The bar was cosy. And we were happy. Each of us has before us our favourite drink. No one was ashamed to drink his soft drink, or his beer or the bottled water Hope for whatever reason decided to take.
Ken was busy making series of jokes about the way I swooped from Idima’s beating. It was funny, at the same time hurting. But I chose the former. Happiness and laughter were all I could dish out to the world after everything I passed through. My hand wrapped in Hope’s, I smiled into her eyes. She reciprocated and sipped water from the glass.
“Stop feeling like you are taking a beer. Drink that from the bottle, please.” Frank said.
She giggled, making some drops of water drip from her mouth. I pulled out a white handkerchief from my breast pocket and wiped it. “If you laugh at Frank’s utterances the way they sound, you might get choked.”
She smiled and took the handkerchief from my hand. “This is my own beer, Frank. I can get drunk from it just as you can from the content of that green bottle.”
Laughter ensued and metamorphosed into a deadly and uncomfortable silence. With a slight smirk, I glanced at my three best friends – the people that made hell and heaven out of my stay in school. I watched Eric take a sip from his glass and I smiled. He earlier promised to keep fighting his bad side and I know he would win. Our eyes met and I smiled.
Then I glanced at Frank. The picture of the impromptu hug he gave me in the morning reeled before me. He was finally free to associate with me, not minding my sexuality. Although I am yet to figure out if his trust was based on our friendship or the fact that a girl was sitting next to me.
Then I shifted to Ken- the repented cultist who went back to his past just to save me. I looked into his eyes and all I could see was how much of a good father he would make. He was caring, despite the rough skin he put up at times, making us think he didn’t care.
I sighed. Nothing else was in my heart except love for them.
I felt a little squeeze on my hand and my drifting mind returned. I looked at Hope.
“What are you thinking?
“Nothing sweetheart.” I kissed her hand. “I hope you left nothing out.”
Her hand slipped from mine. Her eyes dimmed and her lips coiled into her mouth. She looked away, gloomy.
“Hey, what is it?”
She shook her head.
“I told you, I will take care of them if it’s your siblings.” I took her hand. “They are going to boarding school, so they won’t feel your absence. This is for your own good and like I said, my parents are the nicest people on this earth and since you are coming from me, they are going to treat you like a golden egg.”
She scoffed. Her face twitched like she wanted to smile, but her heart wasn’t yet ready for it.
“They don’t know me,” she said.
I dragged her up. “Excuse me, guys,” I said, leading her out of my friends’ peering and confusing eyes. A few steps away from the table, I held her arms firmly, my eyes locked right into hers. “They know me, and if I find you worthy, they will find you worthy.”
“Your mum, she sounds nice on the phone and your dad too. I think they are nice but…”
“Stop the ‘but’ canticle, please. You can’t stay here. You need to leave this place to recollect your mind, please. Once your siblings vacate, you can come back for them.”
She nodded- a faint nod.
“Don’t worry, everything will be fine,” I said and hugged her.
As we returned to the table, we met only one vacant seat. A girl was sitting beside Frank. I and Hope exchanged a confusing glance trying to figure out who it was. I pulled out the chair for Hope to sit, but she instead screamed and leapt across to hug the new lady.
“The one and only,” Uju said, ecstatic.
They both glued to each other for five seconds before Hope drew her long hair for not telling her of the new development.
“We wanted to surprise you all.” She said.
I glanced at Frank. His chins are pushed back, revealing his white teeth. I smiled. I made to pull a chair for myself, but Ken stopped me.
“One more glass and someone would not be able to walk home.” He stood up. “I will meet you guys at home. 10. Pm, and I will lock the door.”
“Yes, sir,” Frank said.
We all exchanged a cheerful handshake and he left.
“I think I should go too,” Eric said.
“Common, sit down,” I said. “Barman! More drinks, please. Uju, what would you have?”
“A bottle of water, please.”
Eric relaxed, for a moment before busying himself with his phone.
“Maybe you should call Joy,” Frank said.
“What Joy?” We both exclaimed.
“He hates me, I know that,” Eric said.
Frank laughed. “If I hate you, I would have called Ahmed.”
Ahmed! The name ruffled my peace like a baby antelope that saw two fierce lions. I sighed. My breath increased and my eyes fluttered. I couldn’t believe three weeks have gone and I haven’t thought about him. The fact that I didn’t even know, or ask anything about him was more baffling.
“That reminds me, where is he?”
I boggled. My heart skipped. “What!”
“He was caught, you know, caught,” Eric said, his eyes flashing at Hope and Uju who were engrossed in their personal discussion. “And I heard he is being charged to court.”
“I hear he is going to serve fourteen years, is that right?” Frank asked.
We brought our heads together. And our voices reduced to whisper.
“Who was he caught with?”
“A three hundred level medical student. A nurse walked in on them in his office, pants down.” Eric said. “He doesn’t have any shame.”
“Wait, how did he find this guy? I know Ahmed; he is always secretive about this. So how did he find the guy?”
Eric and Frank withdrew their head. I glanced at them, confused. They avoided my stare. “What is it?”
Frank looked at Eric- he shook his head. Frank shrugged.
“Tell me, what is it?”
“We set him up.”
“The guy has been tormenting my life.” Eric bent his head towards me. “So I went to Ahmed’s office weeks back and sent a message to him with Ahmed’s phone telling him how much he loves him and stuff. I booked an appointment and the guy accepted.”
“Oh God! What did you do?”
“I fixed our problem for good. I actually didn’t want them to get caught. All I wanted was give him a distraction to allow us to focus on our exams and graduate peace. But their carelessness got them caught.”
“Common Thony.” Frank drew closer. “This is good. Whatever happened to him is not your fault. You owe him nothing. You have got the life you so much wanted and your biggest threat is off the way. You should be happy.”
I sighed. I should be happy, yes, but for some reason, I couldn’t explain, I wasn’t. Something deep within me felt like I have betrayed a friend. I knew Ahmed was bad, but I didn’t want him to end that way. I inhaled, looked at Hope and her beauty reassured me that I really owed Ahmed nothing. I turned at my friends and smiled. “You should have told me, but thank you.”
“You are welcome.”
“I think we should go. Hope is travelling tomorrow and she needs to sleep early.”
“Yeah, and we wouldn’t want to get locked outside by our dad,” Eric said and we all laughed.
Frank tapped Uju and I helped Hope up. We all headed towards the exit door, happy, fulfilled and glad. I might not have gotten my certificate yet, but I felt like I have gotten something closer to the certificate.
Steps closer to the door, I saw Amanda and her clique coming in. Her vibrant laugh attracted me and our eyes met. I quickly wrapped my hands around Hope’s waist and as she turned to look at me, I locked my lips with hers. We kissed for some seconds before I let go of her soft lips. She glanced at me, shocked.
“I love you,” I said.
“I love you too.” She held my hand and we walked out of the door.
“You crushed her,” Frank said right into my ears.
I looked back. She was there, right on the entrance door frozen and gazing into the space. I smirked and adjusted Hope’s hand round my waist. It was tight, warm and full of hope- the hope that I have long searched for, the hope that kept me going even when it seemed like everything has ended, the hope with which I would fight every bit of sexual negativity in my life. I knew I would make it. I knew I would survive it. I knew I would one day sit my kids down, and with every bit of honesty tell them that I came, I saw, and I conquered.
I thank everyone that read, liked and commented on this series. You guys are my motivation. I really appreciate the time you gave to read my stories, and for the silent readers, please don’t stop reading, I will not stop writing. But once in while, hit the like button, it means a lot to me. Thank you all.
***Watch out for the next series. It’s going to be thrilling.