After months of heavy eyes and late nights, I finally finished my story. It felt orgasmic when I wrote “the end” . I stood on the veranda of the hotel and allowed the cold and moist air of Benin City to rub my tired face. I had written a novel about a dream I had. One about a woman and her ordeals; how she ended up beautiful with unhealed wounds and bloody scars. It was an exhausting journey with every word and how the words came out as knives, breathing my conscience to life. The Benin sun began to rise and I went in to take a shower. I was too excited to allow my body rest after a sleepless night. I just wanted to take a stroll around town and in solitude, celebrate my sixth work.

I took a bite of the French roll and chewed slowly; allowing my stomach to murmur in frustration. I was distracted by the lady that sat two tables away. She resembled someone I knew. I felt I must have met her somewhere. That black hair that resembled wool and looked tough like chewed meat and the chocolate skin that shone like leather dipped in oil. She had an angular face, the kind of face the girls that walk on runways usually have. Her skin wore a brighter shade around her cheekbones and then got darker towards her jaw.

I chewed slowly as my eyes remained fixed on her, trying to remember her name or why she struck a chord in my mind. The hotel restaurant had about fifteen tables and twice that number of chairs. They were arranged in a modern fashion, each table having at least two chairs. It all felt royal. A chandelier hung from a pure white ceiling and the walls were adorned with pictures and images of the Benin kingdom. I was used to the restaurant hall and every detail that comes with being a regular. It was because I was familiar with every staff, every visitor and every beautiful picture on the wall that I noticed her. She was alone and sat at a far corner near the picture of a mask, as if to avoid every eye.

She ate with a perfect composure and with no distraction whatsoever; she never raised her head the whole time. Her eyes felt deep, like they were wells of mysteries. So when she finally raised her head and caught me staring at her, I fell into those eyes. She did not smile nor acknowledge the fact that she caught my gaze, she just looked away. Then I saw her rub her arms and I saw hairs on them. She was wearing a sleeveless chiffon blouse and a bell bottom trouser. It should be the cold from the air conditioner and with little or no fat on her slender frame, I assumed she would feel the chill more than me. I kept on racking my head, trying to figure out who she was and why I seem to remember her. She stood up and I appreciated her height; she stood like a palm tree but she did not slouch one bit. I stood up too and walked towards her. Maybe her voice and a discussion would help fix the jigsaw of why I thought I knew her.

I am back to my room and the clock says it is eleven in the morning. I remember the restaurant and the voice that sounded cracked. She sounded like a cry, a baritone sob. It was when she spoke that I remembered. I suspected a semblance when she smiled after I said a joke and I got really afraid when the smile quickly faded into a straight face. When she told me her name, I nearly could not believe it. She said her name is Helen and my eyes could not hide the shock I felt. I am reading my manuscript again and trying to tell myself that it is a coincidence.

“Helen stood tall and had the body of a model. Her eyes were bold like the owl’s and they rolled seductively whenever she was nervous or uncertain. Helen chose to be courageous when she went for the check-up. She just found out that her husband had been sleeping with the maid and she wanted to be sure she was clean. Helen tried not to cry when the doctor said she was HIV positive. She had a million thoughts running in her head ranging from suicide to murder as she drove home. She later decided to stop at a restaurant and calm herself down. Helen noticed the eyes of a stranger stick on her body the moment she walked in and she chose a table by a corner to hide from stares. She did not plan to eat and was surprised how she could feel hungry despite the confusion in her head and pain in her heart. As she stood up to leave, the stranger approached her…”

I remember seeing a hospital card when she opened her bag to bring out her phone. Did I just dedicate the last few months to write my future? I am terrified as I read the last line of the fourth chapter of my unedited work.

“….the stranger held Helen as she cried and he said it with a voice that blows like a cool breeze on a hot day, I LOVE YOU”

Title : Stories that breathe

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