Ijem, baby?” His voice was hesitant, as though unsure of who had called. “How are you baby?”

“A…” she opened her mouth to say something but a loud sob escaped her lips. Finally, she let out all the pain and heartbreak she had been feeling. As emotional as she was, she cried for a long time before her cries finally died down. Apham listening to her over the phone felt so helpless. He moved around restlessly, muttering words of comfort that barely got through her ears.

“Baby, is everything alright?” His voice was filled with concern.

“Why didn’t you tell me about? Why…? How do you think I felt hearing it from my sister, eh?” She shot at him.

Apham sighed. “I’m sorry. I know I should have told you, but how would I have approached the topic? ‘Baby, sorry, I was a drug addict before, now I’m clean’. How would it sound to you?”

“It’s much better than hearing it from a family member the day you go to introduce your fiance to them.”

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I’m really sorry. I know I should have told you, if I did-”

“Are you still into drugs?” she prodded.

“No, what? I said that was before when I was still schooling in the UK. I’m clean now, baby. If I was still into anything like that, you would know.”

“And my sister? She hates you so much, so much that every time she sees your name on my phone, she threatens to destroy the phone.”

“I won’t lie, I dated your sister. But I never made her do anything that she didn’t want to do. When we started dating, there were college parties, parties that had to do with getting drunk and high. The first few times, I didn’t want to invite her, I didn’t even invite her the first time she attended. She was in her second year, still naive to a lot of things. One day, I saw her at one of the parties. She said her roommate invited her. She was angry that I came alone to the parties, suspected that I had done so because she was not like the girlfriends of the other guys that were always at the party. Long story short, she said she wanted to try it, that she could be like other girls. I tried to stop her but she was bent on it. And she became addicted to it, she had it worse than I did. Hers was bad. I broke up with her because of it and after four months, I heard that she was deported. I regret it, honestly. Whenever I thought about it, I felt so guilty. If I had not dated her, maybe she wouldn’t have become an addict. She would remain the way she had been. I cleaned up my shit after graduation. I was supposed to come back to the country to start working with my dad, but he knew my problem. He checked me into a hospital there to get clean. It was the only way I could come back to the country.”

Ijeoma remained quiet after he finished talking. He became worried. “Babe, are you still there? Hello?”

“Yes, I’m here,” she said softly.

“I never knew she was your sister. I’m really sorry.”

“You should apologize to her not me. In fact, if we want to continue our relationship, you have to earn the forgiveness of my family, all of them.”

“I would do anything, anything to be with you.” It was a promise.

“I don’t know if they will listen to you, they certainly won’t listen to me. Our safest bet is with Iyora. If she agrees to forgive you, maybe she can talk to my parents. I will set up a date for it. You have to take whatever insult she hands you. The period after she came back was not easy at all, having to deal with her addiction and then deportation and then starting school all over again. It drew her back,” she spoke excitedly. Maybe all was not lost. They still had a chance.

“I know, honey. Thank you so much,” he said. Then added softly, “For giving us another chance.”

“I haven’t forgiven you. I’m doing this for myself,” she said in a low voice.

A deep sigh from his end. “Alright, honey. Anything you say.”

Though she had nothing else to tell him, she was still reluctant to hang up the call. Hearing his voice after a while had tamed the tempest that had been raging within her for the past weeks. She was finally able to think rationally about everything that happened. “I will call you when I set up the date,” she said finally. And when he tried to say something else, she hung up the call. She spent some minutes in the storeroom looking at the pictures they had taken together, assuring herself that the relationship was worth fighting for before she returned to the house.

Getting Iyora to go out with her for lunch was not difficult. She felt guilty about lying to Iyora about the reason she was taking her out to lunch. On their way to the restaurant, she tried to tell her, but every time she opened her mouth, no sound came out from her throat. Anita would give her a questioning look, “What is it?” And she would shake her head and look out the window. “Nothing.”

When the car pulled to a stop in front of the restaurant, Iyora came down from the car first while Ijeoma remained inside to pay the taxi fare.

“What the hell is he doing here?” She heard Iyora exclaim. Her chest tightened. Apham had sent her a text to say that he had already arrived at the restaurant. She’d imagined that he would be waiting for them inside. She thanked the taxi driver and rushed out of the car. Apham was standing in front of the restaurant, watching them purposefully. It wouldn’t be hard for Iyora to connect the dots.

“Iyo-” Ijeoma placed a hand on her shoulder but Iyora pushed it away and turned to look at her, her eyes reddened with anger.

“Did you know he was here?” She gestured at Apham offhandedly. “Or is this a coincidence. Tell me it is.”

“Iyora, I’m so sorry. It’s just that-”

Iyora put her hands on her waist. Her purse fell off but she made no move to pick it. “I knew it. So you’ve not given up on that addict, eh? You even conspired to bring me here. Are you stupid?”

“Can you just listen to him? He is no longer the same person he was before. Can’t you see him? Does he look high to you?”

Iyora humphed. “Seriously?” She laughed shortly. “I still can’t believe you brought me to lunch because of him.” Her voice softened dangerously. “You like him that much?”

Ijeoma nodded. “I love him. I am angry with him but I still love him.”

“Wow!” Iyora clapped. “Clap for yourself. You have grown now eh? You went against your parents because of him, because of a man. What do you think they will say when I tell them?” She shook her head when Ijeoma opened her mouth to say something. “No, I will surely tell them.”

“For my sake, Iyora,” Ijeoma’s lips quivered. She blinked rapidly. From the corner of her eye, she could see Apham shifting restlessly, his eyes still on them.

“Nothing. I am not doing anything. Can you listen to yourself, IJ, eh? Just listen to what you are saying, what level you are bringing yourself down to. That man rubbished me.” She shook Ijeoma hard. “Open your ears and listen to me. I said he rubbished me, with drugs, with alcohol, with sex. He used me and then dumped me after making me a former shell of myself. You want to know what I was dealing with when they bundled me on a plane and brought me back here eh? Heartbreak, addiction, I was sick. I was really sick because of that bastard and you bring me here and tell me that he is not the same person he was before.” She let go of Ijeoma and looked at Apham, her face squeezed in hatred. “No, I cannot do that.”

Ijeoma looked at her sister. Her heart despaired, love and respect for her family clashed with love for Apham. “Please,” she muttered, unsure of what she was pleading for again.

Iyora stepped back, shaking her head slowly. “I just can’t, IJ. I know what it means to love a man, I dare to say that I understand how you feel at this moment, but he is not right for you, he never will be. He lost that after he did that trash to me.”

Ijeoma looked at Apham. He already guessed the words that had been exchanged between the two of them. His shoulders were sloped in helplessness.

A taxi pulled to a stop beside them. “Are you coming home with me?” Iyora asked even though she knew what the answer would be. Ijeoma shook her head.

Iyora sighed. “I won’t tell mummy and daddy. Just bear it in mind that they will find out soon enough. I know it would sound harsh to you, but I’d advise you to get rid of any feelings you have for him. He is not good for you.” She got into a taxi. Ijeoma watched as it disappeared down the road.