Beautiful Stranger 6
God can be funny. If he was going to let nemesis catch up with me, he should have at least given me some time. Why today? Why now? First date? Mr Azeez’s son was my patient. The lad had to remember me. For the next split second, I had arranged all the lies in my head and I couldn’t go wrong. If I did, Toni would have questions to ask me. Emeka’s bad mouth had caught up with me too early. I smiled at Mr Azeez and then at his son. “Rasheed, how are you?”
“I am fine, Doctor!” The kid replied. ‘Did he have to include ‘Doctor’ again?’ I thought with a stern frown.
“Rasheed!” A woman called.
Mr Azeez turned to his left as he wife beckoned. I thanked the Heavens as Rasheed dashed off to meet his mother, it could only mean that the discussion was over. Mr Azeez stretched out his hand to Toni. “Good evening.”
I frowned. He ought to take his leave and not make an acquaintance.
Toni took his hand calmly. “Good evening, Sir.”
I cleared my throat. “Nice to see you, Sir.”
Mr Azeez nodded. “Have a nice evening, you two.” He said and walked away.
Toni stared at me with a smile, but I knew there were lots of questions beneath the smile. “Shall we?” she asked.
No way! There was no way I was going to let her off without any explanation. That would just give her the opportunity to start investigating and then, I would be damned.
I smiled back. “They call me Doctor because I helped out with his cut some weeks back. He is a neighbour. I thought you might want to know that.” I said confidently.
She shrugged. “That’s good, Doctor.”
“A lot of kids in my compound call me that, I volunteered for paramedical jobs as a youngster so I have a good knowledge of these things.”
She nodded with enthusiasm. “Paramedic?”
“Yeah.” I said as we approached the door to the cinema.
“You should switch jobs.” She said as she nudged me.
I stared at her. “Really?”
She pulled my hand. “The movie is about to start. Let’s go, man.”
I picked up Toni’s diary. It might not be right, but experience has taught me (actually, I have had no experience, but it is a cliché saying, right?) that you might want to sneak up on a diary. You might actually be saving someone from depression. (True story).
I took a deep breath as I prepped myself to read from Toni’s diary. I turned to the first page of her memoirs and her picture from her first surgery fell out. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to see more of it if it pertained to her operations, it might just make me sad and I wasn’t ready for it. I braced myself and flipped through a number of pages and then something interesting caught my eye.
CANCER HAS A BROTHER…his name is Jerry
So I just met this guy named Jerry…and yes, I like him. But then, who am I to like him? He is smart, but also so dumb (why would anyone waste their time in a bar?), not like I didn’t do it in the past, but it is not just right. I am not sure I can stick around Jerry for too long, he is worse than my Cancer. I might just be in love with him too. I liked him from day one and it doesn’t happen with me like this! Okay, I have got to go.
I took a deep breath as I dropped her diary. She didn’t have eyes for James. Good. That unsurprisingly brought relief to my soul. Now, I would focus on James and his feelings. But then back to Toni, could she really be in love? Or maybe she was infatuated by Jerry. The guy has got good looks, but I really didn’t want Toni to be in that stage of falling hopelessly in love and hoping that life would allow her enjoy those moments. I relaxed in my seat as I prayed that Toni would tell Jerry about the cancer so that she would work on getting over him and it would help Jerry stay away from her too.
My phone buzzed and I reached for it. James was the caller. I ignored his call. I smiled gallantly as I did this and prayed silently that my little theatrics won’t bore him.
Jerry and Toni walked out of the movies looking sober. All other viewers had the same look. The protagonist had died, it was a good movie, but a sad one too.
“Take my advice, we should see Alien World next time. This movie was too depressing.” Jerry said as they walked into the car park.
Toni took a deep breath. “I didn’t want him to die either.”
There was a momentary silence between them.
“There is something I would love to tell you.” Toni said.
“Cancer is a b---h!” Jerry said angrily.
Toni swallowed painfully as her heart skipped a beat. “Oh!”
Jerry nodded. “Yeah…” he then sighed. “What did you want to tell me?”
Toni stuttered. “Err…Cancer is a b---h!” she said with a very unconvincing grin.
“Do you think I believe you?” he asked.
She shrugged. “You know me. I have no reason to lie…although, those were not going to be my exact terms, but Cancer sure had something to do with it…and of course, Cancer being a bane! I think that was my term.” She added hastily.
Jerry nodded with a smile as he got to the car.
“Do…do you want to walk?” Toni asked.
Jerry smiled. “Of course. But, what about the car?”
“The park is never closed.” She replied. “Let’s go.”
He nodded and walked with her. “So tell me, what really do you do?”
“I run my own NGO. Just something for the kids.” She replied. “Just keep people off the streets and reduce the menace in the society. More like contributing my quota to development.”
Jerry smiled. “That’s really noble.”
“So, how was being a paramedic for you?” she asked.
Jerry shrugged. “Nothing serious, I wasn’t going to pass as a good Doctor anyway, so I just enjoyed the brief stint then.”
“Why did you think you won’t do well as a Doctor?”
He stared at her. “Do I look like a good Doctor to you?”
“I think you are a good person and that could be translated into any field you find yourself.” She replied. “Anyway, how is your family?”
“Family? Err…they are fine. They live in Abuja.” He replied. “What about yours?”
She shrugged. “Nora is the only family I have and I think you know that part. Folks died and I have only had my sister and their money.”
“I am sorry.” He said.
She smiled. “It’s okay. It’s a long time ago, we have passed that stage now. So, what plans do you have for yourself?”
Jerry slipped his hands into his pockets. “Plans? Hmm…I might want to quit the bank job someday, it is not really forthcoming. I want to raise a family too, if I find the right conditions.”
“What do you mean by ‘right conditions’?” She asked with a soft chuckle.
He shrugged. “You know how it is around here, there is a lot of drama and marriage is a big deal. Kids are a big deal. They tend to play around a lot and get injured, so many responsibilities.”
Toni smiled. “I think you are just being evasive of the point that these things are bound to happen, and good thing is you have the paramedic experience, so that should cover up for the kids and their injuries, don’t you think?”
Jerry nodded, “Yeah.”
“I think a family is beautiful. You should really look forward to it.” She added.
He smiled. “And what about you? How many kids do you want to have?”
Toni threw her face away as she walked on. “Err…I think we have sort of walked too far from the car.”
“Really? How many kids?” Jerry insisted.
Toni had never thought about having children, they were not in her plans. Men were not either. Until Jerry happened.
“I really don’t know. I just want to be happy.” She replied.
Jerry smiled, surprised at her statement. “But you are happy. Right?”
She nodded. “I am. I meant a happy mother.”
Jerry nodded. “If a woman marries the right man, and I mean in me in this context, all will be well.” He said with a smile.
“Are you trying to sell yourself?” she asked with a smile.
“It won’t be such a bad idea, right now, would it?” he asked.
Toni shook her head with a smile. “It is a terrible idea.”
“But I will make a good husband, won’t I?” he asked.
She shrugged and walked along. Jerry stopped and watched her walk on. He had built another lie to cover up his lie. He knew his life was all messed up now Emeka had predicted. He knew he had to find a way to be honest with her before the lies caught up with him.
Toni battled with how she would tell Jerry about her condition in her mind, she had painted different scenarios and had finally chosen the best one. She would just turn to her left and say it to him and run. That seemed easy. It was always easy to run. She turned to her right, no one was there. She looked back and Jerry stood away from her. She swallowed as he had ruined her perfect moment.
Jerry started to walk towards her. She watched him and thought of another way of telling him. She didn’t see it forthcoming. She would just keep quiet.
“Hi.” Jerry said.
Toni smiled. “Why did you stop walking?”
“Are you in love with someone else? Like, do you have someone waiting on you?” he asked.
Toni smiled. “This…this is the first time someone has asked me a question like this.”
“I don’t want to lie to you for a minute. I…I have…I…” Jerry stuttered.
Toni raised an eyebrow. “Chill…this is not a professional exam. What do you want to say?”
“I know we have not known each other for long and I know that I am terribly jumping the gun by saying what I am saying, but I don’t want to leave here today without telling you how much I like you.” Jerry started.
Toni folded her arms and pulled a face.
“Can you please be less tensed up?” she asked.
He took a deep breath. “I am struck by you. I guess that is the best way to put it.”
“No. That is not the best way.” She replied.
He rubbed his forehead.
“It’s getting late, Jerry. I want to go home.” She said.
He nodded and took her hand. “Let’s go.”
“Tell me about your childhood.” Toni said breaking the silence between her and Jerry as he drove. She was tired of wishing she had told him she had Cancer and she was now afraid of losing him to the silence.
Jerry stared at her with a smile. “What is there to tell?”
“I had a lovely childhood.” Toni started. “I never got the best grades from my High School, but I was the school diva. I had this group of girls, we went everywhere and terrorized other girls in school.”
Jerry stared at her. “Seriously? You don’t seem that type of girl to me.”
“Everything is never as it seems and oh, that was High school. It was crazy, man. I had fun! We bullied girls. Pitch girls of a sort.” She replied. “What kind of guy were you in High School?”
“Regular guy. The nerd.” He replied. “Guys called me a freak. I knew the Multiplication tables off heart.”
“You are a freak!” she replied laughing.
He nodded. “I enjoyed it, I must say. I got a lot of awards and teachers definitely loved me. I carried on the feat to my university. Class guru! Top of the class…straight A’s.” he sighed.
“Wow! So, what happened?” she asked.
Jerry stared at her. “What do you mean?”
“Microfinance Bank?” she asked.
He smiled. “Life happened.”
“I think you should quit.” She replied. “Try to chase a better future, Jerry. I am not saying that Microfinance banks are not good, but this one in our hood is really obsolete. No one patronizes them.” She added.
He sighed. “I would work on it.”
“You should.” She replied.
Nora read from a novel as she watched the time. She had given Jerry up until midnight to return her sister and she wasn’t kidding. She had the phone number of the Estate police on speed dial. If she didn’t see Toni at midnight, she was going to create a scene in the neighbourhood. She had also hoped that Toni would have cleared up her emotions with Jerry by now and that her sister could now face a new life and possibly, a relocation.
She heard a car drive in. Toni was back. She smiled and closed her eyes as she pretended to be asleep. She was in the mood to play with her sister.
The door opened and Toni walked in with Jerry. Toni sighted Nora on the chair and bent over her. She then stared at Jerry. “You are lucky you made it here before twelve.”
“I am fifteen minutes early.” He replied.
Toni nodded with a smile. “I have the herculean task of carrying her upstairs, but never mind, I am capable.”
“I could help you.” He replied.
Toni smiled. “No. Thank you. You should be on your way home now. Thank you for today.”
“We would see Alien World next time.” He replied. “You made us see that depressing movie.” He said with a smile.
Toni shrugged. “Maybe next time, we don’t see a movie.”
“Hmmm…good idea. We should do something spontaneous. Something more fun than the movies. Horseback riding?” he suggested.
Toni stepped away from Nora. “I don’t want us to wake her, you should go now. Horseback riding sounds like fun anyway, I might consider it.”
He nodded and walked away. He stopped at the door and stared at her. “You were right.”
“About?” she asked.
“I didn’t say it the right way.” He replied.
Toni stared at him. “Say what?”
He blinked and clenched his fists together. “I love you.”
Toni’s shoulders fell. Nora’s eyes popped out.
“Yes, Toni. I love you.” He affirmed. “That’s it. Goodnight.”
Toni watched him as he closed the door and she took a deep breath.
“Would it have killed you to tell him that you loved him too?” Nora asked.
Toni stared at her sister. “I thought you were faking to be asleep.”
“Well, now you know.” Nora replied. “Why didn’t you tell him how you feel?”
Toni stared at her. “How would you know how I feel?”
“Did you go through my diary, Nora?”
Nora nodded. “I don’t have to lie. So, what are you going to do about this? You possibly can’t fight it.”
Toni took a deep breath and took a seat. “I don’t know.”
“Did you tell him?” Nora asked.
Toni shook her head.
“Come on, Toni. You were supposed to. That would have created the gap.” Nora replied.
Toni shrugged. “I…I just couldn’t.”
“Well, you have to find a way to.” Nora replied.
Toni relaxed in her seat. “He is a really good guy. He used to be a paramedic, he used to be your type of person in High school and university.”
“What do you mean by my type of person?” Nora asked.
Toni smiled. “Class guru.”
“Then what is he doing at the microfinance bank?” Nora asked as she rose to her feet. “He should be in some prestigious place.”
“What are you doing as a customer care representative?” Toni retorted.
Nora smiled. “Service to humanity. I am charitable like that.”
Toni laughed at this.
Nora smiled faintly. “Let’s go to bed, darling. I am tired.”
Toni nodded. “Thanks for waiting up for me.”
“You are all I have.” Nora replied as she took Toni’s hand.
“So, you are telling me that she wore something simple?” Emeka asked with a smile.
Jerry frowned. “That was the least of my problems last night.”
Emeka grinned. “What could be worse than you showing up like her father?”
“I ran into a patient at the Mall. His son called me Doctor!”
Emeka gaped. “Wow!”
“That is not wow! That is trouble!” Jerry replied as he poured himself some tea. “I had to come up with something.”
“Dude! You should have just told the truth!” Emeka yelled.
Jerry stared at him. “You dey mad? How would I tell her? Is that even the right avenue to tell her something I have been hiding?”
“That was your best opportunity to throw the can open and forget it. She would either forgive you or not, and it is not something that can’t be forgiven.” Emeka retorted.
Jerry shrugged as he took a seat. “Well, I didn’t and that is that about that.”
“Man, I don’t know if I am comfortable with this. I am beginning to feel sorry for you already.” Emeka replied.
“Why?” Jerry asked as he sipped his tea.
Emeka took his seat. “You love this girl. She might just like you back and when we keep a lie for too long, it always has a way of hurting the ones we love when they realise. She would feel she was not worthy of the truth.”
“I am protecting her.” Jerry replied.
Emeka hissed. “From what? From who? Look, that is just a silly line to use. She doesn’t need you to protect her from anything. It is not like you are an assassin and you need to really protect her so she is not killed by a gang. You are a doctor. You save lives.”
“How many have I saved? It’s like I am carrying a curse. Ever since my first case, it has always been like this. I can’t get over it.” Jerry replied.
Emeka nodded. “I know how you feel.”
“You don’t! I was just a surgical intern and they placed a woman’s life in my hand. She had kids! They were crying for their mommy and she died in my hands.”
“You are a doctor. You might have been an intern then, but still, lives will go. You just have to let it go.” Emeka replied.
Jerry shook his head. “I don’t know about that.”
“How long are you going to carry this cross around? Liquor has been your friend since then and it is pointless that you continue like this. People lose their first patients.” Emeka replied.
“You never forget your first, Emeka. You never.” Jerry replied.
Emeka sighed. “So, do you think running away will save you from it? I was not the best student in the University, but I know that it has always been my passion to save lives and I am doing it in the best way I can. You are a good man, Jerry. Find that joy in you and rekindle your passion for the profession.”
Jerry took deep breath. “You know I am just glad I am out of the hospital for now. I am just happy I can sleep and not worry about killing someone’s son, daughter, wife, husband, brother, or sister.”
Emeka smiled faintly. “And to think that the director has cut your suspension off…”
“What?!” Jerry shouted.
Emeka nodded. “You are to return to the hospital tomorrow.”
Nora stirred her coffee as she read from the dailies. She had left Toni in the room, it was her guess that Toni must have stayed up for a very long time as she didn’t wake up when Nora did. Honestly, she couldn’t sleep much either. She had been thinking about this new step in Toni’s life. Toni was in love. Jerry was in love (at least she had heard him say it). It should have been simple if the circumstances were a lot different.
She sipped some coffee. Toni had been stable for a while so she didn’t see the need to check her into the Hospital anytime soon. She, however, did pray that Toni wasn’t ruminating on her new emotions and discarding their plans for her to go into chemotherapy. Surgery was also an escape route but it did come with a lot of negatives for her sister. Nora knew she didn’t want Toni to go through another near-death experience for a brief period of normalcy.
She turned her heart away from the thoughts and focused on the newspaper, but then, the dailies too could be really depressing…from rape cases to strike actions by the working class and disappointments in the sports world. What really could make one smile? She thought as she folded the paper and rose to her feet.
She turned in fright as she stared at Toni. Toni was standing before her motionless and without the wig. She looked frail. Her eyes were sunken. Her sister had been crying. She knew it. “What is it, Toni?” Nora asked.
“I want a surgery.” Toni replied.