Jerry knew he would fail the alcohol test, but that didn’t bother him. His bad luck had intensified in the last weeks and this was leading the other doctors to doubt his competence. Patients transferred to him always had a ten percent chance of survival and that was putting it mildly. He never actually did succeed in any case he really handled and he almost always made a howler of cases that he had to assist on. His life was really a mess and he needed a break from all the drama. He watched the Lab scientists from outside as they worked on the samples he had presented for his alcohol test. One thing was evident, the Director of the Hospital was ready to suspend him for the second time in two years if he failed the test.
Being a Doctor was his lifelong dream. He loved tending to people and saving lives, above all, he also loved the prestige that came with being called a Doctor. His parents loved that too. He had been guided by following his passion so that he wouldn’t have to see his job as tedious for a day but Medicine was never like that. He had graduated with straight A’s in school and seemed like the perfect Doctor but everything changed when he started practising. Series of deaths rolled under his watch and this didn’t boost his morale. It couldn’t boost anyone’s morale to be a failing Doctor.
Emeka popped his head out from the Laboratory and signalled to Jerry to join him in a corner. “Hey Bro…you shouldn’t be here.”
“And I am guessing that you have become a Lab scientist?” Jerry asked as he folded his arms.
Emeka smiled. “I switched the bottles.”
“Your urine and mine?”
Emeka nodded with a smile. He expected Jerry to wrap his arms around him in appreciation of this but Jerry stared at him coldly. “Say something…something good.”
“What is good about your urine? For all we know you might have syphilis.”
Emeka scoffed at Jerry’s ingratitude. “A thank you would suffice.”
“I am not grateful. I am worried about what the Director would say when a comprehensive test is done.”
Emeka smiled. “Thank me later.”
The door opened and the Director joined them with a sheet of paper in his hand. He stared accusingly at the duo and handed the sheet to Jerry. “I don’t know what you did to make your alcohol drinking mess go away…but you are still suspended.”
Jerry watched the Director as he disappeared down the hall and turned to Emeka. “Do you still want the thank you?”
Emeka shook his head. “I am so sorry, man.”
“Look, I don’t think I’ll do any better here than I did in the East. Maybe I should just go back home. Maybe this profession isn’t for me after all. What is the point of going to the surgical wards when everything I touch is a no? This is tiring. Very exhausting.”
Emeka nodded. “You have a point there and it might sound wrong for the moment but I sincerely do think that this suspension might give you some time to bounce back.”
“Bounce back? Did you even ever see my glory days?”
Emeka paused to think.
“I have never had any.” Jerry replied and adjusted his coat. “I’ll be on my way home.”
“How many weeks are you to be suspended for?” Emeka asked.
Jerry checked the sheet. “Two weeks.”
“Two weeks?” Toni asked with a frown.
Nora nodded as she took off her slippers. “Am I not deserving of it?”
Her sister was silent.
“I worked hard to get that leave.”
Toni shrugged. “I am not disputing that, but I am just saying that if the service provider is naturally that horrible, what happens when more people such as you get leaves from work?”
“We are a competent network.”
Toni nodded. “Sounds like your motto, right?” she asked with a grin. “Nora, I really don’t want you in this house with me for two whole weeks. You will bore me to death with your principles.” Toni continued. Nora ignored her and started to change into her underwear. “Where are you going with James?” She asked, trying to change the topic.
“He ought to call me in the next hour to let me know. We leave by seven.”
“That should be to the movies then…” Toni replied. “I should step out tonight too.”
Nora shot at her. “Where to? It rained last night. It might rain today too.”
“It’s just for a walk.” Toni replied. “Besides, I might just go with a car.”
Nora nodded. “I think it is safer if you go with a car. You have to be careful.”
“Nora, I am fine.”
Nora picked her phone. “Toni, I know you are. I am just playing my role.”
“I think it is a little too much.”
The land phone rung. Toni lifted the receiver. “Hello!”
“Ma’am, there is a man named James here to see Ms. Nora.”
Toni shrieked as she replaced the receiver with a smile. “James is here. I have to go and see him.” She replied as she leaped off the bed.
“Why is here so early? Oh my…I have to fix myself up. Go…go and keep him company.” Nora said as she turned towards the mirror.
Toni hurried out of the room.
James stood in the living room in his black suit with a smile. Toni folded her arms as she smiled at him. “I meet the famous James.”
He smiled. “Err…I…I am here to see Nora.”
“Obviously she hasn’t told you about me?” she asked as she took a seat. “Take a seat.”
James obliged. “You are Toni, right?”
She smiled. “Oh…she did mention me?”
“No…and now I know why she didn’t.” James replied as he undid the lower button of his jacket.
Toni ran her hand across her hair and took a deep breath with her eyes closed. She thought she was missing something. She shrugged. “Why do you think my sister never mentioned me?”
“It’s obvious. You are a lot prettier than she is. Very stunning and she is very sure that if I had just one glimpse at your photo before coming here, you would be going out with me on this date.”
Toni smiled. “You flatter yourself.”
“I try. Where is Nora?”
“She has to dress up. I think you arrived earlier than schedule and I think you are seriously dressed.”
James stared at his jacket. “I like to look nice. First impressions count, you know?”
“You won’t go far with me. I like to wait for second impressions.” She replied as she rose to her feet. “I have to check in with Nora. I’ll be right back.”
James nodded as he relaxed in his seat.
“How does he look?” Nora asked as Toni shut the door.
Toni smiled. “He is cute, you have nice eyes.”
“I hope he likes me too…so tell me the important thing.”
Toni nodded. “He is wearing a suit. He is taking you to a classy restaurant, so you can pour your hair down for a start.”
“I can help myself. Go and talk with him. He is really interesting.”
Toni smiled. “He is. You always find the douchebags.”
“Stop. James is different. Nothing like the other guys I have met.” She said with a smile as she poured her hair down. “What gown do I wear?”
“I like that black one you wore for a fund raiser last month.”
Nora took a seat. “I already wore it once. I want a fresh slate with James.”
“You are a clown. It is just a date. It is not your marriage.”
Nora hissed. “You are very helpful, Toni. Thanks.”
Toni nodded. “You are welcome.”
“I think you should go and occupy James.”
Her sister grinned. “Of course…”
Nora grabbed her gown as soon as Toni shut the door after her.
“I see I am not very popular around here. You have left for me for like err…” James pulled up his sleeve to check the time. “Fifteen minutes.”
“Thirteen minutes.” Toni corrected with a smile.
James smiled. “Did you check the time or are you just trying to wow me with your intelligence?”
She shrugged. “I don’t wow people…it comes effortlessly.”
“Have lunch with me sometime.” James replied with a grin.
“Hitting on two sisters. Touché!”
He smiled. “It’s just lunch, I would like to know you better…maybe hook you up with one of my single buddies.”
“Why? You are beautiful, smart. Any guy’s catch.”
Toni nodded with a smile. “Did I mention I like football too? I hear you guys are into ladies that love football too…”
“My God! Where have you been all my life?” he asked with a smile.
She took a deep breath. “Stuck in between rooms.”
“Humour too…you are a real catch.” He continued. “Nora is taking forever.”
Toni smiled. “Don’t you guys just love a pretty lady?”
“We do.” He replied. “I am cute, right?”
She smiled. “Obviously.”
“Ah! Finally!” James exclaimed as he watched Nora descend the stairs.
“She is so beautiful.” Toni said with a smile and flashed her camera. “Souvenir for me. You are having her full beauty. I rarely ever get to see my sister dressed like this, so cherish the moment, James.” Toni said as she nudged him.
Nora smiled at Toni. “Thanks darling. Do take care of yourself.”
“What could possibly happen to her, guardian angel?” James asked as he gave Nora his hand.
Toni grinned. “Yeah…what could possibly happen to me?”
Nora shot a face at her sister and smiled at James. “Shall we?”
“Sure.” He replied.
Toni smiled as she stepped out of the house that evening. There was no way she was going to drive any of the cars when she could walk. She had only walked past two streets when she spotted the jerk from the bar sitting alone in a corner. She grinned to herself as she walked up to him. “Jerk!” she said.
Jerry stared at her and turned his face away.
She took her seat beside him with a smile. “I take it as you were drunk last night.”
Jerry ignored her.
“So…do you talk at all? Oh wait! You do talk so much…almost as though you don’t have a lid on it…so, why are you unusually quiet tonight?” Toni asked with a smile.
Jerry took a deep breath and clenched his fists together. He had been doing some self-evaluation until this lady appeared from nowhere to bug him. His fists were hungry to feast on her face…but then…it was not his style.
Toni smiled waiting for a response from him. She had expected a response to follow since he took a deep breath. Nothing followed. She poked her head before him with a smile. “You are ignoring me?”
“Look here, woman!” Jerry growled in a loud tone. “If you don’t have anything good to do with your life other than disturb others, just bloody leave me alone.”
Toni sat back with a smile. “That was supposed to hurt me, right?”
“Look man, we all have problems…no, I call them challenges, and we can’t overcome all of them truthfully. But, we are bigger than life and its challenges, we just have to find a way around them.” She said, standing up.
Jerry took a glance at her and then turned his face away remorsefully. “I am sorry.” He muttered.
Toni smiled. “I can’t hear you.”
Jerry stared at her and nodded. “Okay, I am sorry.”
“A little louder?” she asked with a grin.
Jerry smiled faintly. “I am sorry.”
“Take care.” She said and walked away.
Jerry took a deep breath as he watched her walk away. He’d be a fool not to get her name this time. He knew it. He hurried after her. “Hey!” he said catching up. “You walk fast, you know?”
Toni turned at him with a smile. “Apart from the fact that you walk faster or slower when you walk alone, I also left that spot before you so it is logical that I am a few steps ahead of you, don’t you think?”
Jerry smiled. “That’s interesting.”
“I am interesting.”
He laughed. “You are cocky.”
She raised an eyebrow. “I thought that term was more familiar with the male folks.” She replied as she started to walk.
“Oh well…eh, are you naturally this cool with everyone?”
Toni stopped. “I love people.”
“I mean, we should love our brothers as ourselves, but, you are so…so welcoming.”
Toni shrugged and continued to walk. “It is a way of life. Life is beautiful, it should be enjoyed with people. Why can’t we all just love each other?”
“You are clearly from another planet. People will mess you up if you trust them too much.” Jerry replied.
“Then you forgive, give people room to make mistakes.”
Jerry stopped. “Do you live by this ideology?”
“Of course, you do. I was nasty with you and you were amazing. It’s rare.” He replied. “Do you mind if we continue this conversation at Tunji’s Bar? It is just right around the corner. You could have water.” He said with a smile.
Jerry pushed the door open and let Toni in. Tunji smiled as they took their seats at his table. “Interesting combo tonight.”
“Evening man. I would have a glass of-”
“-Water. He would have water and same with mine.” Toni interrupted.
Jerry stared at her. “Me? Water?”
Tunji smiled. “Yeah. Him? Water?” He asked, staring at Toni.
“Yeah. Water.” She replied.
Jerry rubbed his forehead. “Okay, water it is.”
“Smitten fool.” Tunji said with a smile as he turned to get the water.
Jerry stared at Toni. “I…I didn’t see that coming.”
“We don’t always see everything coming. Take for instance, eighty percent of girls that go out on dates with guys expect to get kissed at the end of the date but when the kiss eventually comes, they never see it coming.” She replied.
Jerry smiled. “Is that a tested theory?”
“Technically, it is my theory.” She replied.
He folded his arms. “How come I have never seen you around before?”
“You saw me yesterday.” She replied with a chuckle.
He nodded. “I know. I mean, like, I have not seen you around really…”
“I am stuck in between rooms.”
He stroked his beard. “What does that mean?”
“I am always indoor.”
James smiled. “Are you telling me that I am the first guy that you would be out with?”
Toni laughed. “Of course, not.”
“Tell me about you.” Jerry said.
Tunji dropped bottles of water on their table with a smile. “Enjoy…” he said and walked away.
“Now that I think of it, water will be saving us a lot of money.” He said.
Toni nodded. “You are doing better with your sense of humour.”
“Back to you, so, tell about you.” He said.
Toni folded her arms. “What’s there to know? Nothing….Actually, nothing.”
“Are you from Mars? Are your siblings aliens? Do you speak Mandarin?” Jerry asked.
She sipped her water. “Boring details. I live with my big sister and our parents are long dead.”
“I am so sorry.” Jerry said.
She finished her water. “It’s fine. I wish I knew them…anyway, let’s talk about you. What do you do?”
Jerry blinked. “What do I do?”
She nodded. “Yeah… for work.”
“Erm…I work in an investment bank.” He replied as he drank some water.
She sat back with a grin. “Investment banking? The last time I heard that, the guy turned out to be talking about a sperm bank…is that where you work?” she asked raising an eyebrow.
Jerry laughed. “Come on, can you be serious for like five seconds?”
Toni closed her eyes and counted one to five aloud. “Okay, serious moment is over. But really, what bank is that?”
“It’s a small microfinance bank. I am sure you won’t know it.” He said as he drank some more water.
Toni stared at him. “Do you really like water or do you drink water every time you tell a lie?”
“You are a mind reader too? Psychic?” he asked.
She shrugged. “Instincts.”
“Well, I work at a bank and that is that.” He replied defensively.
She sat up. “Bank jobs can be frustrating, so I think I understand your mood earlier on.”
“I thought you said you love people, why would you see it as frustrating?” James asked with a smile.
She drummed her fingers on the table. “Listen to this…A father loves his daughter, right?” James nodded. She nodded and continued “Good. If the father sees his child with sand in her mouth, does he like that? Obviously not. So, what does he do? He cleans her up. This doesn’t mean he didn’t love her even when the sand was in her mouth. It is just an ideology, man. People will hurt you, you just have to find your way around everything.” She concluded.
“You are something.” Jerry replied.
Toni took a deep breath and checked her wristwatch. “I’ll be on my way.”
“Wait, I didn’t get a name.”
She smiled and took steps away from him. “You never asked.”
Jerry sighed. “Please, what is your name?”
“Stranger.” She replied.
His shoulder fell. “Are you serious? I am Jerry. Tell me your name.”
“Stranger.” She replied.
He blinked. “Remember you love people, we should be friends.”
“We might as well be strangers.” She replied with a smile and walked out.
Jerry sighed as he sank into his seat. Tunji joined him immediately. “Still didn’t get a name?”
“Shut up, man.”
Tunji smiled. “Ladies like persistent guys, you should try harder…that is if you have get a next time.”
Jerry frowned. “Give me another glass of water.”
“Excuse me?” Tunji said as he looked around. “She is no longer here, Jerry.”
Jerry stared at him. “I just want some more water.”
Tunji laughed. “No, man, you are kidding me.”
“Are you going to give me or not?”
Tunji nodded with a smile. “Of course.”
Toni rushed downstairs as soon as she heard the dogs bark. Nora was back. She wouldn’t miss a detail of her sister’s date. “Nora.” She said with a smile.
Nora closed the door and approached the stairs with a sad face. “Good evening.”
Toni swirled as she watched her sister ascend the stairs. “Good evening? What happened to you? Did the police bust you?”
“That would have been better.” Nora replied as she stopped to stare at Toni coldly.
Toni blinked. “How…How is James?”
Nora smiled cynically. “James? Of course, you had to ask.”
Toni nodded. “Yeah. Why are you looking like this?”
“Don’t you get it, Toni?” Nora shouted. “It is always about you! When James is not talking about how I happen to live in a mansion when I work as a customer care representative, he is talking about you.”
Toni swallowed as she stepped back.
Nora pushed forward. “Oh…your sister is so gorgeous, she is so cute. Damn attractive…she is a stunner…every guy’s lady and blah blah blah…Does it always have to be about you, Toni?”
“Take it easy, Nora.” Toni replied.
Nora scowled. “Oh really??? Easy? Why would I take it easy when I don’t have anything…you have everything!” she said panting heavily.
Toni raised her eyebrow. “Everything?”
Nora wiped her tears. “For once, Toni, can you not always turn the guy I like from me? Please.” She said and walked away.
Toni took a deep breath.