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Monday, November 23, 2015

'He slept with my wife so my best friend had to die!' (3)



'A moment of patience in a moment of anger can help us avoid a thousand moments of sorrow.' (Anonymous)


***
I looked up from the letter and stared at my boss, too shocked to speak.
Finally I blurted out nervously:
"Sir, is this a joke or what?"
"Joke, ke! Do I look like Ali Baba, the comedian?" he stated with a wry smile.
But he became sober when he saw the serious, anxious look on my face.

"Look, Ray. I know this must come to you as a surprise. But the management believes you are the best person for the job. It will be good for your career growth so I will advise you to see it as an opportunity and accept the offer," he said.
 I was barely listening to him. I kept thinking of the implication of what was in the letter. It stated that I had been transferred out of the country, to oversee our branches in Ghana as well as Cote d'Ivoire as the Regional cum Sales Manager for the West African region. More than anything, it was the suddenness of it all that so shocked me. There had been no hint whatsoever that this was coming, no sign at all. 'How can I just be sent out of the country just like that on cross-border posting without warning', I thought with some resentment.
 The first thought that came to me was to decline the offer. I had never been to those 
 countries, didn't know anyone there, so how was I going to cope? Besides, there was my wife, Grace and my son. And Jake too and my parents and siblings. How could I leave my family and friends behind and go to a strange place with strange people?
 "People are only strangers until you get to know them," Grace said later that evening. I had broken the news to her as soon as I got home.
 We had been discussing or rather arguing over the issue for the past hour or so. She was in favor of my accepting the posting.
 "It shows the company values your services. It's a serious position and it's not anyone they can give it to. They chose you. That means something," she pointed out.
 I could see her point but I was not ready to give in yet.
 "But I don't know anyone there. How will I cope with total strangers, in a strange land?" I stated grumpily. And the argument had gone on and on...

  "Truth is that I can't bear the thought of being parted from you and Runor. I will miss you too much,"I finally said. We were in our bedroom then, preparing for bed. Grace had just taken a shower and was sitting at her dressing table, applying cream on her body.
 I laid back on the bed, a scowl on my face. 
"We will both miss you too, honey. But this is a golden chance for us. For our family. You shouldn't miss it," she said. She got up then, and slipped her nightie over her head. I felt a warm stirring in my body at the sight of her. Even after all these years of being together, I still found my wife irresistible.

 Slipping into bed with me, she said quietly:
 "So, you will take the offer, won't you?" she asked. 
 By then, I had other things on my mind that had nothing to do with my transfer.
 "Yes, darling. I will. If that's what you want," I stated quickly as I drew her to me and buried my face in her full bosom...

     ******
 A few weeks later, all was set for my journey to my new base. It was agreed that Grace, who taught at a school in town would be visiting with our son during the holidays.
 "Call as soon as you arrive Accra," Grace said as Jake prepared to take me to the airport. She had refused to accompany me with the excuse that, "I don't want to create a scene at the airport by crying too much!"

  I arrived safely and immediately resumed work. Within a few months, I had settled down in the city and was beginning to enjoy the place. It was well-organised and less stressful than where I was coming from. I missed home though especially Grace. Infact, the highlight of my day was when I spoke with her after closing from work.
 I called her so often the phone bill for the first few months of my arrival was quite high.

   "At this rate, we will go bankrupt because of the high phone bill," she said teasingly one day.
  "I don't care. Listening to your voice makes our separation more bearable," I noted.
  "It's only for a short while. We will be coming over in two weeks, remember," she said. Her school was closing for the long vacation soon and she was coming with Runor to join me in Accra.
  I asked after some family members and later Jake.
 "Ah, Jake has been wonderful! He checks on us regularly and he even took Runor to the park last week. He's such a caring person," she enthused.
 I felt immense relief at her words. The thought that my best friend was keeping an eye on my family made me feel less anxious about leaving them all alone while I was in a foreign country, working.
 My work, which I enjoyed took most of my time. The company's products were in high demand so I did not have too much trouble pushing them. With the approval of head office in Lagos, I made some changes in our operations. I rented a large warehouse near the popular Makola market in the Tudu area of the city. The reason being that a lot of our customers were based in the market and its environs so it was more convenient for them if the products were close by and readily available.

  With time, I opened a new branch in Takoradi with plans to expand to Kumasi and other places later in the year. Once a month, I would travel to Abidjan to check on our branch in the city. At first, the language barrier was a problem as I did not speak French or any of their local dialects. Later, I employed a man who spoke English and that took care of the problem. And with each visit, I began to pick up some French. The country was just then recovering from a civil war, with economic activities gradually picking up. Though sales were slow at first, I knew that with time, things would pick up.

  At the end of my first year abroad, I was enjoying myself so much in my new post, that I wondered why I had been so reluctant to take up the posting initially.
 "I'm not sure I want to return to Nigeria soon," I said to Jake one day. He had called to tell me that he would be coming to spend his leave with me in Accra in a few weeks.
 "I can't believe it! Were you not the same person who was so reluctant to go there in the first place! What happened?" he queried.
 "Nothing much," I replied. "It's just that I like the place and I'm enjoying my work here," I added.

  "Is that all? Are you sure you've not fallen for another woman over there?" he stated.
 "Fall for who? You think I'm like you who falls in and out of love every two months. You know there's only one woman for me-Grace. Others don't exist for me,"I said firmly.
 "Ah, come on Ray! You are my friend. I won't tell a soul, least of all Grace. So, what's her name and what does she look like? Is she pretty? What does she do...?" he asked persistently.
 "Are you deaf or what? It's nothing like that. I just..." I started to say when he butted in.
 "You think you can fool me? I will find out soon enough when I come," he promised.
 'Idiot,' I thought as the call ended, smiling wryly at the thought of my friend with his one way mind...

 In the rebels enclave
I had been in Accra for about two years when another war broke out in Cote d'Ivoire. Tension had been brewing in the country for some months after the elections but most people did not think it would lead to renewed hostilities between the warring forces in the past war.
 Unluckily for us, we had just sent a large consignment of our products to the country, awaiting distribution. I needed to be there to oversee things and also arrange for the remitting of money from sales of the past months that had accumulated in our bank accounts.

  I tried calling my supervisor, Francois to give instructions on how to secure the goods but I could not reach him on phone. The goods were worth millions and I could not allow them to be destroyed as well as our other investments in the country. Based on that, I decided to travel to the country.
 "But, sir, it might be dangerous for you. We heard on the news that there's fighting in Abidjan," my secretary, Ama protested when I told her of my plans. 

  I waved her fears aside. 
"It can't be that bad. At least people are still living there," I stated, trying to make a joke of the situation.
 All flights to Abidjan had been cancelled so I made arrangements to travel across the border by road. At the border town Elubo, few vehicles were willing to cross over to the other side.
 The crises in the neighboring country had deterred many of the drivers who usually plied the route from working.

  A Nigerian I met at the border, was able to link me with a driver he knew who still ferried passengers across the border, though at more than thrice the normal fare.
 We had crossed the border safely and even passed Noe, the Ivorien border town when the driver turned off the main road. He explained that rebel soldiers had taken over some portions of the road and he was going to pass through side roads that were safer.

  We had been driving on the side road for nearly an hour without incident, when we suddenly heard gun shots. Then, a group of men in camouflage uniform dashed from the surrounding bushes some metres away from our bus. The driver, perhaps in panic applied the breaks, and turning round shouted at us, the passengers to run into the bush. We didn't need a second warning.
 We all ran out and fled into the thick bush. Behind us, I could hear the soldiers shooting and shouting at us. They were obviously chasing after us and my heart pumped with fear as I ran wildly away. The thought of dying in this strange place propelled me forward. At a point, I turned round to glance behind me and it was then I ran into a tree head on...

  I must have blacked out for I woke up sometime later in strange surroundings. As it turned out, I was in a camp of the rebel soldiers. I had been caught with some of the passengers in the bus and taken to their camp.
 I was to remain in that place for the next eight months. Though, the soldiers treated us fairly well, we were made to do all kinds of jobs for them. We became their cooks, cleaners, washermen and did other odd jobs around the camp. Some of the women prisoners became their bedmates.

  All the time I was in the camp, my thoughts were full of Grace, wondering what she must be going through. Did she and the rest of my friends, family and colleagues think I was dead since I got missing? From the little news we got in the camp, we heard that a lot of people had died in the war. I was determined to stay alive and not become one of the statistics in the war. I prayed that one day, I would be reunited with my beloved wife.
That thought and the instinct for survival inherent in every human kept me sane in the camp. 
 Then, one morning, we woke up to find the camp deserted by the rebels. Later, we heard that they had got advance warning from another unit that government forces were about to raid the camp. We all danced with jubilation at our freedom. 
 We were later transported to a refugee camp in Abidjan run by an international charity organization. I tried calling home to tell them about my whereabouts, that I was alive and well. But communication in the country was bad because of the war.
 With the help of the organization, I was able to get some money with which I travelled back to Nigeria. As the cab that drove me home drew nearer my street that night, my heart beat in anticipation at being reunited with my family. I could imagine the look of surprise and joy on my wife's face when she saw me. I smiled at the thought, my heart brimming with happiness.
 The front door was open when I arrived with the lights on. Thinking she had gone to bed and forgot to lock up, I headed straight for the bedroom. 
 As I quietly opened the door, it was the soft moans I first heard, then the sight of my wife in bed with a man...

Don't fail to log in tomorrow for the concluding part of Ray's story.


To Be Continued...

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


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