For three days, I stuck my Aliu’s side, driving him to the hospital and taking him home whenever he let himself be convinced to go home for a shower and change of clothes. I stayed with him from the time visiting hours started until they ended. Sometimes, I spent the night at his place because it soon became obvious to me that he couldn’t cater to himself in this refreshed crisis. On the fourth day, Khalil’s doctor called him in the middle of the night, asking him to come over immediately. I was around and I drove him to the hospital at once. The doctor met us in his office and asked to speak with Aliu alone, but he shook his head and told the doctor that I was family.

The doctor took a beat before saying with the most sombre expression, “I’m sorry, Mr. Adegbenro. We lost him.”

Everything faded out. The doctor. His face. His voice. His lab coat. Everything.

Even Aliu.

Khalil had gone into another crisis and thereafter passed away fifteen minutes before we arrived.

I stared. I kept staring at nothingness as the doctor’s words found fertile ground in my mind.

Aliu’s eyes met mine, wild from shock. Then there was a sound, a strangled sound. Aliu was gasping for air.

“Oh God…I can’t…” he choked out as he collapsed on the floor. His eyes and mouth were wide open with panic. “Moe!” he gasped. “I…I can’t breathe…”

I stood there looking at him. I wasn’t sure what was going through my mind at that moment. I simply stood there and I kept staring at him like I was in a trance.

The doctor rushed to his side as he spasmed, his knees on the floor, his entire body trembling as he rested his hands heavily on the coffee table in the office, his fingers gripping the edges like vices.

“I…can’t…” I heard Aliu’s voice croak out from somewhere very far away as he struggled with his breathing.

“Mr. Adegbenro, take it easy…” the doctor was urging.

“I…can’t – I can’t…”

And then, I suddenly snapped out of my reverie and darted to his side.

“Hey, Aliu, take deep breaths,” I began saying as I grabbed him to me. “It’s going to be okay. Take deep breaths, you’ll be okay…”

He didn’t respond. He kept shaking violently, while his breath rattled through his chest with alarming sounds.

I turned to the doctor. “Please, do something! Get your people in here!”

Death and panic had to be a part of the doctor’s everyday life. He looked unflappable as he responded, “I don’t think we need to call a rescue team. This is clearly a panic attack. Has he had one before?”

Not that I knew of. So I shook my head.

For the first time in my life, I saw and heard Aliu wail. He dropped down to the floor on his side and curled into a fetal position, pulling at his shirt and wailing – a most desperate and wretched sound. He sounded like a man who’d been broken.

I stared helplessly at him. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t even know I was crying myself.

I reached for him, to pull him up. He latched on to my hand and grabbed tight. He allowed me to lift him up to a sitting position on the floor and then clung to me, shaking still, his fingers digging deep into the flesh of my arms, strong enough to leave bruises. He pressed his face against my shoulder and moaned, “Moe, my boy… My boy… My baby boy is gone…”

He shook violently as a surge of sobs wracked through his body. He felt shrunken in my arms, not at all the big and strong man I’d fallen in love with.

I looked at the doctor. “We need a minute here. Please.”

He nodded and left the room.

Aliu held on to me, fists locked in my shirt. I moved so I could put my arm around his back and support him. He tried to speak, opening his mouth and closing it again.

“Shh, don’t say anything. I’m here. Just hold on to me,” I said softly.

He crumpled in on himself, the big, tall man now so small and bent under the inhuman pressure of such a tragedy. “I can’t do this,” he sobbed. “He can’t be gone. You said it’s going to be alright. It has to be alright… He can’t be gone… He can’t, Moe… He can’t…”

I didn’t know what to say. Words eluded me. My insides were in turmoil, so inadequate in dealing with a grieving situation such as this, but still wanting to do everything in my power to comfort him. I couldn’t even allow myself to grieve in the face of Aliu’s devastation.

“You have to be strong, Aliu,” I murmured. “You have to be strong. Please.”

“No… I can’t be. I can’t be strong anymore, Moe.”

He cried uncontrollably, and the wretched sounds bounced off the walls of the office, shattering through my insides, making it an immense struggle for me to stay strong on his behalf. I had never seen him so devastated.

Khalil was buried that same morning with respect to Muslim rites.

Clearly exhausted and emotionally drained, Aliu returned to my house from the funeral with Ivan, Deola and Demola. I wished he’d at least be able to sleep, but he merely sat in a chair in the living room, staring into nothingness.

I was in the dining room, with the note Khalil had addressed to me on his death bed. The note contained so many questions the boy had apparently sought answers for. It was found on his laps by the nurse who had first run into the room in response to his distress. He didn’t get to finish the note before he relapsed into the seizure that led to his death.

It read with his familiar scrawl that was made almost illegible because of his incapacitation:

Uncle Mo, I love you so much.

But will you ever forgive my dad?

Will you be good friends with him again?

Are you going to take care of him when I’m gone?

Will you be his bo –

I stared at the unfinished word with tears shimmering in my eyes. Boyfriend? Was that what he’d wanted to write? I would never know. I folded the note, tucked it inside my pocket and moved to the comforting arms of my boyfriend in the living room.

***

“I’m calling off the wedding,” Demola said. “I want to be with you.”

The ornate clock in my room ticked, as I stood there in the doorway of my room, trying to process his words.

“I-I’m sorry, what?” I stuttered. “I’m confused.” I held out my hands between us like I was trying to stop the words from sinking in. “What wedding are you calling off?”

“I mean my –”

“You’re calling off your wedding?” I interrupted in a hushed tone, before saying the words out loud as if their import had finally dawned on me, “You’re calling off your wedding? Bu-but why? Wait, don’t answer that. You’re calling off the wedding because of Aliu?! Because of my ex? Are you okay at all?”

“No,” Demola said quickly as he took a step towards me. “No, Morris. I’m calling off the wedding because I love you.”

“Because you love me? Are you stupid?!” My eyes had widened with rage as he took a step back from my sharp words. “How can you say you want to call of your wedding because of me?”

“Morris, I mean it. You –”

“I don’t think you do. You want to call off the wedding because of me?” Repeating the words left a sour taste in my mouth. “You really are not in your right mind.”

“MOE!” Demola said loudly. He raised his hands in a placatory gesture. “Calm down. I am in my right mind.”

“Don’t tell me to calm down. A sane man wouldn’t say that.” I stepped away from him like I was seeing an apparition and laughed hysterically. “You’re mad! No, really. That’s what this is. You must be mad.”

“Moe, listen –”

“Are you frigging kidding me right now?! Aliu just waltzed back into my life some minutes ago after two years saying he still loves me. And suddenly, you’re here saying you want to call off your wedding. And you expect me to listen to you?! I’d think you’d be sensitive enough to not dump your sudden decision on me. You know what – you need to leave my room. No, you need to leave my house. Like right now!” I pointed an angry finger away from us.

“No, I can’t until you know why I’m doing this –”

“Until you know why I’m doing this,” I repeated in a harsh mimicry. “You want to leave your soon-to-be perfect life for me? Me? Moe! What will you tell your fiancée? No, what will you tell your parents? And her parents? And your friends? And everyone you’ve invited to the wedding? That you’re calling off your wedding to your woman for a guy? A guy! Ha! Aye mi o!” I put my two hands on my head.

“I thought you’d be happy. Don’t you want to be with me?” Demola looked uncertain. He’d obviously not been expecting my outburst.

“My God! Can you hear yourself right now? You’re unbelievable.” A look of disgust found its way to my face. “Face it, bro –”

“Bro?”

“–you’re calling off your wedding because, like your mother, you wouldn’t be happy in your marriage,” I continued like I hadn’t heard him. “Your biological father, who always cheated on your mother, was stabbed at an owambe party because he was flirting with another man’s wife. Now Aliu is back, you’re scared that I’ll go back to him. And your one true source of contentment would be gone. Well, newsflash, I’m not going back to Aliu! So you can as well not ruin the life of your wife-to-be by your selfishness, okay?!”

Demola took two steps back. “I can’t believe you just said all that.”

“Believe it!” I snapped.

“What’s gotten over you?”

“Nothing.”

But something was definitely wrong, and I didn’t know what or with whom – the world maybe. “Just get out of my house.”

He stood there for a long moment before turning a bit, as though to start for the stairs. Then he looked at me. We stared at each other, me swollen with rage. At what exactly? I still didn’t know.

“I’m going.” He paused to let that sink in. “I’ll be back.” Then he turned and started down the stairs.

***

I’ll be back.

It was the second time that day that I was hearing those words, from two men I cared about. It wasn’t 3pm yet and I was already exhausted. I went into the bathroom, turned on the faucet and rinsed my face.

You’ll be fine, I said to my reflection in the mirror.

Two hours later, I found my way back to the living room downstairs. Music was playing as I walked into the parlour.

“Look who finally decided to leave his room,” Baker sang out from the couch. His mouth was moving as he chewed.

I shot a scowl in his direction as I watched him dip a slice of chip in ketchup and shoved in his mouth. “You’re still here?” I had totally forgotten they’d come with Demola.

“I liked the contents of your father’s fridge.”

I grunted, dropped my phone on the table and sank onto the sofa opposite him. “Where’s Mister A?”

“He’s in the kitchen frying the orishirishi he found in the pantry.”

One thing about these two guys; they eat a lot. Baker wastes no time raiding fridges and munching on junk food and whatever he can lay his hands on. And Mister A… Well, Adaku from Jenifa has nothing on Mister A, hence the moniker. The man speaks six languages and can’t say “No” in any of them.

Just as I was about to call out to him to leave my kitchen alone, Mister A entered the living room gulping down juice straight from its bottle and holding a plate heaped with chips, meat and boiled corn and green sauce. I knew I didn’t have corn in the house; so clearly, he’d brought that along with him.

“You have the manners of a chimpanzee, Mister A,” I said, my expression rightfully revolted.

“Find me a chimpanzee that drinks juice straight from a box.”

“I don’t know why you guys are still here,” I said after some moments. I wanted to be alone and mull over the events of the day.

“Cut it out, Bitchrella,” Baker waved a piece of fry at me. “You know you need us here. Deola and Ivan aren’t around to do what they usually do.”

“I still didn’t agree to having you guys around. What if I had plans?”

“Like you have something better to do,” Mister A riposted before disappearing behind his juice.

“Ode ni e.”

“Whatever.”

After some minutes, he asked, “What are you going to do about Aliu now?”

I sighed. I wasn’t sure I knew what I’d do, but going back to him wasn’t it.

“I don’t know. I can guess what he wants but I’m definitely not giving it to him.”

“Good!” the two of them said in unison, as if they’d rehearsed it.

I chuckled.

“But there’s a bigger problem.”

“What is it?” Mister A asked as he wiped his hand with a paper napkin.

“Demola’s going to call off his wedding.”

“Eh?!” Baker exclaimed. “Call off his wedding ke?”

I nodded.

“But why? Did Mide do something wrong?”

Mide was Demola’s fiancée.

I shook my head.

“Then why does he want to call off the wedding?”

“You know how there’s this underlying rivalry between Demola and Aliu?”

“Wait, Demola is calling off his wedding because of Aliu?”

“Yes. To be with me.”

They stared at me, twin expressions of disbelief etched on their faces. Just then, my phone vibrated on the table. I moved to see who was calling.

It was a private number.

I don’t pick calls with blocked Caller ID, so I simply dropped the phone back on the table and looked at my friends.

“Look guys,” I began, “I know it’s somehow –”

“No, I don’t think it’s somehow,” Mister A cut in, disgust ripe in his voice. “I think Demola is stupid!”

“We got into an argument before he left,” I said, not wanting to let on that I felt the same way. “I said some really mean things to him before he left. He said he’d be –”

 I was interrupted by my phone’s buzzing sound again. It was a private number still.

“Why would someone call with private number?” I voiced out in a peeved tone.

“It might be Demola. It’s either you take the call or turn off your phone,” Baker said.

I picked the phone up from the table and swiped right to answer the call.

“Hello?”

No one answered from the other end. I could hear the TV in the background and the hum of a fan whirling. But no one spoke.

I heard breathing. It was somewhat raspy.

“Hello?” I said again.

There was no response.

And then, the call was disconnected.

Written by Vhar

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