“You are a mess!” Amanda roared at Ahmed, leaving me more addled. “I loved you, I gave up everything for you,” she continued, her voice rising with every word. “I did everything just to make you act on the love you claimed you have for me, but nothing worked. You instead went behind me to sleep with my friend.”
I boggled. My lips deserted each other as I gawked at her and then at Ahmed, whose face wriggled in shock. 
“What?” Ahmed shivered, disbelieving what he just heard.
“Don’t act all saintly on me, you know what I am talking about,” Amanda shushed him. “I hate you!” she breathed, with all energy, making me feel the impact of the hate although it was not directed at me.
“What are you talking about Amanda?” confused Ahmed asked, still clutching his cheeks. “Which friend are you talking about?”
“It’s over between us,” she added. “I was a fool to have chosen you over others.
I smiled at her teary eyes, gulping the indirect compliment all down without hesitation.  Then I wondered if she knew I was standing within hearing range. Otherwise I did not see the reason why she would break up tearfully with the guy she dumped me for right before me, while indirectly confessing she would have stuck with me. I coughed, drawing her attention.
She glanced at me, pulled a handkerchief from her handbag and dried her eyes. Then she walked away, silent yet heartbroken.
“Amanda!” Ahmed called, like a defeated child bent on proving his boasted strength to his mates. “Amanda!” she called again as she heeded not to his calls.
He turned to me, with a curious face desperate for explanation. I threw my hands in the sky. I was not going to meddle into something I did not know when and where it started. He took Amada from me; an act I was mad at him for, so I did not think it wise to engage him in any conversation about what I hate him for. But curiosity did not allow me take that walk. If truly Ahmed slept with Amanda’s friend, I’d like to know who that friend was and why he left his supposed girlfriend to sleep with another girl. I was about throwing the question at him when a thought hit my confused brain. The gender of this friend was never revealed. What if the friend was a guy? I grinned, feeling the possibility of that.
“Who is he?” I asked, confident that it was a guy.
“Who is who? Wait, did you say he?” Ahmed charged at me, igniting the strength he could not wield in front of Amanda. “Don’t be ridiculous, nothing happened with anybody, a guy or a lady. In fact I am as shocked as you are,” he added.
“I don’t know if I am supposed to believe that, but I don’t anyway,” I said. “For whatever happened between you and Amanda shouldn’t be any of my business. So off I go,” I phonated and left.
“Common Thony don’t do this,” he said as I walked away. “Thony!” he called as I gave him the same treatment Amanda gave him.
A reasonable distance away from him, I turned. He was talking with a female nurse. I stared for some time, feeling guilty for not stopping when he called. He was a friend, despite all that happened and was still happening. I wanted to go back, talk to him and maybe know what rough patch he might be going through with Amanda. A step towards him, I halted. Ahmed should not know or think that I still have any atom of feelings for him. He should not think that I was still that weakling of years back, that innocent naive kid who has no thought of his own. And why should I even care about the break up or what led to it?  Amanda was my past, and so was Ahmed, although he was yet to come to terms with that truth, and a call from the past was never to be answered. I glanced at him again and our eyes met. He had discharged the nurse and stood staring at me, with an expression which hoped ardently that I return to him. I sighed, reversed and dashed out his sight.
Three days later, Eric was yet to give a situational report on what we planned to do with Ahmed. I returned from the hospital that day feeling upset, confused and sad. My little chat with Hope that day has revealed so many things to me, things stranger than strange; things I did not know how to fix even as I wholeheartedly want to fix them. As I locked the door to my room, the words of Hope hit me like a meteor rock.

“I am trapped,” she had said, followed by a drop of tear. “I want to leave but yet I am not supposed to.”
“How do you mean you are not supposed?” I asked, seeing no reason why somebody as beautiful as she was would want to remain in an abusive relationship because she felt she was not supposed to leave; a feeling I couldn’t understand. “This guy is a monster and from what you told me now, this is not the first time. Do you want to leave him in a body bag?” I queried, knowing how scary that statement.
“I don’t!” she scowled at me. “Nobody wants to die at the prime of his or her age.”
“Well you saying you are not…”
“Same way nobody wants to bite the hand that feeds him,” she cut in.
“Oh!” I inhaled. That has always been on my mind as the reason why she would want to stick to such animal as a lover. “So this is what it’s all about?” I said, more like a statement than a question.
She adjusted her posture on the bed where she lied and glanced at me. I saw pains in her eyes, one not fuelled by the bandaged hand and face but emotional pains engineered by inescapable torture, pain hanging on a hurtful past; a past best understood through experience. Yet behind that pain and sneering face, I saw beautiful young lady who has a bright future and was determined to achieve that future no matter what.
“I am sorry you have to go through all these just to survive.” I dragged my chair towards her bed. “But you should know that you have a choice, no matter how messed up you think you life is. Resigning to such lunatic is never going to see your dreams come through, it would rather terminate your life.”
She stared at me. Tears rolled down her cheeks and she bothered not to clean them up. I didn’t bother too. She needed it. She needed to shed those tears and free her mind of all pains her wrong choice has inflicted on her.
“It’s the living that purses a dream, the dead knows nothing of such nature. If you die in the hands of Idima because you feel he is your alpha and omega, your entire dream will end. And give him just two weeks; he will lay with another naive and scared little girl promising her the whole world. You need to take this one bold and giant step and free yourself from him. No matter what you think you are gaining, you deserve better than abusive relationship. No woman should go through such,” I paused.
It was a long speech, the one I was glad I gave. The tears in her eyes clouded her sight and I could see her struggling to see clearly. I pulled out a white handkerchief from my pocket and dried her eyes.
“I am deeply sorry about this okay?” I said.
She looked at me, grinned and looked away.
“Hope,” I called after some minutes of uncomfortable silence. She turned to me. “Who are you?” I asked.
I know the absurdity of that question, its impromptu nature and how hard it might be for her to understand but I asked it anyway. I felt knowing her more would aid my understanding of what she was going through.
After seconds of severe circumspection, she opened up, telling me everything I needed to know about her life.
Being the first daughter of the family, she was burdened with the responsibility of providing for her two younger siblings after her parents died of a terrible motor accident. After the burial, the uncles bombarded them and took away everything their parents left behind, with a claim that they were too small to be left in charge of such fortune. When she grew up and requested for the return of her father’s assets or the use of those assets to train her and her siblings in school, the uncles simply asked her to find a nice man and marry. It was hilarious yet devastating.
She dropped from school, took series of menial jobs to provide and train her younger sibling in school. After years of impoverished living and hard labour, she registered for WAEC, hoping that one day her knight in shining armour will come and rescue her, and she would return to school to study the course of her choice. Retuning back from her WAEC exams, her boss sacked her, leaving her jobless again. That was when she met Idima.

Episode 42
Idima was the sweetest guy Hope has ever met, or so she thought. As she cried out of her boss’s office that day, with unarranged thoughts of how she would survive and feed her siblings, Idima approached her. And like an angel sent for her cause, he said all the right things she needed to hear at that moment.  He promised to help her and her sibling through school if only she would become her lover. She never wanted to give away her purity to a man not her husband. And as appealing as that proposal sounded, she didn’t take it. She then got home to meet siblings-sent home from school due to their inability to pay school fees. She had that kind of restless night one have when he or she is faced with two decisions that are against everything he or she believes in. The next morning, she went back to Idima and said yes, with a heavy heart. Idima kissed her cheeks, with a joyous heart. He gave her double of the amount needed to send her siblings back to school. She was happy, but sad.
Three years into the relationship, Idima stopped talking about her studies. She didn’t bother him since he was still paying his siblings school fees. But then he started beating her and the first time that happened, she thought it was a joke. He apologized and she accepted. The second time, she cried her eye balls out-remembering her parents and the comfort they lived in. She sighed, and having not much choice, she nodded to another rehearsed and promised filled apology. Then she got a job as a Lab attendant at Idima’s department-with his help of course.
Idima stopped her from associating with male students and would beat her up whenever he sees her with any. Gradually she became the shadow of her physical self while her inner self remained the determined young girl she was. For years she lived with a devil just to make ends meet for her and her siblings. Her youngest sibling would be taking her WAEC that year, and she saw her injury as an opportunity to execute call it quit with him.

I took her hand in mine. “You are a strong woman. And despite everything, I am sure your parents are very proud of you.”
“I don’t think so,” she said. “I sold my body to a man who has no respect for womanhood.”
“But that was for a cause, which you will finally achieve this year. This,” I pointed at her bruises, “Is a ladder to your freedom. It is your opportunity to break free of him and I promise to be with you no matter what.”
“At what cost? Guys don’t love a girl who won’t do anything for them.” She paused. “So what will I be to you this time, a lover or a sex machine?”
I took in a deep breath and glanced at her. I didn’t blame her. Her belief was shaped by her ugly experience. I let loose of my hand from hers. I was going to be very objective in what I wanted to say and would not want to give him any impression to misunderstand me. Being the first official time I would be telling a girl how I feel about her, I needed to be as discreet as possible.
“I will not lie to you Hope, the first time I saw you in the Lab, I felt so complete. And after I mistakenly insulted you, which ended the relationship we barely started, I felt so incomplete-like a vital part of my being was missing. And since then I have come to realize that nothing gives me peace more than your presence.” I paused, and took in air. I could not believe those sweet and romantic words were coming from someone close to me, let alone I myself. I sighed and continued. “I love you, and honestly I would like us to have something more than just friendship, but if you don’t like me to such extent, I will respect your opinion. And that does not mean I will not help you get through these rough patches you are going through now. I will be here for you, no matter what.”
I relaxed. It was like a huge burden was taken off my chest. I breathed in and out, relaxing my muscles and tissues. Why was that hard for me to say? What’s difficult in it that I have sweated over it for so long? I just did it and my manhood did not miss or change position, neither did Hope slap me. What then was I scared of? I looked at her. She was glaring at the wall-an act she started as soon I started speaking. I got nervous, realizing why I found that so hard a task-the silence, the uncertainty and the impossibility of knowing what her mind was thinking. I coughed- a failed attempt to remind her of my presence. Her eyes gazed at the wall.
I stood up as her silence grew longer, making me uncomfortable. “Anyway, just get well first. That is the most important thing now.”
She nodded, still not looking at me.
“I will be going,” I said and made for the door, hoping she would call me back. But she didn’t- she just laid there and watched me leave.
A knock on the door jolted me back to reality. I ran my hands over my eyes, wiping the tears clouded in them. Nothing would lift me like her yes would. I strolled to the door on the second knock. Opened and Eric flashed a smile at me.
He bruised past me into the room “It is done.”
“What?” I asked, locking the door.
“I talked with Ahmed and he fell for it. He will send hundred and fifty thousand to me so I can bring you to his house.”
“Just to bring me to his house, what other things did he say?”
Eric turned his back at me, pretending to be undressing. “Nothing important.”
I stomped towards him. “Eric! What other things did he say? Is he going to drug me? Did he say he wanted to lay with me?”
“We have a plan remember,” he said. “This is the plan- to give him the illusion that I could bring you two together and get money from him. This is it.”
“So I am not going to his house?”
“That would have been the case, but he said he has to see you in the house first before he could make the payment.”
“I am not going to his house, you know that right?”
“Then what about the money?”
“Forget it, I am not interested anymore.”
“I said I am not interested anymore. I was never interested in the money. I only wanted to teach him a lesson, which obviously isn’t working. Go back to him and tell him you can’t be able to do as you promised.”
“Thony this is supposed to be an act. You act like you are interested; I act like I am with him. He pays the money, and we swap sides. Scam. That is what this is.” 
Money really wasn’t my catch. Ahmed has disturbed me to the level of being taught a lesson. And if that would teach him the lesson that I so much wanted, then I would be willing to take that chance.
“Once,” I said. “This once and we end this.”
“Fine!” he smiled and made to hug him.
I hushed him. “Not again.”
He mellowed, like a child disappointed by parent’s acts.
“I told Hope that I love her,”
“Wow! That’s great man! What did she say?”
“Nothing. She was just staring at the wall and when I stood to leave, she only nodded, still staring at the wall.”
“Oh!” Eric was disappointed. He strode closer to me and patted my shoulder. “She will come around. You know she is passing through rough patch right now, so just give her time.”
I inhaled and exhaled deeply. “Idima is going to be huge obstacle.”
“Every guy fights off another guy to win the heart of any beautiful girl. I believe you can do it.”
“I don’t know. The way I am seeing that guy, he looks like a…”
“A cultist? Common, he is just as huge as the problem he is. If he is, does he know if you are?” He took my hands. “We are four in this house and it is enough members to form a fraternity. So just relax. We will relate the situation to other and I believe they will help fight the case.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, we are just two. Just the two of us.” I pulled away. “Ken and Frank are withdrawn because they think we are hiding something from them. I don’t know how long this is going to go on but trust me; I don’t want us to part ways bearing grudges for each other.”
He pressed my hands softly. “We will not. Ken and Frank are doing what anyone would do in their shoes. But don’t worry, I will tell them everything and with that, we will win back their hearts and solidarity.”
“What?!” I yelled.
“You might want to start the telling right now,” Frank said as he barged into the room.

….the story continues…


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