Sobbing, I partly buried my aching head under the pillow to hide my tear-filled eyes from the passing eyes in the hospital. Moments later, I needed a tissue to blow my nose. On stretching my hand to the rack beside my sick bed, I stumbled upon a little note with my name scribbled on it. I sat up on the bed. I felt my nerves quivering and my heart palpitating heavilly with an unknown fear, but with a feeling of resignation. I opened it. Inside it was the message that changed everything – the past, the present and the future. My entire life. And they were to be the last words I would ever hear from him. The very last words.
We had been great friends at the University of Benin, Ugbowo campus. Odion and me. And almost six years after graduation, we bumped into each other again in Lagos at the General Hospital, Surulere. Still fair-skinned and tall with a gentle carriage and a gait I had always found magnetic, with his characteristic faint smile that often made me wonder, and his concentration that made me move, Odion had not changed a bit over the years.
“It’s a lie!” I exclaimed delightedly.
“C-Could that be…”, he had replied with his concentrated eyes wandering around my face and then a faintly smile rose on his pleasantly surprised face, “Omozele!”
“Odion! What are you doing in Lagos?”, I asked but before he could open his mouth my excitement had got hold of me. “I heard you live abroad and…” We clinged in a warm but momentary embrace.
“Through with my Masters. You know staying abroad has never been my kind of thing” he said gesticulating as ever. “What are you doing here?”
“Came to visit a friend. She was admitted here after an okada accident” I explained as my heart sunk momentarily.
”Oh pity!” he replied. “But I hope she is doing fine?”
”Well, you know what the doctors say: she is responding…”
“…to treament.” We both chuckled.
“So what do you need a doctor for?” My eyes took a closer look at him again. “You don’t look sick”. But again before he could part his lips after what seemed like awhile, “Or have you abandoned the pen for the stesthoscope?”
We laughed it off as the evening sun yawned with a tired face after a hot day at work scorching faces. Hand-in-hand, we walked out of the hospital gate. And six months later, he had entered my life through the door of my heart. The same door I had locked years ago on campus when he came knocking. Perhaps with its master key, time had now opened it.
At around 6:00pm the same day I got the message, I was with him. Odion’s place was a modest two-bedroom flat at Yaba, a Lagos sub-urb. He lived alone in a flat away from his Benin-based family after securing a job as a journalist with Today, one of the biggest newspapers in the country. Everything between us seemed just perfect and heavenly, with all the showers of love with beautiful words and flowers, words and teddy bears, words and love cards! But after two years into our lovebird affair, my wings began to feel too heavy to fly. As days passed by, it seemed that on the petal of perfection was the patch of incompleteness. Odion had never touched me. Never.
And so as his love lit my heart with fire and flame, my body froze in the cold. I had respected his convictions about pre-marital sex and ”unguarded passions” because I had the same convictions too. But after two years, the momentary hugs and pollen-upon-petal pecks on February 14 and August 12 (my birthday) had long become too mechanical. I remained silent but unsatisfied, calm but troubled, understanding but longing, reassured but lost. So that evening I was with him, again, I took his arms and clasped them around my waist, pulled his body close to mine as I felt his heart throbbing on my breasts. Our eyes gazing into each other’s like mirrors that revealed hidden passion and pain. Tenderness and violence. Heaven and hell. I could see in his eyes the burning longing almost agonising him as his grip tightened around me. With a turbulent impatience boiling in my blood, I waited – my breath ceased.
And then like harmattan and fire, the dryness of our love over the years fueled the flames. He started kissing me from my lips to my neck down to my cleavage. My blood rippled inside me running across my entire frame in the heat with raging undulation. I felt my naked back touch the wall as my lemon-spotted ankara-top slowly slipped-off my back like a ripened banana pill. In quick succession, my whole body melted in his fiery arms and body, drippling down from the wall to the red-coloured rug on the floor.
“I love you Omo” he whispered sweetly gazing into my eyes on top of me.
“I love you too”, I softly replied with my hands round his neck.
“And I’ll always love you no matter what” he continued to say almost reassuringly as if he was fighting something inside.
“Me too”, I whispered, now caressing his neck up to his strong cleanly-shaved chin up to his face. He tenderly took my hand to his lips and started kissing each finger one after the other. From my little thumb up to my forefinger with the sweetness and tenderness of a butterfly perching softly from the petal of a flower to another, he continued to turn me on. But suddenly, I saw his eyes widen with terror as they stared at my fingers as if they had come face-to-face with death.
“Is anything wrong?” I twitched.
“Your forefinger”, he replied.
“My forefinger?”, I repeated as I slightly pulled myself up to a sitting position on the floor with my eyes now fixed on my fingers.
“Blood”, he answered with a tensed face after what seemed like a defining silence.
“Oh that!”, I sighed with relief looking at Odion with a boiling steam of unbelief and annoyance that quickly evaporated into the air with an overpowering feeling of fondness, “I accidentally cut myself early this morning in the kitchen whilst chopping Dad’s favourite vegetables.” I sunk back to the floor with my face staring at the space, and to avoid any immediate eye contacts I quickly fixed them on the white-coloured ceiling over our heads. I felt his hand pulling away from mine, when I gently pulled him back to me. But half-way between planting a kiss on his lips and pulling him closer to me, he surprisingly retreated. I watched him as he walked towards nowhere, just to turn his eyes away from me, deserting me on the floor, away from his arms, in his room.
And as if to kill the screams of silence now reverberating in the room, sudden raindrops started beating incessantly on the rooftop. The window blinds flapped around in protest. And the fluorescent light went out, with the table lamp going off thereafter, as the ensuing darkness overshadowed us. It made shadows of us. I fought back.
”What’s wrong, Odion?” Again, I sat up on the floor. “What’s this invisible thing that always comes between us every time we are together?” He was silent, and the darkness hid his face. “What’s this incurable thing that keeps building walls between us at every point of our happiness? I demanded answers, my voice rising ascendingly to the roof as I sensed at each moment that the answers would never come. ”Why do our ripest moments always have to end up being our saddest encounters?” I said with a sullen voice in a slowly gathering resignation.
Only the generator now grumbling outside the dark flat and the thunder that struck afterwards answered me. I felt my heart drowning without any rescue in the rain. Seconds later, the light came on. He was now standing by the window staring into the darkened space outside, his back still facing me. Odion looked still but preoccupied, blank but battling, near but far. I went closer to him trying to reach out to his heart as I placed my hand on his broad shoulder with an assuring warmth.
“Sweetheart, please tell me what’s wrong” I cooed, and continued “Is there anything I need to know? You have to trust in me if you truly love me, and I know that you do”. Again, I slowly caressed his arms with my hands around him but between opening my mouth to utter another line and turning his face to mine, he disentangled himself from my embrace. He looked at the wall clock.
“It’s getting late. You have to leave now.” He said with a cold voice, his eyes still anywhere but away from my eyes now shock-widened.
“It’s getting late?”, I found myself struggling for breath in the suffocating pain and ensuing annoyance. “Odion, it’s getting late?” I rhetorically repeated. “All evening you turned deaf ears at my pains and at 8:15 all you have to say is ask me to leave because it’s getting late?”
“I’ll call you tomorrow when I get -”
“I don’t understand you anymore” I interrupted, softly shaking my head confusingly. “One minute you’re all over me and for the rest of the day you’re all to yourself!”
He said nothing, as he walked towards the door to show me the way out.
“What the heck is killing you inside?”
I asked with an emphatic stillness and desperation, as his eyes suddenly went wild and his temper began to rise. I couldn’t construe the strange almost fearful reaction in his eyes, particularly my own gradually throbbing anxiety. In the darkness I had found myself, I gropped like a helpless blind woman searching for whatever I stumbled upon – I was lost myself.
“What’s killing you inside?” I repeated, figuratively gropping around the only possible place I could find whatever was lost.
“You must leave now.” He quickly replied rather calmly as if hiding what I may have felt in my blindness.
“Can’t you see that it’s killing you?”
“Please Omo, leave!” he growled, moving towards me.
“It’s killing me!”
“Leave now!” He barked, with his eyes dangerously coming closer to me.
“Can’t you see that it’s killing us?”
“I said leave!”
Like a lightning flash, Odion gripped my shoulders and shoved me off with a terrifying rage. Shocked, I screamed and crashed on the black-leathered chair and hit my head on the table lamp sending blood-stained broken glasses to the floor. All in one moment, I heard a voice calling my name repeatedly; I felt hands pulling me back from an opposite force; I saw myself struggling for breath. The light went out. Darkness overcame me. I passed out.
Terrified with the nightmare, I screamed out from my sleep. Two white-uniformed ladies ran to my bed, closely followed by a man with a stethoscope round his neck and red and blue pens neatly placed in his white jacket’s breast pocket.
“Relax Madam” said the man with the stethoscope with a calm voice. “You’ll be fine. Just have some rest.”
“What’s happening? Where are mine? Where is he? H-How-”.
“Madam, calm down. This is Safe Cross Hospital, Yaba. A good Samaritan rushed you down here last night after you had a serious accident.”
I watched his eyes move from my sprained left wrist to my blood-stained bandaged arm, up to my aching forehead. I lifted my hand towards it – it was heavilly bandaged, also blood-stained. Slowly, everything began to come back – voices and screams, shattered glasses and blood, light and darkness.
“He also kindly footed the bills.” The doctor continued, “You’re a very lucky woman. The accident was deadly but thanks to God, and of course the good Samaritan.”
“What about Odion?”
“Odion, the man that was with me at the time of the accident”
“I have no idea who you are talking about -”
“My boyfriend, I hit my head against a table lamp at his place! H-H-He was the -”
“Madam, you need to rest now.” The doctor softly insisted, gently straightening my body on the bed, and my head on the pillow. “Your parents were here last night but you were yet to gain consciousness.”
“Your father left last night, but your mother stayed over” said the older of the two nurses, and continued, “Madam left very early this morning. She said she has to get something for you.” The younger nurse humbly nodded her head in agreement.
“Just have some rest. You’ll be fine.” The doctor said and left, the two nurses following closely.
In excruciating pain, physical and emotional, I started sobbing on my hospital bed, with my face buried beneath the pillow. When after awhile I found restraint, that was when I stumbled upon the strange note in the rack beside my bed. That was when I discovered how to cry without tears. That was when my entire life changed with the last words he left with me in a note:
I’m deeply sorry for hurting you so badly. I’ve, regrettably too late, learnt that sometimes the farther we are away from the people we love most, the happier for us. Omo, I’ve gone away from you to a place where I would never be able to hurt you again. Remember, I’ll always love you. Odion.