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I turned off the engine as I pulled up under a big tree. I took a deep breath and stepped out of the car to take a walk. The vacation had turned out to be longer than forever. We had lived more than a week. I know I am supposed to be excited about Toni seeing a month since the proposed one week, and I am, but I am also worried. I don’t know if getting my hopes up would be appropriate. I have spent the last one month watching Toni sleep and wake up. I have also spent it on my knees praying that she should see the next day and not just leave me. We have all kept vigils around her bed hoping that she didn’t give up anytime soon, and she really is giving it a fight. It looks like she’ll be staying. I can’t help but smile at the thought that she might actually be here with me.
It took a tap from Emeka to bring me back to reality. I turned at him with a frown from the effect of the tap. “What is it?” I asked.
“I saw you pull up and I decided to join you, and now I find you smiling to yourself. Is everything okay?” he asked.
I nodded. “It couldn’t be any better.”
“Great.” He replied and walked by my side.
I stared at him. “Emeka, it’s a month today. Toni is still alive.”
Emeka smiled. “Man, I understand your joy.”
“I don’t think you do, this is beyond joy. This is like a miracle.” I said. “One month and counting. She is still here.”
He nodded as he stared at me. “I know.”
Emeka was silent. I sighed as I stared at him. “Am I wrong to get my hopes up?”
“No, I think it is fine. I think we are right to stay optimistic.” Emeka replied.
I smiled. “I am going to ask her to marry me.”
I nodded. “I think it’s the right thing to do. When two people love each other, they should be together.”
Emeka took a deep breath. “Jerry, I don’t think you do this right now. Do you have an idea what the proposal might do?”
“She would accept it. I know.” I replied.
Emeka took a deep breath. “Toni won’t want to marry you.”
“Why are you so sure?” I asked.
He shrugged. “I am not sure. But, I just know she won’t want to do that to you.”
“What are you trying to say?” I asked.
Emeka stared at him. “Jerry, you know better. Don’t do this to you…and to her.”
“Do what?!” I shouted.
“What hopes are you trying to give her? Toni is living every day so positively that we can’t see the traces, but they are there. Don’t weigh her down by presenting a ring now. She doesn’t need it.” He replied.
I swallowed painfully.
“I am sorry if I came off harsh.” He said. “You don’t need this now, enjoy the days.” He added.
“Well, you just ruined my day.” I replied and walked away.
I don’t know what I am doing in a very unfamiliar environment. I am at the back pew in a church and staring at the altar. Toni thinks I should talk to God and she wants me to do it for me. I don’t even know where to start or what to say to Him. All I know is I am really thankful for this last one month. I just thought I had a week more to spend with my sister, but I have enjoyed a lengthier period and I am thankful to God for it. Toni might not know this, but I am glad God has given her more to write about in her book.
I took a deep breath and approached the altar. I have nothing else to do than to give thanks to God for what I had, what I have and what I hope to still have. Toni has been more than a sister to me, she has been a gift. One I’d forever be thankful to have had.
“We have to go.” James called from the back.
I turned and stared at him. “Why?”
“Toni is alone.” He replied. “She shouldn’t be left alone for a minute.”
I nodded. “Give me one minute.” I replied.
James walked out.
“Thank you, Lord, for sending James my way.” I said.
What would I love to do before I die? I guess I have done a lot of that already. Most of all, I have only cared about one thing after my purpose on earth is fulfilled, and that is, making Heaven. What would life be if I didn’t get to meet God after all? Meeting God would be amazing, I would like to ask him what I am still doing in Obudu three weeks after the Doctors say I would be gone? Isn’t it just amazing? One week was the set time and I am still here. It is true that God is not a respecter of any man.
I loved being here. It was fun while it lasted.
Till we meet again,
With that, I slipped into the bed and drew the blanket over me. A lot seemed to have changed in the last one month. I felt the necessary strength and courage to go through each day.
‘They say you know when your day comes’ I don’t know why, but every passing day in the last one month seemed like a date with Heaven, but yet, it didn’t come. Maybe today seemed more like the day.
I took a deep breath and rolled over to my right. I stared into my mirror. Surely, I have seen a lovelier Toni than who I see now, but then, I have never seen a more ready Toni than the one I see today. It has to be today.
The door opened and Nora walked in. “Hey.”
“Hi.” She replied and joined me on the bed. “How are you feeling?”
I took a deep breath. “I don’t feel at home anymore.”
Nora nodded. “I understand.” She said. “I went to Church today.” She added.
I smiled. “Thank God.”
“Toni, I love you so much and there is nothing that could ever change that.” She said.
I chuckled. “Of course, it’s not like you have a choice.”
Nora blinked. “Toni, when you see Jesus, tell Him I am grateful.”
“Of course.” I replied and pulled her close for a hug. “I’ll tell him just that.”
Nora smiled. “What about Jerry?”
“You’ll take care of him for me.” I replied. “I am sure he would find someone beautiful too.”
Nora broke down in tears. “Toni.” She muffled amidst tears. “Toni.”
The door opened and Jerry stood by the door.
She nodded as she pulled away. “I love you.” She said and kissed my forehead. She turned in Jerry’s direction. “Hello.”
“Hey.” Jerry replied with a faint smile.
Nora hugged Jerry and shut the door after him.
Jerry took a deep breath as he walked over to me. “Hey, Stranger.”
“Hello.” I replied with a faint smile.
He took his seat beside me. “How did it go?”
“I am done.”
He took a deep breath. “So, what’s next?”
“I have sent it to the editor and from there, they’ll take care of the rest.” I replied.
He drew me close and hugged me. “How are you?” Jerry asked.
I stared at him. “Ready.”
“Are…Are you saying-”
I shrugged. “Maybe.”
Jerry blinked as a tear drop rolled down his eye. “Don’t do this.”
I raised a finger and wiped the tear from his eye. “I love you, Jerry.”
“And I love you, Toni.” He replied and hugged me tight…till I knew I was truly done.
***6 MONTHS LATER***
“Toni was a really special woman and we are here to celebrate her. Her lovely and only Novel titled “I WAS HERE” is officially launched today.” Nora announced over the microphone. “As earlier announced, Doctor Jerry and I would be signing the autographs on behalf of the Late Toni in the next forty-five minutes down the hall. Thank you all for coming.” Nora said and descended the podium.
The hall roared with applause.
I smiled from a corner of the room as I watched Nora leave the podium.
James joined me from the right with a drink. “Isn’t she lovely?” he asked.
“She is. Nora is my sister, you can’t mess with her.” I replied.
Emeka joined us. “Are you set for the interview? The press is here.”
“Almost ready.” I said
He nodded and hurried back to meet the press. James tapped me. “I’ll go and help him out. Later, man.”
Yes, I assumed the role of being Nora’s brother and friend, just as Toni wanted it. James was really going to make her happy and I knew it. They were in love.
Toni was everything for me and the last six months have been painful for me. It’s as though I have had a portion of my life taken from me, but every little moment we had together was enough for me to hang on to. The last months have all been about thinking, shedding a tear for the pain but I hang on to the hope that someday I’ll wake up and it won’t have to hurt so much. That, I know.
Toni came into my life and gave meaning to everything that had no meaning. It was all in the little things she did. My gift from God was Toni and I could not question that.
I know I’d find love in another woman someday, Maybe not today or tomorrow or the next, but I know I will.
I turned to the wall and stared at the giant portrait of Toni that stood there and smiled.
I love her.
“To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die” – Thomas Campbell
Beautiful Stranger is written by @tomi_adesina; Author of Dear Future Husband available for Free on African Stories. Follow @tomi_adesina on twitter for more thrilling stories. Her new book “All Fun and Games” also available for FREE on African Stories