She watched with relief washing over her as the nurse helped him sit up straight. The fact that he was alive and breathing, made her instantly believe in miracles and God.
Not like she was an atheist or something but because it seemed like God did not care right from when she was an abused child till she grew into a troubled woman, she had stopped believing in Him a long time ago.
It had been a very long and painful road to recovery and she had hoped he would get better through it all.
Immediately the nurse left, she handed him his breakfast which he took from her after kissing her hands.
The hospital they were presently in was located in an estate in Bodija, one of the most serene and tasteful places in the city of Ibadan. It was a sharp contrast from the hospital he had been rushed to immediately after the accident happened and where they got first class medical services.
“I love you” Toni muttered as she draped an arm around his shoulder and laid her head on his chest.
“I was so scared I would lose you Toni, I was so scared” And she realized the more she said those words, the more she become conscious of how close she was to losing him and how horrified she had been. “I love you Toni Akinbami. I love you with all my heart. I have never loved any like you and I will never love any like you”
It was as if the words purged her emotions because tears gathered in her eyes as she uttered them, she looked up and gazed into his eyes, “I know I have never said it and that was because I thought I could push it away and push you away. My heart beats for you Oluwatoni and life has never been more meaningless than the moment I thought I was going to lose you.”
She swallowed back the tears but she was not being successful with that became it came running down her cheeks anyway, “I never want to lose you, you are my everything…my every freaking thing.”
Toni slowly wiped the tears off her face and kissed her forehead, “I have waited years to hear you say that” he said. “And I did not know driving a knife through my chest will be what will cause you to say those words, but I have never been happier in my whole life”
He smiled at her, “I have loved you before I knew the meaning of love or what it takes to love and I will always love you. And I am glad I am sharing in your pain, I mean I would not have opted for this choice but hey, I took a knife for my woman”
Dede could not miss the humour dancing around his eyes as he said the words, he was such a beautiful soul.
“As much as it hurts, I will do this for you over and over again. I have gone to the ends of the world for you so many times Dede and I will take that trip a million and one times again.” The words were serious now, he meant every single word that came out of his mouth.
“Thank you for not dying on me” she whispered.
“Didn’t they tell you? I have nine lives” he responded and she laughed.
THE PREVIOUS TIMES HE HAD CALLED IN THE PAST, she had received his calls in the room while Toni slept peacefully on the bed where he was fast recovering. He had always been sleeping deeply and he had always been oblivious to her phone conversations with Kunle Bifarin.
However this morning, as she looked out of the window in the large and well tended hospital ward, she had been lost in her conversation that she did not realize he was up and listening to every single word she spoke.
Toni had been watching her for five minutes, while she stood near the window, her short white floral dress, complimenting the window blinds. He had woken and had realized she was speaking agitatedly to someone on the phone, the words he had heard her say had made him hold himself from talking while he listened to her quietly.
“Mr Bifarin…See I don’t care if you are a Chief or a King, I have told you I will leave the girls with you just call your guys off us would you? I know they were following me all week!”
She clenched her teeth and lowered her voice considerably, probably because she did not want Toni to wake.
“I don’t have to see them to feel their eyes on me. Call them off!” she ended the call and hissed, “asshole” she muttered as she turned to face Toni’s questioning gaze.
“Oh shit…” she murmured. She knew with the way he was staring at her that he had heard every single word of her conversation.
“Who was that?” he asked and she contemplated telling him a lie, she did not want him to worry about Kunle Bifarin and his insanity, she knew if Toni knew everything he would go out there and start fighting for her and she needed him to be completely strong.
“You are about to tell a lie Dede but remember that I know you and I have always seen beneath your façade and whatever veil you put on to mask what is really going on with you”
Dede avoided his gaze and looked everywhere in the room, from the sparkling tiled floor to the cream wall and the plasma on the wall but him.
“What is it Dede? You know you can tell me everything”
“I don’t want you to know this Toni, I just need you to get better”
“I want to know what is wrong with you Dede, if I don’t I would be worried anyway and won’t get better. So please tell me what is wrong”
Dede fought an inward battle, Toni liked to protect her but she liked to protect him too and while he might protect her physically, she could protect him mentally. If she told him about Kunle Bifarin and the fact that he was the one trying to kill her, had promised to stay away if she handed the girls over to him but was now watching her, he would get angry and look for ways to deal with the man. And she did not want chaos in his life, she had been a sort of magnetic attraction to chaos all her life but Toni hadn’t, he deserved a life better than all the drama around hers.
“Dede?” he was growing impatient with each passing minute and she knew she had to give up the information.
“Promise me you would not do anything stupid” she said.
“It depends on what you call stupid, your stupid might not be my stupid” he replied and she found herself smiling. “I am listening jare, tell me what the heck is going on and you better not lie.”
And she did not lie, she told him every single detail without holding any one back not even the minute ones, she had even gone ahead to describe Kunle Bifarin’s pot belly and the fact that he probably weighed more than an elephant.
“So this man got you to give up your girls somehow?” He asked when she was done.
She nodded, “I was worried he would hurt you and what did it matter if I saved the girls and not be able to save the man I love?”
“You love those girls Dede, they are your life”
“I do. But I also love you and there is no life without you”
Toni shook his head, “You should not have let that sick beast take those girls.”
“All your life you have protected them from their abusers and given them shelter, life and hope. You did not even want to leave the country because you did not want to leave them behind and yet it was so easy to give them up because someone threatened you?”
“Do you know why we are here? Why we have been stuck in Ibadan for two weeks now? It was because you ran away from Lagos and went to Iseyin to check on those girls. You had abandoned the help Funlola and I got you to save them here and yet you give them to that man the first threat you get? How do you even think the girls feel?” he was irritated with the decision she took
“I was trying to protect you Toni, he was going to hurt you if I did not let him have his daughter and the rest!”
“You were protecting the wrong person Dede, look at it babe and tell me who needs more help? A full grown man who can take care of himself and you or a bunch of girls who have been abused by their own trusted relatives?”
Dede could not say a word, she realized that she couldn’t find words even when she opened her mouth to speak. As much as she was angry at him for making her decision look stupid even when all she was trying to do was to protect him, she couldn’t help but see reason.
“You delivered them back into the hands of the lion honey and this is worse because they had you and you betrayed them. There is no difference between you and the people you were saving them from in the first place, you both had their trust and broke it”
Dede was slighted, Toni had turned the situation into something else. It was as if he forgot that she had done it all for him in the first place.
“They betrayed me first! That little Bifarin girl called her father, I didn’t. It wasn’t me who put a call through to her father, the man who had raped her so many times in the past” She yelled. Didn’t he see what was going on?
“And how do you even know this for sure?” he asked her.
“Dede, how do you know this for sure?” He waited for her response and got none, then he nodded, “That is what I thought too, you don’t know anything for sure. My guts tell me that man found those girls somehow, took them away and used me to stop you from looking for them. And from what I heard of your conversation with him, he has no plans of staying away either and maybe he would try to murder you once more who knows what the beast can do.” He sighed. “You are dining with the devil honey and you have no spoon”
Dede somehow knew from that moment that she was not even halfway done with her nightmare, in fact, she had simply just started.
WHEN THEY RETURNED TO LAGOS, she summoned courage to return to her apartment for the first time since her nightmare. Toni didn’t let her go alone, he had called a policeman who called another policeman and another person who looked like a full time thug on the streets of Isale eko and had them position themselves outside her house while she walked in.
Nothing had changed since she left, everything was intact and was the same way she had left them.
“I think I should return here and resume my normal life.” She said to Toni who stared at her like her senses had taken leave of her.
She ignored the look he gave her and continued, “My business has been suffering for so long now and I have not been in contact with the world, I need to be normal again”
“You cannot afford to be normal yet Dede, you still have battles to fight. There is still that Bifarin guy and your cousin, there are still unresolved cases and the girls whom you risked your life for!” he said to her, grabbing her arms while trying to drive home the point.
She snatched her hands away from him, “I am not fighting any battle Toni. The whole drama is over, I will now return to my normal life.”
“Dede please you cannot act like it is all fine when it isn’t. you cannot stop fighting for those girls” He was pleading with her and she knew she should listen but she was weary, she was exhausted and tired from all the war. She just wanted to rest from it all. Her life had been a battle since she could remember, she wanted a life without that.
“I already stopped fighting Toni. I am done fighting”
She watched as he looked at her with an expression mixed with disappointment and regret. He shook his head and stomped out of her house and somehow she knew he was not coming back in a long time.
DEDE HAD MISSED SOCIETY AND THEIR LOVE FOR VAIN THINGS, she had missed the Saturday mornings at the club with trophy wives and the Friday evenings at a wellness spa owned by one of the richest society ladies in Nigeria where they all gathered, talked about travelling, sex, money, more money, how to make shitload of money and how to ensure they never lost money.
Sometimes, the conversations delved into plastic surgery and other body altering topics but never did they really discuss real life issues.
These women were not bothered about the homeless child on the street or the girls who were being raped and abused or the people who were dying in thousands in the hands of Boko Haram, for them life started and ended with money
Dede knew most of them were dealing with serious issues but somehow, they refused to share burdens and seek help, rather they readily gathered to discuss nothing in particular.
Dede had expected their lives to change a little when one of them died of cancer but that wasn’t the case as what they were more concerned with was what dress to wear to the funeral and what make up/clothes the dead woman was wearing to heaven.
“As long as she is stylish when she meets the Lord” one of them had said while she sniffed, fighting back tears that never flowed.
It was one of the reasons she had initially stayed away from them, she was very different. She had a heart and she used her heart, she cared for others and she went out of her way to show that.
All the women who gathered at the Spa and club and wherever they chose to meet had one or two things well hidden beneath their beauty and perfection but they never said a word. Never.
Dede had not heard from Toni in two weeks and when she sent a message demanding why he was staying away from her, he had told her he was not returning until she stopped being a coward and she had replied with “Fine. Suit yourself because I am never going to stop being a coward!”
The guilt of leaving her girls had been eating her and Toni hadn’t made it any better with his message and so she had longed for something to do to feel better, one of her old friends and a regular member at the club gathering had waltzed into her salon and after a phony display of affection had mentioned that Dede was missed at the club.
Dede knew she wasn’t missed and those women did not give a rat’s ass about her, but she had taken up the invitation and had appeared at the club that Saturday.
She had been showing her card at the reception when she noticed another woman standing beside her. It was the strong scent of her masculine cologne that had made her glance by her side but what held her attention was the name on the card which she held: Helen Kunle-Bifarin.
The woman flashed her a smile, Dede tried her best to smile back. The woman was a plump woman of average height, her skin was fresh and it glowed like a baby’s, she wasn’t strikingly beautiful but there was something warm about her that drew anyone in at first sight.
She bore a scar on her face, somewhere on her upper lip but apart from that she had a flawless skin.
“Helen” she said as she drew out a hand for a handshake, Dede shook her hands.
Dede nodded and the woman pulled her away to a corner gently and spoke in a low voice, “You see my darling, I did not come here for the girls’ meeting, I could not care less because I have not seen most of those silicon wearing whores in a long time. I came here for you”
Dede was not sure she knew where the conversation was headed but she nodded all the same.
“You threw my daughter back into the Lion’s den very recently and I need you to get her back.”
Dede could not make sense of the situation.
“I am Kunle Bifarin’s wife and the mother of the daughter he abuses and I need you to help me get my daughter out of that place and fast.”
Dede wished she knew what was going on, Kunle had mentioned she was dead but here she was in flesh and blood looking graceful and elegant. But Dede wasn’t sure she wanted to help the woman, she had been running away from the whole trouble in a long time why was this Helen woman trying to drag her back into it?
“I am not taking no for an answer my dear, so don’t bother your pretty head trying to find a way to turn me down” the smile that accompanied the statement was almost infectious.
Dede sighed, she had just run into what she had been running away from.