Uchenna took a sip from the tumbler in his grip. He shut his eyes as the chilled orange juice traveled down his dry throat. It had been a long day at work, and Holland’s summer had him feeling clammy all afternoon.
He slid further into the couch, enjoying the refreshing feeling of the drink when the ringing of his phone forced his eyes open.
He reached out and snatched the cellphone from the table before him.
“Nigerian number” he muttered, frowning at the unknown caller. “I have to stop picking these calls. Who could it be this time?”. He wondered.
The number appeared familiar. He felt like he had seen it before. “Hello?” He answered, speaking into the handset.
There was no response at the other end. He glanced at the screen, the call was still on, he returned the phone to his ear, “Hello?.” He was beginning to get angry at the caller’s refusal to speak. He decided to hang up, when she said, “Hello”
That voice, a blast from his past.
“Am I speaking to Uche?”
He had thought he would never hear her voice again.
“Hi Pearl” he responded dryly.
” Wow!” She gasped, obviously shocked. “You still have my number…”
“No, I don’t. I’m just good at remembering numbers and voices. Can I help you?”
“Ah, ahn! Are you still mad at me even after all this time? Can’t you forgive and forget?”
Uchenna scoffed at her mention of the word forgiveness. “Pearl, I swear to you on our children whom you killed, I am not mad at you. I don’t give a shit!”
She said nothing.
Seconds ticked by and the sounds of her sobbing softly began to reach his ear.
“Why would you say that to me?” She cried. “You have a very wicked heart”
See me see wahala. This woman should just leave me in peace.
“Are you there?” she inquired.
“But you are not saying anything”
“Madam, you called. I really don’t have much to say. I said everything I had to say to you at Ogharra.”
Ogharra, the memories of that hot Wednesday afternoon in Benin City came rushing back into his mind.
He had returned from work that fateful day to find Pearl’s items missing from the apartment they both shared.
Fear gripped his heart. He searched the entire house, not one of her belongings was left, it was gone – all of it, and so was she.
“Labanj!” He uttered in realization. He had anticipated this day would come ever since that name became a part of their lives, he just didn’t expect it would be this soon, nor that it would happen.
His heart began to beat erratically.
He pulled out his Nokia cellphone from the back pocket of his black jeans and frantically dialed her number.
It rang, she didn’t pick up.
He called again, no response.
He tried one more time and it went into voicemail.
She blocked me.
He looked up at the clock on his wall – the time read 4:pm.
The distance from sapele road to ogharra was 45 mins. Her closing time was 5 p.m. If he left immediately, he could meet her at the gate – at least.
Satisfied with his calculation, he dashed out of the apartment.
He hailed down an okada rider and mounted the bike, directing him to take him to Sapele road bus park.
They arrived at the station and he was the last passenger. Feeling thankful, he got into the bus and it took off.
As the bus wheeled shakily through the dusty untiled road, Uchenna thought about how his world was coming to an end. Prickles of sweat swam down his worried face, his forehead stayed creased in a frown, lips curled downwards in sadness, against his palm.
“Oga, pay your money naa” The conductor’s voice jolted him out of his thoughts.
He looked around and noticed they were approaching Ogharra.
When did we get here? He wondered within.
He dipped his hand into his side pocket and withdrew a One thousand naira note, he offered it to the conductor who received it with a disapproving frown.
“Oga, I no get change for One taasand” he complained in his thick local accent.
“Keep the change,” Uchenna said, leaping out of the bus into the crowded park. He couldn’t be bothered with haggling over his change, not now, not today.
He hailed down a bike rider
“Okada, you sabi celtel office?.” he yelled over the noise in the park.
“Yes, na 200.” The bike man said, sensing Uchenna’s hurry. The distance usually cost fifty naira but he had to take advantage of the desperate looking man.
“Make we go”. Uchenna obliged, quickly jumping unto the bike.
As the bike sped off, he wondered what he would say to Pearl. He hadn’t thought about that up until that moment.
The bike soon came to a halt at the imposing office structure and It registered in Uchenna’s mind that it had taken them less than five minutes to get there. He briefly wondered if the two hundred naira was worth it. Brushing away the thought, he paid the bike man off and stood by the gate.
He dialed her number but it went into voicemail.
Then he saw her, walking out of the gate with three of her colleagues. She looked ravishingly beautiful as always, laughing without a care in the world.
Uchenna wondered how she could be laughing so heartily when his world was in shambles.
“Pearl!”. He called out to her, taking a limp forward.
She turned around and saw him. Her face turned to nothingness – not a smile, not a surprise.
“Abeg, give me five minutes. I dey come.” Uchenna overheard her say to her colleagues before walking to stand before him.
“What do you want?” she hissed, dripping of venom.
Uchenna gaped. This was the woman he had fought his mother over, the woman he had carried over courses for, the woman who had told him that their aborted babies will judge him if he ever left her.
He had found out she was cheating and tried to end their relationship, but she wouldn’t have any of it, yet there she stood, leaving him.
As the sun rays shown over her face, he couldn’t believe she was the same woman he had given seven years of his life to.
He choked back on his tears. “Pearl, why are you doing this?”
“Uchenna see, I have moved on. I need to find myself. I don’t think you are the one for me. Go and meet those Lagos girls who want you”. She retorted.
“Pearl please! I have never wanted anyone but you. Is this because of Labanj? How can you leave me for a guy you met two weeks ago? I got you this job. Did I make a mistake?” Uchenna was incredulous.
“Uche, if you want me to refund you, I will. I am just done with you and your controlling personality. I need freedom. Ah ah! You want me home before 10 p.m. I can’t even hang out with my friends or go to the club or anything. Its just church, home, video games, and sex. I am tired jor!”
Uchenna fell to his knees. He reached out and held her hands. “Please don’t do this babe. I love you. I don’t want to start all over with anyone else. Please. I beg you. Think of everything we have been through. Okay, you can go to the club, you can hang out – we will hang out more, just don’t leave me…”
She extricated her hands from his hold, backing away. “Uche, you are embarrassing me. My friends are waiting for me. Have a nice life.” With that, she ran off to meet her friends.
Ashamed and broken, Uchenna looked around. The people who had been watching quickly averted their gazes as his eyes caught their stares.
He sighted the bike man who had brought him, the young boy was waiting for him. He dusted himself up and walked to the bike.
“Please take me to the junction” He muttered, and the boy obliged silently.
As Uchenna alighted at his destination, he made to pay for the bike rider’s services but the boy stopped him. “Oga, keep your money. No worry” he said. “Oga, if you no do that girl anything bad, na Ogun go catch am. She go find you, beg you for this life. Take heart my oga.”……
“Uche! uche!!, are you there?” Pearls voice jolted him out of his reverie.
“Sorry, I drifted off in thought,” He said softly, feelings of anger now fleeing his heart.
He had met someone when he moved to Holland. He was content with her, she made him happy. That was all that mattered now.
“Uchenna, please forgive me. I need your forgiveness”
“Pearl dear. I promise you, I have forgiven you.” He meant it now.
“Uchem” she sighed, calling him by his pet name. “I thank you very much. Maybe my life will be different now.”
She was in pain, he could hear it in her voice.
“I am sorry dear. Is everything okay?”
“Uchem, since the day I moved into Labanjs house, my life has been a living hell.”
“Oh wow!, What happened?” He asked curiously, unable to bring himself to gloat over her misery.
“It’s a long story” she replied. “but I am happy I have my friend back and I can talk to you once again. I will call you again, and I’ll tell you everything”