“I’m leaving you for a month. I have some business to attend to in the east.”
I could feel the frown begin to set in my face. We were yet to be away from each other for more than two days at a time and I had gotten so accustomed to his presence. Maybe I do need the time apart to better analyze the way I felt about him. We may have agreed to take things slow but it’s been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. Who knows? I might have been living in a bubble all these while.
“I love you.”
You know how in movies every surrounding activity comes to a halt with the two lead characters in focus? All I heard echoing were the three words Desmond had blurted. It didn’t help that he had my hand in his while gazing softly into my eyes. As we sat in silence, seconds turned into hours and hours into infinity. Was he expecting a response? Do I say…thank you? I love you too? Do I? Love him that is. It was all too much and thankfully he broke the silence.
“You don’t have to say anything. I’ve wanted to say that for a while and just got tired of putting it off.” He raised my hand to his lips and gave it a tender kiss. “I love you and it doesn’t matter that we’ve been together a short while. I knew you were going to steal my heart the moment I first saw you.” This fine ass man had your girl blushing like a bride on her wedding night.
Three days later, I cancelled a speaking engagement to see him off to the airport. He was only going across the country for five days but I couldn’t help but think being with him there mattered more than anything else. The closer it got to his boarding time, the more I felt compelled to tell him to stay back. I couldn’t shake off this icy feeling I had and this was beyond me missing him already. When Desmond pulled me in for a kiss, I hugged him tight and wouldn’t let go. Trust Nigerians to make a scene out of PDA. As I watched him disappear into the boarding area, I took in every detail of his feature. It suddenly felt like it was the last time I would be doing.
I’ve never been known to be clingy. However, I couldn’t help but check on him a million times as soon as he landed. He settled in nicely and then I relaxed. He was fine, right? No need to be paranoid. But that didn’t last long. On the third day, I went hours without getting a response to my messages. My calls wouldn’t go through either. Two days after then, I had had it. I didn’t realize how far I was gone till Wunmi broke my trance.
“What do you think you are doing?” she asked, nodding at my computer screen. I didn’t realize I was just one click away from booking a flight. Slamming the laptop shut, I avoided her gaze.
“Let me see. So, the plan is to fly out to Enugu and then what? Hold a picture of Desmond like he’s a missing person all the way from the airport through the highways till you get to the end of the world?” I ignored her. “Please. Tell me if I missed anything,” she teased.
“His numbers aren’t going through; he’s not replying his emails either. I know him well enough to know something doesn’t feel right.”
“Maybe he couldn’t charge his phone. Or he lost them?”
“Seriously? He’s there on business. No way he’d intentionally stay incommunicado. The least he could do is reach me through other means.”
“Weeeelll, except he’s on another kind of business.” I hated the look she gave me while saying this. Because she could be right. Maybe Desmond was being shady with me. Another girlfriend? A wife and kids maybe? Or it could even a man. Nothing surprises me these days.
That night, sleep was far from me. Do I go Hollywood style and book the damn flight? Or just take my L and move on with my life. That he said he loved me didn’t mean a thing. People said it like they were saying good morning. But I couldn’t deny that I have come to care deeply for him. This hard girl may have even fallen in love. By morning, there was still no word from him. I dragged my pitiable ass to the kitchen with the intention of starting my day with a cup of hot cocoa. Took me a second to notice Wunmi leaning by the counter, nursing her morning coffee.
“Good morning.” No response. The poor girl was probably lost in thought. “You look like a panda with those dark circles under your eyes. You should get more rest.”
I heard her sniff and smiled. Wunmi had zero tolerance for cold and it was that season. Grabbing my cup, I leaned on the counter adjacent to her.
“Guess what? I think I’m just going to accept that I’ve been ghosted. It’s been over 72 hrs. Even Jesus didn’t take that long before coming back to life.” I capped it with a nervous laugh.
Wunmi stood still, unresponsive. And then broke into tears.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” I asked as I put down our mugs and drew her in for a hug.
“I’m sorry,” she muffled into my shirt. “I’m so sorry.”
Confused, I rubbed her back. “It’s okay. Tell me what happened.”
The next three months remained a blur. Everything I know of that time is from Wunmi’s POV. It was said that I walked out of the kitchen into my room where I remained for days. I wouldn’t eat, talk to anyone or even take a shower. All I did was lay in bed staring into blank space. I didn’t even shed a tear. Unable to cope with my trance-like state, Wunmi reached out to my parents who took me home and got me to see a therapist. Bit by bit I was able to process my grief and accept my lost after which I got to find out what had happened to him.
Desmond was in a hired cab, on his way to a meeting when they were stopped by policemen. He and his driver were rough handled and, in the process, his asthma was triggered. The policemen, thinking he was faking it wouldn’t let him reach for his inhaler few meters away. They left him gasping for breath until it was too late. Then they fled the site. Desmond died a senseless death and for a long time I was mad.
Mad at the system that had become so rotten human life meant nothing to those who had sworn to protect it. Mad at Desmond because he had always refused to carry his inhaler on him at all times. Mad at myself because I didn’t get to tell Desmond I loved him when I had the chance to. It wouldn’t have changed anything but it would have been comforting to know he knew this.
Today is the third anniversary of his death. Wunmi and I are lighting a paper lantern at the beach tonight. Then I’d spend the rest of the week visiting all his favorite places. It’s the least I can do to keep his memories alive. Ours was a love story cut short but we made every second count. That’s all that matters. That’s all I need.