Zahra stole my heart but my parents are against her (3)

 I had enquired after Zahra on my return home from my mother when she dropped the bombshell.

 "My dear," said my mother, "That girl had us fooled. We thought she was a good girl but it was all pretence. Do you know she was running around with different men in town and she ended up pregnant for one of them?"

 "What? Pregnant? Zahra?" To say I was shocked was putting it mildly.

 My mum nodded.

  "She told us the man raped her but it was a lie. Anyway, I had no option but to throw her out! There was no way she could remain here with that kind of loose behaviour! 

 "Your sister Lara is still very young and I don't want a girl like that who could be a bad influence on her, in our home."

 It took time for what my mother told me to sink in. Zahra pregnant? I could not believe it. 

 The Zahra I knew did not seem like a wayward girl. 

 Though she could be stubborn, even headstrong at times, she had always been well-behaved so how could this have happened? How could she have changed so much in the few years I had been away?

 "So, where's she now?" I enquired.

 My mother said: "I instructed the driver to drop her at her father's place at Ojo. Honestly, your father and I are really disappointed in her. I took her like my own daughter and see the way she paid us back for all we did for her! 

 We were even planning to set her up when she finished her training at the fashion design school. Now, see how she ended up! It's very unfortunate."

 Indeed, it was. I felt really bad at what had happened to Zahra. This was a girl really close to my heart so how could this have happened? Why now? I was disappointed and sad all at once, feeling a sense of lose, of despondency.

 Soon after my arrival, I started work in one of my father's companies. I tried to forget about Zahra but it was just impossible. I found myself thinking about her most of the time.

  Searching for Zahra

I had been in the country about three months when I decided to look for her. I had to see how she was doing, that she was ok. I wondered how she was coping with her situation. Being an unwed mother in our strait-laced society is no joke as most are seen as irresponsible and loose and often treated with scorn.

 I got her home address from one of the maids and one Saturday, I set out for the place. It was on the outskirts of the city, off the ever busy Lagos-Badagry expressway.

 She was not home but I met her father and stepmother. Zahra, he said, had gone to work and would be back in the evening. We sat on some plastic chairs on the verandah of the house, watching some children playing football in the courtyard.

 Zahra's father explained she had started work at a restaurant at Agboju, near Festac, after she had the baby, a boy, five months before.

 Her stepmum, a middle aged, plump looking woman, was feeding the baby when I entered the living room. He was a cute little boy with Zahra's features. I played with him for a while till Zahra returned after four o'clock.

 She looked surprised to see me and happy as well. 

  I studied her, noting she had not changed physically that much. She had put on a little weight, though, maybe because of the baby; but this only added an extra glow and radiance to her looks which made her look even more lovely. Motherhood seem to suit her.

 "When did you return to Nigeria?" she asked. 

  "Few months back. Only to hear you had left the house," I said.

 She was silent for a while, staring blankly at her feet.

 "I don't know what your parents have told you. But, truth is, what happened was not totally my fault. It was someone I stupidly trusted that caused all this."

 She then narrated the sordid story of what really happened, about a guy called Paddy, who had been bugging her for a relationship but whom she turned down severally.

 "Paddy worked in an office near my school and every day, on my way home after school, he would come begging me to be his girlfriend, that he loved me so much, he couldn't live without me.

 "I told him I was not interested in a relationship then, that I wanted to finish school first before thinking about such things."

  Zahra stated that the guy kept on pestering her and even enlisted the help of her friend Helen to plead his cause.

 "One day, I went to Helen's place to borrow a fashion magazine I needed for an assignment in school. She offered me a bottle of soft drink which unknown to me had been drugged.

 I became unconscious after drinking it and it was then that Peter came in and raped me. They both planned it.

 "I thought Helen was my friend but she turned out to be worse than an enemy," Zahra said sadly.

 Some months later, she added, on finding out she was pregnant, she informed Peter about it.

 "But he denied having anything to do with the pregnancy, that I should take it to the other men I had been sleeping with. It was to avoid responsibility because he knew I was not seeing anyone at that time."

My father wanted to take up the matter with the police but you know the stigma attached to rape victims in our society so we let it go. I thought about abortion but my father would not hear about it so I had the baby," she explained.

 Then in an entreating tone, she said: "That was what really happened Brother Archie. We've known each other since we were children. I would not lie to you. It's the truth."

 As I drove home, I kept thinking about what she had said. In all the years I had known Zahra, I never knew her to be a liar. It was not just her way. 

 So, I believed her story. 

 She was just a poor victim of circumstances.

 It was based on that and the love I still harboured for her deep in my heart despite all that had happened to her, that I decided to do something about her situation.

 Together again

On my next visit about two weeks later, I told her she should return to school to complete her training, that I was ready to take care of the expenses.

 On hearing that, she jumped up excitedly from her seat, rushed up to me and hugged me.

 "Thank you, Brother Archie! You don't know what this means to me!" Then to my surprise, she burst into tears. I held her close and comforted her. She felt soft and warm and a thrill went through me as I held her in my arms.

 We were alone in the house as the rest of the family had gone out. The baby was sleeping in its cot in a corner of the room.

 Later, after she had calmed down, she disclosed that she had had been thinking about returning to school but money was an issue.

 Her father had no job due to an accident he sustained in his hand at the factory he used to work. "He has been unable to get another job since then. The family depends on the money my younger brother Baro makes from his job at the Ports and my step-Mum's petty trading business. That's the reason I had to get a job to help out after I had the baby."

 After that, Zahra and I began seeing more regularly. I knew I should not be seeing her too often because of the way I felt about her.

 But like a magnet, I kept being drawn to her and could not stay away. 

 It wasn't as if I did not have any one in my life. I had a girlfriend, Ronnie. She was someone I had known for some years and had been dating since my return to Nigeria.

 My parents knew and liked her and had even tacitly approved of her as a future partner for me.

 "She seems a nice girl from a good family. She'll make a good wife for you," said my mother one evening. I had just returned from a visit to Zahra. 

 "Ah, Mum! I'm not ready for marriage yet," I protested.

 "Why not?" she countered. "The earlier you settle down, the better. At least then, you'll stop running around town with all these Lagos girls!"

 "Mum, that's not true!"

  But she was not convinced.

 "I'm your mother and I can read you like a book. You are hardly at home most weekends and don't tell me you're with Ronnie because she comes here to look for you when you are not around. So, where do you often disappear to?"

 I left the room as she grumbled about 'young men of today who never want to marry but loved to play around...'

 I wondered if she knew I had been seeing Zahra all the while. I had not told her about visiting Zahra as I knew she would not approve because of the circumstances under which she left the house.

 I kept up with the visits, though. Due to the terrible traffic jams on the highway to her place, I had to make alternative arrangements for our meetings.

 My cousin Flo, who lived in a large apartment in Surulere agreed I could be meeting Zahra there, when I told her about the situation.

 At first, we would just chat, watch movies or play video games which she loved a lot.

 Then, one rainy evening some weeks later, Flo had gone out and Zahra and I were alone in the flat. 

 She was in the kitchen preparing dinner. I went to see how she was getting on.

 I stood by the kitchen door and watched unobserved, as she busied herself at the stove. Then as if propelled by unseen hands, I walked up to her and held her by the waist. I slowly turned her round and ignored the startled expression in her eyes as I lowered my head and my lips sought hers...

 Claiming Zahra

I kissed her luscious lips, drawing deeply from her sweetness. She didn't move for a while, then with her hands against my chest, she gently slipped out of my grasp.

 She looked up at me in amazement then exclaimed.

 "Brother Archie! Why did you do that?"

 "I'm sorry, Zahra. I guess I got carried away." I wasn't sorry though. It was something I had wanted to do for a long time, hold her close to me and love her like a man.

 "We can't do such things. We are..."

 "Not related!" I quickly said, feeling it was time to clear up a few things.

 "I know. But..."

 "What, Zahra? Look, we need to talk," I said firmly and taking her hand, led her to the living room.

 We talked for sometime at the end of which she became fully aware of the way I felt about her, that I was in love with her.

 "I tried controlling my feelings for you but it's been difficult. I know this must come as a surprise to you but that's just the way I feel."

 I was the one who got a surprise.

 "Actually, it wasn't really a surprise," she stated with a light gleam in her eyes.

 Before I could speak, she continued:

 "I've suspected for sometime. I'm a woman, remember. We feel such things. Besides, my step-mum had mentioned it some time ago but I had not taken her words seriously."

 "What did she say?" I asked, looking intently at her.

 "She said you were acting more like a boyfriend towards me than a brother- that you must be in love with me.!"

 I laughed.

"She wasn't wrong then. I really love you, Zahra," I said. "Because of your past experience, I know you might find it difficult loving anyone now, but please create a little space in your heart for me, to love me a little."

 "I already love you," she said, smiling coolly at me.

 "Like a man? Not like a brother?"

 She nodded.

 "My darling!" I said happily, holding her close to me. I was kissing her again and this time, she responded, igniting my passion for her.

 Just then, the front door opened and my cousin bustled in, carrying several shopping bags.

 "And what are you two lovebirds up to now?" she queried, dropping the bags on the rug.

 "Whatever it is, don't do it on my sofa. You guys should get a room!"

 "Why do you always barge in at the wrong moment, Flo?" I said grumpily.

 "Because you're always up to no good!" she retorted.

 I laughed again

 "Welcome Aunty Flo," Zahra greeted, getting up to pick the bags from the floor.

 "Thanks, Zahra," she said. She kicked off her high heeled shoes and collapsed on a chair.

 "My feet are killing me," she said, wriggling her toes.

 Then she sat up and sniffed the air.

 "What's that smell?" she asked.

 "Did you leave anything on the cooker?" she asked Zahra who was taking the bags to her room.

"Oh, my God! The rice!" she exclaimed, dropping the bags and running towards the kitchen.

 "You people should not burn this house down with all this love game you're playing here o!" she said crossly. But I could detect a little smile playing around her lips.

 After we had eaten, I reluctantly left for home. 

 "I'll miss you," I said, holding her to me as she came to see me off to my car.

 "Its just two days we'll be apart," she pointed out. 

 "Yes. But it will be like a year. Now that I've found you, I never want us to be apart," I said, caressing her face.

 She laughed.

 "You better start going. It's getting late."

 I got in and started the car.

 "I love you, Zahra," I said, holding her hand through the car window. "Will call you when I get home." As I drove off, I watched her from the side mirror as she stood waving and smiling at me...

To be continued...

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