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Monday, November 23, 2015

'He slept with my wife so my best friend had to die!' (2)

Try as I could, I was unable to dissuade Jake from going after Grace. I was so mad at him that  by the time I dropped him at his house, I could barely speak to him. But he ignored my dark mood and was his usual ebullient self.
"My mum's birthday is in two weeks. My father is organising a party for her. I will be expecting you," he said.
  Normally, I would have been more than happy to attend a party at his family home. But I was still too upset with him then to think of going.
"I'm not sure I can make it. I will be in Ibadan, then on business," I stated curtly. 

"Well, try to return early so you can attend as my mum has been asking after you. Besides, " he added as he got down from the car, "There's somebody I want you to meet you. A lovely flower I bet you will like to pluck," he said, laughing as he walked away towards the house.
Thing is, I was not interested in any flower. It was Grace I wanted, that I longed for. But from all indications, Jake had beaten me to her. What could I do? No matter how mad I was with him, I just could not bring myself to start a fight with him over her. So, I decided to put her out of my mind. 
But it was easier said than done. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get her out of my thoughts. Some days later, I found myself heading for her sister's shop. It wasn't for any serious business with Madam Betty. I just wanted to see Grace and maybe talk to her. 
Grace was no where in sight when I got there. Her sister was absent as well.
 "She didn't come to the shop today. Madam sent her to see one of our customers at Ikeja," a sales girl told me. I felt disappointed as I so much wanted to see her. 
"Tell her to call me on this number when she returns," I stated, dropping my office number with her. 

This was in the early days of the introduction of GSM in the country when not many people had mobile phones. I waited a few days and when she did not call, I felt deflated.
Meanwhile, I did not see Jake for sometime after our argument over Grace. Then a few days before his mum's party, I ran into him at the office canteen.
He had finished his lunch and was on his way out. With him was a young lady I had not seen before. 

  "Conny, this is my best friend Ray," he introduced us. He did not explain who she was but from the manner he was holding her by the waist, I suspected she was one of his numerous girlfriends.
 We stood chatting for a while then parted. He reminded me again about the party, stating that everyone in the family was expecting me.
 Though my anger and resentment against him had cooled down, I had still not made up my mind about going to the party. The trip to Ibadan that had been planned for that weekend had been postponed by my boss. So, I did not have any serious commitments that could keep me away.

  Besides, I thought about all the love and affection as well as the help Jake's parents had given me over the years. 
 'I will look like an ungrateful person if I don't go,' I thought.
  So, I attended the party.
 Looking back now, if I had known what would follow as a result of going to that party, I would have stayed away. But I'm getting ahead of my story so I will stay on track.

  Pleasant surprise
 I bought a gift for the celebrant and after I had given it to her and congratulated her on attaining the ripe age of 60, I went to seek out Jake. He was in the midst of a group of ladies, chatting and holding court like a Prince.
 I stood watching for a while, smiling wryly to myself.
 'Playa. He will never change,' I thought.
 He saw me then and hurried over.
  "Ray! Where were you? I've been looking everywhere for you," he exclaimed, clapping me on the shoulder.
 "It didn't look that way a while ago," I retorted, my eyes going in the direction of the girls who seemed to be waiting impatiently for his return.
"Oh, that!" he stated with a grin. "You know the ladies won't just let me rest."
 Then taking my hand, he said:
  "Come. Someone wants to see you."

  I followed him to one of the tables where a couple of ladies sat.
 I recognized Nelly, a cousin of Jake. I was wondering if she was the mystery person when the other lady turned towards us.
 My heart raced at the sight.
  It was Grace!
  "What are you doing here?" I exclaimed when I got over my surprise.
 She glanced up at Jake, her eyes shining.
  "I invited her," Jake said. A look passed between them then he said:
 "There are some very impatient ladies waiting for me over there. So, I will leave you two for a while. Nelly, come with me," and he grabbed his cousin's hand and dragged her away.
 I sat down, feeling confused and a bit foolish.
 "What's going on?" I finally asked Grace. If Jake invited her, he should be with her. Why was he throwing us together like this...
 The mystery was solved a short while later.
 Grace who had been silently watching me, a little smile playing around her lips, finally spoke.
  "This place is a bit noisy. Why don't we go somewhere quieter?"
  The party was being held in the large courtyard of the house. We went outside the compound and sat in my car.
 It was there she told me the whole story. Jake, she stated had told her about my interest in her. 

  "It was few days after you came to the shop with him. He came to see me and said you liked me a lot. But because of your reticent nature, you might not open up about your feelings for me. He wanted to know if I liked you too. When I told him how I felt about you, he now worked out a plan."
 The party, he said would be the ideal setting to meet. "So, he insisted I must come and he would make sure you came as well," she added, smiling at me.

  I could not believe what I was hearing. Here was I nearly going crazy with the thought that Jake had snatched her from me. Yet, he was going to all that trouble for my sake!
 'That rascal! I will deal with him today!' I thought.
 But there was no anger in me. Instead, I felt relief and gratitude towards the good friend who had brought my love to me. 
  I took Grace's hand and drew her to me, holding her in my arms for the first time.
  From that moment on, I began to enjoy the party more. I danced with Grace several times and a couple of other female guests but she was the one I wanted to be with all the time.
 "I see you two love birds have sorted out your differences," Jake said sometime later. I had been sitting down, enjoying a cool drink when he suddenly appeared at my side. This time, there were no girls hanging onto him. Grace had gone to chat with a guest she knew from school.

  I turned to him. He must have seen the look of gratitude in my eyes for he quickly said:
 "Don't bother thanking me. What are friends for?"
 "But you never even gave a hint of what you were planning. And I was so angry with you, thinking..." I said.
"I know. You thought I was interested in her. Actually I was initially. But when I saw the way you were looking at her that day at the shop with love-sick eyes, I had to back out. Besides, I have too many women in my life already. Why complicate my life more?" he stated with a grin.

  "But you insisted that day that you were going to get her. Why?"
 He shrugged.
 "I did that to fire you up, so you can make a move for her. But knowing you and how you can be about these things, I decided to take matters into my hands before someone else gets her. I'm glad things worked out for you," he stated.
 "Thanks all the same," I said, meaning every word.
 "Yeah. We are best friends and brothers for life, aren't we? Friends should look out for each other, my old man often says. I like Grace but our friendship means more to me. I can't allow it to be destroyed because of a woman!"

 Happy times
That was how my relationship with Grace began. She went back to school after the holidays. Due to a strike by the lecturers, she had to spend an extra semester in school before graduating. But we kept in touch through phone. Once in a while, I would also visit her in school. With time, I got to meet her parents and I introduced her to mine as well. Seeing the love we had for each other, most people who knew us expected we would end up at the altar. They were not wrong for I was already thinking about marrying her when she graduated.

  Such plans were however put on hold when Grace decided to go back to school for a Masters degree after the youth service programme.
 I was not too keen on it as I was so anxious to make her my wife. 
 "It's only for a short while sweetheart. Soon we will be together again and nothing can separate us then," she pointed out when I raised objections about her going back to school.
 I backed down then. 

   A few years later, we got married at the completion of the programme. It was a happy time for us. To add to our joy, Grace gave birth to a baby boy about a year after our wedding.
 I named him Runor, which was Jake's middle name. He felt touched at my gesture. 
 "You could have named him after your dad or even one of your ancestors. Why me?" he queried.
 It was a few days after the naming ceremony and I had gone to thank his parents for the wonderful gift they had sent the baby. We were sitting in the living room upstairs while his parents were downstairs with some visitors.
 "You deserve the honour. Without you, all this would not have been possible. Grace and I might not be together today," I pointed out.
 "Yeah, you are right. You are a real Baba go-slow when it comes to women matters. You find it so difficult 'toasting' them. Were you a monk or something in your previous life?" he stated teasingly.

  "You dey crase! Na you be monk!" I fired back.
 "Ha ha! Me, monk? You know I will make a terrible priest. I will cause so much havoc among the female folk that I would be derobed in a short time!"
 We both laughed at that.
Grace and I had just marked our fourth wedding anniversary when my boss called me into his office one day. We had just returned from a trip to the East to assess the sales of our company's products in the region. Thinking he needed the report he had instructed me to work on, I took the file along.

  "Congratulations, Ray! You are now a full sales Manager!" he announced as soon as I stepped into his office.
 I stood, simply gaping at him, too stunned to speak.
  "Surprised? You shouldn't be. You've worked hard for it," the man said, smiling genially at me.
 "Here's the letter of promotion. There's something else, though as you will see from the letter," he said, offering it to me.
 I opened the letter eagerly, a feeling of euphoria washing over me. Then as I continued to read, my joy at my promotion was replaced by utter disbelief, then shock...

What was in the letter that so shocked Ray? Get the details tonight at 10 p.m(GMT)

To Be Continued...

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

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