Azubuike Ezeugo filled the tumbler with brandy and went ahead to sit on a stool at the bar wing of his expensively furnished sitting room.
The lights were off except that of the bar, so he could barely make out the hands of the large clock in the sitting room which was 1:30 a.m., even if he knew, it wouldn’t have made any difference.
He gulped a mouthful and sighed as he wiped his mouth. His mind drifted to the event of the past eight hours.
He and his friend had barely sat through their first stout in their favourite bar when he was called by his younger sister that his wife was in labour and had been rushed to the hospital. His friend, Uche, had scrambled to his feet and ran out of the bar and he had followed suit after paying their bill. By the time they’d gotten to the hospital about an hour later, she had been delivered of healthy twin boys.
When they were ushered in to see the bundles of joy and their proud mother and despite Uche’s wife coaxing, he wouldn’t carry the sleeping babies out of guilt laced with disappointment. Uche joined in coaxing him until he took one of the babies from his brimming with happiness friend but when Uche’s wife began prophesying into his life concerning conception, he wondered if she’d have done so if she knew that he objected to their marriage because she was petite and didn’t want his friend to marry a woman with an incompetent cervix.
He sighed and gulped down the remaining content of the glass.
Life was indeed mysterious, he reminisced. He that had married a woman with a competent cervix, had not missed seeing her menstrual period for once in six years of marriage.
He poured himself another round drink and took a sip. Tears formed in his eyes.
“Honey.” Ngozi called softly and approached him, clutching her nightgown tie. “I woke up and…” She stopped short, startled on seeing the bottle. “Is everything okay?”
“What kind of nonsense question is that?” He bellowed.
“But it’s barely…” She began.
“If you don’t get out from here, your parents will not recognise you anymore!”
Ngozi stood rooted with jaw dropped. Her husband had never raised his voice at her.
“Get out!” He hurled the tumbler at the wall before him.
As the smashing sound, she did dialogue with her feet.
“It feels good to be unrestricted.” Katherine expressed and pressed both palms against her face.
Kelvin gave her a glance but maintained a blank expression as he continued driving. He turned on the radio.
After few minutes of peering outside, she turned to him. “This way doesn’t lead to my house.”
“I want you to see my home.”
“Home?” She tried to read his facial expression to no avail.
“I don’t want to believe you’re in such a hurry.” He gave her a rosy smile.
Katherine didn’t bother to reply as she sat back and closed her eyes. Something was amiss, she concluded when it suddenly dawned on her that he had been unusually quiet since he came back from the doctor’s office earlier in the day.
Katherine leaned on the car as she skimmed the red brick driveway to the top of the building.
“Welcome to my home.” Kelvin told her with outstretched arms.
“Welcome to my palace would suit better.” She beamed, mesmerized. “This is lovely and magnificent.” She turned around. “I wasn’t expecting anything less anyway.”
“Thank you. Let’s go in.” He extended his hand.
She took a step away from him. “Must I go in today? I can already imagine what the inside would like. I’ll rather go to home.”
“What is this place, hell?” He faced her with feigned annoyance and managed to put enough irritation in his voice to that effect.
Her jawed dropped in disbelief at his statement that was more like an outburst. At loss of what to say, she stared at him. There was definitely something up his sleeves. She sighed wishing she had enough strength to protest. She just wanted to go home.
She saw a dark brown door and headed towards it.
He hurried after and took her hand. “I was only acting up.”
She didn’t respond, neither did she withdraw her hand.
Few seconds later, he had asked her to sit while he hurried up through one of the two grand staircases in the large sitting room.
The house was massive, looking more like a mansion as she had told him. Its beauty was indescribably wonderful to the eye: polished floors which are mirror-like, exquisite choice of paint colours, spectacular interior and exterior design that matched like twins.
She loved the antiques and would have love to a closer look but was tensed and worried. She entwined her palms and directed her attention to the large screen television.
They came in few minutes later.
Kelvin’s hand was on his companion shoulders pushing her forward while an elderly woman was behind them.
A smiled formed on her lips as she did comparison with her eyes.
“What do you think of us, darl?” Kelvin said as they halted before her.
She stood. “You two look so much alike, but she look so much like Mr Franklin, same eye colour.”
Kelvin chuckled while Camilla laughed.
“You see, my sister never believes we look alike.” Kelvin extended a hand to Katherine and drew her close. ‘Katherine, meet my baby sister, Camilla. And Cam, meet my darling, a very good friend and SIC assistant director general.”
They hugged each other.
“It’s my pleasure to meet you finally, Kel has told me a lot about me.” She loved her, she was so beautiful more like younger version of Beyoncé with a ebony black hair.
“That I’m naughty right?” Camilla pouted and folded her arms.
“Of course not.” Katherine chuckled. She should be about 23 years of age.
“’I’ve heard so much of you from my brother and the media, you look lovelier in person and I can’t help but wonder on how you’ll look when you fully recover.”
“Thank you so much.” She beamed.
He placed a hand around the shoulder of the elderly woman. “Katherine, meet my mum in Nigeria, she in charge of the house and also ensures I don’t starve.” He rubbed his abdomen. “Mummy Bridget, meet my …you know all about her.” He winked at her.
Bridget laughed understanding him. She opened her arms and Katherine went in for a warm embrace.
“Thank you for all the peppered soup you made me, it worked like magic.” She whispered.
“Thank God, dear, I’m happy to meet you at last.” Bridget smiled at her.
“Can you please excuse us?” He told them when they were done exchanging pleasantries.
Camilla took Bridget’s arm and they left via an adjoining door.
Kelvin led her to a seat and stooped in front of her.
“Katherine, you’re going to be staying until you feel very much better.”
“Staying as in?”
“I can’t stay here.”
“My sister is here, Mum B is here besides, I wouldn’t dare try something I know God won’t approve.”
“What’s wrong with my house?”
“Loneliness, sweetie, that’s what is wrong with it. Besides, you’re going to stress yourself at home and you don’t need those. You can have as much privacy as you need here.”
“There is no need for all that because I can’t stay, I want my house.” She stood. “I’ll hail a cab.”
He stood to face her. “This is not about what you want, Katherine!” His voice rose exasperated. “This is about what you need, what you need to recover! What you need so I don’t have to sleep on a camp bed in the hospital once more!”
“It’s gets better doesn’t it.” She muttered and sat with a palm under her chin and her eyes on the rug.
“Kathy, this all for you. Please…” He stooped once more
“Can I be left to think about this?” She glanced at his face.
“Not until after I’ve showed you your room.” Before she could protest, he stood, took both hands and helped her to her feet.
Katherine rolled her eyes.
As soon as she entered the room, a mini suitcase on the bed caught her attention because it was familiar.
Kelvin leaned at the door frame and crossed his legs with a knowing smile.
She unzipped it and lo and behold, the clothing inside were familiar, not just familiar they were hers! She gasp horrified. “You went to my house and went through my stuffs!”
“I closed my eyes most of the time.”
She used a palm to close her face and the other to clutch her chest. “I think I’m going to die of cardiac arrest.” She screamed and burst into sobs.
He covered the distance in between and threw his arms around her. “I am anti cardiac arrest.” He declared.
“Silly you, there is no such thing as an anti-cardiac arrest!” She picked a pillow and began to let out her embarrassment on him.
Kelvin had taken them to SilverBird Galleria at Victoria Island to see a movie that Friday evening. Afterwards, he drove them to a restaurant for dinner and had encouraged Katherine to take her medications scheduled for 8pm since he had insisted she came with them knowing they will still be outdoors.
On their way back, Katherine fell asleep and Bridget had to rest her head on her laps.
Kelvin carried her from the car to her room and she stirred but didn’t open her eyes since she was on antidepressants.
Camilla dropped her handbag on the dressing table and looked on while her brother tucked her in and kissed her on the cheek. She didn’t miss the look of sadness she saw before he exhaled and led her out.
“You do love her very much.” Camilla stated perched on the sofa he was sitting in.
“It’s complicated, sweetheart.” Kelvin said calmly and stared into space.
“I don’t like your diction.” She searched his expression, her brows creasing into a frown. “What is the challenge, big bro?”
“Katherine is a very fantastic person, one of the most selfless ladies I know but she has trusting issue because she lost her family in painful circumstances and had to survive in the same vein. What is a relationship when one party cannot trust the other and…” His voice trailed off and he buried his head in his palm.
Camilla placed her arm around him thoughtfully.
“I love her before I knew about the horrible experiences she had been through but I couldn’t express them because I noticed she had a well masked sadness in her eyes and limit interaction with people as much as possible. I saw the struggle in the hospital.” He swallowed. “If I do express myself, it’s either she reject me or she thinks my words are born from self-pity, I don’t really know what to do.”
Silence prevailed as they were both lost in their thought.
“All your anxiety and all your cares take to the mercy seat and leave it there. Take it to God, tell him all about it. He specialise in healing all pain and aches. If she is yours, God will make a way.”
“Do your best, take care of her as much as you can. I’ll pray with you too. With time, she would know all humans are not object of devil’s remote control.”
Kelvin smiled and looked up at his sister. “When did you become a counsellor, dear Cam?”
Kelvin stood and swept off her feet. “Time for bed sweet sis.”
Katherine was in the place Kelvin had called his most special place in the house, the roof balcony.
Her face was buried in her palms and her body shook in sobs. She had been like that for some minutes. When she stood, a piercing pain gripped her entire body that she clutched her abdomen and staggered back to the railing of the balcony where she leaned.
She bit her lower lips fighting back the pain as fresh set of tears course down her face.
Oh God….I have everything I need… all the money I want and more… but the vacuum is still there. The pain, emptiness and loneliness. I am not enjoying myself. How can I…? How can I stop wishing that my world hadn’t fallen apart? How can I stop wishing that if not all, one of them had stayed to see what Kathy had become?
Katherine turned just to notice through glassy eyes that a car had driven into the premises. She knew that it was only going to take a glance upward for him to know what she had been doing.
She hurried out like an Indian maiden who had been forcefully kissed. She met Bridget half way and halted.
“My dear, what is…?”
Her head bobbed from side to side denying the incomplete question despite the proof on her face before dashing to her destination.
Flummoxed, she stared till she was out of sight.
Katherine splashed water on her face, dabbed it and stared at the mirror for the umpteenth time.
Is my eyes red…is it too red…does it look like I’ve been crying? She asked her reflection over and over again. She sighed and went to the bedroom.
When she had gotten to the room hours back, she continued crying unable to help herself. Afraid she would be heard, she placed a pillow over her head.
Now, she felt guilty that he was back for such a duration and she had not gone to welcome him and her conscience won’t her be.
She gathered her skirt as she climbed up the rugged stairs to the balcony.
“Hello, dearie.” She placed a hand on his shoulder as she came to stand behind him.
“Hey you.” He looked up at her and smiled. “Come and sit.”
She sat. “How did your day go?”
“Though major part of it was spent in the production company, it was great.” He dropped his phone on the centre table. “It is a beautiful wonder to the extent one thought or conversation about a person can attract the person. I just finishing speaking with Doctor Clem and I was thinking about you before you came along.” He beamed.
She managed a smile and shrugged.
“Tell me, how was your day? Are you through with the book you took from my library?”
“My day? Emm…I… I…” She stuttered and looked down at her palm. “Kelvin, I really appreciate everything you’ve done for me, your concern and all but I can’t stay anymore.”
His facial expression was blank. If he had been disappointed, she couldn’t tell. He just kept staring until she lowered her eyes.
He stood and looked out of the balcony. “Why?”
What can she say when her eyes were clouded and blinking was all it took for the dam to break free.
“Camilla, told me you hardly spoke today. After your breakfast, you retired to your bedroom. She knew you had lunch because mum B told her you did. You’ve been crying all day right?” He waited anticipating a response he knew wouldn’t come.
“I won’t let you go home to cry unrestricted tears. With your action you’ve earned yourself an extension.” He said firmly.
She covered her face with her palms and the tears came.
“First thing tomorrow, we are going to see Doctor Clem.”
“No, Kelvin.” Her voice came out, ragged and broken. “I know myself better than anybody else. I…I know it will make a huge difference if I can comprehend while all this happened to me.”
“God in heaven.” Kelvin mumbled. How in the world could he answer that question?
Katherine stood with a palm cushioning her abdomen. “Excuse me.” She head towards the exit.
‘Come back and sit, Kathy.” His voice was calm.
She hesitated only momentarily.
He turned to look at her. “Darling, you’re the one that usually have solution to most technical problem.” He smiled. “The table has turned and I’m a little apprehensive and lost.” He let out a shaky laugh before returning to his earlier seat opposite her.
“Katherine, you’re a woman I admire and I’ve got lot of respect for you to have been through all you’ve been through and still come out strong.
Despite all, you chose to pursue a right course.” He placed an arm across his chest. “Left for me I would have channelled that strength into being a formidable assassin, the goriest nightmare of those that assailed me.”
He stood and sat on the edge of the table between them and tilted her face to look her in her eyes. “Your life is a bouquet of blessing, where do I start from? Is it SIC, my best friend or the world? Kenneth was in the valley of depression until you came along, no one could deliver a perfect hit to the nail until you did. He was practically floating as he walked and singing as he talked before he left for the states.”
She met his gaze and he nodded as he saw something in her glassy eyes that wanted confirmation.
“A few days after he returned, his mum called and wanted to know what happened. I know you drew that knowledge of your circumstances to hit the nail with such precision.” He exhaled. “Just wait till I tell him what you’re doing to yourself.”
“No, Kelvin…please.” She let out a shaky breath.
He place a finger against his cheek. “Let’s talk about your acts before you became an ADG, the discussion you had with my dad, the advice you gave to the production manager and its results now. The conferences in which you taught us how to bury the hatchet of animosity and changed our mind set. Who else can convince a thief that stolen without a trace to return it by words except Katherine Sylvester? The awards, the promise you made to the nation and the world invariably. What can we make of the get well cards and other quotas you got to wish you speedy recovery? You want me to go ahead and tell them you given up on all of them for the path of depression?”
She gripped his arm, her throat hot and tight with tears. “Kelvin, no…”
He continued talking more determined than ever. “Have you considered that it could have been worst? There have been cases of people who lost their family in a day. What if after you lost your family, your uncles barge into the house one day and force themselves on you?”
Her lips trembled and her body shook. She had never thought in that direction.
He took her hands in his. “I don’t know darling but this I know that we are all special, we all have our purpose in life in which the enemy will try to hinder hence, our battles. We can only look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”
She drew a shallow breath and watched his face flicker with deep emotion.
Kelvin looked down at their joined palms. “Personally, I’ve learnt from you from the first day we sat to converse. You’ve awed me a lot.” His brows furrowed into a frown. “Maybe it’s high time I stopped being so forceful, stop believing in you and let go. I should probably consider this to be the last mile of the way and bid you farewell.” He expelled a breath.
Her head shot up to look at him, to determine if he was serious because of the dreadful feel of fear that had surged through her and left her with chills.
“When you told me about you, you quoted Jeremiah seventeen, verse five and nine. Have you read between those verses?”
She nodded and sniffed.
“You said there are something that happens and no matter how one try, one can never comprehend. You also told me you’ve learnt to place your solace in God.
I take it that you’ve stopped believing the faith of our fathers living still in spite of dungeon, fire and sword? I take it you’re letting go of the faith your father had professed till death.” He stood and picked his phone and his notepad. “Goodnight Katherine, first thing tomorrow morning, I’ll take you home.”
Her palm swiped her tears and nose. By the time she was done, he was a couple of steps down the stairs.
“Kelvin…” She jolted to her feet. “I’ve already wiped my tears, I promise not to cry anymore.”
Tears stung his eyes and he blinked. He had afraid she wasn’t going to stop him from walking away.
“I promise to cling to the reins of what the future has in store for me after all, that is what they would have wanted. What was I thinking to throw away all the wonderful people I’ve been blessed with?”
She took a couple of steps forward and made to kneel.
He turned around that moment and resisted her action. “I’m only a man Kathy.”
“Please forgive for being so selfish and—and immature and…”
He dropped what he was holding and took her in his arms. “Hush…on one condition.”
“Anything you want…Kel.”
“After seeing how well you danced with Precious on my birthday, I’ve been trying to book a dance appointment with your secretary to no avail.” He wiped an imaginary sweat from his forehead when she looked up at him with a bemused expression.
“Secretary?” Her brows arched.
He nodded. “An imaginary secretary.” He winked at her.
She couldn’t help but bubbled into bouts of laughter.
Her laughter stirred something within him, something that made him want to pull her back in his arms and have a feel of the mouth from which the heart-warming laughter emanated but he dared not for fear he would ruin the magical transformation.
“I can’t teach you today, my body aches.”
“Teach me little, I’ll carry you to the sitting room and anywhere you wish afterwards and I’ll come back from work early tomorrow to take you to the spa.”
“That is fair enough.” She turned him around and then lifted her skirt. ‘I’ll like to be carried on the back.”
“Naw dearie, let me place you on my shoulders.”
“You think I don’t know you want to do, abi? I can’t afford hit my head against the frame of the door.”
“Darn! She is smart.” He declared like she wasn’t present.
She chuckled as she hopped on his back. He picked his phone, notepad and gave them to her.