It was valentine day and Kent had big plans. He’d traveled down from school the day before and was really looking forward to hatching his plans today.
Kent was 27-years-old, a final year medical student of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, which was located in the eastern part of the county, and he had traveled 6oo kilometers back to Lagos where his family lived.
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His entire family, father, mother and four younger sisters, all shared a single room in a dirty old compound in the slums of Ajegunle, an overpopulated suburb of Lagos state. The house was a twelve-rooms bungalow with old zinc roofing that leaked both rain and sunlight. A narrow passageway running through the middle of the house split the rooms in two, six rooms were to one side, six to the other. Each of the other rooms were occupied by very poor families like Kent’s and they all had to share one kitchen, one toilet, and one bathroom.
Kent knew the drill of toilet and bathroom sharing well enough as he had lived in the house all his life. He was up and doing by five o’clock. Armed with a bucket of cold water from the well, a towel, and soap dish, he hurried for the bathroom but found five other tenants ahead of him in the line there and so had to wait patiently his turn. There were just three people standing in line in front of the toilet door.
The person, whoever it was, currently bathing in the bathroom was taking too long and the others in the line soon began to grumble.
“Bayo, I beg you in the name of whatever you worship, please come out from that bathroom so I can take my bath and go to work,” pleaded a frustrated tenant on the line with a loud voice. “I cannot afford to be late today,”
Kent saw that the person talking was well-respected old man Oliver who worked as a security guard at a company in Apapa.
“Him papa build house for am inside there,” grumbled another.
“Na your papa build house for inside here!” shouted Bayo angrily from behind the closed door of the bathroom.
“COME OUTTTT!!!” screamed everyone in unison. Someone stepped up and started knocking aggressively on the bathroom door until the young man came out.
The tenants cursed and screamed at each other to get their turns at the bathroom and before too long it was eventually Kent’s turn. He was done in fifteen minutes sharp and once out of the bathroom, he headed for his family’s room.
His father and mother, both traders, were still asleep in their curtained off four-poster bed while his sibling lay packed up together on the bare floor of the small room. Kent stepped over two of his sisters to get at his bags. He dressed quickly, new jeans, T-shirt and sneakers, fake gold wristwatch and perfume, all purchased for the occasion.
As he carefully stepped over his sleeping sisters again on his way to the door, he heard his father’s voice.
“Where are you going to?” asked his father, looking out through the parted curtains of the four-poster bed.
“Its Valentine day, where do you think he’s going to?” came his mother’s voice in his defense form the depths of the bed.
“My only son is going to make arrangements for his future wife and my grandchildren, leave him alone. He will soon be a working man in one year and then I want him to marry at once,” said his mother firmly. “Be on your way, my son.”
“Thank you, mama, love you,” said Kent and was out the door fast before his father could say another word.
It was daylight now and Kent took a bus out of the slums of Ajegunle to Apapa then boarded a motorcycle to a bank where he withdrew all his saving over the last three months of doing odd jobs at school. Next, he caught a bus and headed for Victoria Island.
He was going to see Carol, his sweetheart for three years now. They had been a thing in school until she finished her four-year Economics course and left to work in Lagos while Kent continued on with his seven-year medical course.
About two months ago, Carol had gotten a good job that came with a car and a house in Victoria Island, it was a joyous development they had shared together on phone, but now he had come to Lagos to see for himself, to see his girl.
Kent made a stop at a florist and got the best bunch of red roses he could find, which knocked him back a good amount of cash, anything for his girl. He then took a motorcycle into Victoria Island so finding the address of the house would be easier.
It took a while but he found the house alright. It was a neat private bungalow, fenced off from the quiet street. Kent paid off the motorcyclist and went in through the big black gates of the house. The compound was empty with Carol’s new Toyota Camry car parked there, he recognized the car easily from the pictures she had been sending him. Nest to the Toyota was parked a big black Mercedes jeep, clearly a man’s car.
Confused now, Kent walked across the compound, up to the front door of the house and tried the handle but it was locked. He knocked and waited.
“What are you doing?” gasped Carol in a small voice.
“It’s a delivery man,” called Carol over her shoulder. “I’ll be right with you,” she stepped out of the room and closed the door firmly behind her then turned angrily to Kent. “You should have told me you were coming,”
Carol was without remorse. “He’s my boss if you must know, you didn’t think I got a good job, a car and a house for free, did you,”
“You mean you slept with someone else to get a job and you’re still sleeping with him to keep it?” asked Kent, shocked.
Carol suddenly looked angry. “Look, the economy is very hard, okay? I had to do what I had to do to make it and I made it. You don’t own me and you don’t take care of me in any way, so you have no hold over me or what I do.”
“Have gone mad or what?” said Kent, scarcely able to believe his ears.
Carol seemed to get angrier and pointed him at the gates. “You need to leave right– “
She stopped as the front door suddenly opened and the man stood there. He was a well-built man in his thirties, light-skinned and handsome with curly black hair, and tattooed left arm.
“Is there a problem.” He asked looking at Carol and then at Kent.
Kent glanced at Carol as if to make sure it was the same woman he had known for three years then he looked back at the man. Kent stared hard at the man, held his eyes.
Kent began to back away.
“Yeah, I was just leaving. I only dropped by to give my fiance here some flowers for Valentine but that won’t be necessary anymore. She’s all yours now.” Kent looked at Carol. “When you are done with him you may want to go have an HIV test.”
Kent turned on his heels, walked away, across the compound and out the gates. He dumped the expensive bunch of roses in a trash can as he walked down the quiet street.
Feeling sorry for himself, Kent went off to a pub in Apapa where he had a snack and a few drinks then thought long and hard about his life. Soon a strange idea occurred to him and he glanced at his watch, twenty minutes past four. He paid his bills and left the pub at once, heading to another part of Apapa. Soon he stood across the road from a two-story office building on a street in Apapa. The offices looked like they were soon going to close for the day so he waited where he was.
Kent had known Stella all his life as they had grown up on the same street then dated as youths. He’s broken things off with her soon as he went to university and started mixing with sophisticated girls. Stella was only educated to secondary school level at the time and so did not fit his ideas anymore. She had been deeply hurt when he had broken up with her but he hadn’t cared then.
As the years passed, Kent had watch from afar with silent admiration as Stella developed into a ravishing beauty. She had even gone to business school and became a secretary. Despite having sophisticated Carol in his life, Kent had found himself sometimes hungering for Stella. That hunger was there now, it was what brought him here like it had done a few times in last year.
The two girls soon split up and Stella headed for home. It was a thirty-minute walk to Ajegunle were they lived on the same street and the way went through the canal road. It was either the long walk or a battle to get two different buses in the rush hour traffic.
Kent followed Stella, watching her. The dress she wore clung to her curvy body beautifully, stopping above the knees to reveal straight long legs, well balanced on red high heel slippers. A red handbag dangled from the crook of one arm. She was so graceful and simply lovely.
This was a fully matured Stella, changed by exposure and education. She was about twenty-four now. and Kent knew for sure that she was single. The guys at home had told him that she refused to date anyone, never brought any guy home and was serious with her work.
As Stella made the turn off the street and headed into the bushy canal area where there were few people, she glanced back and saw him. Her pace slowed considerably to a leisure walk and Kent closed the gap on her.swiftly
“Hello, Stella,” he said as he came up.
She glanced around but made no reply.
“Oh, why should I be?” she looked surprised.
She had changed completely, thought Kent. Her voice was different, her English had improved greatly and the new confidence. She was even more lovely close up.
“Today is valentine’s day, don’t you have a boyfriend to spend it with?” asked Kent tactically.
“No, I’m too busy for that,” she said easily.
“Well, how would you like me to take you out right now?”
Stella stopped and turned to face him. Her lovely eyes bored into his, head slightly inclined to one side.
“What are you playing at, Kent? She asked softly. “You want to be a doctor and doctors need well-educated women around them, isn’t that why you broke up with me all these years ago?”
Stella smiled mirthlessly. “Alright, the joke is over,”
She started to turn away but Kent caught her arm and she turned back to him again. Their eyes met and locked,
“It’s no joke, babe,” he said clutching her hand in both of his. “Look, I know I’ve offended you greatly, but do please give me another chance”
Stella looked reluctant. “Kent, I can’t – “
“Please, baby.” desperate now, Kent’s eyes suddenly fell on a tall plant by the bushy path with some tiny wildflowers on it. He went for it at once. He uprooted the whole plant, shook off the dirt and turned with it. He went down on his knees right there on the road before Stella and held up the whole plant to her with an infinite plea in his eyes.
“Please, babe, I need you back with all my heart. I have a bush in my hands and not flowers. I have empty pockets now and not money, but I promise, I will fix everything and I will fix it soon. Please, be my valentine today, be my girl again tomorrow, but what I really want is for you agree to marry me soon,”
Stella’s face was so soft and tears sprang to her eyes as she stared down at the love of her life, the only man she had ever loved, the one she had been waiting seven years for. She accepted the busy plant form him.
“I accept completely but you don’t need a bush, flowers or money to win my heart. It was always there for you” she threw the plant away.
Kent got to his feet at once and took her in his arms. He hugged her tightly against his body as the tension oozed out of him.
Kent released her and looked around. Two passersby were watching them. He put his arm possessively around her and started to led her back towards the street they had come from.
She followed him without question.
Just as they reached the street, Kent’s phone rang in his trouser pocket and he answered it mindedly. In his happiness, he didn’t check caller ID.
“Hello,” he said, putting his phone to his ear.
“How did you know?” came a shaky female voice, very familiar.
Kent stopped in his tracks and Stella did too, watching him.
“Know what?” he said into the phone.
“That he was HIV positive?” came the voice.
“I didn’t. I just guessed given the funny look in his eyes which I’ve seen before with an HIV positive patient.”
The sound of crying filled Kent’s ear.
“Did he tell you he was positive?” asked Kent.
“He changed right after you left, and then the truth came out. He’s been HIV positive for two years and still had unprotected sex with me,” she cried.
“Well, you can sue him for aggravated assault with intent and get more money off him but being your delivery man as you called me, I will not give you any medical advice. Bye Carol.”
Kent cut the line and put the phone back in his pocket.
“Who was that?” asked Stella.