He’d never, ever, broken off a relationship over the phone. He’d never broken off a relationship, that was the crux of the matter. When he considered the purpose of a relationship over, he put some distance between them, and usually the lady gets the message and takes care of the matter.
Saz thought of going to Benin for the weekend to handle the breakup scene. But he was a coward…he admitted that much to himself even when he hated to think of himself as one. He was a coward who couldn’t work up the nerve and courage to face a disappointed, heartbroken woman.
No, Grace won’t be heartbroken, he thought, and with a sigh he couldn’t help. They weren’t in love, or that much into each other. He’d liked her; still did in an offhand way. He’d found her attractive, as she’d found him, and they’d been together without any promises made for a year.
Fourteen months, actually, if he wanted to be specific. Good heavens, that had been his longest relationship, and why?
Saz thought about it, mostly to while away the time as he scrambled for the courage to do what he must do. Because he had fallen into a routine. They both had. He got used to having her available, she got used to him, and they just went on. Neither of them sought for more, or was bothered that more was absent in what they had.
Did he want more now?
Different. Different was what he wanted, Saz told himself, and reached for his phone, determined to shuck off the coward cloak. He would do this, calmly and apologetically. Kindly, too.
But he didn’t know where to begin, he realised. Or, how.
“I was starting to think you’ve forgotten me. Haven’t heard from you in more than a week, you know.”
“I’m sorry.” The apology was for more than his silence, Saz knew, and wished she did, too. “I’ve been busy. With the store, and um, other things.”
“Not so busy, you couldn’t spare a minute to call, if you wanted. Or, text.” Her voice wasn’t angry, only mildly chiding. “Anyway, I’m glad to hear from you. I miss you, you know.”
“I…” He didn’t miss her. He hasn’t missed her, not once in nearly a month. “I’m sorry,” he said again.
Her laughter came quick, and sounded nothing like Anya’s. Which made him frown, that he’d unconsciously made the comparison.
“Don’t be sorry, say you miss me too. Or, better still, tell me you’re coming back home soon. How’s the search for a buyer going?”
“It looks like it’s not going to be easy finding one. But I’m on it.” He took a breath, told himself to just do it. “I’m calling for a specific reason though. This is not the way to do this, and I sorely wish I didn’t have to do it this way.”
Or, do it at all. “But I want to call things off. Between us. I’m sorry.”
Three apologies in under a minute, that should be some kind of a record. The silence, tense and awful, made the fingers that held the phone to his ear itch and ache, so he wondered if he should say something.
“Are you serious?” She finally said.
There was shock in her voice. Shock, not anger. Not the disappointment he was expecting. But Saz was certain that would come later. “I am serious, and I am very sorry.”
“Wow! I can’t believe this.” Another silence. A short one, then she laughed. A dry laugh. “I can’t believe you’re breaking up with me, and over the phone. Did you meet someone else? Is that it?”
“I did. But we were…are in a loll, Grace. We are only together because we don’t want to make the effort to seek better for ourselves. To seek for more.”
“So, she’s better than I am.”
Now there was a small annoyance in her voice. Saz found he preferred to hear it than the disappointment, which was slowly edging in. “It’s not about her being better, or not. It’s not really about her. We are heading nowhere, Grace. We are together, and stayed together, only out of habit. There are no deep feelings.”
“Speak for yourself.”
He frowned, at the off-white painted wall. “Are you saying you are in love with me?”
“I…No. But that’s not to say I don’t have feelings for you. I like you, Saz. I thought you liked me. I thought we were fine.”
“We were. We are not anymore.” He felt sorry. Sorry to be the one to break it off. Sorry to hurt her, even in a shallow way. “I am not anymore. I want…” Not more, he reminded himself, and stopped the word from coming out. “To give us the chance to find something more meaningful.
“And I’m sorry I’m doing this over the phone. I really am sorry about that. I hope you forgive me, for that and for any hurt I’m causing you.”
She said nothing about his apology. Instead, she demanded, “How do you know she is the one for you? You’ve only been there three weeks plus.”
“I don’t know if she’s the one, and I really meant it when I said it’s not about her. Even without her, I couldn’t offer you more. I wouldn’t want more with you.”
“You’re just saying that.”
“No, I’m not.”
“This is not fair, you breaking up with me, and on the phone.”
“I am sorry. I am sorry, Grace.”
“I can’t believe this.” The disappointment was loud and clear now. “I didn’t think you would do this. Not so soon. Not…at all.”
“I am sorry,” Saz repeated.
“You keep saying that.”
And with those words, she ended the call.
Saz let the phone drop off to the bed as he shut his eyes. He was disappointed too, he realised, with the way it ended. Usually, when the lady got the hint and broke things off, she didn’t walk away disappointed, or leave him feeling guilty.
He’d hurt her, and it pulled at his conscience that he’d had to do so. But he would have hurt her in future as things would have ended between them anyway. Or, maybe she wouldn’t have to be hurt, if he’d waited for her to do the breaking up.
But he couldn’t have waited. Not when he wanted Anya. Not when he was desperate to be with her.
And after he’d been with her, had her, what next?
The question made Saz frown, and darkly because he didn’t like that his head couldn’t come up with an easy answer. Or, any at all.
The bang of the door knocker shifted the dark frown to his bedroom door, which was slightly ajar. Who could it be? No one’s knocked on the door since he came.
Half-irritated, he got up, took his phone with him and went downstairs.
It was his cousin, and Saz made the effort to get rid of his scowl and bring on a smile. “Uchenna, this is a surprise. I wasn’t expecting you.”
Smile ever friendly and affectionate, Uchenna gave him a warm hug. “I should have called you, I know. But I just decided to take a chance. May I come in?”
“Yes. Come in.” He left her to close the door as he stepped back into the living room. “Make yourself comfortable. What have you got there, in the food flask?”
“Food.” She laughed. “The most delicious yam pottage. I made it.” She held out the plastic flask. “I had it in mind to visit, so I added a portion for you.”
“Thank you.” He hesitated only a few seconds before taking the flask. “Maybe it’s good you did come bearing food, as I only had a few slices of bread for breakfast and feeling hungry again.”
“You should eat while we relax and talk, then.”
“You want us to talk?”
“People talk when they’re together, don’t they?” Her smile was easy, teasing, affectionate.
The affection unsettled and pulled at Saz at the same time. “I guess they do, but I was thinking you meant something specific. Let me grab a plate from the kitchen.”
“I’ll get it for you.” She was already on her feet before pausing to cast him a searching stare. “I’m used to coming here when Uncle was alive and Sister Ifeanyi or Somto would be around. Or, even when they weren’t around. But I realise now you might not want me moving about the house like they did.”
She was his cousin, the only one from his father’s family he could say he actually liked, and had any real relationship with. Or, would have, if he gave them the chance to build one.
“I don’t mind. Please, feel at home, as you have always done. And since you’re getting the plate, grab the pack of juice in the fridge and two glasses.”
“I will do that.” Beaming, she flew in the direction of the kitchen.
She was back in a minute with everything needed on a tray. “I would have visited before now, but I had to round up my clearance and get my certificate from Agbor.”
“Ah yes, you finished from the college of education there.” He took the glass of juice she’d poured and set it on a stool. “So, how was your result?”
He understood that meant good. “Congratulations. I’m sure your parents are happy.”
“They are. I am too. I’m going to seek direct entry into Delsu. How’s the pottage?”
“Wonderful.” And it was. “So, it’s Delta State University next. Is that because it closer home?”
“Uniben is close enough too, even AAU.” She shrugged as she made the point. “But I like Delsu. I would rather go there. Hopefully, I will begin the next session with them. I don’t want to stay too long at home with Mama and Papa. They start forgetting I’m an adult when I do.”
“Parents usually do that,” he said, and emptied what was left in the flask into his plate. “This is really delicious.”
“Thank you. I’m glad you like it.” Pleasure flitted across her face. “Next time I make it, I’ll be sure to bring you some.”
“Be sure to ask your mother’s permission first.”
“I will ask her, but I can assure you she won’t mind.” Countenance happy and oddly content, she swirled the orange liquid in her glass. “Papa says you’re still looking for someone to buy over the business.”
“He’s right, I’m still looking.”
“I wish you wouldn’t sell it. I feel like it’s a family business, and shouldn’t be handed over to a stranger.”
“I’m not handing it over. I’m selling it,” Saz said lightly. “And it was my late father’s business, not a family business.”
“But that is how family businesses begin. It starts with one person and gets handed down as the years pass and generations come and go. Uncle really loved the business. He enjoyed going to that store a lot.”
As her voice was soft and wistful as she said the last part, Saz looked at her. It didn’t surprise him to find the wistful expression on her face. “I wish I can keep it open, but I can’t. My life’s in Benin, not here.”
“I know.” She let out a deep breath, as if accepting what was inevitable, and then smiled. “Maybe I can visit you in Benin when you move back.”
“I will like that.” Saz smiled as it struck him that he would genuinely like to have her visit him. “Talking about visits, do you intend to visit Iloba across the street?”
“No.” She didn’t hesitate with her answer. “I will greet him if I see him outside on my way out, his wife too, but I’m not going over there.”
He’d asked the question to test the waters there, but now he was curious to know her reason. “Why? Would your parents object if you do?”
“Papa probably wouldn’t be happy if he hears I went there, but Mama wouldn’t say anything. If you know her well, you will know she’s not the type to interfere in Papa’s family matters.”
Saz knew that about her, to his cost.
“But it’s not because of them,” Uchenna went on. “Or, even because our side of the family and theirs are not as close as they once were. I just don’t like Iloba and his wife. They are…mean, I think is the word. They are mean to people they can show unkindness to and get away with it. And especially to that boy.”
“What boy?” He knew, but asked to see if she even knew the boy’s name.
“Okey. You must have seen him. He’s less than ten and they make him work like he’s a boy of fifteen, or older. Added to that, they don’t feed or clothe him well.”
“And what has any member of the family, of either side of the family, done about this?”
“Nothing.” She dropped her gaze for a moment as if mortified that was her answer. “No one is willing to do anything because they are all minding their business. Our side of the family doesn’t interfere with theirs and vice versa. In any case, he’s his sister’s, only sibling’s, child and first his responsibility before any other’s.”
“He’s not handling that responsibility as he should, and this issue of minding our business is wrong where a child’s welfare is concerned.”
There was several seconds of silence before she said softly, “I agree, it is very wrong. We should all be concerned when a child is being maltreated, not look the other way, and pretend it will one day come to an end. But Papa won’t interfere, no one will.”
“I will. I have.”
Her shock came in a flash. “You have? You mean, you have challenged Iloba over the way he treats Okey?”
Saz didn’t know why he was telling her any of this, or what he intended to do about that challenge still, but she was family and someone in the family should be concerned. Other than him.
“Few days ago. It wasn’t so much as a challenge as letting him know I wasn’t happy with the way he was treating the boy, and intend to do something about it.”
“What will you do about it?”
“That I don’t know yet.” As his plate was empty, he set it back on the table, took the glass of juice. “But I will do something. I have to do something.”
He pushed the glass back from his mouth and arched his brows. “You understand? What do you understand?”
“You feel a need to do something because you’ve been where Okey finds himself. That’s it, isn’t it?”
Saz shrugged, drank and dropped the glass. “I suppose so. But wanting to spare him whatever pain I suffered in same circumstances doesn’t make it easy deciding what I should do about it. It doesn’t make it easy accepting what I should do about it.”
“But you will do something about it. I feel it that you will do something for him.”
“I have to.” That was the only answer. He didn’t like it, wasn’t yet comfortable with it, but there was no other choice.
Not one he would let himself make.
But that was worry for another day, and one that was personally his. He stood and took the plate and flask. “I’ll wash these out, and go put the gen on, so we can have some entertainment through the TV.”
Standing, too, she took the plate and flask out of his hand. “I will wash them, while you put on the generator. Did you renew the subscription on the cable? I love watching movies.”
“What woman doesn’t?” Saz teased. “Lucky for you, I did renew it. So, I’ll get the gen on and we’ll see what movie is showing.” He turned at the door, and added. “I’m glad you came for a visit, Uche.”
And he was, which was a pleasant surprise.