Ikenna groaned, and moved his eyes back up to the top of the document. It was the third time he had read it, and the words just were not sinking in. He flung the document on his desk in frustration, and got up from his chair.
He rubbed his forehead, then ran his hand down the back of his head and brought it to rest on the back of his neck. He turned to face the large window, and stared out into the busy streets of Victoria Island.
Lagos was a lot of things, but “boring” was not one of them. People could say whatever they wanted about Nigeria’s New York but one thing was clear – there was never a dull moment.
Victoria Island did not even have much to see other than other high-rises, and some foot traffic that could often be uneventful. When he worked out of a client site at Marina, he saw so much happen that some days, he actually bought popcorn, crossed his legs and watched from his vantage point in a conference room on the 11th floor.
Since this was a Friday, there was more activity than usual on the streets of V.I.
A couple sharing a hug caught his eye. They could have been colleagues for all he could tell, but any kind of emotion shared between a man and a woman made him think of her. It could have even been a high five, and she would have still popped in his head.
It was rather tiring.
It had been a week since everything had changed. It had taken everything he had and then some to keep from calling her and keeping her out of his thoughts, and he still had not been successful.
He threw himself into his work more than he had ever done. He worked longer hours and more days, but his output had remained the same. Slightly lower even because he had to read every document, every e-mail, and every spreadsheet two or three times. His razor-sharp focus was nowhere to be found.
He had been fighting it all week but he finally let his mind wander back to her, to that night.
She had assumed, and correctly so, that things were progressing and he was considering a relationship with her. He could have coyly pretended he was not, and told her that all he wanted was her friendship, but he was much too stunned to do anything. She knew and understood him even with how little he had told her.
Some would say that was a sign of sorts, but it was one he was perfectly content ignoring.
He was petrified of her, and what she could do to what he now accepted was his fragile heart. It scared him even more because he had not let her in, he did not break down his barriers for her. She came like an unstoppable force, shattered them to pieces, and he had absolutely no hand in it. That terrified him.
A sudden sadness came over him.
He had not even thought about that night in its entirety.
She had cried. She had cried most likely because she liked him too, but probably thought she was too broken to let herself love him.
Well that made two of them.
He could not believe he had just sat there and stared at her like a robot.
He smacked his forehead.
He could have done something cool like in the movies. Reach over, wipe her tears and tell her she looked beautiful when she cried. Or hold her arm when she tried to leave, and tell her he wanted to be her knight in shiny armour. Something. Anything but just sit there like a moron doing nothing.
“Goodnight sir!” His PA said, poking her head into his office, and jolting him out of his thoughts.
He had not even heard her knock.
“Goodnight. Have a good weekend, and my regards to the family.” He said absent-mindedly.
“Thank you sir. They will hear.” She responded genuinely.
Ikenna looked around his desk and realised he was not going to be able to get much done. He would attempt it again once he got back to his apartment and if it did not work, he would have to pour his heart out to his friend Jack Daniel.
As he locked his office doors, he caught sight of the stack of documents sitting in a box on his PAs desk labeled “Mr. Chidindu” and smiled. The woman was nicknamed “Police” because she vetted every single document before it got to his table.
He put his bag on her desk, and scanned the contents of the box.
Suddenly, he noticed whispering and looked around.
The office was scanty but the few people that were still present were sitting alone, and working on their computers.
He followed the sound and realised it was coming from the small radio on his PA’s desk. He leaned forward to turn it off.
“Take a chance!”
A voice said, booming out of the speakers.
It caught Ikenna’s attention and since he was still looking through the documents in his PA’s box, he decided to turn it up instead.
He settled into her chair, the stack of papers now in front of him as he turned the volume knob.
“That’s all I’m saying.
Someone once said to me that when you let someone in, you are giving them power over you. You are essentially handing over your remote control and saying “here, take it; control me as you please.”
Now pardon me, but I disagree with that. Letting someone in is not a sign of weakness, neither does it mean you are relinquishing control of yourself.
Quite frankly that’s silly because if that was the case, we would all be a bunch of bordered up people walking around with no emotions.
Actually, and here is the irony, it is how you react when they let you down that determines if they have control over you.
If you let a person in, and the person hurts you, then you decide life is meaningless and you commit suicide. That person did not kill you, you killed YOURSELF!
Or if you stay in your room locked up for weeks, and then you get irreparable health complications from being malnourished and dehydrated. That person did not make you sick, you made YOURSELF sick!
Or if you start to treat people with disdain, or disrespect or suspicion because someone in the past hurt you, and then you miss out on opportunities that could have made you successful beyond your wildest imaginations. THEY did not take away your success, YOU did.
What am I saying? YOU have control over your reaction, not them. Allowing their actions to lead you down a path of destruction is the DEFINITION of giving them power over you. Notice I did not say they have power over you, YOU give it to THEM by destroying yourself and blaming them for it.
You cannot expect to get the best out of people if you don’t want to give the best of yourself.
What I am saying to you brothers and sisters is, take a chance!
There is nothing you cannot recover from.
When people are trying to convince you to take a leap of faith, they say “after all, what do you have to lose?” but make no mistakes, there is something to lose.
You will lose sleep, the ability to focus, and let’s not forget all the water your body will lose from all that crying; but is it the end of the world? No!
So it is not “what do you have to lose?” That’s incomplete. It should be “What do you have to lose that you cannot recover from?”
More important, is it worth it to keep your walls up and not experience the potentially beautiful thing on the other side that may bring you more happiness than you could ever imagine?
Ikenna had stopped shuffling through the papers a few moments after he sat down. It was as if the sermon was meant for him.
He had barely managed to return the stack to his PA’s box as he grabbed his jacket and ran towards the elevator.
Ikenna tapped on the steering wheel as he waited, rather impatiently, for Ifeamaka’s response. He had sent her a text asking to see her, and he was nearly running out of his mind.
Her response came in moments later, and it was an address.
Ikenna knocked as soon as he arrived at the door. He knew that if he did not, he might lose his head and take off running.
The door opened, and his breath caught in his throat.
She was beautiful when she was all dressed up; but in a tank top, shorts, her hair pulled back and with no makeup on, she was a goddess.
“Is this…?” He trailed off.
“Yes, this is my place.” She answered, leaning her head on the open door.
“Why?” He asked.
He needed to know. For as long as they had been seeing each other, the agreement had always remained that their abodes would remain a secret.
“Because I am horny, and if I was going to have one night of making a bad decision, I’d rather it be with you.” She said.
He gaped at her, his mouth suddenly going dry. Then he noticed the slight twitch at the corners of her mouth.
“You know you are a wicked person right?” He said, letting out the breath he had not realised he was holding.
He had missed her chuckle.
“Come in before you let all the mosquitoes into my house.” She said, leaving the door ajar behind her.
“Nice place. It’s very ‘you’.” He said, admiring her decor.
“Thank you? I hope that’s a good thing.”
“It is. Yes.” He said quickly.
He took a deep breath and let it out. “We need to talk.”
“Really? I couldn’t tell from your text.”
“Can we sit?” He asked. His mind was such a flurry of activity that he missed the sarcasm.
She gestured to the love-seat while she sat on the sectional perpendicular to it.
“I knew you wanted to talk, and I did not want to do it in a noisy place.” She said quickly. “That’s why I gave you the address.”
She paused, then continued lightly “you should know, however, that I have a gun so don’t try anything.”
He would have laughed if her eyes had not added “and I trust you.”
He swallowed, then cleared his throat. “I think it is time that you got to know me. All of me.”
He told her everything.
About his mother’s death, and his father’s reaction to it. He told her of his aunties who continually lied to him that his father really did love him, but was only tormented by his mother’s death. He told her of his uncles who pretended to intercede on his behalf with his father so that they could extort money from him. He told her of his father who was comfortable demanding large sums of money from him with no interest in a father-son relationship. He told her of how that broke him, and how it formed the foundation of the monumental structure that became his wall. He told her of other people he had encountered: business partners and friends alike who had tried to take advantage of him or his kindness. He told her of love interests who cared more about his outward appearance and his pockets. He also told her of how he tried, more than once, to open up to love but only got hurt in the process.
“So yes, I am broken. I guess I always sort of knew I was, but I was hiding behind the idea that human beings could not be trusted, and that kept me going.”
He looked into her eyes. “Until I met you.”
Tears were already streaming down her face from listening to his story.
He walked to the sectional and sat beside her. He wiped her tears with the back of his hands.
“I’m so sorry.” Ifeamaka said, reaching for a tissue in the box on the stool beside her and dabbing at her face. Ikenna understood. She was apologizing because she felt it was her job as the listener to be strong, and not let her emotions take over.
“It’s okay.” Ikenna said, shaking his head to assure her that he disagreed with her feeling of embarrassment.
“It’s not. Nobody should have to live through that. I mean, you were a child. How was it your fault?” She said, choking on the last word as more tears fell.
“Hey.” He said, tilting her chin up so her eyes met his. “It’s okay. I turned out okay…mostly.” He ended with a small smile.
“That’s not funny.” Ifeamaka said, stifling a chuckle.
Ikenna allowed himself a full smile, then reached over to get some more tissue. He dabbed at her cheeks, then balled up the tissue in his palm and set it on the stool beside the tissue box.
When he brought his eyes back to hers, the smile was gone.
“I have feelings for you Ifeamaka. I am not going to pretend like I don’t; but for the first time in my life, I can be open and honest with someone. I have yearned for that for a very long time. I cannot lose it now.”
She let out a whimper and looked away.
He tilted her chin to face him. “I am not asking for a relationship, I am asking for a friendship. You may not have the bandwidth to fix a boyfriend, but can you help fix a friend?”
Fresh tears fell. She looked away, looked back at him and then wiped at her face. “Sure, since you are asking so nicely.”
He smiled. “You always know how to make me smile.”
“I told you, I’m hawesome.” She responded, smiling through the tears.
“I will do it on one condition though.” She started.
He cocked an eyebrow.
“You help fix me too?” She said quietly, looking up at him; her eyes welling up again.
He sighed. “I am no good at it, but I promise to try.”
“I can live with that.” She nodded, trying to smile. “I hope you don’t mind but I am not quite ready to tell my story just yet. It’s just-”
“It’s okay.” Ikenna cut in. “I didn’t expect you to. Whenever you are ready.”
“Okay. Thanks for understanding.” She said gratefully, wiping away the last traces of tears from her face. “There’s just too much emotion going on in this room. If I add mine, I just might be vulnerable enough to jump you.”
“Well in that case, maybe you should tell me your story.” Ikenna teased, the mischief strong in his tone.
“Lord knows I have missed seeing you laugh.” He smiled at her.
She smiled back.
“So how did you know I was into you?” Ikenna started, then put a forkful of scrambled eggs in his mouth. “I mean, I never even talked about taking the next step and you just knew, and shut it down before I even had a chance.”
She chuckled as she poured some water into his glass, then sat opposite him at the dining table.
“Truth?” She asked, picking up her fork.
“Always.” He said solemnly.
“It was in the way you looked at me. Or tried not to. You struggled to keep it all in but subconsciously, or when you would allow yourself to, you looked at me like you could see me. Only me. Like nothing else mattered. Even when you spoke of things like my smile, or my laugh, it came from a place you guarded closely. It was so pure and honest.”
As she spoke, a calm Ikenna could not explain, but yet understood, came over him.
It was her. She was it. His home, his heart, the thing he had been looking for all those years. He had finally found it.
It did not matter how long it took her to realise it, he would wait for as long as it took.
She was worth it and damn it, so was he.
“I’m probably not making any sense right?” She said, averting her eyes.
“On the contrary”, he said, taking her hands in his, “you are.”