OMEGA HOSPITAL – CONFERENCE ROOM
“Dear Derin, I hope you are happy. I hear you are doing well with Omega Hospital now. The attachment should interest you. All the best in life.”
Reading the email had become a matter of routine since receiving it three days ago. Pointless now, though, as even without opening it, the words came at him anyway in a relentless rush, a permanent tattoo in his heart.
And the picture … Derin traced a finger on the screen of his blackberry. The boy was everything he ever wanted, and more.
Derin wrenched his gaze from the phone. Professor Charles Acha, his legal representative, stared at him questioningly.
All around, the same odd look, trained at him. For a moment, he pondered where he was and what was going on.
‘He’s not even listening!’ Korede worked his jaw, seething.
Derin’s brow furrowed. Korede Adams, the current bane of his life.
Korede was flanked by two savage looking lawyers in tacky suits, at the opposite end of the table. They took down notes and whispered dark secrets to their client. What were they saying now? Well, whatever it was, Korede liked it – he nodded eagerly to their every word.
Derin straightened, curled his lip. A watery smile.
‘I’m with you, Mr Adams,’ he said, yet his voice lacked that essential conviction.
‘You know what your problem is, Banwo?’ Korede leaned forward, exuding confidence, and why not? After all, he had Derin by the balls. ‘You think you can get away with everything. You do as you please and it doesn’t matter who gets hurt in the process.’
Derin’s smile faltered. Korede wasn’t far off the mark. He had done as he pleased in his marriage and it had cost him.
‘Well,’ Korede leaned into the armchair like he owned the place, ‘today is Judgment Day.’
Dr Shem – young, ashen faced, eyes down – groaned as though constipated. This whole ugly dance was the upshot of his careless actions. Constipation was nowhere near sufficient a penance.
Derin interlocked his fingers, eyes zeroing in on his blackberry.
His past, senseless transgressions had nagged at him ever since Awazi left him, and yet somehow he had found a way to push it aside, burying himself deep into his work – a convenient distraction. Now, with the fate of the hospital dangling from a precipice, the guilt was ever present, a constant heartache.
His face fell.
Korede raised his eyebrows, surprised and glad at the supposed effect he was having on Derin.
Derin shut his eyes briefly and heaved a sigh. The time had come to confront his demons. He snatched his blackberry and composed a text message, thumbs flying swiftly across the keypad.
After sending the text, he focused on Korede.
‘I’m sorry about your wife.’
‘That’s not enough.’
‘No, it’s not.’ Derin slipped the phone into his breast pocket. He placed his hands flat on the table and rose to his feet. ‘Life’s too short, Mr Adams. We all make mistakes, and we must all learn to live with them.’
Korede turned to the lawyer at his right for interpretation. The balding man shrugged, as if to say, “Don’t look at me. I’ve got no idea what he’s on about.”
‘It’s yours,’ Derin said.
‘What’s mine?’ Korede said.
‘The hospital. Everything.’
Dr Shem looked up from his hands, stupefied. Professor Charles Acha did a double take.
‘Mr Banwo, let’s not be too hasty here,’ Charles said, desperate.
‘Sir, please-’ Dr Shem began.
‘No,’ Derin said.
‘Are you … mad?’ Korede said. His lawyers were just as stumped as he was.
‘No. Actually, for the first time in a long time, I understand what I need to do. I’ll have the necessary documents signed and delivered to you. Excuse me.’
‘Mr Banwo… Derin!’ Charles stretched forth to grab Derin’s arm, but Derin had moved beyond his reach.
‘I don’t want your hospital!’ Korede called after him.
Derin breezed out of the conference room.
A long, awkward silence descended upon the rest.
INSIDE KAMAL’S CAR
Kamal waited patiently behind the wheel, fingers tapping. On occasion, he glanced here and there.
The passenger door opened. Kamal turned. Derin got in and shut the door.
‘Are you OK?’ Kamal said.
Derin kept his eyes on the dashboard.
‘Do you have it?’ he asked.
Kamal showed him a folded piece of paper, held between two fingers.
‘It’s all here.’ He frowned, worried. ‘Man, are you sure you want to do this? I mean, what if it goes wrong?’
Derin looked at him, eyes haunted, weary.
‘Whatever happens, it can’t be worse than this, can it?’
Kamal nodded and patted Derin’s shoulder. He started the engine and they were off to Lagos.
PRIVATE KIDS PLAYGROUND, LEKKI, LAGOS
Shrill, excited cries carried across the air. Little feet pattered about.
Adults assisted with the swing-sets.
Seesaws swung, up-down, up-down.
Sandboxes were ceremoniously occupied by little geniuses who felt it was within their civil rights to build wonders out of sand. Results varied from crap-but-cute to not-nearly-crap-but-still-crap-and-cute.
The kids who went down the slides couldn’t wait to get right back up.
Awazi sat on a bench, Little Jacob in her arms, and together they watched the animated activity. She grinned from ear to ear. Little Jacob squirmed. He didn’t understand what was happening on the playground, but he wanted to be a part of it.
‘That’s you in a few years,’ Awazi said to him.
Little Jacob was having none of that. Him in a few years? How about him now! He kicked in protest. Awazi chuckled. She returned her attention to the playground.
And that’s when she saw him. Derin.
At first, she thought it was her mind playing tricks on her (this wasn’t the first time she had allegedly seen him). But unlike those times, he didn’t disappear when she blinked. He really was here, in the flesh, staring right back at her … a lost soul.
Awazi put Little Jacob against her chest and stood. Her heart galloped. Breathing became an arduous task. A million thoughts raced through her mind. How long had she yearned for this day?
Their eyes stayed locked as Awazi trod off on unsteady feet, away from the heart of the gathering. Whatever they had to discuss wasn’t for public consumption.
They met at the edge of the playground.
‘Hi,’ Derin stammered.
‘Hi,’ Awazi said. She assessed him. He looked thinner than she remembered. ‘You’re not eating well.’
‘I can’t cook.’ He shrugged.
‘I thought … you’d have got someone-’
‘No,’ he said quickly. ‘There’s no one. Not since you.’
Derin stared at Little Jacob nestled against Awazi. Something sharp twisted in his chest.
‘Yeah. Sure.’ Awazi carefully handed Little Jacob to him.
He held the boy … his son … gazed in wonder at the small, round face and big brown eyes, and it was almost like looking in a mirror.
Little Jacob gurgled and waved at Derin.
‘Thank you.’ Derin gave Little Jacob back to Awazi.
‘Derin…’ Awazi dampened her lips. She had so much to tell him. Where to start?
Before she could utter her next words, Derin dropped to his knees.
‘Derin?’ Awazi said, baffled.
Derin’s shoulders trembled. He grabbed her waist and pressed his face on her stomach.
He was crying.
Awazi was stunned. She glanced about. They were starting to attract onlookers.
‘Derin…’ Awazi smoothed his head. Her throat was tight.
‘It was so dark. So, so dark…’ Derin sobbed. ‘And then you came into my life … and there was a bright light. And I was happy. But I … I took you for granted-’
‘Derin, it’s OK-’
‘I was a fool. I was wrong. Please … forgive me. I love you. I’ve always loved you. Please-’
Spectators be damned. Awazi lowered herself to her knees and kissed him.
‘I love you too. I’ve missed you so much.’
Among the observers were Kamal – all smiles, the owner of the playground, Mrs Oyin Omotosho-Clegg, and her husband, Femi.
‘Awww, love! I love, love,’ Oyin said, squeezing her husband’s hand affectionately.
‘Yep. Someone’s definitely getting some tonight.’ Femi grinned. He gave an oblivious Derin a thumbs-up.
‘Seriously?’ Oyin elbowed Femi in the ribs, lightly. He chuckled.
Awazi shed tears of her own and laughed, delirious. She kissed Little Jacob and told him, ‘Look, it’s your daddy.’
Mummy, that’s great, and I’m happy for you, but can I play now? Little Jacob only had eyes for the playground.
‘Let’s go home,’ Derin said. He had got his family back. There was no greater accomplishment in life.