A prelude to this post is a question, one that should have a place in the list of the importants:
How Do We Handle The Things That Really Matter?
An account will suffice.
• • •
It was a very hot day. In that part of the country at that season, upsetting heat trails the morning within the first few hours. The sun shone with such vigour one would easily conclude it was on an insidious mission to melt till all flows like magma.
Laura was partially not in a better situation herself. Curled on her bed, she was fully immersed in her phone with an earpiece plugged in her ear, relishing the cool ambience of the room which contrasts the harsh weather. Most importantly, she was doing her best to neglect John who has been in the room with her for a while. John stared continuously in her direction as though he wanted an audience.
“I’m so clueless about what I’ve done right now, but I know something isn’t right. I’m sorry. Talk to me.”
John broke the silence, saying each word in the manner of a characteristic sincere apology. He moved towards her in a bid to hold her and have her attention.
She shot him a quick scornful look, dropped her phone and sat upright before he could get to her very immediate space.
“You actually don’t know what you did?”
She hurled at him with all seriousness. A reply wasn’t exactly expected, the stern expression hanging on her face was enough to cauterize any potential comment.
John was transfixed, pondering on what to say and carefully screening the words forming in his mind. It would be a disaster to say anything wrong at that moment as she was glaringly bent on exploding at the slightest provocation.
He had known her for almost a year. Service year did the matching and they bonded quickly as though there were some unseen forces in charge. It was during one of the activities in her place of assignment where she was a spokesperson that he realised things would go beyond the ordinary between them.
Laura to him is someone with qualities that could fetch her the title of Margaret Thatcher without being accused of passing off. She’s smart, and tough when she chooses to. Added to these are her intelligence, eloquence, and a flair for knowing at least a little about everything. Above all are her physical appealing traits: moderate height, slightly thick attractive built, a beautiful face adorned by piercing clear eyes, solid fitting nose, and mouth whose well carved lips move gracefully and effortlessly whenever they give way for her titillating voice.
His mind-flash took some seconds. A few months into their closeness things were different. He enjoyed her flammable fury in the heat of any argument then, especially her facial contortions and dramatic modulating tones. Often times he would tease her on it and the effect would expedite a resolution. Now, she flares for anything and everything.
“You really don’t know, or you’re pretending you don’t?”
She added. His confusion escalated. What could he have done?
“Seriously I don’t. You can’t be lying about it . . . and I’m sorry. Please tell me.”
She crossed her legs like she was about to start a yoga session and then unplugged the piece. She wasn’t listening to anything, she only shoved it into her ear when John came in to pass a message across. A message he perfectly understood.
“Okay. I’ll tell you.”
John was now on the bed with her, though not as close as he wanted.
“Seriously John, I don’t like the way you behave in recent times. You’re too cold, distant, and insensitive! You don’t recognise simple cues even when they’re almost glaring. You just. . .”
She paused to adjust herself and then continued.
“You just act as though we only met yesterday without the idea of my looks, expressions or behaviour when I’m sick or down. Who does that?!”
John stood flumoxed. Where could all these be coming from? What exactly has he done? In the midst of his bewilderment a whiff of idea struck him. Could this be a carry-forward of the light conversation they had when he was with her the other night? He pondered.
Their relationship was what they defined as friendship, even though their discussions, plays, visits—including late night types—and other indicators somehow suggested a mutual affection, love perhaps, or something very close. Whatever it was, it pleased them both.
Two nights back he had gone to spend time with her as he frequently does. Right from the door he knew something was out of place as her particular recumbent position and grim look presaged that she was not of sound health typical of her. He lay by her side and held her. The slightly elevated temperature of her body corroborated what he had surmised.
He had asked her if she was okay and she had replied that nothing was wrong. He decided not to bother her with much questions as it could really be one of her I’m-sometimes-like-that moments. In times like such he would make fun of her or ask if she was having her monthly cycle thing, but he dropped the idea. Laura is somehow different of late and he had no idea why. He was not going to raise that and compound issues, at least not at that moment.
Later that night, he had returned to his apartment guiltless. The day that followed was a very hectic one for him; he had no time for his phone let alone the chance to call his best friend. It wasn’t well charged so he switched it off. Regardless of the situation, he didn’t stop thinking about her. He couldn’t.
He was very fagged out when he got home late in the night and his phone had totally ran out of charge. He rushed to his neighbour to get it charged hoping he’ll get it back later that night and call Laura, but he slept off as soon as he touched down. It was in the morning that he realised what had happened and then made his way to her place; that very morning she accused him of being insensitive.
John was sure that was the cause of the fracas and he attempted to give some explanations.
“But. . . but I asked you what was wrong and you told me you’re fine.” He stuttered.
She was infuriated by what he said. He had just ignited a dynamite.
“So you were waiting for me to tell you everything? In fact, I’ll lie dead and you’ll still ask me if I’m breathing! Do you have any idea what I went through yesterday? Do you know I was in the hospital yesterday? Do you know how much I wanted you around?
John was shocked when she mentioned the hospital.
Before he could say another word she interjected.
“Yes! I was so sick yesterday I was taken to the hospital by someone I barely knew. You weren’t there when I needed you the most.”
There was no point arguing. He should have tried harder to reach her regardless of his busy schedule. He needed to calm her down to the point where she’d listen to whatever explanation he would give.
“I’m sorry I didn’t call or come around yesterday. It wasn’t deliberate, and if you’ll let me I’ll explain everything.”
Somehow, his just concluded speech worsened the situation. He knew it wasn’t the present situation alone that was bugging her, but it was definitely the trigger.
“Oh! You’d like to give me a rundown of why you neglected me. . . why you never cared about me, right?”
A brief pause followed her question, but she didn’t wait long enough for a reply before she continued.
“This shows how much I mean to you Jo. Perhaps I should have a little time to myself to think things over.”
She said this and retired to her bed, fitting in the earpiece once more, an expression that suggested that he should leave. He didn’t believe what just happened and he was sure it was neither a dream nor a trance. He had never seen her boil that much before; a fact that made him wonder what had really changed in her.
Asking for the reason behind her over-reaction wasn’t as important as obeying her. It was time for him to leave as she had implied. John left the room, gently closing the door behind him. The rest of the day didn’t go as planned but he was optimistic. Laura would come around soon, she only need enough time to simmer down. That, he believed.
Hours later, he called her but she didn’t pick the calls. She didn’t reply his pings either. He had planned to tell her when he visited her that he might quickly travel the next day for a quick drop, but the tirade that ensued got in the way.
The incommunicado continued to the following day. He would only stay for a day in Lagos and return the next day, but the travelling had ceased to interest him. The thought of staying and cancelling the journey coursed his mind but he had no incentive to sit idle, especially then that Laura was standing aloof.
John decided to check on her once more when he couldn’t bear it any longer. Her door was locked from the inside. He knocked and called her name but there was no response. She must have heard his voice and turned a deaf ear.
He was disturbed. Why would she just blow such a trivial matter out of proportion? After all, he had apologised. He knew he was almost at his breaking point so he stopped knocking, sent her a long text, and then left.
John’s theory was right; all the while Laura was in the room. From his voice she knew he was the one at the door but she kept still, even though she wanted to drop the act and allow a reconciliation. A part of her knew she had gone too far but another urged her on and justified her acts. Her fury had subsided and morphed into a kind of game. She was enjoying it.
Her phone beeped and she guessed it was a message from him. She unlocked the device and confirmed it, but she didn’t open it to see the content. Instead, she indulged in a dramatic soliloquy.
“Sweetheart, I knew it was you. You like me so much yeah, and I do too. . . but I’d like to put this up a lil’ bit more.”
John hurried so he won’t miss the bus—the only available one. The town is small and sparsely populated; buses don’t frequent it. Only a bus driven by the renowned Sir Tafari shuttles the place and Lagos everyday except for Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Apart from his legendary hot temper and fuse-blowing grammar, his bus’ “AK 419 AAA” plate number helped his popularity.
* * * * *
Bad news travels very quickly, but this moved faster than Sir Tafari’s speedy bus itself. Before dusk the news had spread like wildfire: a bus from the town bound for Lagos was involved in an accident and all the passengers, save the driver and two ladies, died. Tafa’s very own bus.
* * * * *
For many reasons the day was boring for Laura, John’s silence being the major. She had expected him to call or ping her but he didn’t. She took to twitter and went through her timeline. She was shocked at the sight of the tweets of the accident through the newspaper accounts she was following. A momentary sadness took over her, first for the lost souls, and then for the possible familiarity of the victims. The small message icon at the top corner of her phone reminded her of John’s text she had neglected. She opened it.
“Why are you blocking me out? Is a chance to talk to you too much to ask? I was at your door, I know you’re in… apparently what we have isn’t so important to you. Leaving for Lag right now. I’m sorry for everything. Bye Laura”
She jumped up and read the message again, trying not to believe her eyes.
“John. . . travelled to Lagos?!”
In a flash she connected the dots.
“If Jo truly travelled then he definitely left in that bus, and. . .”
She paused, stupefied by the ugly realisation. She felt dizzy and totally speechless, hoping she’ll wake up from the dream.
A loud scream seemed imminent but she held it back, whimpering instead. The iron lady in her dominated.
“What if Jo didn’t travel eventually?”
That was a possibility she totally welcomed. Her phone let out a round of repeated beeps as she anxiously dialled his number from memory. He was unavailable but she kept re-dialling. Totally unsettled, she left her room and rushed—half jogging half sprinting—to his place, praying she will be right and meet him there.
The mumbles and joy-starved faces of John’s neighbours, best pal and other persons at his frontage were enough to tell her everything. Apparently, they’ve heard the news too. Her whole body failed her. She collapsed.
* * * * *
Bright white light from the bulb flooded her eyes and she quickly closed them. She was still dizzy but she tried again irrespective of the burning sensation, this time gently. She could faintly hear someone saying “. . . I walked him to the bus myself.” The blurred image of a figure in white and a stethoscope around the neck, humid ambience, and a whiff of disinfectant hinted her of her location.
Following her collapse she had been rushed to the hospital. She burst into tears as soon as she remembered John and what had happened. She lamented and blamed herself for everything: for treating him badly with her hyperactive nagging; for driving him away when she actually wanted the opposite; for calling him a kettle when she had been nothing but the hypocritical pot; for bottling up her love even when he’d expressly told her of his feelings. The text came to fore once more. John was right, she didn’t value what they had. She wished for another chance but it was too late.
Early the following morning she was discharged. John’s pal was with her all the time. Despite his efforts to ameliorate her state she didn’t yield. She only sobbed the more, talking of her faults and how she locked John out when she could’ve just let him in. She later gathered that his house mate Kelvin walked him to Tafa’s bus, and that she was a major reason why he didn’t cancel his travelling despite his scepticism.
Before noon various plans were already under way to contact his family and make other necessary arrangements. Laura was still in her unhappy state, battling with the fact that she’ll have to address him with “was” thence. Memories of him flooded her thoughts: his looks, talks, humour, dramatic episodes, and myriads of others. Rivulets of hot tears coursed ceaselessly on her cheeks.
Clouded by her gloomy state she lay on her bed, alone in the room, physically present but really away. She was oblivious of a persistent soft knock on the door. It wasn’t locked so the person behind it pushed the door open and stayed in some inches away from the entrance. A few seconds passed before she noticed and looked in the direction. She couldn’t believe what she saw as the figure turned to be him. It was Ayodele John! Her beloved has returned from the dead.
Seeing a supposed dead person standing should be shocking, but what she felt was different—a potpourri of fear, disbelief, relief and immense joy. She was at first immobile, perhaps processing what to do to the doppelgänger, then she rushed at him and hugged him like he would disappear if she didn’t, screaming all the way.
True, Kelvin saw him entering the bus, a host of other events that followed eluded him as he turned his back.
A day earlier . . .
John and Kelvin discussed Laura as they walked towards the spot where Tafa One always load. John was disturbed by the ongoing stiff tiff but Kelvin encouraged him to give it time.
“They can be deliberately fish-brained sometimes; one needs the patience of a fisherman”, Kelvin joked, and they had a satisfying laugh. Kelvin watched him climb into the front seat after their ritualistic handshake before he rushed to the market immediately so he could meet the monopolistic meat seller of the town; a very capricious meat-brained man.
While in the bus, John noticed a familiar car moving in his direction which turned out to be Mr Kingsley’s. He works in the town but has his family in Ibadan so he travels often. John wasn’t ready for Tafa’s fresh round of vituperations for a fleeing passenger so he noiselessly left the bus and waved down Mr Kingsley who was indeed travelling home. He would follow him to Ibadan and join a bus from there to Lagos.
Fate withheld its smile on the journey when they were crossed by heavily armed robbers on getting to the outskirt of their destination. In addition to some quick slaps and guns pointing at their faces, they dispossessed them of the car and their phones and then stranded them. He could hear Tafa’s voice in his head saying something like “Mumu, God don catch you o. Oya sneak away again nah, idiotic Indian ponmon!” He felt bad and thought himself a bad luck, but he would later realise Mr Kingsley was actually his goodluck. They got help and began the runnings at the police station to report the incident and get help.
Some few minutes into the evening the car was found. The robbers only used it for an operation and ditched it thereafter, leaving the key intact in the ignition and the doors opened.
Totally discouraged by way the events of the day had unfolded, he resolved in himself and took the first bus back the following morning, discontinuing his journey to Lagos. On his way back he found out about the accident and there, he knew the likely situation of things ahead. He rushed to Laura’s place the moment he arrived and met her deep in thoughts while he knocked.
* * *
John didn’t die, he only felt death at a rather too close range. Laura had her second chance, and she utilized it well. They both did.
Allowing issues of trivial significance come in the way of important things is tantamount to practically sacrificing long-term benefits for short-term satisfaction; a proverbial terrible mistake. The importants—friendship, relationship, family ties, etc.—should be of much value than the quick emotional outbursts. Preserve the precious and it will serve you well.
I digress. Life is too short to hide feelings, wait too long for a perfect time, or play emotional hide and seek games. The archaic hard-to-get prank I personally abhor. You should too. It’s 21st century people!
Sometimes it will be sweet, other times it won’t. Regardless of the twist, never be affected or carried away to rank the momentary events over priceless things.
Live. Love. Learn.