He missed her now more than ever. And as he sat by the window listening to the cries of his young daughter, he felt an ache in his heart that he thought would never go away. Still, he could not bring himself to go to the little girl. He knew the nanny would see to the girl’s needs but a tinge of guilt still tugged at his heart as he stared sightlessly out the window.
It’s been almost a year. In a few weeks it will be Christmas and the anniversary of what should have been a happy festive season for everyone but had instead turned into the start of the greatest loss of his life. Sighing, he blinked back the ever present tears. He was not ashamed to cry for her but he knew others would not understand. He did not expect them to. If mother could see him now, she would frown at him and ask if he was still crying. He smiled softly at the thought, a half smile that merely pulled up the corners of his mouth. As if he could just turn off the pain after a certain period of time.
No, they would not understand, he told himself again. They had not loved her. They had not known the way his world circled and came together every time he walked into her presence. Or the peace and contentment he found just by lying in her arms and talking. Oh, how they had talked. He did most of it though. She just sat and listened and put in a word now and then. He could talk to her about anything. His dreams, his fears and aspirations. Things he could not imagine telling anyone else all flowed out of him once he was with her. And she would listen and encourage and believe. Always, she believed in him. No matter how far fetched and out of reach his dream seemed, she always believed.
The sudden ringing of his cell phone made him jump. He blinked at the instrument for a confused minute as he slowly returned to the present. He watched it for a while as it danced to its own music on the side table, and then he reached out a hand and picked it up. The music stopped just then and the call ended. He stared at the cell phone in his hands, and then laid it back on the table without checking who had called. Whoever it is should call back, he decided.
Almost as soon as the phone touched the table, it was ringing again. He answered it on the third ring.
“Mark!” came a sharp voice from the other end. “I’ve been calling for ages! Are you still moping around?”
He took the phone from his ear and rubbed a hand over his lobe. “Who is this?” he asked when he returned the phone to his ear. It was all he could do to keep the irritation out of his own voice.
“This is Edna,” came the quick, confident reply.
Mark sighed inwardly and rolled his eyes even though the caller could not see him. Edna? What did she want? “Well…hello…Edna…”
“Well, hello to you too Mark, but I’m catching my death of cold out here in the airport waiting for you to come and get me!”
Mark blinked in confusion. “What? Airport…what airport?”
On the other end of the cell phone, Edna rolled her eyes in much the same way Mark had done moments earlier. “Mark,” she spoke patiently and with a forced calmness that one might use while addressing a child who is slow to understand the simplest things. “You still live in Enugu, don’t you?”
“Well, yes… I do…” Mark replied, wondering what that had to do with anything.
“Good. I am at the Enugu International Airport. I am tired, dirty and hungry from hours of sitting in an airplane flying across nations to get here. Do you think you could possibly take a moment from your moping to come and get me?”
Mark felt his irritation rising at her imperious tone. “Why would I do that?”
Edna sighed. “Mark, it’s 3am on a cold harmattan morning in December. I am standing outside waiting for you. Is that not reason enough?”
Mark told himself to stay calm. Knowing Edna, she was probably baiting him intentionally. “I still don’t see how any of that concerns me,” he snapped at the phone, showing more of his irritation that he had intended.
Edna noted the sharpness in his voice and smiled to herself. Better, much better, she thought and changed her tone to reasonable and pleasing. “Mark, I just flew for hours…”
“I heard you the first time….”
“…at your invitation…”
“What? I never invited you. What are you talking about?”
“Have you forgotten? We had this planned for months, Jane and I. She wanted me to come…”
“Jane is dead,” Mark snapped abruptly, feeling his heart twist as a quick wave of grief gripped him.
“I know that Mark,” Edna said softly. She heard the sadness in his voice, knew it mirrored the pain that seared through her as she stood outside in the cold, holding her cell phone to her ear. But she knew she had to see this through. She had thought about it carefully all through the long sad months following Jane’s death and had decided Jane would have wanted her to come still. She said as much to the man on the other end of the cell phone. And when he finally expressed his reluctant acceptance to come and get her, she swiped a hand across the phone to end the call and walked back inside to the arrivals lounge where it was much warmer.
As she settled into her seat, the doubts and fears from the previous months assailed her. Was she doing the right thing? Would it not have been best to let things lie the way they were? How could she be sure Jane would have wanted her to still come? Of course, she would. Even Mark had acknowledged as much with his acceptance to come and get her. But Mark had no idea what was truly at stake, did he? He probably thought this was just another one of the many pranks naughty Edna always got his precious Jane into.
Edna sighed as she shifted in her seat looking to be more comfortable. For one brief moment, she wondered why airport seats were always so uncomfortable. Then her thoughts returned to Mark and Jane. Yes, she had talked Jane into much mischief through all the years of their friendship. And Mark was right to think her mischievous, adventurous as she and Jane liked to call it, but this was not just another prank. This could well be the greatest adventure of her life. Closing her eyes, she sent a silent prayer upwards for guidance and strength.
Mark grumbled to himself as he searched the living room for his car keys. His irritation increased when he caught sight of the wall clock and realized she had been right. It was almost 4am and he had been sitting, moping out the window for almost the entire night. And now instead of taking his moping to his empty bed, he had to go get a woman from the airport who had no business coming to his house. At least, he thought she had no business coming to his house. But he admitted that Jane would have wanted her to come even with her dead. So he pushed his irritation aside and stumbled out to his car.
The drive to the airport was made mostly perfunctorily. His thoughts were chaotic and he was thankful there was very little traffic at that time of the morning. All he needed was an accident to add to the mess his holiday was fixing up to be. By the time he pulled into the airport parking lot, he had convinced himself of how this little drama was going to play out.
He would pick her up and take her to her hotel if she had one booked. Courtesy at the very least demanded that. Hell, he could even keep her in his house overnight if he had to, but that was as far as it would go. As soon as was decently possible, he would have her out of his house and his life if he had any say about it. He got out of the car and looked around. She was not standing anywhere outside that he could see, so he walked into the arrivals lounge to look for her.
Edna watched him as he stalked towards her in the arrivals lounge. He looked to have lost some weight, and there were tired lines around his eyes but for the most part he looked as good as she remembered. She felt the all too familiar tinge in her stomach that his presence always brought and pushed it aside. She would deal with that later. As he got closer, she stood, and with a mischievous glint in her eyes that she hoped he would not notice, launched herself across the room and straight into him.
Mark saw her coming and braced himself. Instinctively, his arms opened to catch her and he had to steel himself from falling when the full weight of her pressed into him. He breathed in the scent of her without thinking. An alluring mix, he told himself; some flowery perfume and that womanly essence that was all her. It was heady, going straight into him and stirring up things he had vowed to keep buried since his wife died. He did not like the thought of that. So he pushed her off of him with more force than he might have used ordinarily.
She gave him a hurt look that he knew was feigned. Still, he mumbled an apology and asked, “Where are your bags?”
When she pointed to a pile of luggage that could have served an army going into war, he turned an incredulous look on her. “All of that?”
She said nothing more, but turned and followed him as he dragged the first of the luggage out to the car. He noted with irritation that she conveniently took only her handbag with her. She sat waiting patiently in the front seat, leaving him to make three more trips to get the rest of her bags.
By the time he pulled into his driveway, Mark was seriously reconsidering having her in his home for any length of time. They had spent the ride back not speaking to each other. Not that there was much chance of having any kind of conversation with the loud music she had blaring from his car radio by the time he finally managed to get all her bags loaded. He had tried to turn down the volume, but each time he did, she just turned it back up again. The only time she said a word to him was when he had asked her which hotel she was booked into and she said none.
He stopped the car and turned to her, thinking to tell her she could not stay in his place after all, but she was staring straight ahead at his house. As he watched, her face lit up with a huge smile. Mark could not imagine what could be so fascinating about his front yard and turned to see for himself. Two things registered at once. The first was that the outside lights were on and he was sure he had left them off when he left the house earlier. Next, he saw what had Edna smiling so. Who, he corrected himself. His mother. What was she doing here? Was this planned? He got out of the car to find out.
The two women were still fussing over each other when he got to them. “Mother? What are you doing here mother?” he blurted before he could stop himself.
The women turned to him with such looks on their faces one would have thought he had just murdered the pope. It seemed his mother was the first to recover. ‘What kind of son asks his mother such a question?” she demanded without much heat. “I should think I raised you better than that.”
“Sorry ma,” he mumbled without really feeling sorry.
“Anyway,” his mother went on as if he had not spoken. ‘It’s Christmas and I’ve come to spend the holidays with my only son.”
He wanted to remind his mother that Christmas was still weeks away, but thought it best to keep his mouth shut. So, he walked into the house, thinking he could at least try to get some rest. He would need his strength for the days ahead. The holidays were shaping to be much worse than he had imagined.
To be continued……..
Written by Oma Ogbodo