Tami was not having the finest of mornings. She had worked hard over the weekend and just when she thought she could take the Monday off, she received an abrupt call from her foundation requesting her presence. She had warned them not to call her if it was not important, so she hoped for their sake that it was.
“It’s a good thing you are here, Tamilore.” The Matron said, meeting her at the entrance.
Tami smiled at the elderly woman. “You called me, I had no choice.”
“I had no choice too.” The Matron replied, opening the door to the common room. “She’s doing it again.” She said, staring at a young girl, Amina, in a corner of the room as she circled a spot. “But this one is different, I have never seen her walk around in circles before… Oh, and she has refused to eat too.”
Tami stared at the other young ladies in the room who were fixated on the Television before returning her gaze to Amina who was still walking around in a circle. “How long has she been doing this?”
“An hour, tops.” The matron replied, checking her wristwatch briefly.
Tami checked her wristwatch. “I’ll take care of her.” She said, dismissing the matron who immediately stepped out of the room.
“How are you, Amina?” Tami asked, taking a seat before Amina.
Amina stared at her. “What is your name?”
“You asked me yesterday and I told you. Did you forget already?” Tami asked.
Amina nodded, as she continued walking in a circle.
“Why are you walking around in circles?” Tami asked.
Amina continued her walk in silence.
Tami exhaled, rising to her feet. “I don’t plan on doing this all day, Amina. Your friends have all loosened up. They are eating, laughing and watching Television.” She started. “If they keep this up, they would be able to start over.”
“No one will start over.” Amina replied, curtly.
Tami blinked. “Excuse me?”
“Stop lying to them. They will never be able to start over. It’s over.” She replied.
Tami rose to her feet slowly. “What are you talking about?”
“You tell my friends these things… They are not true. We will never be accepted again. We are stained.” She shouted, kicking at Tami’s chair.
The other girls had now turned in their direction, watching the debacle between both ladies. Amina was not like them. She confused them and now they were glad Tami was experiencing some of the things they had complained about. Maybe Amina would finally be separated from them.
“Amina, please calm down.” Tami said, staring at her.
Amina grovelled as she fell to the floor.
“She is crazy!” One of the girls cried.
Some of them chuckled but immediately stopped as Tami shot a look in their direction. “Take her back.” Another girl said. “We don’t want her here.”
The door opened and the Matron walked in with Muna, Tami’s best friend. “Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you right now, Tamilore Oni?” Muna asked.
“Muna, now is not the time.” Tami replied, keeping her gaze on Amina.
Muna scoffed. “Then when is it? Kunle has been waiting for you at the photographer’s studio.”
“What?” Tami said, turning to her. “Why would he do that?”
Muna sighed. “Today is the photoshoot for your wedding. Isn’t it bad enough that we’ve had to push it twice?! Your wedding is this weekend.”
Tami goaded Muna with a look. “Muna, outside now.” She said, heading out, pulling Muna along.
“Don’t pull me. You are going to snap my heels.” Muna groaned as they made for the corridor.
“You wouldn’t snap your heels if you didn’t go everywhere wearing heels that could kill you.” Tami replied, finally letting go of Muna’s arm. “Did you have to say all that in there?”
“Yes. How would you feel if Kunle was the busy man who couldn’t take some time off to plan for his wedding?” Muna asked.
Tami rolled her eyes. She was not here for one of Muna’s sermons. “Fine, Fine.” She said, cutting Muna off. “I’ll call him and apologize to him.”
“Your apology isn’t good enough. I have called your PA and told her to stop all interviews and press appearances until a month after your wedding.” Muna started. “I also took the liberty of telling Mrs Jacobs, a matron you pay monthly to take care of the girls and not call you when any of them coughs next time. Allow people do their jobs, Tami. That’s why you hired them.” Muna concluded, fetching her phone from her purse.
“And what role are you occupying?” Tami asked with a smile.
Muna smiled back. “Let’s say I am your fairy godmother.” She said, tapping on the phone. “I am calling us a cab.”
“I brought my car.” Tami replied.
Muna wore a grimace. “I am not allowing you drive. When last did you sleep? Look at the bags under your eye. You’ll make a sore bride and I don’t say that poetically.” She said.
“Aren’t you coming with me to the shoot? You can drive me.” Tami said.
Muna shook her head. “No, I need to go and see the caterer as you have refused to reply their mail and confirm the menu. Give me your keys.”
Tami retrieved her keys from her pocket and placed it in Muna’s hand. “Thank you.”
“It’s nothing.” Muna replied. “Your cab is here.”
Tami and Muna went way back. Orphaned at the age of ten, Tami had moved in with Muna’s parents who were her next door neighbours. The couple had raised Tami as theirs and her friendship with Muna blossomed. They were practically sisters. Tami was not surprised that Muna would want to get everything done for her; she had assumed the position of being her big sister. Tami would argue that Muna was months older than her, but then, she couldn’t ‘buy months in the market’.
The cab pulled up outside the photographer’s studio and Tami hurried in. Muna had sent her clothes ahead saving her some time. She walked into the studio to see Kunle and the photographer laughing. “What’s funny?” she asked, taking a seat.
“We were just talking about you.” Kunle replied.
Tami didn’t like the sound of that. “Really? What about?”
“About how you wouldn’t mind me taking the pre-wedding pictures with a passport photograph of you just so you could focus on your work.” Kunle replied.
Tami clenched her teeth. “You do know that is not funny, right?”
“Come on, Tami. It’s harmless.” Kunle replied.
Tami folded her arms. “What is harmless about having a go at my schedule? I am not responsible for the free time you have on your hands.”
Kunle took a deep breath.
“I’ll be in the other room.” The photographer said as he slipped out of the studio.
Kunle walked over to Tami. “It’s okay, alright? I am not attacking you. I know you love your job and I love that you are passionate about it and that you could give an arm for your girls but I want you to understand that this is us. We are getting married and we need to show up for each other.” He started. “Tami, it’s this weekend and it all comes down to this. You’ve got to meet me somewhere. I can’t pull all the strings alone.”
Tami exhaled. “I am sorry.” She said, bowing her head. “I have just been so stressed up and there’s… There’s this girl at the foundation that just came in and she’s… she’s difficult, Kunle. A lot more challenging than the others and sometimes I think I can’t handle her.”
“I think you should calm down.” Kunle replied, taking his seat beside her. “Do you want to get a drink?”
Tami managed a smile as she turned to him. “We don’t have the time to drink right now. We have to take pictures.”
“That can wait. The only perfect picture I want to take is one with you…and it doesn’t have to be with a camera.” He replied with a smile.
“I love you, Kunle.” Tami said, and she knew she meant it.
Muna was treating herself to a well-deserved ice cream after a busy day with the caterers when his call came in. If there was one person she hoped she would never have anything to do with again, it had to be Justin. She contemplated answering the call, but when it wouldn’t stop ringing, she was left with no choice. “Why are you calling me, Justin?”
“I need to see you.”
Muna flipped her hair across her shoulder. “Why?”
“Because you are the only one who understands me.”
Muna scoffed. “Look, Justin, you had that only one person and you messed it up. You don’t have me.” She said. “Now, if you would please excuse me, I have to go now. I am really busy.”
“Busy taking ice cream?”
Muna’s heart skipped a beat as she looked around her. “Where are you?” she asked, sounding agitated.
“Muna, please let me talk to you.”
Muna rose to her feet in one instant. “Where the hell are you?!”
Justin approached her from a corner of the ice-cream shop, taking off a cap. “Hey.”
“What is that? Are you trying to scare life out of me?!” Muna barked. “How long have you been following me, Justin?”
Justin took a deep breath. “Muna, I am sorry I had to creep out on you like that but I need you to help me. I am losing my mind.”
“Then go to the hospital because the next time I see you near me… or near Tami, you’ll pay for it.” Muna replied, grabbing her bag.
Justin grabbed her hand. “Please. Let’s talk.”
“Stay away from her.” Muna whispered. “Security!!!” she cried out and Justin freed her.
The security guard walked over to them. “Is everything alright?” he asked.
“It’s fine.” Justin replied, his voice coarse.
Muna stared at his trembling hands, shook her head and walked away from him. As she settled into her car, she cast her mind back to Justin. He was a shadow of the Justin she once knew. The Justin who stood before her minutes ago was nervous with trembling hands. He couldn’t stay still as his eyes betrayed abuse of some substance. He looked quite unstable. It had been a year since she last saw him and he wasn’t always like that.
Justin was at a time her crush but one she soon got over as she later understood that her emotions were fickle and she crushed aimlessly on every good looking man, and Justin certainly didn’t fall short in that department. Tall, handsome, confident, suave gentleman with the best taste in clothes – Justin was almost perfect on the outside. He didn’t come off as imperfect on the inside but she was not one to know much about that; it was his girlfriend of five years, Tami, who knew better.
Mrs Jacob placed a plate of rice before Amina. “I’ll be back to check on you.”
“Don’t turn off the lights.” Amina said, staring at the food.
Mrs Jacobs nodded and turned to leave.
“Are you going to take me back?” Amina asked.
Mrs Jacobs turned to her. “You should eat. Your friends have eaten and are now resting, you are yet to eat anything. You are going to be lean and get sick.”
“I don’t want to go back there.”
The Matron settled into the space beside Amina. “Amina, why don’t you ever talk about what happened there? The first step to healing is talking. Your friends all talked and they are better.”
“They are not my friends.” She replied. “They are fools.” She started. “They think they are fine, but they are not.”
“And why do you think you know this?”
Amina looked up at the matron. “They cry at night. When everyone is gone and the light is off, they start to cry.”
Mrs Jacobs blinked. “Amina? Are you sure about what you are saying?”
Amina picked her spoon and started to eat slowly.
Amina stopped eating to drink some water and then resumed eating her food.
“Amina?” Mrs Jacobs called again. She was met with stone cold silence from Amina. “It’s a good thing you are eating.” She added with a smile.
Amina nodded dismissively.
Mrs Jacobs managed a smile and walked out of the room. She had been working at the Oni Foundation since it was established five years ago and not for once had she come across a girl with so much resistance. Amina, along with some other girls were rescued from an insurgency attack in Northern Nigeria and brought to Lagos for a rehabilitation programme at their clinic. Tami, a psychologist and philanthropist who had inherited her family’s fortunes was now tending to girls involved in the misfortunes and helping to set them straight. The clinic had graduated a number of girls and another batch were ready to be reintroduced into the society but Amina was going to be a tough test for them…and she didn’t know if this was one she could handle in the next month as Tami’s wedding would see her largely in charge of proceedings.
She wasn’t ready for this…for Amina.
“Thank you for today.” Tami said as Kunle walked her to her front door.
Kunle leaned against the door. “Do I get a night cap?”
“No, you don’t.” She replied. “I need to sleep.”
He nodded. “Fair enough, I can understand that.” He said. “We need to be at the wedding planner’s tomorrow. I’ll come pick you up at noon.”
“That’s fine. I’ll be at the foundation. I need to check on Amina in the morning.”
Kunle smiled. “She’ll be fine, you know?”
“I know but I just have to do what I have to do.” She replied.
Kunle drew her close for a kiss on her forehead. “I love you, Tami and I can’t wait to be your husband.”
Tami smiled. “You can wait a few more days.”
“Goodnight.” He said and returned to his car.
Tami lingered by the door until she saw his car exit the driveway before returning into the house. She settled into a sofa and picked the Television’s controller. She was yet to select a station when the door bell went. A wry smile lurked round her lip. Kunle was not one to go away so easily. She turned off the Television and walked over to the door. As she opened it, she was forced back into the room with a hand to her mouth.
“Hey, don’t scream… It’s me.”
Tami blinked as the hand came off her mouth. “Justin?”
Justin took off his cap. “Yes, it’s me.”
“Have you gone mad?”
He nodded. “Yes, mad over you.”
“Justin, you have to leave now.” Tami said, rising to her feet as she massaged her arm.
He shook his head. “I have no place to go.”
He wiped his eyes. “I have no home. You are my home.”
Tami’s heart skipped a beat as she heard those words. “What are you saying?” she asked softly.
“Tami, don’t marry Kunle.”
Tami backtracked. “How do you know my fiancé?”
“It’s all over the internet. It’s a big wedding. Everybody knows.” He replied, taking a seat. “Tami, I know… I know… I didn’t do right by you. I…I know you showed me love…love, so much of it, but I was too much of a mess to understand it, talk more of reciprocating it…but I am back…okay? I am back now.”
Tami stared at him carefully. “Justin, have you been using?” she asked, unable to believe the question.
“No, I…I am fine.” He replied with a chuckle.
Tami shook her head. “No, Justin, I know you… This is not you.”
“It’s because you left me. That’s why I…I am like this. I can’t allow you leave me.” He replied.
“I am not leaving you.” Tami replied.
Justin’s eyes lit up.
“I already left you.” Tami said, confidently.
Justin could hear his heart breaking as she said those words. “No, Tami. You swore that you’d love me.”
“And I loved you until there was nothing left in me to love you. I loved you with everything I was. I loved you with every part of me. I loved you until I couldn’t love myself…” she replied, softly. “And that, Justin, that, isn’t love.”
Justin rose to his feet.
“Where are you going?” Tami asked.
Justin stared at her with a smile. “There’s nothing left for me, yeah? I am going to die.”
Tami clenched her teeth in anger. “Don’t do that. You keep playing this card, stop it! You are not going to have me back this time.”
“Take me back or I kill myself.” Justin said. “You said I was a mess, you said I was your mess. You said you’d love me, that you’d never leave. That you’ll fix me, so fix me, Tami. Fix me again!” he said and forcefully kissed her.
Tami kissed back and pulled away from him. “Go away!”
“You are still in love with me, Tami. You are.” He said.
Tami shook her head vigorously as though she could shake away the words he had said to her. “I stopped loving you, Justin. I stopped.”
“Then tell me to leave. Tell me to go and die because life is surely not worth living without you and I’d rather not take another breathe than watch you be with another man.” He said.
“You don’t want me to be happy? You want me to stay with you? Miserable and sad?” Tami asked.
“We had our happy days!” Justin replied.
Tami shook her head. “No, you had your happy days.”
“I am ready to make you happy every day of your life. I am ready to be that man you have always wanted. I am ready to talk to you. I am ready to love you like never before.” Justin said, taking her hand.
“Justin, I am happy with Kunle. You can’t come into my life now that everything is alright. It’s not fair. It’s not love.” Tami replied.
“Take me back.” Justin said, as he fell on his knees. “Take me back or I would die, Tami.”
Tami pushed him off her feet. “Die.”
Tami walked into the foundation with a large smile across her face, she didn’t think she’d be so excited about telling Justin off, but for the first time in a long time, she felt proud of herself for bullying the man who had bullied her in their time together. Who was he to walk in now that her life was perfect? Demon! She would inform her PA to send him an invitation card to her wedding so that he could see what true happiness looked like.
“Good morning, Tami.” Mrs Jacobs greeted as Tami arrived at the empty common room.
Tami nodded with a smile. “Good morning, ma’am. How are the girls today?”
“They are having breakfast.” She replied.
Tami dropped her bag and took a seat. “What about Amina? Did she finally eat anything?”
“Yes, she did. But, she said something that worried me.” Mrs Jacobs started. “She said the other girls cry too. That they pretend to be okay but they cry too.”
Tami swallowed. “That means they are worse than Amina?”
Mrs Jacobs nodded. “I fear so. Can we handle these ones?”
The door opened and Muna walked in. “Good morning.” Muna greeted.
“Muna, do you want a job here? Because at the rate of your visit, I might as well employ you and before you say anything, I am only here for five minutes, I am heading home shortly.” Tami replied with a smile.
Muna took a deep breath. “Justin shot himself last night.”