• “I need to know why you are afraid,” Rose said without preamble once she took Susan to the balcony. She was beginning to think that there was something else Susan was not telling her. “Is there something else I should know?”
    “No. It’s just that…” Susan trailed off, licking her lips nervously.
    “That what?”
    “It’s just that I don’t want to lose Tunji,” Susan said in a rush as she turned away from Rose. She didn’t want to see what she was sure would be the condemnation in her eyes. “If he hears of the whole episode, he’d see how it is my fault and see how dirty I truly am.”
    “Susan! I don’t think you know how much Tunji loves you. He will not…”
    “Well we don’t know that he will not turn away!” Susan said heatedly, cutting Rose short. “I know I have to do it because you believe it will help me heal, but I just need some time to gather my wits together.”
    “No you don’t have to do it. At least not immediately. We can start the individual discussions first. Is that okay?” Rose asked softly, seeing how much damage had been done to her friend by a single act of stupidity and wickedness.
    At Susan’s nod, she walked in and told Chinedu of the change of plan.
    He obviously had some questions, she could see them in his eyes, but she was grateful when he didn’t voice them out.
    Susan breathed more freely the moment Tunji and Chinedu left to go to the other office. She would not miss Tunji’s searching gaze. She knew he was worried about her, but there was nothing she could do.
    “Let’s start,”Rose said, breaking into her thoughts.
    “Susan, we are going to pray first,” Rose announced, “I don’t know about you, but it helps me. I know we need this if we are going to achieve positive results.”
    Susan listened to Rose pray, wondering how come she seemed so comfortable talking to God. She never felt that way. She always felt like He was frowning at her, so she went without praying for months. Maybe Rose had not done anything to make her guilty.
    Rose’s ‘Amen’ alerted her that the prayer was over, so she echoed it too.
    Rose sat up, looking directly at her, her book and pen on her lap, and began. “So I will ask you what I asked before. Why are you here? I know I pleaded with you, but why did you agree to this? Why did you convince Tunji to come with you?”
    “I want to be free. I want to be normal again,” Susan replied after a slight pause. “I dont know if it is possible, but I want to stop seeing intimacy with a man as a threat.”
    “I want you to remember this reason whenever you feel this is not working,” Rose said with a nod. “I believe that with patience, and prayers, you can live normally again. You just have to be patient with yourself first, then Tunji, me and Chinedu. There are times you will feel like we don’t understand what you are going through, and you will most likely be right, but we expect that you explain to us what we are missing, because the fact is that we are on your side. We are also angry with Tunde. I’m sure you know that about me, but I want you to know that is also true for Tunji and Chinedu. Always remember the reasons you started this journey. Can you do that?”
    “I will try.”
    “That’s all I can ask. So, I want to to tell me about Tunde, how you met, what you liked about him, and if possible, tell me about the rape incident too. Tell me as much as you can remember, and as much as you want to. There is no pressure.”
    The silence that followed Rose’s words had her wondering if she should change tactics. She was thinking on what else to do when Susan started slowly, her gaze fixed on somewhere behind Rose.
    It was obvious she was no longer in the room, but was reliving her life seven years ago.
    “I met Tunde on one of my walks back from school. It was during my SSCE and I was happy that I will soon be done with Secondary School.
    I was mentally preparing for the next day’s paper when I bumped into him. He just stared at me while I apologised, until I became uncomfortable. I told him it was rude to stare and he laughed, saying I obviously had no idea how beautiful I was, and he would only forgive me for bumping into him if I will allow him take me out.
    I was flattered by his words. I had never had a boyfriend, or even considered having one. My classmates’ taunts, that I would never get a man with all my nerdy behaviour, sometimes got to me but I was determined to get out of school with the best result possible.
    I didn’t give him an answer, just told him I had to get home to prepare for my next paper the next day.
    He stood at that same spot for the next few days, asking me out. It was like a game we played. He would wait there, say sweet words, make me laugh, but I would not voice an answer even though my eyes said everything he wanted to hear.
    Then suddenly, I didn’t see him for a whole week. By then I was writing NECO exams.
    When I saw him again, I barely held myself from running into his arms. Until, then, we stood at arms length while we played our game.
    He had been sick and had been hospitalized, he told me. I believed him. I had no reason not to.
    I was so sorry, I bought him some beverages and fruits the next day. I think that was when he knew how much effect he had on me.
    He reminded me that if I had known where he lived, I would have known that he was ill, and my care would have made him get well faster.
    I blushed.
    A little more pressure, and I went to his place with him. It was a single room apartment, and in my eyes it was the definition of freedom.
    I knew he was not much older than me, maybe five or six years, and here he was, being able to live as he wanted without any hindrance from his parents. It didn’t occur to me then, that that was the usual way when one is in the university.
    I envied him, and fell a little more for him.
    He soon convinced me how immature it was that we met on the streets before the eyes of everyone. He suggested that he come to my house to visit me, knowing I would not agree, since my parents were strict against such.
    I ended up going to his house every other day. I believed it was the mature thing to do, and since I just finished from Secondary School, I felt matured enough.”
    Looking at her, Susan broke the bubble which showed Rose what seven years ago was like to a younger Susan. “Please can I get some water? My throat is dry.”
    Rose nodded and hurried to the kitchen, mentally making a note to herself to always keep a jug of water in the office during sessions.
    As she walked towards the kitchen, she heard low voices from the other office, and hoped all was going on well in there.
    She let her mind wander to what Susan had shared with her, between pauses. She had seen different emotions running across Susan’s face.
    Susan had had plans in her head for Tunde. She had obviously expected it to last forever, and that made disappointment the bedrock of all other negative feeling that came after the rape.
    While Susan drank, Rose wrote down her thoughts in her notebook. She will need to show Susan that Tunde had been playing a game with her, and was not who he had appeared to be.
    Susan’s next words told her that Susan also believed she had gotten all the warnings she had needed.
    Rose added guilt to thye list of emotions Susan felt.
    “My first warning should have been his kind of friends. The calibre of people who came to his house were not the kind of people I would expect from the kind of man he portrayed himself to be. He explained to me that they were his course mates, ad they helped each other with school materials.
    I believed him and saw him as a serious student.
    He was a four hundred level student of the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus.
    My second warning was our first kiss, and how he told me I was acting like a child by ending it too soon.
    He told me I had a lot to learn, and he was willing to teach me, but if I don’t give him a chance, he would leave me in my ignorance.
    I apologised repeatedly to him, not knowing I was digging my own grave
  • What is it like?”
    “What is what like?” Rose asked, looking up from her notepad with a confused frown.
    They were back from the break, and she waited for Susan to continue her narration of what happened with Tunde.
    “What is it like having sex with the right person?” Susan expatiated
    “Err..” Rose started with a nervous chuckle. “I don’t think I am the right person to ask that question, seeing I am not married, and I don’t think I have met ‘The One’ yet.
    “I felt comfortable in Tunji’s embrace today. It is the first time I have ever let him hold me that long.”
    “That’s good news Susan! So how did that make you feel?” Rose asked, hoping the awkward questions were over.
    “I felt safe. It felt good to be comforted by someone stronger than you.”
    “I’m glad you feel better already, enough to relax in Tunji’s embrace.”
    “Yes but I think I need to tell him what happened,” Susan said with sadness. “I think he deserves to know.”
    “Susan, you don’t owe anyone any explanation. You don’t have to tell him. You should tell him because you want to, and not because you think you owe it to him.”
    “Are you sure?” Susan asked looking hopeful. “I am already tired of talking to you about it. It is energy draining. I wish I could forget it and start a new life altogether.”
    “it is possible, but it is not easy. I asked you to tell me because you bottled it all up inside and it is eating you up. I just wanted you to share it and let it go.”
    “I truly feel better from talking about it,” Susan admitted. “It felt like a secret, and its power was strong enough to make me seclude myself. I used to think that someone would find out from a way I talk or act. I just kept to myself.”
    Rose decided to let her talk. She obviously needed to. She would only nod where necessary.
    “I knew no one would want to get close to me if they knew what happened,” Susan said, and Rose knew she had to interfere.
    “Wait a minute, what do you mean by that? What do you think will happen if people knew?”
    “I don’t know, but they would see how dirty and…”
    “Dirty?!” Rose exclaimed, getting a glimpse into the negativity Susan had wrapped around herself and her experience. “Where is all these coming from? I thought we agreed that you are not to blame?”
    “Yes, but it doesn’t change the fact that I was made unclean from the… the incident.”
    “Wow!” Rose thought. She had no immediate answer to that.
    “I know Tunji also sees me as dirty, that’s why I cant bring myself to allow him make love to me…”
    “Okay, hold it there Susan,” Rose cut in, not able to hold her tongue any more. “At this moment, I am your friend and not your counsellor. Are you crazy?”
    “What? I am saying the truth.”
    “What do you know as truth? You have painted yourself as the cause instead of the survivor. You see the whole thing as something that is all your fault. You just belittled Tunji to an idiot who is with you because he is stupid.”
    “No! I…”
    “You know what? I am going to ask him to come in here. You can tell him to his face that you know he sees you as being dirty. I want you to see his expression.”
    Rose stalked out of the room before Susan could stop her.
    Susan winced at sound of the banged door. Rose was obviously angry. She hoped Tunji would not be this angry. She just wished she didn’t feel so dirty about her experience.
    She still felt Tunde’s groping hands on her body as he forced her legs apart. She could still see as he wiped away the seat of his face and used the same had to close her mouth.
    She still felt his sticky body over hers, she still felt the dried blood on her thighs which she couldn’t get home fast enough to wash. She felt the eyes on her as she hurried home from his room. She still felt the questioning looks from the hospital when she had gotten the confidence to go for tests.
    She felt it all and they were within her painted black as night. A night she was trapped in. She seemed not to be able to move past it.
    The sound of the door opening brought her mind back to the present.
    It was Tunji.
    “Hey,” he greeted. “Rose said you had something to tell me. She looked…angry. I am wondering why a counsellor is angry.”
    Susan gave a slight smile. “She stopped being my counsellor and went back to being my friend.”
    “Oh. So what’s up?”
    Susan stood up. Sitting down while Tunji stood made her feel a bit vulnerable. She wanted to be ready for his answer, besides standing will also give her a better view of his eyes to know if he lies.
    “I have a question to ask you,” she said. “And I want an honest answer from you.”
    “When you met me, knowing I was raped, didn’t you realise how dirty I am, I mean considering…”
    “Dirty?” Tunji asked, interrupting. “You thought I saw you as dirty? What is going on in that head of yours Susan? You obviously don’t undersand how much I love you. I don’t even understand you.”
    “I just wond…”
    “Stop wondering Susan.” Tunji sat down and looked at her until she sat also. “Just stop wondering and see what is before you. Sometimes the way forward is by counting your blessings, and yes I consider myself as one of your blessings. You were raped, but thank God you didn’t get pregnant, thank God you didn’t get any diseases. You had Rose who had your back even when you pushed her away, and finally, you have me. Count your blessings and stop looking at what went wrong. Stop looking at what you could have done, but look at what God did for you. That is the only way you can move on. By looking at what God did. The idiot Tunde is heaven knows where, and here you are still under his spell. He might have even repented and started enjoying salvation. I never have, and never will see you as dirty. Never. I am here, married to you, but I think you need to do what you should have done long ago. Set yourself free from the prison of your mind. Only you can.”
    Susan looked through tears filled eyes as Tunji stood up and left the office, and wondered if he was right. Was she the one holding herself captive?
    Chinedu looked at Rose as she paced angrily. He wanted to act like he didn’t care, but he could not stop himself.
    “Calm down and give yourself a break,” he told her. “She will be fine. I think what she needs, more than this sessions, is a heart to heart with her husband. She just needs to believe what she knows is true and only by Tunji reiterating it to her can she begin to believe it.”
    He watched as she stopped pacing and bit her lip, a sign that she was thinking on what he said.
    He felt like hugging her. She was obviously emotionally spent. She put in her emotions in whatever she believed in, which was one of the many reasons he loved her.
    Yes he still loved her, he acknowledged to himself.
    He wondered if he should try asking her out again.
    Before Chinedu could act on his thoughts, Tunji came out of the other office also looking angry, though a lot less angry than Rose.
    Chinedu waited for Susan to follow, when she didn’t, he knew he had to go talk to her. Standing up, he stared at Rose for a short while, then he walked to the other office.
    He would make his move another day.
  • Do you, Rose Amaka, take Chinedu Stanley to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health…,”
    Rose wished the Pastor would hurry up through the vows, she can’t wait to be able to refer to herself as Chinedu’s wife. She smiled up at Chinedu, her heart, missing a beat when he smiled back.
    “…for richer or poorer, forsaking all others, from this time forward till death do you part?”
    “I do.”
    “Do you, Chinedu Stanley, take Rose Amaka to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, forsaking all others, from this time forward till death do you part?”
    “I do,” Chinedu replied.
    Before the Pastor could pronounce them man and wife, and ask them to kiss, the doorbell rang.
    Wait. A doorbell? In the church? What was going on?
    Rose woke up to her phone ringing.
    “I should have known it was a dream,” she muttered. She didn’t know if she should be happy or sad at the interrupted dream.
    She wondered who could be calling at … She looked at the wall clock, it was seven minutes past ten o’clock P.M., barely an hour since she went to bed.
    Reluctantly picking up her phone from her bedside drawer, she saw that it was Susan.
    She quickly answered, a bit worried. Since Susan told her parents about the rape incident, and saw that they didn’t blame her, she seemed determined to overcome whatever attack the incident started, and she began making good progress, but Rose knew from experience that sometimes, a slip happens, and she hoped that was not the reason Susan called.
    “Hello,” she said into the receiver as she sat up. “Susan are you okay?”
    “Yes, yes,” Susan said, sounding excited and worried. “I just…”
    “Just what? Susan talk to me”
    “I don’t know. I have been showing signs to Tunji that I want us to try making love, but he seems oblivious to my moves. It’s either that, or he is avoiding me. I am beginning to feel ashamed.”
    “No, no don’t be,” Rose said getting out of bed, relief flooding her body. “He is your husband. His body is yours, and yours his.”
    “I know, but since I denied him in the past, maybe he has changed his mind?”
    Rose detected slight fear in Susan’s voice.
    “Susan, remember what we said about the past? It is in the past. Where is he now?” she asked. Maybe a direct approach is best.
    “He is in the bathroom. He has been there for about ten minutes. I think he is hoping I would be in bed by the time he comes out.”
    “Okay let’s not conclude and get ahead of ourselves,” Rose said as she walked to her fridge and took out the juice. She always got hungry when dealing with Susan’s case outside the office. “What you define as signs may look normal to him. Besides you and I know how you withdrew when he made moves before. Maybe he does not want to hurt you?”
    “Hurt me?” Susan asked, sounding hysterical. “He has been hugging me tightly everyday as if he wanted more, and now I want more and he is afraid of hurting me? You said my moves may not be clear enough? Well I have done things like rubbing his arm, and other things I am ashamed to tell you, and he quickly leaves the place. Maybe I should just go to bed, since he does not want me.”
    The hurt in Susan’s voice almost made Rose happy. Her friend was truly ready to get intimate with her husband.
    Forcing herself to focus on Susan she said the first thing that came to her mind.
    “Get naked.”
    “Get stark naked and wait for him right in front of the bathroom door. He can’t stay in there forever. Get a chair if need be, but you will wait for him until he comes out then hug him without letting him go. Let’s see how he will ignore that.”
    “Rose! What if he comes out naked?”
    “Perfect then. I think he will carry on from there. But be sure you are ready. Don’t start what you can’t finish Susan.”
    “I am ready.”
    “Good. So I expect your call in the morning.”
    “Okay. Wish me luck.”
    “You won’t need it. You are becoming Tunji’s wife in the right sense tonight.”
    “I know!” Susan said, excitedly. “One last question though. How did you know about this move, and when will you make your own move towards Chinedu?”
    “Susan, go and seduce your husband and leave me alone,” Rose said quickly and ended the call before Susan could go further in her disturbing question.
    Saying a silent prayer that the night goes well for Susan and Tunji, Rose finished her juice and walked back to the bedroom. She knew sleep was nowhere close.
    She picked up the Sidney Sheldon novel she bought recently, ‘Bloodline’, and hoped it would take her mind off Chinedu.
    Five minutes later, she gave up.
    She decided to send Chinedu a text. She knew she was taking a stupid risk, but if she could ask Susan to take a risk, maybe she should also take one.
    She quickly typed the text and sent it before she could stop herself.
    To cushion whatever blow might come, she switched off her phone when it showed delivered.
    She would get her answer in the morning.
    Chinedu sang R. Kelly’s ‘Storm Is Over’ along with his stereo, as he worked. He knowingly brought back some work home to keep his mind busy.
    Getting to sleep had become a hard thing to do recently.
    His time with Rose was coming to an end since Susan was getting better at handling her attacks. He was yet to try asking her out again. He was not sure he wanted to be rejected again.
    His phone rang and he chided himself for thinking it might be Rose.
    “Hello, Chinedu it’s me Tunji.”
    “What’s up. Hope no problem?” He didn’t say the rest of his thoughts, but he knew Tunji understood.
    It was few minutes to ten, quite late for a ‘normal’ call.
    “I’m sorry. I know it’s late but I don’t know who else to call, and it is also your fault.”
    “What is the matter Tunji?” Chinedu asked, his mind wandering to different things that could be his fault.
    “She is all over me!” Tunji exclaimed. “I don’t want her to think I followed her to the counselling sessions because I want her to make love to me. I’m not sure how much longer I can avoid her. You must realise I am not used to this kind of move from her…”
    “Hold on Tunji, you lost me at the first line,” Chinedu interrupted. “Who is all over you?”
    “My wife na. Who else would I be with by this time?”
    “Sorry sir. She is crying all over you?” Chinedu asked with a frown. Was there a problem? Does this mean he would get more time with Rose?
    “Oh God, no. Where is your mind?! I think she wants me to sleep with her.”
    “Oh!’ Chinedu said, disappointed. “And why is that a problem?”
    “I don’t want to scare her again, and beside you said…”
    “Where are you now?”
    “In my house of course.”
    “No, I mean where in your house are you? Is Susan by your side?”
    “I ran into the bathroom, before I do something…”
    “Tunji are you mad?”
    “I’m serious and you…”
    “Answer my question,” Chinedu interrupted impatiently. “Are you mad?”
    “If you know what is good for you, you better go to your wife now,” Chinedu said, almost angry. “Do you know how many men are hoping that their wives would make the move? Your wife who has never been with a man the normal way is making a move and you left her to come and be telling me what I said. Forget whatever it is I said and go love your wife.”
    “What if she withdraws again? Tunji asked, sounding both worried and afraid, Chinedu calmed down.
    “She won’t. She is ready. Just let her set the pace, and don’t rush her. When she doesn’t know what to do, calmly show her. Generally, be patient with her even if it kills you.”
    “Okay, so I should…”
    “Tunji, go and make love to your wife. Leave me alone.” Chinedu said and ended the call.
    “Madman, he muttered as he turned back to his computer. “You have been waiting for her for months, and now you are almost running away. If you like…”
    A message alert from his phone interrupted his muttering. Ready to ignore him if it was Tunji again, he was shocked when he saw it was from Rose. He almost shouted for joy when he saw the contents.
    Can I take you out tomorrow? Like on a date? At Serene Hotels by seven P.M.
    Forgetting that he had work to do, he tried calling her. It was switched off.
    Without checking his schedule, he replied.
    Yes! Definitely! See you tomorrow.
    He smiled through the rest of the night. Things were beginning to look up.
    * * *
    The sound of the door opening had Susan looking up from her hands which she had clasped on he naked thighs.
    She saw the surprised look in Tunji’s eyes on seeing her naked.
    She was happy he had a towel tied round his waist. She might have run away.
    Getting bolder, she fought the urge to cover herself and stood up, walking slowly to where he stood transfixed.
    Standing on her toes, she put her hand around his neck and kissed him.
    He didn’t move away, but neither did he respond or hold her as she hoped. The only sign that he was affected by her was his erratic pulse which she could see closely.
    She didn’t know what else to do, even though she felt the kisses all the way to her toes.
    “Can you please hold me and at least kiss me back like my husband should?” she demanded.
    She smiled at the speed with which he obeyed.
    The moment her husband’s arms went around her, Susan knew she was home.
    She looked forward to the rest of the night, in deed she looked forward to the rest of their life together.
    For the first time, she could she the future clearly. She turned her mind back to seducing her husband.
    The End!