A rose by any other name, p.4
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       A Rose by Any Other Name, p.4

           Nia Eze
 
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  The man was sweet, exasperating, an enigma to her but definitely sweet.

  Her phone began ringing again but she ignored it. Besides, she was driving. She chuckled again. As if that would usually stop her. She just was not in the mood to have these pseudo-quarrels with Jude.

  She turned into the address that she was to meet her future client just on the dot of time for her meeting. She hurriedly got out of the car and made her way briskly to her meeting. Jude could wait. She would deal with him later.

  Jude sat in the darkened living room sipping the glass of wine he had poured himself. Keira was late again. She would usually be home before seven pm each evening but for three days running, she had come in a few after nine pm or thereabout. He knew she was upset with him about the Forum and a few other things but… he rubbed his hand down his face.

  He had not handled the Forum business well. Now that the bitter sting of panic and jealousy had abated, he could admit it to himself. Shamefully, he had allowed those emotions control how he had responded to what should have been a highlight of the year for his wife’s business enterprise. She was finally making the head way she so badly wanted. He should have stood by her. He should have been there at that forum with her showing her support. He knew how important the success of her business was to her. He had let her down at a critical moment.

  He heard the key turn in the door and turned on the lights. Keira walked in quietly into their apartment. There was something about the set of her shoulders and the way her head hung that set off skitters down Jude’s spine.

  “Nne what’s the matter? You’re late again today.” She did not immediately respond. She just quietly shot the door and began locking it up for the day. When she was through with that she turned back to him.

  “Good evening Jude. I didn’t mean to be late again. Time just got away from me.” She responded. Her voice was bone weary and despondent. She made to walk into the corridor leading into the bedrooms but turned at the last minute to sit across from him on an upholstered chair in the seating room.

  Jude watched his wife as she took off first her shoes and then began taking off her jewelry. It was odd. Keira usually only did that in the bedroom. She may leave it wherever she dropped it there, in fact she would usually do that, but it would be in their bedroom.

  “Are you okay Keira?” he asked her, his voice going solemn because it seemed to fit her mood. Keira did not respond to him at first. She just silently finished removing all her jewelry and then she looked up at him. She stared at him for a good long while as if she was searching his face for something. Jude was not sure what it was she found before she began to respond to him.

  “Are you okay Jude?” she asked him.

  “I don’t understand.” Jude responded, a confused frown patching his face even as his heart began to thud really loudly in his ears.

  “Jude. What’s happening to us?” Keira asked. “We’ve never fought like this in all the years that we’ve known each other.” And boy had they had some fights! Jude sighed and shook his head as he tried to honestly think through her question before answering.

  “Perhaps we are both stressed from work.” He suggested.

  Keira took in a deep breath and adjusted herself into a less confrontational stance on her seat.

  “Do we need to take some time off work?” she asked her voice stronger and a lot less combative.

  Jude was quiet for a moment as he ran through his schedule in his head.

  “I can’t get off from work right now.” He sighed. “There’s just so much going on right now.” He went on.

  Keira nodded. “I’m not asking for today or tomorrow. Just…perhaps when this wave of prospects and things slow a bit, maybe we should just take some time away. Just be by ourselves. We’ve both had a crazy year.”

  Jude nodded. “We should do that.” Keira got up from the sofa and began going into the room without picking up her discarded shoes and jewelry. Jude felt a small smile tug at his mouth as she lived up to that idiosyncrasy. He started to call her attention to it but as he looked at her dragging her feet tiredly, he changed his mind and let her go on. It wasn’t as if it was going anywhere. It would be there when they came out in the morning. He got up and began his daily routine of securing the house for the night.

  CHAPTER 9

  “What if I said I think I might be cheating on my husband?”

  Clara spluttered as she almost choked on the piece of meat she had been trying to eat. After several thumps to her chest and swatting Keira’s hand as she tried to get her to drink some water, she caught her breath.

  She wiped at the tears which the coughing had brought from her eyes as she stared at Keira wonderingly.

  “Say that again?”

  Keira shook her head and continued to push the food on her plate listlessly.

  “Keira.” Clara prompted. “Keira look at me!” she ordered. Keira’s hand stilled over her plate and she looked up at her friend.

  “What did…what? Clara struggled to ask a sensible question. So stunned was the expression on her face as she searched Keira’s face. Keira looked down again and continued with the pushing of her food about the plate.

  “Keira are you cheating on Jude?” Clara asked clearly.

  Keira looked up once again at her friend. Clara’s complexion was pale, patsy even. She looked a bit bloated and there were bags under her eyes. Pregnancy was not being kind to her. She had struggled to conceive and now after several unsuccessful IVF treatments, she had finally gotten pregnant. And yet, the pregnancy had not had the good graces to go easy on her friend. She looked plain exhausted. But she was happy. She did not need to tell Keira that she was. Keira could see it in the eyes that glowed with excitement, in the beautifully coiffed hair and manicured nails. In the cadence of her voice as she spoke and the calm cheeriness with which she had greeted her as she had walked into the restaurant where they were meeting.

  “Keira ogini? You’ve been miserable for a few months now. Don’t think because we’ve not said anything to you we haven’t noticed o!” ‘We’ in this instance being their tight trio of friends, Bimpe, Keira and Clara.

  “I’m not miserable!” Keira frowned. “I just have a lot of things on my mind.” She defended herself.

  “What things? What do you mean ‘think’, ‘might’, cheating?”

  Keira paused trying to think of a way to begin.

  “There’s this man…” she started. Clara clapped her hand agitatedly. “I’m not sleeping with him o!” Keira rebuked.

  “So what exactly is going on?” Clara prodded.

  “Nothing. He’s helping me out with some business things. You know that I’m trying to expand and there are a lot of things that I had not realized about business and services…” she cut off her speech abruptly and shrugged.

  “Keira! Kay! What is going on? Why are you feeling…are you projecting some sort of gratitude gone wrong or something?”

  “Do you think that is what it is?” Keira asked hopefully.

  Clara looked steadily at her friend. “I think you need to cut off from this person.” She held up her hand to ward off Keira’s negation. “No matter how helpful he’s being to you, it’s not healthy for your relationship with your husband! Girl! Seriously!”

  Keira finally gave up the pretense that she was going to eat and pushed her plate away.

  “Clara, he has contacts that I would never have known how to aspire to! It’s not as if I’m not aware…of the undercurrents but he’s never come right out and said it or anything that…would be really inappropriate.” Keira shrugged. “I think I can put him in his place if need be.” She turned an entreating look on Clara.

  “I think you are playing with fire.” Clara stated baldly and went back to eating her food.

  “Is that all you’re going to say to me?”

  “Is there something more you need me to say to you?” Clara burst out. “If you can’t see beyond your nose for all the ‘wondrous’ things this guy is doing
for you, then what more do you want me to say? Does Jude even know about this person?”

  “Kind of. They’ve had dealings before.” Keira answered evasively.

  “So, you met him through Jude? Are they friends?”

  “No.” Keira’s shoulders slumped. “Look, maybe I phrased it wrongly. We are not having an affair so…let’s just not let it spoil lunch.” She smiled winningly at her friend but Clara did not smile back.

  “I hope you really know what you’re doing. I pray you…don’t destroy your life.” She shook her head sorrowfully and pushed away her own plate of food. “Do you still love your husband?”

  Keira was quiet for too long a beat. Clara felt tears come suddenly to her eyes. “I’ll be praying for you but I want no part of this.” She got her bag, brought out her wallet and dropped some money from it on the table. She then stood up ungainly and waddled out of the restaurant leaving a stunned Keira staring after her.

  Keira settled up the bill for their uneaten lunch and made her way out of the restaurant as well. As she drove back to her shop, her mind went over the conversation she had been having with Clara and her emotions alternated between anguish and angst. How could Clara have imagined she would commit adultery? Would she commit adultery? She would freely admit that Majid was a really handsome man. But then so was Jude. Jude, who alternated between treating her like a dispensable piece of furniture and a prized jewel so often that her head was spinning with it. But he was a good man, a loyal man. Sometimes distracted yes, but he had been her man for most of her adult life.

  Majid… she checked herself. Why would she compare them? How could she not compare them? She banged her hand against the staring wheel, shaking her head at herself. It was the sound of a horn that jolted her. She stared blankly at the sight unfolding before her. It seemed everything was happening in slow motion or was it that her brain was only slowly processing the situation. It was the sound of the grinding crush that snapped her out of her daze. She had just had a head on collision with another car. And the world went black.

  CHAPTER 10

  There was a see-saw game going on somewhere? No. someone was sawing through something. Keira kept her eyes closed trying to make sense of the sounds around her. Her head hurt with the effort and pressed her eyelids tighter. She thought she heard voices, a voice. ‘Majid?’ She had no idea that she had called out that name as she slipped back into unconsciousness, not realizing that a heart was shattering right beside her.

  Just as her hand went limp again in her husband’s hand, the door to her hospital room burst open and a haggard looking Majid stormed in followed closely on the heels by a wretched looking Agnus.

  He took in the scene before him and the look of anguish on Jude’s face and crumpled to the floor staring in stunned shock at the figure on the bed.

  “She’s not dead.” Jude hadn’t realized that he had spoken out. He looked at the man on the floor before him. The man whose name his wife had called out in her brief moment of consciousness. He had been sitting with her since he got to the hospital the evening before as she wove in and out of consciousness and the first time she would speak, she would call out his name. This man’s name.

  It took a moment apparently for the meaning of his bald statement to filter into Majid’s understanding. When it clicked, he hurriedly got up off the floor and rushed to the bedside.

  “How’s she doing? What are the doctors saying?” he questioned with rapid fire agitation.

  Jude kept looking at him, trying to sort out his feelings towards this man.

  “Majid, she’s alive and she’s in good hands. I think we should leave.” The friend that had barged in with him spoke for the first time since entering the room. He still stood just inside the door looking very ill at ease. Majid turned partially to look at him and then turned back to the bed to look at Keira’s heavily bandaged form.

  “What are the doctors saying?” he asked Jude in a quieter voice.

  “She’ll wake up whenever she will but she’s stable.” He found the voice to respond even as resentment roiled angrily through him.

  Majid sighed and stalked out the room. His friend made to follow him but stopped and turned back to Jude. “I hope she gets better soon.” He said his eyes full of a sadness that Jude grappled to understand the meaning of. He too turned and left on getting no further response from Jude. Jude put his head on his open palms and drew a ragged breath.

  Had his wife been having an affair behind his back? He knew that they had hit a rough patch but he had honestly believed they were working things out. What had been going on behind his back? Who was this pompous oaf to think that he had any right to enquire as to his wife’s welfare? Had her ‘relationship’ with him given the man the impetus?

  The door opened again quietly, almost hesitantly this time to reveal his mother standing there. Tears Jude had not realized where gathering spilled down his face as she hurried to envelope him in her embrace.

  Agnus caught up with Majid just as he was about to rap his knuckles on the door to the doctor’s office. He made a lunge for him and dragged him off from the door.

  “Man, are you crazy?!” Majid exclaimed as Agnus forcibly pulled him towards the main exit. “I was just about to go see the doctor. What’s your problem?”

  Agnus propelled both of them out of the main exit and then turned on his childhood friend.

  “You know what? That is it!! This absurd game has finally gone on too long!!” he yelled his frustration.

  Majid began to respond just as heatedly but something in the look on Agnus’ face shut him up.

  “Do you realize what you’ve done?” Agnus shouted at him. “That was the lady’s husband in there and you barged in and put on such a show for him!! On top of his worry over his wife, you’ve probably left him wondering about the status of your relationship with her!! Are you okay?!!!” he fairly thundered.

  Majid stared at him, the sharp rejection of his claims dying a stillbirth on his lips as his astute brain reviewed his actions since he had heard of the accident. He had tried calling Keira all evening yesterday but her cell phone had been unreachable. After a very restless night, he had gone by her shop this morning to see if he could talk to her before it got really busy. A lot of the business contacts he had been sending her way had been yielding positive results and she had been extra busy recently. He had been surprised to see that the shop had not yet been opened for business so he had tried her number again. Just as he had been about to turn around and leave, a youngish lady stepped to the door.

  “Good morning….” He tried to recollect her name from the last time he had been at the shop.

  “Funke. Good morning Sir.” She greeted as she went about unlocking the shop’s door.

  “You guys are opening a bit late today.” He had opined.

  “I had to go by the hospital.” Funke responded and Majid noticed for the first time that her eyes were red-rimmed and she seemed like she was struggling to hold back tears.

  “I hope you’re okay?” he had asked in polite concern.

  Funke had looked at him in mild surprise. “Madam had an accident. She is at the General Hospital and they wouldn’t let us see her!” she burst into renewed weeping.

  Majid felt like the world tilted off its axis and he felt unsteady on his feet.

  “An accident you say?!” he asked

  “Yes. Yesterday on her way back to the shop. She has been unconscious and Oga says that she was badly injured.” Funke sobbed as she recounted her early morning visit to the hospital.

  Majid had not waited to hear the remainder of her tale as he had high-tailed it out of there. He already had Agnus on the phone as he reversed out of the parking lot. He was not sure what gibberish he had spoken to Agnus but apparently he had been able to communicate that he was headed to the General Hospital because Agnus had been waiting for him on the front steps when he turned into the hospital gates.

  “You know what?” he heard Agnus saying. “Get into your car, c
an you drive?” he asked. At Majid’s nod he continued, “Go home. Go sleep it off. You look terrible. I will come see when I get off later. I’m still on call till early afternoon.” He pushed Majid towards his car.

  “Will you let me know how she’s doing?” Majid asked as he turned in a zombie-like stupor towards his car. Agnus sent him a look of pure exasperation but did not deign to answer his question.

  “They said she just crossed over to the other lane right in front of the oncoming jeep.” Jude recounted to his mother what he had been told by the traffic officers that had rushed Keira to the hospital.

  “We thank God that it was not worse than this.” She soothed. “Thank God. But this is a wakeup call! She must have fallen asleep on the steering on something. You both work too hard. What are you pushing yourselves so hard for?” she scolded. “Some things will have to change once she’s back from the hospital. I just pray that there will be no permanent damage to her.” On the choked sound from Jude she soothed again, “Nna, it is well. Chineke no n’olu.”

  The door to the room opened once again to admit a nurse closely followed behind by Keira’s parents. Her mother gasped at the sight of her daughter’s prone, bandaged form collapsing into her husband’s arm. Diokpa stood stock still as if the shock of his daughter’s condition held him immobile. Jude’s mother got up and went to her in-law.

  “Nne Keira, ozugo! God has been faithful. They’ve been able to stabilize her. She’s stable now. In fact Jude was just telling she has woken up severally.” She calmly shifted the weeping form of Keira’s mum from her husband’s arm, who still looked like he was about to faint, to hers and dexterously guided them both to plastic chairs which had earlier been brought into the room.

  “What happened?” Keira’s mum asked tearfully.

  Jude began again, hauntedly, to recount the story he had been told by the first respondents to the accident site but this time, with interjections from his mother.

 
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