A CHANCE TO LOVE: Episode 11 – The End

?A Chance For Love?

Episode seventeen

“I felt…so bad…about dying without…without your forgiveness. But now you are here… I am forgiven. I will die a happy woman.”

“Are you sure this is what you want?” Sir Aaron’s voice breeched through the awkward silence in the living room. Although I’d already made known my decision, every member of his family hoped I’d change my mind.
It hurt me to disappoint them, but I had to return home. My stepmother needed me.

“That woman can suffer for all I care,” Sharon said. “It’s either her wickedness has finally caught up with her, or she’s faking it.”

“She’s sick,” I said. “Why would anyone fake a thing like this?”

“To get what they want,” she said.

Although that seemed possible, my stepmother would never do a thing like this. Lie about her own health? Unthinkable.

“I have decided, sir,” I said. “I must be by her side during this difficult time. You must think of me as ungrateful now. After everything you’ve done for me—”

“We don’t,” Mrs. Aaron said. “We just want to make sure you’re sure about this. This is what you want? Really?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Very well then,” Sir Aaron said. “Go get your things ready. I’ll drop you off.”

With no attempt to hide her retort, Sharon stormed off. Vicky followed right after.

“They fear for you,” Mrs. Aaron said. “They fear you’re making a huge mistake and you just don’t see it. Although I feel the same way, I cannot stop you from leaving. It is your choice. I just hope you aren’t walking into a trap. May the good Lord be with you. Go well.”

“Thank you, ma.” I headed for the room and found Sharon arranging my belongings in my bag. Perched on the bed, Vicky hugged a pillow.

“You amaze me,” Sharon said without looking up to acknowledge my presence. “How can you still think of that woman after everything?”

“She is still family,” I said.

“Family my foot,” she said. “I don’t know what kind of heart you have, but this act of yours is something I’d never do. If I were in your shoes I’d leave her to die in her evil.”

Done arranging my bag, she presented it to me. “As much as I don’t agree with this, I can’t stop you.”

Tossing her pillow to the bed, Vicky sprang to her feet and crossed the room to meet me. She threw her tiny arms around me in a heart-wrenching embrace. “Don’t go. Please.”

“Vicky—” I said.

Sobbing, she tightened her arms around me. “Tell me you won’t go, please.”

“Vicky, my mum is very sick,” I explained. “Wouldn’t you do the same if it were your mum?”

“If it were my mum, I would,” Sharon said. “But it’s not your mum. It’s your evil stepmother.”

“Why are stepmothers so evil?” Vicky asked, pulling away from the embrace.

Sharon made an ugly face. “Because they are hideous creatures. They’re ogres.”

“Eeeew,” Vicky said. “Like Shrek?”

“Yup,” Sharon said.

Vicky’s face contorted as though she’d smelled a decomposing rat. She cupped a palm over her crinkled nose. “Eeeew. She’s so disgusting.”
Sharon made a face and pinched her nose. “Yeah. Double eeew.”

“Will you come back, Victoria?” Vicky asked. “Ogres are bad. They crush bones to make bread. Fi Fii Fo Fum. I smell the blood of a Nigerian girl. Be her alive or be her dead, I’ll crush her bones to make my bread!”

“I’ll come visit,” I said. “I promise.”

“No, will you come live with us again?” she asked. “You’re only going to visit the sick witch, right? You’ll return right after. You shouldn’t eat anything she gives you. Not food. Not water. Remember what happened with Snow White.”

“Are you ready?” Sir Aaron asked from behind us.

“Yes sir,” I said.

“Well then, let’s go.”

“Wait,” Sharon said. “I should come along so I’d know the house. I’d love to visit sometime.”

“Me too!” Vicky said. “Perhaps there are other people to save from the ogre-witch!”

Sir Aaron grimaced. “Ogre witch? Sharon, what have you been teaching her?”

“Nothing, dad,” Sharon said. “I’ll go wait outside.” Humming a tune, she made her exit.

Moments later, all four of us stood in my stepmother’s room. Paler than she’d ever been, she lay asleep in bed. Her hair, hidden behind a hairnet, and her face, devoid of makeup, told me the intensity of her deteriorating health. On a normal day, she would never wear a hairnet during the day. She would also never fail to apply layers of makeup on her face.

“She’s asleep,” I said.

“She’s been like this since I returned from school,” Cynthia said.

“She doesn’t look good,” Sir Aaron said. “She should be in a hospital.”

“Our family doctor comes to check on her,” Cynthia explained. “He administered some medication. He said as long as she doesn’t think too much, doesn’t overwork herself, and is well rested, she will be fine.”

In that case, she would be fine soon. With my presence, she wouldn’t have to think so much about the child custody request and the child abuse sentence that possibly followed. With my presence she wouldn’t overwork herself. I’d resume responsibilities as the one who saw to every chore. She would be well rested. She would be just fine. I would care for her like I would my own mother.

“Victoria—?” Excitement flashed in my stepmother’s half-open eyes. Watching her struggle to breathe cut through me like a sword.

“Have you really come to see me, my daughter?” Her voice had become a shadow of itself; a raspy death rattle. I didn’t want this. Where was the energetic woman who would yell at me without even pausing for a breath?

“I am here.” Without invitation, I sat beside her. She smiled at me. How would I respond to her kindness when I’d already acclimatized myself to the venom she spewed at me?

“My daughter,” she said, barely audible. Taking my hands in hers, she went on, “I am happy you came…to…to see me. Now I—” A chesty cough fought to break her.

Sobbing, Cynthia rushed to her side. “Mummy.”

“Go get water,” I heard Sir Aaron whisper to either of his children.

“Now you are here,” my stepmother said. “Now I can die in peace.”

Tears welled up in my eyes as I watched her struggle for her life. I let them stream down my cheeks like rivulets. “Don’t say that. You will not die.”

My stepmother made to speak, but she coughed so hard, tears sprang to her eyes. “I don’t know…if I will live to see the next day. And I felt…so bad…about dying without…your forgiveness. But now you are here…I am forgiven. I will die a happy woman.”

Sharon strolled in with a glass of water. She handed it over to Cynthia and stepped back to view the scene from a distance. My stepmother jerked her head sideways as Cynthia moved the glass toward her. Water spilled onto the bed.

“Water is not my problem,” she said.

“Mum, please—” I begged.

She turned to look at me. Her gaze softened and she allowed Cynthia feed her the water. I’d never seen her this hurt. The pain in her eyes brought to mind my mother. Had her last moment been just like this? Had she looked so much like death itself that no one could look at her without shedding a tear?

Holding my stepmother’s hand, I stared into her eyes. “You will not die, mum. I will not lose my mother a second time. You will fight this and win. Please, live for us. What will we do without you? Look at Cynthia. She needs you so much. Please, don’t speak about death, I beg you. Live for us.”

“How can you still think of me as your mother?” she asked. “After everything I’ve done to you, how do you still care for me?”

“Because we are family,” I said. “And family supports each other. Whatever happened is all in the past now.”

“This is suicide,” Sir Aaron said. “We have to get you to a hospital. There, you’ll be better taken care of. I’ll take you.”

My stepmother’s jaw tightened. Her narrowed eyes widened, and in that moment, the dying woman disappeared. In her place lay the woman I’d known all my life. “No one is taking me to a hospital. Do you know how many people die in hospitals every day? If I am to die, then it is my dying wish that I spend my last moments in my house, with my family. No less. But if it is the will of God that I live through this—” A fit of cough cut her off. She grabbed the glass of water from Cynthia and emptied it into her mouth.

Cynthia pressed down on her chest to soothe her. “Mummy, please. Calm down.”

“Sir Aaron’s right,” I said. “You have to go to the hospital—”

“Hospital doesn’t guarantee life,” she said. “I will not go there.”

“It’s okay if you won’t go,” Cynthia said. “If she doesn’t want to go, then let’s respect her decision. The doctor comes to check on her, so it’s pretty much the same thing.”

“This is suicide!” Sir Aaron said. “And I will not be a part of it.” His children trailed after him as he stormed out of the room.

I made to go after them, but my stepmother gripped my hand. “Stay. Stay here.”

Minutes by her side morphed into hours, and hours into three days of no school. Cynthia and I almost never left the room. We stayed by her side, assuring her she’d be fine. We ensured she took all her medicine. We watched her sleep, took turns feeding her, and fell asleep by her side. Twice daily, Doctor Smart came to check on her. He assured us she’d be fine. And I trusted she would.

Stella, Sharon, Amarachi and Flora had made it a ritual to call me at least twice a day. With friends like them, I couldn’t wish for more. It stunned me that Raheem hadn’t called yet. Why then did he make it seem like he cared when he didn’t?

These thoughts revolved around my head and didn’t go away till I’d fallen asleep. For the first time in close to two weeks, I felt the comfort of my bed.

Moments later, I awakened to the sight of my flashing LED notification. Six missed calls from Amarachi. Four from Stella. Two from Flora. Thirteen WhatsApp messages and three text messages. So much for keeping my phone on silent so I could get an undisturbed sleep.
A text from Flora read: Raheem says to give you his number. Misplaced yours. Ring him.
The text ended with Raheem’s mobile number. I dialed. And in that moment, I realized I craved to hear his voice. Speaking to him would not take away my problems, but it would at least make me feel better. Or so I hoped.

“Toria?” Raheem’s groggy voice asked.

I cleared my throat. “Hello yourself.”

“It’s been eons,” he said. “I lost your number.”

I took his words for sorry. “It’s okay.”

“Where are you? Is everything alright? Your friends won’t tell me what’s wrong. You’ve been absent for way too long. Your sister as well. Is everything alright at home?” He spoke so fast, I didn’t even know how to construct my response. “Hey?”

“I’m alright,” I said.

“So what’s wrong then?” he asked. “Will you be in school today?”

“I can’t,” I said. “I have to stay with mum. She’s terribly sick.”

It took forever for him to respond. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” I said.

“She’ll be fine,” he said.

“I know.”

“Which hospital is she?” he asked. “I’m coming over.”

“She’s at home,” I said. “Raheem, I have to go.”

“Okay.” After a moment, he added, “Stay safe. Take care of mum and—”

I ended the call before he could say another word. “I will,” I muttered. “It’s my duty.”

Adding Raheem’s number to my contacts, I left for my stepmother’s room. She lay sound asleep in bed. I sat beside her and tucked a stray lock of hair underneath her hair net. “How is she?”

“I don’t know if she’s any better,” Cynthia said, surreptitiously opening the windows. Her puffy eyes told me she’d been crying all night.

“You’ve been crying,” I said.

“No,” she said. An obvious lie. “An insect got into my eye and I kept scratching is all.”

“Cyn, you don’t have to lie to me,” I said.

“What can I do, Victoria?” Her voice wobbled and I feared mum would awaken to find her sobbing. “What can I do? I’m so scared.”

“Mum will be fine, I assure you. Everything will be alright.”

“I hope so. I just hope so.”

A knock at the gate interrupted our conversation. I rose to my feet. “I’ll get it.”

“No, let me.”

Before I could protest, she walked out of the room. I smiled at the new turn of things. My stepmother’s ill health had brought our family together. For this, she had to recover. She could not leave now that things had finally been sorted out between us. No, she had to live.

Clad in a navy blue long-sleeve and black pants, Doctor Smart walked in, brandishing his briefcase.

“Good morning, doctor,” I said.

“Good morning,” he said. “How is she?”

“Same,” Cynthia said from the threshold.

“She will be fine,” Doctor Smart said. Movement on the bed announced my stepmother’s awakening. She grunted into consciousness.
She smiled at Cynthia and I. To Doctor Smart, she said, “Doctor.”

“How are you?” he asked.

“I think my health is returning to me,” she said. “The pain in my chest subsides.”

Hope lit within me. Mum would be fine. I spent the next few hours brandishing this hope. Her life-force seeped back into her, and although it was barely noticeable, I did notice.

Today, I would ask Cynthia to attend school. While she went to school for the both of us, I’d take care of mum for the both of us. Tomorrow, we’d switch places. We’d take turns going to school, until mum was strong enough to stay home by herself.

Mum’s recovery seemed closer than ever. She’d walked around the house today. She’d engaged me in conversations, and had even helped prepare lunch.

Sat in bed, I scribbled the first draft of a story I planned to write. I’d name it Silver Lining, and would dedicate it to my Fairy Godmother. Cynthia didn’t seem comfortable with me writing a story of my life, but I had already made up my mind. I would do this. I would start with a prologue, briefly showing the world my mother’s last moment on earth. She would grieve over the end of her life. She would write two letters, to the people she loved the most, after which death would whisk her away, paving way for chapter one. That would start with me in dad’s funeral, reminiscing over happy times with him.

?‘The end was here.
And Naomi could feel it. Clutching her newborn to her chest, she conflicted within herself. She wanted to believe things would be fine. It was okay to be weak after childbirth. But she felt much more than this, and somehow she knew she would soon fade into nothingness. Her gaze pierced through the man beside her. Now he rejoiced over the birth of a child. Soon he would mourn over the loss of his wife.’?

The door cracked open and I shut my book on impulse. I wouldn’t be comfortable with someone reading my book in its crudest form.

Cynthia stepped into the room. “Vicky, you have a visitor. It’s a friend from school.”

“Tell her to come in.” Preparing to welcome my guest, I rose to my feet. Who else would come see me but Amarachi or Flora? But then, Flora didn’t know where I lived. Unless Amarachi had given her directions.

Biting back a smile, Cynthia walked out of sight. Barely a second later, Farah stared at me from the doorway. A smile tore my lips apart as she crossed the room to meet me with a bear hug.

“It’s been ages!” she said. “I’m sorry about your mum’s health. We came as soon as we could.”
We? That only meant Raheem had come along. “Raheem is here?”

“He’s with your mum,” she said.

“Oh no.” What was he thinking, going to see her? After a lifetime, we’d finally glued our family together. I didn’t want her having new reasons to hate me. She’d feel I’d invited a guy over. How would she react to this?
With the speed of light, I made for her room. I hoped to find her asleep so she wouldn’t have to see him and have a wrong impression of me.

Giggling, Farah dashed after me. “You’re in so much hurry to see him. Aren’t you?”

I stepped into the room to find Cynthia, Raheem, and my stepmother laughing over a joke I’d come too late to enjoy.

“You really do have a sense of humor,” my stepmother said between fits of laughter. It warmed my heart to see her laugh so whole heartedly. “What’s your name again?”

“Raheem,” Raheem said.

“Who’s the fine young girl?” she asked, staring at Farah.

Farah smiled. “I’m Farah. I’m his sister.”

“Victoria, you have such great friends,” my stepmother said. “Imagine, none of Tonye’s friends have come to see me, but your friends keep coming.”

“Not even one of your friends have come to see you,” Cynthia shot back.

“Well, maybe that’s because I haven’t told them of my ill health.”

“That makes us both, mum. Maybe I haven’t told mine either?”

Farah chimed into the conversation. “Actually, you don’t have to tell your friends anything. Real friends just have to see you absent for a day or two, and then they come over.”

“Exactly!” my stepmother said. After a moment, she added, “I’m sorry my ill health has forced your friend away for so long. But I am on the road to recovery. So she will be with you tomorrow.”

Farah grinned at me. Raheem, on the other hand, showed no emotions.

“It’s a blessing your health’s returning to you,” he said.

“I’ll be good as new in no time,” my stepmother said. “My daughters are my reason to live. I wouldn’t leave them for anything in the world. Raheem, I know you’re probably looking forward to spending time with your friend. But I’m keeping you all to myself. I hope you don’t mind my selfishness.”

“It’s all good, Mrs. Brown,” he said. “I’m here to see you afterall. I’m sure my friend can understand that.”

My stepmother’s gaze settled on me. “What do you see in Victoria?”

“Pardon?” Raheem asked, taken aback by the question. Her question had knocked me off balance too.

“I mean…there must be some positive trait that makes you want to be her friend,” she explained.

“She makes me want to be a better person.” Raheem shot me an abrupt stare. Smiling sheepishly, I looked away.

“She has that ability,” my stepmother said. “She’s gifted in stealing hearts. And for this reason, I pray she doesn’t end up trying to steal the wrong heart someday. I’d be very much at ease if I knew your intentions for my daughter. It’s not every day a guy comes here to show this much care.”

“And it’s not every day you fall sick,” Cynthia said.

“My dear, I’m sure you don’t understand where I’m going with this. But trust me. Nowadays, it’s rare to see a guy want to be just friends with a girl. I do not want either of my children to fall into wrong hands. Neither you nor your sister. She has gone through a lot already. It would break me if anyone breaks her. I swear I’ll break the bones of anyone who tries to add to her pain.”

“In that case, Mrs. Brown, you don’t have to worry,” Farah said. “My brother here is ready to help you break the bones of anyone who hurts her. Right, Raheem?”

Raheem nodded. Cat got his tongue? I could tell he shared my discomfort. Farah, on the other hand, brimmed with sheer excitement.

“You see,” Farah said. “There’s nothing to worry about.”

“Keep her safe,” my stepmother said to Raheem.

“I will,” he said.

“Guys, come on,” I said. “It’s not like I’m going to a battle field or anything.”

“Sweetheart, I wish you could understand how I feel right now. But you can’t. And I’ll try to explain it to you. Now, our family is finally mended. I want to give you everything you never had. A childhood. Love. Safety. Even your first love—”

“Mum!” I said.

“Raheem’s a fine gentleman,” she said. “I trust he’ll make a good friend. So, I consent.”

Today, mum had given her consent. But to what? My friendship with Raheem, or a relationship with him?

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