He watched from where he sat as she entered the overpriced confectionary shop that was merely a walking distance from the beach. He knew she was just from her house about three streets away. She’d grown much thinner since he’d last set eyes on her – between a year or two ago if he was doing his math right. On that occasion, just like all the others, he had been too much of a weakling to approach her and undertake his charge so he’d simply walked away moments before an encounter might have ensued.
Of course, he’d later regretted it. As he always did.
She placed her order at the counter and sat down to a thick novel in a corner of the shop that was partially hidden behind an enclave of potted plants. He wasn’t surprised at her activity choice. She’d always been the bookworm…
He checked his wristwatch, it was almost 8:30am. While making his enquiries in a bid to locate her in Lagos, he’d discovered that in the past year she had become a part-time nurse at one of the government hospitals. Her shift started at 10:00am. He didn’t know how long she planned to stay, nor how much time it would take to do what he needed to, so he decided to approach her once her order was served.
As soon as he saw a waitress heading towards her with a tray bearing a cup of steaming coffee and a slice of chocolate cake, he got up from his table and took a deep breath, reminding himself to stay calm no matter how things turned out. He didn’t know what her reaction would be and to avoid further weakening of his flimsy resolve by unpleasant imaginations, he refrained from speculating. Turning, he walked towards the back of the room.
When he got to her table, her attention was focused on stirring the sweetener into her cup of coffee. She sensed his presence but didn’t look up, assuming he was a waiter. “Please would you mind getting me some sugar? This sweetener isn’t quite doing the trick.”
He didn’t know what to say and didn’t want to startle her – any more than was unavoidable – so he just stood there, waiting for her to look up. After a few seconds, noticing the person hadn’t moved, she looked up with a ready smile, thinking maybe the waiter considered her rude and had been offended by her not making eye contact. Their eyes met; hers’ widened slightly, the smile vanished and it took every ounce of courage and will power in him to remain where he was.
“Hello Anthony.” She smiled wryly for a brief moment and then motioned for him to take the seat across from her. He sat down without a word, his throat suddenly very dry. A waiter was cleaning the top of a recently vacated table nearby and she called to him, requesting for sugar. Afterwards, they both sat in silence. He couldn’t bring himself to look at her face, she didn’t take her eyes off of his.
“This is very unexpected. So tell me, how has life been treating you?”
He couldn’t figure out if the question was posed to further deepen his guilt, or in the actual hopes that some great calamity had befallen him in the past decade plus. To him, whichever of the two fit the accurate description of her motives, she was justified. In curiosity, he finally looked up from the table cloth he’d been studying to scrutinize her expression and was stunned to find one of real concern displayed.
That made no sense.
He cleared his throat and shrugged. “Better than it should. You?”
He almost kicked himself immediately the word left his mouth. What right did he have to be asking her how her life was when he’d personally orchestrated its destruction?
She smiled into her steaming cup. “Better than I expected actually.”
Anthony was getting confused at this point. Things weren’t adding up. She was almost…friendly. He eyed her suspiciously for a while, almost doubting if it was really her until a thought hit him. Maybe she’d suffered from amnesia. It could be a selective kind since she appeared to remember him but obviously didn’t seem to recall the incident that should cause her to despise the very sight of him.
“I suppose I’m to blame for decreasing your expectations then.” It wasn’t a question.
She seemed to ponder that momentarily before the waiter arrived with her requested sugar and she thanked him. “I don’t think it’s really about who to blame but to whom I owe gratitude.”
He sighed heavily. She was killing him here, and although she had more right and reason than most to, it was getting him impatient and more uncomfortable. “Sorry but…you’re talking crazy and we both know it. I know you’re probably just being sarcastic and trust me, I’m aware that I deserve a lot worse than that but -.”
“I’m not trying to be that or whatever else it is you’re imagining. I’m just grateful.”
“For what exactly?” He pushed away from the table slightly to avoid knocking something over with his gesticulating. He jabbed four fingers into his chest. “What I did to you? What we did to you? You’re happy that episode happened – what the hell are you even saying? I bet you wish you could rewind time and change all that, or at least fit in a part in the story where you get to drive a trailer over us or something.”
She’d been slowly stirring the sugar into her coffee throughout his outburst, keeping her head down. When she did look up, her eyes glistened and within a few seconds, lone drops had marked out paths on each of her cheeks.
“I’d appreciate it if you quit blurting nonsense here Anthony, please. I’m the one who should be having emotional outbursts so you can try to hold yourself together.” She swatted at her tears in irritated jerks.
“I’m not overjoyed at what happened. Of course I’m not. Would it have been nice to escape all that pain? Yeah, I guess it would. But guess what Anthony? It did happen, I did suffer it and I’ve had to cope with that fact. Along the way, while I was doing my best to survive, I found joy and now I’ve learned to live. Would you prefer it if I’d told you I was suicidal? Is that what you were hoping to hear? That I’d become a depressed, miserable, forlorn shadow of a person? Would more tragedy in my life help to feed the guilt you so jealously guard? Hmmm?” Grabbing a serviette from beside her cake plate, she dabbed her face. The tears were yet to cease, but her expression was one of annoyance.
Anthony bent in shame, painfully aware of how apt her words were. He’d not realized but he’d actually hoped she’d be bitter. It would have been an expected response and he could’ve lived with it, knowing she was warranted to feel that way. What he never anticipated was her finding happiness in spite of their history. He was at a loss for how to handle it…
To be continued