Dawn to Dusk: 24 hours on crossroads – Episode 25
When James’ arranged marriage went haywire, he has to juggle from looking after his 11-month-old son, keeping job and finding love in the strangest place
James and Helen headed back to Junior’s ward in an outstanding silence, rooted in grief and regret.
“You shouldn’t have hit him,” James broke the silence. “You know what was at stake. You shouldn’t just have done that.”
“I am sorry,” she apologised. “I don’t know what came over me. And he called me a harlot.”
“I understand,” he held her hand. “I know that was entirely wrong and disrespectful coming from a young man like him, but to slap him? That was terrible. Sometimes silence is what a fool needs to advice himself.”
“I am sorry about that. I guess that word has a strong provocative effect on me.”
“Yeah! I guess so too,” James replied, recalling how she reacted earlier in the house. “But it is okay. Any woman in your shoes would have done the same.”
“James!” Charles called as he ran towards them. They both turned. “I have been searching everywhere for you. We have a problem.”
“Problem?” James shivered. “What problem Charles?”
“My office please,” Charles said leading them on.
James was gravely disturbed, trying to figure what the problem could be. He didn’t waste any time to ask again what the problem was as soon as they entered Charles’ office. His pensiveness was revealed through his shaky voice.
“Sit down,” Charles said, pointing at the seats just opposite his mahogany table.
“I am fine. Just tell me what the problem is. You are freaking me out,” James said in apprehension.
Helen sat down calmly and gently pleaded, with her looks, for the information.
“I need to know all that happened,” Charles started. “What exactly happened to Queen and how did it happen?”
“Is that it?” James queried, disappointed.
“Yes, it’s imperative I know what happened if I am going to continue with this.”
“Oh God! Man, you almost gave me a heart attack,” he sighed. “Don’t you know the difference between a problem and an explanation?”
“I had to get your attention in any way possible. Her brother was here, the one that was in the UK, and he was asking some hard and confusing questions. I had to use my IQ to devise reasonable answers for his western inclined questions.”
Helen coughed. “So doctor, you called us here to know what happened?”
“Fine. We were coming back from the house and we ran into Queen,” she replied, unperturbed.
“So your car hit her?” Charles interjected.
“I didn’t say so. Like I told you before, the accident already happened before we arrived at the scene. People just clustered like it was an arena. We had to take her out lest she died,” she said.
James stared at her in shock, wondering at the ease and smoothness with which she told yet another lie; his initial thoughts and discoveries were definitely not a mirage. He started to see a potential mistake in the relationship he just started. Maybe he was too hasty, and now his distress and loneliness has landed him into yet another ordeal. He could not believe the fact that he left an irresponsible and disrespectful woman only to fall into the hands of a lair, which he knew could be no less dangerous. The thought started growing bigger and more real as he noticed the manner at which Charles swallowed the lies; hook, line and sinker. She presented it professionally as though it was planned, even when she has no idea why they were called to the office. He remembered the adage which equalled liars to murderers and got really scared. He hated liars and considered them untrustworthy for any relationship, let alone marriage; which requires high levels of trust, mutual understanding and unsolicited faith between the two parties. How could he ever trust, understand or have faith in someone who lies? It just wasn’t going to happen. But before the scary thoughts could fully bud out, memories of Helen’s good deeds erased them, with the idea that she was only trying to protect him.
“James actually decided not to let the parents know who brought her to the hospital else they would think he was the one who hit her,” she continued. “There is a small misunderstanding between the two families and…”
“Yes, I know that,” Charles cut in with a glance at James, who was strangely silent. He could tell something was bothering him, but didn’t want to inquire.
“Oh! Then you must play your part well as agreed. I understand James is your friend and knowing everything, you wouldn’t want him to get into more trouble,” she added.
“Well, that settles it,” Charles shrugged.
“I guess we are free to go now, right?” she asked.
Charles nodded with a smirk and Helen stood up.
“Thank you, Charles, for your understanding,” James finally spoke.
Charles nodded suspiciously as James left the office with Helen.
Silently, like on a funeral procession, both walked the hallway into the reception area. Helen noticed James’ strange mood swing, but could not place it on anything, so she decided to join the silent convoy. James, however, was still lost in his thoughts. Charles was his friend and he saw no reason to lie to him. He would still do anything to protect him even if he knew the truth.
“Walk along, please. I need to see Charles,” he told Helen who reluctantly left, after he assured her he was going to be fine. He walked into Charles’ office and sat down.
“Start talking,” Charles ordered as soon he sat down.
“What?” he was confused.
“I saw the look on your face, and I could tell something was missing in what she told me.”
“Look, I hit her, but it was an accident.”
“I thought as much.”
“Yes, otherwise why would she be so keen to cover up something you didn’t do?
“I swear I didn’t see her, she just appeared from nowhere. And from what her brother said earlier, it seems she had a fight with her father and then ran out. I guess she was devastated or something. She could have seen the car, she could have made use of the pedestrian bridge if she was in her right senses, but she just jumped on the road like she was lost and I…”
“It’s okay, James. Stop rattling. I perfectly understand why you didn’t want her family to know it was you. And you have my word, they will not find out, not from me.”
“Thank you,” he sighed. “I feel a bit relieved having confessed this.”
“I better get going now,” he stood up. “And thanks for doing this, if Loveth complains about the cancelled date, tell her it was my fault,” he grinned.
“She is furious right now, but I can handle her,” Charles smiled.
James nodded and made for the door.
“James!” Charles called. James stopped. “Are you sure this lady is whom you want? I mean considering what just happened here now, I could tell she lies very smoothly, and she is also desperate to keep you at all cost. Those two traits are very dangerous, people who tell lies can kill with ease. I don’t want to even talk about her desperation. Are you sure, from the inner recesses of your heart, that you want this?” he queried.
“No, do not tell me,” Charles cut in. “Answer it within your mind, and if after all thoughts you are still convinced she is the one, send me your wedding IV.”
James looked at him thoughtfully for a while, grinned and left the office. He walked down the hallway towards the reception hall, pondering on what Charles said. He loved Helen, but the part of him which deliberated on what Charles said would not let him concentrate on that love. Helen lied truly, but he was not bothered much about it, afterall she was only helping him. What he could not understand was the ease with which she told the lies, not just once but twice now, without even stammering or pausing. They slipped freely from her even when the questions were impromptu. He thought about her being desperate and felt something was amiss; a lady with a kind heart like hers has no reason being desperate for marriage. Besides, it was he who approached her, not the other way round, though she consented without a single thought. He shook his head: there is no point delaying to accept a proposal when you truly love the person proposing; it’s only foolish and speaks doubt, and who even could resist his charm and handsomeness?
He smiled again and purged himself of all doubtful thoughts that Charles provoked in him; he was not going to allow anything or anyone to hinder or corrupt his love for her.
As he approached the reception hall, he was jolted out of his thoughts by the noisy and anxious interrogation of the nurses by Nnadi and his father. Determined to end all issues right away, he walked up to them and tapped his father on the back, drawing his attention.
“What are you doing here, Father?” he whispered.
“Oh James!” Osakwe muttered. “We are looking for your wife, of course. Smith called that she was knocked down by a car,” he added. “And that was no way to greet your father whom you have not seen for months,” he scorned.
“Really?” James wondered. “You came for Queen, the precious daughter-in-law right? Did you not hear that your grandson, your flesh and blood was badly injured and has been on admission here?” Osakwe stared on, sad. “I see your loyalty to him has finally rubbed you of the family ties you so much wanted to protect.”
“Where is my daughter?” Nnadi asked sternly as he tried very hard to curtail himself from overreacting. He spat fire. His eyes widened. His mouth trembled in anger as he stepped towards James who stood silently watching him, unmoved. “Where is she, you fool?” he roared.
Osakwe was quick to intervene by coming in between them.
“This is not the right time for this Nnadi,” he hushed. “We have to make sure your daughter is fine.”
“No!” James protested loudly. “There is no better time than now. Let’s do it right now. You want to hit me? Do it! Go ahead and blame me for your daughter’s irresponsibility which you know I have tolerated for so long now.”
“What are you doing James?” Osakwe asked trying to shut his son up. “Shut up and show some respect, he is your father in…”
“No Father, not anymore!” he cut in, knowing what he wanted to say. “All my life I have lived in respect and obedience to others at the expense of my own happiness and comfort. I will do that no more,” James raised his voice. “To please you, I married a girl I barely knew, and in respect to her father I never told what I suffered in the marriage. It is high time I stood up and lived my life for myself and by myself.”
“Osakwe, what has gotten into your son?” Nnadi roared, glancing at Osakwe. “If you don’t shut him up…”
“Shut me up?” James’ anger kindled. “I am not your boy, neither am I your servant. I am your son-in…,” he paused to rephrase. “No! Was, for that title is on its way to extinction. I owe you nothing anymore.”
“You ungrateful idiot!” Nnadi cursed. “You dare throw everything your father laboured away because of your selfish interest? I made your father,” Osakwe twitched his face and glanced around, disgraced. “and this marriage was a seal to that, so do not…”
“Enough of that, Nnadi!” Osakwe interrupted loudly in anger.
The eyes of passers-by, nurses and patients who sat painfully waiting for their turn to see a doctor pierced through Osakwe’s head. He felt deeply ashamed and embarrassed.
“Enough!” he continued. “I am sick and tired of you reminding me every now and then of your little help. I am sick and tired of the bondage which you have put me into because of common five million naira.”
“Common five million naira? Have you gone mad?” Nnadi gaped, pinching his short self to believe Osakwe didn’t say anything. He looked at the gathered crowd, which formed a viewing circle around them, and swallowed hard. His pride was about to be bruised in public and he was not enjoying it.
“No, I have not,” Osakwe replied. “In fact, I just regained my sanity. What is all these about? Embarrassing me because of how much?” he paused. His eyes fixed on Nnadi; his head down, his walking stick hitting the floor rhythmically to divert the anger pushing his short legs to war. “You know what?” Osakwe continued. “I will pay you back to the last kobo you lent me first thing tomorrow morning, and you can go ahead and withdraw your shares from the company, shut down the business, but just leave my family alone,” he added, gravely.
Nnadi knew just how serious he was.
James stood in awe with his mouth agape. He couldn’t believe his father finally stood up to Nnadi and broke every tie and bond between them: a man he revered and worshiped like a god. He gasped, stepped backwards as his father approached him.
“Where is Junior?” Osakwe asked dragging him out of the reception hall. He subjectively followed him, as though in a trance.
“You will regret this, Osakwe!” Nnadi yelled at their evanescing backs. “You will regret this!” He turned to the crowd, whose attention was all on him. “What!” he roared at them with a wave of his hands, and they all dispersed like birds waved at by a farmer. He quickly went out of the reception hall in search of his daughter.
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