Benny managed a weak smile as he thanked the pharmacist. His head was pounding and felt like it would split in two if he made any sudden movements. He always felt it was odd that as a doctor, he never has medications beyond the simplest pain relievers in his supposed drug cabinet at home. It wasn’t rocket science to figure out why though—he hated drugs and if pain didn’t get to the point where he was almost brawling like an infant, he avoided them like they were Egyptian-plagues.
He kept his head down as he made his way back to his car. How he was going to manage to drive all the way home with his eyes feeling like a truck-load of gravel had been emptied into them was beyond him. Darn it, he should have taken something when the throbbing in his temples intensified by midday. Instead he’d applied a cold compress to his head and when a minor relief had come, he’d gone back to work.
Oh God, why me? Benny stifled a groan even as he vaguely recognised the voice. How the heck was he expected to turn his head now when he could barely keep it hanging to his neck?
“I instantly knew it was you when I caught sight of a man coming out of the pharmacy.” Maureen was smiling cheerfully as she stopped right beside him. “Longest time. How’s life now?”
“Great.” And it even be greater if I can manage to withstand the flash of light, he added silently as he worked up a smile for Nora’s colleague and friend. She was wearing a navy-blue pin-striped trouser suit that fitted her slim build. “How are you guys? Big Bros Joe and the little champions, hope they’re all doing great?”
“They are oh. We all are, thank God.” Maureen eyed him closely. “You’re not looking good—are you all right?”
“Devious migraine.” Benny wished he could escape into his car. Or better still, be magically catapulted home. “I’ll be fine once I down these drugs and lie down.”
“Eya! Sorry oh.” Maureen was instantly sympathetic. “Let me leave you now so you can go home. Ndo oh.”
“Thank you.” Benny tried a smile and quickly dropped the effort when a searing pain jarred off in his right temple. “But hope no one is feeling poorly at home, this one you’re here at this time. Or did you sneak out of the bank?”
“With our eagle-eyed BM? E no fit happen.” Maureen rolled her eyes good-naturedly. “No oh, we all got lucky today and were allowed to close down our stations early and without any emergency after-work meeting. In fact Nora must be home now, na she first escape.” She chuckled. “As for being here, just want to get some regular multivitamins for the kids.”
“Oh, okay. You do that and head home to relax too. My greetings to everyone.”
“Take care of yourself, doc.” Maureen waved and started back towards the pharmacy.
Benny covered the small distance to his car and got inside, but he didn’t immediately start the car. She had told him they were working late. That was what Nora had said when he’d called her some twenty minutes ago. It was mid-week and they weren’t supposed to be seeing but he’d hoped she’d come over given his pounding head.
Why would she lie that she is working late when she wasn’t?
Benny frowned at the puzzling question and then grimaced when his throbbing head protested. He started the car and pulled out into the street.
“Brother Benny, Sister Nora never return o.” Papa Eloka cheerfully supplied the unsolicited information when he pulled into the one-storey building.
Benny sent the security-guard a smile. “I know, Papa Eloka. I’ll wait for her inside.”
“Eh-eh.” Papa Eloka was not done with his curiosity mission. “You go stay today?”
“I hope sai you no go lock me for guard room if I stay, Papa Eloka?” Benny teasingly responded not giving him an outright answer since he didn’t know it yet… and it wasn’t the old man’s business.
“For your own house? Mbanu!” Papa Eloka shook his head, grinning. “I just dey ask make I know if you go still dey. I be get one small problem wey I wan tell. I think sai if you come this weekend, I go tell you.”
Papa Eloka forever has one-problem matters to share and they all involved money. “No worry, I go see you before I comot, Papa Eloka. Make I enter house. Later.” He hurried to the front door before the old man would further stall him.
Inside, he tried Nora’s line again. It was still switched off. Telling himself to remain calm… and rational, he walked to the kitchen to get water to take his drugs.
Nora finished refreshing her makeup and stepped back from the mirror. She didn’t want to linger before it, looking at her image almost disgusted her these days. She was guilt-ridden.
What manner of woman slept repeatedly with another man when her wedding was just two months away?
Hating herself and hating even more that fact that she couldn’t understand her continued weakness where Tim was concerned, she picked her makeup purse and strolled back into the room.
Tim had put back on his clothes—well, just his trousers. They never ever get around to taking of their clothes completely before devouring each other. Even that fact was beginning to make her feel cheap and just a thing for pleasure. He looked at her now and the expression in his eyes deepened her worries.
He was losing interest again.
She recognised the distant look. Her eyes pricked and Nora blinked.
“I have to go.” She wanted to ask him directly if he was no longer interested but she lacked courage. “I… I will call you when I get home.”
“Nora…” Tim’s voice trailed off. He didn’t know what to say.
“Yes?” Please don’t say it. Oh God, please don’t let him do it to me again.
“What kind of man would you really like beside you for the rest of your life?”
The question wasn’t at all what she’d expected and it left her stupefied. “What do you mean?” Nora gaped at him.
Tim didn’t quite know what he meant. He slid his hands into his pockets and sighed. “Isn’t an honest man better than a liar and a cheat?”
“Are you calling yourself a liar and a cheat or is that an indirect way of telling me what you think of me?” Her eyes welled up but it was nothing compared to the shame and sorrow she felt inside.
“I am not insulting you, Nora.” Tim wished he understood himself at that moment. “I just had this thought that no woman will toss aside a good man for a seeming undependable one.”
“Are you trying to tell me you’re undependable, Tim?”
“I proved myself to be in the past, didn’t I?” Restless, he walked to the mini refrigerator and pulled out a can of Smirnof Ice. He popped it and took a slug. Then he sighed and turned back to her. Her eyes were heartbreakingly sad. “I’m sorry I’ve made you sad. I’m sorry I’m doing it all over again.”
“What are you saying, Tim?” Oh God, what has she done to herself? “What are you really telling me, Timothy?”
“Nothing. Nothing.” He couldn’t do it. No, it would be sheer evil to do it to her twice. “I was just thinking aloud.” He dropped the can and walked to her. Raised his hand and tenderly wiped her tears. “You’re a beautiful woman and I am only feeling unworthy of you.”
“Are you patronising me or—” Nora shook her head, stepped back. “I have to go.”
She felt dirty. Sick.
“I care about you, Nora. I really do.” Tim didn’t want her leaving like this. “You’re the most beautiful woman I ever had.” He quickly shook his head. “Not like that… I meant you’re the most beautiful woman to have ever come into my life.”
“See you later, Tim.” Nora started towards the door. She turned before walking through it. “I am not just a body, Tim. I have a mind and a heart too… remember that.”
And not waiting for his response, she walked out.
All the way home, she cursed herself. Indeed, he was unworthy of her. He had been unworthy of her the first time and he was even more so now. Yet she had thrown herself into his arms like a cheap slut.
“Oh God, I’m a fool!” Nora moaned aloud. “What is in Timothy Kalio that I cannot forget him?”
Nora wished she could wrench out her heart and trample on it. She wished she could use an iron sponge and wash his touch off her body. Two weekends now, she had not allowed her own man, her fiancé, her husband-to-be to touch her just because she was craving the touch of another man who still did not know her worth.
“Ah, what have I done?”
Nora stared at the car in front of her own with almost unseeing eyes. What will Benny do if he finds out? He abhorred infidelity. Even in a man, he could not stand it. Surely he would kill her?
The exclamation of woe sputtered out of her as she glided down her street. No, she was going to see Tim and tell him this was over. She would end it— and this time she won’t allow anything stop her. And both of them will swear each other to secrecy. No one else must know.
Resolute in her new decision, Nora yanked out her handkerchief, mopped up her face before honking. She sent a smile to Papa Eloka. “Evening, Papa Eloka.”
“Thank God sai you don come sef. Brother Benny don dey wait for you since.” The security guard told her as he held open the gate.”
Nora’s heart sank. “Oh. Okay. Thank you, Papa Eloka.”
Why was he here?
“Hey, Benny-Mac, this one you’re here this evening, I know wetin you find come.” Nora gave him a sly wink as she walked into the living room, flouncing to the couch to give him a kiss.
Benny allowed her mouth to linger over his briefly before breaking the kiss. “Welcome.” He said quietly. Mercifully his migraine was gone. “Must have been a hectic day at the office?”
“It was. I don’t know the kind demon that usually enters BM’s head every Wednesday.” Nora let out a dramatic sigh and dropped down beside him. “You won’t believe this man just announced a compulsory meeting when we were all getting set to close. Shuo! I almost felt like dying.”
“So you’re just coming from that meeting?” Benny wished his heart didn’t have to plummet like a sinking ship. How could she so blatantly lie to his face? And without so much as a blink? Dear God!
Something in his tone made Nora suddenly conscious. She eyed him warily. “Mmm-hmm, I’m just coming from the office. Meeting ended like thirty or so minutes ago.”
“Will you stop lying to me, Nora?” The words exploded from Benny even as he flew to his feet. “What is the meaning of this? You sit there and lie to my face like it’s nothing?”
Though her heart was panicking, Nora faced him with shocked eyes. “What is wrong with you, Benny? Why the hell will you be calling me a liar? When you called me what did I tell you?”
“That you were working late, Your Royal Majesty.” Benny hated that he felt the temptation to strike her, even though it had only been a fleeting thought. “But guess what? I ran into Maureen at a pharmacy and she was ecstatic at the prospect of having closed early from work and heading home to her family. And yes, she was even grateful there was no emergency meeting today.” His mouth turned up cynically. “Now, what do you have to say, my sweet fiancée?”
“That you should have more faith in me and stop with your suspicious mind.” Nora glared at him. “What the hell is the matter with you, Benny? Seriously, you’re doubting me? Me?” Tears shimmered in her eyes and she allowed them to slide out. “I can’t believe this. I just can’t believe it.”
Benny stared at her. He so hated to see her cry. And she never cried unless something wounded her deeply. “Are you saying that Maureen was lying to me when she said that you guys closed early and there wasn’t a meeting?” There was uncertainty in Benny’s voice now. “Why would she lie?”
“She didn’t lie.” Nora bent, opened her handbag and pulled out the handkerchief. She noisily blew her nose. “I never said she lied. Neither did I lie to you. We were working late and we just came out of a meeting.”
She forced herself to meet his eyes without flinching. “We closed early and BM said everyone could go, I rushed off before he would start changing his mind. It wouldn’t be the first time and you know it. Remember you’ve had to wait nearly two hours after I told you we were closing early some two months back because BM suddenly changed his mind?”
Benny did not respond. He recalled the incident but he was watching her too closely to bother with a response.
“Well, that repeat performance I was afraid of happened again this evening.” Nora let out a low hiss. “The workaholic devil called me when I was almost halfway home and asked that I return to represent our unit as he could not recall Maureen because she is a married woman with children. So I went back and joined the others he’d trapped there. It was when I was going back that you called me.”
Her lips trembled as she stared up at him with aggrieved eyes. “So because you met Maureen and she told you what she knew, you came back here to lie in wait for lying Nora, abi? I am now a liar you can’t trust, right Benny?”
Benny promptly felt ashamed. He had hastily doubted her word and decided she’d lied to him. “I am so sorry, sweets.” He reached for her. She resisted briefly and then allowed him to take her in his arms. “I am sorry. I wasn’t thinking straight. I’m so sorry I called you a liar. Please forgive me. Forgive me.”
He tilted up her head, gently wiped off her tears and kissed her. “Forgive your Benny-Mac please.”
Nora sniffed, nodded. “Okay. But please never again doubt my word. If you had even taken the time to come to the bank, you would have seen my car there… even if you didn’t want to come inside to check on me.”
“I’m glad I didn’t make a fool of myself that way.” Benny kissed her again before cradling her against her chest. “Sorry, love. No doubting you ever again. Just record it as the side effect of the migraine I was confounded with when I met Maureen.”
“You had a migraine?” Nora shifted back and looked at him. “Have you taken pain relievers, Mr fear-drugs?”
Benny chuckled. “I have. And I’m feeling tons better now.”
“It must have been severe then for you to have taken something for it.” Nora shook her head and reached for her handbag. “Let me go inside, bathe and then come fix us some dinner, okay?”
He nodded and smiled. “Okay.”
But as he watched her walk inside, Benny wondered why some thread of doubt lingered and refused to go away.