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Thursday, 14 April 2016

Touch of fate (2)

"Don, what's the matter? Are you alright?" Helen asked worriedly.
He did not respond but closed his eyes and placed his right hand on his brow. After a while, he opened his eyes and spoke.
"I'm ok. I've been taking these malaria drugs and they make me feel dizzy at times," he explained.
"Sorry about that. Maybe you should go home and rest. We could always hang out some other time," she said, still looking worried.
He shook his head, insisting he was fine.
They chatted for a while with Helen doing most of the talking while he listened, a pensive look on his face.
Before parting that night, he promised to call in a few days so they could go out on another date.
"I've enjoyed our time together. Let's do this again," he said as he kissed her on the cheek before she alighted from his car in front of her house.
About a week later, when she did not hear from him, she called his mobile.
"I was worried that maybe you had not recovered from the malaria," she stated. "So, how are you feeling now?" she enquired.
He told her he was alright but had been unable to contact her due to work commitments. But Don knew in his heart that that was not the whole truth. Much as he liked her and wanted to see more of her, he had decided to keep away for certain reasons which he could not explain to her.
"Actually, I have an invite for you," Helen said, adding, "One of our executive directors at the bank is retiring soon and a party is being planned for him next week. It's at the Ritz Hotel and it's going to be a classy do. I want you to be my date for the evening."
His initial reaction was to decline, but hearing her sweet voice again and realizing how much he had missed her, he accepted.
The party turned out to be a glitzy affair as Helen had predicted. Mr Thompson, the director that was leaving, who was a Briton, was one of the pioneer staff of the bank when it was established some decades ago. Some of the top officials of the bank including the M.D, some directors and senior management staff were in attendance. There was lots to eat and drink and plenty of speeches as well.
"Nice party," Don said some time later. They were taking a walk by the hotel pool. Inside the hall, a live band was playing and some of the usually serious minded bankers were letting their hair down and grooving to the beats.
"You can go back and continue with your dancing if you want," she suggested, sitting on a chair by the pool. He had danced with a couple of her colleagues including the loquaciousTina who had been clinging onto him all evening. Due to her leg injury, she could not dance and had sat watching the couples on the dance floor a bit enviously.
"No. I'm cool. It was getting a bit stuffy inside," he said, sitting by her. They sat in silence for a while, taking in the scenery and savouring the cool, fresh air.
Then turning to him, she said:
"I know you might say it's none of my business. But you told me the other day that you called off your wedding to the lady you were planning to marry a week to the day. What really happened?"
He sighed, before telling her a tale of infidelity and betrayal.
"I caught her in bed with my best friend. He was someone I trusted so much and we were like brothers. He was to be my best man at the wedding. I just couldn't get over the betrayal of trust especially on her part. It put me off relationships for a long while," he stated quietly.
She reached for his hand and held it.
"What a sad story," she noted. "These things happen. I have some horror relationship tales as well," she added. And she went on to tell him about her last boyfriend who turned out to be a conman. "He claimed to be a businessman, an importer of computers and accessories. One day, he told me he had secured a contract at a government ministry to supply computers worth about N100 million. He begged me to use my connection at the bank to secure a loan to import the items," Helen narrated.
It was while the loan application was being processed, she added that a colleague who knew someone at the ministry made enquiries concerning the contract.
"It was then the truth was revealed- there was no contract! He wanted to dupe the bank and disappear with the money once he had received it. Of course I ended the relationship! The most painful thing was that instead of showing remorse for his misdeeds, he wrote me a terrible letter. He called me all kinds of names including a cripple, disclosing that the only reason he dated me, was because of my job- as I could facilitate his access to bank loans easily. Can you imagine that?" she said.
"He was a very bad person. Its a good thing you found out about him on time," Don stated.
"Yes. It was a lucky escape for me. As his guarantor, I would have ended up being saddled with repaying the money. Where will I see such a huge amount of money to pay back to the bank?" she wondered.
"You know, we are two of a kind, been through so much heartache..." Don said, holding her by the shoulder and drawing her close.
"Yes," she intoned, resting her head on his shoulder...


The revelation
After that night, they saw regularly for the next couple of months. And soon, a relationship blossomed between them. To Don, it was never part of his plan to get so close to her but try as he could, he could not stay away from her. There was something about her that kept drawing him to her and it got to a point where he stopped trying to resist. He had fallen in love and there was no point denying it. Besides, he found in Helen some of the qualities he had always wanted in a woman- she was caring, loving and faithful. After the incident with his ex-fiancé, he wanted a woman he could trust and he saw that in Helen.
About eight months after they started dating, Don proposed to her one evening at his home. Though she had been expecting something like that from hints he had beendropping, Helen still looked surprised when she saw the ring he had slipped on her third finger.
"It's so beautiful!" she enthused, then added. "Of course I will marry you, darling! At least that will stop Tina from trying to snatch you from me."
After things had quietened down a bit, they sat making tentative plans for their wedding.
"But Don," Helen stated some time later, "Much as I love you and want to be your wife and I suspected you were going to propose, I thought maybe, you would wait forsometime..."
"Wait for what?" he asked.
"For us to get to know each other better. We've not even been dating for up to a year," she noted.
"Baby, what more do I need to know about you? Afterall, I've known you since you were a little girl like this," he said, raising his hand to indicate the height of a ten year old child.
"Don! That's not true! I was not as small as that!" she said heatedly.
"You were!" he insisted, laughing at her.
She picked up one of the empty bottles of red wine on the table they had drunk to celebrate their engagement.
"Say that again and I will hit you with this," she said, a mischievous glint in her eyes.
He jumped up from the couch and standing at a safe distance, repeated his earlier statement about her height, his hand raised at the same angle.
"Ah! Somebody is going to join his ancestors today!" she shouted, getting up to run after him, the bottle raised in a threatening manner...


* * * *
It was about a month to the wedding. Preparations were in top gear and like most brides-to-be, Helen was excited about the coming nuptials. One evening at his apartment, they sat going over the guest list on Don's computer. It was growing longer by the day and Helen was trying to prune it to a reasonable figure.
"It's too long. I think 300 is a more reasonable number," she said, scrolling down the list of names.
"You are right. Well, you take care of it. I'm going to see Patrick about the groomsmen'soutfits," he stated, picking his car keys from the side table. Patrick was going to be his best man at the wedding.
After he had left, she worked on the list for a while. She was saving the document in a folder when something attracted her attention. She clicked on the file and began reading it. At the end, she sat staring at the screen, too stupefied to move.
Could this be true? Or was she dreaming? How could it be? That her own Don, the love of her life, the man she was planning to marry was the one who had been driving the night of the accident back in school that had left her nearly crippled? But it was all there- the details of what had happened that night; the party, the drive back to the campus, hitting her and abandoning her by the roadside half-dead, wounded, bleeding, unconscious...
It was in his private files which she had stumbled upon by chance. In a way she was glad, the truth was out. But on the other hand, she wished fervently that she had remained ignorant of the truth and had continued in her dreams and hopes for the future that now suddenly looked so bleak.
"Baby, I'm back. How is the list coming up?" Don said as he walked in through the front door. But he was stopped in his tracks by the strange look in her eyes- a mixture of despair, anger, disappointment and hopelessness...


To be continued


Names have been changed to protect the identity of the narrator and other individuals in the story.
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