CROSSROADS BY SEGUN PETERS
Michael and Lynda fall in love on the first day they set eyes on each other as fresh men in the University of Lagos. But low self esteem, misplaced priorities and pride causes them to instantly deny it in their hearts. They would not even bring themselves to admit an attraction so obvious to everyone else.
In a lengthy emotional hide and seek, they go their separate ways but never succeed to stop their hearts from calling for each other. They go into different relationships, pursued separate successful careers, but the farther apart they travel, the more their hearts bleed in search for each other.
Fate played its role in bringing them together again in several instances but the stubbornness of their heads, Lynda’s self pride and David’s broken past keep coming in the way and ruining what should be a perfect romantic reunion.
Lynda lay sprawled between sheets. She stared into the ceiling, thoughts completely disappeared, overwhelmed by an animal instinct that drove to the background restraint and consequences. She was emotionally spent. This was by far the most satisfying sexual experience in her entire life. She wondered if like then, this would be another best kept secret. She yearned and pained, because she didn't want it to.
Her thoughts crystallized slowly. They were fond and beatific of what had transpired in the last hour. Then came the insidious working their way into her to reprove and condemn her. What had they done? She had just had sex with someone who knew that they shouldn't in the first place. One of the most abominable acts that could jeopardize a person's image in the Christian sect was sex outside the marriage bounds. David knew this too, even though he had left the Christian sect.
Was he judging her? She could hear him beside her, alive and warm against her. His relaxed and easy breathing, motionless like a log of wood still radiated energy of desire and want with every mistaken touch.
She waved consequences off. They had shared something really special, he must know that too. This was not her first time but it felt new and original. She had had sex at least once in a year and none of the sexual partners she had had did not come close to this experience they had just shared. What could possibly be wrong about something that feels so right?
A fear crept in and she instantly felt lonely. What if David turned out to be one of them? The men she had had flings just once and then disposed of them because of regrets and self-condemnation.
He was different. Those men were a scratch when she felt an itch. David was more. She wanted him to lay there forever. She wanted him to reach his hands to her and do it all over again. This was sin but it felt pure and non-harming. She could sacrifice it all, image, consequences and even divine resignation if it's what it takes. What if David was one of those men that she jumped into a bed with and was out for good the next morning? She was not letting him go. She wouldn't do that when she badly yearns for him again. But if he regrets? What if condemned? What if he walked out himself and was gone for good.
"Are you crying?" David's face was turned to her, deep concern filled his eyes.
Lynda shook her head vigorously.
David reached his hand over her head pulling her closer. Lynda inched closer to him and laid a careless hand across his chest. It was hairless and smooth like silk.
"What's on your mind, Lynda?"
His words were warm. She felt emboldened to speak without being judged. "What we just did and how I don't regret any of it?" She shifted her head to look up at him.
His hand was on her back now, sweeping back and forth along her spine, tenderly and sensually awakening the nerve endings through her body. "Do you, David? Do you regret?"
David propped his head up to face her squarely. His eyes sought out hers and held her gaze firmly. "I meant what I said, Lynda. I dreamt of this day. I would never have traded it for anything." He took her face and kissed her forehead. Then he sets it gently on his chest, playing with her hair. "My only fear was that you will soon realize what we have done and you hate me."
"That is not true, David. I wanted you from the very first time I saw you." Lynda wrapped her hands around David, sinking her head into his chest and breathing in his sweat and scent. "My only regret is it took this long to get here."
"That is because you are a tough nut to crack."
"And you were a weak hammer hitting the wrong places."
"Really? Want to get hit again by a weak hammer?"
They laughed and when the laughter subsided, words were shared in the quiet of their heart beat and awakened senses. Lynda enjoyed the quiet more. She wished things were this perfect. Why can't they? What if they tried?
"Do you know I appeared in Forbes magazine recently as one of thirty most promising young entrepreneurs on the continent?"
"That's great. Congratulations."
"It's not the first. I have been named in several other magazines as either influential or promising or innovative across the continent. Recently, Alphabet Incorporated, the parent company of Google reached out to my company and we have held auspicious discussion so far. They want to acquire one of my software designs. It’s a multimillion dollars acquisition..."
Lynda's ears filled as he continued to name his achievements. His current worth which puts him as a millionaire was about to leap into billions very soon. The acceptance and performance of his software in different continents in the world. The laurels he had received from nations from Africa and the recognition he had had from prestigious universities like Harvard. The several businesses he owned and the current expansion of his company in four other countries on the continent. He did not even leave out the VIP's he had met over the years. Lynda could see he had come a very long way. She kept quiet through it all. When he was done he raised her head from his chest to look into her eyes again.
"Am I now a good enough man for you Lynda?"
"Of course you are. Is that why you told me all your achievements?"
He was quiet. She was right. Lynda felt disgust build up in her chest.
"Are you out of your mind?" her anger building. "Do you think everything you are would buy me?"
He was still silent and calm.
It was worse. "Oh God. You bastard." Her heart tore and oozed shame that very instant.
Lynda rolled off to the side of the bed and pulled out her night gown from the wardrobe. She was careful to let him see nothing of her bear skin as she changed from the bed sheets into her night gown. When she was done, she began to gather his things from the floor and toss them at him.
"I want you to get out of my bed and out of my house this minute."
David rose from the bed, in his boxers and was not in any hurry to hide his shame. He took the denim and began to dip in one leg after the other. Lynda went into the room and gathered his shirt and wrist watch from the sitting room, she tossed it violently at him, as he was bent over tying the lace of his shoes. Lynda couldn't feel more disgust to see him still sitting on her bed. He should just hurry. Her soul was tearing into a thousand pieces and she needs him gone before she betrayed it.
He looked up at her, taking his time. Lynda hated the calm on his face. His confidence and the dare in his eyes. Had he not any shame? He just accused of her of being a gold digger and still had the confidence to dally.
"I didn't know this would make you feel this way." He said. "I am sorry."
Lynda almost screamed out what guts he had to question her reaction. She held it in. She had done enough. David wore his shirt and slowly wore his wristwatch.
"It's funny how you forget easily the things that stuck with me all my life. They were your own words, Lynda. Nine years ago, you broke up with me because I was heading nowhere and was nobody." He stood up and came towards the door. Lynda was unflinching. "I just proved you wrong and you still feel angry?" He sighed.
David walked away. He took his car keys from a shelf close by the door. He turned the knob and was almost out when he turned a last time.
"We need to talk Lynda. I will be gone for five months but when I return, we need to talk things through. Like adults."
David was gone. The house felt small and suffocating. Lynda fell to her knees and rend her soul in tears. The time was fifteen minutes before midnight. There was no one in the world but her to share this pain that coursed through her entire body. There was no sleep that night.
Just her, shame and unrelenting tears.
Lynda shook hands and smiled as people lined up to shake her hands. It is the launching of her new product, ACCOUNT ME and the launch conference had been a rousing indication of her product viability.
It was a success. Partners have verified and support had garnered so easily for the small business accounting solutions that there was no reason for Lynda not to be ecstatic. She just wasn't.
Lynda turned around, immediately stunned by the smiling face behind her. She thrust a hand to her and Lynda took it with suspicion.
"What are you doing here?"
Ijeoma was captious, although she masked it well with a smile. "I am a journalist. You know me as blogger but I freelance some times. I will be reporting this in the Daily Herald."
"Oh," Lynda said. She felt she had been irrational with the young lady. Lately, she was often irrational and on occasions, completely gone feral. Ijeoma waited as if she was waiting for a signal to continue her conversation, or an apology for Lynda's acerbity. None came. Lynda truly had no patience for the young woman who clearly wanted to talk.
"Fine," Ijeoma said in retreat. She had not taken more than four steps that she turned back again, a mild aggression on her face. "If all this," she sprinkled her fingers as if to indicate Lynda's attitude, “is because of David, you should know that you saw the end of it that night at the hotel. Men like him just score once and walk out of your life. No reason for you to bitch about it." She shook her head bitterly and walked away.
Lynda just stood there rooted to the ground like a potted plant. A new wave of apprehension struck her. If Ijeoma was right about the kind of man that David was, she certainly was in more dilemma than she thought she already was. Her hands went to her stomach. She could feel it, her world about to crash down.
Lynda was supposed to drive from the launch to her apartment. She had dismissed her staff at the conference to resume work the next week and she herself was supposed to take a break. That wasn't what she needed right now. She can't be idle, unless she would be drowned in the misery of her plight. She needed work. Although there were bigger concerns now, she also couldn't take her mind off of him. David occupied her mind every time there was the chance.
Lynda arrived at the office building. It was deserted, as was expected at that time of the evening. She made her way straight to her own office. She plunged in her chair, looked around and imagined what she was to do now. The company inventory, she could look at that. She powered on her computer and waited for it to come on. Then she scanned through her files in search of the inventory. There was nothing. Maybe she hadn't downloaded it. She powers the internet broadband and launched on her email. Pop ups began to occur. On Facebook there were several notifications. Her heart thumps. She could not resist the urge to do what she had always done when she went on the internet -stalk David incognito.
Before David left her apartment two months ago, he had said he would be travelling. He has been going around the world, attending conferences and meetings and events. It was just as he said, big things were happening to him and local and foreign news media were reporting on the Nigerian tech magnate. David was having the greatest moment of his life. She was the opposite. The moment was another terrible haze in her life. One she would not be able to cover up.
She felt it coming again. Lynda got up and hurried to the toilet, just in time to spurt vomit from her bowels. It came in waves, making Lynda to sit on the toilet floor, dipping her head as soon as it came again. She felt light and emptied after she had barfed all the contents of her stomach. She also felt loneliness and stabs of sorrow. She began to cry, right there on the toilet floor. She had kept it to herself long enough. She needed to talk to someone. Someone who will not judge her.
The dialed line was ringing. It kept ringing till it stopped. She wasn't picking up. She checked the time and it was seven twenty. She expected Jessica would be in the kitchen making dinner for her family. Why bother her? Just before Lynda puts down the phone, it rang.
"Hello, Lynda?" Came Jessica's voice. Lynda did not answer, only her sobs carried on through. "My God. Lynda are you alright?"
"No. I am not alright, Jessica," she muffled, "I can't do this. I can't."
There was silence from Jessica's part for a few seconds but she could hear her communicating to someone nearby. Her voice came again, "Where are you now, Lynda. I am coming over."
Lynda was still on the bathroom floor and had used up the roll of toilet tissue to dry her tears when Jessica came in. She quickly knelt beside her and gave her a warm reassuring hug. Lynda embraced the young woman's affection that was apt to soothing her painful disposition. The haze was shifting as the hug stayed longer. She hadn't realized how lonely she was, carrying this burden herself. She couldn't hold up anymore.
"Let's go to your office and we will talk there, alright?"
Jessica settled her down on the sofa in Lynda's spacious office. Then she hurried to make some tea and offered it to Lynda. Jessica sat beside her. For minutes, they just sipped. Lynda's swollen eyes rested on her computer and stared for a long time. The computer screen was turned away from her so she could not see what was on the screen. But it stuck, an image of David shaking hands with the president of Alphabet Inc. Sergey Brin. It was funny how his face stuck on her mind when she wasn't trying.
"I am pregnant, Jessica," Lynda said absentmindedly. Lynda turned slowly towards Jessica and she could see Jessica's mouth wide open with disbelief.
Jessica struggled for what to say. "That... It is a surprise," She managed to say. "I don't know what to say, Lynda."
"Me too," Lynda said. "I found out I am pregnant from a onetime thing. How irresponsible can I be?" Lynda struggled.
"It could have happened to anybody, Lynda. Don't beat yourself up about it."
"That is anybody, Jessica. Not me. How could I have been careless? Now I am six weeks into my ruin."
"Shhh," Jessica put a finger to Lynda's lips. "Don't say that. You are a thirty-two year old woman and are responsible enough to make mistakes and own them. What happened is not the end of the world. You can take care of this."
"I can't abort the baby," Lynda exclaimed in hysteria.
"Why not?!" Jessica tackled. "You are clearly not ready for this. Besides, no one knows it yet. If you handle this now you can go back to your life."
Lynda held her mouth when she thought about her only way out was another horror. She can't imagine it, the thought of killing the person inside her. She knows it is there. How can she make it suffer for her own mistakes?
"No, Jessica. I can’t do it. I can't kill a person, Jessica. I won't."
Jessica understood Lynda's finality, especially since she was her boss. She reclined away from Lynda.
"What are you going to do now?"
"I don't know Jessica. I don't know what to do. People will know. The elders will find out and I will be disgraced publicly. A child out of wedlock is not just a sin, Jessica, it is enough cause to have you disfellowshipped from the Christian sect. How will I be able to face it? Oh no. This is too much. I really don't know what to do."
"Are you going to tell David?" Lynda jolted to the name. "The baby, it is his, right?
"How did you know?"
"Quite easy." Jessica sipped on the tea and when she knew there was no evading the question because of the cold stare that Lynda had on her, she sighed. "Look, I have known you for a long time that you are disciplined, organized and strong-willed. All of that was compromised the moment that young man went on the stage at the Youthpreneur conference last year. He is the only one that has achieved the impossible with you, Lynda. No other man had ever succeeded in making a fool out of you like he has."
"You are right. I am the fool."
"That is not how I see it though." Jessica sipped again. "You are just in love with him."
Lynda's mouth opened to rebuke Jessica but nothing came. What if she was right? What does it matter though? How she felt about him counts for nothing. Ijeoma had said it. David had scored with her and was done with her. She is left with the task to mop up after her own foolishness, alone.
"So, are you going to tell him?"
"No." She sneered bitterly. "You are right. I can own up to my mistakes."
The Mercedes-Benz slide into the parking space between two cars she recognized so well. Her brothers were already here, waiting for her. Lynda got out of the car and looked around. It had been months since she came visiting. Well, this was not the usual visit. Her parents had called a family meeting, something rare.
Lynda was certain that her mother had arranged this meeting. She was certain also that it was about her. Lynda hoped she was ready for the hit.
She met Uche by the door. He was glad to see her.
"How are you, big sis?" Uche said. "Had any problems with your car keys lately?"
Lynda denied it. Although she remembered that one time, she'd rather deny it. The thought it brings to mind are ones she had been struggling to sweep off without success. When she got in, she greeted Anthony who was married and already had a kid. Anthony was two years younger.
"How is your wife and son, Tony?"
"They are great. George is starting school and I couldn't be more thrilled. His mother is already asking for a sibling for him to play with, can you imagine the woman." Tony laughed heartily.
Lynda smiled. It was just as shallow as the voice that responded. "Then you better get busy little brother. What stops you?"
Lynda soon realized she shouldn't have asked the question. Anthony kept on about how expensive it was raising a child especially emotionally and being responsible for it. Lynda thought she had had enough. "Where is Mom and Dad?"
"Mom is in the kitchen. She insisted on making dinner herself. Why did we get her a cook in the first place?" Anthony rolled his eyes. He was always the talkative.
"He is still in his room."
Lynda decided to swallow first the smaller of two frogs. It brought her memories as she climbed the stairs. She was always quick to come this way as a child whenever she was in trouble. Now she dreaded each step towards her parent's bedroom if there was any trouble she battled with. She was a grown woman. Her parents are no longer responsible for her problems.
She knocked on the door lightly.
"Come in," came her father's guttural voice.
He was lying on the bed, dressed in a caftan and reading from a tablet. Her father was a man who always loved to read. Ever since she gifted him the IPad three years ago, he had taken to the tablet as his alone-time dose.
"My girl. Come here." He smiled effusively, opening his arms to welcome her.
Lynda went around the bed and took the gesture of the frail man. She felt his weak breathing and pitied him. Her father was once a tough man. She felt sad to see how much vitality he had lost since his battle with diabetes.
"I am sorry I couldn't come to your product launch last week. I could hardly get out of bed."
Lynda nodded. "It is okay Daddy. I wouldn't want to put you through that sort of trouble anyways. It was a boring launch event."
They both laughed.
"And your mother. You know she had to stay with me, don't you?" Lynda nodded still. The older man scrutinized Lynda for a while. "Are you alright, my child?"
"Nothing I can't handle."
"Good. You are a strong woman. Just like your mother."
Lynda looked at the old man and realized it was no good to protest to the old man.
"I know the two of you have your issues. Even since you were a child, you always were your mother's rival. And your mother, how ruthless she is when there is rival. Her daughter was no exception."
The old man coughed. She reached to his chest and placed a soothing hand there. He refused the water she offered. Lynda pushed his head back slowly, propping the pillows on his back. She wanted him to continue. She knew her father was building up to something.
"All I am saying is that you should cut your mother some slack. She is your mother and she is still responsible for you. Don't be quick to criticize her. She just want what is best for you."
Her father could not say any more. The alarm beside his bed jingled to signal time to take his tablets. Lynda helped him with the tablets and adjusted him on to the bed. The medications were strong dosage. He was asleep even before five minutes.
Lynda climbed down the stairs. Her two brothers were sitting on the couch watching television and they did not hear her come down the stairs. They were watching highlights of last weekend's game. Lynda shook her head at them.
In the kitchen, her mother busied about like an elf preparing Christmas meals for the North Pole. Her family did not celebrate Christmas for religious reasons. Lynda could imagine that she held the evening's dinner no differently.
"Good evening Ma," Lynda said.
Mrs. Okeke looked at her from the corners of her spectacle. She was unamused. "Did you just arrive?"
"No. I went to see Daddy upstairs. We talked for a while."
Mrs. Okeke became startled. "Oh. Its 7 already. Did he..."
"Yes. I gave it to him myself." Lynda said, assuring.
Mrs. Okeke sighed from relief.
"He is asleep now."
"Good." Mrs. Okeke said. She went about with filling a dish bowl with salad. "He wouldn't be joining us for dinner then. Now, help me set the table, will you?"
Lynda and her mother set the table. Anthony and Uche joined them after. To start, they all reached for each other's hands to say a prayer. Lynda sat in between Anthony and her mother and Uche was across her. When her mother took her hands, it was shy and feeble.
Anthony led the prayer without waiting to be asked to. It was customary in the Christian sect for the head of the family to always take the lead in prayer, in absence of which the oldest baptized male was to take charge. Anthony began his prayer with gratitude. It soon changed direction.
"We are gathered today because of the deep love and care we have for each other. We are here to put our strength and power behind your child so that they may have the will to do what is right..."
Lynda felt her mother squeeze her hand tighter at this point. Lynda was right. They were gathered here today because of her. She felt a dagger drawn at her, the feeling of betrayal when you know the people you care about have been making decisions behind your back. The prayer ended with an 'amen' said in unison. They sat down to eat.
No one said anything for minutes while they served and ate.
"I read in the papers about your new product. It has good market prospects." Anthony said.
"About that. I read a review in the Daily Herald. It was a good one," Uche said.
"What did the review say?" Lynda was curious.
"About you?" Uche asked. "The usual 'she is a young vibrant entrepreneur with high expectations for the future'. Aside that, she gave a pretty good review of you though."
Lynda sighed. Ijeoma did not take it as personal as she thought she would have.
"Your father couldn't come..."
"Don't worry, Ma. Daddy already explained. It is okay."
Mrs. Okeke stared down at Lynda. Lynda knew what it meant to cut her short especially when she was going out of her way to be humble.
"Very well, then." She looked at Anthony. “As to why we are here."
Anthony got the cue. He cleared his throat, fumbling for composure. He sat at their father's usual place. He had to assume his role as well.
"Lynda." His voice was mild. As much as he feared his mom, he respected his elder sister. "The family have been thinking a lot lately, about you."
"Why? Is anything the matter?" Lynda acted coy, determined to play as long as possible.
"Yes. Aren't you planning on getting married?" Uche dropped it at once. He looked apologetically from mother to elder brother.
"What Uche is trying to say is that it is all our concern now. We want to know how you really feel about the matter. Do you have any plans?" Anthony said.
Lynda looked round the table. Uche and Anthony had stopped eating. There was eagerness for what she had to say. Her mother acted differently. She was calm and continued eating.
"I don't know." She began. "People don't just have plans for things like marriage, do they? You wait, the right people come along and that is when you make plans."
"And how long do you have to wait?"
Lynda felt her own blood rise and calm was losing its rein on her emotions. "I know that. But instead of us wasting time beating about the bush, why don't we go straight to the point? What did you guys conclude behind my back? We can start from there, can't we?"
"Lynda, will you please calm down?" Anthony raised his voice.
“Will I? You don't talk to me in that tone, Tony. Who put you in charge here?" Lynda fired back at him.
Mrs. Okeke cracked in sardonic laughter at that instant, drawing all the attention on her. Even Lynda wondered what made the older woman laugh so deliberately. When she was done, she looked at Lynda with a taunting look.
"So you know how it feels, don't you? Of course, if I recalled nothing, I am certain you used a harsher tone on me."
"Mom, lets us not start..."
"Silent, Uche," she commanded him. Uche cowered immediately. Mrs. Okeke turned to Lynda now. "Now look here, young lady! Your youngest brother came home the other day and told us his intentions of proposing to his girlfriend. Aren't you ashamed that we had to tell him to wait so that we can figure it out with you?"
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