It was like a bad dream. It was like a very bad dream.
Before my very eyes, I saw my sister go through all the stages of grief. Her tears soon gave rent to denial, as she accused Apache and Hakeem of lying to her, as there was no way Obiora could be dead.
“Voke, we just left the morgue.” Apache said, clearly distraught. “I got the call from the people who’d found his car at about 2am or so. I immediately called Bart and Hakeem, and his body was still right there at the scene when we got there shortly after 3am. We moved him to the morgue ourselves.”
“Take me to him!” Voke demanded. “I want to see him!”
“Voke, please. Trust me when I say you don’t.” Hakeem said.
And in the most aggressive display of the second stage of grief, anger, Voke grabbed Hakeem by the collar of his shirt. “You better take me to him now, or I swear that there will be more dead bodies today!”
Apache nodded at Hakeem, and Voke immediately slipped on a pair of slippers.
“Voke, let’s change before we go.” I said, regaining my composure enough to try to convince my sister that showing up in the hospital in her High School Musical pajamas wouldn’t be a good idea.
“Isio, there’s no need. I don’t think you need to go in your condition.” Apache tried to interject, but the lethal glare I gave him silenced him.
Voke allowed me lead her to her bedroom, and she sat on the bed like a statue, staring into space. “I’m sure there must be a mistake. It probably wasn’t Obiora’s car. Maybe the person they found just looks like him and has the same kind of car…”
Hearing her made my tears, which had only just receded, threaten to come pouring forth again. I bit my tongue, as I pulled out two boubous from her closet, one for her and one for me. I had to be strong for my sister.
“I’m sure when we get there, we’ll see that’s is all a big mistake.” she said cheerfully, as she slid on the boubou.
By the time we returned to our living room, a few of our neighbours were there, having been attracted by the noise earlier. After futile attempts to to convince me that I wasn’t in the right condition to accompany Voke to the morgue, Victor, our new bachelor neighbor, offered to drive us there.
Sitting in his car, as we rode behind Hakeem and Apache to the morgue, I realised my hands were shaking uncontrollably, just as my heart was racing like a race car. The closer we got to the place, the more anxious I was. What if it wasn’t a mistake and Obiora was really dead? What if this was neither a very bad dream nor a very bad joke?
What made the whole thing even more eerie was how suddenly calm Voke was. She sat almost motionless throughout the journey, staring ahead. I found myself trying to draw from her own strength…her own confidence that it was all a big mix-up.
But getting to the place, and seeing Bart, Obiora’s older brother, sitting on a pavement outside and looking downcast, I knew it was no joke at all.
Obiora! Why did you have to do this to us?!
When I made to follow them as they went to see the body, Voke stopped me. “No, Isio. Not in your condition.”
“I can’t let you go there by yourself!” I cried.
“She’s not by herself. I’ll take care of her. I promise.” Bart assured me. “Apache, please watch Isio.”
I stood watching them as they walked away, and yanked my arm out of Apache’s grip as he tried to hold me. “Let go of me!” I screamed. “All of you knew he was still seeing that Belinda, but you kept quiet. Now look at what has happened!”
He blanched, clearly not expecting me to have known the truth. “It…it wasn’t like that, Isio…”
I hissed, and stalked off, not wanting to hear another word. I was grateful for my anger, because it at least released me from the overwhelming and overpowering grief I was feeling. I found a seat on a bench outside, and Apache soon came to join me. We sat in silence for a few minutes, before I decided to ask the questions that were niggling at me.
“How bad is bad?” I asked, looking at him. “Obiora. How bad is bad?”
Apache shook his head. “Very bad. His head got smashed in. I could only recognize him by his chain and the clothes he wore that day. It’s not something you should see at all.”
I nodded, tears pooling in my eyes again, thinking of Obiora’s handsome face…destroyed. “What about his mother?”
Apache sighed deeply. “She was here earlier…” he shook his head and he didn’t even have to say any more. Obiora was the woman’s favourite child, for crying out loud. Her right hand. Her heart. If Voke was devastated, the woman would be destroyed.
As we sat there, a few of Obiora’s friends and family members started arriving, and it was further confirmation to me that this was no joke at all. This was real!
I looked up as Voke and Bart approached, and the look on my sister’s face confirmed it all. She looked as pale as the bodies lying in the building, her measured steps showed she hadn’t recovered from the sight of whatever was left of the man she loved. I rose to my feet and immediately went to hold her hand, but she didn’t even look at me. She looked like she was in a state of total and complete shock.
Apache rode behind Victor’s car as we made our way back home, and by the time we got to our compound, Pere was there. Upon seeing him, Voke crumbled again, and he held her as she cried, her tears even more heart wrenching this time. Pere, I could also see was struggling to hold his own tears. He led her up to our apartment, and a few neighbours and I took her to her bedroom, where one of them, a nurse, sedated her to sleep. By the time I got out to the living room, our parents had arrived. I have never seen my mother as distraught as she was that day.
“Bartholomew called us. Is it true?!” she demanded, her eyes pleading with me to tell her otherwise.
When I nodded, she’d collapsed into a chair, looking like she had aged 20 years upon hearing me confirm the news, while my father took a seat in stunned silence.
Looking around me, in the sea of the most heart wrenching grief ever, it was without a doubt the worst day of my life.
Everything beyond that point was a blur to me. I saw Pere and my parents engaged in conversation, and I complied as a few of our neighbours forced me to eat. Voke’s friends started arriving late morning, and as she was still sedated, had to sit in the living room, listening to them repeatedly asking the same questions; Was it true? How did it happen? When did it happen? Where did it happen? Thankfully, I was saved the torture of having to tell the sordid story over and over again by our neighbours Kunbi and Ifeoma, both of whom were extremely protective of Voke and I on a good day, talkless of a horrible day as that one.
Voke eventually awoke at about 5pm, and retreated back to her room when she beheld the crowd of sympathisers in our living room. Nobody could blame her. Dealing with that kind of the crowd was the very last thing she needed.
The throng of people entering and leaving our house didn’t subside until almost midnight. Despite all entreaties by our mother for us to both pack our things and follow them back to Ogudu, Voke remained adamant on staying.
“I’m not going anywhere! This is my home! Why should I follow you back to yours?!” she demanded, her eyes flashing in anger.
“Voke, you can’t stay here by yourself at this time. You and Isio need to come home, where we can support you better…” Mom pleaded.
“I’m going nowhere!” was her answer, which we all knew was final.
In the end, it was my mother who’d accepted to return the next day, to spend time with us. As they left, she pointed at Pere, as if he was the one responsible for the whole mess.
“Take care of them! Stay here with them tonight, and make sure you take care of them!” she warned sternly. “Make sure they get plenty of rest. Tomorrow will be even worse than today. Tomorrow, we’ll have to go and mourn with his family.”
He nodded somberly. “I’m not going anywhere, Ma.”
My father patted him on the shoulder as they departed, and nobody would have ever guessed this was the same guy whose prolonged absence from their house they’d been complaining about. Considering the awful situation at hand, none of all that even mattered.
It wasn’t until my parents’ car drove off that I realised I hadn’t even called my office to notify them of my absence that day.
“Don’t worry, I called them for you.” Pere said. “It turns out I didn’t even have to, as your colleague, the one who told you about Pere and Belinda, had already informed them.”
That was when I remembered the Belinda angle, and for the first time, I wondered how she was taking the news, considering she’d been the last one to see him alive. Despite my grief, I couldn’t help but wonder how devastated she most likely would be as well. And guilty too. Poor girl.
“Isio, I’ll be back first thing in the morning.” Apache said, walking up to Pere and I as we stood by the gate. “Do you want anything?”
“Isio and Voke have everything they’ll need. I’ll make sure of that.” Pere answered, meeting Apache’s gaze evenly. “So there’s really no need for you to return.”
Apache glared at him. “Voke is…was my best friend’s fiancée. There is every need for me to return, and I will.”
“But yet, you and all your other friends were cheering him on as he cavorted with another woman.” Pere retorted. “Now, you’re acting like you care so much about Voke!”
“Are you trying to act the Saint here? You, a man expecting a baby with one woman and dating yet another?” Apache retorted right back. “I don’t think you have any moral ground to stand there and pass any judgment, Mr. Pere the big shot!”
“Let me make myself crystal clear, just in case you didn’t understand what I said before.” Pere responded. “Unless Voke tells me otherwise, you’re not to set a foot in this house. I’m not going to have anyone or anything around that could upset her. Do you understand me?”
Apache scoffed at him. “You’re a joker. I’d like to see you try!”
“Are you serious? Are you two serious right now?!” I retorted, fully disgusted at the pair of them. “Obiora is dead, and you two are here struggling to see who is more macho?!”
Sick and tired of their exchange, I rolled my eyes and walked away, angry that they couldn’t even put aside their differences for that day. Pere soon caught up with me, and I glared at him.
“You have no right to tell anyone not to come here!” I snapped.
“I don’t want Voke upset.”
“Voke needs them right now!” I exclaimed. “All of them who knew and loved Obiora need to be there for each other right now. Apache was his best friend. How can you say she won’t want him around?!”
His jaw clenched. “I’m just mad that he allowed you go to the morgue in your condition!”
I stepped back, confounded. “Allowed me? Nobody ‘allowed’ me do anything! No force in heaven, earth or hell could have stopped me from going with Voke this morning.”
Pere sighed. “I just don’t like the fact that you were in such a distressing situation.”
“Pere, my only sister…my only sibling…just lost her fiancé. I’m already in a distressing situation!” I shook my head, very tired now. “Look, you really don’t have to stay. Victor is just a doorbell ring away. Voke and I will be fine…”
“I’m not leaving your side, Isio. Using your words, no force in heaven, earth or hell can make leave this place.” he answered.
“Not even when my mother returns tomorrow?”
“Not even then!”
I shook my head and smiled in spite of myself. “Good luck explaining to Ogechi why you’re crashing in your baby mama’s house.”
He didn’t respond, and we walked back to the apartment in silence. As he settled himself on the sofa, I made my way to Voke’s room. Even though she was lying on her bed, and the lights were off, I knew she was awake.
“He was with her…” she said, her voice weak.
My heart lurched. “Who?”
“Obiora was with Belinda. He was coming from her house.” she repeated, sitting up to look at me.
I sat on her bed. “Who…who told you that?”
“I know she lives around there…where the accident happened. And what else would he have been doing on the road at that time of night?” she said, her eyes and voice deadpan.
“You knew he’d been seeing her?” I asked her, shocked.
“I’m not a child, Isio. All those hours he would disappear over the weekend, all those unaccounted hours with no real explanation to his whereabouts…” she answered. “And there was this persistent fragrance on his clothes I just couldn’t shake. It wasn’t my perfume…and it wasn’t his. I knew he was still seeing her. I could feel it in my gut.”
“But yet you did nothing?!” I exclaimed. “You were still going to marry him?!”
“Obiora loves…loved me, Isio.” she answered sadly. “Whatever he was still doing with Belinda was nothing compared with what we have. I knew it would fade one day.”
“Except it didn’t!” I exclaimed, wanting to add that instead of it ‘fading’, he had lost his life! But knowing that would do nothing but upset my sister further, I had no choice but to hold my tongue.
We sat in silence for a while.
“That day of the wedding gown…you were going to tell me.” she said out of the blue. “The day I got back my gown, you were going to tell me about Obiora and Belinda, weren’t you?”
I stared at her, shocked. “How did you know?”
“You were nervous and fidgety…and couldn’t look me in the eye. You forget that I can read you like a book, Isio.” she answered. “I think that’s why I just kept on talking…because I didn’t even want to hear it.” she sighed deeply. “It’s all my fault, Isio. Maybe if I’d told him I knew, maybe he would have stopped…or maybe he wouldn’t have felt the need to hide…or to rush to get back home before daybreak…or…”
“Ssssh…” I said cradling my sister. “None of this is your fault! Obiora did this to himself! If he wasn’t being a selfish asshole, none of this would have happened!”
We sat there in more silence, with me rocking her gently in my arms.
“What am I going to do now, Isio?” she asked. “What on earth am I going to do now? How am I supposed to face the world now?”
And my gaze followed hers to the long dress bag hanging in front of her closet…the bag that contained her exquisite wedding gown.
My eyes scanned the room, and I could immediately see why everyone had wanted her out of the house. There were reminders of the wedding-that-would-never-be everywhere; bridal magazines and cut-outs, bags of fabric, wedding favour samples…
And I knew I just had to fine some way or the other to get rid of every single thing there…and fast!
Catch up on Isio’s story here:
- Iya Beji 1: A Series of Unfortunate Events
- Iya Beji 2: Destiny Blocker
- Iya Beji 3: Daisy
- Iya Beji 4: Upgrade
- Iya Beji 5: Bleeding Love
- Iya Beji 6: The Beast
- Iya Beji 7: The Standby Guy
- Iya Beji 8: The Boss
- Iya Beji 9: The Deal Breaker
- Iya Beji 10: The Convert
- Iya Beji 11: Hiatus
- Iya Beji 12: Never Stopped
- Iya Beji 13: Jealousy
- Iya Beji 14: Pure Magic
- Iya Beji 15: Congratulations, Mrs. Clarke!
- Iya Beji 16: Blast from the Past
- Iya Beji 17: The Offer
- Iya Beji 18: Co-Parenting
- Iya Beji 19: The Baby Mama
- Iya Beji 20: Carried Away
- Iya Beji 21: The Return of Belinda
- Iya Beji 22: Gender Reveal
- Iya Beji 23: Bargaining Tool
Catch up on our other series here: