It was a Sunday, around that time when dinner was usually overdue. The weather was frigid and the neighborhood seemed extremely quiet, oddly. It was usually noisy, irrespective of whether it was day or night. But today was different, graveyard-like quiet. Adaobi lay on her 6 by 4 inch bed and sobbed softly. Somehow, that had become her most frequent activity in the last three years. She developed that pastime through an incident she still recalls very vividly. She had gone out to her telecoms workplace that morning, humming one of her favorite love songs, having just recovered from a devastating heartbreak. She had resolved not to drool over the past anymore and open her heart to a fresh opportunity to love. Just a day before, she had been the chief bridesmaid at her best friend’s wedding ceremony and she had caught the bride’s bouquet of flowers, which usually was believed to be a sign that she was next in line to be married. During the reception, she had exchanged numbers with the dashingly handsome best man and he had promised to give her a call. The future was very bright, or so she thought.
Or so she thought…
While returning home after having a really good day at work, she decided to get some groceries for the house, the house which haboured her aging parents, her youngest sister, Ebuka, and her teenaged cousin, Ifunaya who was at their house to prepare for her West Africa Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (WASSCE), which she was retaking the second time. Her two other siblings, Clara and Amaka were already married and gone to their husbands’ houses. She had quietly parked her Hyundai Salon car somewhere beside the house since there was no gate. As she entered the house, totally fatigued and yearning desperately for a cold shower, she was startled by the sound of her name in the conversation coming from the kitchen. The inquisitive part of her decided to be still and eavesdrop.
‘Ebi, what about the other guy?’ Ifunaya’s shrill voice reverberated with a deep Igbo accent. The young girl sat still on a wooden stool as she grated okro into a bowl firmly positioned between her laps.
‘Which one? The one that stays in Ajah?’
‘Oh, he dumped her too. He’s the one I said wanted fresh blood nah. He said she was too mature for him and made him feel like a boy.’ Ebuka turned on the tap and washed on as she talked on. ‘He said she was an old cargo and he didn’t know what he was thinking when he had asked to date her in the first place. Sister wailed for weeks and almost died!’
Damn Tunde! Adaobi cussed under her breathe. Then she waited to hear more.
‘Aunty Ada will never marry! Maybe someone has placed a curse on her from birth. Or how will you explain someone calling off a wedding barely two weeks to engagement without any tangible excuse? All the guys she has ever dated have dumped her for every stupid reason in the world.’
That was Francis. He had been too good to be true from the very beginning, but she unsuspectingly trusted him till he dealt her the blow of her life by calling off a sweet-sailing-no-hitches relationship of two years which was already heading towards the altar. Ada had heard enough. She entered the kitchen dropped the groceries and took flight, straight to her room, totally ignoring the greetings from the gossiping ladies. That night, she cried herself to sleep, and three years down the line, despite moving to her own rented apartment, she still does.
Ada tried to focus on her job. A concoction of ugly thoughts danced through her mind. She was turning thirty-two next month and still there was no man in sight. Not that there was no one she liked. As a matter of fact, the was a certain someone she was attracted to, but she tried so hard to discard him from her thoughts recently. She wasn’t about to be heart-broken again.
She looked at her watch, it said 12:15pm -break-time. She lazily packed in her PC into her drawer and picked up her purse. As she made to stand, she saw him saunter towards her in a manner that made her tummy churn loudly. She held her breathe for a second.
‘Going for lunch already?’
‘Y..yes’ She stammered.
Breathe, Cece. Breathe! You’re not a silly eighteen-year-old.
‘Can you hold on a sec? Let me pick up a file from Lucy, and we can go together?’ He narrowed his gaze, expecting an answer.
‘Alright. I’ll wait here.’
Ten minutes later, they were already seated in a fine restaurant blocks away from their workplace. Ada was wondering why in the past few days, Edward had chosen to go to lunch with her, much to the envy of the ladies in her department. And his. Why was this happening at a time when she was suddenly feeling a certain way about him? Ed was that kind of guy that could steal your breathe away just by looking at you. He was a hunk of a man, with an over confident gait that made him seem a little richer than he actually was. And today, right before her he sat, looking like Brad Pitt in his perfectly fitted grey suit. Ada could not deny she felt somewhat proud to be seen with him. They ate quietly, till he broke the silence.
‘Cece!’ He said slightly above a whisper. ‘so can you tell me a bit about yourself?’
She felt a lump in her throat. She cupped her mouth and cleared it. Then she said a few sentences about her full name, where she came from, what university she attended and what she studied. She asked about him too, and he talked until they were done eating and had to return to the office. It was almost 1pm.
At the close of work that day, Ada felt a glimmer of hope rise up within her. Maybe this was it. Maybe she had finally met the one!
She had gone to lunch with Ed every other day, and she was starting to look forward to it. Then on Wednessday, after she had just returned from lunch, she received a call that changed the course of things.
‘Hello?’ She spoke into the receiver.
‘Aunty Ada, it’s me Clara.’
‘Ah Clara, how are…?’
‘Aunty, Father collapsed this morning. I’m calling from the hospital. You need to come quickly!’
Jesus! This can’t be happening to me.
She immediately went to her supervisor and got permission to leave work for the rest of the day.
At the hospital, she found her younger sister at the reception clasping her baby to her chest and looking worried. Beside her were her sixty-one year-old mother and Ebuka. Amaka, the last member of the nuclear family lived outside the country with her husband.
‘What happened? Father was very fine the last time we spoke.’ Ada was obviously very tensed.
‘Your father has been complaining about a lot of things lately. One of it was chest pain.’ Her mom replied, sadness encircling her brown eyes. ‘Yesterday, the complains grew worse and I suggested calling you to come get him to the hospital, but he said he’d wait till this morning. He said he didn’t want to disturb you. I wish he had disturbed you.’ Her mother had begun to cry. Ebuka comforted her.
‘What’s the doctor saying?’
Just then, the bald-headed physician walked in. She moved quickly to meet him.
‘Your father’s heart is failing, miss. He doesn’t have much time any longer. I suggest you start getting prepared for whatever happens. I’m sorry.’
She wasn’t sure if the tone she sensed was sympathy or indifference, but she didn’t much care what it was.
‘Can we see him now?’
‘Only one of you at a time, please. We don’t want to kill him faster, do we?’
Ada rushed to the room where her father was. She saw his frail body on the little bed and her heart went out to him. This was the only man in her life, her best friend in the world. She had always tried to make him proud of her in every way. She had hoped he’d be there to see his little girl build her own family. That would have been his greatest joy. She had failed him.
Oh my God! Has it happened already?
‘Father!’ The sound of her own voice scared her.
No response still.
It was then Adaobi fainted…