For James, the tall, dark accountant at the Festac branch of Access Bank, life was about to change forever – for good.
He stepped out and advanced with long strides across the paved premises of the bank towards the gate. Every few seconds, he would look at his watch. He was in one of those moods when you wished you could disappear. And magically reappear wherever she is. If you’ve ever been in love, you’ll understand.
‘Enjoy your day, sir,’ the gateman said.
‘Thank you, Charles,’ replied the branch accountant.
James was in a haste. His Toyota Camry was parked outside the bank.
As he entered his car, Stella, his colleague in the bank, shouted from the gate, ‘James!’
He saw her waving, and sighed.
‘Good afternoon, James. It’s not closing time yet,’ she shouted across the noisy environment. Her eyes sparkled, and she looked like a love-struck teenager yearning for her dream to come true. It was no secret to the ladies in the branch. The routine car rides, after ‘close of business’, were meant to get his attention.
‘I’m travelling, Stella. Till Tuesday, perhaps.’ James waved back with a sympathetic smile.
She looked disappointed. James swung the car through the busy Festac Town roads.
Another Friday rush hour had began, though it was hardly 2:00 pm. But James was not worried about the traffic. He was a man in love.
As he parked his car close to his apartment, his phone beeped.
‘All I want is to be forever with you baby.’
The message was from Cynthia, his long-time girlfriend.
‘Me, too, Honey,’ he messaged back.
After seven years of loving her, James was about to make ‘forever’ come true for their love.
He had sent money to Cynthia’s sister, Jane, to prepare a surprise birthday bash for her. James was going to pop the question at the party.
James couldn’t wait to be in the Garden City where his heartthrob, Cynthia, lived with Jane. She had just graduated from the university there. Quite the right time for the move.
James had bought a ticket for a luxury night travel to Port-Harcourt. He had his branch manager’s permission to be absent on Monday. So far, everything was going according to plan.
As soon as he arrived the Young Shall Grow park, his iPhone rang.
‘James, are you on your way?’ asked his best friend, Paul.
‘Yes, Paul. I’m so happy. Finally! I’m moving to the next level.’
Paul has been his best friend since secondary school. Four years ago, James had introduced him to Cynthia when she visited him for the weekend. Over the years, Paul and Cynthia had become good friends as well. Something that gave James a great joy. And whenever a serious quarrel broke out between them, it was Paul who always came to the rescue.
Paul, of course. Who else can be the best man?
‘Yes o, my best friend is finally getting locked down. Have you proposed?’
‘Not yet,’ James said. ‘But, Paul, I have been calling you all day, your phone’s been switched off.’
‘Sorry, Bro, business meetings. And tomorrow, too, it will last from morning till ten at night. I’m about to close an important deal. Tell me when you get there and give my warmest regards to Cynthia.’
They exchanged pleasantries, and the call ended.
While James was a banker, Paul had his own business. He imported electronic gadgets from China. Though two years older than James, Paul was charming, successful, but yet to make a choice among his many beauties.
James boarded the red luxury bus and closed his tired eyes. Time moved fast. He slept, woke up and slept again.
He dreamt of a lady in a scarlet dress. But when he woke up, he couldn’t remember who she was or what happened in the dream.
They arrived in Port Harcourt by 6:00 am.
Throughout the day, he was busy in his hotel room, pacing around and perfecting his speech. He didn’t expect to be so anxious.
By 9:00 pm, James entered the red hall of the Presidential Hotel, the venue of the party. He was dressed in a white designer shirt and blue jeans. He had been getting updates of the event from Jane.
The birthday party had been on for two hours and as the celebrant cut her beautiful birthday cake, James made his appearance.
Cynthia was in a scarlet designer gown. At 25, she was easily the most beautiful lady in the hall. Her long black hair cascaded down her shoulders as she wowed the crowd with her infectious smiles.
As soon as James saw Cynthia in the scarlet dress, pieces of the dream he had during the journey flashed through his mind. His face brightened when he remembered that the lady he saw in his dream wearing a scarlet dress was Cynthia. And she seemed to be smiling at him in that dream.
As he took a step forward inside the red hall, all the details of that dream came back to him.
In that dream, she was standing tall, confident and happy. At first, I thought she was smiling at me but when I looked at her seductive eyes, she appeared to be gazing at something or someone behind me. What does that even mean?
James straightened up, pushed the dream to the back of his mind and strolled happily towards his lovely angel.
Neon lights, loud party music, moving bodies and dancing feet, everything and everyone stopped as the crowd looked up to the scene unfolding in front of them.
Cynthia’s face was full of joy; she was dancing when it happened. Her eyes widened, her smile revealed her gap-tooth, as her biggest birthday surprise began to unfold.
James knelt down on one knee and brought out a diamond ring he saved a year’s salary to buy.
At once, there was a standing ovation, then a pause to hear what the lovers had to say.
‘My heartbeat, I told myself today will not be complete if I’m not here to celebrate you. It’s like this is the moment I’ve been waiting for all my life. Forever is knocking at my heart, Cynthia. I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life without you. My love, will you marry me?’
James closed his eyes.
The moment I’ve been living for.
His heart was pounding. He offered the diamond ring, waiting.
The silence soon became unnerving. An unending suspense in the hall.
When he opened his eyes, Cynthia was struggling to speak but couldn’t.
The crowd was in a stunned freeze.
Feeling embarrassed, he stood up.
He knew what this meant. He rushed to where Jane was standing, ‘Thank you for organising this party. It was nice.’
‘Sorry, James. I think she’s making a mistake.’
But James was already in an exploded state.
‘James!’ Cynthia was shouting, the sound of her feet close behind him.
What is there to explain?
As he got closer to the door, he brushed against someone.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said out of habit as he glanced at the person and stopped cold in his tracks.
‘Paul? Aren’t you supposed to be busy closing a deal in Lagos? What’s going on?’
‘James…,’ Paul stammered as he tried to respond.
Cynthia ran forward and stood closer to Paul. Too close for comfort. Everything lined up when James looked from Paul’s eyes to Cynthia’s.
‘Business meeting, huh?’
‘I…can…explain…’ Paul stammered. ‘We didn’t know how to tell you.’
‘The mysterious thing about life’, his mother used to say, ‘is that it can land an unexpected blow at anytime. Life’s blessings and intrigues are endless.’
But there was no comfort in his mother’s wise saying. Only pain and tears welling up from somewhere only a man who has suffered a shattered heart can understand.