It was almost 6pm. Rush hour by Titi’s observations. She gritted her teeth in frustration upon realizing she would never get home in time for her routine evening walk.
Maybe that was a good thing. The Ajah area had become increasingly chaotic these past few days.
Maybe she should stay in tonight, she told herself. Put her feet up and catch up on some reading.
Someone whizzed past her pushing an empty wheelchair along and she stepped out of the way just quickly enough to avoid an accident.
“Sorry Titi” the nurse called over her shoulder as she hurried on.
“Someone’s closing early today” Dr Henry Chuma said hurrying past Titi and then skidding to a halt.
“What’s wrong?” He asked a panicked expression on his handsome face as he walked over to her side.“Is it your back still?”
Titi nodded. Henry placed a warm hand at the small of her back and started to lead her towards a bench in the hospital corridor.
“Those your walks sef. They must be taking a toll on you. I’m not pregnant but I can’t even walk all the way to St. Albert’s” He said with a disapproving shake of his head. “It’s not even safe” he added remembering the last shoot-out that had erupted around the Ajah neighborhood.
“Yes doctor, I heard you that time” Titi said rolling her eyes.
“I like the way you say doctor. Makes my nine years of medical school sooo worth it”Henry said.
Titi burst into raucous laughter as she pushed his hands away. They sighed in unison and then exchanged conspiratorial smiles.
“Oya, what’s on your mind? Spill it” Titi asked Dr Chuma.
“I should be asking you” Henry said with a snort.
“Don’t be a Nigerian. Answer the question don’t pose another question jare” she said impatiently.
“Nothing” Henry said with a deep sigh. “I just can’t believe I’m a free man. Three years of marriage over, just like that…poof!”
“The divorce?!” Titi asked.
“Wow. Congrats!” She squealed. “I’d drink with you but have you seen my stomach lately?”
Dr Chuma chuckled good-humoredly. “You can sip some milk. We’ll pretend it’s Irish cream” he said with a mischievous wink.
Titi elbowed him in the ribs even as she doubled over with laughter.
“What about you?” Henry asked. “Lanre. You. The kid. That’s like a triangle of some sort!”
“Mehn! I didn’t see this one coming at all…” Titi exclaimed burying her head in her hands.
“You! Do you ever see anything coming?”
“Seriously, you know I was ready to raise the baby on my own. I mean, I still am. But Lanre back in the picture, I just…I don’t know” Titi rambled. She took a deep breath and continued, “I had it all planned out in my head. How I’d act if I ever saw him again. But it seemed so far away. Like something that would never happen. And now here he is…Voila!…Am I making sense at all?”
“Just a little bit” Henry said holding up his thumb and index finger just inches apart.
Titi frowned at him and he chuckled.
“Yes you are jare. Go on.”
“He’s getting married” she said in a small voice. “That was supposed to be me”
“I know. It sucks”
“You have no idea how bad it sucks. I have a dress” Titi added sotto voce.
“A wedding dress?” Henry asked. She nodded shame-faced. “Wow! That’s um…ermm..very logical. I mean if I was a woman dating a man for eight years I would buy a wedding dress too even though I could sense that he had cold feet when it came to popping the question to me. I call that acting by blind faith”.
Titi shot Henry a cold look and he shrugged.
“What? I still think you should have known he wasn’t going to marry you. Eight years is a long time to hang on to someone who gave you nothing to hang onto”
“I don’t think I can take relationship advice from someone who’s divorced” Titi said acidly. “Call me when you have a relationship that’s actually working!!!” She added as she stormed outside the hospital building.
Henry followed her, grabbing her by the arm just as she reached the entrance. She turned to him, her eyes gleaming with suppressed fury. She pulled away from him and crossed her arms over her protuberant stomach.
“Madam Titi, oya oya I’m sorry. I know the Lanre issue is still a sore topic. I’ll keep my painfully honest opinions to myself. I promise” he said with a deep sigh.
Titi stared at him pensively and then mumbled a grudging “Okay”.
“Want me to walk you to the BRT stop?” He asked.
“Nah. I’m fine. You’re on call. You should head back” she said quietly.
“Okay, dear. Be safe okay?” He said and pulled her into a warm hug.
“I’ll try” she mumbled, offering him a weak smile.
He watched her walk away and then turned back into the hospital.
Titi ambled down the driveway of Bethlehem Hospital, her arms swinging at her side. Henry always gave her food for thought and today’s message was whether she had indeed been stupid not to realize Lanre would never marry her.
It took her back to nearly nine years before.
“Hey sorry Titi. I’m drifting into nothingness here. I can’t run away from you. I love you. And if I wasn’t so weighed down by my ‘expectations’, I’d probably be proposing to you. Or in the face of rejection abduct you so no one else can have you”
“Lanre, you know girls like to hear these sort of things”
Titi heard the persistent honking of a car horn and turned her face slightly to her right.
She had been absently plucking at the Hibiscus flowers that lined the hospital driveway. She let the petals drop as the window of the tinted Nissan Murano wound down to reveal Lanre’s handsome face.
Speak of the devil!
“Can I give you a lift home?” He asked.
“Are you going to make stalking me a habit now?” Titi retorted.
“No, Titilayo Owolabi. I’m going to make taking care of you a priority now” Lanre said with a grin.
Do not get taken in by that grin. Titi reminded herself even as she kept on walking.
“Please Titi, get in. It’s just a ride” He insisted.
She paused mid-stride and then started to turn over to the passenger’s side but Lanre beat her to it. He hopped out of the car and rushed over to the passenger’s side to hold the door open for her. Titi even allowed him strap her into the seat while she watched him with a detached expression on her face.
He got back behind the wheel and set off for her house.
“How was work today?” He asked.
“Can you turn the radio up please?” She asked.
“Okay. I’ll take that as ‘I don’t want to talk to you Lanre’” he said with a deep sigh.
“I’m glad you get the message” Titi said turning towards the window.
Lanre sighed heavily. “I was not kidding when I said I wanted to take care of you, you know?”
“No, I don’t know. I thought you were trying to be funny. Like the A.Y show” Titi retorted.
“Wow! You’re so bitter now”
“I wonder why” Titi said sarcastically.
“What’s going on with you and Henry by the way? I saw him hugging you in front of the hospital” Lanre said.
Titi turned in her seat to give Lanre a quizzical look. “Henry is my friend” she said matter-of-factly.
“So he is not your OB/GYN?” He asked.
“He used to be. He transferred me to someone else” Titi said.
Titi eyed him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing. Just hmmm. He’s quite good-looking. I just thought you two were violating the doctor-patient…..”
“Wait! We are violating what???. You know what Lannie, drop me here” Titi yelled angrily.
Lannie. She had called him the old pet name without giving it much thought.
“I’m sorry, Titi. I’m sorry” Lanre pleaded. “I wasn’t insinuating anything”
“Yes you were. And it’s not even your business” Titi said coldly.
“I’m sorry again” he mumbled and turned up the radio at last.
Ed Sheeran’s Give me love was playing on the radio and Titi hated to listen to it. It made her melancholy. She stared out of the window fascinated as daylight gave way to night on the passing Lagos streets. The streetlights came on one by one until the city was bathed in a soft incandescent glow.
She felt a light touch on her shoulder and started out of her sleep. She must have dozed off because they were already in front of her house.
“Thank you for the ride” she mumbled and started to open the door.
“Titi, wait. I got you some things” Lanre said suddenly, stopping Titi’s movement.
He reached backwards and grabbed four shopping bags which she had not noticed before sitting on the back seat. She had been so distracted lately. He handed the bags to a befuddled Titi.
“What are all these?” She asked peering into the bags.
“Just some iron supplements, folic acid and tylenol for your back ache. I also have some comfortable shoes in there for you and nice maternity dresses. Heather also added some….”
“Lanre, you know what?. Why don’t you keep all of this for when Heather has her own baby?” Titi said dumping the bags in his lap.
She got out of the car and started walking into the house.
“I’m only trying to help. Why are you being so damn difficult?” Lanre snapped.
Titi turned to glare at him. “Why am I not as easy as I used to be, you mean?”
Lanre sighed in exasperation, slapping his palms against the steering wheel. “I still want that paternity test, Titi. By God I’ll have it”
“This is Nigeria, Lannie. Paternity tests don’t prove anything except that you contributed some sperm. You want to be some child’s daddy you have to earn it” Titi said as the gate clanged shut behind her.
She could hear the angry screeching of tires as Lanre drove off. Her heart beat violently against her chest. She could feel a little of the disillusionment wearing off.
So this is the Lanre I loved for eight bloody years?
“Aunty Titi, you’re home early. Mom is making spaghetti bolognaise” Nifemi, her soon-to-be thirteen year old niece said as she whizzed past Titi on her roller blades.
“Don’t hurt your….” Titi started but Nifemi had already crashed into some garbage bins lined against the wall.
“I’m okay” came the muffled response and Titi smiled to herself.
At least one of us is.