💝A Chance for Love💖
“Whenever you’re close to me, your presence sucks out every trace of oxygen. It suffocates me.”
I awakened to the sound of my ringing phone. A smile flitted across my face as I found Raheem’s name on my screen. I hit the answer button.
I made to speak, but Raheem didn’t give me a chance. “I’m at your gate.”
The line went dead. I gazed at the phone in my hand. What the hell had just happened? Why had he sounded like I was the last person he wanted to speak to? It was almost as though he didn’t want to hear my voice. What had gone wrong?
A possibility dawned on me. What if he’d pondered over my loss of self control and decided to end it all? Or did it have to do with his family? Did it involve his dad?
Staying in bed and musing over these things would not give an answer. I rose to my feet and advanced to the gate. Unlocking it, I stepped outside. And there, before me, stood the answer to my questions. Raheem sat on his bike, his eyes hiding behind dark glasses. My stepmother stood beside him.
I knew without a doubt that Peter had informed him of the graveyard scene. What would Raheem think of me now? What if my stepmother had filled his head with lies aimed to turn him against me?
“Thank you,” my stepmother said, smiling at him.
Raheem nodded. Without acknowledging my presence, he started the engine. I sprinted to his side. No way in hell would I let him leave. No, not like this.
“Raheem, I…I can explain,” I said.
“Don’t,” he said. “You were right, Victoria Brown. This can’t work.” His words tightened my stomach into a tortuous knot.
Without another word, he zoomed out of sight, leaving me to swim in the smoke of everything I once had, now burned to the ground. A bolt of rejection hit me squarely in the chest, knocking me out of breath. Tears sprang to my eyes.
I had lost the one person who gave me reason to live. How would I go on without him?
Bursting into tears, I darted into my room and threw myself onto my bed. With my own hands, I’d destroyed the happiness I’d worked so hard to build. I’d only intended to make my stepmother pay for her wrongs. How was I to know my actions would drive away the one person I cared about the most?
I felt a new kind of pain build up within me; one I could not fathom. A pain so similar to losing a loved one in death, and yet so different. It clawed at my chest and threatened to break everything I was. My breath came in short, ragged gasps, setting my lungs ablaze.
Once, I’d thought losing a loved one in death was the worst kind of emotional pain. But today I realized the rejection of a loved one hurt no less. At least, with death, I knew my loved ones had left without a choice. If they could, they’d still be with me.
But in this case, Raheem had a choice. And he had chosen to reject me now when I needed him the most. Although I’d seen this coming, I could never have guessed it hurt so much to be heartbroken. Why did I feel a pressure on my chest, as though something heavy sat atop it? Why did it hurt as though my heart had been literally ripped out of my chest?
I grabbed my phone and dialed his number. I wouldn’t give up without at least trying to win him back. His phone rang. Once, twice. And then, the line went dead. I dialed again, but found his phone switched off.
He wanted nothing to do with me. Every memory and dream we ever shared wilted before my eyes. How could I heal this rawness in my chest, a deep hole where my heart should be?
He’d been my shadow, my best friend, staying close in good times and in bad. Despite my many flaws, he’d loved me. And now, my whole world crumbled at my feet like a pile of ashes.
“Victoria,” my stepmother called. I hadn’t noticed her come in.
I raised my face to acknowledge her presence. She stood a distance away, obviously conflicted about approaching me.
“Are you happy now?” I asked, getting out of bed. “You have always wanted bad things to happen to me. When I grieve, you have a thousand and one reasons to smile. Things were fine between Raheem and I until you came along. Now he wants nothing to do with me. All because of you! You!”
“Please believe me when I say I didn’t mean for any of this to happen,” she said.
The sound of her voice was no different from a pestering bug waiting to be squished. Squeezing my eyes shut, I clapped my palms over my ears. “Stop! Just stop! I’m not a fool anymore, okay? I’m not the person I used to be, the person you treated like a rag. I stopped being the naive little girl who swallowed every insult and believed every lie. So, just stop. Enough lies already.”
“I would never lie to you,” she said.
I glared at her. “Your voice…it burns. Every time I hear you speak, I ask myself over and over again why you didn’t die six months ago. You know why? I hate you. I hate you so much that it hurts. Whenever you’re close to me, your presence sucks out every trace of oxygen. It suffocates me. You suffocate me, mum. I wish you died back there. I really wish you did.”
Sobbing, I went on, “Why continue to torture me? Why don’t you just go away, out of my life, just so I can find happiness? Why do you keep destroying my life over and over again? Why didn’t you just stay dead? You should have died back there. But no, you had to wake up to ruin my life over and over again.”
Although I had so much more to say, I held back. Nothing I said or did could change anything. I swept my phone off the bed and stormed off into Cynthia’s room. Once there, I locked the door, keeping intruders away.
My fairy godmother came to mind. She’d been my rock, even before Raheem walked into my life. Talking to her would bring a measure of relief. Or so I hoped.
I dialed her number. After a few rings, she answered the call. “Vicky dear, hello. How’s it going?”
“Bad,” I said.
She freaked out. “Oh dear. What’s wrong?”
“It’s Raheem,” I said. “It’s over. He just…ended it. He wants nothing to do with me. I’m so broken right now, I don’t know what to do. I wish you were here. I really wish you were here.”
“I thought things were fine between you guys.”
To be honest, things had never been fine between us. Every moment, we’d fought over my stepmother. I’d even been surprised we made it through six whole months. Although our feelings for each other could sustain our bond for a lifetime, our relationship had always been a fragile line, thanks to the legged misfortune called my stepmother.
“He didn’t like the way I treated her,” I said. “He wanted me to put the past behind me and move on. But I…I just couldn’t. I mean, I can’t. I’m only human. I can’t erase memories of the way she treated me in the past.”
“Sweetheart, I know just how you feel,” she said. “But you know forgiveness is a trait we all must master. Everyone deserves a second chance. From what I’ve heard, your stepmother is a different person and has been showering you with love.”
“How do I know she’s really changed?” I asked. “How do I know this is not one twisted game? How can I trust her after everything she’s done? Just how?”
“Sweetheart, she was in coma for two whole weeks. Do you think she faked it? Truth be told, she turned a new leaf the moment she lost her daughter. Now she begs for just a chance to be your mother. Isn’t this what you always wanted?”
“Things are changed,” I said. “I changed. And so did my desires.”
“Okay, so what is it you want?”
I made to speak, but she beat me to it. “Don’t say it. I know. You want him back, so go. Go get him. Just go see him, admit your mistakes, and be the you you really are, not the stone hearted person you’re pretending to be. That’s all he wants. Tell him you’re willing to let go of your grudges and accept your stepmother.”
“But…what if I don’t really want that?” I asked.
“But you do, don’t you?”
I didn’t know if I needed my stepmother in my life, but I did know I wanted my life to be whole again. And for this, I’d do anything.
“I’ve got to go,” I said.
“I’ll call you later, okay?”
“Okay.” Ending the call, I mused over Stella’s words.
Raheem wanted me to admit my mistakes, to be me, the sweet girl he had fallen in love with. He’d always preached about my stepmother needing a second chance. If he thought she did, then I did too.
Brimming with a hope I never saw coming, I set out to go see him.
I’d been standing in front of the Kadirs’ gate for no less than five minutes, conflicting within myself to knock or not to knock.
Thoughts swirled around my head. The good, the bad, and the ugly. What if Raheem didn’t want me back? Then what next?
Maybe seeing him now was not a good idea. He probably fumed over our break up, and would talk to no one. Maybe I had to let time float a while, then his heart would grow soft and he’d listen to me.
I sighed, torn between the choices before me. But who said I had to make the decision myself? For a moment I’d forgotten other people always sought to make decisions for me.
And now, history repeated itself. I heard footsteps approach, and I knew it had to be the gatekeeper. He’d obviously caught a glimpse of my feet from underneath the gate. Curse my life.
The gatekeeper opened the gate with a smile. “Good afternoon.”
I faked a smile. “Good afternoon.”
Rooted to the spot, I could only stare at the house before me. In the past, I’d walked in and out like it were my own house. But today, I felt this privilege creeping away.
“They’re inside,” the gatekeeper said, apparently misjudging my tentativeness.
“Okay, thanks.” I pushed forward on tentative legs. After forever, I arrived at the entrance door and rapped my fingers on it. Once, twice. And once again.
“Coming,” Farah screamed to my hearing.
I told myself it would be alright. But would it? Amidst the tightness in my chest, I s—-d in a deep breath, bracing myself for what would come.
Farah opened the door. Her face lit up at the sight of me. “Victoria! Thank goodness you’re here. I was seriously going to die of boredom.”
My face held no promise of a smile. She caught a whiff of the air of distress around me. “Okay, spill. What’s wrong?”
“I need to talk to Raheem,” I said.
“He’s not home,” she said.
“Tell me this is you kidding,” I said. “I really need to see him. I know he probably doesn’t even want to see my face right now, but I have to at least try.”
Farah’s face fell. “What is going on?”
“Raheem didn’t tell you anything?” I asked.
She shook her head. “He spoke to no one. He just parked his bike and drove off in his car. I called him, but he ignored me, and I knew someone had offended him. I could never have thought it was you. I mean…oh my gosh! Wait. Did you guys break up?”
“Yes,” I said.
“What? I don’t understand. Why would he do a thing like that?”
“Did what?” Mrs. Kadir asked, walking to meet us. She smiled at me. She sure hadn’t heard the most recent development. “Vicky dear, how are you?”
“I’m fine,” I said.
“No she’s not,” Farah said. “Raheem broke up with her.”
“He did what?” Mrs. Kadir asked. “I don’t understand. He’s been so happy these past few weeks.”
“Exactly my point,” Farah said.
“When did this happen?” Mrs. Kadir asked.
“This afternoon,” I said.
“This afternoon,” she echoed, as though the time made any difference. Or did it?
Her temper escalated with each passing moment. “I don’t understand. I just can’t believe he’d left you now, now of all times when you need him the most.”
“I’m the one at fault,” I said. “I stopped being the me he used to know.”
“What does that even mean?” Farah asked.
A car honked from behind the gate, making my words die on my lips. Simultaneously, we turned to watch the gatekeeper open the gate for Raheem to drive in.
“He has got some major explanations to give,” Farah said, folding her arms.
Raheem braked his car and stepped out. Feigning oblivion to us, he moved to open the back door. Who had he brought with him? Although it was impossible to see through the dim glass, I narrowed my eyes anyway.
Had he replaced me in the blink of an eye? If it wasn’t a girl, then who was it he opened the door for? Red with a yet unjustifiable envy, I could only watch as he gave the unseen person the same treatment he’d reserved only for me.
“Who has your brother brought home?” Mrs. Kadir asked Farah. Farah shrugged. They were just as clueless.
The unseen guest placed his left foot on the ground. I strained my neck to see the person’s shoes. Finding a man’s shoes, I let out the breath I’d been holding.
But who was he?
He placed his other foot on the ground and stood tall for all to see. I gasped at the striking resemblance he shared with Raheem. I’d seen his photos, but that didn’t compare to seeing him in person.
He threw his arms open. “Surprise!”
“Daddy!” Farah screamed, darting to meet him.
“Hakeem!” Mrs. Kadir’s voice rang in my ears. All smiles, she sprinted to her husband.
Winning the race, Farah threw herself in her father’s arms. “Daddy.”
“My little fairy,” Mr. Kadir said, flashing a smile that showed off his perfect teeth.
He plucked a chuckling Farah from the floor and spun her around as though she weighed no more than a leaf. Setting her down, he threw open his arms, inviting Mrs. Kadir for an embrace. She lost herself in his arms.
Where Mr. Kadir stood, I saw my father. And in his arms, my stepmother, Cynthia and I. He’d just returned from a business trip to Lagos. Just like Mr. Kadir, he’d chosen to surprise us with his presence.
“You should have told us you were coming,” Mrs. Kadir said. “I would have prepared your favorite dish.”
My eyes burned with tears I fought to hide. I s—-d in a deep breath to keep my emotions in check. I would not let my miserable life ruin their moment.
They had everything. Happiness. Family. Love. They had each other. And I, I had nothing but every bit of misfortune the world had to offer. I’d give anything for just a thin slice of happiness. I’d give anything for a little drop of love. But did I even deserve it?
I had to leave. I didn’t belong here, but in my own world, where an evil stepmother awaited me at home. I belonged in a world where happiness was a taboo, and depression, the order of the day.
The Kadirs, so lost in the moment had become oblivious of my presence. Neither Farah nor Mrs. Kadir even remembered I existed. Typical. Raheem hadn’t glanced in my direction since he arrived. Not even by mistake.
Mr. Kadir held his entire family in a hungry embrace. Taking this as my time to leave, I headed for the gate.
“Wait,” Mr. Kadir said. Not to his family. But to me.
I turned around to meet his gaze. He chuckled as though I had something funny on my face. Did I?
“Wait, don’t tell me you thought you were invisible,” he said.
He could see me? For a moment back there, I actually thought I was invisible.
Mr. Kadir glanced at Raheem, then back at me. Realization dawned on him. I could tell from the way he wagged his left pointer. “Aren’t you the girl my son’s so crazy about?”
For the first time, Raheem looked in my direction. His gaze pierced through me, setting my heart ablaze. A flower of hope sprouted somewhere within me.
A smile had already begun to stretch my lips when he spoke. “She was, dad.”
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