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The last smile Episode 20 & 21

Lucy washed the rice as she conversed with Vicky who checked the chicken in the oven. She was enjoying the conversation imensely but she could not help missing Raymond. He had resumed work about a week ago and Lucy had missed him with each p@ssing day. Vicky was definitely fun to be with but she had grown so used to Ray that she felt his abs£nce a lot.
“But my time in London was a real disaster” Vicky said
Lucy turned with a bemused expression. “Why did you say that?”
“I was despised because I am a l£sblan” she sighed. “I just wanted death. It was h@rder because no one in my family was in support of me. My parents condemned me totally and I became the black sheep of the family. London made it worse and I hid behind my shell until I was able to leave”. She was sober and sat on the chair.
Lucy stared at Vicky, feeling her pain. She was confused as to what to say so she just kept quiet. Vicky took her quietness for condemnation.
“I am sure you see me as the worst kind of human being. It is fine; I get that all the time”.
Lucy smiled. “That is beautiful?”
Vicky frowned. “What is beautiful?”
“That hair bond. It is absolutely lovely”
Vic smiled. “I got it from London. It is actually the only thing I bought there. Just wanted to have something from London in order to remember my time there, even if it was not so pleasant”
“I love it and I love you; in a platonic way though. You are a wonderful person; you just need someone to show you how wonderful love is. Love is a beautiful thing”.
Vicky swallowed and shook her head. “I can’t love a man; I have tried in vain”.
Luciana smiled and turned to check the food. “I am not asking you to try; in fact, you would not have to try”.
“I don’t understand” Vic replied, confused.
“Don’t worry. You would be fine. Let’s finish this delicacy.” She said as continued her cooking.
Teju sat facing a client at a popular cafeteria not too far from her office. She had preferred an open environment to the confinement of her office because she was beginning to feel choked lately. It had been over a week but that episode with Tunde kept replaying itself in her brain. Everything Mr. Popoola was saying was barely noted by her as she sat frozen on the chair with her eyes glued on her client and her face as blank as a plain sheet.
Deolu had arrived Lagos just as he said he would but she could not unburden herself. She felt that he already had enough problems and bothering him with hers would be wicked of her. She had to lie to him that her mood was due to a court case she lost. She wished her parents were not dead. She missed her mother a lot. She needed someone to talk to, someone to comfort her, but she found no one. Even her friends were not able to help her. Lucy would have understood, she knew.
As Teju stared at Mr. Popoola’s face, all she could see was Tunde. She wished he was just in front of her so she could show him the stuff she was made of. The door of the cafeteria opened up and Teju could not believe what she was seeing. She had just been wishing to find Tunde and there he was, coming into the cafeteria with a half nude girl on his arm. Seeing the girl’s dressing, Teju knew that he left her because of s£×. Tunde did not see her, considering the size of the place and the sizeable amount of people in it.
“Barrister” Mr. Popoola called and she turned her head like a robot. “You are not listening to me” he said, a bit irritated.
Teju relayed everything Mr. Popoola had been saying without missing a thing and he was so surprised. He knew that she had been lost in thoughts and found it amazing that she had actually heard all he was saying. Teju smiled at his amusement. “I have heard everything I want to know, if there is any other information I need, I would call you sir. If you don’t mind sir, I need to attend to some people”. He smiled sheepishly, knowing that whatever it was had nothing to do with business.
“Go easy on them” he said softly.
Teju stood up and her client did the same. She did not bother responding; she knew that he would have seen the way she looked at Tunde when he entered. After several verbal exchanges, Mr. Popoola left. She took a deep breath as she approached the table ahead. Tunde had his back to her, so he did not see her. She got to the table, with a frozen smile on her face.
“So, this is the girl that you are in love with?” Tunde looked up and blanched.
Ray was becoming much more tense by the minute. He stood up and roamed his office and sat back after pacing aimlessly. He never imagined that he could miss someone so terribly. He missed Luciana so much, it hurt. He missed her smile, he quiet and thoughtful times, her lively kitchen life and every single thing that summed up the fair goddess he was hosting in his house. Ever since he resumed work, he had wished he was managing one of his father’s companies so that he would be able to leave the house whenever he liked.
He had made that adamant decision to be independent when he was 23 years old. He had finished his studies with outstanding certificates but his father wanted him to head his companies. He had refused and had gone job hunting, in the quest to build something of his own. His father later came through and gave him his blessings, much to his relief and delight. The prayers of his parents worked wonders for him because he got a job with an oil company not quite long. It was all he ever dreamt of. At first, the salary was just normal, due to his position but as time went on, his salary was reviewed and promotions started rolling in. He made good use of the money coming in, buying shares and making investments. His house came as a result of his labour and his parents became proud of him.
Painting, which was his God-given talent, was what he always loved and enjoyed doing. Painting was already out of the window of his life; it had become one of his nightmares.
The door of Raymond’s office flung open and Ray had to snap out of his reverie. Duke bounced into the office without any prior notice but that was just like him. Ray was already used to Duke’s impromptu visits and even Ray’s zealous secretary can’t make Duke wait in the reception for a minute.
“This is my office Duke, I work here. Are you trying to get me fired?” Ray glared as he closed the door which Duke did not bother closing.
Duke paused. “That is the best greeting I have ever heard, also the longest”. He stated but Ray glared instead. “Ok, no one is going to fire your sorry @ss. You are the manager here and that position comes with a lot of benefits, including going for lunch earlier than usual”.
“Halt. I am not going anywhere, especially not an 11 o’clock lunch”. Ray made his way to his seat.
Duke checked his watch. “This is almost 12” he declared.
“Obviously” Ray sighed.
“Listen, I think you need that lunch, especially since I found you standing aimlessly at the middle of your office during office hours. That lunch would help ease the stress” he smiled.
“Man, I just resumed work after a one month leave”. He stated.
“Quit the lecture James Ray, you are coming with me” he stood up, daring Ray not to comply.
Ray shook his head in surrender.
“Hi, I am Teju” she stretched her hand towards the wide-eyed lady who dumbly took it.
“I am Oyin” she replied.
“What are you doing here Teju?” Tunde growled.
Teju eyed him slowly before pulling a chair. After seating, she faced the lady who was practically confused. “I do not intend to waste your time, just want to have a little chat with you. Do you mind?”
“Yes, she minds. Leave” Tunde dropped.
“Would you shut your filthy mouth?” Teju yelled, drawing attention. “I am here to speak with this beautiful b**** here, so shut the trash”.
“How dare you call me a b****?” oyin stood up furiously. “What is the meaning of this nons£nse Tunde?”
“Sit down now” Teju yelled. “You don’t want to know the angry part of Teju, I am telling you. SIT” she smiled tightly. Oyin looked a bit scared but she hid it. She thought about what was going on and decided it best to sit. Teju smiled as she stared at Oyin’s rage-stricken face.
“Good. I just want to talk about your friend here – Tunde” she started.
“Teju” Tunde gr0@ned.
“I would not get mad at you for stealing my fiancé, no I won’t. In fact, you did me a huge favour”
Oyin stared at her. “What are you saying?”
“Oh… he did not tell you? He was my fiancé until last week. We had our wedding date fixed for December which should be six months from now” Teju laughed. “Funny right? I was busy thinking about our wedding night while he was thinking about another woman’s @ss. I am not here to drag him from you, you can totally have him, but I want to advice you. Don’t think that the only way to get a man is by spreading your legs wide enough to accommodate him”
“How dare you?” Oyin yelled as she stood up. Teju dragged her down immediately.
“You don’t want to cause a scene.”
“If you dare call my name again, you would hate me” Teju half yelled. She faced Oyin “Where were we? Yes, your legs. Do you know why he left me for you? It is because your legs were wide open. He does not love you, he just loves that thing you offer to him free of charge. When did you meet? I am sure it is not even a month ago. Oh, who am I kidding? It can’t even be three weeks ago.
“Men are the same. They are never contented with what they have; they are always looking for extra until they lose what they had before. When this miserable being left me last week, my eyes opened and I got a new meaning to the word ‘man’. A man is a miserable adulterous nuisance who goes from skirt to skirt, seeking whom to devour. Thank God I wear trousers; it makes it h@rder to devour me. I have just one advice for you: redefine your life”
“Oh, I see. And where did your redefined life get you uhn?” Oyin asked, glaring.
How to grow your business while you stay at home
Teju smiled softly, stood up and wore her sunshade. “It saved me from Tunde” she said and walked out, leaving the couple enveloped in serious tension. She got to the door and collided with someone coming into the cafeteria.
“Easy beauty” Duke said but she just walked away. “What a pretty babe”.
Ray shook his head. “Always a flirt!” Ray declared. “Vicky is back from the states”. Duke swallowed and walked on with a straight face. Ray smiled
Fred opened the door to Chris office and entered slowly. He had the distinctive feeling that he would get thrown out if he went in all confident. When Chris’ glare welcomed him, he swallowed.
“Why not hear me out first before you nail me to the cross” Fred said in a pleading manner.
“Jesus was not given that opportunity, why should you be given” Chris responded with a permanent glare.
“Jesus was nailed unjustly, would you do the same to me?”
Chris looked at him. “You have five minutes to convince me. You better start now because I won’t give you a second more”.
Fred sat instantly. “It was an accident Chris. I went to her house to confess my love for her, just as I told you but when I got there and bared my heart to her, she laughed at me. She said that she could never have anything to do with me, that she would never date a loser when Deolu was there. I saw a knife close by and I took it just to scare her since she would not stop talking but she tripped over something on the floor and because I was not far behind, I also tripped and the knife I was holding stabbed her. I swear it was not intentional. Please believe me” Fred shook.
Chris looked doubtful. “Are you sure of what you are saying?”
“Yes Chris. That is how it happened. When she… when she died, I had to erm… dump her somewhere. I was so scared, please help me”
Chris Chuks stared at Fred who just sat, shivering on the chair opposite him. He had a feeling that what Fred had just said was only a shadow of the real truth. Although, seeing the way Fred shivered, he was compelled to believe him.
“Well, I have not told anyone anything and have been lying to Mr Adeolu for close to two weeks now. I was not able to implicate your sorry @ss. You need to leave that house. I have a good place where you can hide for the mean time; hiding in that house is very predictable and they would easily find you there”
“Thank you brother. I knew I could count on you” Fred said with a lot of appreciation in his voice.
Chris swallowed. He was putting his job and neck on the line for Fred. He could be charged for treason. He relaxed and closed his eyes hoping that this issue does not backfire.
Lucy sat chatting with Raymond in the sitting room. He had arrived earlier than usual and Lucy was happy because Vicky had gone to spend a few days with her friend. Being in that m@ssive house all alone would have been terrifying, especially since the house was not hers. As they discussed, she thought of how to put down what she had in mind.
“Ray” she called.
Raymond turned to face her suddenly. “This is the first time you called me by my name; I love the sound of it. You should call me that often.” He grinned.
Lucy blushed and looked down. “Erm… I … erm”
Ray frowned. “What is it sugar? Is something wrong?”
“No… erm… what I want to say… I mean, ask is if you could show me some of your art works”
Ray blanched.
“I don’t mean to pry but Teju had talked endlessly about your artworks but I was never interested. Your paintings are very popular even though I never took the time to check them out. I would love to have a look, even if it is just a few” she finished.
Ray was quiet, too quiet. He swallowed as he stared into space.
“If it is a problem, please don’t bother. It is nothing” she quickly added.
Ray stood up and went to his bedroom. Lucy felt bad and miserable. She must have done and said everything wrong. The paintings must bring bad memories. Several thoughts went through her head as she sat frozen to her seat.
Raymond appeared minutes later with a key in his hand. He marched out and muttered ‘follow me’. She did not want to follow him like this; with him being upset.
“If you are not OK with it, it is fine. You don’t have to.” She murmured as she followed him. He did not respond. When they got to the door, he opened it slowly and stood at the entrance.
“Go inside. Everything you need is there.” He said and moved out of the way.
Lucy stared at him with concern. “If you would not go with me then I won’t go at all. You can’t run away from the past, you just have to accept the past”.
Ray swallowed. “I am not going inside” he dropped icily.
Lucy winced as she saw the pain in his eyes. “I am not going too. Please lock the door. I was never interested in art in the first place”.
Ray looked at her. He wanted to make her believe that art was a wonderful thing but he was scared of going into the room. He opened the door wider and started entering. Lucy breathed and followed. Her eyes widened as she stared at the numerous frames hung on the wall, all around the room and the ones on the floor. She had never seen anything so beautiful and colourful. Everything her eyes met was simply outstanding. She touched some of them, tracing them with her f!ng£r. She noticed they were dusty but knew that it was expected if the place had been under lock for some time. She saw a painting of a woman who was seated with her baby on her lap. The look of love in the woman’s eyes was so evident and real, she could feel it. Her eyes watered as she remembered her mother at home. “This is beautiful; everything is beautiful” she murmured as she blinked. Ray smiled but did not say anything.
Lucy looked around and every frame called her but one of them struck her and her heart skipped. She walked like a robot to the painting. When she got there, she could not touch it, she just looked. She was dumbstruck as she stared at the most amazing painting she had seen. It was a painting of a man and a woman. The woman had pain in her eyes as she stared at the man. The pain in the eyes of the man was not as intense but there was also love in both eyes. There was someone in the shadow. The face and form of the person was not clear but there was someone there; she knew it. The person stood with his back to them. The painting told a story of two lovers who had gone through a trying time but still loved eachother. She imagined that the person in the shadow was against their union. The couple looked vaguely familiar. She turned and looked at Raymond and got her answer.
“Are these your parents?” she asked.
He swallowed. “Yes” he mouthed. He wanted to run out of the room. That painting was his favorite. His eyes watered as he anticipated the next question she would ask.
“Where are they?” she asked as she looked at the painting again. He was quiet. She turned and saw him struggling for composure. She became scared and worried.
“They are dead”. He turned and left the room. She stood rooted to the ground. Dead? Was this the nightmare? Was that why he stopped painting? She wondered. She stared ahead and saw something like an uncompleted work. It was as if he started and could not continue. She could not even decipher what the painting looked like.
She ran out of the room to go after Ray but saw him match into the gym. She sighed as she closed the door of the room. She wondered if she should go after him or just let him go. She chose the former and headed towards the gym.
Deolu had called the police officer but never got good news from him. He became frustrated and remembered another police officer in Abuja. He wondered how he had skipped that. He took out his phone and dialed.
When Lucy entered the gym, she saw Raymond on the treadmill, running endlessly. It was like trying to run away from something. Lucy’s heart ached as she saw this. He was in pain but was too arrogant to admit it to anyone. She went to sit somewhere close where he could see her easily but he did not see her. He did not seem to know she was there. It was like he was in another world where all he could see were ghosts of the past.
Ray ran and ran and with each step he took, he ran faster. The more he ran, the more those images flashed through his mind. He was going crazy; maybe he was already crazy. He had thought he would be able to handle it. It had been almost four years since the incident occurred and he still could not forget. The images were still as fresh as yesterday. When he entered the room, he had thought that seeing those drawings would not affect him. They hadn’t until Lucy drew his attention to that picture. That was what broke the confidence he had. Everything came rushing back: the departure of their parents and the cir¢vmstances that led to it, the news of the crash, their trip to the accident scene, the burnt people, the faces of his dead and burnt parents… Raymond screamed and jumped out of the treadmill.
Lucy ran to meet him as he shook uncontrollably. She wondered what demon had possessed her to ask for his paintings. She was scared. Scared for him, scared for herself. “Please take it easy Ray. Please…” she lamented, her eyes already w€t with tears. Ray’s shirt was already soaked in his sweat and he did not seem to be able to stop his shivering body.
“They died Lucy… They died horribly… The plane crashed… They got burnt… My parents…” he continued to say and a cold shiver went down Lucy’s spine. A plane crash! “I saw them Lucy…” tears dropped from his eyes. “I saw all of them. I saw their burnt bodies… they were roasted Lucy… Oh God… roasted… like animals” he held her head and looked into her eyes, trying to make her understand. “My loving parents died horribly. What did my parents do to deserve that? They served God and ensured that we did too. Why were they in that plane” more tears dropped from his eyes and Lucy just kept on crying. She had never seen that much pain before. She was lost on what to do. Ray could not drive away the images. He wanted to forget. He just wanted to forget. Lucy stood up tip-toes on the first impulse that came to her head and klzzed him deeply


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