Toni turned and stared at him with a smile. “Stranger.”
He smiled as he stared at her bottle. “Water?”
“Yeah.” She replied.
Jerry scoffed. “Do you mind if I term this hypocrisy?” he asked as he took a seat. “I mean, you can get water from the comfort of your home.”
She smiled at him. “Do you mind if I term this stalking?” she asked. “Why would you be here at this exact moment?”
“I came to get a drink.” He replied as he ordered for a scotch.
She nodded cynically. “Alcoholics usually have a bottle in their fridge at home and really won’t have the need to come out at this time to get a drink.”
“Probably.” He replied.
She smiled at him. “Why are you here, Jerry?”
“You do know my name. And I don’t get the privilege to know yours? Amazing” he replied as he focused on his drink. ‘Stranger’ was silent. He then turned to her. “I came to get a drink. Really.”
She stared at his footwear. “Your fluffy slippers have given you away, my dear.”
Jerry gaped as he stared at his slippers. He had hurried out of the bedroom desperately with his bathrobe on and his pyjamas when he heard she was drinking, but he didn’t think he went on with the fluffy slippers too. He sighed as she grinned at him.
“Let me guess, Tunji alias ‘I won’t keep my mouth shut’, alerted you of my presence here and you dashed down without even worrying about your slippers?” she suggested with a smile.
“I think I just got myself a new fan, right?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.
Jerry shrugged. “Really….why are you here at this time? It is really early in the morning.”
“I just needed some respite for my soul.”
He stared at her. “Respite?”
She nodded. “Sounds funny?”
“No. Sounds interesting.” He responded as he collected the glass from Tunji.
She seized the glass. “It is too early to booze, don’t you think?” she asked.
“Well…I really don’t know about the timing. I have never really worried about it. I need to be in the right frame for official duties.” He replied.
“And you need alcohol to be in the right frame of mind?” she asked. “You have a serious drinking problem, Jerry.”
He nodded. “I know.”
“I know this help support group that helps people with drinking issues. You should reach out to them.”
He sighed. “My liver isn’t complaining yet.”
“How would you know?” she asked.
“I just know.” He replied.
She took a deep breath and slid some money on the table. “I think I am done here.” She said as she handed Tunji the glass of scotch. “Help him a little.”
Tunji shrugged. “I just sell drinks.”
“Yeah. He is just selling, Stranger.” Jerry echoed. “What do you care?”
She smiled and walked out. Jerry dashed after her. “Why won’t I get a name? This is not cool, you know?”
“ ‘Stranger’ is a nice name.” she said as she walked.
Jerry walked beside her. “I guess I just have to stick with the anonymity?”
She smiled. “Take your chances, friend.”
“So…why not just have a glass of water in the comfort of your home?” Jerry asked.
She stared at him. “Sometimes, the home is not as comfortable as it seems.”
“But the bar is empty at that time too…you could have just stayed in. It is unsafe to be on the street at this time.” He replied.
“Unsafe? Do I look like I am worried about a thing?” she asked as she started to walk along.
Jerry pulled her back. “Stranger.”
Toni stopped as she stared at him. “What is it?”
“Did you swallow a Lion’s heart? Why do you seem so fearless?” he asked.
She sighed. “It is always never as it seems.”
“Are you trying to tell me that you are frail? Weak?”
She smiled. “I am not weak.”
He nodded. “That is obvious.”
“I am heading home now.” She replied as she turned away.
Jerry joined her. “I will walk you home…and you can’t protest. Sorry.”
She smiled. “I didn’t plan to.” She replied as they walked. “Tell me about your work at the bank.”
Jerry sighed. “What is there to tell? It is boring, unadventurous and just about saving money for a couple of old folks.”
“Where is the bank located?” she asked.
He pointed out the direction. “It is the obsolete microfinance bank down the lane.”
She smiled. “Of course, I know where the bank is. It is depressing enough to work in a bank that no one goes to. How did you ever get a job there in the first place?” she asked with a soft chuckle as they walked on.
“I have an old pal there, so he set me up.” He replied.
She nodded. “Fair enough. But I don’t think you earn enough from such a place. You shouldn’t be spending so much time in a bar.”
“Do you think I am broke?” He asked.
She smiled. “Are you?”
“No. I am living off some old stashed away money. Drug money.” He added with a smile.
She hissed. “Not impressed.”
“Are we still far from your home?” he asked.
She shook her head in disagreement. “No.” she replied as they turned into the next street. “My house is just here.” She added as they stopped in front of the house.
Jerry stared at the house. “Really? You are the one who lives here?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“Funny enough, I have never been to this part of the hood…never knew something as beautiful as this stood here.” He said as he stared at the building.
“Thank you for walking me home.” She said.
Jerry nodded. “My pleasure, Stranger. My pleasure.”
Toni stared at her wristwatch. “Do you want to come in for coffee?”
She nodded. “Black. Low Fat. It tastes better than alcohol. Trust me.”
Jerry took a deep breath. “I’ll take you by your word.”
“Good.” She replied and opened the gate.
Nora stood before her with a stern frown. James was standing behind her.
“Hi, Sis.” Toni greeted quickly.
Nora stared at James. “Where are you coming from?”
“Went out.” Toni replied. She stared at Jerry. “Meet Jerry.”
Jerry stretched his hand out to Nora. Nora stared at Jerry from head to toe and then took his hand. “Nice outfit.”
Jerry smiled faintly. He then turned towards Toni. “I guess the coffee might come some other day.”
Toni nodded. “Sure.”
“Alright. Good bye.” Jerry said as he turned to leave,
“Goodbye.” Nora replied firmly.
Jerry nodded and started to walk away.
“Toni!” Toni called.
Jerry turned towards her with a smile.
Toni nodded. “Toni is the name.”
He smiled and walked on.
“Do you mind telling me what that was about?” Nora asked as she stared at Toni.
James joined them. “Hi, Toni.”
“Hello. Did you guys have a nice time?” Toni asked.
Nora interrupted. “I am talking to you, Toni.”
Toni sighed. “I went out, Nora. Simple.”
“Strange to see that you decided to have fun. Why did you turn down my invite to the movie?” James asked.
Toni stared at Nora. “I did?”
“Yeah…your sister said you weren’t coming.” James replied.
Toni nodded. “Yes. I needed to rest.”
“Oh…Okay…then, why did you go out with Mr. Nice outfit?” James asked.
Toni scoffed as she stared at Nora. “Nora, can you tell him that I am twenty-three and I make my own decisions?” she shouted as she walked inside.
James felt heat flush across his face as he turned towards Nora. “I…I am sorry. I didn’t mean to upset her.”
Nora nodded. “It’s okay. Just ignore it.”
“Okay…I should be on my way now.” He said as he pecked Nora. “Bye.” He added and walked away.
Nora joined Toni in the living room. “I demand an explanation for that, Toni.” Nora started.
Toni rolled her eyes. “Is there a part where you apologise for lying about James not wanting me to join you guys?”
“Toni…” Nora stressed. “We are not going there.”
Toni sank into a seat laughing. “Why do you always do this, Nora?”
“Do what?” Nora started. “I didn’t tell you and that is that…now you should tell me why you went out without any good notice.”
Toni smiled. “Nora, do you actually think I would let that slide?” she asked.
Nora took a seat opposite her. “James likes me.”
“Good for you.” Toni replied without any smile.
Nora swallowed. This wasn’t typical of her sister. “Toni, what is going on?”
Toni groaned. “You are the problem. You are your own competition, Nora. Look in the mirror, who do you see? It is you. I am not chasing you, I can’t chase even if I wanted to. You know this. I don’t have the strength. I am not your problem, you are your own problem. Do you think I care if James wants me out with you guys or not? I don’t. I only care that you think I am a competition! Since when did a corpse become your competition, Nora?”
Tears started to stream down Nora’s eyes.
Toni sighed and pulled off her hair wig. “Look at me, anytime from now, the doctor will call and I will be in chemo. Is this what you are scared of? I might not even live through the next six months, Nora.” She shouted.
Nora swallowed painfully as the tears flowed uncontrollably. “Stop it, Toni.”
“Nora, you have lived all your life for me and I love you for it. You are a beautiful and strong woman. You are alive, Nora. Live a little.” Toni concluded as she wiped her eyes.
Nora drew closer to her sister. “Stop it, Toni. Just stop it.”
“Look, Nora, I can’t save you from yourself. You deserve the best in life, don’t let anyone take that away from you.” Toni added as she kissed her sister’s forehead. “Goodnight.”
Nora broke down in tears as Toni left for the bedroom. She had seen the side of Toni that she last saw many years ago when she first heard that she had Cancer. Toni had locked herself up in her room and cried for days. Nora had prior knowledge of her sister’s medical condition but a surgery had been done when Toni was very little and they had all thought it was over, but five years ago, Toni was diagnosed with Malignant Brain Tumour. The then cerebrovascular disease had turned out to be a tumour years after.
Toni had gone through a horrible stage of denial and after a while, she slowly started to come to terms with the fact that she might be gone soon. A year passed and she survived. This was her fifth year living with Cancer. She lived as though she didn’t have any worries, truly, she didn’t. She was doing a countdown with her days.
Toni had been in and out of surgical wards going under the knife as she struggled to live with the tumour. It was as though the tumour was never going to be supressed. The last Oncologist they had seen had suggested that she started chemotherapy as she suffered epileptic seizures after the surgeries. Toni didn’t want to have to watch her hair fall off effortlessly so she shaved it off herself in preparation for when she would eventually start her sessions.
Six months ago, they had changed cities. Toni wanted a new air. She chose Lagos. Nora wondered why Lagos would be an option with the chaos in the city, but for Toni, she didn’t mind. They could move anywhere. The first thing Nora did on their arrival was register Toni in the Hospital, she had not visited the Hospital since her registration. There was no need to. The drugs were working just fine.
Nora hated herself for making Toni cry. Toni had stopped caring about her condition, she never referred to it. She had learned to live above it, but the argument about James had sparked Toni up. Nora felt ashamed of herself. She had always seen Toni as the threat right from when they were little. Toni was the class clown, always had everyone laughing. Toni was the kid who came home with B’s and C’s, but still had her parents smile. Nora made straight A’s, but she was the serious child. She didn’t see Toni’s life as responsible back then. Nora would lock herself up and study while Toni would play with friends. They were totally different. Toni was always happy. She wasn’t. She wished she could be like her sister a little, but she always found herself ‘too serious’ for fun.
The first news that got Toni depressed was when she learnt about her Cancer. Toni was depressed for months and she would not speak to anyone. She spent her days in the room and nights in the church. The first statement Toni uttered when she got out of her depression was, “I would live this life I have.”
Nora wondered how her sister could wake up with a smile every day and still appear as radiant as she always did. Toni’s joy confused her. Nora convinced herself that God made Toni happy.
Nora let the thoughts continue to flow through her mind as she cried herself to sleep.
The sun rays came into Toni’s eyes. She touched her scalp as she yawned. “What do you want Nora?” she asked.
“It is nine am, you have to use your drugs now.” Nora replied as she pulled off the blanket from Toni’s body. “Good morning.”
Toni crawled up together. “This is why I didn’t want you getting that leave.”
Nora smiled. Her sister was coming around again. “You are stuck with me.”
“I don’t have to be.” Toni said as she jumped up. “I can poison you.”
Nora smiled. “Seriously?”
Toni nodded. “Yeah. Where is my toothbrush?”
“In the bathroom.” Nora replied.
Toni flashed a horrid grin at Nora and left for the bathroom. Nora took a deep breath and smiled. All was forgiven! She started to clear the bed…then, Toni’s diary dropped. Nora gasped as she stared at the diary. She picked it up slowly and opened it as she took a seat. (You don’t want to ready a girl’s diary standing) Toni had never kept her diary where it could be seen. “She must have written an awful lot last night before falling asleep.” Nora thought to herself as she turned the first page. She smiled as she saw the hazard drawing on it. “BEWARE…I AM NOT WHAT I WRITE”
The tap stopped flowing in the bathroom and Nora shut the diary hastily and replaced it on the bed. Toni came out with a smile. “Can you help administer my injection?” she asked. Toni knew Nora dreaded doing it, she was always scared of sending the dose in wrongly. They had a Nurse come over to the house to do this daily.
“But Toni, you know that…” Nora started.
Toni hissed. “I was messing with you.” She replied as she picked up her diary. Nora threw her face away as though she didn’t see the diary. Toni took one glance at Nora. “Be careful what you seek…you might just find it.” Toni cooed with a smile.
Nora smiled back at her sister. Toni smiled so beautifully that Nora could hardly believe that her sister was sick. “Can I have your smile, Toni?” Nora asked.
“I only smile for you.” Toni replied as she started to slip into her bathrobe.
Nora raised an eyebrow. “So, who was that cutie you brought home at night?”
“Jerry?” Toni asked.
“He is a friend.” Toni replied.
Nora pulled her sister back to the bed. “A friend?”
Toni nodded slowly. “Don’t worry…there is nothing going on.”
“You think so?” Nora asked as she started to tickle her sister. “A boy likes you.”
Toni scoffed. “Boys like me.”
“Do you like him?” Nora asked.
Toni grinned. “I like people…but, you know I am not selfish.”
“Falling in love is selfish?” Nora asked.
“On my part, yes. Why would I get anyone’s hopes up and dash them the next minute?” Toni asked. “I don’t do that to people. I don’t fall in love.”
“You have no control over the heart, you know?” Nora replied.
Toni nodded. “I already wielded this heart to do my will.”
“Liar! Liar!” Nora replied.
Toni hissed. “Believe whatever you want to…Have you ever wondered why I haven’t dated anyone? I am not going to hurt anyone. Also, once I make a male friend, like a good male friend, I immediately tell him that I have Cancer and I keep my distance. Case closed.”
Nora started to smile sheepishly.
“What is it?” Toni asked, sounding upset.
Nora shrugged. “It is just that you are slightly defensive. Hmmm…am I missing something about Mr-Jerry-nice-outfit?”
Toni scowled. “Really, Nora? Really?”
“I am just saying, Toni. You should tell me these things. I am your mommy.”
Toni smiled. “You are stupid.”
“I know.” Nora replied as she smiled.
Toni frowned. “I am going to the bathroom.”
“Apparently.” Nora replied. “You know, I think Jerry is really cute.”
Toni’s shoulders fell. “Are you going to continue with this? I am not bothered.”
“Why did you bring him home, Toni?” Nora asked, smiling.
“I am not like you, Nora. I am not thinking in the direction you are going.”
Nora grinned. “Why did you even think I was going there, Toni? Hmmm…The heart of man.”
Toni picked up her pillow and slammed it on Nora. “I hate you.”
“I love you.” Nora replied.
Toni slammed the pillow on her for a second time. “Stop it, Nora.”
Nora chuckled as she picked up a pillow and slammed it on Toni. They laughed as they started a pillow fight. They laughed as they hit each other with pillows. Toni enjoyed every bit of it…she saw her sister having some fun.
Emeka wiped his mouth. “You cook well, man. Thanks.”
“Guy, wash the plate.” Jerry replied as he ate some rice. “Before we know it, you are out of here.”
Emeka grinned as he placed the plate in the sink. “Blessed is the man who gives his brother some food.”
“What part of The Beatitudes is that? Also, quick reminder, you are not my brother. You only want my food.” Jerry added.
Emeka smiled. “I miss you at the Hospital.”
“Lies! I am sure that survival rate at the Hospital has gone up by a hundred percent since I got suspended.”
Emeka nodded with a smile as he started to wash the plate. “Strange…but true. Guy, are they following from your village?”
“I have never been to my village.” Jerry replied.
Emeka clapped his hand. “Ah! You need to go and beg those women there! You must have been married off to one babe who is tying down your success.”
Jerry stared at him looking infuriated. “What sort of nonsense is that?”
“Dude, these things might sound fetish, but, e dey happen o! You will be surprised that one girl is waiting for you to come and marry her in the village.”
“Well, she will wait forever.” Jerry replied as he dug his fork into the food.
Emeka grinned. “Why na? It’s not as if you have found a girl here.”
Jerry was silent. He just smiled.
Emeka hurried to him. “Bad guy! Who is she?”
“Man, I don’t even know how to describe her…she…she just has my heart in her hand.” Jerry said with a smile.
Emeka clasped his hands on his head. “Guy, your own don finish be that o! Na your mumu button she don press o!”
“I don’t care what she pressed, bro. I just want to be with her.” Jerry replied.
Emeka drew a seat near Jerry. “Tell me, where did you meet her. Tell me everything.” He said as he picked Jerry’s meat and tossed it into his mouth.
“You dey mad?” Jerry said as he grabbed his throat.
Emeka freed himself. “Be a friend!”
“My food! My meat! You can have head too!” Jerry stuttered.
Emeka smiled. “Oya talk…where did you meet this babe? Let me see, is she is a stunner, where is her picture?”
“Stunner? Shocker nko?” Jerry joked. “I met her at the bar.”
Emeka frowned. “Bar? Call girl? Guy!”
Jerry charged at him. “She is not!”
Emeka calmed him. “Sorry, bro. It’s just that meeting a girl at a bar is not good…she will drain your pocket.”
“Really? And I suppose your girlfriend that you met in the Church is a saint? I remember how she makes you give her money every time o, yet, she doesn’t stop using Jehovah Jireh as her personal message on BBM.” Jerry replied.
Emeka laughed. “Oya talk… where did you meet this babe? Let me see if she is a stunner…”
“Toni. Her name is Toni. She is beautiful, she is smart, and I think I am in love with her.” Jerry concluded.