A CHANCE TO LOVE: Episode 11 – The End

?A Chance for Love?

Episode twenty-two


“And I don’t break promises. I promised to bring you to her.”

Eyes flying open, I bolted upright in bed. My heart raced like I’d been in a marathon. Dreaming of that woman’s death had become my alarm for the past six months.

Somehow, she’d managed to survive the bullet. Ever since, she’d been confined to her room in the hospital. Although I’d never visited her, Raheem made sure to keep me updated on her recovery, even though we both knew this was the last piece of information I needed.

I couldn’t get past the fact that she’d haunted my dreams again. Hadn’t I been clear enough when I prayed for a peaceful night rest, with no nightmares of any kind? One would think by now I’d already realized that my prayers were marked as spam.

Once, Cinderella had referred to a dream as a wish our heart makes when we are fast asleep. I could see the truth in this. Whenever I closed my eyes in sleep, my heart made a silent wish that death found that woman somehow. But this would conflict with my original intent for her to stay alive so I wouldn’t be alone in my grief.

Six months had passed, and my wish hadn’t changed. She had to stay alive and burn in the fire of grief and devastation.

Raheem’s face skid across my mind. He would be so torn if he knew the thoughts I had for her. Every day, I tried to understand why he’d developed an interest in her. But nothing made sense.

The hospital had become his second home, a sanctuary where he’d run off to after school. He’d even made several failed attempts to soften my heart concerning her.

Every day, I asked myself why he’d chosen to support her. Even after I’d told him everything, from the map of scars on my body to her two attempts to kill me, he cared for her no less.
Daylight peeked in through the curtains. With school on my mind, I sprang to my feet and rushed through my preparation. I would not go back to being the chronic latecomer that woman had molded me into.

I’d barely even touched my breakfast when someone knocked at the gate. Sighing, I gulped down my cup of tea, strapped on my backpack and dashed outside to meet the driver.

But I found Raheem instead. “You? I mean…what are you doing here?”

Raheem smirked, his trademark expression. “Hello yourself.”

I turned away, scanning the street. Why hadn’t the driver come yet?

Raheem seemed to hear my unasked question. “Apologies, my lady. But Peter won’t be showing up today.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Day off, I guess.” Spinning his car key around his pointer, he gulped down a chuckle and tilted his head toward his car. “Shall we?”

I dragged myself behind him, thoughts swirling around my mind. He’d contacted my driver and asked him not to show up. His smile gave this away. Obviously, this was his way of getting me to talk to him. Lately, I’d built a bridge between us, because he steered every conversation toward my stepmother, and how he thought it best to go see her.

He held open the door for me to climb in. A transmissible smile crept across his face. And although I wasn’t thrilled with his intention of talking me into letting that woman into my life again, I could feel a smile tug at my lips.

Once I’d settled in my seat, he shut the door and moved to his side of the car. Simultaneously, we fastened our seat belts.
For the first few moments of the drive, he kept silent. Although I knew I would soon run out of luck, I said a silent prayer anyway. I prayed he somehow became oblivious to my presence and stayed quiet all through the drive. But as expected, luck deserted me.

“I’ve been wanting an opportunity like this,” he said. “To talk to you.”

I looked over my shoulder, and then, back at him. “Where’s Farah?”

A near-frown tightened his face. “Will take the bus.”

“But why?”

“Is this you trying to change the topic, Victoria Brown?” he asked.

I made no attempt to answer. I drew my gaze to the window, pretending to enjoy the sight of buildings, vehicles and pedestrians blurring in and out of view.

“I thought as much,” he said.

I glanced at my watch. Time seemed to be on his side. I’d only spent three minutes with him and it felt like forever. Did we really need to have this conversation? He’d tried over and over in the past, but this topic never got us anywhere.

I could already predict how this would end. It would be no different from his other attempts. He would try to talk me into forgiving her. I would tell him over and over again that I couldn’t. I’d remind him of the many times she’d hurt me and how she’d tried to kill me.
Our conversation would end with mutual frustration. Seething, I’d walk away without saying goodbye. Why was he so bent on acting this drama all over again?

“For how long will you keep holding a grudge?” he asked.

I rolled my eyes. “There we go again. I mean…do we have to go through this every single day?”

“I guess it goes on till we are on the same page,” he said. “But you just keep fueling your grudge and bitterness. It breaks you. And it breaks me to see you like this.”

I made a mental quotation mark around his last two statements. I had gotten myself the perfect Romeo. But with our never ending disagreements, I feared our love story neared its end.

“I’m not holding any grudge,” I said.

“Really? Last time I checked, you hadn’t even tried to see how she’s doing.”

“Sorry? Am I supposed to care? Six months ago, I ripped out the part of me that handled emotio…” Pausing midsentence, I clapped an invisible hand to my lips. But the harm had already been done. Eyes drooping, Raheem looked away. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he tried to swallow his hurt. With my thoughtless words, I’d driven him to question the genuinity of my feelings for him. Great, Victoria. Just great.

“Your mother is in very bad shape,” he said.

“Don’t call her my mother,” I said. “My mother was nothing like this creature. Oh, and the woman, that beast you’re referring to deserves no less. In case you don’t remember, she tried to kill me. So don’t even ask me to forgive her, because I never will.”

My voice had a tone of finality. Couldn’t Raheem see that there was no room for softness in the heart I’d spent the past six months hardening?

“I’m not asking you to. I just—” He scratched the nape of his neck, an indication that he’d soon run out of words. “Have you read the letter?”

How could he even ask me that? I’d made it clear from day one that I would not be reading the letter that woman had written just before attempting suicide. But Raheem believed it contained some vital information. Believing I’d let curiosity take the best of me, he’d stored it in my dresser drawer, underneath my mother’s letter.

“No,” I said. “My time is way precious to be spent doing worthless things. I’m not interested in whatever that woman wrote, and I don’t think I ever will be. I haven’t even touched that letter. Maybe it’s even a time bomb, who knows.”

“You should put away your stubbornness for once and just read it,” he said. “Maybe it can help you see things in a different light. I’m sure she wanted you to know what drove her to want to take away her own life. Isn’t that worth knowing?”

“What makes you think I’m not okay with my view of things?” I said. “That woman deserves neither sympathy nor consideration. She got what she deserved, and I really don’t care what happens to her. To me, she died six months ago.”

Raheem pulled his car into his space in the school parking lot. His eyes pierced through me as I undid my seatbelt. “Is this really who you are or the you you’re forcing yourself to become?”

“This is who I am,” I said.

“And the girl I fell in love with?” Raheem asked. “Where is she?”

His question hit home, sending tears to tease my eyes. I could feel him slipping away, losing faith in me, in our love.

Time slid past, with me blending in with my classmates, pretending to pay attention as teachers talked endlessly about things I’d suddenly lost interest in. Sat in the last class for the day, I counted down to when the bell would ring.

“You all impressed me in the test,” Madam Charity said, smiling. “Well, at least most of you. So, well done.”

My stomach churned as low voices rose from every angle. Why the excitement? They’d only been commended for doing well in six-line poem centering on sadness.

“Why the fuss?” I muttered. “It’s not like they won a lottery or anything.”

Amarachi stomped my left foot. A yelp escaped my throat, drawing everyone’s attention to me.

“Uh-oh,” Amarachi said, stifling a laugh.

“Shall we proceed?” Raheem’s voice rumbled from where he was sat. Although I fixated my gaze on my book, I could tell he hadn’t bothered to glance at me.

Madam Charity returned her attention to the class. “Okay, where were we? The poems. Right. So, I was saying your poems are all beautifully written. It wasn’t easy choosing the best. But after hours and hours of reading each poem over and over again, I was left with two.”
She looked down at the papers in her hand. “The first, titled ‘Flames and Ashes’ was written by Victoria Brown.”

She’d definitely picked the wrong poem. If that thoughtless poem had made it to top two, then I feared for Western High’s seniors. What had everyone else written?

Roses are red
And violets are blue
I s–k at poems
And so do you?
I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw a poem like that. Arms folded, I listened as Madam Charity read my work.

“It’s an invisible fire coursing through my veins
A wall of thorns closing in on me
A silent scream trapped in my throat
A two-edged blade splitting my heart in two
A void in my heart that cannot be filled
Flames and ashes where there once was a fire.”

Although I had no reason to worry, I did anyway. I feared everyone could decode the message underneath every word I’d written. I feared I had bared my vulnerability to them, showing them the deadly rawness within me. I feared I had told the whole world the struggles I faced every moment my life.

Amarachi touched my arm. “Are you okay?”
I nodded. Raheem turned around to look at me. His eyes searched mine as though wanting to hack into my mind and discover my deepest emotions. His eyes told me I didn’t have to put up an act anymore. He knew that behind my mask lived a very frightened girl.

“Flames and ashes where there once was a fire,” Madam Charity said. “Beautiful line. Can you share with us your sentiments when you wrote this?”

“It’s…not about me,” I said. “I just wrote whatever came to mind. I suppose that’s not an offense, or is it?”

“Whether or not it’s about you, I still think it’s a very beautiful poem.”

“Thank you.”

“Flames and ashes where there once was a fire,” Raheem mused loud enough for all to hear. “I am also interested in this very line. I think she speaks of the feeling of not feeling. Maybe something happened in the past. Maybe someone did something unthinkable, unforgivable. At first, there was the burning fire of hate, so intense it compared to the sun’s fury. But then it slipped away, and now there’s neither love nor hate. There’s just nothing. It’s a feeling so disturbing, it drives one crazy.”
Madam Charity beamed. “That’s a brilliant explanation! I didn’t even think that far.”

“Shall we proceed to the next poem?” I asked. Raheem flashed me a grin. This was him getting back at me for our most recent disagreement.

From the corner of my eye, I could see Amarachi staring. “What’s with you and Prince Charming?”

I shrugged. Madam Charity’s gaze tickled the second poem for a moment or two. She glanced at Raheem, and then at her entire audience. “This one is called ‘Why?’ It was written by Raheem H. Kadir.

Why let yesterday cloud your tomorrow?
Why drown in darkness when light shines ahead?
Why reopen the wounds that time can heal?
Why sink when you can swim?
Why burn in hell when paradise awaits you?
Why follow the path that leads to nowhere?”

I knew he’d written this for me, and somehow, his words sank deep. Was I really prolonging my bitterness?

Barely an hour later, I found myself at home. Racing to my room, I yanked open the drawer. My hands trembled as I reached for my stepmother’s letter. I s—-d in a deep breath to calm my pacing heart.

Brushing off the tendrils of uncertainty flocking around me, I grabbed the letter and slid it out of its envelope.

??‘I don’t know if anyone will ever stumble upon this. But I can only rest in peace when I have freed myself of these words weighing heavily in my heart.
These are the words I wish I could say to Cynthia my beloved daughter:
If regrets were water, I’d have an ocean. Nothing feels right without you. Every day of my life, I wake up, asking myself over and over again, ‘Why has God allowed me to see this morning? Why do I still breathe? Why does the very same rain that falls on good people still fall on me, and the very same sun still shine on me?’
I thought that by giving you all the freedom in the world, our lives would be perfect. Yours and mine. I was so blinded by love, always letting you decide your every step. I remember the first night you went out clubbing. You were only thirteen. You returned drunk the next day. And did I say a word? No. I hid it from your father.
I’m sorry, my darling. I’m sorry I wasn’t a good enough mother. I was so concerned with letting you live the way you wanted, that I forgot to pay attention to more important things. Had I been a better mother, trained you as I ought to have, then you would have been at home with your family instead of going clubbing that night.
I know I don’t deserve forgiveness. I cannot even forgive myself for this. It does not belong to me to keep living. For this reason, I must end my life.

To you, Victoria. I don’t even deserve to utter your name. Words can’t describe how disgusted I am with myself for the way I treated you. I will not even ask for your forgiveness, because I don’t deserve it.
All I want is for you to let go of the past, and move on. I know, I’m in no position to say this, being the coward that I am for taking my own life. Before I depart, though, I must tell a brief story of my life, although I know that my experience in no way justifies the ill way I treated you.
I also had a stepsister. Gloria. She was five years younger. And although my mother brought her up as her own, Gloria did horrible things to us. She made a point clear, that a stepdaughter could never be a daughter.
Although it happened years ago, the memories remain fresh in my head, replaying over and over again. This was why I taught myself to hate you. I believed history would repeat itself if I treated you well. How was I to know that I was wrong?
I know nothing can make you forget the hurtful experiences you had with me. All I ask is that you find happiness. Aaron’s family loves you very much. And there are others like Raheem and Stella. With them, I’ll leave with the knowledge that my daughter is in good hands.
I wish I could take away every single memory you have of me. I wish I could turn back the hands of time, just so I can love you from the start. If only I had given love a chance, then the end wouldn’t be like this.
Please don’t cry when I’m gone. I don’t deserve a single tear.
Your mother.’??

A lone tear plopped down on the letter. Only then did I realize my grief. More tears streamed down my cheeks like rivulets.

Moments before her suicide attempt, my stepmother had turned a new leaf. Not everyone survived bullets to their heads. But she had. If life had given her another chance, who was I to harden my heart?

In a split second, I made a decision I never thought I ever would. I would go see her. A quick shower stood in the way of my going to see her. Once done, I clad myself in casual clothes and headed for the hospital.

Blurring past the nurses behind the counter, I walked through a passageway I knew would lead to room 24, where my stepmother lay.
I remembered walking through this same passageway, only to find what was left of my sister. Tears pooled around my eyes, but I sniffed them away.

Footsteps echoed from the other side of the hallway. Two men walked into view, pushing a shrouded corpse on a stretcher.

I halted. A red-hot coal stood where my heart should be, setting my insides ablaze. The stretcher’s wheels squeaked past me, its haunting sound gnawing at my soul.
Had they come from room 24? No. This couldn’t happen to me. Not a fourth time. Fighting to gain control of my limbs, I dashed to the stretcher.

“Hey, what—” one of the men began, but I’d already thrown open the shroud, baring a face I would never see again.

My eyes burned with indescribable grief. But the face staring back at me placed my emotions on hold. I’d never seen this girl. I clapped a hand over my mouth to suppress a joyous shout. This time, death had picked on some other family.

The peaceful look on the girls face entranced me. Her lips, slightly stretched, seemed almost as though she were smiling. She appeared to be having a pleasant dream. A part of me wanted to reach out and touch her, awaken her from her deep slumber. But if I had such powers, then my whole family would still be intact.

I stepped away, giving room for the stretcher bearers to cover up the corpse. My heart sank as I watched them take her out of sight. It would break her family and friends to learn of her passing.

To cope with the death of a loved one, one must be superhuman. I silently prayed the good lord strengthened her loved ones and helped them cope.
Straightening my spine, I resumed my walk to room 24. I followed a left turn and found it two doors away. My pace doubled as I advanced to the door.

Almost noiselessly, I opened the door. Two pairs of eyes devoured me; Raheem’s and my stepmother’s. A smile tore through her lips, and with it came a fusillade of memories.

She had never smiled at me. So why now? Why love me only after losing her memory? Why want to fix things when my sister’s life had already been wasted?

I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t share a smile with the woman who’d filled my life with so much darkness. Doing so would mean betraying my very own self, mind, body and soul.

Shaking my head, I darted outside. I’d thought I’d be able to handle seeing her, and then I’d accept her for the new person she’d become. But beholding her face reopened my wounds over and over again. These wounds could never heal. And that woman would never be a part of my life.

Her smile had lit up my insides with a scorching envy. She had no memories of the past, but I did. The image of Cynthia’s burnt skin, etched to my memory, haunted me each day, taking away any reason to smile.
I choked on my suppressed grief. Turning away from the door, I made to leave, when the door cracked open. Without turning, I knew it was Raheem.

“I can’t do this,” I said. “I can’t stand the sight of that woman.”

Raheem closed the space between us and turned me to face him. “Calm down.”

He held me with his gaze and didn’t let go till my emotions neared stability. “Remember that you’re here because you saw it fit to come see her. It was all your decision, and it is the right one.”

“Allow me be the judge of what’s right or wrong,” I said.

“Very well,” he said. His facial features tightened and relaxed, forming a pattern. I could tell he was torn between talking and holding back his words.

He chose the former. “That woman is not the same person who tried to kill you. She’ll even be appalled if she learns of how she treated you in the past. Your wicked stepmother committed suicide six months ago. And here now, we have a whole new person. She kept asking why you hadn’t come to see her. She kept sighing over her amnesia. You know why? She says living without any memories of you is so much like death. Maybe I made a mistake. I should not have told her she had a daughter. I should have just let her build a new life. That would have been better than subjecting her to a life like this. She wakes up each day, looking forward to her daughter’s visit. And today, when that day finally comes—”

“What do you want from me?” I asked.

“I made a promise to her,” he said. “And I don’t break promises. I promised to bring you to her.”

If only I hadn’t let myself be entrapped by Raheem’s well crafted poem, I wouldn’t have been propelled to read the letter. And then I wouldn’t have ended up in this undesirable situation.

“Let’s get this over with,” I muttered. It would only be a minute and then I would be gone, never to return. I wanted nothing to do with that woman, and Raheem knew that more than anyone else.

Cursing under my breath, I stepped into the room. Sat on the bed, the last person I wanted to see welcomed me with a flickering smile.

“Are you alright?” She rose to her feet and crossed the room to meet me. Her eyes searched mine. “Is something wrong?”

“I’m okay,” I muttered.

She reached out to touch me, causing me to flinch. Her hand hovered in the air, just a few inches from my face. It trembled only just noticeably. I stared at it like it were a poisonous snake waiting to strike.

I cringed as her palm pressed against the side of my face, emitting an undesirable warmth. She wrapped me in a bone-breaking embrace. I stood motionless, with my hands glued to my sides. No way in hell would I return her hug.

“You are here,” she said. “I dream. Every…every night. My daughter—”

My heart darkened at the mention of ‘daughter’. I disentangled myself from the embrace and shoved her off. “I am not your—”

“Victoria,” Raheem warned. What lies had he been feeding her with?

Swallowing my indignation, I stared at the uninteresting floor, bracing myself for the undesirable moments I would spend in her company.

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