“There is nothing in Lagos for you.”
Whitney continued to pack without paying her father any attention.
“Where are you even going to stay?”
She could tell her father was genuinely worried but that was the least of her concerns. She was not exactly sure about what she was doing but something inside her kept pushing her to continue.
“You’ve never stayed alone for a whole year, not even during your NYSC,” her father said and he was right. “And for your first time, you are picking Lagos? Stop being stupid Whitney.”
The tears she had dammed behind her eyes were threatening to burst through but she could not give her father the satisfaction of seeing her cry.
“Come on,” her father came closer and pulled her. “It’s been the two of us for so many years, don’t do this to us.”
She turned to face him, barely seeing through her watery eyes, “I didn’t do this to us. You did when you brought that bitch into our house.”
She felt the slap before she saw it. For a couple of seconds, the whole world stood still. Her father did not move and she could not move. Her father had never hit her before, she couldn’t believe in it.
Her father started towards her but she grabbed her box and stormed out of the room. The tears were pouring down her face without restraint now, things were never going to be the same again. She grabbed her car keys from the living room table and headed for the door.
“If you’re going to leave my house, you cannot take that car, it is mine.”
She heard her father say and she stopped. For a second she was afraid. She had never taken care of herself before, she always had her father. But she couldn’t turn around now. She dropped the keys on the floor and marched out of the house.
Her phone rang beside her and Whitney returned to the present. She wiped tears away from her eyes with her wrist. This was the first time she had ever allowed herself to relive the memory of the day her life changed forever. She could not believe how foolish she was that day.
She looked at the number calling her, also trying to keep her eyes on the road as she drove. It could be the doctor who had sent her a text about her father. She picked up the phone and answered the call.
“My name is Doctor Okiki, I sent you a text last night,” the voice on the phone said.
Why was he calling, was her father dead? “Hi.”
“Doctor Daramola wanted to know if you were coming.”
“Yes, I am,” she answered very fast. “I’m on my way already.”
“Alright, that’s good. I will see you when you…”
“Are you with him?”
“My father, Doctor Daramola.”
“Not at the moment. I am in the hospital but not in the room with him.”
Whitney wondered what she would do with herself if he died before she got to him.
“Hello Miss Daramola?”
“Will you like to speak to him?”
Did she want to? On the phone? After all these years of silence, was she going to make up with him on the phone?
“I’m already on my way to his room. If you want me to stop just say so,” Doctor Okiki’s said.
She did not respond. She wasn’t sure what to do or what to say, it was all too much for her.
“I’m in front of his door now, should I go in?”
She sighed and whispered, “Yes.”
She heard the door open and at the same moment looked up and saw Federal Road Safety Officers just a few metres away from her. One of them was standing in the middle of the road and already had his hand up to stop her.
“I’m in the room now Miss Daramola,” Doctor Okiki said. “He’s asleep so… oh wait, he’s awake now.”
Whitney heard everything the Doctor said but she was stopping in front of these officers with a phone to her ear. She pushed a button and the window slid down, she was in trouble.
“I’m giving the phone to him now,” she heard Doctor Okiki say at the same time the FRSC officer was saying, “can you end that call please?”
“Hello?” The voice was weak and strained but she would recognize that voice if she heard it on the moon.
“Did you hear me?” The officer was getting loud. “I said end that call!”
“Hello, Daddy?” Whitney said, her eyes closed to prevent another stream of tears.
She felt a hand grab her phone from her hand and she opened her eyes. The Road Safety officer had collected the phone and ended the call. A surge of anger rose through her and she opened her door and jumped out of the car.
“Are you stupid? Do you know who I was talking to?” She said at the officer, her voice shaking but loud.
“When an officer talks to you, you obey,” the officer said with a smug smile on his face.
Whitney took a look at his face and she knew exactly where she wanted to land her fist. She ran towards him and as her hand rose up to meet his face she felt a strong hand grab her arm from behind. She pulled and struggled but the hold was strong.
“Madam, don’t do anything you’d regret,” the owner of the strong grip said to her.
She stopped struggling and he let her go. She covered her face with her palms and sobbed. What would her father think happened? What if he thought she hung up on him? What if it killed him? She had to go, she really had to go.
“Please give me my phone, I have to go,” she said but the officer just stared at her. She turned to the person who had stopped her from punching the idiot officer. “Tell him to give me my phone.”
“Are you okay Madam?” The nicer officer asked.
“I am fine.”
“I don’t think you are fit to drive.”
“I am fit to drive, just give me my phone and let me go.”
The officer looked at her and shook his head, “no, I don’t think so. Please come and sit for a while, you need to calm down.”
“No, I don’t have time, you don’t understand. I am in a hurry, my father is dying.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that Madam but I can’t in good conscience allow you drive. You are agitated and upset, you are an accident waiting to happen.”
“Please, I need…”
“The faster I see you calm and stable the faster you get to leave. I won’t even write you a ticket for calling while driving.”
Whitney could not believe her bad luck. She looked at the names of the officers and made a mental note to remember their names and faces. If her father died before she got to Ilorin, she would hunt them down and kill them both.
“Please sit in your car and try and settle down,” the officer said. “Do you have any good music? Maybe Ebenezer Obey?”
She did not even look at him, she could only think about one thing; her father at the other end of that line, dying.
Life as a child must be awesome. They had no responsibilities, no fears, and no worries. He was the exact opposite. His responsibilities were killing him, he lived in constant fear and he would win if there was an Olympics game called worrying. He had only one thing in common with the children around him; he had no money of his own.
Wole walked up the classroom corridor, April’s hand in his. Her pretty, pink bag; her most precious possession, bobbed up and down as she walked. She had beautiful long hair, just like her mother and it was weaved into a bun that stood on top of her head like a bulb of onion. It made him smile. She always insisted on the pink ribbons even though she lost at least one every week. She was his whole world, and it wasn’t only because he had nothing else, it was because she just meant the world to him.
He got to the entrance of her class and Miss Lara, April’s class teacher saw them. She hurried to the door with a big smile. She was beautiful, he had noticed from the first time he brought April to the school. She was plump and dark-skinned, the exact opposite of his late wife but they were both very beautiful women. Why was he even comparing them?
“Mister Best, good morning sir,” Miss Lara said.
“I’ve always told you to call me Wole.”
“It’s school policy sir,” she said with a smile. “The only way I can call you Wole is if we had a personal relationship and we don’t. Or do we?”
Wole smiled. She wasn’t shy at all. But he was not ready to replace his wife. Not yet.
“I have put tissues in April’s bag in case she needs to blow her nose,” Wole said.
Her smile disappeared and for the first time, he saw Miss Lara’s serious face.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” she started, “she’s had this cold for so long, have you been to the hospital?”
He knew it was only a matter of time before this question arose. “Yes, we have been to the hospital and she’s already taking drugs.”
“Have you seen any improvements?”
“Yes, of course, yes,” Wole said. But it was a lie. There had been no improvements but it scared him to even think about it. “If there is any problem, please give me a call.”
“Alright Mister Best,” she said.
Wole knelt beside April, “give Daddy a peck.”
April kissed him on the cheek and he returned the favour. He stood and watched Miss Lara lead April into the class. He turned around and hurried out of the school. He had a big day in front of him, one that could change his and April’s life.
He got to the road and stopped a tricycle. In a few minutes, he stopped in front of Deltatech Holdings. This meeting was the most important one he had ever attended but somehow he wasn’t nervous. He was not sure that was a good sign. He was nervous the day he asked his wife out and she said yes. He was nervous the first time he met her father and he loved him. He was calm the day he lost his wife.
He shook his head, it was all nonsense. Today was going to be a good day. If he closed this deal, he could finally do what he needed to do for April.
He walked into the building and smiled as he approached the receptionist.
“Good morning ma,” he said.
“Good morning sir, welcome to Deltatech. How may I help you?”
“I am here to see Mister Jimoh.”
“Okay sir. Do you have an appointment?”
“Yes I do, for 8 am.”
“Okay sir. Please hold on for a second while I put a call through to his office.”
Wole nodded and dipped both hands into his pockets. He was way too calm and maybe he had a right to be. His paintings were amazing and Mister Jimoh had said so himself. They were mostly abstract but they would look good in the new Deltatech building. If this deal went through and it looked like it would, it would solve more than half of his problems. And it would open more doors for him. It had to go through.
“I’m sorry sir but Mister Jimoh is not yet in,” the receptionist said.
Still, he remained calm, “can I wait for him?”
“Sure, please take your seat over there,” she said, pointing to some chairs behind him.
He had taken only one step towards the chairs when Mister Jimoh walked into the building. He saw Wole and smiled.
“Wole, how far?” he said.
“I’m fine sir, good morning.”
“You’re here concerning your paintings?”
The man was going straight to the point; that was fine. “Yes sir, I am.”
“I’m sorry o, we gave the deal to somebody else.”
The words hit him like a blow to his temple. “Sir, you said my paintings were great.”
“Yes Wole, they are,” Mister Jimoh said. “I liked them; everybody liked them. But the Chairman has a nephew who takes pictures, he asked us to buy his pictures instead of your paintings.”
“Oh my God,” Wole said, his hands involuntarily going to his head.
“I’m sorry Wole.”
“Sir, I need this deal. Even if you won’t buy everything, just buy a few sir.”
“It is out of my hands now, it was an order from the oga at the top.”
“Sir, I have a sick daughter and she needs a CT scan. I was banking on this money for that.”
“Sorry about your daughter Wole. If anything else comes up, I will give you a call.”
“I have to go upstairs now, I have a meeting in thirty minutes and I need to prepare my presentation.”
Wole wanted to protest but the man had run off. He looked at the clock on the wall, how could his day get so bad so early? The only good thing about this was, things were so bad, they could only get better now.
His phone rang in his pocket and he pulled it out.
It was Miss Lara.
He swallowed. God, please let her be calling to ask me out.
“Hello Miss Lara?”
“Mister Best, you need to come to the school now! April is unconscious.”
Whitney was calm when she resumed her journey. She had given what the officer said a lot of thought. She was in a hurry because she wanted to see her father before he died but it would all be pointless if she died herself. She took the advice of the officer and tuned her radio, looking for a station playing soft music. She found one playing music by Whitney Houston and she stopped tuning.
All her life people always asked if she was named Whitney for Whitney Houston and she always wished she could say no. Her mother had been an obsessed Whitney Houston fan and had always insisted she would name her first daughter Whitney. Her father said he never agreed to the name but when she passed he felt obliged to give her that last honour. But that was not it, he played so many Whitney Houston songs, trying to make her love the songs just like her mother did. And it worked.
She’d fallen in love with Whitney Houston and all the special moments she had dancing with her father to the songs. She had always imagined that on her wedding day, she would dance with her father to a Whitney Houston song. Even when they didn’t speak for five years, something in her still always hoped they would reconcile just for that dance. Why had she been so stubborn?
Why didn’t her father reach out more? He was the parent, he should have risen about her stupidity.
She shook her head, she could not blame her father for anything right now; the man was dying. She nodded along to the song and let her mind linger in the happy memories they brought.
Her phone rang and for a second she thought her heart stopped. Was that the doctor from her father’s hospital? Was he dead? She could not take this call while driving. She pulled the car to the side of the road, took a deep breath and picked up the phone.
It was Jordan. She sighed and answered the call.
“Hey girl,” Jordan said in a rather subdued voice. “Thanks for last night.”
“Last night…” Oh yeah, she had saved his life. It felt like it had been several days instead of hours. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m going to be okay,” Jordan said. “Will you be coming to Venom tonight?”
“What?” She could not believe what she was hearing. “Are you stupid Jordan? You are going back there tonight? Do you want to die?”
“No, no, I’m not going back. I can’t even go back. My mom is here now and they’re shipping my butt back to Akure.”
“Good for you. Come on Jordan, I know we love to have fun but drugs? Come on.”
There was a momentary pause then Jordan said, “So are you going to the club or what?”
“I’m not going. Why are you asking?”
“Somebody wanted to know if they would see you there?”
“Take a guess.”
Whitney furrowed her brows and thought for a few seconds then she knew!
“Please don’t tell me it is Hayes.”
“He is the one,” Jordan said and Whitney hissed. “You made him buy that drink and you think he would drink it alone?”
“I can’t believe I parked for this,” Whitney said to herself and added aloud, “tell him he can pour it down a toilet if he wants, I don’t care.”
“Come on, don’t break the man’s heart. All he wants is to sit down and talk.”
She ended the call. The nerve of this Hayes guy. Well, he was a billionaire, he was probably used to getting everything he wanted. She had to get back on the road, she shouldn’t be losing time to stupid calls.
She was about to start the car when her phone rang again. Jordan was relentless. Was the man paying him?
She answered the call.
“Look, I don’t care if I break his heart, I am not coming.”
“Well, I guess his heart can’t be broken any further because he just passed away.”
Whitney chuckled, “what?”
“We believed you were coming and he tried to hold on for as long as he could.”
“What are you talking…” she removed the phone from her ears and looked at the number that had called her, it was not Jordan. “Oh my God, Doctor Okiki?”
“We hope you can come around for the funeral, he was your father, you owe him that much.”
She opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. Tears ran down her face in torrents and her body shook as grief racked every cell in her.
“Hello? Are you there? I need to…”
Doctor Okiki continued to talk but she didn’t hear a single word of what he said. She heard only one voice and it said only thing, over and over again.
“It’s been the two of us for so many years, don’t do this to us.”
She had done “this” and now there was only one of her.