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[STORY] A Chance For Love (Episode 13)

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Episode 13. (Outing)

“If you love her as much as you claim, then just take her with you.”**A fist of water slammed into me, drenching me to the bones. I bolted upright in bed, my heart hammering like it would burst out of my chest. The sound of plastic smacking the floor hit my ears, bringing my attention to my stepmother. She stood a few steps away, glaring at me. Beside her, a bucket lay on its side; the bucket she hadjust emptied on me.”Good morning,” I said.Snapping her fingers, she said, “Get up, you lazy bone!”Like a robot, I sprang to my feet. Head bowed, hands held behind my back, I awaited her next order. I watched the water from my body glide to my feet. Forming a pattern, they plopped down on the floor.”You are to do the dishes, launder my clothes and Cynthia’s, scrub the floors, clean the entire compound andwash the cars right away. Only when you’re done can you have breakfast. Did I forget to mention anything?””The glassware,” I said.”And the toilets,” she said. “I will be back to inspect. And if on my return I find that you skipped anything, I will—”“Hack you into tiny bits and feed you to the street dogs,” I said. I knew her pick up line all too well.“What did you just say?” she fumed, her face like a cloudy day.She lunged at me. I ducked, brushing past her. A knock at the gate forced a giggle from my mouth. We had a visitor. This placed our cat and rat session on hold.Snapping her fingers, she said, “It’s me and you in this house today.”Did she think she could scare me with that? What would she do that hadn’t been done before? She had made me pass through fire, forced me through the thorny gates of hell and taught me to embrace pain. Nothing scared me at this point.Drops of water trailed after me as I made for the gate. Once there, I yanked it open. Taken aback by the person staring back at me, I could only gasp. I certainly hadn’t been expecting my fairy godmother. My stepmother wouldn’t like this one bit. But despite this, a smile tore through my lips.”Good morning, fairy godmother.”She did not return my smile. Her gaze locked on my drenched clothes. “What is this?”I looked away, groping for the perfect lie. “I’m a heavy sweater when I sleep.”After she’d stepped into the premises, I moved to lock thegate, grateful for a chance to hide my face so she couldn’tsee through my lie.She tugged at my arm, her eyes flying wide. “I know you, Victoria. All week, I watched you sleep for no less than four hours at a time. And you certainly aren’t a heavy sweater. Besides, you sweat all over your hair too?””I—”She shook her head. “Tsk. Tsk. If I find that that witch did this to you, I swear, it’ll be an eye for an eye.”Without another word, she made for my room. I trailed after her. The door to my room flew open and she burst in,halting almost immediately as she found the emptied bucket and the drenched bed.”That woman has certainly overdone it this time,” she fumed. “And she will get what she’s asking for.”Shaking her head, she picked up the bucket. I had no idea what she planned to do. But I knew it would be nothing to smile about.”Stella, please,” I said.She raised her non-dominant hand, splaying her fingers ina ‘stop’ gesture. Her other fingers bowed, leaving only thepointer to poke my shoulder.”Don’t even say a word,” she said, her voice cold as death.”Now, show me to the kitchen at once!”I’d never thought a day would come when I’d be conflicted about obeying my fairy godmother. She’d always been friendly, an angel. But today, I saw a different side of her.”Show me to the kitchen, I said!”Unable to hold her flaming gaze, I looked away, swallowing hard. “This…M.. way.”She muttered a few incoherent words. I could only grasp the last phrase. “An eye for an eye!”A sudden realization sent a shiver down my spine as she headed for the fridge. She would empty bottles of cold water into the bucket and empty the bucket on someone.”You will show me to Cynthia’s room,” she said.”I’m sorry,” I said. “I can’t.”Stella smiled a threatening smile and tugged at my arm. Gripping it hard, she turned me toward the door, but I didn’t budge.”I cannot,” I said. “I won’t.””Very well then. I guess it won’t be difficult to find that step-sister of yours.” Letting go of my arm, she started off toward the rooms. The first three doors showed her to empty rooms.And the next …My heart shattered as it flew open. Cynthia lay in her air-conditioned room, on her king-sized bed, sleeping amidst pink pillows and teddy bears. Stella advanced to her.”Cynthia!” I called, my voice loud enough to wake the dead.Cynthia’s eyes flew open just in time to watch the ruthlessly cold water lunge at her. She made to roll to safety, but didn’t stand a chance. Drenched, she sprang to her feet.”What is the meaning of this?” she yelled. “How dare you insult me like this? What is the meaning of this?”Stella flung the bucket at Cynthia’s feet. Shrieking, Cynthia side-stepped. The watery floor made her slip. I gasped as she hit the floor with a painful thud. Sat helplessly on the floor, and drenched to the bone, she wailed like a woman who’d just received news of her husband’s death.I moved to help her, but Stella held me back. “Her mother will come.””What have you done?” I asked.Cynthia wailed on. She made no attempt to get off the floor. Obviously, she wanted her mum to find her in this state. This spelt trouble.”What’s happening here?” My stepmother’s voice boomed from the doorway.”Mummy,” Cynthia whimpered. Catching sight of her, her mother rushed to kneel beside her.”My baby. What happened? Who did this to you?” She helped Cynthia get on her feet. Holding her in an embrace,she patted her back. “Come now, mummy is here. It’s fine now.”Stella smirked. “Now we’re even.”Glaring at Stella, my stepmother disentangled from the embrace. Her right hand lashed out, aiming for Stella’s face. My breath caught in my throat. But the slap never landed.Stella gripped her hand, suspending it in the air, her glarematching my stepmother’s. “Don’t you dare.”It took a few moments for Stella to detach her hand. She trusted my stepmother would not make another move. And for the sakes of both women, I hoped so. Cynthia looked between the two women, her eyes mirroring my fear.”So it hurts you to see your daughter abused,” Stella said. “And yet, you do the same to someone else’s child. A child who should be like a daughter to you! You go ahead and abuse her without any qualms. In the same way you carried your daughter in your womb for nine months, someone carried Victoria. She did not just fall from the sky. Neither was she born by an animal. No! She was born by a woman like you. And you go ahead and abuse her withno feeling of remorse? How could you be so evil?””I will not let you come into my house and insult me,” my stepmother said.”And I will not let you insult your stepdaughter and her mother’s good name!” Stella said. “Once or twice, I met hermum at the orphanage. And she spoke of how it broke her heart to see the less privileged suffer. I will not watch you subject her child to the very same life she didn’t wantfor other children.””If you love her as much as you claim, then just take her with you,” Cynthia suggested.Stella seemed to consider Cynthia’s offer. “I would if I could. But that would mean her leaving the house for you and your mother, wouldn’t it?””What do you want?” my stepmother asked. “Why are you here?””I’m only here to remind you of the deal you signed. You best take it seriously. Tomorrow, I will be leaving for the Uk …”Unable to conceal their excitements, Cynthia and her mother glanced at each other.”But I am not leaving her unprotected,” Stella went on. “And the deal remains. You do well to remember that. I willhave people on the lookout for any form of abuse. And I will appoint a guardian in my place. So you best not get any ideas.”Cynthia looked between her mum and Stella. “Mum, say something. How can you just let her threaten us in our own house?””It’s not a threat,” Stella said. “When I threaten, trust me, you’ll know of it. That said, today is my last day here in Nigeria, and so I am taking her out with me.””You will not—” My stepmother started.”It is my understanding that your daughter goes out with friends as she pleases,” Stella said. “So, why can’t your other daughter do the same?”After moments of unnerving silence, my stepmother said,”Return her by noon.””I will bring her before nightfall,” Stella said. “And don’t worry about chores. I’m sure Cynthia knows how to keep a house in order.” Taking me by the hand, she led me to myroom.The scene in Cynthia’s room revolved around my head. What had I gotten myself into? Would they not kill me once I returned home? Would Stella be with me then? No. I would be all alone to feel my stepmother’s wrath. And after what Stella had done, they would sure hate me burying imaginable.Oblivious to the danger she’d placed me in, Stella rummaged through my closet. “Goodness gracious. It’s almost unbelievable that the very same woman who abuses you cares enough to give you a fitting wardrobe.”A smile tugged at my lips. “She wants her public to believe she treats me the same way she treats her daughter.””That sure is something,” Stella said. “Go freshen up while I find a perfect outfit for our outing.”I’m afraid I can’t go,” I said.”What?””My stepmother—”Stella snapped. “I am not listening to your silly talks! You will go freshen up and prepare for our outing. Look at you,your father’s death has you locked up in this woman’s cage. You don’t even know what fun is anymore. You only do the things she let you do. Chores. Chores. School. And more chores. Where’s the fun in this?””I have fun,” I said. “I have fun at school with my friends.”Stella rolled her eyes. “Great. You could also say you have fun with the rats and roaches while doing your chores.”I grinned. “That too.””I’m done listening to this. You are going out with me, Victoria Brown. And I will not take no for an answer. Comeon, this is my last day here. Will you actually deny me mylast wish?” She batted her lashes at me.When she put it like that, how could I turn her down? “I need to hurry with my chores then.””Vicky dear, you shouldn’t worry yourself,” she said. “I want today to be a holiday for you. Cynthia will do the chores.””You don’t understand. It won’t feel right to just walk away, leaving the chores undone. Please. I promise I’ll be fast.”Stella weighed my request for a moment or two. “Fine then. The movie doesn’t start till twelve anyway.””We are going to see a movie?” My eyes beamed with excitement.”A movie called Cinderella Retold,” she said. “It’s new.”**Sat in the near-darkness of a theatre, I brimmed with expectations as I gazed at the giant screen before us. The movie, like my life, was a reenactment of Cinderella. Set in Salem, Massachusetts, during the Witch Hunt period, the movie revolved around a young orphan abused by her stepmother and two half sisters. At a ball, Michael Huntington, the priest/executioner’s son fell for the mysterious girl who disappeared at midnight, leaving behind a glass slipper. Upon knowing Cinderella was the girl after Michael’s heart, her evil family framed her as a witch and delivered to the priest for execution.Things would heat up, making us gasp and almost fall off the edges of our seats. But like all fairytales, a happily ever after climaxed the movie. The villains were made to suffer. The hero got the girl. And they lived happily ever after.”That’s the best movie I’ve seen in years!” Stella exclaimed as we stepped out of the theatre. “It’s such a bold retelling of Cinderella. Did you like it?””It’s a great movie,” I said.Draping an arm over my shoulders, Stella led me to the cafeteria. She sat across from me. “Do you know why I wanted you to see that movie?””Because she went through hell just like me?” I guessed.”Yes,” she said. “I wanted you to see her overcome every obstacle, climb every mountain, live through every disappointment, and emerge victorious. I wanted you to see her forge ahead even after Aunt Maggie, her supposed fairy godmother abandoned her when she was accused of being a witch. It is truly a great movie.”A waiter advanced to us with a well-practiced smile lighting up his face. “Good afternoon. What would you like?””Chicken and chips should do.” Stella said. “What drinks are available? Chapman?”The waiter nodded.”Chapman it is then,” Stella decided. “And a bottle of water.”The waiter wrote down Stella’s orders in his notepad. To me, he said, “And you, miss?””Same,” I said.”Whatever they’re having, make it for four,” I heard a bubbly voice say. Farah. Raheem stood beside her, his face as though he’d died in a dream.Farah waved at Stella. “Hello.”“Hi,” Stella said.”What are you doing here?” Farah half-squealed at me, muting out Stella’s and Raheem’s greetings.”We saw a movie,” I said.”Same here! Raheem and I saw Cinderella Retold. That movie is just amazing! I could watch it over and over again.””Raheem saw the movie?” I asked. I could never have tagged him as one for cheesy love stories.”I am not one for such movies,” Raheem said. “She forced me to come along. The movie was crappy. Waste of time.”Farah nudged him with her elbow. “Liar.””I’d rather be at home playing,” Raheem said.”He’s only putting on an act. He enjoyed the movie.””I know,” Stella said. “Everyone did.”Farah made to join us, but Raheem tugged at her arm. Forcing an overly formal smile, he said, “We’ll sit at our own table. We wouldn’t want to bother you. Enjoy your day, please.” His eyes begged that we backed him up.

“Actually, it’s no bother,” Stella said.She smirked at the beat up look on Raheem’s face as Farah hurried to occupy the seat beside mine. Left without a choice, Raheem occupied the last seat. He cast Farah a life threatening glance that made me wonder how they survived at home.The waiter returned with our order. Once he placed them on our table, Farah started getting acquitted with hers. Noticing Stella staring intently at Farah, Raheem said,”She’s Farah. My kid sister.””Wow, I can see so much resemblance,” Stella said. “It’s great to meet you, Farah. I am—””The school nurse,” Farah cut in. “Oh, please, tell me I’m right!” She clapped a palm over her eyes, but I could see her peeking at Stella from the space between her fingers.”I am she,” Stella said, half-giggling. “I’m just curious about how you could tell.”Plastering an ear-to-ear grin on her face, Farah uncoveredher eyes. “With vivid descriptions like the ones Raheem gives, even the king of fools can tell who he speaks of. For example, I haven’t seen the principal yet. But I know to expect an overweight man, his skin as burned chocolate. His hair, styled as an afro, is a mix of black and white. And then he’s five foot six. He walks as though every step were a punishment. And then there’s Sir Aaron, a man of stone. He lives in his own world and doesn’t even—””Farah!” Raheem warned.Farah recoiled in an attempt to escape Raheem’s fiery gaze. “Uhm …yeah?””Could you just shut up and eat?” Raheem asked.Farah pressed a finger to her lips. “Oops. Sorry.”With the new found silence, we all had time to dig into our snacks. Farah finished first. She swept her eyes around the table, aching to speak. I could tell it wouldn’t take longfor her to break the silence.”Who could have thought Raheem Kadir could actually make friends?” she thought aloud with a smirk. Glad to have my attention and Stella’s she went on, “In our former school, he almost never said a word. I’m just really surprised he’s actually making friends now. Loner!””I’m not—” Raheem said.Farah cut him off. “Oh, shush. The only friend you’ve ever had is your guitar.””There was Malik, Yusuf and Karmani,” Raheem said.”Only because you were all in a band,” Farah said.”Wait,” Stella said. “Raheem is a singer?”Farah beamed at herself for steering the conversation in this direction.Raheem nodded. “I’m in a band. Impaling Sedation.””I’ve never heard of it,” Stella said.”I don’t expect you to,” he said. “The band’s popularity never crossed Iraq. We mostly played at clubs, diners and some shows. We were meant to do a really huge audition. But then the war came along, shattering our dreams.”Stella seemed genuinely interested. “Are your songs on the internet? Perhaps you could send me a link? I want to watch you sing. I’m a fan of rock myself.””Cool,” Farah said. “Are you a fan of Bring me the Horizon?””That’s one of my top rated,” Stella said.”Perfect,” Farah said, rubbing her palms together. “Then you’ll love Raheem’s band, I assure you. His band is bomb!”“I can only imagine,” Stella said.”Can you heal my heart,” Farah sang. “It’s bleeding. Can you fix my soul, it’s broken—””Quit ruining my song,” Raheem said.Farah pouted. “Oh, come on. I’m just trying to—””Don’t.””Okay then, sing.””I’m not singing. That’s the lead singer’s job. Not the guitarist’s.”Rising to her feet, Farah clapped her hands to gain everyone’s attention. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sure you wouldn’t mind a little background music, would you?””Farah, what are you doing?” Raheem whispered between clenched teeth.Farah played deaf. Lighting up her face with an enchanting smile, she pulled in her observers. “With us here is a rockstar who’s dying to share his music. He represents a male fronted rock band called ‘Impaling Sedation’. Will you deny him a chance to sing? Please put your hands together if you want to witness this live showtoday when it’s free.”A roar of applause followed Farah’s request. Energized, by the encouraging noise, she introduced in a full bloom scream, “Give it up for…Ra-Heeeeem!”She gestured at Raheem and winked at him. Raheem swepthis eyes around the room. He held everyone’s attention.Whimpering, he bounced in his seat. Farah giggled. My sixth sense told me she’d kicked him. If he didn’t get up and feed the crowd with quality music, she would definitely kick him again. I could tell from the look on her face.‘Please don’t disappoint, please don’t disappoint,’ I chantedto myself.Raheem rose to his feet and waved at the crowd.”I’ll…uhm…I’ll go grab my guitar.”The audience seemed to be okay with his hurried departure. Either that, or they didn’t want to watch him, but didn’t want to make Farah feel bad.*”What if he doesn’t come back?” I asked. For the past five minutes, I’d been staring at the door.”You shouldn’t worry,” Farah said. “He wouldn’t want to miss this, trust me. He loves performing.”Stella tilted her head toward the door. “There he is.”With an electric guitar strapped to him, Raheem strode back into view. Strumming his guitar, he sauntered towards the counter, his temporary stage.”Can you heal my heart,” he sang. His voice brimmed with colorless emotions, causing my heart to sink. “It’s bleeding.”More than half of the audience held their phones in the air, recording the live show. Now more than ever, I wished I had a phone.Raheem clutched his guitar as though it were the most important thing in the world; as though his life depended on it. Squeezing his eyes shut and flinging his head backward, he strummed his guitar, sending off a haunting echo of his song’s intro. Was he in pain?Working a magic I couldn’t fathom, he switched his guitar notes from painfully quiet to one I could almost dance to. Ilistened intently to the lyrics as he sang on, faster this time:Can you heal my heartIt’s bleedingCan you fix my soulIt’s brokenThe intensity of his voice awed me into breathlessness. His eyes settled on me, hitting me full force with the bitter emotions behind them. His song had me thinking. Who had broken his heart?Can you feel this deep despairA void in my chestWhere I once had a heartUntil you came alongRipping it with your liesWith your lies”Wow,” Stella said. “He is just… Wow.””His voice,” I said. “It’s so intense.””He’s my personal Oliver Sykes!” Farah said. “Doesn’t he remind you of him?””Never heard of him,” I said.Farah seemed stunned. “You don’t know Bring me the Horizon? He’s the band’s lead singer.”I wanted to believe Raheem had just composed his song without anyone in mind. But the pain evident in his voice led me to the other possibility; that he’d written this for agirl he used to love.”Raheem’s song, what’s it called?” I asked.”With your lies,” Farah said.”It’s a sad song,” I said. There. The perfect bait. If he’d written the song for someone, Farah would tell me.”It sure is,” Farah said, watching the stage. Moments passed, and she said nothing.I didn’t want to come off as nosy, but I had to get Farah to tell me. It probably didn’t matter if he’d written the song for someone, but I had to know. “Who’s it for?””Jameela,” she said. She seemed to have been expecting my question. “She used to be their lead singer. She had a thing for Raheem. But then, there was Austin, a transfer student. At first, Raheem kept his distance because he thought Austin and Jameela were an item.”My mind filtered Farah’s last sentence, and chose to revolve around the first two words. At first. At first, Raheem kept his distance. At first. This only meant he didn’t succeed in the end.”But she said they were just friends,” Farah continued.”Everyone thought it best for Raheem to go for it. When I say everyone, I mean me, mum, and the other band members, who were at that time his only friends. As for dad, he was just indifferent about the whole thing. Well anyway, it turned out that Jameela wasn’t the angel we thought her to be. She and Austin were an item, and we only found out when he confronted Raheem, which had a very ugly end. He started a very scary fight that led to him being suspended, and Raheem expelled. Jameela didn’t know how to face Raheem after that, and so she left the band. That was how he came up with the song. With your lies. He never had a chance to perform it, though. The war came along.”“With your lies,” Raheem concluded, his voice barely a whisper. He bowed at the overly excited crowd slamming their palms together with beaming faces.I joined in the applause. “He’s good at what he does.””More, more, more!” a kid squealed.”Sing us another song,” a man said.”Okay,” Raheem said. “I’m singing just one more. For the kid. This one is called ‘Highway to Yesterday.'””This is my favorite Impaling Sedation song,” Farah said.”You are so going to love this one, guys.”As long as it didn’t involve some girl from Raheem’s past, I sure would.And I did love it.Drawn by Raheem’s song, a crowd streaked in through thedoor, doubling the audience. They bobbed their heads up and down as they watched him use his voice to the fullest. Girls screamed out in sheer excitement as he stomped and staggered. This part made me scowl. Rockstar Raheem had killer moves. But did the girls have to be so obvious about it?Raheem sang on, strumming hard, unleashing all his pent up anger on the guitar. His dramatic picking made the crowd cheer even wilder. It stunned me how an orderly group of people had morphed into an uncontrollable, noisycrowd.Raheem sang the chorus for the third time. Everyone sang along as though they’d known the song all their lives.I did too.At the end of the chorus, Raheem strummed even harder, spinning his head around in circles wild enough to break abone or two. Moves like this deserved the ‘kids, do not try this at home’ caption.I feared for his neck. An end to his head banging session made me release the breath I’d been holding. I’d expected him to show a sliver of fatigue after rotating his head so fiercely. But he went on just fine.”Incredible!” I cried out.For a dramatic effect, Raheem threw his guitar in the air. My breath caught as I watched it flip right back into position. I wished this show could go on forever. But just like every other good thing, it ended. Jumping to my feet, I joined the crowd in a thunderous applause.An outrageous crowd of Raheem’s new fans—most of which were girls—closed in on him, blocking him out of sight.”What are they doing?” I asked.”The expected,” Farah said. “They are no doubt taking his number so they can be present at his next show.””Will there be a next?” I asked.”Didn’t you see the look on his face?” she asked. “I’m sure he can’t wait to do this all over again!”Staring at Raheem’s fans, Stella said to Farah, “If Raheem lives through this, tell him we enjoyed his show.”Farah’s face dulled as she watched Stella signal the waiter. “You’re leaving?””Yeah,” Stella said.”You’ll be in school on Monday, right?” I asked.Farah sighed. “I’ll try.”The waiter strode to us, his well-trimmed smile still on his face. He received our bill from Stella and made to speak, but she beat him to it. “Keep the change.””You are so kind,” he said. “I hope you enjoyed dining here.””Why, yes we did,” Stella said.The waiter directed his attention to Farah. “Thank you forthe quality entertainment you initiated. Our customers are extremely satisfied today. I’m sure the manager will seek to hire him. He’s a fine young man.””He sure is,” Stella said. We simultaneously vacated our seats. Waving Farah goodbye, we made for the exit.I turned around to cast Raheem one last glance, and perhaps wave him goodbye, but his fans had built a solid wall around him. Sighing, I walked away.

READ ALSO  [STORY] A Chance For Love (Episode 19)

To Be Continued…

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