BITTER PERCEPTIONS: CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

Doris 

     “Doctor…Dr. Duru…Dr. Duru!”

     A fresh-faced teen ran towards my car, a regular occurrence since my debut on The Doctors. Great, another fan, I moaned, politely returning his wide smile. Fans regularly approached me to exchange pleasantries, praising my presenting style and requesting photos and autographs. Me, signing autographs? I’d received mostly positive feedback from TV critics, and with Ruth Gyang confirming her departure from the show to focus on motherhood, it seemed possible I’d become a permanent panellist. Olivia later confessed she’d selected me as her first choice when her team searched for a female doctor after her original project failed to take off, but the network had requested diversity, and the panel already had a northern gynaecologist, and a Yoruba paediatrician. And the Igbo surgeon with scores of screaming fans dying to have him examine them in private. God have mercy, even in medicine, sex sells?     

     I appreciated the public’s support, but longed to return home where I could slump into my trusty old sofa and dig into the freshly baked loaves I’d just purchased from Chocolat Royal after a tedious day at Bass TV. Baguettes slathered with butter, washed down with creamy coffee…pure bliss. This girl needed her vices, especially after working all week to fill a void following a feisty row with her commitment-phobic ex-boyfriend. Andrew hadn’t called me since the day he’d slammed the phone on me, although he probably hadn’t left the country. Had he actually called time on our relationship as he’d implied, or had he withdrawn into one of his long sulks? 

      I calmly waited as the as the gangly teen caught his breath, wiping sweat off his brow. 

     “Good afternoon, Doctor,” he finally spoke as his lungs recovered sufficiently. “I watch you every week on The Doctors, and you’re a good presenter. That appendicitis episode helped a friend of mine; he recognised the symptoms and his folks rushed him straight to the nearest hospital. He’s OK now, thanks to you.”      

      “Well, there are three other doctors on the show, so I can’t take all the credit, but thank you, that’s good to hear,” I replied, grinning at his oversized t-shirt graffitied with anti-war puns.

      “Yeah, I’m glad I bumped into you today, it’s been an age.”

      “I’m sorry, have we met before?” I didn’t recognise his face; I’d treated more patients than I could possibly remember, and most of them still stopped me in the street to thank me for the hundredth time.

     “Yes, we have. Sorry, I should have known you wouldn’t recognise this face, ‘cos it’s slimmed down since. I’m Jasper, you helped me when I nearly drowned in the pool at Splish Splash, remember?”

     How could I possibly forget the near-fatal meeting that brought Andrew and I together? “Jasper! Oh my God, look at you now, you’ve lost your puppy fat, you’ve grown! That must have been some pretty good fertiliser we gave you when you paid us a visit.” We both laughed, and I extended my hand.

     “No, I stay out in the sun after consuming yeast, helps me rise like that bread.” He chuckled at his joke, pointing to the slim loaves poking out of the carrier bag in the back seat. “Just wanted to say you were really nice to me when I was admitted. Maybe I’ll become a doctor someday, and maybe you’ll be my university lecturer, ‘cos you’ll be a good teacher.”

     “Wow.” I held back my tears as he expressed his kind words. It was one thing to treat a patient, but inspiring them? “Wow, that’s a nice thing to say, thank you so much. Work hard, and you’ll get there. Hey listen, if you need anything, any advice at all…” I fished a complimentary card out of my handbag which he accepted gratefully. “Give me a call, and I’ll be glad to help.”

     “Wow, thanks a million, Doc. I hope you’ll still be here when that time comes, but I’m glad you’re back home. The UK’s loss is definitely Naija’s gain.”

     “Huh?”

     “You know, your move to London shortly after you saved my life. I really wanted to thank you personally, but my dad kept putting it off, then he said you moved to the UK for further studies.”

     London? News to me—I hadn’t been abroad since the day Mum and Dad returned to their homeland, and Andrew had never invited me to accompany him to the States, not once. There had to be a good reason as to why Jasper’s father would lie about my whereabouts, whoever he was. “Who’s your father, have we met?”

     The young man looked surprised. “Er, yeah. It was my father who drove me to the hospital that day, the man who was with me.”

     Okay, either my ears required thorough irrigation, or I’d actually heard Jasper refer to my reluctant fiancé as his father. His uncle was his father? Exactly how twisted was their family tree? Composing myself, I probed Jasper with the intent of gathering further information without raising suspicion.

     “Sorry, my mistake. Yes, he did say you were his son,” I lied. “He’s in America now, isn’t he?”

     “Yeah, he lives in New York with his wife and other kids, but he travels home to see me. I live with my mother and stepdad, and my father was in Lagos two weeks ago, although he returned to the States last week.”

    Wife? Kids?

    “Really?” Sweat dripped down my brow, and I fought to keep my lunch down. Andrew had a son he passed off as his nephew? He had family in New York? He had a wife?

     “Yes, he’s a businessman, and he’s pretty popular within the Nigerian community there,” Jasper answered. “Andrew Dikeh.”

     Dikeh?

    “Dikeh?” I echoed. Dikeh? “I thought his surname was Amadi?”

    “No, it’s Dikeh, but sometimes he mixes his middle name with his surname. Amadi-Dikeh,” he confirmed. “Doc, it’s been nice seeing you again, but I’ve got to go now because my friend’s mother is waiting in the car over there, I’m spending the holidays with them.” He pointed at a green Toyota, and a bespectacled buxom lady behind the wheel waved, as did her passengers in the back seat. Poor Jasper, would he still look up to me as his inspiration when he heard what I’d been up to with his old man?   

    “Nice seeing you too, Jasper. Take care of yourself, and continue to stick to the shallow end in future, okay?”

    “Sure,” he laughed. “Bye, Doc.”

    The abrupt freeze in my stomach intensified. I sat in my driver’s seat, the baguettes-and-butter I’d been looking forward to all afternoon now forgotten. During a brief visit to my parents’ at their Owerri bungalow, Mum pulled me aside and asked if my fiancé didn’t have anything to hide. I’d laughed ruefully, assuring her he was indeed single. Even Juliet had voiced her own suspicions, and I confirmed he wasn’t a player. I was right—he wasn’t a player, he was a pig. Lying about Jasper to get close to me? How pathetic.    

    Inside my flat, I feverishly flipped opened my newly-purchased laptop, my heart pounding wildly. Dear God, please don’t let it be what I think it is, I prayed. How would I live with myself upon discovering I’d been seeing someone else’s husband? How would I face my folks when the news reached their ears? I tapped at the keys, briefly closing my eyes before forcing myself to gaze at the profile in front of me.

Andrew Dikeh.

Self-Employed (Business). 

Went to Bronx Community College. 

Lives in New York. 

Married

   Jesus Christ have mercy…    

   I’d always detested women who set their sights on unavailable men, but Andrew claimed he lived his life as a bachelor in America, and his friends and family abroad wanted to meet the woman who’d stolen his heart. What a joke—he’d always brushed off my requests to visit him in New York, and now I understood why. I recalled a magazine article I’d read on compulsive bigamists who recruited close friends to pose as relatives during the obligatory family introduction prior to marriage. Was it possible the cousin who unashamedly flirted with me behind his friend’s back at my parents had acted as a decoy? In one Facebook photo my so-called fiancé had his arm wrapped around a Real Housewives of Beverly Hills wannabe’s tiny waist, both of them grinning from ear to ear and flanked by three immaculately-dressed youngsters with curly hair and pale eyes resembling my cousin Anna’s. I scrolled down the page and read the photo captions (“Cruising with the love of my life in NYC…”, “My wife is one of the greatest blessings from God, her love is a gift I’m grateful for every day…”, “Happy anniversary Helena Dikeh, thank you for our beautiful children, I’ll love you forever…). A recent snapshot showed their youngest son blowing out a single candle on his sizeable birthday cake. Andrew had fathered another while engaged to me? 

      I grabbed my mobile, selected Juliet’s name from my contacts, and waited until she picked up.

     “Hey Doris, how are you?”

     “Juliet, you were right, you were absolutely right. He’s a liar, he’s been lying from the very beginning, and if I ever see him anywhere near me again, I’ll commit murder, seriously. He’s had us all fooled, but I’m the bigger fool, the signs were all there but I ignored every single one. How could I have been so stupid, how could I…” 

     “Dee…Dee, slow down.” Juliet tried to pacify me, and I took a deep breath upon realising I’d been shouting like a maniac.

     “Juliet, do you have your laptop there? Because you were right all along—Andrew is married.” Go on, say it. “I told you so…”

      “What!” Juliet sounded as shocked as I felt. “I always guessed, but part of me prayed it was all a lie for your sake. Hey, Fred…” She called for her husband and I heard my brother’s enraged expression in muffled tones before he took over the handset.

      “Oh my God, sis. That bastard had better pray he doesn’t cross paths with me, or there’d be trouble. How did you find out?” I gave him a brief rundown of the chance meeting with my former patient who had unintentionally exposed the scumbag who denied him. Fred interjected with curses, then let out a groan of contempt.

       “The worst thing is Mum told me, Juliet told me, I asked him to tell me the truth, I did my own little research, I checked his records—make that fake records, because he didn’t even attend NYU… The guy is living a life of lies, and I was dragged into that web. How could I have been so stupid?”

      “Dee, don’t be hard on yourself, he fooled all of us, and it happens all the time.” Juliet’s handset was now on speakerphone, and my brother’s monosyllabic concordance trailed behind the much-needed words of comfort I had difficulty absorbing.

      “Are you kidding me? He didn’t fool you, the signs were all there, and I ignored them…”

      “Doris, calm down, you’re not doing yourself any good. At least you found out now, it could have been much worse.”

      “Yeah, he could have married you whilst still legally bound to his American wife, but it didn’t come to that,” Fred added. “He’s gone, it’s over, and… What’s that noise?”

      The offender’s name flashed on my mobile’s screen, and Fred must have heard the engaged tone from his end. “It’s him,” I wailed. “Andrew is calling me right now.”

      “What?” Juliet exclaimed. “Is he mad or just stupid?”

      “Doris, do you want me to come over so I can sort out the bastard?” Fred offered, and I smiled in spite of myself. We may have grown up and left home, but I was always going to be his younger sister.

      “No thanks, Freddie. He’s just calling, it’s not as if he’s paying me a visit, thank God, because if he does, screw the Hippocratic Oath, I’ll commit bloody murder, and we’ll both go to jail.”

      “You shouldn’t talk like that, the scumbag isn’t worth it. Just stay calm and ignore him.”

      “Thanks, Jules, but he’ll only keep calling until I answer. Don’t worry, I’ll deal with him.”

      “I don’t like the sound of that. Are you sure you don’t want me to come, because he sounds like a deranged psycho?”

      Tell me what I don’t know. “No, just leave him to me. Listen…” The tone persisted, and I swallowed hard. “I’ve got to go now, but I’ll tell you how it went. Speak to you later.” I hung up before Juliet and Fred could change my mind I’d already made up, and pressed the ‘answer’ option, gearing up for the confrontation with my deranged psycho.

      “Yes?”

      “What sort of answer is that?” Andrew’s brusque reply was no match for my curt greeting. “I don’t hear from you in nearly a month, and now this?”

      “Yes, this. I thought you said we were over? Fine, we are over. Don’t ever call me again. Go back to New York, and leave me alone.”

     “What has gotten into you? Oh…” His false manic laughter irritated me, and I asked myself how on earth I let this lying bastard into my life. “So you’ve suddenly grown wings now you’re sleeping with that Dr. Chinedu, eh? You whore, you stupid…”

      “Shut up!” It wasn’t the first time someone called me a whore, but if he thought I’d sit back and take his crap this time, he seemed more deranged than Fred had suggested, and I’d put up with Andrew’s drama for too long. “Are you any better than me? You, calling me a whore, Andrew Dikeh?” I seethed, emphasising his actual surname. “That’s why you’re screwing both me and Helena, right?”    

     “Who told you…” His voice trailed off as I ended the call. I sat in my armchair and stared into space. Juliet and Fred were right—I’d dodged a massive bullet. To think I’d invested all my time and affection on a pathological liar… Now I understood why he never wanted to show me off in public, preferring to stay indoors as opposed to having a fun day out at the beach like any normal couple. I hadn’t always succumbed to his pointless demands, but I dreaded the moments he’d made my life miserable when he’d accuse me of not fully committing to our relationship. Like the way he fully committed to those fake boobs he’d married?    

     “Doris…Doris…let me in.” Wow, that was quick. Andrew’s crazed fists pounded at my door, and I panicked. Should I take Fred up on his offer and call for backup? I gave my ex-fiancé enough time to make an exhibition of himself; hopefully the neighbours enjoyed watching the scene. “Doris, open that door.”   

      “No. Leave my property before I set my neighbour’s dogs on you,” I yelled. What dogs?

       “Doris, please. Five minutes is all I ask.”

       “Five minutes, five hours, five years,  it makes no difference, you’re still history.”

       “Doris, stop acting like a child and let me in.”   

       “I’m acting like a child? Your dirty lies don’t exactly spell maturity, do they?” 

       A silence fell between us, and I thought he’d given up and walked away until he pleaded again, this time in a mellow tone. “Come on, five minutes, and you can make up your mind.”

        I turned the key in the lock, and moved to the side, allowing Andrew to burst inside like a mad bull. As expected.

       “Who told you?” he roared. “Have you been spying on me?”

       “Never you mind, it’s true, isn’t it?” I yelled back.

      Andrew paused for a minute before he proceeded with his barrel of lies. “Okay, I admit it, I am married. But I don’t love Helena, don’t let the pictures deceive you. Our marriage has been dead for years…”

      “Please, spare me!” I raised my hand to silence him. “You don’t love your wife, that’s why you declared your undying love for her on Facebook, isn’t it, Andrew Dikeh? That’s why you pick fights with me, because you’re looking for a way to feel less guilty when you eventually dump me and return to your surgically-enhanced wife? 

       “I swear I don’t love her. I just married her for my papers. It’s you I want to marry, and I intend to divorce…”

       “What?” I eyed him with utter disgust. “Do you think I’d ever consider spending the rest of my life with someone who gets hitched to fake boobs for fake reasons?” I tossed my head back and roared with laughter at the sight of the big man reducing himself to a pathetic little loser. “Do you think I’ll ever trust someone who pretends he graduated from NYU?”

      “Okay, I made that up, so what?” He moved closer towards me as a scooted back to avoid physical contact with him. “I’m a businessman, you’ve seen my house, it’s all mine, I worked like hell to build it. Yes, I only attended community college, but at least I graduated.”

      “If attending community college isn’t all that bad, why lie?” I challenged. “What about your kids? You made a baby with your wife while you were still with me, and you deny your other kids, how cruel is that?”   

      “What are you talking about?”

Andrew’s eyes flashed brimstone at this accusation, but the twitch of his lip was a dead giveaway. “I love all three of my kids, each and every one, I’ve never denied…”

      “See? You’re a natural born liar, and you should be ashamed. What about Jasper?” Try talking your way out of that one. No reply. “And why did you tell him I’d left the country for further studies in the UK?” Andrew started to respond with another set of lies/excuses, but I cut him off. “I knew the two of you were related, but you swore to me you were not his father. What sort of man denies his own flesh and blood to ask a woman out?” I walked past, turning my body sideways to squeeze past his large frame, and opened the door. “Get out of my flat, Andrew Dickhead, and go back to your wife. Now.”

       “You think you can walk away just like that?” he goaded with an unrepentant smirk. Unbelievable—despite all the dirt I’d dug up, he still viewed me as his property. “Now you listen to me…”  

       “No, you listen to me, we’re over. Get the hell out of my flat.”

       “No, I’m not going anywhere.”

“I said get out…married man!” I screamed, but Andrew yanked me away from the handle, slammed the door shut and threw me down to the floor. I jumped to my feet threw a side stool in his direction, narrowly missing my target. He tried to grab me again, and I slapped his face hard.

“You want to play rough, eh? You picked the wrong guy to mess with!” Andrew pushed me to the floor again, and stood over me. “Now you listen to me, and listen good, you slut. It’s not over until I say it’s over, do you understand me? So what if I’m already married? It happens, and all I asked for was a little more time, but you’re acting all possessive. Are you any better, using that blasted TV series to screw other men?” He smirked at me as I attempted to shift myself backwards, but he quickly grabbed me by the ankles. “Who do you think you are, talking to me like that? Fine, no more marriage, but I’m not done with you yet. Yes, I don’t love my wife, but you’re nothing but an available fuck-buddy.” I shuddered as he straddled me, unbuckling his belt.

Please God, no…

“You sluts are only good for one thing, and that’s exactly what I’m about to get out of you before I leave this place for good.”

      I struggled with all my might as the man I’d once dreamed of marrying attempted to force himself into me. Second time unlucky? Dear God, please, not again, please…

     “Leave me alone, get off. HELP, SOMEBODY HELP ME!” I yelled at the top of my lungs, struggling to fight off his large body straddling mine. “PLEASE HELP!”

     “No-one is about to help you, bitch,” he mocked, trying to prise my legs open, and I screamed again, but he held his hand over my mouth. “You think anyone gives a shit about you? Get real, you’re a thirty-three year-old hag living alone in this miserable flat, who will marry you? Me, marrying an old cargo like you? Look at her fat thighs,” he sneered callously. “I bet that Dr. Chinedu bastard has to get violently drunk before fucking damaged goods like you in pitch darkness. Stupid ugly slut, I’ll teach you a lesson you’ll…

    Thud!

    Andrew winced in excruciating pain, his large physique collapsing on top of me, and for a minute I thought he’d suffered a heart attack, until I realised exactly who had attacked my assailant.     

     “Don’t you dare call my sister a slut!” Fred grabbed Andrew by the collar, lifting him to his feet and sending him reeling backwards with a mighty punch in a flash. Nice one, bro. “You are the one who deserves to be taught a lesson. An adulterer and a rapist, what sort of psycho are you?”               

     “Freddie?” I pinched myself, wondering if this was really happening. “How did you…”   

     “Your landline was turned off, and you’re weren’t answering your mobile. I know you said I shouldn’t have bothered, but Juliet was worried about you, so she sent me over.” He turned to Andrew who struggled to breathe. “I always knew there was something off about you, and now I know…”

     “It’s not my fault your supposedly learned sister is so stupidly naïve…” Andrew retorted, wiping blood off the back of his head. He’d lied, nearly raped me, and considered everything a joke? Not that he laughed for long. Fred dealt him another blow, this time straight in the face, and Andrew yelped in agony without attempting to fight back; all mouth and no brawn underneath that wobbly flab. And he had the nerve to call me fat?

     “Out, and if I ever see you anywhere near me again, you’ll have me to deal with,” I cautioned Andrew from my position on the floor. “I’ll tell your wife what you get up to in Lagos, and…”

     “Can you prove it?” he muttered, wiping more blood from his nose.    

     “You heard her, out, NOW!” Fred opened the door and pushed Andrew out. “Catch the next flight to New York and return to your family. Come near us again, and I’ll personally cut off your adulterous dick and DHL it to Miss Plastic Fantastic 2011. Are we clear?” He closed the door, locking it behind him, and helped me to my feet. “Doris, are you okay?” he asked, enveloping me in a brotherly hug.     

     “I’m fine, just fine…”     

     “Just fine? The man was about to rape you, for goodness’ sake…”     

     “Okay, you were right, I should have listened to you when you offered to come over. Thank you for being there, as always.” I giggled with a cheeky glint in my eye.      

     “Doris, what are you up to?”      

     “Just a minute.”

     I reached the chest of drawers near the dining table where I produced my mobile. “See this?” I waved the gadget in the air. “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera, only you’re not the star! I had a feeling he’d bring up his wife when he tried to defend himself, and I was right. Unbelievable, but at least we can prove it.”

      I handed the device to Fred who watched the events of the evening play out in front of him, his eyes as wide as saucers. “Okay, I underestimated your quick thinking. I must say, though, this is rather impressive, but what if I hadn’t come? I did ask you, but you said you’ll be okay…”

      “Okay…okay, I get it, always listen to your big brother. Thanks, Freddie Teddy.”

      “Anytime, sis. That’s why I’m here.”

      How had I nearly found myself in the same situation twice? And how had I wasted five years on a adulterer who saw me as nothing? That’s what he really thought of me? Sure, in the five years we’d stayed together I’d transformed into a chubby singleton, but at least my big brother would always have my back. My fate could have ended differently if Fred hadn’t arrived to save me. Very differently.

      Adios, Mr. Grumpy. Unlike last time, I meant every word.

© 2019 Okoro Dedeh, Tami. All rights reserved

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

 

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