“Isio, I was reading that!” Pere exclaimed, shocked by my violent reaction to the obituary announcement.
“You better get rid of that. You better not allow Voke see it!” I snapped, my anger boiling over.
Pere picked up the crumpled sheet of paper and scanned through. “Oh.” he muttered, obviously noticing the omission of my name. “Oh!!!” he exclaimed, upon noticing the real travesty.
The inclusion of Belinda’s.
“Isio, you need to calm down. The last thing Voke needs right now is any agitation. You’re right. She shouldn’t see this. I’ll get rid of it. In the meantime, get that look of death off your face. You need to be cheerful for her.” Pere admonished.
I sighed deeply, realizing he was correct. After the day we’d just had, working myself up over the inclusion of Obiora’s side-chick’s name in his obituary was not going to do any of us any favours.
Somehow, I managed to close my eyes for a nap, during which time Pere went to his place briefly. The buzz of the doorbell awoke me from my position on the couch. I opened my eyes in time to see our mother let Apache in, and just like that, my anger bubbled to the fore again. I glared as he made small talk with my mother, who asked concerned questions about how Obiora’s mother was faring.
“She’s a strong woman, Ma. Very strong. But she left for her private quarters almost immediately people started arriving from the cemetery. It was mainly Bart and Ebele attending to visitors.” Apache informed my worried mother.
“Voke wasn’t his wife, Mom!” I retorted.
“Ah, you don wake?” she remarked, glancing my way. “I been think say na there you wan sleep tonight.”
I ignored her and glared at Apache. “What do you want here?”
“I wanted to check on you and Voke.” He answered cautiously, obviously picking up on my rage. “You guys didn’t come to Obiora’s mom’s house…”
“Why would we have come?! Or did you want to humiliate her in Belinda’s presence just like you did with Obiora’s obituary?!” I snapped.
He glanced nervously in my mother’s direction who, thankfully, had left for the kitchen. “Isio, it’s not like that…”
“How could you guys include her name in the obituary?!” I demanded, trying my best not to shout. “What kind of sick joke was it starting the list with his fiancée’s name and ending it with his side-chick’s? Yet you’re here wanting to ‘check on Voke’. Check on her my foot! If you cared for her, you wouldn’t have been a part of that kind of public humiliation. Now the whole world will know that the foolish Obiora had more than one woman!”
“Isio, I wasn’t involved in that list. I swear to you. Hakeem handled it.” Apache pleaded. “I was just as mortified as you to see that her name was there! How on earth would I have been involved and forgotten the name of the woman I love, but included the name of that asshole, Pere?!”
I looked at him, taken aback. “Wait, what?”
He sighed deeply. “You know how I feel about you, Isio. You’ve always known.”
I stared at him, mouth agape, not even knowing what to say. He walked over and took my hand in his.
“I know things are complicated with the pregnancy and all, and I’m prepared to wait for you for as long as it takes…”
I pulled my hand from his. “Apache, please. Please stop that kind of talk. Don’t try to distract me from the issue at hand here. I’m talking about how you guys have made a fool of Voke, you’re there saying rubbish.”
“Please go, Apache. I’ll tell Voke you came.” And with that, I scurried off to my bedroom, shutting the door firmly behind me.
WTH had just happened??!
Apache? In love with me ke? Even though Voke, Obiora and even Pere had all at some point alluded to it in the past, it was still shocking to hear him verbalise his feelings. I let out a long hiss. He and Obiora were obviously birds of a feather and he was out of his mind if he thought I would open my eyes to jump into the same cauldron of soup Voke had only been rescued from. Love indeed!
I was in my room when I heard Pere return, and overheard him making small talk with my mother. It’s amazing how the few days of co-existence had rid him of his public enemy status with my family. Now, he could do no wrong…not even if he wasn’t going to marry the daughter he’d impregnated. By being there for Voke and I in this awful time, he had amassed for himself so many brownie points with my parents, he’d probably be able to impregnate me a second time and get away with it. I chuckled at this latter thought. Now that would be something, wouldn’t it. That would really give Madam Ogechi something to go blue in the face about.
With the next day being a Saturday, we still had to play host to the dozens of people who had either only just heard about the unfortunate event, or had heard but hadn’t yet been able to journey down to our home to pay their respects. Kudos to Voke, she braved it through most of the visits without breaking down, but by Sunday afternoon, we decided she’d had enough, and proceeded to entertain the visitors on her behalf, while she remained sequestered in her bedroom.
As the last visitor stook their leave on Sunday evening, Pere offered to personally give our mother a ride back home to Ogudu. Considering none of her options were quite as luxurious as Pere’s flashy Mercedes, she happily jumped at the offer.
“You sure you don’t want me to come back?” Pere asked. “I can come right back after I drop her at home.”
Much as there was nothing I wanted more than that, I knew it was in my better interest for us to return to the real world…the real world where there was another woman in Pere’s life, and the woman wasn’t me. There was no point in deceiving myself that he was being anything but nice and sympathetic.
“Let’s not allow Ogechi get a heart attack or develop high blood pressure!” I teased good naturedly. “It’s time for you to go home. You don try!”
He kissed me on the forehead. “I’ll be back tomorrow to check on you. If you need anything, anything at all and at any time at all, make sure you call me, okay?”
I smiled and nodded, before catching my mother’s amused gaze.
“What is it?!” I demanded.
“Ah nothing oh!” she chuckled. “I just dey look una. Abeg, Pere make we come dey go. I wan reach house cook food for my own husband. At least, the two of us no dey confused!”
I rolled my eyes and shut the door past them. Another reason why I needed Pere to just leave already. Everybody was getting ideas!!!
Sitting alone in our living room, it felt strange being alone in the house after so many days of having people troop in an out. I guess we had finally gotten to that point where everyone basically got on with their lives. We had reached that point where we…or rather, Voke…would have to deal with the stark reality that Obiora was gone for good.
“Pere has left?” came Voke’s voice, as she pattered across the living room, holding her work clothes on a hanger in one hand, and an iron in the other.
“What are you doing?” I exclaimed.
“The sockets in my room aren’t working for whatever funny reason. I want to see if I can use the one in your room.” she answered, striding across to my bedroom.
“You can’t honestly want to go to work tomorrow!” I exclaimed, rushing after her. “Have you lost your mind?!”
“No, but I will if you expect me to sit here, staring at the ceiling and retelling the same story over and over again!” she retorted. “ ‘No, he wasn’t coming from my house’. ‘No, I wasn’t with him in the car’.” she shook her head. “If I have to spend one more day like this, I’m going to jump off the balcony and kill myself. Let’s all know I’ve followed Obiora to the grave!”
I stared at her, struggling to come up with a comeback, something wise to say about taking enough time to grieve…to heal from the horrific loss she’d just endured…but I found myself speechless. If I was going stir crazy in the house, only God knew how she was feeling.
“If you go to work, it means I have to go to work as well.” I sulked, seeing the compassionate leave I’d just been granted developing wings and flying out the window.
“So that’s why you’re really upset?!” Voke laughed. “You can stay at home na. If your leave has been approved, nothing stops you from staying.”
I shook my head, not having the courage to tell her of my sudden fear of Obiora’s ghost attacking me if I was left alone in the apartment by myself. If she went to work, I’d have no choice but to do the same.
That’s how the next morning, my sister and I got ready for work almost like the last week hadn’t happened. We opted to ride together, as we knew that, even if we were choosing to act like all was well, we desperately needed each other’s company.
“Take care of yourself, Voks. And call me if you need me, okay?” I said to her, as she dropped me off at work.
She smiled. “I’ll be fine, Isio!”
I stood and watched as her car drove off, wondering why I hadn’t put my foot down. Our parents would be scandalized if they found out I’d let her leave the house so soon. But ah well, what was done was done.
Getting to my office, I saw Ifeanyi and didn’t know whether to ignore him or attack him. But he came to embrace me before I even had the chance to say anything.
“Mehn, Isio! I’m so sorry for your loss. How is your sister doing?” he asked in genuine concern.
I looked at him, wondering how come his own fiancée hadn’t updated him. He tell me he hadn’t heard of the showdown we’d had at the cemetery.
“She’s holding up okay.” was my own curt answer.
He shook his head, obviously still dazed. “It’s still like a dream to me! I actually left him in their house that night oh! When I left at about 10pm, he was still there!”
“And yet, you told me he had stopped going there.” I muttered, glaring at him. “You told me you had stopped seeing him over there!”
He sighed. “My babe almost chewed off my head when Obiora told them I’d told you. I had to do what I had to do to keep the peace.”
I crossed my arms. “So, let me get this straight. Belinda and her sister knew he had a fiancée, they knew he was getting married in a matter of months, but they didn’t care?!”
“Obiora told Belinda about…about your sister’s condition…” Ifeanyi said, suddenly looking uncomfortable.
I leaned forward, very interested. “What condition?!” and then it dawned on me, and it all made perfect sense. “He told her Voke was pregnant?!”
Ifeanyi suddenly couldn’t maintain eye contact with me, and I laughed as all the jigsaw pieces fell into place perfectly. No wonder Belinda had been practically undressing Voke with her eyes at the cemetery. She’d been looking for a baby bump.
“Obiora told her the only reason he was marrying Voke was because she was pregnant!” I exclaimed to myself. “Son of a…”
Ifeanyi peered at me. “Isn’t she?”
“No, Ifeanyi. She isn’t. So go and tell your babe and her sister that they got scammed!” I retorted. “Obiora was marrying Voke because he loves her, and not because she was pregnant. As a matter of fact, tell her that he told us he was only hanging around Belinda because of a contract he wanted her father to help him secure!”
Ifeanyi frowned, and I was filled with a sudden sense of satisfaction that they would have that lovely morsel of information to chew on.
I barely managed to pull myself together for the rest of the day, not just because of grief but because I was finding it harder to move from one end of my office building to another, with my two little men on board. It was getting very old very quickly, and I knew I’d soon have to make a decision about when to start my leave. Whilst I didn’t want to start too early, I didn’t want to risk going into premature labour in front of the hapless engineers I worked with. That would be an epic disaster!
Voke didn’t pick me up from work until it was almost 7pm, and from the look on her face, her day hadn’t been any better than mine.
“Were people surprised you came today?” I asked.
She nodded. “Nobody expected to see me back for another month.”
I had to restrain myself from going ‘Duh!’. Of course she needed at least a month to recover…that is if she would ever.
“And a lot of people kept coming to ask me how I’m feeling…how’s my health…and by the time the 5th person asked, I knew they weren’t just talking about my state of mind.” Voke said, her voice flat and her eyes fixed on the road as she drove.
My stomach sank. Don’t tell me…
“It turns out that Madam Belinda’s rumor mill has been spinning the gist that I’m preggers!” Voke said, with a flat laugh. “The news about town is that Obiora was only marrying me because I’m pregnant. Apparently, she’s the real love of his life, but his ‘hands were tied’.”
I cursed the idiots who had opened their big mouths to tell Voke all that. Didn’t people realize there was a time and place for everything?! Just because they’d seen her at work less than a week later, they suddenly felt she was strong enough to hear all the gossip?! Come on!
“It made me realize that I’m not ready for this. I’m not ready to return to work yet.” she said.
I nodded in agreement. Yep, she most surely was not. “Will you be taking a month off?”
“Longer, Isio. I’ve applied for a leave of absence.” she answered. “I realised that I’m holding up only by a thread, and if I don’t get away from all this…all the reminders about Obiora’s betrayal, Belinda, the gossips…I’m going to unravel and it won’t be pretty.”
“Get away? You mean to Ogudu?!” I asked, knowing full well that wasn’t what she meant.
She gave me the side eye, confirming that our parents’ home was the least place she had in mind.
“I just need to go somewhere far away to clear my head.” she said, after a lengthy pause. “I still have a lot of the money Obiora paid into my account for the wedding, and the Planner says a few of the vendors will be kind enough to give us full refunds. I had wanted to do something in his memory with the money, but with all this rubbish that’s surfacing, all I want to do is spend every kobo on myself!”
I nodded, fully understanding the feeling. It had been the reason I too had withdrawn into my shell after Ejiro and I broke up so disastrously.
“Have you defined where far away is?” I asked tentatively, almost afraid of what her answer would be.
“I’ll probably start with South East Asia…Malaysia maybe.” She answered, smiling wistfully. “I remember you said it’s really nice there. And I hear they have the loveliest of beaches there. After that, it’s pretty much anywhere the wind blows me. Thanks to Obiora, I can afford it.”
I felt a lump form in my throat. “Are…are you going to be away for a long time?”
She sighed. “I don’t know, Isio.” then turning to look at me, she said. “Can I be honest with you? I actually tendered my resignation today, but my boss refused to accept it. She’s the one who suggested the leave of absence. I’ll have the first 2 months paid, after which I can be away for as long as I want to. She assures me my job will be waiting for me, but the truth is I don’t even care if it’s not. Right now, I just need a bit of fresh air to contemplate my 35 years on this earth. For so many years, even when we weren’t together, Obiora was my core…my reason for being. I need to take a deep breath and re-align myself. I have to.”
I nodded, just as a lone tear rolled down my cheek. As much as I agreed that she needed this time away almost as importantly as she needed air, I couldn’t help but think about how lonely I was going to be without my partner-in-crime and best friend in the whole wide world.
And I hated Obinna anew for what his actions had cost me.
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
- Iya Beji 24: The Wedding That Would Never Be
- Iya Beji 25: Voke versus Belinda