hard.” He stared at me closely.
I shrugged. “I just need a few hours of rest.”
He nodded. “Would you like to take something? A drink?”
“No, I’m fine. I just want to go home. What were you talking about just now?”
“Our plans to celebrate this beautiful office at the karaoke bar?”
“Yes, that.” He laughed. “I can see you’re not up for it though. You look too worn out for a party.”
“I actually thought you were talking of something else. Udi told me she was headed there when I saw her outside.”
“Yeah. I’ll catch up with them later.”
“I’m sorry I can’t go with you all. I’m not fit company for anyone tonight.”
“No, you’re not.” He laughed. “It’s okay though, there’s always a next time.”
I smiled. “Sure.”
“Can I drop you off?”
“No, I came with my car.”
He looked at me, nodded, and shifted forward in his seat. He took both my hands between his before I knew what he wanted to do. He squeezed my hands.
“Ella, I’m trying so hard to respect your decision here but there’s only so much you can ask of me. I want you in my life, and I don’t know why you’re being reluctant. I know you like me as much as I like you. We spent one day together and it was one of the best days of my life. Why are you holding yourself back?”
I didn’t know what to say. I am not in the proper frame of mind to deal with this now and I think he knows it, that’s why he ambushed me this way. I stared at our joined hands, looked up to his face, and the intensity I read there scared me. I really need to come clean to this guy.
“Daniel, you don’t know anything about me. If you hear my story, I’m sure you’ll think twice about giving your heart to me.”
“Then tell me and let me make that decision. Don’t make the decision for me.”
“It’s not a pretty one, Daniel. I’ve not even told Adelaide any of this, that’s how reluctant I am to share it.”
“It can’t be that bad, Ella.”
I smiled. “You don’t know the half of it.”
He squeezed my hands. “Tell me.”
I made my decision then. Better to face the rejection now before feelings got too tangled to unknot. I forgot that I was tired, I forgot that I needed to rest more than anything. All my energy, my focus was on Daniel at that point.
“I will.” I replied.
I removed my hands from his, I needed a clear head for this and his palm rubbing my knuckles would not suffice. I leaned back, prepared to tell it all. As I opened my mouth to speak, my phone rang. I looked at the screen to check the caller and my heart stuttered to a stop. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
Daniel must have been alarmed by the look on my face because he leaned towards me and grabbed my hands again. “What is it? What is the matter, Ella? Who is calling you?” he asked alarmingly.
I looked at his face dazedly, I could hardly draw a full breath. “My mother.” I whispered.
I could see the confusion as it spread all over his face. He is probably wondering why a call from my mum should make me speechless. He didn’t know the story, he didn’t know that I have not spoken with my mum for almost a year now. He did not know the bitter words we spoke to each other the last time we had a conversation, he didn’t know the hurt I feel in my heart that my mum rejected me during my lowest time. He does not know what it means to see her number flash on my screen.
I shut my eyes, opened them again and pressed the green button to receive the call. “Hello, mother.”
Daniel stood up and went out to the balcony overlooking the street. He probably did so to give me some privacy. I was grateful to him for that small concession.
I can’t believe my mum is calling after almost a year of not speaking. What does she want now?
“Ella, where are you?” she asked non too graciously.
“I’m in Lagos, mother.” I can’t remember the last time I called her, ‘mum’. It’s been ‘mother’ for as long as I can remember.
“Lagos, ehn? So you cannot call your mother all this while, ehn? You have no respect for me at all.”
“Mother, we didn’t exactly part on amicable terms. The last time we spoke, you said you never wanted to see my face again.”
“And I still don’t want to see your face.” she snapped. “Not when you insist on prostituting yourself to every man in this world. That’s why you refused to stay in your marriage with that fine Tony. Bayo, I could understand, I never trusted him anyway; you can never trust Yoruba boys but Tony was different, he was the epitome of a great husband.”
“Mother, Tony was knocking me around.”
“So what? Your father knocked me around a time or two too. Did you see me pack my bags? Marriage is about sacrifices.”
“Not when I was covered with bruises every day.” I sighed. It’s the same old story with my mother. Nothing ever changes.
“You are just a child. You don’t understand what marriage is about at all. You are just playing at it.” She continued in a tone oozing with self-righteousness.
I was tired of her usual tirade. I wish she will just get to the point of her call. Or maybe this was it. We had not spoken for almost a year, and the first time she calls me, she badgers me with hurtful words. I stared at Daniel’s back as he leaned on the balcony railing.
“Mother,” I cut in as she went on. “Why did you call me?”
She sniffed. “I called to ask you why you have not spoken to anyone in your family for almost a year.”
“Because my family doesn’t inspire such devotion in me, mother. I don’t see why I should keep in touch with people who don’t understand me, or even help me when I was in trouble.”
She was silent for some moments. I’ve never known my mother to not have a ready come-back at any time. Her short silence threw me. Did I finally get through to her?
“Mother? Are you there?”
“Yes o. So you think we are not there for you, abi?”
“Mother, you just finished giving me the riot act now. After I have explained to you many times why I had to leave Tony, I believe if you really care, you’ll at least see the situation from my own perspective.”
“Hmm, just get your act together because me I want grandchildren o.”
And, that is the crux of the matter.
“And make sure you call your father and sister too.”
“Okay, mother.” My sister, Sidi, and I were close at one time. Not so much now.
“And call me from time to time if you don’t want me to come to that Lagos and drag you home by your ears.”
I almost smiled. I know she would do exactly as she threatened. “Yes, mother.”
“Okay o, bye.” She hung up before I could reply.
I sighed and laid my head on the back of the chair. Talking with my mother always drained me. I thought back to the last time I spoke with Sidi. I had been so angry I almost spit in her face. I don’t remember when our relationship deteriorated to that extent but I remember it started changing when I decided to leave Bayo. She felt I should have told her we were having problems. She thought f I had talked about it, it would have made it better. Naturally, I disagreed.
We hope you are flowing along with the story
I was still deep in thought when I felt a hand on my knee. I had almost forgotten I was in Daniel’s office. I opened my eyes and found him staring at me intently. I swallowed a sigh. The poor guy deserves an explanation after this little drama that just unfolded here. And if I am intent on refusing him, it’s only fair he knows why.
“Are you okay?” he squeezed my knee. I could see the concern in his eyes.
“How much of that did you catch?”
He smiled. “Not much.”
“I guess it’s time you hear the whole story.” I said, ready to spill my guts. I’m not sure what I want out of this, but I don’t want to think of it too much, so my hopes will not be dashed. I’d rather curb my expectations than be disappointed when those expectations are not met.
“I’m listening.” He said, and my heart skipped a beat.
“Would you like something? A drink perhaps?” Daniel asked before I could start my lengthy story.
“Yes, please.” My throat had gone dry, probably from tension.
He stood up beside me and went to the fridge tucked into the corner of the room. “What would you like? There is Coke, Fanta, and Maltina. And water too.”
“Water is fine, thank you.”
I watched him as he retrieved a bottle of water and two glasses from the tray on the fridge. He came back to where I was seated, poured the water into the glasses and offered me one.
“Thank you.” I said solemnly, my mind on how polite and courteous he was.
“My pleasure.” He smiled, took a sip of his water, and settled back in his chair, watching me closely.
“Oh my! I forgot you have to be somewhere.” I suddenly remembered the mini celebration party he organized for his staff.
He just smiled and waved it away. “I’ll catch them later.”
Well, I guess I wasn’t going to get off that easy. “Okay then.” I sat back too, nervous now that he was watching me with absolute concentration on his face. I wringed my hands together on my laps. “I don’t know where to start from.” I said, not daring to look in his eyes.
“I’m sure it’s not that bad, Ella. Start from wherever you’re comfortable with.”
That was the wrong thing to say. His words did not calm me like he intended, they only made me tenser. Of course, it was very bad. Better to just start. This night can only end one way anyway, no need to window dress anything.
“I have been married twice.” I started.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the hand lying casually on his thigh clench. I ignored it, and plunged ahead. I couldn’t look at his face. If I do, I won’t be able to continue.
“Both marriages did not work out. The first time, I married very young. We knew each other quite well, but both of us were not prepared for marriage. We didn’t know what we were doing, much less how to go about it. When the situation became so bad, we had to part ways.
“Few years later, I met another man. We worked together and one thing led to another. We dated for a few years, I was reluctant to commit to anyone at this point, but he hammered at my defenses until I agreed to marry him. We were okay for a while, until I got a job somewhere else, then the insecurities, jealousies, physical and emotional battery started.
“He hit me at the slightest provocations. I developed a repertoire of lies which I tell my friends and family. It became quite embarrassing for me. The last time he beat me to a pulp and I was hospitalized for many weeks, which was when I decided to quit the relationship. I was not ready to die because of any man’s emotional imbalance.”
I did not realize Daniel held my hand, and I did not realize I was crying until he offered me a handkerchief. I took it and dabbed at my tears. “Thank you.” I murmured.
“After I made that decision, I spoke to my family about it.” I continued my story. “My family was not very sympathetic. My father expressly forbade it, and mother told me to deal with it, as marriage comes with different challenges. My sister understood, but she advised going for counseling instead of quitting totally. I didn’t listen to any of them, perhaps I should have, but at that point I was barely healed from his last battery, and I simply couldn’t take it anymore. I filed for divorce.
“All through the process, my family didn’t speak with me. When the divorce was final, I decided to have a change of environment; there was nothing there for me anymore. So, I came to Lagos, and I am attempting to put my life back together, and then you come along, threatening to topple the wall I carefully built around my heart. I don’t think I am ready to risk it all again.”
He released my hand and sat back as before, staring off into space. What I would give to be able to read his mind at that moment. The annoying part of it all is I don’t know how I want him to react. My feelings are all jumbled up, and my heart is so scared and confused.
He remained like that for a few moments more, before he finally turned to me and I was shocked by the anger in his eyes. His eyes blazed with intense emotions, and I was momentarily trapped in them.
He took my hand again and squeezed it so hard, I almost yelped. “That was a very sad story, Ella. I’m sorry you had to go through all that. The first one was understandable, you were both young and wanted different things out of life, but the second……” his lips tightened and he released my hands abruptly, stood up, and started pacing.
He looked at me again. “I’m sorry, I just find it hard to control my anger when I hear of a man hitting a woman. In my opinion, it is the lowest, vilest of men that will raise his hands on a woman, no matter the provocation.”
I just kept staring at him, speechless. He finally walked off the anger and then came back to sit beside me. He leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes, and sighed deeply. Suddenly, he sat up and gripped my hands in his. He looked into my eyes, and I knew this was a profound moment for him.
“Ella, I’m going to treat you so right, you will forget that any man ever hurt you. That I promise.” He said fiercely, and pulled me into a hug.
God help me, I believed him. I totally believed him.
I removed myself from his arms to give some distance between us and stared into his face. “That remains to be seen, Daniel. Remember, I’ve been through this before and it is easy to make promises, but it’s not so easy to keep them.”
Although, I believed him in my heart, my head still needed a lot of convincing. The saying ‘once bitten, twice shy’ is very apt. I’ve been bitten by the love bug twice, and both times, it didn’t turn out so well, I needed more than just words to make a commitment to this man.
He sat back and studied me. I could see different emotions play over his face. There was anger, there was hurt, and finally I thought I saw understanding. I couldn’t just take his passionate promises at face value, could I? After all, guys will promise almost anything when they want a woman.
He stared at me for several minutes until I averted my gaze. I stood up and walked to the balcony he just vacated, leaned on the railing and stared at the bustling city of Lagos. Thousands of people went about their daily businesses, living and loving, that is the whole meaning of life after all. Here I am, trying to live and love too; and the cycle just continues.
I felt Daniel beside me before I saw him. I didn’t turn to him though. I couldn’t look in his face, I know looking at him would only weaken my resolve, and then where would I be?
“This is some view you have here.”
“Yes, it is, and I worked so hard for it.” He touched my arm and turned me to face him. “Ella, I’m very tenacious and I always go for what I want. I want you in my life, and I can tell you I’ve never worked this hard to get a woman. But that’s the issue with you, isn’t it? You’re not just any woman. From the moment I met you, I knew you were the one for me, despite your tardiness and snippy attitude.” He smiled at that.
“I can only promise you I’ll work hard to make this relationship work, but then you have to be willing to work for it too. I’m not going to allow you bail on me when the going gets tough.”
That got my back up. “I don’t bail for the sake of bailing, Daniel.” I snapped.
He just kept looking at me. Finally, he smiled. “I’m sure you came to that conclusion a long time ago.”
“Oh, you’re right.” I threw my hands up in surrender. “I know I tend to run when the going gets tough, but I’ve grown a lot recently, and I’ve been able to work on my shortcomings.”
“Ella, I’m not looking for a perfect woman, far from it. I know you’re not perfect and neither am I. This will only work if we both decide to give our very best and work hard to keep us together. I’m ready to go ahead if you are.”
I shrugged. “I’m still scared.”
“That is the risk you have to take, babe. I’m taking a risk here too. I will never know if you’ll wake up tomorrow, decide I’m too much to handle and leave me high and dry with a broken heart; but darling, I love you enough to try.” He hooked a hand at the back of my neck and used it to draw me closer to him. Then, he planted a soft kiss on my lips.
I sighed. “You dived into my heart so suddenly, Daniel. I wish I saw it coming, I would have guided my heart against you.”
“Haven’t you heard? I’m a bulldozer.”
I laughed. He could always make me laugh. “Yeah, right. It was Boyd that really convinced me. That sexy car is a real deal binder.”
“We aim to please, ma’am.” He gave a mock bow, straightened and opened his arms to me.
I walked into his arms eagerly, knowing it was way more than just hugging, that was me trusting him with my heart, hoping he would keep it safe, and that was me willing to take his heart, praying I will hold it dear, and it was also both of us trusting each other with our priciest possession, willing to explore happiness together.
“I love you.” He whispered in my ears.
“I love you.” I whispered back, closed my eyes and said a silent prayer, praying that this time, it would work.