💖A CHANCE FOR LOVE💝
“She’s been going all around Facebook, speaking of her huge crush on that new Iraqi guy who thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes.”
“Now I’m hollow. Ho-ho-ho-ho-hollow.”
I probably made one or two mistakes with the tune, but that didn’t stop me from singing the song that had overwhelmed me ever since the show.
Standing behind the parapet had become my weekday ritual. It thrilled me to watch the sun peek through the clouds; to see a new day unfold. In a few minutes, the now graveyard-quiet building would be filled with life and hyperactivity, bringing an end to my quality time with nature.
Raheem’s song played on in my head:
Burn. Burn. Burn out
On a highway to yesterday
In the absence of words, I hummed the rest of the song till the chorus came up again. “Now I’m hollow. Ho-ho-ho-ho …”
A pair of palms clamped down on my eyes, forcing a gasp out of my mouth. Even without turning around, I could tell who it was. “Raheem.”
“And I thought Farah was the only one who murdered my song,” he teased. Peeling his palms away from my eyes, he leaned against the parapet.
“Hello yourself,” I said. “It seems you survived your fanbase attack.”
“Aye,” he said. “You left me there to die, didn’t you?”
“My bad,” I said.
“Did you like my performance?” he asked. “Yes? No? Maybe?”
“I didn’t like it,” I said. “I loved it.”
“That’s a blessing. I shouldn’t have sang the first song, though. In the middle of it, I realized that by performing that song, I’d given Farah a story to tell.” He seemed depressed, although he tried hard to hide it.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
His brows knitted. “Sorry?”
“Oh.” He looked away.
Feeling a presence behind us, we turned around to see Cynthia scowling at us. She looked like she could fight a bull. And win. Without a word, she stormed off into class.
“What’s up with her?” Raheem asked.
I wish I knew. “Don’t try to understand her. I’ve failed at it for years.”
“Wow,” he said. “Okay. Warning heeded. And about Jameela, you don’t have to be sorry now, do you?”
“I’m just sorry she hurt you,” I said. “You’ll move on with someone new though.”
“About moving on, yeah, I already have. And about moving on with someone new, I doubt that. They’re all the same.”
“You shouldn’t think like that,” I said.
“How then should I think?” he asked, running his fingers through his hair in a frustration that melted my heart. “I said it once and I’m saying it again. They are all the same. If you disagree, what can I say? I don’t possibly expect you to be on my side anyway. You’re one of them.”
“Not all girls are like that,” I defended. “If one person hurt you, that doesn’t mean every other girl would. As our faces differ, so our personalities differ. We all are different individuals. Do not generalize or you’d be making a fatal mistake.”
“So, not every girl is like that?” he asked.
“I want you to prove to me that not every girl is like that,” he said, his voice decidedly slow, making every word sink.
“What?” I scoffed. “How? How can I possibly prove a thing like this?”
A look of disappointment spread across his face “If you don’t want to, it’s fine. But then I’d be having a wrong perception of your kind, and it would be all your fault because you didn’t even try to alter this perception.”
“I already told you we are different individuals,” I said.
“And I already told you I want proof,” he insisted.
“How on earth …” I paused midsentence as realization sank in. “Wait, there’s only one way to prove this. Am I wrong in thinking that this is your way of asking me on a date, Raheem Kadir?”
“What?” Raheem exclaimed.
“You are trying to get me to date you, aren’t you?” I asked.
Raheem rubbed his chin in a way that could make any girl’s heart dance flip-flops. Problem is, I wasn’t just any girl.
“Am I?” he asked, winking at me.
“Pretty much looks like it.” I feigned oblivion to the flutter of butterflies in my stomach.
“Don’t get any ideas,” Raheem said. “If I wanted to date you, I would come out open. This is me wanting you to prove something. And what if I was actually asking you on a date? What if I was asking you to help undo the emotional wreckage Meela caused?”
“You wouldn’t,” I said. “Did Farah come?”
“Yes,” Raheem said. “Hmm. Nice try, though. But I must tell you, it isn’t so easy trying to change topics when you’re with me. Alas! It’s impossible. Unless, of course, I’m in support of you changing the topic. And in this case, I obviously haven’t even thought of that.”
“First period will begin in a few moments,” I said. “Let me go say hi to her. Sophomore, right?”
Heaving a sigh, he gave in. “Yes. Science class.”
An indistinct conversation drifted to my hearing as I approached Farah’s class. Filtering the voices, my ears picked up Farah’s. “Really, you guys should go see the movie sometime. My brother acts like he’s made of stone, but he totally loved the movie. And that says a lot!”
Standing in the doorway, I watched her gesture away with her heart as she conversed with two of her peers. The girls waved me hello. Farah turned around to see the object of her friends’ attention. A grin broke out on her face and she jogged toward me. Once within range, she wrapped her arms around me as though we were bestfriends separated by the Iraqi war.
She pulled away from the embrace, but didn’t let go of my hands. “This school isn’t the boring hellhole I thought it was! Raheem really does paint horrible pictures of everyone and everything. Well, except you.”
I led her away from the door, giving room to those streaking into the classroom. “Except me?”
Farah clicked her tongue and waved off my question. “Never mind that. Seriously, though, school’s so cool. I mean, I met this girl called Harmony, and then there’s Mandy, another girl who left Iraq. She wasn’t in my former school though. Guess what? I think I have found my new bffs. They’re so cool. They love the same stuff I love.”
I smiled at her excitement. “I’m happy you love the school.”
“Alright, I just came to say hi. We’ll see later.”
“During recess?” she suggested.
“Yeah,” I said. “Have a nice day.”
Waving her goodbye, I advanced toward my classroom. Thoughts of Raheem’s proposal overwhelmed me. Raheem Kadir had asked me on a date. He wanted me to help undo the emotional wreckage Jameela had caused.
When he’d told me about his dad’s stay in Iraq, an almost irresistible urge to comfort him with more than words had tugged at me. And now, the same emotion overwhelmed me when I thought of what Jameela had done to him.
I could understand his devastation. He saw every girl as the same. Manipulators. Liars. Cheats. And I couldn’t blame him. Most girls were that way. But I wasn’t. I could never hurt one’s feelings on purpose. And he probably knew that already.
He’d asked me out under the pretense of needing proof. I could say yes under the pretense of wanting to prove this to him. I liked him after all, and he seemed to like me too, at least to an extent.
A distance away, Cynthia approached Alex with open arms. “Alex dear.”
“Don’t touch me,” Alex warned. Putting out a hand to stop her, he stepped away as though she had a transmissible disease.
Cynthia’s shock mirrored mine, and that of all other students hanging around the corridor.
“What?” she said, her voice barely a squeak. “I mean, are you alright?”
“It’s over,” Alex said, his voice cold as ice, his face hard as stone.
“What?” Cynthia asked. “You’re kidding right?”
Alex laughed mockingly. “I’m certainly sure I want nothing to do with you.”
“What has come over you?” Cynthia asked.
“Figure it out.” He turned to leave, but Cynthia gripped his arm.
“Are you sure about this?” she asked.
“I’ve never been surer of anything in my life,” Alex said.
Cynthia’s features hardened, matching Alex’s. “Okay. So, you’ve made your choice. Well, okay. You should have told me sooner, though, instead of ignoring my calls, snubbing me and all. You’re tired and want to walk away, I will not hold you back. If you think I am going to cry and beg, you’re mistaken. At the snap of my fingers, I will replace you. Just watch.”
“I’m actually expecting that. Being the s–t you are.” Once the words left his lips, Cynthia’s palm flew to his cheek, slamming hard.
“You’ve disrespected me enough by doing this in public,” she said. “Don’t disgrace me further by calling me names. I don’t even know why I agreed to date you in the first place. You’re a worthless piece of poo I had to tolerate every single day—”
Cynthia stopped mid-sentence, gasping with surprise as Alex’s palm flew towards her face. She slammed her eyes shut and s—-d in a breath, waiting for it to land. But when moments passed, and it didn’t, she yanked open her eyes to find Alex’s hand suspended in midair with my hand gripping it.
“Don’t you dare hit my sister,” I said to Alex.
Dragging her gaze to meet mine, Cynthia shook her head and walked away, shoving off one or two students. Amidst many eyes staring at me, I could see Raheem’s. He stood a few feet away, his poise as though ready to spring to my aid if Alex raised his hand at me. I prayed it didn’t come to the point where Raheem would fight over me. I wasn’t Jameela.
Alex detached his hand from mine. “I can’t believe you’re defending her.”
“I can’t believe you tried to hit a girl,” I shot back. “What’s up with you? I’ve never seen you this way.”
“That sister of yours deserves that and more,” he said. Although his voice had softened, it still burned with suppressed fury. “But then, I’m glad you stepped in just in time. I wouldn’t want to be the one to do that. But one of these days, trust me, someone will, and you won’t be there to stop them.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“What happened?” he mock-echoed. “She’s been going all around Facebook, speaking of her huge crush on that new Iraqi guy who thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes. That guy doesn’t even seem the least interested, but Cynthia won’t stop dreaming. Her posts on Facebook make me want to puke. She’s so shameless, it breaks my heart. It’s a pity you’re related to someone like that. I don’t want anything to do with her anymore. She’s a pathetic spoilt brat who has neither manners nor decency. She doesn’t even know how to cook. Instead of going around repainting the slutty image she’s made for herself, she should find ways to make herself useful. I’m done.”
His fury raged on as he stormed off, leaving the witnesses of his outburst to stare at me. One by one, they withdrew from the scene. But Raheem remained.
Sighing, I glanced at my wristwatch. I’d been standing outside the staff room for no less than fifteen minutes. Sir Aaron had asked me to meet him after school. If he didn’t show up within the next five minutes, I would be gone.
My mind drifted to Raheem. All day, I’d managed to stay away from him. I didn’t want him continuing our discussion about proving something. If he did, and got to ask me again, I didn’t trust myself enough. For this reason, I had to stay away from him, lest his sinfully pleasant green eyes pull me into something I wasn’t even prepared for.
“I almost forgot I asked you to wait,” Sir Aaron said.
I turned around to face him. “Good afternoon sir.”
“How are you?” he asked.
“I’ve kept you waiting for so long, so I don’t want to take much of your time. Wait here.” He disappeared into the staff room and returned almost immediately with a package.
“Stella wants you to have this,” he said.
“Okay.” I received the package with a smile. “Please tell her I said thanks.”
Sir Aaron smiled back. “I think in a few moments, you’ll be able to do it yourself.”
“What do you mean, Sir?” I asked.
“Never mind me,” he said. “And Victoria?”
“If ever you need someone to talk to, you have me. Stella told me to take over from where she stopped. I know your stepmother and her daughter are bent on making your life miserable, and you’re uncertain about what direction your life will take now that Stella’s gone. But not to worry. I am here. I will keep you safe as long as you keep me updated. It will be alright, my dear.”
I looked away hiding my unease. I’d never thought I’d have this conversation with Sir Aaron. I could speak to Stella and Amarachi about the dramas in my life. But not Sir Aaron.
“Okay,” I managed to say.
He placed a firm hand on my shoulder. “Be strong. Okay?”
He laughed. “Oh now, that’s not an order. You totally sounded like a military man. Or woman. Whatever.”
Sir Aaron had a sense of humor? Amarachi would be shocked to hear this.
“See you tomorrow,” he said.
I watched him head for the staff room. He had barely walked out of sight when I felt a pair of eyes burning into me. I raised my head and found someone staring intently from the upper floor. Precious. She smiled at me and walked away.
I knew from experience that an enemy’s smile means evil. It only means they have something hurtful on their mind. Foes have an inverse relationship. When one rejoices, the other grieves.
Shoving Precious out of my mind, I stuffed the package in my backpack and turned towards the stairs. Raheem stood a few feet away. Something about his posture and the look on his face told me he had not moved for at least five minutes, and that was just enough time to overhear my discussion with Sir Aaron. From where he stood, he couldn’t have been able to see us. But I had no doubt he had heard every word.
He confirmed my fears. “I heard. Everything.”
My temper flared at his confession, but somehow, my voice didn’t get past a whisper,
“How could you listen in on our conversation? You know it isn’t right to eavesdrop, and yet you do this, knowing more than you should. Didn’t you think about how I’d feel about you breaching through my privacy?”
“I was looking for you is all,” he said. “And besides, you know just as much about my family. You know about my father’s situation. My story with Jameela. My uncle. Farah’s loss of hearing. My very useless cousin. These are things I don’t want people knowing of. At least, not all at once. But somehow, you know all of that and more. Besides, friends don’t hide things from each other.”
“You’re right,” I said. “Friends don’t hide things from each other. I guess I overreacted.”
“Are you ready to leave?” he asked.
“You don’t have to give me a ride.”
“I don’t have to. But I want to. Come on now, Farah is waiting in the car.”
“You really shouldn’t worry about me,” I insisted. “I’ll walk home. I want to stretch my legs.”
“Then that exercise is going to have to wait. Do you not see the weather? It’s going to rain anytime soon.” He tilted his head back to view the gloomy sky.
“Rain is my best friend,” I said.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said. “Hey, if you think I’m going to ask why you’ve been avoiding me all day, then stop worrying. I cross my heart, I won’t ask. Just let me drop you home, and then tomorrow when you see me, you can continue from where you left off avoiding me.”
“I’m not avoiding you,” I said. “I just… Okay, fine. Let’s go.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I really didn’t mean to listen in on your conversation. Considering that you were meeting with Sir Aaron, I knew you’d leave for home late. And I didn’t expect Cynthia to wait for you, because she left without you on Friday and—”
I cut him off. “It’s okay.”
“Are you sure?” he asked, his eyes never leaving mine. “Sure it’s all good?”
We dismounted the stairs and made for his car. I walked past him and hopped in before he could offer me his help. Not exactly pleased, he shook his head and settled in the driver’s seat. Beside him, Farah buried her attention in her tablet.
“So, I’ve created your Facebook fan page,” Farah announced once Raheem started the engine. “Soon, your fans will come flocking at your page, demonstrating their support by smashing the like button!”
“You think I give a hoot about a dumb fan page right now?” Raheem asked.
“Hey, it’s not dumb. And yeah, I figured out you’d react this way, so don’t worry. Leave it all for your proactive little sister. We are both admins. Don’t worry, I’ll do all the posting.”
“Whatever,” Raheem said.
Farah smacked his arm. “Hey? What’s wrong? You just seem so off today. Both of you. A bush pig hit you on your way here? Vicky, did you two have a fight?”
“Farah, when will you learn to mind your own business?” Raheem asked.
“Eat the silence,” Farah said. She turned to look out the window. Almost immediately, she returned her attention to him. “Hey, guess what? That little show you did in that cafeteria, the whole world loves it. It’s YouTube’s top hit.”
“What?” Raheem asked.
A smile spread across Farah’s face. “Yeah, you killed it back there. The video’s superb.” Playing the video on her tablet, she cranked up the volume and held it high for all to see.
“I’m amazing, I know,” Raheem said. “Though I must confess Highway To Yesterday is incomplete without the band. All the instruments work together to bring that song alive. But I performed it with only a guitar. It’s by miracle the song wasn’t ruined. Though, a closer look at it shows it really is lacking.”
“I don’t see how it lacks,” Farah said. “And you, Victoria? Isn’t the song super great?”
“It’s cool,” I said.
“You see! She loves it! Everyone does! Else you wouldn’t be having this much views on YouTube.”
“I still say it’s lacking,” Raheem said.
“Create a new band then,” Farah said. “You came up with Impaling Sedation. You sure can form another. But remember, MJ wasn’t in a band, but that didn’t stop him from being a legend.”
Raheem yawned. “Yeah, thanks for the encouragement.”
“If you want to start a new band though, you should consider signing me up as your vocalist.”
“Not even in your dreams,” Raheem said. Did Farah sing that bad?
“Okay, I’m kidding,” Farah said. “Why choose me when there are tons of girls in school? I met a few. They’re fit. One of them even looks like a Goth kid—”
“I’d rather give up on music than have any girl play in my band,” Raheem said.
“So you really are forming a new band?” Farah asked. “Awesome! You really shouldn’t involve a girl if you don’t want to. Like, despite the absence of feminine touch in Bring Me The Horizon, I love that band anyway. And besides, I wouldn’t want to suggest you something that’d hurt you tomorrow. I can’t believe I talked you into signing up Meela as your lead singer. If only I’d minded my business—”
“When do you ever stop talking?” Raheem asked.
“When I’m not breathing,” Farah said.
“Well, that can be arranged,” Raheem said.
“You fiend.” Farah turned around, hitting me with her full attention. “What’s wrong, Victoria?”
“I’m fine,” I said.
“Are you sure? I mean, you don’t look fine to me. Wait. Did my brother offend you in anyway? I know he’s a bit of an ass sometimes and he doesn’t think twice before letting his ego take the best of him, but don’t let his words get to you. He has a pure heart.”
How could I tell her I wanted to stay away from Raheem because he’d asked me to prove to him that not all girls were like Jameela? How could I tell her I was the one hurting him?
Moments later, Raheem pulled over beside my street. Waving them goodbye, I stepped out of the car. “Thanks for the ride.”
Farah waved back. “Bye. See you tomorrow.”
I walked home, bracing myself for an episode with my stepmother. The open gate told me I had no cause for worry. At least, not until later. My paranoid stepmother never left the gate open, so I figured out Cynthia was alone at home. She obviously wanted to save herself the humiliation of opening the gate when I knocked.
I stepped into the house and headed for my room when smoke from the kitchen wafted to my nostrils. I shrugged off my backpack and sprinted to the kitchen. Coughing and sneezing, I pushed through the smoke and found a burning pan atop our gas cooker. Turning off the gas cooker, I tossed the pan in the sink and assaulted it with cold water from the faucet.
Cynthia brushed past me to open the backyard door. She coughed hysterically. I turned off the faucet and joined her in the backyard, where we coughed our chests out and sneezed our noses out as though in a fierce competition.
I paused for a breather. Cynthia had come to help me? Sure, she’d almost burnt the house and I’d come just in time to help her. But still …
Shaking her head, she burst into laughter. A laughter I couldn’t understand. A laughter so transmissible, it conquered my initial shock and stole me over. For the first time in years, I laughed with my sister.
Her cough returned, bringing our awkwardly perfect moment to a sighable end.
“You should return to your room now,” I said. “Stay away from the smoke and all. Look how you’re coughing.”
“I get it,” she said. “I’m coughing like an idiot.”
Did she just talk to me? I had to speak again. To make sure this was for real. “Sorry.”
“How do you make omelets? I just wanted something I could eat along with my indomie.”
“You made indomie?” I asked.
Unbelievable. I dashed into to the kitchen to see for myself. She really had cooked today. All thanks to Alex. And we were getting along, thanks to the burnt omelet. So, for good developments to occur, bad things had to happen first? I wished I’d known this from the start.
“You probably think it’s horrible,” she said. “The taste, I mean. Considering that I’ve never cooked. You’re welcome to try it.”
“No,” I said. “I’m sure it’s fine.”
“No,” she insisted. “Try it. Maybe then you can go tell that idiot I’m not entirely useless.”
Oversized onions and tomatoes blocked the indomie from my sight. But still, I could tell the noodles had spent eternity in the pot. Not wanting to let her down, I grabbed the fork she offered me and dug into the pot. Only after I’d moved the extravagant vegetables out of the way was I able to get food on my fork.
Cynthia stared expectantly. Impatience fought to take the best of her. She nodded, wordlessly ordering me to get on with it. And I did. The most horrible food on planet earth spread its saltiness over my tongue.
I spat out the defilement from my mouth. “You were not to add salt!”
Seething, Cynthia folded her arms. “What do you know? Salt is the primary seasoning.”
“Salt is essential when cooking other meals. But not indomie. Did you not see the packaged seasoning it came with?” Spotting the seasoning on the floor, I picked it up and waved it in front of her wide open eyes. “Here. It’s called seasoning. One part seasoning, other part, chili! With this you don’t need salt. How can you not know this?”
Tears pooled around her eyes. If I could, I would take back my words. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—”
“You have five minutes to make lunch,” she said. I watched her storm out of the kitchen.
I had just ruined a once in a lifetime chance of getting along with my sister. Grunting, I slammed my palm into my face. “Seriously, Victoria, you are an idiot sometimes.”
Grabbing two super packs from the carton, I set to work. Moments later, I smiled at the beautifully garnished dish I’d made. I set Cynthia’s on the dining table and headed for her room, hoping for a chance to apologize.
The scene in the passageway caused me to halt. My schoolbag had been emptied of its contents, which included my books and the package Sir Aaron had given me. The package had also been emptied. Two books laid on the floor. Though unfamiliar, I recognized them to be the books Stella had written. ‘A Robber’s Heart’ and ‘By Candlelight’.
An empty phone pack stood beside the books. A few naira notes took up a few inches of the floor. And in the midst of them all, Cynthia crouched, brandishing an Infinix Hot 4.
“Precious told me she saw you with Sir Aaron after school,” she said. “I told her you would not ruin our family name that way. With a man old enough to be our father.”
“He didn’t buy me the phone,” I said. “If that’s what you’re thinking.”
“Your fairy godmother did,” she said, gesturing to a letter lying across the floor. “But why? What do they see in you? First, Amarachi. Then, Stella. And then Raheem. Raheem who won’t even look at anyone else. How is it possible he has eyes for you? And now, Sir Aaron? He too has become your friend? What do they see in you?”
“I…I don’t know.”
“Mum was right,” she said. “You are a witch. You’ve cast a spell on them. That’s why they’re all crazy about you. Because it’s out of the ordinary that anyone would actually want to be your friend.”
“If I were a witch and knew how to cast a spell, you’d be the very first person I’d bind to myself. Anyway, your food is ready.”
I outstretched my hand for the phone, but she stepped back. “Don’t even think for a moment that we will allow charity in this house.”
“Let me tell you a story of two men,” I said. “One is rich, and the other, poor. The rich owns many sheep and cattle, but the poor has nothing but one small female lamb. He feeds it and cares for it with the little he has. This small female lamb becomes as a daughter to him. One day, the rich man has a visitor. But he refuses to slaughter any of his numerous sheep and cattle to prepare a meal for the visitor. Rather, he takes the poor man’s lamb and prepares a meal for his visitor.”
She rolled her eyes. “Your point is?”
“You are blessed with a mother who loves you, and lets you get away with your extravagance. You have everything you could ever need. This phone doesn’t even compare to the ones you use. And yet you want to take it away to spite me? Okay. If that’s what you want, keep it. Keep everything. But know that you are no different from that rich man who showed no compassion.”
Seething, she tossed the phone at me. I caught it with a smile. A smile flitted across her face, and then she stormed off. Someday, she would call me ‘sister’, and I could feel that day fast approaching.
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