Ajoke walked to the bus-stop and was about to flag down a bus when a car parked in front of her. She took a few steps backward so she could get on the bus which was about to park to pick her up when she heard her name. She looked in the direction of the car and saw the customer service manager stepping out of the car. She stood still as she looked at him.
“Ajoke, please come into the car.”
“What do you want from me?” Ajoke asked.
“Can we talk about this somewhere else please?” He pleaded. “Come into the car.”
Ajoke walked towards the car like someone in a trance. He opened the door for her and jogged over to the driver’s side. He put the car in drive and eased into the main road. None of them spoke to each other during the drive. Ajoke hid her hands in her laps and refused to look up throughout the journey. In five minutes, he was parked in front of an apartment within town. He got out of the car and opened Ajoke’s door as he held her hand and led her towards his apartment. He brought out a bunch of keys from his pocket and opened the door leading Ajoke in.
“Please sit down.” He said.
“Are you not supposed to be at work?” Ajoke said suddenly finding her voice.
“I have a one-hour lunch break. Since I stay close, I usually come home for lunch.”
Ajoke nodded but remained standing.
“Ajoke, I need you to sit down. I can’t talk to you this way. I wanted us to talk in a relaxed environment; that’s why I brought you here.”
Ajoke sighed as she sat on the edge of the couch in the living room. She looked round at her environment for the first time since coming in. The furnishings were simple but screamed class.
“Ajoke, I know I have hurt you but I want you to hear me out. I’m sorry I stopped responding to your letters. So many things were happening at the same time and I felt like you were putting me under pressure.”
Ajoke looked at him intently without uttering a word.
“How have you been doing?”
“Did you think I was going to suddenly forget about our love?”
Kokumo breathed deeply. “No. But you belonged to another man and the hurt I went through was unbearable.”
“And you thought I would cope better by refusing to have anything to do with me, right?”
“No Ajoke, but there wasn’t much I could do.”
“You could have at least responded to my letters.” Ajoke spat.
“I am sorry, Ajoke. I don’t know how many times I would have to say it. Sincerely, I am. I couldn’t even read the letters. I did not have the courage to. When you stopped writing, I thought it was all over. I picked out all the letters when I was about graduating and read all of them one by one. I’m sorry I never wrote back. I felt you still wanted me to remain a part of your life. You wrote about how unhappy you were and also wrote when you had your son and your daughter. They were six letters in all and I cried the day I read them all. I was still heartbroken even after three years.”
“I did not stop writing Kokumo. I knew you would be graduating and there was no way my letters would get delivered to you anymore. Since you never bothered to reply any of the letters and I did not have any forwarding address for you, there was no point writing a letter that would go undelivered. There was no one to ask and no one to talk to.”
Kokumo sat down beside Ajoke and held her hands. “Please forgive me.”
Ajoke looked away as she spoke. “Adejoro travelled abroad on a scholarship seven years ago. His course was supposed to be for twenty-four months. He left me and the kids to start another life in the UK.”
Kokumo shook his head as he realized Ajoke must have had it rough; having to cater for herself and two young kids alone. “I’m so sorry, Ajoke. I did not know that. I would have reached out to you.” He said as he covered her hands in his. “How have you been coping?”
Ajoke shrugged. “I started weaving hair for little girls in the vicinity, and then their mothers patronized me after a while before I was able to set up a salon.”
Kokumo smiled despite the situation.
“Broda Adisa advised that I open an account to save for the rainy day. There’s no bank in the village yet so I had to come to town.”
“How are your parents and your brothers?”
“My parents are fine. All my brothers are now happily married.”
Kokumo thought about what Ajoke had just said and her emphasis on the word “happily married”. It was a pity that she remained the only unmarried one for no fault of hers. He wished he could turn back the hands of time. He sighed as he looked at his wrist watch. His lunch break was almost over and he had to get back to work. He wished he did not have to. He wanted to know everything that had taken place in Ajoke’s life since the last time they saw; when he had walked her home from the stream and parted ways with her. Even though it was ten years ago, it almost felt like yesterday to him.
“I need to get back to work.” He said standing up.
Ajoke stood up as well. “No problem. I should also take my leave now. I need to get back to my shop and my kids.”
Kokumo moved closer to Ajoke as he held her hand. “I wish I did not have to go back to work but…” He stopped and sighed. “When can I see you again?”
Ajoke shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Okay, when do you intend to go back to school?”
Ajoke gave him a surprised look.
“You always wanted to go to the university. It is not too late, Ajoke.”
Ajoke removed her hands from Kokumo’s. “You know what. I think you should get back to work.” She said as she started walking towards the door.
Kokumo got to her in two steps and held her hand. “Did I say something wrong?” He asked looking confused. “I thought that was your dream.”
Ajoke looked away. “Let me go Kokumo.”
Kokumo refused to let her go. “Okay, I’m sorry. I don’t want you to leave in anger and I really want to see you again. I close from work at 6pm and I am usually home by 7.”
Ajoke looked at him without uttering a word.
“Please, can I see you later today?”
Even though Ajoke would rather not, a part of her heart longed to come back. She breathed deeply. “I’ll be here at 7.30.”
“Thank you.” Kokumo smiled. He opened the door and they both walked out of the house.
Kokumo dropped Ajoke at the bus-stop, flagged down a taxi and paid for it before driving back to the office.
He was unable to concentrate on his job the rest of the day. He wished close of business would come early.
The story continues….
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