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Nora shut the door after the lawyer and turned in Toni’s direction. Toni smiled faintly at her and slipped into the bed.
“How do you feel?” Nora asked as she took her seat beside her sister.
Toni sighed. “Tired, but I am optimistic. What about you?”
“I am okay. I just think that calling the lawyer today speaks a lot about your optimism, Toni. How optimistic is drawing up a will?” Nora asked, feeling sad.
Toni shrugged. “I am being realistic here, Nora. We have gone over this before…I don’t think we need to do it again.”
Nora nodded. “Sure.”
“I haven’t seen Emeka or Jerry around here today. Have you?” Toni asked.
Nora shook her head. “Neither have I.”
“That’s strange.” Toni said. “Anyway, let’s talk about my book and the big plans I have for it.” She said.
Nora stared at her. “Can we go on holidays first? We would discuss the massive book launch during the holiday.” She replied.
“You are still offended because of the will, right?”
Nora shrugged. “Why would I be offended?”
“Why won’t you be offended? You think I am throwing everything away by drafting that will, right? You think I don’t have the zeal to live and all I want to do is disappoint everyone?” Toni asked.
Nora sighed. “I don’t think you aren’t fighting hard enough.”
“What do you see when you look at me, Nora?” Toni asked.
Nora took a deep breath. “Don’t start asking questions like this, Toni. I love you and that’s all that counts.”
“Nora, what do you see when you look at me?” Toni asked as she swallowed.
Nora stared at her. “A beautiful, strong woman.”
“Then give me some credit. I am making efforts to live, and I am fighting with everything in me to make sure that you don’t come in here and realise that I am gone. I am afraid to die, I am not feeling better, but yet, I want to be here for you…and I will keep fighting. So, Nora, don’t you dare give up on me…because, I am not giving up on myself.” Toni blurted and then wiped her eyes.
Nora took a deep breath. “I am sorry.”
“You don’t have to be.” Toni replied.
Nora exhaled. “It’s been tense for me. You…you don’t understand how it feels to be in my shoes.”
Toni chuckled. “Trust me, Nora. It feels better to be you.”
Nora smiled faintly. Her sister had made a joke out of it and it made her feel better.
“Life is precious, Nora. You have to enjoy it while you have it. There are a lot of people who would rather have these days, don’t waste it.” Toni said.
Nora blinked as she took Toni’s hand. “Save the pep talk for later.” She said with a smile.
Toni laughed. “You have a crooked sense of humour, you have got to work on it.”
“Was I trying to be funny?” Nora asked.
Toni nodded with a grin. “And you suck at it.”
Nora exhaled with a smile. “Stay with me, Toni.”
“Have you booked our flight tickets? I’ll soon be out of here, you know? That vacation has to rock.” Toni replied as she smiled.
Nora nodded. “It’s going to be a perfect holiday.”
“Yeah…I know it will be.” Toni replied. “Now, where is Jerry?”
Nora smiled. “You are missing him already, aren’t you?”
Toni nodded. “I don’t know, it’s unlike him or Emeka not to have at least dropped in by now. That has me worried.”
“I suggest you get your mind off it. I will go and ask the Nurses if they have seen any of them this morning.” Nora replied.
Toni shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. Maybe, they are busy with surgery or something. I don’t want you bothering yourself about it. I am just paranoid.”
“Paranoid? You miss the guy you love and you call it being paranoid? That’s not paranoid, lady. I will go out and find anything I can regarding his whereabouts.” Nora replied.
Toni smiled. “Thank you.”
Emeka and Mrs Aiyenugba rose to receive Jerry as he walked out of the Police station.
“Thank you.” Jerry said to Mrs Aiyenugba.
She smiled. “It’s okay, dear. I am sorry for everything I put you through. I didn’t know Shola would do this.”
“It’s okay. It’s nothing serious.”
Emeka grinned. “How was it?”
“Did I go there to eat food?” Jerry replied harshly.
Mrs Aiyenugba smiled. “It’s okay, boys. I have to go now, my son is waiting.” She said staring in the direction of her son.
Jerry nodded and walked over to meet Mrs Aiyenugba’s son. “Hey!”
“You do know who you are talking to, right?” Mr Aiyenugba replied.
Jerry nodded. “A stupid and ungrateful man.”
Mr Aiyenugba stared at him. “Are you sane?” he asked.
“Yes. But to me, you are quite insane.” Jerry replied.
Emeka and Mrs Aiyenugba rushed over to them. “Jerry, stop this.” Emeka said.
“No.” Jerry replied. “Let me teach this man how to respect his mother.”
Mrs Aiyenugba took Jerry’s hand. “It’s okay. You don’t have to tell him anything.”
“Kini gbogbo radarada yi? (What is all these rubbish?)” Mr Aiyenugba voiced in Yoruba (A Nigerian Local dialect.)
“You have suddenly lost your ability to speak English?” Jerry asked. “You don’t care enough about your own mother and when another man cares about her, you want to punish me for it?” Jerry asked angrily as he drew closer to him.
Emeka pulled his friend back to avoid another detention. “Dude! Think about Toni. Do you want them to lock you up again?”
“On what grounds?! Have I even assaulted him yet?” Jerry shouted.
“You won’t dare to touch me.” Shola retorted. “I will have them lock you and your family up for good.”
“Shut up!” Mrs Aiyenugba yelled at her son. “Who are you? What power do you have to lock up anyone and his family? I am under the impression that you have completely lost it.”
Mr Aiyenugba took a deep breath and stared at his Mother. “Mum, let’s go.”
“I am not going with you, Shola…at least, not yet. If I am going to be put away in that facility permanently, I want to make a quick stop at the Hospital to see someone.” She replied.
Mr Aiyenugba nodded. “Fine, I’ll drive you down there.”
“I heard what happened to you.” The Director said as Jerry walked into his office. “I told you to give up that woman, but you wouldn’t.”
Jerry sighed. “It was worth it.”
The Director nodded. “Toni had her session an hour ago. She is resting at the moment.”
“I know. I saw her sister outside.” He replied as he took a seat.
“We would have to stop the treatment.” The Director said.
Jerry stared at him. “Why? What is going on?”
“I have been consulting with the specialist here all day and he thinks she has to go home now.”
“What do you mean?” Jerry said as he jumped at the Director.
The Director sighed. “The cancer is competing with her brain mass.”
“Let me cut it!” Jerry shouted.
“This is not about cutting anymore, you can’t even get in if you tried to cut, but, we can only hope that the effect of the radiation melts it away. If we put her under more radiation, you know the adverse of that.” The Director replied as he placed his hand on Jerry’s shoulder. “Son, I am sorry, but this time, you have done so much.”
“I have not done anything and I am going to come back with something on this case. I am not pulling away.” Jerry replied.
“Listen to me, Jerry. I know how you feel-”
“-You don’t! You don’t know what it is like to love someone and not be able to help her. I won’t let her down, I swear I won’t.”
The Director sighed. “Jerry, you might need some time off from here to go and take care of her, she has medications which she needs to take every time. These drugs will be very useful to her and from time to time, she has to come here for other treatments.”
Jerry buried his head in his hands. “This can’t be happening to me.”
“Listen to me, Jerry. There is a slight chance.”
Jerry stared at him. “I understand. I…this, this is just not right.”
“All that is left for us is to pray. We would discharge her tomorrow.” The Director said and returned to his seat. “You should go and be with her.”
Jerry nodded. “Does she know about this?”
“Not yet, we would talk to her in the evening.”
Jerry exhaled. “Let me do it.”
“Jerry? Are you sure about this?” The Director asked.
Jerry nodded. “I am, Sir. I can handle this one.” He replied.
“But you do know that you can’t lie to the patient, Jerry? You have to tell her everything, we have reached the stage where we prepare her mind.” He said.
Jerry nodded. “I’ll do just that.” He replied and approached the door.
“And about the leave…take two weeks off from here, please.” The Director said. “I need you in good condition.”
Jerry sighed and walked out.
“What’s up, man?” Emeka asked as Jerry walked into the office.
Jerry stared at him. “It’s time to prepare Toni.”
“I am sorry. I also spoke to the Oncologist and he didn’t sound too positive about her chances.” Emeka replied.
Jerry took a seat. “How do I start? Where do I go from here? This is too much for me, Emeka.”
“Jerry, I know this is hard for you and I wish I could say something or do something to make it all go away-”
Jerry stared at him. “-but you can’t. There is nothing you can do or say to me right now, it’s just sour.”
“Do you want me to be there when you break the news to her?” Emeka asked.
Jerry shrugged. “I don’t know. I think I want to do this alone.”
“I don’t think you should let Nora know about it yet. Toni seems more prepared than she is.” Emeka replied. “Maybe Nora can learn about this later, after she is discharged? Just not to bring it to her as it is, this would hurt her more.” Emeka said.
Jerry nodded. “You have a point, but we can’t exactly keep it away from her. Maybe, she should know about it first, before we talk to Toni. We owe it to her as Toni’s relation.” Jerry replied.
“True. Nora was talking to me about taking Toni on a vacation, you think I can come with you guys?”
Jerry stared at him. “You want to come?”
Emeka nodded. “I have grown attached to her in these last days and I think you are going to need me there.”
Jerry sighed. “Thanks a lot for the help, man.”
“It’s nothing, bro.” Emeka replied as they hugged. Jerry’s grip was firm and his chest pounded hard. Emeka knew he was scared. “It’ll be fine, Jerry. God’s got this.”
Jerry stared at him. “I am losing her.”
“Trust me, man. You’ll be fine, pull it together.” Emeka said. “You want something to eat?”
Jerry shook his head sadly. “I can’t eat anything, man. I don’t know what to do without her. I just need to breathe right now. ”
“Take it easy, okay? Please, man.” Emeka said.
Jerry nodded. “I would do everything I can. Anyway, where’s Mrs Aiyenugba? I haven’t checked on her since she came down here with us. Has her son taken her away?”
“No. She is waiting to see Toni, but since Toni is asleep, she is somewhere at the reception.” Emeka replied.
Jerry nodded. “I’ll go and see her now. If the Director asks for me, just page me, okay?”
“Okay.” Emeka replied and watched his friend leave the room a downcast man. He swallowed painfully as he took a seat. He had not known Toni for a very long time, but he couldn’t imagine losing her.
“How are you, Jerry?” Mrs Aiyenugba asked as he approached her.
“I am not doing fine.” He confessed. “It’s time to prepare Toni.”
Mrs Aiyenugba swallowed as she held her chest. “Oh God.”
“I don’t know why this has to happen to her. If I could at least find some answers… why would I have her for such a short time and it seems like I have known her all my life? She came and made everything that didn’t make sense to me, make sense. How can I come to terms with losing such a woman? I can’t.”
She nodded. “Jerry, in this life, we are always going to meet people like that. Maybe for a short moment, or maybe for a lifetime, but the truth is, we have to learn to cherish every moment we have with them, don’t ever forget to tell them that you love them and in the end, you won’t have to regret anything.” She said.
Jerry sighed. “She’ll be glad to meet you too.”
Mrs Aiyenugba nodded. “Of course.” She replied. “Jerry, make every moment count.”
“I will.” He replied.
“Have you called your mother? Else, you would have been throwing the wrong stones at Shola.”
Jerry sighed and pulled out his phone. “I am calling her now.”
“Good boy. Love your parents now that you can.” She replied.
Jerry dialled. “Hello, Mom…”
James handed Nora a paper. “Receipts from the bookings. Flight leaves tomorrow evening.”
Nora nodded as she stared at it. “I hope Toni enjoys this vacation.”
“I bet she will. We all will make it the best for her.” He replied and took Nora’s hand. “How are you doing?”
“I am not fine, but I guess I have to look the part of the sister that is doing fine.” Nora replied. “The Doctor says they are discharging her tomorrow morning.”
James nodded. “That’s a good thing, right?”
“Seems more like a bad thing to me. Toni doesn’t look like she is doing better, yet, they want to discharge her. It can only mean one thing.”
James waved it off. “No, babe, don’t see it that way. It could also be a better avenue for her to go home and complete the recovery. You know, sometimes, the doctors think it is better to have the patient go home for a better atmosphere.”
Nora chuckled. “Do I look like I am five? Even five-year-olds don’t believe that crap.”
James sighed. “I don’t know what else to say to you.”
“Say nothing, James. Let’s just sit and watch it all pass by.” She replied.
He nodded. “Fine. I can do that with you.” He replied as he sipped his drink. “Is Toni awake?”
“Yes. She has a guest. Jerry’s friend is with her.” She replied.
James smiled. “She can make do with all the family necessary right now.”
“I know…she needs us now more than ever…and, I need her too.” Nora said as tears rolled down her eyes.
James went over to her and hugged her.
“You are as amazing as Jerry says you are.” Mrs Aiyenugba said as she laughed.
Toni smiled. “I think I can be a little more amazing than I am right now.” She replied.
“Yes, I think you are.” Mrs Aiyenugba said with a smile. “I hear you are going home tomorrow.”
Toni nodded. “I am happy about it. I get to finally finish my book and go on a vacation. I am quite excited.”
Mrs Aiyenugba smiled. “You should be. You need to have fun.”
“I always do have fun…in on own little way. Jerry told me about Victoria’s Home, are you ready for it?” Toni asked.
Mrs Aiyenugba rose on her feet. “I am not ready for it. But, I don’t have any choice, besides, I don’t think it would be so bad in there. Who knows, I might pick up a new profession from there?”
“New profession?” Toni asked with a smile.
Mrs Aiyenugba nodded with a smile. “I bet there would be lots of bitter women there, I could get close to them.”
“Oh! And touch their lives? That’s noble.” Toni said with a smile.
Mrs Aiyenugba scoffed. “Not that. I would find out who they are and who their children are and why they were put in there, then, I would pass scoops to journalists and help get mud on those that have important children.”
Toni gaped as she laughed. “Seriously?”
Mrs Aiyenugba nodded. “Why not? It would act as a stress reliever for me and also earn me a few bucks.”
Toni smiled. “This is interesting…and good too.”
“See…good thing you understand.” Mrs Aiyenugba replied as she returned to her seat. “Are you planning towards a book launch?”
“I will ask Nora to help me with it.” She replied as she relaxed in her bed. “I am glad I met you.”
Mrs Aiyenugba took her hand. “Same here. I have to go now, my son is waiting to take me to the facility.”
Toni nodded as she hugged Mrs Aiyenugba. “Do take care.”
“Be strong, Toni.” She replied and walked out.
Jerry walked in almost immediately. “Hey there.” He said as he pecked her forehead. “How are you?”
Toni stared at him. “Prepared.”
“Prepared?” he asked.
She nodded. “I am getting discharged tomorrow and I still feel like this, don’t I know what it means?” she asked.
Jerry swallowed. “Toni, I…I want you to know that I am doing everything I can to-”
Toni sighed. “-Babe, let it be already. What did the Doctor say?”
He blinked. “You want me to tell you?”
She nodded. “Why not? I would like to know.”
“You have to tell me the truth, you know?” she said.
He nodded. “Toni, this is hard for me, but, I won’t want anyone else to let you know this, we have tried so hard and I swear I want to try harder, I am going to do everything I can and I promise you, I am not giving up on you yet, I-”
“-Stop it. Just talk.”
He blinked as he took her hand. “They have to stop the radiotherapy because the cancer is well spread into the brain and now, we actually can’t cut it, also, further therapy is quite dangerous as we have implemented the regular dose required for this treatment and we can’t go overboard with it.” He said as he squeezed her hands. “Toni, I want you to know that there is a slight chance that the medications that you are going to be placed on from tomorrow are going to help melt the tumours and you can survive.”
She nodded. “Okay, how long do I have? Medically?”
Jerry swallowed and closed his eyes. “One week.”
“Wow!” Toni said. “Wow! Wow!” she reiterated as her eyes were wet. “One week, Jerry. Man, this is so fast.” Toni said as she looked away. Her heart raced fast. It was like a ticking bomb was tied around her waist. “Oh my God.”
Jerry took her hand. “Look at me, babe. Don’t care about what they say, okay? Babe, look here.”
Toni swallowed and stared at him. “I thought I’d have more time. I thought we’d be able to have a nice vacation and stuff, I really thought we’d enjoy the holidays.”
“Toni, it is okay to be vulnerable. Don’t hold it all in, just let it go.” Jerry said as he lifted her face to his. “You have held it in for me, for Nora, for your foundation, for everyone. Just let it go now.” He said.
Toni couldn’t hold back her tears. “I don’t want to die, Jerry. Please.” She said as she cried and wrapped her hands around him. “I am so scared, I don’t want to go.”
Jerry closed his eyes tight. This couldn’t be happening to him. He had asked Toni to let it all out and her tears frightened him. He was scared as it loomed that he was going to let her down. “I am sorry.” He said.
“Jerry, please.” She cried.
He stroked her hair. “It’s okay, Toni. It’s going to be alright. Don’t do this, please.”
She stared at him with tears. “This will pass, right?”
He nodded. “Yes, it will. It is just a phase, everything will pass.” He replied as he wiped her tears. “Don’t cry anymore, please.”
“Jerry…” she called.
“Yeah?!” he asked.
She blinked. “One week is too close, but I am going to buy me more time…because I am not going to give up easily on us, we might not have a month left, but we are going to make it memorable and special.”
Jerry stared at her looking confused.
Toni smiled. “This is it, Jerry. Nora has the tickets we need for our flight, we are going to leave tomorrow evening.”
“Are you serious?” he asked, still feeling off the place. A moment ago, she was in tears and now, she had worn another personality. “Are you okay, Toni?”
Toni nodded with a faint smile. “Right now, I just want to live the rest of these desperate days in the best way, and that’s what we are going to do. So, would you come with me?”
Jerry stared at her and nodded. “Let’s make it count.”
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
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