Sun. May 12th, 2024



“Whenever you’re close to me, your

presence sucks out every trace of oxygen. It

suffocates me.”


I awakened to the sound of my ringing

phone. A smile flitted across my face as I

found Raheem’s name on my screen. I hit

the answer button.

I made to speak, but Raheem didn’t give me

a chance. “I’m at your gate.”

The line went dead. I gazed at the phone in

my hand. What the hell had just happened?

Why had he sounded like I was the last

person he wanted to speak to? It was

almost as though he didn’t want to hear my

voice. What had gone wrong?

A possibility dawned on me. What if he’d

pondered over my loss of self control and

decided to end it all? Or did it have to do

with his family? Did it involve his dad?

Staying in bed and musing over these things

would not give an answer. I rose to my feet

and advanced to the gate. Unlocking it, I

stepped outside. And there, before me,

stood the answer to my questions. Raheem

sat on his bike, his eyes hiding behind dark

glasses. My stepmother stood beside him.

I knew without a doubt that Peter had

informed him of the graveyard scene. What

would Raheem think of me now? What if my

stepmother had filled his head with lies

aimed to turn him against me?

“Thank you,” my stepmother said, smiling at


Raheem nodded. Without acknowledging my

presence, he started the engine. I sprinted

to his side. No way in hell would I let him

leave. No, not like this.

“Raheem, I…I can explain,” I said.

“Don’t,” he said. “You were right, Victoria

Brown. This can’t work.” His words

tightened my stomach into a tortuous knot.

Without another word, he zoomed out of

sight, leaving me to swim in the smoke of

everything I once had, now burned to the

ground. A bolt of rejection hit me squarely

in the chest, knocking me out of breath.

Tears sprang to my eyes.

I had lost the one person who gave me

reason to live. How would I go on without


Bursting into tears, I darted into my room

and threw myself onto my bed. With my own

hands, I’d destroyed the happiness I’d

worked so hard to build. I’d only intended to

make my stepmother pay for her wrongs.

How was I to know my actions would drive

away the one person I cared about the


I felt a new kind of pain build up within me;

one I could not fathom. A pain so similar to

losing a loved one in death, and yet so

different. It clawed at my chest and

threatened to break everything I was. My

breath came in short, ragged gasps, setting

my lungs ablaze.

Once, I’d thought losing a loved one in death

was the worst kind of emotional pain. But

today I realized the rejection of a loved one

hurt no less. At least, with death, I knew my

loved ones had left without a choice. If they

could, they’d still be with me.

But in this case, Raheem had a choice. And

he had chosen to reject me now when I

needed him the most. Although I’d seen this

coming, I could never have guessed it hurt

so much to be heartbroken. Why did I feel a

pressure on my chest, as though something

heavy sat atop it? Why did it hurt as though

my heart had been literally ripped out of my


I grabbed my phone and dialed his number. I

wouldn’t give up without at least trying to

win him back. His phone rang. Once, twice.

And then, the line went dead. I dialed again,

but found his phone switched off.

He wanted nothing to do with me. Every

memory and dream we ever shared wilted

before my eyes. How could I heal this

rawness in my chest, a deep hole where my

heart should be?

He’d been my shadow, my best friend,

staying close in good times and in bad.

Despite my many flaws, he’d loved me. And

now, my whole world crumbled at my feet

like a pile of ashes.

“Victoria,” my stepmother called. I hadn’t

noticed her come in.

I raised my face to acknowledge her

presence. She stood a distance away,

obviously conflicted about approaching me.

“Are you happy now?” I asked, getting out of

bed. “You have always wanted bad things to

happen to me. When I grieve, you have a

thousand and one reasons to smile. Things

were fine between Raheem and I until you

came along. Now he wants nothing to do

with me. All because of you! You!”

“Please believe me when I say I didn’t mean

for any of this to happen,” she said.

The sound of her voice was no different

from a pestering bug waiting to be squished.

Squeezing my eyes shut, I clapped my

palms over my ears. “Stop! Just stop! I’m

not a fool anymore, okay? I’m not the

person I used to be, the person you treated

like a rag. I stopped being the naive little girl

who swallowed every insult and believed

every lie. So, just stop. Enough lies already.”

“I would never lie to you,” she said.

I glared at her. “Your voice…it burns. Every

time I hear you speak, I ask myself over and

over again why you didn’t die six months

ago. You know why? I hate you. I hate you

so much that it hurts. Whenever you’re

close to me, your presence sucks out every

trace of oxygen. It suffocates me. You

suffocate me, mum. I wish you died back

there. I really wish you did.”

Sobbing, I went on, “Why continue to torture

me? Why don’t you just go away, out of my

life, just so I can find happiness? Why do

you keep destroying my life over and over

again? Why didn’t you just stay dead? You

should have died back there. But no, you

had to wake up to ruin my life over and over


Although I had so much more to say, I held

back. Nothing I said or did could change

anything. I swept my phone off the bed and

stormed off into Cynthia’s room. Once there,

I locked the door, keeping intruders away.

My fairy godmother came to mind. She’d

been my rock, even before Raheem walked

into my life. Talking to her would bring a

measure of relief. Or so I hoped.

I dialed her number. After a few rings, she

answered the call. “Vicky dear, hello. How’s

it going?”

“Bad,” I said.

She freaked out. “Oh dear. What’s wrong?”

“It’s Raheem,” I said. “It’s over. He just…

ended it. He wants nothing to do with me.

I’m so broken right now, I don’t know what

to do. I wish you were here. I really wish you

were here.”

“I thought things were fine between you


To be honest, things had never been fine

between us. Every moment, we’d fought

over my stepmother. I’d even been surprised

we made it through six whole months.

Although our feelings for each other could

sustain our bond for a lifetime, our

relationship had always been a fragile line,

thanks to the legged misfortune called my


“He didn’t like the way I treated her,” I said.

“He wanted me to put the past behind me

and move on. But I…I just couldn’t. I mean, I

can’t. I’m only human. I can’t erase

memories of the way she treated me in the


“Sweetheart, I know just how you feel,” she

said. “But you know forgiveness is a trait we

all must master. Everyone deserves a

second chance. From what I’ve heard, your

stepmother is a different person and has

been showering you with love.”

“How do I know she’s really changed?” I

asked. “How do I know this is not one

twisted game? How can I trust her after

everything she’s done? Just how?”

“Sweetheart, she was in coma for two whole

weeks. Do you think she faked it? Truth be

told, she turned a new leaf the moment she

lost her daughter. Now she begs for just a

chance to be your mother. Isn’t this what

you always wanted?”

“Things are changed,” I said. “I changed.

And so did my desires.”

“Okay, so what is it you want?”

I made to speak, but she beat me to it.

“Don’t say it. I know. You want him back, so

go. Go get him. Just go see him, admit your

mistakes, and be the you you really are, not

the stone hearted person you’re pretending

to be. That’s all he wants. Tell him you’re

willing to let go of your grudges and accept

your stepmother.”

“But…what if I don’t really want that?” I


“But you do, don’t you?”

I didn’t know if I needed my stepmother in

my life, but I did know I wanted my life to

be whole again. And for this, I’d do anything.

“I’ve got to go,” I said.

“I’ll call you later, okay?”

“Okay.” Ending the call, I mused over

Stella’s words.

Raheem wanted me to admit my mistakes,

to be me, the sweet girl he had fallen in

love with. He’d always preached about my

stepmother needing a second chance. If he

thought she did, then I did too.

Brimming with a hope I never saw coming, I

set out to go see him.


I’d been standing in front of the Kadirs’ gate

for no less than five minutes, conflicting

within myself to knock or not to knock.

Thoughts swirled around my head. The good,

the bad, and the ugly. What if Raheem

didn’t want me back? Then what next?

Maybe seeing him now was not a good idea.

He probably fumed over our break up, and

would talk to no one. Maybe I had to let

time float a while, then his heart would grow

soft and he’d listen to me.

I sighed, torn between the choices before

me. But who said I had to make the

decision myself? For a moment I’d forgotten

other people always sought to make

decisions for me.

And now, history repeated itself. I heard

footsteps approach, and I knew it had to be

the gatekeeper. He’d obviously caught a

glimpse of my feet from underneath the

gate. Curse my life.

The gatekeeper opened the gate with a

smile. “Good afternoon.”

I faked a smile. “Good afternoon.”

Rooted to the spot, I could only stare at the

house before me. In the past, I’d walked in

and out like it were my own house. But

today, I felt this privilege creeping away.

“They’re inside,” the gatekeeper said,

apparently misjudging my tentativeness.

“Okay, thanks.” I pushed forward on

tentative legs. After forever, I arrived at the

entrance door and rapped my fingers on it.

Once, twice. And once again.

“Coming,” Farah screamed to my hearing.

I told myself it would be alright. But would

it? Amidst the tightness in my chest, I s—-d

in a deep breath, bracing myself for what

would come.

Farah opened the door. Her face lit up at

the sight of me. “Victoria! Thank goodness

you’re here. I was seriously going to die of


My face held no promise of a smile. She

caught a whiff of the air of distress around

me. “Okay, spill. What’s wrong?”

“I need to talk to Raheem,” I said.

“He’s not home,” she said.

“Tell me this is you kidding,” I said. “I really

need to see him. I know he probably doesn’t

even want to see my face right now, but I

have to at least try.”

Farah’s face fell. “What is going on?”

“Raheem didn’t tell you anything?” I asked.

She shook her head. “He spoke to no one.

He just parked his bike and drove off in his

car. I called him, but he ignored me, and I

knew someone had offended him. I could

never have thought it was you. I mean…oh

my gosh! Wait. Did you guys break up?”

“Yes,” I said.

“What? I don’t understand. Why would he do

a thing like that?”

“Did what?” Mrs. Kadir asked, walking to

meet us. She smiled at me. She sure hadn’t

heard the most recent development. “Vicky

dear, how are you?”

“I’m fine,” I said.

“No she’s not,” Farah said. “Raheem broke

up with her.”

“He did what?” Mrs. Kadir asked. “I don’t

understand. He’s been so happy these past

few weeks.”

“Exactly my point,” Farah said.

“When did this happen?” Mrs. Kadir asked.

“This afternoon,” I said.

“This afternoon,” she echoed, as though the

time made any difference. Or did it?

Her temper escalated with each passing

moment. “I don’t understand. I just can’t

believe he’d left you now, now of all times

when you need him the most.”

“I’m the one at fault,” I said. “I stopped

being the me he used to know.”

“What does that even mean?” Farah asked.

A car honked from behind the gate, making

my words die on my lips. Simultaneously, we

turned to watch the gatekeeper open the

gate for Raheem to drive in.

“He has got some major explanations to

give,” Farah said, folding her arms.

Raheem braked his car and stepped out.

Feigning oblivion to us, he moved to open

the back door. Who had he brought with

him? Although it was impossible to see

through the dim glass, I narrowed my eyes


Had he replaced me in the blink of an eye?

If it wasn’t a girl, then who was it he

opened the door for? Red with a yet

unjustifiable envy, I could only watch as he

gave the unseen person the same treatment

he’d reserved only for me.

“Who has your brother brought home?” Mrs.

Kadir asked Farah. Farah shrugged. They

were just as clueless.

The unseen guest placed his left foot on the

ground. I strained my neck to see the

person’s shoes. Finding a man’s shoes, I let

out the breath I’d been holding.

But who was he?

He placed his other foot on the ground and

stood tall for all to see. I gasped at the

striking resemblance he shared with

Raheem. I’d seen his photos, but that didn’t

compare to seeing him in person.

He threw his arms open. “Surprise!”

“Daddy!” Farah screamed, darting to meet


“Hakeem!” Mrs. Kadir’s voice rang in my

ears. All smiles, she sprinted to her


Winning the race, Farah threw herself in her

father’s arms. “Daddy.”

“My little fairy,” Mr. Kadir said, flashing a

smile that showed off his perfect teeth.

He plucked a chuckling Farah from the floor

and spun her around as though she weighed

no more than a leaf. Setting her down, he

threw open his arms, inviting Mrs. Kadir for

an embrace. She lost herself in his arms.

Where Mr. Kadir stood, I saw my father. And

in his arms, my stepmother, Cynthia and I.

He’d just returned from a business trip to

Lagos. Just like Mr. Kadir, he’d chosen to

surprise us with his presence.

“You should have told us you were coming,”

Mrs. Kadir said. “I would have prepared your

favorite dish.”

My eyes burned with tears I fought to hide. I

s—-d in a deep breath to keep my emotions

in check. I would not let my miserable life

ruin their moment.

They had everything. Happiness. Family.

Love. They had each other. And I, I had

nothing but every bit of misfortune the world

had to offer. I’d give anything for just a thin

slice of happiness. I’d give anything for a

little drop of love. But did I even deserve it?

I had to leave. I didn’t belong here, but in

my own world, where an evil stepmother

awaited me at home. I belonged in a world

where happiness was a taboo, and

depression, the order of the day.

The Kadirs, so lost in the moment had

become oblivious of my presence. Neither

Farah nor Mrs. Kadir even remembered I

existed. Typical. Raheem hadn’t glanced in

my direction since he arrived. Not even by


Mr. Kadir held his entire family in a hungry

embrace. Taking this as my time to leave, I

headed for the gate.

“Wait,” Mr. Kadir said. Not to his family. But

to me.

I turned around to meet his gaze. He

chuckled as though I had something funny

on my face. Did I?

“Wait, don’t tell me you thought you were

invisible,” he said.

He could see me? For a moment back there,

I actually thought I was invisible.

Mr. Kadir glanced at Raheem, then back at

me. Realization dawned on him. I could tell

from the way he wagged his left pointer.

“Aren’t you the girl my son’s so crazy


For the first time, Raheem looked in my

direction. His gaze pierced through me,

setting my heart ablaze. A flower of hope

sprouted somewhere within me.

A smile had already begun to stretch my lips

when he spoke. “She was, dad.”


With the speed of wind, I blurred past

buildings and the dangers of the night.

Beads of sweat streaked down my forehead

and into my eyes. My legs burned from the

one hour race, but I kept my pace.

Mum had disappeared, leaving a letter

underneath my pillow. In the letter, she’d

written: ‘I’d rather die by my husband’s side,

than keep ruining the life of the one I love

the most.’

Only when I arrived at the graveyard did I

take a moment to catch my breath. My legs

trembled underneath me, and although I

longed to sit down for a moment or two, I

pushed forward. Mum was my priority. My

thoughtless outburst had forced her to

contemplate suicide once again. I’d never

forgive myself if anything happened to her.

Beside a distant grave, something moved. I

advanced in that direction, my eyes fixed on

the grave. “Mum?”

A figure darted behind the tombstone.

Aware of a presence, it crawled to hide

behind another tombstone. Undesirable

thoughts crowded my mind. How could I

have come to a graveyard all by myself at

3a.m in the morning? I’d heard stories of

ghosts lurking around graveyards during the

dark. And although I’d never believed in

ghosts, I felt myself sinking into fear.

The figure sprang out of hiding. It lunched

itself at me, its momentum sending us

crashing into the ground. A scream fought

to escape me, but I shoved it down my

throat. I wouldn’t want to attract the wrong


Clawed fingers swiped across my neck and

chest. I kicked and scratched, but the furry

beast had a firm hold on me. Screeching

like a banshee, it sank its razor-sharp teeth

into my hand.

“Get off me, you furry b—–d!” I seized the

creature’s limbs and shoved it off. It

meowed, more like a growl. While I

scrambled to my feet, the cat launched at

me with a death screech. I swatted it away,

sending it crashing into a tombstone.

“I have nothing to live for,” a voice said.

Though a distance away, I could recognize

that voice even in a dream. Mum.

“If you’re going to kill me, do it now, before

you change your mind.” Her voice, my light

in a dark tunnel, led me to her.

“Mum!” I screamed.

Mum turned to look at me. And so did the

two men who threatened her with their


“Vicky, no!” she cried. “Get out of here!”

The men exploded in savage laughter. The

one nearest to her grabbed her arm and

pulled her to himself. “Mother and


My face wrinkled with disgust. How dare he

touch my mum?

“I do not fear death,” mum said.

“Ah, but you’ll certainly fear the things we’ll

do to your precious little daug—”

Mum spat on him, cutting him off. Grunting,

the man raised his clenched fist at her.

I pulled out father’s gun and trained it on

him. “Don’t you dare.”

Blood drained from his face at the sight of

the gun. His raised hand froze in midair, and

then he let out a deep, taunting laugh. “Do

it. You can’t.”

Adrenaline surging through me, I bit down

the urge to empty the gun in his skull. “Let

her go.”

“Or what?” the second man taunted.

My hand squeezed the trigger. A bullet

sailed through air and buried itself in his

kneecap. He yelped in pain and hit the

ground, cursing under his breath.

I redirected my aim to the first man. “Still

want to find out what her precious little

daughter can do if you don’t let her go?”

The man let go of mum and took a tentative

step back. Even as mum walked over to

meet me, my eyes didn’t stray off target.

The man looked past me, at something

behind me.

I felt a presence behind me. The warm

fingers of my hero wrapped around the

trembling hand with which I held the gun.

Although we hadn’t spoken for a week since

our breakup, I’d informed him just before

leaving the house.

“I’ll take it from here, babe,” he said.



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