Little drops of hope…that’s all he asked for.
But she wasn’t ready to make a promise of hope, or love, or lust, or any of that bullshit! And now, they’ve been staring at each other for 21 minutes, 3 seconds…4 seconds…5 seconds…6…7…8…till she hated his eyes and everything it said.
Yet, she smiled. It was the only thing she knew would keep his hands off that sickle. He knew and understood that smile. It always worked; but right now, on the 22nd minute, he is more confused than determined. His head or his heart? His heart is running fast, way faster than his head. His head, telling him to breathe…and think. Breathe. Think. Breathe! Think!
He takes a long inhale, almost choking on his breath, wishing he didn’t have to exhale.
“I love you, Tobi.” Efua said in a whisper, her voice breaking in some sort of allegiance and testament to her broken heart.
Tobi giggled in response. He indeed thought it was funny, and the words did serve to calm his nerves for a bit; but only for a bit, ‘cos the clock had begun to tick louder, and his palpitating heart, in competition with the racing clock, had begun to race faster.
Not that he cared for the clock or the time unlike Efua, who would give everything right now just for a chance to turn the hands of the clock, all the way back, back to six years ago, maybe seven, when she first saw the used condom, a syringe, a lighter, a pinch of heroin, and a naked man in Tobi’s bed.
That moment – six or seven years ago – as she stared on in disbelief, her heart sinking by the second, her love drowning along with it, her fears rising, her hopes falling…she could have left then; but ‘what’s love without a fight?’, she asked the woman in her, who simply smiled at the thought of the day it would all be a bad memory. He would change for her; she would feed him silly with love and acceptance.
She had a plan, or so she thought.
You ever thought of how funny women sound when they think they can change a man? Yes? Me too. But this is a battle she was determined to win.
“You are not the one who has to live a lie because of society! You are not the one who has to deal with all kinds of scary voices in your head!”, he shouted at her when he got fed up trying to explain.
“But the voices in my head are yours!”, she retorted, interpreting his rantings as a bunch of shoddy excuses to do drugs but as far as Tobi was concerned, it honestly was the only way out…or so he thought.
“What about the naked man! And the used condom?!” She realised how stupid she sounded as the words escaped her quivering lips. There couldn’t possibly be any rationale for that. Why was she even seeking an explanation? This is beyond ridiculous!
The further they argued, the farther he got from his threshold of sanity.
He turned back, walked away, and slammed the doors behind him. She leapt after him, caught up with him, held him by his arm, stood firm in his front, held his face in her hands, and looked right in his eyes…
“I’ve got one final question, Tobi. Will you…”
“…Rest. In. Peace. I will. If you would just let me!” He interrupted her statement in a low, firm tone.
He had said those words before. Those exact words. But this time, they sounded…different. She literally could feel the meaning of those words, piercing right through what was left of her fragile heart. And it felt real. It was real.
She looked at him through the tears that had begun to form from behind her eyes, hands quivering, lips chattering…she knew. She just…knew. For it was no longer there – the spark in his eyes when he looked at her, it was gone. Disappeared.
Slowly, she lets go of his face, letting the words spring right out of her heart. “You indeed love him, don’t you?”
Then she thought to herself: what if she pushed him a bit harder? Would he come around? That person she loved, the one that’s perhaps still locked somewhere within? What if she let him leave? Would she see him walk back by sunrise? Or would she be called to a morgue?
What if she gets him to go to church?
No. When Chidimma trusted the pastor with her problems, it was used as anecdote while the offering sack went around thrice for harvest. He will be smeared in Holy Oil and called an abomination to strengthen the faith of others.
What if she prayed to God about it?
No. God is probably busy solving more depressing issues in the Middle East.
What about her counselor?
Bad idea! His son hanged himself just seventeen days ago and his daughter returned home from her third marriage.
No one to talk to; nowhere to run, or hide, or seek the tiniest bit of comfort to ease her discomfort; confronted with the truths of her lies, lies she only was guilty of, lies she told herself for six, seven years.
But now, now? Wait till sunrise? Push harder? Give up? Why give up now? But what’s left to hold on to?
Then anger sauntered through the broken pieces of what used to be her loving heart. Right before her was a psychotherapist, who did his job the best way he could, even while at war with his own demons; but when he needed other people to do theirs’, they were busy failing and falling too low to catch their shattered spirits…let alone his. They were the guilty ones, not him! But how much could that do for her now?
Holding on to the sickle firmly in his right hand, the blade on his veiny wrist, fist clenched, Tobi could hear the damn clock! Ticking louder! His feeble heart, racing faster! And again, he asked himself: head? Or heart?
He looked straight in Efua’s eyes, searching her face and right there, was the answer. He looked in her eyes, and saw his end.
As if on cue, the sound of his heartbeat started to sychronize with the tick of the old wall clock. They seem to be in perfect synchrony right now. They seem to have finally agreed that all this should end. They, indeed, heard him, and answered.
Efua’s lips had been moving the entire time and he only noticed just as his auditory senses caught a whiff of whatever she had been saying: “…leave, or stay. Decide!”
She meant every word. Her eyes were cold. But so was his heart.
Efua felt a sharp poke, looked downward, and saw as Tobi’s blood began to flood the space they stood. Just as she got a hold of him before he fell to the ground, she noticed that the blood flowed from her as well…and slowly, she felt as her strength began to fade.
He collapsed on her and she on him, colliding into each other as they both fell to the ground.
Gently, he rolled up his shirtsleeve and showed her a face, carefully carved just by his wrist as he whispered with the very last strength he could muster – “I got this done yesterday…his face, etched on my skin, exactly as it is etched, right on my heart.”