Mrs. Jacobs bolted the door leading to the common room and returned to a crying Tami. Tami sobbed like a teenager who just had her heart broken by a crush. It was careless, painful and true. Mrs. Jacobs clenched her teeth as she took her seat by Tami’s side. “Can I hug you?”
Tami didn’t need the invitation, she crashed into her arms. “Am I a bad person?” she asked, softly.
“No, Tami.” The matron whispered to her. “You are not a bad person, you are just a person making bad choices.”
Tami cleaned her eyes. “I swear I don’t want to hurt him but right now I feel that if I get any closer to him, I’ll only destroy him.”
“I agree with you.”
Tami blinked, unsure of what she had just heard. Mrs. Jacobs who, a few moments ago was just telling her to do the right thing, was all of a sudden agreeing with her. “You agree?”
Mrs. Jacobs nodded. “Yes, Tami. You can’t love with broken pieces. Kunle is a good man and I am sure he would be ready to take whatever you are dishing but he doesn’t deserve this broken Tami. It’s not fair on him or you either.”
Tami swallowed painfully. She never thought she’d hear that she wasn’t good enough for anyone. “Are you saying that I am not good enough?” she asked, for clarity.
“No, darling, but you are broken and in your brokenness you are making wrong choices.” She replied.
“If I am broken, it’s because Justin broke me.” Tami replied, wiping her eyes. “I loved him and he hurt me badly. He never let me in, he left me wanting…always wanting. He made me so empty and right now, I…I don’t know how to get past it.”
Mrs. Jacobs took a deep breath as she relaxed in her seat. “Justin is not going to fix you, honey.”
“Then who will? Because I am hollow. I feel really empty. I feel this desperation to be with Justin and take care of him. I feel this longing to be by his side…like it’s…like it’s my calling.” Tami replied.
“Where does this leave Kunle?”
Tami sniffed and shook her head. “I don’t know. I guess we don’t choose who we love because if I could, I’d be loving Kunle for who he is.”
Mrs. Jacobs wore a wry smile. “Love is a choice, Tami. We choose who we love.”
“No, we don’t.” Tami protested. “Look at what Justin put me through. Why do I still feel this attachment to him in death? Why can’t I transfer the feelings to Kunle?”
“Because it is a feeling, not love. Tami, pain demands to be felt. It visits you and you can’t avoid it, but you can react to it differently. You are reacting to Justin’s pain wrongly. You don’t deserve to mourn this dead.”
“But I loved him and he came to me before he died and told me that he loved me and he was ready to do right by me.”
Mrs. Jacobs took her hand. “Was that the first time he said that to you?”
Tami shook her head. “No.”
“You were in love with Justin and in his own way, he loved you, but let’s be real, that is not love. Love does not break you, love fills you. Love doesn’t leave you hollow, it completes you. Love is sacrifice. Love is faith. Love is trust. Love is a lot more than what Justin gave to you. Love is what Kunle is giving to you.” Mrs. Jacobs concluded, rising to her feet. “I have to go and tend to their girls, Tami. I am afraid they are starting to see themselves as violated once again. We can’t lose them.”
“I understand. Do what you have to do.”
Mrs. Jacobs rubbed Tami’s back. “You need to heal. Please, heal.” She said, and made for the door.
“Thank you.” Tami said palely.
She stopped and turned to Tami with a smile. “It’s a shame I am a little too old for Kunle.”
“Mummy, abeg I don’t have the time to meet your friend’s son.” Muna said, almost whispering, hoping that the cab driver would not hear her. Just then he decided to clear his throat. “Mummy, I’ll call you back, biko. I am busy now.”
“What are you busy doing? It is Ikemefuna oh. The one that you used to like when you were small. He just came back from London.” Mrs. Ibekwe shouted from the other end of the line.
Muna rolled her eyes as she avoided the judging gaze of her driver from the rear mirror. “Mummy, is it not that one with mango head? See, I was young, now I am old. I was blind then, now I can see.”
“Mango? The thing has come down. The head is not that big again.”
Muna laughed carelessly. “Mummy, the size of his head cannot reduce. See ehn, he is my friend on facebook, I no dey do. I’ll call you when I get to Tami’s place. Bye.” She said, hanging up.
“Would you like me to change the radio station?”
Muna stared at her driver with a frown. “Is that your way of patronizing me so I will give you five stars? It won’t work. Next time you won’t listen to your passenger’s phone call.”
“Okay, Madam. I am sorry.”
Muna blinked. “Madam? My friend, don’t call me Madam o. I will give you the five star, it’s not like I am eating it.”
He smiled. “Thank you.”
Muna nodded and stared at the other cars as they drove. She had no idea why she was going to see Tami after everything that she had said to her. But she couldn’t stay mad at Tami, especially not at this time. Tami needed her and she was not going to let her down.
“Don’t you think you are a little too old for blind dates?”
What nerve?! This guy was definitely not getting the five star rating once the trip ended. “Don’t you think you are a little too old to be driving cabs?”
“No. I like to drive.” He replied, curtly.
Muna scoffed. “Really? There is this thing they call Formula 1, shouldn’t you be doing that if you like to drive.”
“In Nigeria?” He asked with a laugh. “Anyway, I don’t like to drive, I am just trying to earn extra money and it’s not so bad, is it?”
Muna eyed him and turned to the road again. “You are quite a chatterbox. It’s not good for your business.”
“Why not?” he asked.
She shook her head. She was not ready to be drawn into a conversation with a total stranger even though he was tall, rich dark in complexion, athletic and had a deep voice that sounded that the strumming on a guitar. His eyes were white and his snide smile was attractive in a cute way. He was her natural spec for a one-night stand. On a normal Muna day, she’d talk to him, but she met such men in the club or in the company of her friends, not in a cab and certainly not as a driver.
“I really don’t talk much but I don’t know how to keep quiet either. My wife speaks a lot and I think she has infected me.”
Muna’s eyes prowled to his finger for confirmation in a split second. No ring. “So you are one of those men who don’t wear their rings.”
He laughed. “Gotcha! I am not married, so she checked me out already. Nice.”
Muna’s lips betrayed a relieving smile.
“So who is the mango head?” he asked.
Muna smiled. “Is this how you hit on every lady you carry? That’s a nasty behaviour.”
“Honestly, no. I am just trying to have a conversation. I get bored having to keep quiet throughout a ride.”
“You should get used to it. It’s your job.”
He nodded. “You are right, sorry I bothered you.”
“No problem.” Muna replied and slipped her earphones into her ear. She started nodding to no sound as she waited for him to say the next word. Of course, she didn’t play any music…it was just a front.
The cab pulled up outside Tami’s house. “We are here. I am ending the trip.”
Muna nodded, replacing her phone in her bag and pulling out her wallet. “What’s my fare?”
“Two thousand and hundred naira.” He said, showing her his phone’s screen.
She handed him the money and reached for the door, she stopped and turned to him. “What’s your name?”
“Are you hitting on me?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. “My name is in that app, you could have checked it.”
Muna chuckled. “You are so full of yourself.”
“Tife. Boluwatife but you can call me Tife.” He replied.
She nodded. “Okay.”
“Do I get your number?” he asked.
Muna smiled. “My number is in that app. Why ask me?” she said.
“Because a gentleman should ask respectfully.”
She shrugged. “Then I respectfully decline.” She said. Tife smiled and Muna’s heart skipped. The revelation of his perfect set of teeth from his smile fascinated her, she needed to get out of the cab and she did.
“Not today, Satan. Not today.” She chanted as she walked off to Tami’s front door.
She drummed on Tami’s front door to no avail and then decided to put a call to her. She was about dialling when Kunle’s car pulled up.
“Hey, Muna.” Kunle said, stepping out of the car.
She smiled and hugged him. “How are you doing?”
“I am hanging in there. Is she in?”
Muna shook her head. “No, I was just about calling her. And you, why are you here?”
“I don’t know. I went out for a drive and I wouldn’t stop until I got here.” He replied with a simper.
“Makes two of us.” She replied.
Kunle leaned into his car. “I can’t shake this pain away and it’s getting harder for me. I love Tami and I don’t know how to stay away from her.”
“Then don’t.” Muna replied. “Tomorrow should be your wedding and everything seems crazy right now but if it’s worth it, it’s worth it, right?”
“But is it worth it?”
Muna sighed. “I guess.”
“Muna, I want to fight for Tami. I want to fight for the spark I once saw in her eyes. I want to fight for us.”
“You shouldn’t be telling me this. Go and tell her.”
He swallowed. “I am afraid.”
“Of realizing that Tami never saw those things in me. Maybe she used me to get over Justin and now that everything is falling apart, she’s realizing that I am never going to be that guy.”
Muna could not confidently say that she didn’t harbour the same fears. “Damn this thing called love!” she cursed aloud as she stared at Kunle. “If it’s any consolation, I know some really fine girls that I can hook you up with.”
Kunle smiled faintly.
“And number one on that list is Tami.” She said. “She’s amazing. She’s kind. She’s sweet. But right now, she’s stupid.”
Kunle chuckled. “And I am the stupid guy in love with her.”
“Oh well. I can’t help you right there.” She replied with a smirk.
Kunle jiggled his keys and opened his car door. “I guess I’ll just go home or to the bookstore or someplace where the thoughts of Tami won’t find me.”
“Is there a place like that?” Muna asked.
He shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
“You’ll get through this, okay?”
Kunle hoped for his sake that she was right, he was desperate to get over the hurt that ravaged him ever since the day Justin took his own life.
“Hey, Kunle,” Muna said, stopping him from getting into his car. “Don’t be home alone tomorrow. And don’t answer calls from nosy friends, they don’t really care about why your wedding isn’t holding, they just want to poke an open wound.”
“Thanks, Muna.” He replied. “I’ll go back to work now. I guess it will take my mind off her even if it’s for a few hours.” He said.
Muna watched his car drive out and then dialled her mother.
“I didn’t enjoy coming here today.” Amina complained to Tami as they walked back to the car.
“Me too.” Tami replied, unconsciously.
Amina turned to her. “What happened?”
“Nothing,” Tami said, opening her door. “We have to make a quick stop at the police station. I have something to pick up.”
“From Police? What did you do?” Amina asked.
Tami dropped her bag in the back seat. “I have something to pick up, not that I have done anything wrong. If I had, I’d be in handcuffs by now.”
“Really? Our council Chairman in Borno is not in handcuffs and they said he has taken all our money.”
Tami smiled. “How did you get so smart?” she asked, opening the passenger’s door for Amina. “Get in.”
“I don’t understand. I have always been smart” Amina replied, settling into the passenger’s seat. She waited for Tami to take her seat before continuing. “Or, do you think less of me?”
“Amina, I don’t think less of you, alright?” Tami said, starting the engine. “It’s just unusual to find girls from your part of the country with smart mouths.”
Amina slammed the dashboard. “What do you mean?” she asked in a fit.
Tami turned off the engine. She had not seen an outburst from Amina in a while. “Hey, hey, chill, okay?”
“Why do you want me calm when you don’t think much of me?”
Tami prowled Amina’s seat in one instant with her eyes. She needed to be sure that there was no tool that Amina could use in harming her or even herself. “Amina, forgive my ignorance, okay? I just felt that girls from that part are quite reserved, owing to the nature of environment you grew up in. And you would agree with me that my thoughts are not entirely weird. I mean, look at your friends.”
Tami heaved a sigh of relief, her fears sinking down to her belly as she exhaled. “You had me scared for a minute, Amina.”
“I am sorry.”
Tami nodded. “It’s okay. I am also sorry,” She replied. Nothing was okay about Amina’s reaction but it was not one that was totally unexpected. She had to be very smart to contain it. “So, I am guessing you were a class topper back then?”
Amina smiled faintly. “Yes.” She replied. “I enjoyed reading and I wanted to be a lawyer after marrying Usman.”
Amina turned to Tami. “It can’t happen anymore. Usman said he will send me to the university, but we are far away.”
“You can be anything you want to be, Amina and it has nothing to do with Usman.”
Amina shifted in her seat. “I thank you for everything you are doing for me, but you really can’t do what my husband can do for me.”
“You are not married to Usman,” Tami corrected.
“But I will be.” Amina replied. “Once you take me back home and we find him, I’ll get married to him.”
Tami cleared her throat. “Okay, we have to go now.”
“I am so glad you didn’t find her. Dude, what is wrong with you?” Tito queried her brother. She had always known Kunle to be soft-hearted and he was probably buckling under pressure.
“Tito, this is not one of your games or schemes. This is my life. I love Tami and I don’t want to lose her.”
“Well, you might have already lost her. We are only trying to figure things out.” Tito replied. “Look, I don’t know why you don’t see things my way but from where I am standing, you really don’t want to face reality.”
“Forgive me, but it’s not easy to face reality.” He replied.
Tito exhaled and sank into the sofa. “I went to see Mom and Dad this morning and as you can guess, they were absolutely mad. Dad has been calling all his friends to apologize and Mom has refused to allow her sisters visit.”
Kunle chuckled. “What a sight that would have been.”
“A good one, trust me.” She replied.
The intercom rang. Kunle lifted the receiver. “Hello.”
“Sir, Mrs. Ibekwe here for you.”
Kunle stared at Tito. “Please, send her in,”
Kunle rose to his feet. “Tami’s Mom.”
The door opened and Mrs. Ibekwe walked in. “Good afternoon oh.” She greeted.
“Good afternoon, Ma.” Kunle said with a bow. “You are welcome.”
“Good afternoon, Ma.” Tito greeted. “Kunle, I’ll call you later.”
Kunle nodded. “Alright. Bye.”
Mrs. Ibekwe took her seat after the door shut. “Na wa for your sister oh, she dey vex for my family?”
Kunle chuckled. “No, it’s fine. I wasn’t aware you were coming.” Kunle said. “Can I get you anything to drink?”
Mrs. Ibekwe shook his head. “No, thank you. I wanted to invite you out tomorrow.”
“Invite me? Ma, you should have called me over instead of stressing yourself to come down here.”
“This is no stress, Kunle. It should be your wedding tomorrow and I was hoping that instead of having a depressing moment tomorrow, I could take you out.”
Kunle smiled. “Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness, Ma.”
“You’re welcome.” Mrs. Ibekwe replied.
Tami dropped some grocery bags on the table. “I am so sorry I kept you waiting for long, Dad. Please, sit.”
“No wahala. Amina, right?” Dr. Ibekwe said, staring at Amina.
Amina nodded with a smile. “Good afternoon, Sir.”
“Good afternoon, my dear. It’s nice to finally meet you.” He replied. “I have heard a lot about you.”
Tami stared at her father who had heard little or nothing about Amina except the suicide attempt but maybe that did count as a lot for him. “Go to your room, Amina. I’ll see you later.”
Amina hurried upstairs.
“How have you been?” Dr. Ibekwe asked.
Tami took a seat beside her. “I have been fine. And you?”
“Just great!” He replied. “What are you doing tomorrow?”
Tami frowned. “Come on, Dad. You know what tomorrow is.”
“I know and that’s why I am asking you. I don’t want you to feel bad and alone tomorrow.” He started. “I want to take you out.”
“You? Take me out?” Tami asked.
He nodded. “You don’t think I am good for it?”
Tami chuckled. “Dad, I know you are good for it but where could you possibly take me to? I really don’t think I need the hangout.”
“Why not?” He asked.
Tami took a deep breath. “The Police called me in today and handed me Justin’s letter. It’s no longer an exhibit. It’s now my property.”
“Wow. How does that feel?” he asked.
Tami retrieved the letter from her bag. “I am scared of reading it a second time.”
“Then why not get rid of it?” he asked.
“I feel like it’s the wrong thing to do.” She replied.
Dr. Ibekwe was not in the mood to push it. “Well, are you coming out with me tomorrow?” he asked.
Dr. Ibekwe smiled. “I’ll see you tomorrow then.” He said, rising to his feet.
“Just like that?” Tami said. “You only came over to invite me out? Won’t you stay for dinner?”
“No. Thank you, Tami.” He replied and stepped out.
Tami returned to her seat and stared intensely at the letter in her hand. She could squeeze it and not relive the words that broke her or she could read it and choose how to react to it. She shut her eyes and opened the letter. It was time to go back to the words that led her to Justin.