Thu. Feb 15th, 2024




“You taunt me by asking me that. You

should already know the feelings I have for



Screaming myself into consciousness, I

bolted upright in bed, and before I could

register the woman who sat beside me, she

threw me in an embrace. I clung to her, my

eyes round with fear.

“Hush now,” she said, patting my back. “It’s

only a dream.”

Her voice, almost magical made to drown

my worry. I found myself giving in to her

warmth. My eyes adjusted to the room. I’d

never been here. I’d never even met this

woman. How did I get here? What did she

want from me?

Breaking out of her spell, I pulled away.

Yesterday’s events flooded my memory. I

saw Raheem’s pain as he watched me pass


“Raheem,” I said. “I need to see him.”

The woman smiled at me. “Raheem is fine.”

A fierce pounding in my head forced me to

relive yesterday’s events. My whole body

ached like I’d been pounded in a mortar.

Taking advantage of my apparent weakness,

the woman reached to hold me.

I shoved her off and sprang to my feet. My

bruised body groaned at my suddenness.

“Don’t. Touch. Me.”

She looked up at me, the softness of her

gaze tickling my fear. “I know you’ve been

through a lot, but you are safe now. Just

calm down, please.”

I held her gaze and willed my thumping

heart to stabilize. Only when I’d gotten a

grip of myself did the image before me

become clearer. The woman before me was

no stranger. I’d seen her once. Her face

could not be so easily forgotten, but the

cloud of insecurity hovering above me and

the absence of flawless makeup on her face

had hidden her away from recognition.

She smiled knowingly. Her arms flew open

and I threw myself into the embrace. I

melted into her arms, and in this moment, I

felt safe. The Kadirs seemed to be gifted in

keeping me safe.

I broke the embrace but didn’t let go of her

hand. She held a glitter in her eyes; a glitter

that spelt no harm had come to her son. My

Raheem was alright. But still, I couldn’t get

past the fact that he’d endangered his life

for me.

“Thank goodness you’re awake,” she said.

“We’ve all been so worried.”

“How is Raheem?” I asked.

“He’s in one piece,” she said.

I had to see for myself that no harm had

come to him. I’d die if something happened

to him for my sake.

“Where is he?” I asked.

“Here.” Raheem’s voice caught me off

guard. My gaze darted to the doorway and

there he stood, gaping.

A smile broke out on my face, but he didn’t

return it. Unsure of how to react to the boy

who had risked his life to save me, I stood

motionless. His flawless face had earned a

seemingly deep cut just below his right ear.

I traced it with my sorry eyes, noting how it

stretched along his cheekbone.

My stomach clenched as I found a bandage

wrapped around his palm. This only

happened because of me. If only I hadn’t

dragged him into this…

Raheem cleared his throat. “I will send word

to your family so they come get you.” His

voice held no emotions. Love, hate, it

showed nothing. Not even pain. With distant

eyes, he looked past me, at his mother, and

then he walked away, taking with him a part

of me.

I stood rooted to the ground, fixating my

gaze on where Raheem had been standing.

Even in his absence, his cold gaze left me

frozen. Mrs. Kadir gripped my shoulder from

behind. Turning me to face her, she wiped

away the tears I hadn’t even noticed gliding

down my cheeks.

“Do you hate me too?” I asked.

She raised her brows at me. “What?”

“Your son risked his life because of me,” I

said. “He got hurt. It’s all my fault. Surely,

you must also hate me.”

“Hush,” she said. “Don’t think like that,


Taking me by the hand, she led me to perch

with her on the bed. “No one hates you for

anything. Whatever happened wasn’t your


“But…what if something had happened to

him?” I asked.

“What if something had happened to you?”

Farah’s voice made known her presence.

Mrs. Kadir scooted closer to me, creating

space for Farah to plop down beside her.

Farah clung to her like a child.

“My son has been different,” Mrs. Kadir

said. “These past few days, he’s been aglow

in a way I’ve never seen him. It’s almost

like when he was with Jameela. But it isn’t

quite the same. At first, I used to think it

was the relocation that made him a

different person. But then I realized it

wasn’t. It was a girl. You.”

“Me?” I asked. What had I done?

“Yes,” she said. “You, my dear. You have

mended the deep cuts Jameela carved into

his heart.”

I shook my head and looked at Farah,

hoping she could help clear up her mother’s


g. But Farah didn’t seem ready to join in the

conversation. The serious look on her face

matched her mother’s. This brought an

unsettling sensation to my stomach.

“I haven’t done anything,” I said to Mrs.


I’d thought this would take away the gleam

in her eyes. But it didn’t. “Maybe you

haven’t done anything. But that is about to

change. I need you to do something for me.”

“Anything,” I blurted out. Her son had risked

his life to save me. Surely I’d do anything

they wanted me to.

She took my hand in hers. “I want you to

promise me something, Victoria. Promise me

you will never break his heart.”

I slipped my hand out of her grasp and

placed it on my lap. Why would she ask that

of me? “I’m sorry, but…Raheem and I aren’t


“I didn’t say that you are,” she said. “See,

my son likes you a lot and all I care about is

his happiness. I won’t be at rest until you

promise me his heart is safe with you. He is

a rock on the outside, a really tough person

who’s hard to approach, but on the inside,

he’s a very soft person.”

“I understand your fear,” I said. “But I don’t

think I’m in any position to promise you this.

Raheem and I aren’t in any kind of a


“Just promise her, Vicky,” Farah said.

An image of Raheem confronting those men,

alone and unaided, flashed through my

mind. I gulped down the image. If Raheem

were in my shoes, would he even hesitate to

make this promise? Without hesitation, he

had promised my stepmother and my fairy

godmother that he’d keep me safe. He’d

risked his life to save me.

“I promise,” I said.

“Thank you.” Mrs. Kadir ruffled my hair and

planted a kiss on my forehead. I froze for a

second too long as my dad wheezed across

my mind. On the day of his death, he’d given

me a casual kiss before leaving for work.

“I’m off to make breakfast,” Mrs. Kadir said.

I stared unblinking till she walked out of


Farah feigned disappointment. “I was hoping

you’d have questions about how he managed

to fight those men and win.”

“I was hoping you’d tell me how he managed

to fight like that,” I said.

Yesterday’s Raheem was one I’d never seen

before; one I’d never imagined. He’d turned

from rockstar to martial artist. “Where did

he learn to fight like that?”

“This brings us to one of those stories you

will never hear from him,” Farah said.

“Remember Jameela? The girl who broke

his heart?”

“Yes,” I said. “Is she dead yet?”

Farah gaped, her words dying on her thin

lips. And then, she clapped a palm over her

mouth, giggling. “To the Kadirs, yes. So,

here’s the story of how my cool rockstar

slash loner brother became Jet Li. After

Meela’s betrayal, he started to take pleasure

in martial arts. It became his new lifestyle,

his new way to vent out his anger. He’d

even enrolled in some local fight clubs. It

broke our hearts to watch him live with so

much pain. We tried so hard to get him to

quit. But he never did. So, mum and I

devised a means.”

“Mum faked an illness,” she explained, her

eyes glowing with mischief. “The doctor

said she broke down because she was

thinking too much. He said things would get

worse if she didn’t take care of herself. She

had to stop thinking. But she didn’t. She

said she’d rather let the sickness claim her

life than watch her only son make violence

his way of life. Raheem’s so predictable. He

stopped engaging in every form of violence

just so mum could recover. Till this day he

doesn’t know we deceived him.”

Graceful as a princess, she advanced to the

open windows. There she stood, staring at

something I couldn’t see from where I was


She gestured me over. “Come.”

Eager to devour the sight that stole her

over, I hastened to her side. I lowered my

gaze and found Raheem dusting his car with

a blue towel.

“What do you see?” she asked, her voice

dropping to a whisper. “You see him

cleaning his car. He probably has plans to

go out. But is this all?”

“Tell me what I don’t see,” I said.

“I see anger in his eyes,” she said. “Ever

since last night, he’s been like this. Cold,

distant, reserved. And most of all, hurt.

When he’s like this, he speaks to no one. He

hasn’t said a word to either mum or I ever


I mused over the words Raheem had told

me moments ago, and the cold gaze he’d

shot his mother. He’d talked to me. This had

to mean something.

“As typical of him, he goes out when he’s in

this mood. He spends days away from

everyone and everything. And then he only

returns when…”

If I let him go without thanking him for what

he did yesterday, I’d never forgive myself. I

made to leave, but Farah grabbed my arm.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“I need to talk to him,” I said.

Farah sighed. Her gaze drifted between

Raheem and I. “What makes you think he’ll

talk to you?”

“He talked to me moments ago.” Retrieving

my arm, I bolted out of the house and only

halted a few steps away from Raheem. He

held open the door to the driver’s seat, and

made to get in.

“Raheem!” I called. “Raheem, wait.”

Raheem clenched and unclenched his jaws

as I took another step toward him. He made

no attempt to look at me. Farah’s question

resounded in my head. ‘What makes you

think he’ll talk to you?’

“I’m sorry about last night,” I said. I studied

him for a reaction. Finding none, I went on,

“You got hurt because of me. You risked

your life to save me. Words can’t describe

how grateful I am. Had you not come to my


I trailed off. I couldn’t even say the words.

Those men would have killed me, or worse.

Yes, people of that sort do worse things

than death to anyone unlucky enough to

cross paths with them.

My gaze rested on Raheem’s bandaged

palm. I covered his hand with mine. I’d

expected him to flinch, but he didn’t. He still

didn’t turn to look at me.

“I’m so sorry you had to risk your life like

that.” Tears gathered in my eyes,

threatening to drop, but I blinked then back.

I wrapped my arms around him. I felt him

stiffen. His hands hung limply at his sides

as he probably contemplated on whether to

accept the hug or shove me off. I wanted

nothing but for him to let me stay in his

arms, where it’s safe. Just this once.

I breathed, holding him close and savoring

the moment. I savored the smell of

peppermint entangling with the air he

breathed out. I didn’t want to let go. I’d

found the person who could keep me safe

from all harm. When he’d promised my fairy

godmother he’d keep me safe, I hadn’t

thought much of it.

I kept my arms wrapped around him. And in

the warmth emanating from him, I found

soothing relief. His hands found my

shoulders. With a gentle shove, he

wordlessly screamed his indignation towards

me overstepping my boundaries. His

rejection stung like a slap to my cheeks.

Once again, he made to climb into the car.

And once again, I got in his way. Literally.

“The wounds from yesterday, are there


He still didn’t meet my gaze.


“Your phone’s screen was severely damaged

yesterday.” After what seemed like forever,

he’d finally spoken. I beamed at the sound

of his voice. “I’m taking it for repairs. But I

can’t be on my way with you standing in my


“You don’t have to—” I said.

He held out his palm, silencing me. “I didn’t

tell you that because I needed permission.

I’m just doing what I know is right. If you’d

just get out of my way and let me get


If only he knew how he hurt me with his

coldness. Then again, he probably knew, but

couldn’t be bothered how I felt. He obviously

seemed to regret what he’d done for me last

night. Why then had he done that?

And now, he seemed to be helping me with

my phone out of obligation. I’d be much

content with nothing, than having someone

subject me to this torture, making me feel

less than nothing all over again.

Too hurt to speak, I stepped away to let him

pass. He bumped my shoulder with his arm

as he made for the car, but he didn’t even

take a moment to acknowledge this.

I turned to face him. Or at least the back of

his head. “If you hate me so much, why did

you have to save me?”

Raheem halted. Once again, I’d stopped him

from leaving.

“I need answers, Raheem Kadir.” I turned

him around to face me, but his gaze didn’t

stray from the ground.

“You should have just left me there to die.

More stories @

Why did you have to act like you cared when

really you don’t? You hate me so much that

you won’t even look at me, won’t even

speak to me. Just tell me why you—”

“I feel a very strong emotion for you,” he

said. “And it isn’t hate. It stuns me that you

think like this. You of all people should know

that I…” Trailing off, he made no attempt to

speak again.

“You do not hate me?” I asked.

“How is that even a question?” For the first

time, he held my gaze. I gaped at the rue-


ss carved into his eyes.

“Even after you risked your life like that?” I

asked. “You could have died out there,



“And so would you. I couldn’t forgive myself

if anything happened to you. I’m just…” He

raked his fingers through his hair. “I failed

you. Can you ever forgive me? I should have

protected you. Those men were never

meant to touch you, to hurt you the way

they did. It’s all my fault you got hurt.”

“Raheem, what are you saying? I’m fine.

Nothing happened to me.”

“Did you see what state you were in last

night?” he asked. “Do you know what it’s

like to see you like that, in that state? In a

pool of your own blood? I felt I’d lose you.

And it’s all because I wasn’t paying

attention to priority. If only I’d been more

attentive, more capable of looking out for

you, I would have been able to stop that

b—–d from hurting you. Maybe I don’t

deserve you. I mean, I couldn’t even protect

you. I can’t forgive myself. This is why I’ve

been avoiding you. I’m unworthy to behold

your face.”

“Do I mean this much to you?” I asked.

He stared deep into my eyes. “You taunt me

by asking me that. You should already know

the feelings I have for you.”

“Then who are you to forgive yourself when

I declare that there is nothing to forgive you

for?” I asked.

I caught a glitter in his eyes. It mesmerized

me how his features softened, matching

mine. He held me with a gaze so intense, I

found it magical. I could feast my eyes on

him all day without even blinking.

“I know your life hasn’t been an easy one,”

he said. “Many times, you had to cry and

sigh. But I am here now. I can’t promise to

turn your life into a bed of roses, for that

would mean taking you out of this world.

But I can promise you this one thing—”

I held out my hand to silence him. “Don’t.”

The gleam I’d seen in his eyes fell to its

death, and I ached for it right away. But I

didn’t want him making any promises. A

promise, to me was a lie.

Although I trusted Raheem wouldn’t

intentionally lie to me, he would still be lying

by making me promises. I, more than

anyone else, knew for a fact that promises

were meant to be broken. It didn’t belong to

the one promising to choose this. Life had

its own way of breaking even the sweetest

of promises.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Yeah. I just…I’m wary of promises.” I

braced myself for his reaction. He seemed

to understand. “I want us to take this one

day at a time.”

He cupped my face in his hands. “One day

at a time it is then. No promises.”

Silence crept in between us, our gaze

unfaltering. I felt his hands slip to my waist,

a tad out of my comfort zone. To be honest,

this new chapter with Raheem had already

slipped out of my comfort zone before he

even reached out to touch me.

My heartbeat quickened at the foreign

gesture. Raheem barely moved a muscle.

His eyes told me he’d give me all the time

in the world to adjust to the whole new

world we’d tossed ourselves into.

Holding on to his gaze, I willed my heartbeat

back to normal. Butterflies fluttered in my

stomach as he leaned in for what I knew to

be a kiss; a kiss to seal the deal that we’d

become an item.

I drew in a breath and closed my eyes.

Raheem’s breath hovered above my nose for

a second too long. His lips found my

forehead, and there they rested, glued to my

skin. Where had he been all my life?

Bursting out of the house like a mad horse,

Farah headed straight at us. I lowered my

eyes and stepped away from Raheem.

Although she’d obviously be the number one

fan of ‘Rahtoria’, I just couldn’t bring myself

to look at her. Not after she’d found me in

her brother’s arms. Like a diabetic kid

caught red-handed with a slice of cake, I

trained my eyes on my feet.

“What’s wrong?” The panic in Raheem’s

voice forced my gaze away from my feet.

Farah stood before us, her body trembling.

Her eyelashes, clustered and moist, told a

story of tears. “It’s Maggie.”

“Who’s that?” Raheem asked.

Farah sobbed, staring at her phone. “My

new bff. She isn’t answering my calls. I

have a bad feeling. I think she’s dead.”

“So because she didn’t pick your calls, she’s

dead?” Raheem asked. “Wow, to think that

I’m still alive. I have 100 lives, do I not?

Because I’ve lost count of how many times I

failed to—”

“Boko Haram struck last night,” Farah said.

Blood drained from Raheem’s face. “What?”

“The bomb blast happened at the very same

place Maggie went. I’m just so scared,

Raheem. Report confirms sixteen dead and

eleven severely injured. I’m just so scared. I

have to go to the hospital. I need to be sure

my friend is still with me.”

My lips stayed glued to each other. At times

like this, words eluded me.

Farah simmered with impatience. “Take me

to the hospital. Please, just take me to see

my friend.” She glued her palms together as

though saying a prayer.

Raheem pulled her close, giving her a

shoulder to cry on. He patted her head as

she sobbed. “Calm down, please. No harm

has come to your friend—”

She broke free from his hold. “How do you

know this? You said no harm would come to

uncle, but where is he now, Mr. No Harm?”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just trying to help

is all. It hurts me to see you like this. Just

get a hold of yourself. Please.”

“How do you expect me to stay calm?” she

yelled. “She’s like a sister to me.”

I moved to her and smoothed a palm over

her arm. “Raheem is right, Farah. You have

to calm down. We do not know for sure that

Maggie is dead.”

“Then why isn’t she answering my calls?”

she asked. “Why…”

Her ringing phone cut her off. She swiped

her fingers across her cheeks and glanced

at Raheem and I. “It…It’s Maggie.”

She sniffled. “M-Maggie?” A pregnant pause

followed. And then a squeal. I gaped at her

dimpled cheeks as she giggled. “You potato!

Why didn’t you pick up the phone? I’ve

wasted all my tears on someone who’s still

very well alive. How cool is that?”

Detaching the phone from her ear, she

turned to Raheem and I. “Sorry about that,


Bribing us with a seraphic smile, she

returned to her call and started toward the

house. “Oh, so you had a bad time? You see,

I told you Havana is bad news, but you—”

“Havana?” I croaked, my voice suddenly lost.

Somehow, Farah managed to hear me. She

halted and turned to face me.

“Where did the bomb blast happen?” I


“At some club,” she said.

“What club?”


Bomb blast. Havana. My heart dropped to

my stomach, leaving my chest hollow and

vulnerable. The world seemed to stand still,

letting me assimilate this news.

A familiar kind of emptiness stole me over.

Light as a feather, I felt my body reach for

the ground.


Once again, I’d awakened on this very bed

with no memories of how I got here. This

time, though, I knew where I was, and that I

was safe.

While Farah paced the room, Raheem sat

beside me, his gaze flying through the open

window. My hand twitched as I made to

shift into a more cozy position. But then,

something soft tightened around it. I gazed

at my hand, enveloped by Raheem’s.

“You’re awake!” he said.

Farah rushed to my side. “Vicky. Thank

goodness you’re awake. I was so worried.

What happened? Everything was fine till I

mentioned Havana.”

Havana club. Boko Haram. Bombing. Death.

It all came back to me.

My mind drifted back to a conversation I’d

had with Cynthia moments before she left

for the party.

‘I don’t feel good about you partying so late

at night,’ I’d said.

And then came a voice I feared I’d never

hear again. ‘For Christ’s sake, Victoria, stop

acting like I’m a kid. I will be alright. Really.

Havana is my second house. Nothing can go

wrong there. And besides, I need some time

away from all the drama in this house. I

need to distract myself. I can’t keep

dwelling on mum’s inhumanity. It breaks

me. Which is why I really don’t want to

spend the night here. Anywhere but here.’

Snatching my hand from Raheem’s, I leapt

to my feet. “I need to go to the hospital. My

sister could be among the injured. Or


“Oh my God!” Farah gasped. “Are you

certain that—”

Raheem raised his palm, cutting her off.

“When mum comes back, tell her Victoria

and I left for the hospital.”


Raheem probably yearned to tell me

everything would be fine, but he held back.

Obviously, he knew even a single word

would snatch the little bit of composure I

had. Even when we were alone for the

lifetime it took to arrive at the hospital, he

said nothing. Once he parked the car in the

lot, I unfastened my seatbelt and reached

for the door handle.

He touched my arm. “Whatever happens,

please, be strong and know that I will always

be here.”

“Nothing will happen to my sister.” I pushed

open the door and darted toward the

building, distancing myself from him and his


‘Nothing would happen to my sister.’ I

recited this like it were a spell; like it could

quell my pounding heart; like it could undo

whatever had already happened.

These were mere words, and could change

nothing. But I had hope. Wouldn’t that save

me this day?

I burst into the building, my heavy heartbeat

the only thing I could hear, the stench of

grief smothering me. Raheem blurred past

me. He headed for the nurses behind the

counter. “Cynthia Brown. Where is she?”

“One moment,” the nurse directly in front of

him said. While she searched for Cynthia’s

details, I feared my heart would explode.

“Room 13.”

The words had barely left her lips when I

darted into the passageway she pointed at,

my eyes scanning the doors for one tagged

’13’. A million thoughts flooded my mind.

Cynthia was really here. My sister, the one I

loved so much, was here, fighting for her


If only she hadn’t left for the party, then

everything would be fine. No, if only that

woman hadn’t tried to kill me, then my sister

would probably have spent the night at

home. What if I had followed her to the

party? Maybe I’d have been able to save


I slowed my pace as my eyes found the

door. I looked over to Raheem and s—-d in a

deep breath. What awaited me on the other

side? Would I be able to control myself

when I saw her lying helplessly, stuck in a

situation she didn’t deserve?

Tentatively, I reached for the door and

wrapped my fingers around the handle. The

door gave way, letting me into the room.

I could not fathom the scene before me. My

stepmother, the stranger who’d tried to kill

me, sat beside my sister who lay in bed. But

she wasn’t really sitting. The wideness of

her torso mounted upon Cynthia blocked her

of view.

Rage clouded my reasoning and I dashed

toward the woman I once called mum. I

gripped her shoulders and yanked her off my

sister. Yesterday she’d tried to kill me, and

today, here she was, smothering her very

own daughter to death.

“Get away from her!” I yelled. I had not lost

my sister in the bombing. I certainly would

not lose her to this woman.

I turned to look at my sister, the beauty I

feared I’d never see again. A gust of

emotions slammed into me. I clamped my

palm to my lips, suppressing a scream.

Her skin, once flawless, had become a

shadow of itself. I felt a squeezing

sensation in my chest as I drank in the

image before me. I wanted to look away, to

shield my eyes from the girl who lay on the

bed. Her skin had seared to the bone,

making her almost unrecognizable.

But what troubled me was the look in her

eyes. Cold and lifeless, they told me I had

lost once again.

To be continued

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