Must Read: A Chance For Love… Episode 23

Episode twenty-three

Grave

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Continues..

“I will make your life a living hell.”

***

“Sometimes I really don’t understand him.” I

stabbed a potato chip with my fork and

shoved it into my mouth.

I’d been nagging endlessly over Raheem

taking sides with the enemy. Flora and

Amarachi had barely even said a word. Their

silence didn’t bother me anyway. I’d rather

have them say nothing than take sides with

the enemy.

From the corner of my eye, I could see

Raheem, Farah and Mary staring at me from

their table. They were obviously talking

about me. Losing appetite, I shoved off my

tray and took a sip of my water.

“Victoria,” Amarachi called. She reached out

to hold my hand. “You have to calm down

and think about this with a cool mind.

Raheem is only trying to help. He is doing

the right thing. Everybody deserves a

second chance.”

My face wrinkled with confusion. Prior to

this moment, I’d thought I knew her, and

that she wanted the best for me. But it

turned out I was wrong. Weren’t we

supposed to be best friends? Wasn’t she

supposed to understand and support me?

“I thought you were my friend,” I said,

snatching back my hand. Although I tried

hard to shroud my rage, success eluded me.

“But here you are, supporting the woman

who wants me dead. Who knows, she could

be faking the memory loss!”

“Not everyone survives a bullet to the head,”

she said. “But that woman is alive. For a

reason.”

“To kill me,” I said. “Because she failed the

first time.” I glanced at Flora, hoping she

was on my side. But I knew better.

Throwing my hands in frustration I yelled,

“My God! What is wrong with you people?”

“If God has given her another chance, who

are you to deny her?” Amarachi asked.

“Vicky, you are my friend. All I want is for

you to be happy.”

“I am happy without her,” I said. “If you

really are my friend, then you should know

this.” I bolted to my feet and stormed out of

the cafeteria.

I returned to class, my heart heavy and

weighing me down. I plopped down on the

seat that was once Cynthia’s. There I sat,

drowning in my hopelessness as I watched

hours roll by.

Once the closing bell went off, I grabbed my

bag and dashed out of the class. I heard

Amarachi call after me. Tuning out her

voice, I dismounted the stairs.

***

I had thought I’d be able to distract myself

from thoughts that sought to break me, but

hours of trying to write my story proved me

wrong. I’d ripped out over five pages, all in

the name of starting a new chapter.

Sighing, I tossed the book to the floor and

lay down in bed. I curled myself into a ball

and squeezed my eyes shut, hurling myself

into a sea of memories.

A knock at the gate caused my eyes to fly

open. I gathered myself to my feet and

advanced to the gate. Raheem flashed me a

smile as I unlocked the gate. I made to

smile back when a movement behind him

caught my eye. My stepmother.

I scowled at her. “What is this woman doing

here?”

“She’s been discharged,” Raheem said.

“And so you brought her here?” I fumed.

“This is my house, Raheem. Not a charity

house. How could you bring in a stranger

without consulting me first? Who does that?”

“This is also her house,” Raheem said. “And

she will be staying here.”

The woman sniffled. She turned away and

wiped a tear with the back of her hand. Her

tears could fool anyone. But not me.

“Please go in,” Raheem said to the woman.

“We will be with you in a moment.”

Tentatively, she advanced toward the house.

Too broken to speak, I could only welcome

the hard lump in my throat.

Raheem had chosen her over me. The same

Raheem who told me I was what mattered

most to him had placed my evil stepmother

ahead of me.

“Why are you doing this to me?” I asked.

“She has nowhere to go,” he said. “Nowhere

but here.”

“My father’s house is not a charity house,” I

said.

“She is your father’s widow,” he said. “How

could you forget that?”

“She tried to kill me,” I shot back. “Twice.

How could you forget that?”

“The woman who tried to kill you died six

months ago,” he said. For how long would

he keep deceiving himself? If the woman

had died back there, then what did we have

here, a ghost?

“Will you not give this brand new person a

chance?” he asked.

“She died?” I asked. “It is settled then. I

don’t do ghosts.”

Glaring at him, I walked through the gate. I

could use some fresh air.

“Where are you going?” I heard him ask.

“To see someone who truly understands

me,” I said. “Since that is a task too big for

you.”

Everyone else had chosen the murderer over

me. But this one person would always

support me. Blocking out all thoughts of the

drama in my life, I approached his resting

place with a calm heart.

***

My footsteps ripped through eerie silence as

I walked down rows of tomb stones. I

fixated my gaze on the one I’d come to

visit. Branches of trees reached out as

though groping for an unseen prize.

The smell of old stones and dust filled the

air. Gravel crunched underneath my feet as

I proceeded, counting each step.

Underneath each tomb stone laid an empty

shell, what was left of someone who had

once been living. Here they were, faded into

nothingness, devoid of any emotions, leaving

nothing but memories.

Dad would have hated this place. Had he

had a choice, he wouldn’t be here. He’d

always hated extended moments of silence,

especially one as eerie as this.

My eyes searched every tomb stone in sight,

hoping to find Cynthia’s name engraved

somewhere. Although I knew how pointless

this was, I couldn’t help it. After her

disappearance from the morgue, Raheem

and I had visited every graveyard in Port

Harcourt, but none of them had Cynthia’s

body. So where had she been buried?

I arrived at dad’s grave and sagged to the

ground. Tears stung my eyes and blurred my

vision. “Dad, if you hadn’t left, none of this

would have happened.”

Although he could hear nothing I said,

pouring out my heart to him would bring

some measure of relief. I would rather

spend the rest of my day here, with him,

amongst the dead, than ruin it with the sight

of that vile woman. The dead, after all,

could not harm me. But the living could.

Climbing atop the grave, I curled into a ball

and closed my eyes. I thought back to those

moments I had him with me. I could stay in

his arms without saying a word. He, more

than anyone else, had understood the

unspoken words embedded in my silence.

Today, just like the good old days, I would

fall asleep in his arms. It didn’t take long for

sleep to find me. I embraced it with open

arms.

***

My eyes fluttered open. A headache greeted

me as I reached full consciousness. I didn’t

know for how long I’d been asleep, and I had

no idea how I’d awakened on my bed.

In the middle of my slumber I’d felt

someone cradle me. But instead of

awakening, I’d melted into his arms. Without

a doubt I knew it was Raheem. Why had he

come to help me when he’d shown me just

how little he cared of my happiness?

Someone knocked at the door. I gasped,

jumping out of bed. It took a moment to

remember I now shared the house with the

witch.

“Vicky,” she called.

Memories of six months ago flooded my

mind. Was this her trying to kill me once

again?

“poo!” I dashed to my dresser drawer, where

I’d hid dad’s gun. Reloading it with some

bullets I’d found in the study, I’d kept it

within range, just in case the witch tried to

attack me again.

Grabbing the gun, I spun around to train it

on the door. The door creaked open. My grip

tightened instinctively. Today, I would not

be the victim.

The woman stepped into the room. Gasping

at the sight of the gun, she threw her hands

in the air, sending a tray of possibly

poisoned food crashing to the floor.

I remembered the first day I’d accidentally

broken a plate. She’d starved me all day.

Today, I would have her taste her very own

medicine. For everyday she spent here, she

would pay for the way she’d dealt with me

in the past. This was my promise to her.

Her lips quavered as she tried to speak.

“Vic…it…it’s…only me.”

I cocked an eye at her, scanning her

thoroughly to be sure there were no hidden

weapons. Finding nothing, I lowered the gun.

“Clean up the mess.”

Trembling, she nodded. “I’ll go get—”

“Whatever,” I said, waving her off. She

turned away and disappeared into the

passageway. Taking my gun with me, I

stalked into the bathroom. A few minutes

under the shower, and I stepped out, into a

sparkling clean room.

I clothed myself in a gray polo shirt and a

pair of black skinny jeans. Spending the day

here was the last thing I wanted to do. I

needed to be away, in a quiet place, where I

could escape reality and make progress with

my ongoing novel. And was there a better

option than spending the day with dad?

Grabbing my phone and my writing

materials, I shoved them into my backpack

and set out for my day with dad. I stepped

out of my room, only to see the evil woman

coming after me. I rolled my eyes and kept

walking, telling myself I’d seen nobody.

“Victoria,” she called.

I whirled around to face her, my pointer

jabbing the air toward her. Gritting my teeth,

I said, “You will address me as miss. Do I

make myself clear?”

Without waiting for her to assimilate the

order, I added, “That is one of the rules you

must follow if you wish to stay here.”

I turned toward my room and pointed. “Do

you see that door? It leads to my room. That

place is strictly out of bounds.”

The woman stared unblinking, too stunned

to speak. My heart soared at her helpless

state. Yesterday, she’d been the one in

control. But today, the tables had turned,

leaving her at my mercy. And what choice

did she have but to do all I asked of her?

“Now, for rule number three, come with me.”

I advanced to the main door, and through it.

The woman, my new slave, followed by

footsteps. Once we were outside, I slammed

the door.

From outside, the door could only be opened

with a key. And I had the key in my

backpack. “Rule number three. This house is

mine. And I do not trust strangers enough to

leave them all alone in my house. You will

be outside till I return.”

Without waiting for her response, I headed

for the main road where I stood, waiting for

a cab. Almost immediately, a taxi pulled

over.

“Where to?” the driver asked.

“Catholic grave yard,” I said.

He seemed to ponder over my destination

for a moment or two. I always got this

reaction from commercial drivers. Try as I

might, I could never understand their fear.

Why would anyone live in fear of graveyards,

seeing it as a place that should never be

visited? Why fear the dead, when they lay

asleep, unable to lift a finger at anyone?

“Get in,” the man said.

I settled in the back passenger seat. The

driver started the engine, never stopping for

anyone till we arrived at my destination. I

handed him his pay and stepped out of the

car.

I’d only taken a few steps when I stopped

dead in my tracks. Raheem’s bike was

parked a distance away. How had he known

he’d find me here?

He was mistaken if he thought I’d gotten

over what he did yesterday. I would never

forgive him for making decisions for me.

If I left now, then he wouldn’t know of my

coming. I turned around, hoping to make a

clean escape, but there he was, standing

only an inch or two away. My face contorted

with confusion. How had he come so close

without me noticing?

Amused by the look on my face, he burst

into laughter. “Easy. It’s only me. Why do

you look like you’ve seen a ghost?”

“What do you want?” I asked, folding my

arms.

“To talk to you,” he said. “What else would I

want?”

“I’m not in the mood to talk to you,” I said.

“I’m here to have some quiet time, and I

don’t want anyone to ruin this moment.”

“Is this you getting angry?” he asked. “Wow.

You should know by now that you can’t stay

mad at me. I’m way too charming.”

He winked at me. And in that moment, he

looked even more charming. But I didn’t let

it get to me. By bringing that woman into

my house and life, he had ruined what was

left of my happiness. And I just could not

play along with this.

Unable to restrain myself, I let it all out.

“Who do you think you are to interfere in my

life like this? Just who do you think you are,

Raheem Kadir? You’re trying so hard to

unite us. Why? Where were you when she

abused me day and night? Where were you

when she tried to kill me? It was just me. I

had to go through hell all by myself. Do you

even have any idea how I hurt? And here you

are, making decisions about my life. If this

is how relationships work, then I’d rather

stay single for all eternity.”

I could see the hurt look in his eyes, but I

couldn’t take back my words. Even if I

could, I wouldn’t.

“I’m done, Raheem,” I said. I knew better

than to make rash decisions. I knew I would

regret ever saying this, but still, the words

spilled out of my mouth. “I can’t have you

interfere in my life like this, making

decisions for me like I’m incapable of

managing my life myself. I know I made a

promise to your mum, but—”

I took a moment to steady my wobbly voice.

Blinking away the tears forming in my eyes,

I went on, “I can’t go on like this. I can’t live

like this, I’m sorry. It’s suffocating and I

can’t take it.”

Tears glided down my cheeks. I would be

leaving behind my first love, and every

memory we ever shared. Although this hurt,

I had to do it. If I didn’t, he would someday.

Lately we’d been having too many

disagreements. Sooner or later, this was

bound to happen.

“Hey, calm down,” Raheem said. “I mean,

wow, slow down, will you? I didn’t hear a

word you just said.”

Perfect liar. Why did he have to be so

perfect?

He gripped my arms and looked me in the

eye. And there, the tears I’d tried to hide

were out in the open. He collected a

handkerchief from his pocket and wiped my

tears. “Calm down, okay?”

I nodded.

“Good,” he said. “Are you free tomorrow?

We should go see a movie or something.”

“Okay.”

“Alright. I’ll pick you up tomorrow.” He

planted a kiss on my forehead.

“Raheem, I—” The words died on my lips.

How could I even think of saying those

magical words, when barely a minute ago,

I’d broken his heart?

“I know,” he said. “I love you more.”

Although he’d said this a number of times in

the past, I could still feel a dance of

butterflies in my stomach.

“I’m sorry about what I said,” I said. “I

shouldn’t have acted like that. I’m just so

insecure, I—”

He pulled me into a hug. “Shhh. it’s okay.”

In his embrace, I felt whole again. I felt my

worries slither away. If I could, I’d hold him

forever and never let go. But his ringing

phone said it was time to let go.

“Perfect,” I groaned.

Raheem chuckled. “Sorry.” He pulled out his

phone. “Sorry, I gotta take this call.”

Moving away from me, he answered the

call. He spoke fluent Iraqi. Arms folded, I

watched the road, waiting for the call to

end.

“I have to go,” he said. “Call from home.”

“Okay.”

“Come, I’ll drop you off.”

Drop me off? Not a chance. I didn’t want

him finding out that I’d locked my

stepmother outside and left her to starve.

He would hate me for it. And I didn’t want

that.

“I’m not ready to leave,” I said. “I need to

see dad first.”

“Toria—”

“I just want to stay a while. I’ll be fine.

Promise.”

His eyes roamed the graveyard in search of

a reason to stop me from staying. Finding

nothing, he sighed.

“I’ll be fine,” I said. “And besides, this is not

my first time.”

“Very well then,” he said. “But I’ll ring you

every five minutes.”

“Feel free,” I said.

Smiling at me, he shook his head and

walked to his bike. He mounted it and

waved at me. Grinning, I waved back. I

watched him speed out of sight.

Once the roar of his engine subsided, I

pulled out my phone and dialed Peter’s

number. “Good morning. Come pick me from

the graveyard.”

“I’m on my way,” he said.

I hit the end button. It would take no less

than thirty minutes for him to arrive. I

walked over to dad’s grave and pulled out

my writing materials. Hopefully, I could write

the infamous chapter eight.

Barely an hour later, I smiled down at a

wonderfully written chapter. My fairy

godmother would be so proud of me. I

looked toward the road just in time to see

Peter pulling into view. Tossing my writing

materials into my backpack, I strapped it on

and headed for the car. Peter had already

stepped out to hold open the back door for

me.

“Good morning, Miss Vicky,” he said.

“Hello, Pete.” I’d told him a number of times

to add no titles to my name. But he was

bent on treating me like a boss. What could

I do but accept his extreme politeness?

Ever since I returned to my father’s house,

he’d been treating me somewhat differently,

as though he were seeing me in a different

light. Sometimes, he’d even commented on

how good I looked.

I giggled at the thought of how Raheem

would react if he heard about this. He would

definitely try to find me a driver old enough

to be my grandpa. But that would only come

after he’d failed to get me a female.

“A penny for your thoughts,” Peter said,

stealing a glance from the rearview mirror.

He flashed a smile that couldn’t even

compare to my Raheem’s.

“It’s nothing,” I said. I rummaged through

my backpack for my earpiece. Finding it, I

rammed each piece into my ear and blared

Skillet’s Comatose. This way, I’d be shielding

myself from further questions.

Well into the twelfth song, I felt Peter slow

down. I raised my head and found him

staring into the rearview mirror. Now what?

He glanced back at me. I turned off my

music to hear what he had to say. “Isn’t

that your mum?”

“What? Where?” I whipped around, and there

she was, walking in our direction. She

cradled a kitten in her arms.

“Pull over,” I said. Peter did accordingly.

While we waited for the woman to meet us,

I rapped my fingers on the window.

Oblivious of our presence, or pretending to

be, she made to walk past us. Peter honked

to get her attention. She turned around,

eyes narrowed to slits as she tried to look

through the windows.

She grinned at the sight of me. Rolling my

eyes, I returned my gaze to my phone and

played the video, Pain, by Three Days Grace.

I heard the door slam as she climbed into

the front passenger seat.

“Can I have the cat?” I asked.

Beaming at me, she presented the kitten.

Poor little darling. White as snow, I’d name

her Snow if she were mine. And I’d never let

her out on the streets, because predators

roamed around, looking for an innocent soul

to devour.

“Sorry,” I mouthed to Snow, just before

winding down my window. I tossed her out

like she were trash.

Peter and my stepmother screeched out

incoherent words. Thanks to the music, I

couldn’t make out a single word.

My heart reached out to Snow. I hoped she

hadn’t broken a bone or two from the fall. I

cringed at the thought of what I’d just done.

But I’d only done it to prove a point. If I

wanted to come off as cold and

emotionless, it was time to start acting it.

All my life I’d given room for emotions and

feelings. But where did it get me?

As we neared our street, a brilliant thought

occurred to me. My stepmother had

questions about her past. Why delay when I

could fill in the information gap right this

instant?

In the past, she’d made crying an integral

part of my life. But from this day, her tears

would flow. I would make them outflow

every single tear I’d shed.

Pausing my music, I said, “Turn around,

Peter. We are taking this woman to see her

husband.”

“We are going back to the—?”

I cut him off before could say the word.

“Yes, so turn around.”

Peter made a U-turn, heading back to the

graveyard. My stepmother looked out the

window the whole time.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“Wait till we get there,” I said. “For now, just

sit back and enjoy the ride.”

Once again, I inserted my earpiece to tune

out whatever conversation would ensue

between them. This time, I watched

Raheem’s video. Last week, he’d performed

a song titled ‘Crawl’. His smoldering gaze

burned into me from the video, and it

seemed as though he were actually staring

at me.

After moments of browsing through my

media, we arrived at our destination. I

turned off my music and detached the

earpiece from my ears. Stepping out of the

car, I turned toward my stepmother and

found her frozen in place, unable to climb

out of her seat.

If only Raheem had told her himself, then

we wouldn’t be here. But no, he had only

told her she had a daughter — me. He’d left

the many untold stories to me. And what

could I do? I had to see to it that she knew

the most important things about her life.

Peter held open the door for her. I rolled my

eyes at his kind gesture. My stepmother

needed no special treatment.

Her beady eyes swept around the graveyard.

“Why…why are we here?”

I smiled at her. “We are here to meet your

husband, aren’t we?”

She nodded. “He…works here?”

Had she seriously asked me that? How could

someone who worked in a graveyard own a

mansion?

Ignoring her thoughtless question, I led the

way to father’s grave. The crunching of

gravel behind me told me she trailed after

me, as expected. I halted in front of dad’s

grave.

“He…he’s dead?” she asked, her eyes devoid

of any emotions.

I hadn’t expected her to be affected by the

news anyway, considering that she had no

memories of him. And besides, an evil

woman lived inside of her. I doubted

memory loss could change her completely.

“No,” she whimpered, dropping to the

ground. Peter made to help her, but I held

out a hand to stop him.

Her sobs perforated the silence building up.

And although I knew better than to feel

sorry for her, my heart, the traitor, hurt like

it’d been stabbed all over with a two edged

blade.

She smoothed her palms over the writings

engraved on the tombstone. ‘Emmanuel

Brown. 1973-2012.’

“How…how did this happen?” she cried out,

gripping the edge of the tombstone. Her

body trembled as she bowed before the

grave. The raw emotions in her weeping

voice clawed at my insides. But I would not

feel sorry for this woman.

A misguided tear escaped my eye. I wiped it

off and prayed no one noticed my broken

spirit.

“That’s enough,” I said.

Playing deaf, she sobbed on. More tears

would come where those came from. I

would drown her in a sea of her own tears.

“I should feel sorry for you,” I said. “But I’m

not.”

She raised her gaze to meet mine. Her eyes,

puffy and bloodshot, made to fool me into

believing she deserved sympathy, but I

didn’t let it get to me.

I walked slow circles around her. “And does

that make me a bad person? No, because

you deserve every single thing that

happened to you. Sympathizing with you is

what would make me a bad person.”

I looked down at her, and on her. It spelt

power, and power drives one crazy. I wished

I could make a painting of this scene; a

painting of me on my feet, and my

stepmother on her knees. The gravestones

standing tall like an army of the dead,

added a touch of dark to the scenery.

Beautiful, in a twisted way.

To spite my stepmother, I would definitely

transform this dream painting into reality.

And I would display it in the living room, for

every guest to see just how hard she’d

fallen.

“Life has gone easy on you,” I said. “It has

deprived you of your memory, making you

live peacefully while I dwindle away in the

flames of the heated past. I cannot watch

this go on. No, you have to know everything,

just so you can hurt like I do.”

My stepmother rose to her feet. “I don’t

understand.”

“Let’s start from someone,” I offered. “What

did Raheem tell you about your past?”

“He only…told me about you,” she said. “He

said you’d be the…one to…to tell me every

other thing.”

“And who am I?” I asked.

“What?”

If she were a child, spanking her for the

dumb look on her face would be in order.

Moments of glowering at her told her I

wouldn’t repeat myself.

“My daughter,” she said.

“What?” I asked as though I hadn’t heard

correctly.

“You are my daughter.”

A fit of laughter stole me over, forcing tears

out of my eyes. I laughed so hard, my lungs

burned. “Daughter? Do you honestly think

someone like you can give birth to someone

like me? Or have you ever seen a guava tree

bearing fine apples?”

“I don’t understand.”

“What is there to understand?” I yelled. “I

am nothing of yours. We do not relate in

anyway. I do not have your bad blood

flowing in my veins, thank God for that.”

“Victoria,” Peter called.

“Stay out of this,” I warned. Returning my

focus to my stepmother, I said, “You claim

to be my mother. But can a mother do this?”

I turned my back at her and flipped open

the lower half of my top, letting her catch a

glimpse of her malevolence.

“Oh my God,” she shrieked. “I…I did this?”

Wordlessly, I pulled my top over the scars. I

started off toward my car, but she dashed

after me, as expected. Catching up with me,

she stood in my way and took my hands in

hers.

She sobbed. “Forgive me. Forgive me,

please. I…I can’t justify my wrongs. All I ask

is that you—”

I snatched my hands from her hold. Tears

sprang to my eyes. This time, I didn’t try to

fight them. I let them create a path along

my cheeks. “Do you know what hurts me the

most? It isn’t that you always treated me

like a plague. It isn’t that you tried to kill me

twice. No, what hurts me the most is that

you failed at being a mother to your very

own daughter. Had you been thorough about

your duties as a mother, then she would still

be here. I can forgive you for every other

thing, but for Cynthia’s death, there is no

mercy. I will make your life a living hell. It

doesn’t matter to me that you have no

memories of the past. There is no peace for

the wicked. Keep that in mind.”

I turned to leave, but once again, she

reached out to hold me.

“Wait, wait, please,” she begged.

“Don’t touch me, woman!” I shoved her off.

Stumbling over a grave, she lost her footing

and toppled over. Her head slammed into

the tombstone with a cracking sound. My

stomach twisted into a painful knot, but I

held back from advancing to her. Peter, on

the other hand, sprinted to her side.

She grunted in pain and touched her temple,

right where a trail of blood snaked along her

skin.

“I’m fine,” she said, brushing off his worry.

“Peter, let’s go,” I said. “Leave her be. I’m

sure she’s fine. She survived a bullet to her

head. There’s nothing to fear. She’s death

itself. Now, come, let’s be on our way. I’m

sure she can find her way back home.”

“We can’t just leave her here,” he said.

“One more word and you’re fired.” I knew

just how much Peter needed this job. He

would do anything to keep it.

“Go,” my stepmother told him. “Go. I’ll

manage.”

Resisting the urge to look back at her, I

climbed onto the back seat of the car. Peter

sauntered to the driver’s seat and started

the engine. He pulled away from the

graveyard, his neck turning toward my

stepmother.

“I really don’t think this is a good idea,” he

said.

What was wrong with everyone? Why did

they all feel they could tell me what to do?

Last time I checked, I hadn’t hired a

personal adviser.

Lips sealed, I counted down to when I would

arrive home. Peter would definitely try to

talk me into doing the supposedly right

thing, making it take forever to arrive home.

Reaching for my phone, I found escape in

music, once again.

To be continued