By the time Pere came to our house later that evening, it was obvious he’d already received a good talking to from his ‘Madam at the top’. He was cold and reserved, and I knew it had nothing to do with our argument earlier that day in the hospital. But as I wasn’t feeling congenial myself, it suited me just fine.
The only person who didn’t notice the cold-as-ice atmosphere was Voke, who was too pleased that we’d come to an agreement after all. Sitting in our living room, we agreed on Miama, Florida. Even though it was a bit more expensive than some other states for childbirth, it was where we both had family relatively nearby. His maternal aunt lived in Fort Lauderdale while Voke and I had distant cousins in Tampa. As Voke wanted to spend the first 3 weeks in Ghana, she would be arriving Miami a week before my own scheduled arrival date, the day I hit my 31-week mark, giving her enough time to briefly enjoy the sun and sand before she had to commence her babysitting…or sister-sitting more like. Everything was all set.
The next few days were spent making travel plans for Voke, and by the weekend, she was all set to leave for Ghana. Even though Pere had neither called nor visited since the meeting on Tuesday, he’d sent his car and driver to take her to the airport. I’d been tempted to send the car back, but decided against it. If I wasn’t going to get anything from him, I sure as heck was going to spend his money!
Voke wouldn’t hear of me accompanying her to the airport. “And who will follow you back home?!” she demanded.
“The driver will drop me!” I protested.
“It’s not necessary, my dear. I’m a big girl…I’ll be fine!” she said, pulling me into an embrace. “I can’t wait to see you in a month. We’re going to have so much fun in Miami!”
I gave her the side eye. “With a woman with one leg in the delivery room? Yeah right!”
It was only then that we noticed his driver fidgeting by the doorway.
“Oga said I should give this to you, Ma.” he said, handing me a large Manila envelope.
Inside it were leaflets and brochures of a few hospitals in the Miami area. I guess, even though I wouldn’t be leaving for another month, it was best for us to not only decide on the hospital, but possibly also establish contact with a doctor. It was all getting more and more real.
“You and Pere are still playing these your games!” Voke remarked, smiling and shaking her head. “You two need to realize that life is short. What happened to Obiora should be enough to make you guys realize that. You two love each other. Quit all this cat and mouse you’re playing!”
“Someone that is quarter to being engaged!” I scoffed. “Whatever happened between Pere and I is dead. If it wasn’t for this pregnancy, our paths would never have crossed again. It is what it is, so we’re just going to have to find a way to co-exist.”
“Go for what’s yours, Isio! Fight for what’s yours! Who’s Ogechi anyway?” Voke said, a sly glint in her eye.
“Which is probably the same thing Bianca said to Belinda!” I remarked. “I’m surprised at you, Voks. You of all people should even be considering Ogechi. Because really, the girl hasn’t done anything to deserve this baby-mama drama she has been thrust into.”
Voke shrugged. “What happened with Belinda is exactly why I think you should go for it. Neither of them thought of me. I was the last thing on her and Obiora’s minds that Tuesday night. So why should I care about some girl I don’t know. You are my sister, and your happiness is all I care about!”
I laughed and hugged my sister. “Belinda and co. have turned my sister into a bitch oh!” I teased. “You better get on that plane, before you completely transform into someone I don’t even recognize.”
“I’m serious, Isio!” Voke said, as she got into the car. “By the time you come to America, I want to hear that you and Pere have come to your senses and have a wedding date!”
Waving her off, I smiled wistfully. If only it were that easy!
Walking into our apartment, it hit me that I would be truly alone for the next 4 weeks! Even though Pere had made a half-hearted offer to pay for me to stay in a hotel near town, and my parents had asked me to move home temporarily, I’d turned down both offers. I had the best of neighbours who all would drop every and anything they were doing, if I ever needed them. And as for the fear of being haunted by Obiora’s ghost, with the anger I now felt, I was ready to even tackle any evil spirit. If it hadn’t been for his transgressions, my life would not have been so destabilized!
The weekend sped by, and on Monday, I drove myself to work and generally got on with my life. The next day, Tuesday, Pere made an excuse about being busy at work, meaning he couldn’t come for the doctor’s appointment, so I ended up going alone. Driving there, I tried to banish all sadness about having to do it alone, but I still ended up feeling wistful, especially when I saw the other couples seated in the waiting room. But I knew it was in my better interest to get used to my true reality. All that tag-teaming with Pere was nothing but a mirage. Ogechi was his true tag-team partner. I was just his baby mama.
The appointment went well. The doctor felt my stomach, to see where both babies were and what positions they were in. He said my stomach measured 29cm, which he said was good as this meant my belly was measuring around 29 weeks. I listened to both of their heartbeats, and one of the babies kicked when the doctor put the doppler on my belly! It was the best feeling ever.
The only downside was when he said that I’d probably have to give birth to the babies as early as 34 weeks, as the smaller twin, though growing, is still smaller than he’d prefer. I told him I had plans to travel at 31 weeks, and he also reiterated the need for me to quickly find a doctor there, as his preference was to not only transfer my case notes well ahead of time, but to speak with him/her as well.
I couldn’t bring myself to return to work that day, and instead went home to just rest…and pray for my little man. I worried that the boys would have to be born so early, and prayed to God for strength…for all of us. I pondered sending Pere a text to update him, but changed my mind. If he wanted to know, he’d reach out. And he didn’t. So I didn’t.
The next day, I managed to drag myself to work, and afterwards decided to stop at one of the major grocery stores on the island, before heading home. If I was going it be home alone, I had to at least make sure I was well fed! And going through aisle after aisle, loading my trolley to almost overflowing, I was doing exactly that. If I was going to complain of anything in the 4 weeks I had alone, going hungry wouldn’t be one of them!
As I struggled to load my plethora of shopping bags in the trunk of my car, I heard my name.
“What on earth are you doing, carrying all those bags by yourself?!” he exclaimed, rushing to grab the bags from my hands. “Isn’t there anyone who can shop for you? I thought Pere gave you his driver!”
“Hello to you too, Apache.” I retorted, stopping short of rolling my eyes. As if I needed to explain my case to yet another person. “The driver was only a temporary arrangement.”
His eyes hardened in anger. “And he feels comfortable having you sweat around like this?”
“I beg, Apache, I’m not an invalid!” I snapped, making to take my bags from him. “I came to do some shopping and now I’m headed home.”
“Not if I can help it!” he answered, loading the rest of my things in the trunk. “Let me have your car keys. I’m driving you home.”
I stared at him incredulously. “You want to drive me home? What’s going to happen to your own car?”
“I didn’t come with any. I live down the road from here, so I walked.” he answered. “Your keys, Isio. I’m not going to take no for an answer.”
Reluctantly, I handed them to him and walked over to sit on the passenger’s side while he took the driver’s seat.
“Didn’t you buy anything?” I asked, noticing he was empty-handed.
“I wanted to pick up something from their food court for dinner…” he threw me a cheeky grin. “Bachelor life.”
I smiled in spite of myself. “And now, I’m making you miss your dinner. Don’t worry, I have some rice at home.”
“Now that would beat anything I would have gotten from their food court, hands down!” he laughed.
“How have you been, Apache?” I asked, changing the topic. “We haven’t even set eyes on you since the day of the funeral.”
He looked at me, as if confused. “Voke asked me to keep away. She didn’t tell you?”
I frowned and shook my head. No, she didn’t.
“I don’t blame her, really. The whole mess with Belinda, and the newspaper obituary…” his voice trailed off, as if he was remembering all that happened. “She asked myself, Hakeem, and indeed all of us Obiora’s friends to stay away from her…that she needed some space from us.”
I grunted. “Not that I blame her. How could you guys have been so thick headed and stupid?! Putting Belinda’s name on the same list as Voke’s was downright thoughtless! All of you knew he was cheating on her, but said nothing!”
Apache didn’t answer, and we drove in silence until we got to my apartment building.
“I want to show you something, Isio.” he said, pulling out his phone. “I’m glad I didn’t delete it.”
Still sitting in the car, I looked at the screen and saw a chain of WhatsApp chat bubbles. They were between Apache and Obiora. The last one was dated the Tuesday Obiora had died.
Pac Man, you sef know wetin I want from the babe! Obiora had written.
It’s not fair on Voke. If you knew you weren’t ready, why did you ask the poor girl to marry you? You need to make up your mind! Your excuse about trying to get the contract is bullshit! had been Apache’s response.
I’m not a Saint and neither are you, my guy! Obiora had responded.
Apparently, Apache hadn’t replied, so Obiora sent another message, reading In fact, I dey call you now!
And that was the end of the chat.
“He called me, and that was how come my number was the last on his call log. That’s why I was…” his voice broke, and I squeezed his arm.
“That’s why you’re the one they called when it happened.” I finished for him.
He nodded, and I saw that he was being sincere. “Voke was like a sister to me. Even when they broke up, I still kept in touch with her. You can ask her. I admit that when Obiora started seeing Belinda, I became friendly with her as well. But that’s because he and Voke had been broken up for over a year. But as soon as they got back together, I cut off all ties with Belinda. I would never have encouraged Obiora to continue seeing her, no matter the reason. And I sure as heck wasn’t involved in including her name in his obituary.”
“It’s okay, Apache!” I said, smiling at him. “I believe you. Let’s put that all behind us. Come upstairs, so I can feed you like I promised. Don’t worry, Voke isn’t around.”
“I know she’s travelled.” he answered. “She might have told me to keep away, but that hasn’t stopped me from asking after her. I was happy when I heard she was going out of town for a while.”
“I’ll be joining her in a few weeks.” I added.
“I know.” he smiled.
“This your information service is one-in-town oh! BBC Lekki!” I laughed, getting out of the car.
Getting to my apartment, I suddenly felt self-conscious. I had never been alone with Apache in the 18 years I’d known him.
“Would you prefer to eat here, or a take-away bowl?” I asked, walking to the kitchen.
“I’d rather eat here, if it’s okay.” he answered. “It’s no fun eating alone.”
A few minutes later, we were both eating a meal of jollof rice and chicken stew, and laughing over old times.
“Obiora was such a clown!” I cackled, as we reminisced about some of his antics, especially as a younger man. “I’ll really miss him.”
Apache’s face clouded and my heart went out to him.
“It must be really hard for you. He was your friend for like forever.” I said sadly.
He nodded. “26 years! He was the first friend I made in Secondary School, and we’ve been as thick as thieves ever since.” Realization dawned on him, and he sighed sadly. “Were as thick as thieves.”
Wanting to defuse the situation, I decided to change the topic.
“Was he the one who gave you the nickname Apache?” I teased.
He laughed. “He sure was. No guesses why!”
I laughed in agreement. With his light skin, freckled face and light brown eyes, he’d been teased for looking like a member of the Native American Apache tribe. It hadn’t helped matters that he also had his hair in cornrows for the longest time. But sitting beside him in my living room, it dawned on me that he actually no longer looked like an Apache. The cornrows were long gone, and he wore his hair neatly cropped. As he laughed, I realized he actually looked more like John Legend.
“When did you even cut your hair?” I asked.
He rose a brow in disbelief. “Wow, Isio! I don’t know whether to be hurt or disappointed. I cut my hair over 10 years ago! After 3 or 4 dud interviews, I realised if I was serious about getting myself a job, I had to look the part.”
I nodded. “It suits you. I prefer it to the cornrows.”
“Yeah, everybody does.” he answered. “But it’s so much better hearing it from you.”
I shifted uncomfortably, remembering his declaration of love for me the last time we’d met, and he laughed. “No need to feel uncomfortable, Isio. I’ve finally accepted the fact that you’re not into me, and it’s Pere you want. It’s only taken me 18 years to come to that realisation.”
“Apache, come off it! Stop exaggerating. You weren’t into me 18 years ago.” I said, trying to sound aloof but actually curious about the details of this crush everyone had noticed but me.
“From the first day I walked into your living room in Yaba, with Obiora.” he answered. “From that first day, seeing you reclined on your sofa, wearing denim shorts and a Simpsons t-shirt, reading a Harlequin novel…”
I looked at him, shocked. I could remember that day clearly, when Voke’s new boyfriend had come visiting. I’d been so preoccupied checking out my sister’s new catch that I hadn’t even noticed he’d come with company. But hearing Apache describe what I was wearing and doing, down to the detail, made me realize he wasn’t joking.
“You were very young. I think you’d just turned 15…” Apache recollected, with a nostalgic smile. “Obiora would have wrung my neck if I even said anything about you. And because I knew he really liked Voke, I decided to keep my mouth shut.” his smile faded. “But only a few months later, you started dating Mr. Pere…”
I nodded. Yep, he was correct. That was the year Pere and I’d met.
“You guys got serious, and there was no opportunity for me to say or do anything. But Obiora guessed after a while. He knew there was more to my over-eagerness to accompany him to your house than just to say hello to Voke. But when you broke up with Pere, before I knew what was happening, you were already engaged to that Shell guy!” he continued. “I was in your house one day that the guy arrived, with that his big black Jeep and smelling of money…and I lost all my courage. I was still pounding the streets, looking for a job back then. I don’t think I even had a car, talk less of that kind of money to spend.”
I just listened in rapt attention, wondering how I hadn’t noticed any of it. Apache had been almost invisible to me…an irrelevant part of Obiora’s landscape that I had never even spared a second thought to. In fact, if it wasn’t for the Belinda saga and Obiora’s death, that’s what he would have remained. Inconsequential. But sitting next to him, listening to him talk about his feelings for me…he was anything but inconsequential.
“Didn’t you have a girlfriend one time?” I asked.
He nodded. “Hajara. We started dating in 2005…shortly after you left for the UK…and we were together for about 6 years.”
“Why did you break up?” I asked.
“I could give you the cliché reasons; it wasn’t working out, we were growing apart…that kind of thing.” he answered, his gaze not wavering. “But the truth is, my heart was elsewhere…”
It suddenly felt like the air had been zapped from the room.
Thankfully, he rose to his feet. “Thanks so much for dinner, Isio. You don’t know what a lifesaver this was for me.” he smiled at me. “And I’m so sorry for dumping all this on you. I guess I was just glad to finally be able to let you know how I felt…” his smile faded a little bit. “How I feel.”
I found myself suddenly tongue tied, not knowing what to say.
His phone buzzed. “That’s my Uber. Thanks again, Isio.” he started for the door, but then turned around to look at me. “I know you and Pere have this under control, but I’m not happy that you’re here all by yourself. I also don’t like the fact that you drive yourself everywhere, carrying heavy bags all over the place…”
I laughed. “I only carried heavy bags today!”
“Still.” He said, nonplussed. “You shouldn’t be by yourself. If it’s okay, can I check on you? To make sure you’re okay?”
And the sound of that didn’t sound half bad.
“I’d like that, Apache.” I answered smiling.
“People close to me call me Kachi. That’s my real name.” he said, also smiling.
I nodded. “Noted.”
I was still smiling, long after he’d left. Even though I’d known Apache for so many years, meeting Kachi had been something of a revelation.
And I found myself suddenly attracted to him…
We apologise for the missed schedule on Tuesday. It was due to a technical challenge our writer had. To compensate, the next episode (Iya Beji 29) will be published tomorrow (Friday, May 04, 2018).
The normal schedule will resume next week.
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
- Iya Beji 26: Somewhere Far Away
- Iya Beji 27: Damsel in Distress