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[STORY] A Chance For Love (Episode 4)

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Episode 4.(Threatened)

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“Turning her back on everything we’ve been taught is like spitting on father’s grave and it worries me gravely.”
*
Cynthia and I dismounted the stairs to the ground floor, our footsteps the only sound within earshot. From the gleam in her eyes, I could tell our meeting with Sir Amadi would be unfavorable to me. The thought of being in his office, queried about God-knows-what clenched my stomach into a fist.
I let curiosity take the best of me. “Cynthia?”
Without turning to look at me, she said, “Yes?”
“Why does Sir Amadi want to see me?” I asked.
“Ask me again,” she said. Quite the reaction I had expected. When it came to me, and by extension Amarachi, she seethed for no apparent cause.
A whiff of cold air hit me as she stepped into the office. I made to follow, but an abrupt slam of the door caused me to flinch. I bumped into a junior, knocking a pile of 2A exercise books out of her unsuspecting hands. The books scattered across the floor.
“poo,” I muttered. “I’m really sorry.”
“It’s okay,” the girl said, her mice-like voice perfect for her petite figure. Her name skipped my mind. Diana? Dora? Doreen? I could only remember it started with a D. “Are you hurt? Did the door hit you?”
“No, I’m good.” I joined her as she knelt to pick up the CRS assignments. My eyes caught a name on one of the books. Doreen Chukwu. “That’s yours?”
“Yeah.”
Done arranging the books, I handed them over. A smile lit up her innocent face. “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention,” I said, returning her smile.
A chilling air embraced me as we stepped into the reception, making up for the sun that had roasted me moments ago. Placing the books on the receptionist’s desk, Doreen waved at me and made her exit.
“The principal is with someone at the moment,” the receptionist said, barely looking at me. “Please have a seat.” Gesturing to the chairs a distance away, she returned her focus to some paperwork she had been attending to.
Cynthia glared at me as I moved to sit. Her eyes warned me to place a safe distance between us. And I did. I sat across from her, giving her the distance she needed. A glassware center table stood between us, solidifying our gap. It held a number of magazines I could pass time with. I picked up a sports magazine featuring Bayern Munchen and Barcelona on the cover page.
My gaze darted to Cynthia. I ached to bridge the gap between us. Not just here on this chair, but also at home. I wanted us to go back to being family. Was that too much to ask?
Sat majestically with her legs crossed, feigned innocence painted her as approachable. I told myself I could speak to her. She wouldn’t bite, after all. She would only glower and bark, but she could never bite.
The receptionist answered a phone call, giving me the opportunity I needed to speak to Cynthia without anyone eavesdropping.
“Cyn,” I called.
Cynthia dragged her gaze to meet mine. I would do anything to soften the stony look she always reserved for me. Once, she had even given me a sound warning in class, saying that only a selected few were worthy to make a pet name out of her name. And now, even without a word, I heard that warning over and over again.
“Mh-hmm?” Her indignation pulled me out of my thoughts.
“I’m sorry about what happened in class,” I said. “It should never have happened. Forgive me. And Amarachi.”
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t waste your time. Your apology is worthless.”
“It won’t happen again,” I said.
“Save your apology for mother. Let’s see what happens when she finds out you asked that good for nothing friend of yours to insult me.”
“No. You’ve got it all wrong. I—”
“Why am I even talking to you?”
“We are sisters?” I said. Had she forgotten so easily?
Her gaze softened. But I knew better than to be hopeful. Venom crept to her face. Spreading like wildfire, it clouded her features.
“I’m not your sister,” she said.
The coldness of her stare told me she meant every word she had just said. It stung. Her words, her action and inaction, they all stung.
A woman walked out of Sir Amadi’s office. Cynthia leapt to her feet and dashed into the office, almost knocking into the woman. Side-stepping, the woman turned to look at Cynthia, her eyes cursing.
“Hey!” the woman said.
“Sorry,” I said, waving. I lazied into the office to find Sir Amadi in his seat, leaning leisurely against the backrest. Cynthia sat across from him, calm and composed as though the office belonged to her.
I sucked in a shaky breath and advanced to Sir Amadi’s desk, my nerviness highlighted with each clumsy step I took. Standing behind an empty seat beside Cynthia, I held my hands behind my back. I would not sit until Sir Amadi asked me to.
Sir Amadi closed his eyes as though forgetting we had come to see him. Moments passed and he remained in position. I feared he had fallen asleep.
And he had. But I trusted Cynthia would do something to get the sleeping man’s attention. Cupping her palms over her lips, she let out a loud, throaty cough. And it served its purpose.
Sir Amadi’s eyes lazied open and he adjusted his round, geeky spectacles. Acknowledging my presence, he said, “Sit down.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said, sitting down.
“Your day is good so far, classes are fine?” he asked, to no one in particular.
“Yes,” Cynthia said.
“And you, Victoria?”
“Yes, sir,” I said.
“Perfect.” He seemed satisfied. He made to speak again, but the telephone on his desk rang, cutting him off.
Raising his pointer in a ‘one minute’ gesture, he answered the call. “Yes.”
His eyebrows twitched as he listened to the person on the other end. Sighing, he rubbed his temple and muttered something incoherent. “I can’t believe I forgot about this meeting. Once they come, usher them in. I’m not exactly busy at the moment.”
He ended the call and regarded us with a rather sorry look. I knew the message all too well. He would ask us to return to that boring hellhole of a reception and wait till he concluded his meeting with his highly esteemed guests.
“Wait in the reception,” he ordered. “I’ll get back to you when I’m done.”
“But sir!” Cynthia whined.
“Or you could just return to class and come back some other time.”
Without a choice, we returned to the reception. I trained my eyes on the door, wanting to see whoever had caused Sir Amadi to disregard us. Moments passed and the guests hadn’t arrived. Sir Amadi could have just attended to us while he waited for them. His meeting with us couldn’t have taken more than ten minutes. But here we were, waiting for heaven knows how long. I picked up another magazine from the table and flipped through, letting my eyes feed on the high definition images.
The door creaked open and I lifted my eyes from the magazine. A woman stepped in. She seemed to be in her mid forties. High-heeled boots clicked on the floor, perforating the silence. A figure loomed behind her. Recognition hit me, tightening my face into a scowl. And I’d thought he wouldn’t return to this school. What did he want?
My mind traveled back to our first encounter. I looked away, hiding my face. I would not give him the satisfaction of mistaking me for one of his many fan girls. It would destroy the remnant of my badly burned ego.
“Welcome, Mrs. Kadir,” the receptionist squealed like a teenage girl. She sprang to her feet, stretching her pepper-red lips with an overdone smile. Her eagerness to speak to the woman and her son irritated me beyond imagining.
“Oh, hello,” the woman said. “Is the principal in?” She gestured to the main office. Her accent told me she had lived away from Nigeria for way too long.
“Yes,” the receptionist said. “He’s been expecting you.” She moved away from her desk and toward the principal’s office to usher in his guests.
Cynthia bolted to her feet, her excitement alarming me. Wearing a smile, she reached out to shake the woman’s hand. “Good afternoon.”
The woman took Cynthia’s hand. “How are you, darling?”
“I’m—”
“This way, Mrs. Kadir,” the receptionist said, holding open the door.
Mirroring his mother’s steps, Mr. White advanced toward the office, but Cynthia outstretched her hand for a shake.
“Hi,” she said.
Her eagerness killed me inside. It hurt that she let strangers see the beautiful side of her, but left me to her dark side. Why would she give her smile to someone who didn’t deserve it? He would sure toss it into the gutter. I, on the other hand, would cherish it.
“Uhm…hello?” The white boy stared at Cynthia’s outstretched hand. He let it hover in the air for a few seconds. Reaching an obvious decision, he moved his hand. Disappointment and a mix of rage danced across Cynthia’s face as he stuffed his hand into his pocket.
“I’m Cynthia.” Puppy-eyed, she looked down at her hand for a few moments before withdrawing it. Surely, a boy had never refused her a handshake. Her lower lip stuck out, unable to hide her broken spirit. Fighting back the negative emotions that fought to humiliate her, she kept her wavering smile in place.
“Raheem,” Mr. White muttered. Being in a conversation with Cynthia seemed to irritate him. And regardless of this, Cynthia smiled on. This side of her stunned me into jealousy. I had thought she had zero tolerance for bullshit.
I wished to be in Mr. White’s place. I wished my sister spoke to me with that gleam in her eyes. I buried my face in the magazine, hiding the hurt in my eyes.
“Raheem,” she tested the name on her lips, savoring it like she would a tasty dish. “Raheem Kadir, I suppose?”
Raheem scowled at her like he would a pestering kid he held back from screaming at. Cynthia groped for words to fill in the conversation gap.
“Welcome to Western High,” she said.
Raheem joined his mother in Sir Amadi’s office. He hadn’t even taken a glance in my direction. Relief washed over me. I hated his arrogance. What serious student started school six weeks into session?
Raheem Kadir? His name seemed Arab. Iraqi perhaps? Afghanistan or Indian? His accent didn’t strike me as Indian, so I scratched it off the list.
I shook off these thoughts. I didn’t care where he came from. Since when did I become interested in getting to know him? Cynthia could do this, considering how she gushed over him. I would not share her task.
My gaze followed her as she returned to her seat. The dreamy look on her face made me wonder what thoughts revolved around her head. I didn’t have to wonder, though. I knew just how sickening her thoughts were. I knew she would try to date him. She would dump Alex for Raheem, the guy who had hurt her feelings just as he hurt mine. Although she tried to hide her hurt, I knew his coldness stung. My being around to witness her shame made it sting twice as much.
Now I hated him twice as much as I already had. Hurting me had done nothing to satisfy him, and so he had gone ahead to hurt my sister as well. This all happened on his first day at school. What would happen tomorrow, and the day after it? Before the week ran out, his reputation as a jerk would sure precede him.
“Mum, can you believe this man?” Raheem’s disembodied voice pierced through the silence.
“Are you implying my son is not worthy to be a student here, Mr. Amadi?” Mrs. Kadir said.
“You best stop putting words in my mouth, Mrs. Kadir,” Mr. Amadi said. “In this school, we have standards, laws, principles and codes that every student must adhere to. Styles of dressing and grooming must convey modesty and soundness of mind to give us a reputable image in the society.”
Inwardly, I danced a victory dance. My principal would not let them intimidate him.
“Mum, I can’t stand this,” Raheem said. “Here now he says I am adorned with all immodesty. C’mon, let’s go. It isn’t worth it.”
“You shame me, Mr. Amadi,” Mrs. Kadir said. In my mind’s eye, I could see her shaking her head, disappointment flitting across her face. “And I thought by coming here my son and I were making the very best decision. And here now, not even one consideration is made for a person who has crossed several seas to be here.”
“We have principles,” Sir Amadi said. “I will not compromise. Students are just not allowed to wear such stylish hair or keep facial hair. We aren’t running a fashion show.”
“Mum, I can’t stand this,” Raheem said. “I told you from the start that I don’t want to be involved with any Nigerian school.”
Nigerian school. Obviously, he saw our schools—and by extension our country as a whole—as inferior. That stung. I would be right to tag him as racist. One more reason to hate him.
“But you insisted Western High or whatever was up to code,” he went on. “Seriously it doesn’t even compare to the school I came from, and here we are, making this man feel like a boss when he’s nothing. Do you have any idea how humiliated your son is right now? Obviously you don’t.”
“Raheem!” Mrs. Kadir warned.
“I’m done, mum. Find me in the car.”
Cynthia rose to her feet. Holding her hands behind her back, she waited for Raheem. The door flew open, and Raheem stormed out of the reception. He slammed the door so hard, it shook in its hinges.
“Raheem!” Cynthia called, running after him as he stepped toward the exit. “Wait!”
Raheem turned to look at her. “Your old man boasts of having very modest students. But look! They do not even know eavesdropping is improper.”
“I’m sorry about listening in on your conversation,” Cynthia said. “Your voice was just…well, all over the place.” That seemed to calm him down.
Cynthia pushed her luck. “You should give our school a try.”
“Yeah?”
“Uhm…yeah.” Smiling sheepishly, she fiddled with the hem of her waist coat.
Mrs. Kadir walked out of Sir. Amadi’s office, her calmness telling me she had everything under control. Unfortunately.
“Come, son,” she said.
“Do I get to see you tomorrow?” Cynthia asked in a sugar-coated voice intended to charm both mother and son.
With a shrug, Raheem shoved his hands into his pocket and swaggered off, leaving Cynthia at the mercy of embarrassment. If I were her I would pray for the ground to open and swallow me. I could never be in this state, though. I could never throw myself at a total stranger, or any other guy for that matter.
Mrs. Kadir beamed at her, paying for her son’s rudeness. “Raheem will be in school tomorrow, dear.”
Slowly and hauntingly, those words resounded in my head. Raheem will be in school tomorrow, dear.
Unable to contain my disappointment, I tossed the magazine on the table and escaped into Sir Amadi’s office. It took a moment for Cynthia to join me, her face aglow as opposed to mine.
Sir Amadi gestured at the chairs across from him. He stared at me, the look in his eyes menacing. Intimidating. Unimpressed. What had I done?
He waited till we sat down before he spoke, “Victoria, you are one of our best students, but there are some things we cannot tolerate.”
“I…I…don’t understand,” I said. My eyes met Cynthia’s and she looked away, a smug smile on her face.
“I believe you heard every word I said to that woman and her son. The same applies to you. We have rules and standards that all students must conform to. And no student is bigger than them, not even the most brilliant of them all. Do you understand?”
“I do, sir.” As much as I wanted to ask him what I had done wrong, I could not. He would find it offensive. I shifted my gaze to the floor, waiting for him to spill.
“Why then do you not abide by our third rule?” he asked.
Third rule. Third rule. ‘All students must be in school no later than 8am.’
“Is there a special reason for this?” he asked.
Of course. I could never make it to school by 8am because my stepmother and her daughter had sworn to make my life miserable. But could I tell him this?
“No.” I shook my head, answering both his question and mine. I would not spill the sins of my stepmother and her daughter before this man. Not while building up my family remained my priority.
“Just as I told you, sir,” Cynthia said. “God knows how hard I have tried to make her change. I wake up before six everyday and do all the chores, and then I wake her up and ask her to get ready for school, but she doesn’t. And if I insist, she gets all aggressive. She always says that she is the brightest bulb in class and even if she misses all her classes she will still make straight A grades. That’s why I brought this matter to you. You’re the only one who can help her change. If father were alive, she wouldn’t do this. He didn’t bring us up like this. Turning her back on everything we’ve been taught is like spitting on father’s grave and it worries me gravely, sir. I have tried to explain to her a million times that her coming late will not build a favorable image of this school. But nothing matters to her.”
Receiving an imaginary microphone from Cynthia, Sir Amadi said, “Whenever you are dressed in this school uniform, people out there see you as a representative of Western High. Do you not know this?”
“I do, sir.” I wished I knew the direction of this conversation. Had this been a movie I’d fast-forward to the end. But reality offered no such services. Sitting amidst this unbearable mess, I couldn’t even do anything but stay subject to the overweight man before me.
I saw no point to this whole meeting. Did I not pay for my late coming as the rules stated? For four straight years I had been punctual as the classroom janitor. And I had never wavered in my duties. So why had they brought this up now?
“You do?” Sir Amadi’s voice cut through my thoughts. “And then you leave for school around ten, eleven? What are you thinking? Do you know the damaging effect this has on our reputation?”
“It is not like I do this on purpose,” I said. The temper I’d tried so hard to control flared, and though I fought to regain control, success slithered from my grasp. “Do I strike you as one who doesn’t care about the school rules?”
Slapping his desk, Sir Amadi sprang to his feet. His stomach, the stretching of skin over a watermelon, bulged against his brown designer’s long sleeve. “How dare you talk back at me, young lady?”
Freedom of speech. He might have heard of it. But considering that he majored in Christian Religious Studies, I doubted he read any other book but the Bible and Bible based literature. So much for narrowing your brain resources to one field.
I’d recommend he grab a copy of the Nigerian Constitution, flip to chapter two and examine section thirty-nine, sub-section one. There he would find that everyone, including me, is entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference. Try as he might, he could not make me—or anyone else—an exception to this law. So while he had the right to speak, I had mine also.
But while I had freedom of expression, I could not forget the discipline of my father. He’d taught me to respect older ones. And I always would, in honor of his loving memory.
I wouldn’t want Sir Amadi to accuse me of being disrespectful by remaining seated while he stood, so I rose to my feet. “I’m sorry, sir.”
“If your late coming repeats itself again, we will be forced to withdraw your scholarship.”
For the first few moments, I didn’t register the implication of his words. And then it hit me with the power of a hammer blow, draining the blood from my face. My heart sunk, a menacing silence stealing me over.
I told myself I hadn’t heard correctly. “What? What, sir?”
“Yes, Victoria.” With his affirmative answer, my whole world came crashing down on me, crushing me underneath its weight like a bug squished by a firm foot. “If you have no respect for our rules, then you do not deserve the scholarship.”
Sir Amadi had just taken the air from my lungs, and his eyes held no pity. He had never struck me as one who would commit murder and look down at the corpse with indifference. But he had just done that. He had killed me with his terrible news of terminating my scholarship. And although my eyes brimmed with tears, he felt no remorse.
“Thank you for bringing this to my notice,” he told Cynthia.
“It’s nothing,” Cynthia said, masking her joy with a tinge of sadness. “It’s my duty.”
Emotions hit me like a spear protruding my chest. Vigorously, I shook my head as though to shake off this bitter reality. This couldn’t be true. I couldn’t lose my scholarship. No, this had to be a joke. There had to be some hidden cameras somewhere. But when had I enrolled in the school drama club?
Who was I kidding? This was reality staring back at me with eyes of mockery. I couldn’t lose my scholarship. WAEC stood only a few months away. How would I complete High School without my scholarship?
My knees thumped on the floor but I didn’t register the pain. Gluing my palms together in a prayer pose, I begged, “Please sir, don’t take away my scholarship. It is my only hope.”
“Your scholarship is still yours for now. But if you continue to show disrespect for our rules and regulations, then like I said, we will be forced to withdraw it.” With that, he waved a dismissive hand at us.
“Is there a problem, sir?” The receptionist’s voice announced her presence.
“No,” Sir Amadi said, settling back in his seat. “They were just about leaving.” He shot me a warning gaze. If I didn’t leave I would be in trouble.
Swiping at my eyes, I marched out of the office, with Cynthia close behind me. With every breath I let out, I could feel my life force seep out. My throat quavered. Where would I start from if I lost my scholarship?
My body trembled as grief’s tangibility streamed down my cheeks. Craving support, I sauntered to the stairway and gripped the handrail. My eyes squeezed shut, letting out more tears. Dad had always told me to never lose hope. But this day I had failed him. I wanted to believe that after this darkness, light would shine through. But I couldn’t hang on to this hope.
A feathery sensation on my hand alerted me. Slowly, painfully, I opened my now puffy eyes and found a butterfly fluttering around me. Despite myself, a smile stole its way to my face and I reached out my hand to the colorful beauty. It hesitated for a moment or two, and then it perched on my right pointer. Series of thoughts crowded in on me, turning my admiration to envy. Unlike me, the butterfly had freedom. It didn’t have any chains binding it.
“I want to be free,” I said. “I don’t want to die in my misery.” Throwing my hand in the air, I watched my split-second friend fly away only to perch on another side of the building.
Movement to the right caught my eye. There, a few feet from me, stood Cynthia, staring with a blank face. She just stood there, motionless, drinking to intoxication every detail of my sorrow.
“Are you satisfied with this?” I asked. I studied her for a reaction, but the actress before me showed none. “I know you hate me. I know you always want to be one step ahead of me, but did you have to go this far?”
“Shut up, you stupid girl,” she said, looking around to be sure we were alone.
“Why, Cynthia, why?” I asked between hiccups and sobs. “I just want to know why you did this. Why did you do this? Why do you feed off of my sadness?”
“Are you seriously talking to me like that? Oh, I see that friend of yours has been giving you some tutorials. Let me make something clear to you. We are not on the same page. Do you understand? Life is made up of two groups of people. The privileged and the less privileged. It’s not my fault you belong in the unfortunate group. There are many schools for peasants like you. You’re free to try one of them. But you, dressed in this uniform, and trying to fit in, it all makes me sick. You’re such a parasite. Always trying to compete with me.”
“That’s not true!” I said. “You’re the one who sees everything as a competition!”
“Do you know how irritating it is that someone like you is trying to rub shoulders with me?” she asked.
“I’m not trying to rub shoulders with anyone,” I retorted.
“Hmm. You’ve grown wings. You are going to regret every line you just recited, I swear. Wait till mum hears this. You’re not even happy you’re not out on the streets! Do you know what we go through just to accommodate a pest like you in our house?”
“My father’s house,” I corrected, my voice crackling with resentment. Rage fought to overcome me. And this time, I let it win. My inner demon had been crouching for far too long. I let it rise. I let it blind me. I glared at Cynthia and let the fire in my eyes consume her. Awed into silence, she could only gape at a part of me I had never let her see.
“I guess you’re on cloud nine right now,” I said. “What does this add to your life? Do well to remember that no matter what you do, my light will always shine through. You try to bury me, but you don’t know I’m a seed. You can run home and tell this to mummy, adding sugar and every other spice because you’re a spoilt little brat. The stones you use to pelt me, I will use them to stand. Just watch. You might even want to grab some popcorn, because a show is fast approaching and you are definitely going to be my audience.”
Cynthia blinked, disbelieving both her eyes and her ears. She opened her mouth to speak, but it stayed open, voiceless. After a second too long, she found her voice. “Are you forgetting who you’re talking to?”
“You try to be happy, but deep down you’re just as sad as I am,” I said, smoldering her with my gaze to rub it in. I could tell it unnerved her. And I enjoyed every bit of it. “You’re depressed, and though you have everything, it’s as though you have nothing. And truly, you have nothing. You wonder what’s missing in your life, but you can’t place a finger on it. You can’t place a finger on it because you’ve blinded yourself from seeing what’s missing in your life.”
Without waiting to see her reaction, I whirled on my heels. Simultaneously, the bell for the next period rang. Each second drew me nearer to the moment my scholarship would be stripped from me, and I would drop out of school. More tears blurred my vision. I couldn’t go to class in this state. I sprinted to the sickbay, my new-found sanctuary.
“They want to withdraw my scholarship,” I said to Stella. “It’s over for me now.”

READ ALSO  [STORY] A Chance For Love (Episode 14)

To be continued..

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