Story: Letting Go By Rachel Rick
I kept my eyes on the board, unseeing. My sight distorted and void with smeared colors representing the features of my environment. I could not see. Not because I was blind but because there were tears in my eyes.
Mr Uchenna’s voice was loud, his baritone so deep I feared it resonated in the wooden desk on which I sat. He was shouting and gesticulating, a distorted towering figure next to the board. I could not make out his features because I was unseeing. I could not hear what he taught because I was unhearing, not listening.
My big head was cocked to my left and my small ears craned to sift out the soft conversation going on behind me. I couldn’t hear what the love birds behind me were saying but I could only hear his words.
“I love you, Ima.” He whispered, not once or twice but thrice.
My heart expanded painfully in my chest and I struggled to keep the tears from rolling down the sides of my face. Why was I crying? I wondered. What did I expect? He would never look upon a big-headed oaf like me! He was the tallest and most intelligent of them all and she was the prettiest and flashiest of them all, while I was the big headed girl that wore uniforms meant for someone three times my size. The perfect stereotype.
But I always brought him akara and groundnuts during lunch. I would always find him under the mango tree waiting. He would beam with delight when he saw me coming and I would feel my inside tangle into knots. I always gave him all I had managed to nip from the kitchen and he would always garble them up before giving me a pleasant smile.
That smile. How it did wonders for me.
It all of a sudden made my big head feel much lighter and nothing else would matter in that moment.
“You are an angel, Edima.” He would chide me before running off to play with his friends and I would remain there watching after him, dreaming in daylight. He called me angel. It made me feel like I had wings, perhaps I could also fly.
“Meet me later…” He whispered again and I arched my head backwards, fervent with hopes of catching more of their conversation, but I couldn’t. I strained my neck further.
“Yes? Edima, the giraffe.” The words boomed from the front of the class and tore through me. I froze, neck-craned and head cocked. All my classmates spun in my direction, catching me in that signature position. The heat rose to my face as a wave of giggles swept through the class. I impulsively swiped at my face, cleaning the tears and clearing my vision.
“Yes?” Mr Uchenna snapped again, standing akimbo, brows furrowed and lips puckering in disdain. His beady eyes bulged, pointing at me like guns. I wanted to shrink into dust.
“Don’t make me come over there! Come here now!” He snapped with the stomp of his feet, gesturing to a spot next to him, in front of the class.
I slowly lifted myself from seat, head hung and eyes on the floor, ignoring the snickering all around me.
“Big head.” Someone whispered.
“Four cornered head.” Another teased.
The tears came again and this time I could not keep them from pouring. They were running down my face before I could stop myself. I clasped my hands to my face.
“Just look at that. You don’t know the answers and you are crying already. Turn round and face your mates, so they can see your face.” He snapped.
I could not see him but I knew he would be waving his cane dangerously, directing me with the lean and thorny terror. I choked on sobs as I complied, turning to face the rest of the room.
“Drop your hands! I want them to see your face!” Mr Uchenna snapped and I obeyed, letting my oddly small limbs drop limply at my sides. Eager faces were beaming up at me, mocking and teasing, some were mimicking…
And Akpan… My Akpan was laughing. My eyes held his and he smiled back in my face. That same smile. The smile under the mango tree. The smile I had thought embodied mutual affection and care. That same smile now faced me, revealing its true self. It was a smile of pity. He knew! He knew how I felt! He knew I would steal all Mama’s savings if only he said the word! He knew he had me wrapped around his finger! He knew!
I watched in dumb horror as he leaned in and whispered something to his newfound friend, Ima, the flashiest and prettiest of them all. She squealed as he said what he said to her and she looked up at me instantly. I saw it register in her eyes. She now knew too! She turned to whisper to her friends and I watched in horror as my little secret spread like wild fire throughout the rest of the class.
“What do we say?” Mr Uchenna snapped!
“SHAME!” The whole class screeched; Ima, Akpan and the rest of them.
“You can sit back down, Edima.” Mr. Uchenna snapped.
He sat there alone next to the window in the café, before a cup of simmering coffee. The rich blend of caffeine ad cream wafted from his cup, stilling his nerves. He had been listening to her scream on the phone. She always screamed about everything and always demanded money like he owed her.
He hung up before she could finish and set the phone down beside his cup, staring at the screen. He could not marry this woman. She would be the death of everything he had worked so hard for. She already managed to drain two of his three bank accounts but yet, that was not good enough for her.
Where did it all go wrong and how did he manage to attract only the same type of women? His phone buzzed on the table and he glanced at the caller ID. It was Ima again. If he picked that call, she would go off on a tirade, calling him names for hanging up on her, before calming down and trying to apologize. He picked up the cell phone…and switched it off.
He had to do away with this woman. He had to get out of her snare and leave her behind in the dust, but how? He wondered. He already worked for her father, an Ex governor who had pulled major strings to get him in the political game. Leaving this woman could be the end of his political career. A career that was still in infancy.
He set the phone back down and sniffed in irritation, suddenly feeling hopeless and beyond help. His parents and her parents had already begun to pressure him into marrying her. How could he thwart their efforts, especially after so long enduring this abusive alliance? He sighed and let his eyes wander through the room, seeing but not noting the other customers enjoying their morning Tea.
Then he saw her. He paused and let his eyes linger. She was sitting there by another window, eyes closed and thoughts adrift. Her face struck him immediately but his eyes would not believe it. Her head, she had grown into its size and her limbs had grown as well. Her once chubby cheeks had leaned down and taken form into an oval face. Her nose which had oddly been small when she was younger, fit just right above red supple lips and her brows arched perfectly over cat eyes. And her skin was a marvel! Outside, the sun had just begun to rise and it case a golden glade over her skin, making it look gold brown.
His breath hitched and an impulse shot through him, causing him to shout before he could stop himself. “Edima!” He screeched like a wounded animal, drawing the attention of everyone in the room and the heat rose to his face.
Her eyes fluttered open and they stared in his direction for a moment. It felt like every other thing paused in that instant as she observed him. He could see the wheels in her head turning, racking to recall his face. She had forgotten about him? His inner man was shocked. He had thought… He had thought she had crush on him back in Secondary School.
“Akpan?” She raised a brow dismissively, like recalling an unpleasant memory. His ego waned and his inner man cautioned. Perhaps he should abort this mission and save himself the embarrassment… But he couldn’t. His heart rocked hard in his chest. He rose from his seat and took quick steps towards her.
“Do you remember me?” He quipped excitedly as he settled down into a vacant seat opposite her.
“Yes.” She said simply. “You look different.”
“And so do you!” He gasped. “You look so good!” He was just a few inches from her now and she was glorious upfront. He was taken aback at her transformation.
“You look…well, you look you.” She smiled faintly.
“I know, I look rough.” He felt a wave of embarrassment wash over him.
He had dragged himself out of bed and out of his two bedroom apartment to get away from Ima. This café was just a few blocks from his home, a silent retreat where he could ponder on his life. He had not combed and had just pulled on a rumpled shirt and some slacks…Where was she!
She was stunning in a white crop top and a pencil skirt with suave stilettos. It was like she just prepared to head off to work.
“You look like you work at some corporate organization. Where’s that?” He beamed, head cocked, neck straining.
“I’m the public affairs manager at an ICT company. I work at Futurenet.” She stated, unmoved, her face placid and conveying no emotion.
“Futurenet?” He mouthed the name in shock. It was a stunning complex a few blocks from his home. He could not believe his ears. “Are you kidding me? That mega complex down the street is where you work?”
She nodded with a stiff smile.
“Impressive!” He beamed.
Her smart watch beeped and she glanced down at her wrist. “I have to go now, Akpan but it was nice seeing you. You look well.” She flashed a half smile as she rose abruptly.
He rose also, his legs functioning of their own accord. He wondered if he bothered her and wished he had listened to his inner man.
“Oh, that’s fine. Maybe I can get your number? I can call you later, we can hang out and reconnect you know.” He urged, feeling his heart pause for her answer.
“I don’t have my phone on me, Akpan. I only stop here to think and enjoy a rich cup of coffee. I don’t like distractions.” She said confirming his fears that he had bugged her.
“Okay well, can I take yours? I have my phone with me…” He stuffed his hands into his pockets, rummaging for his cellphone and frowned when he found his pockets empty.
“I really have to go.” She reminded with a curt smile.
“One second.” He quipped, turning on his heel, recalling he had abandoned his phone and coffee on his previous table. He took hurried steps back, stopping by his table. The sight that met him left him in shock. His coffee sat there alone but his phone was gone. He blinked, unsure and unable to react. He reached into his pockets again, brows furrowed and nose itching in irritation. He looked around at the other customers enjoying their orders. They seemed oblivious to him or his predicament.
The doorbell dinged, snapping him back to his senses and he turned to apologize to Edima.
…She was gone…
To be continued