15th April 2019.
It was midday when Kenny woke with a dreadful hangover. The previous day had been awfully long and wasted with empty bottles of whisky littered around. Although light bulbs glowed, a dark side of emptiness engulfed the entire room. He was lying sprawled in bed, his head throbbing painfully, and a party going on in his stomach. Feelings enveloped him; nausea, grief, emptiness…
His phone beeped. There were two WhatsApp texts.
The first from LEAD man. It read:
Dear Kenny, we have agreed to your request for an anonymous therapy. We forwarded your details to the therapist that will be in charge of you.
“In charge of me? Silly!” He frowned.
We assure you that whatever that will be discussed stays between you and the therapist assigned to you. We believe in you and that you can Live Everyday Above Depression.
The other, from an unnamed number:
Hi. Good day. I am your anonymous therapist. Nice to meet you.
He left the chat background to the person’s profile. No profile picture.
What do you know about me? He typed.
Just your name, Kenny, was the reply.
What’s your name? He typed again.
Call me Firelighter.
“Let’s try this Ikenna,” he said to himself with a pinched ironic smile and held the phone for a while. The room was still, except the whistling sound from the rotating ceiling fan.
26th May 2019.
I woke up late like I did every Saturday. After some devotion and short prayers, I dragged myself to the kitchen and lit the burner. Yesterday had been hectic and my cluttered room showed scattered files, sheets and clothes on the floor, and Rachel Hogan’s Girl Wash Your Face with Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages For Singles laid open on my bed. Within a few minutes, I gave my room a deserved cleaning and busied myself by my desk sipping honeyed lime tea (my sister’s weight loss recipe) while writing for a blog on SIGNS THAT YOU ARE NOT READY TO DATE. I wondered why I chose the topic. Perhaps to prove something to myself? I kissed my teeth, then reached for my phone and switched on my data connection.
WhatsApp messages flooded in.
Mom: I have arranged foodstuffs for you and Lemechi. I will waybill yours next week. Hope you are good?
Me: Thanks mom 😊. I love you. I got two new jobs as a freelance writer. Tell dad, he’ll be proud.
Nwaelemechi: Dajuamobi. Add ginger to the lime tea. It hastens the process, especially with your horrible belly fat.
I turned to my brown mug and the scented steam from it. I wasn’t so surprised about my sister’s taunts. I didn’t reply and never drank lime tea after that day.
Kathy: Thanks ma’am, I tried it out. I didn’t lose out on anything as you said. I’ll tell you the details later…
Me: Very good Kath 👍. I’m happy for you. Let’s talk later.
Bestie: What!! Since when? And you’re just telling me. Won’t he find out? But really D.J, are you okay with this? I know that you have always loved him.
I smiled. Light bulbs went on, making my room bask in its brightness. I stood, plugged in my laptop and played Sia’s Unstoppable. Back to my phone, I replied:
Chii, I know it’s crazy, but I’ll be fine. Besides, I’m being professional. He won’t find out, so I guess all will be fine.
“All will be fine”, I whispered. The last message was from him.
Kenny: I resumed work today to host my program. I missed it. I missed life. Mom and Dad are proceeding with the divorce. They should have done that long ago, perhaps Steph wouldn’t have died. I won’t keep holding unto the past. How are you doing Firelighter? When are you going to tell me your real name and show me your picture? I shouldn’t have requested for anonymity. Have a great day.
Me: I’m good Kenny. I’m glad that you’re improving. I would tune in to hear your voice on air. Hope you read the book? All the best.
My eyes moved to my wall planner and spotted a poem I had written months ago. I sent him the poem in his early days of therapy. He was open and it helped. Yet I wanted to do more but couldn’t. Kenny was a part of my life that had been untouched for a year now. Chii’s words now rang in my head.
I’ll be fine. I assured myself.
“You’ve got this Dajua. You do.”
By 2pm, I clocked out and headed home. I don’t drive, it triggers my PTSD. So, I boarded a cab. I was at the backseat when I got a text from Dad:
We’ll be in court on Monday. Your mother blames me for Steph’s death. You should come.
The ride was a bumpy one as the rainy season set in, and I wondered, as we rode through cracked roads, how I could ever love two people hell bent on destroying each other after destroying Steph’s life. Firelighter had told me to seek love through giving love. To love my parents nonetheless, using their love language, for my peace of mind. I read The Five Love Languages For Singles by Gary Chapman she had recommended. I figured out my love language and wanted to know hers, but I couldn’t ask. It was inappropriate.
The past five weeks had been awesome and I shouldn’t ruin it. I picked my phone from the chair and read her messages.
Thanks ma’am ❤. I’m still reading the book. I’ve got news from Dad. They’ll be in court tomorrow. Are you busy? Let’s talk via WhatsApp call.
She was online.
F: Sorry Kenny, we can’t do calls. Hope you’re good? Will you attend the court hearing?
K: Why can’t we? I am good, thanks. I’ll go only if you come with me as a support system.
F: This therapy session is anonymous, remember? And I have a program to attend on Monday. It’s a charity event at the Marian Convection Centre.
K: Does it exclude calls? I heard about the program on air, I will come to see you.
K: Firelighter? Are you there?
She went offline.
K: Take care.
“So, he still doesn’t know?” Chii asked by the kitchen counter, her hands over the utensil’s cupboard.
“No,” I replied.
“How long do you intend to hide this?” She was opening the fridge now. “Bia don’t you have food here?
“I ran out of food. I could meet him tomorrow at the convention centre.”
“What did you eat this morning?” she asked, looking at me now.
“Bread with akara and a cup of Cowbell coffee.” I reached out to a plastic container on the counter and kept it in a dish rack.
She smiled. “Look Daj, I’m not against you helping Kenny. Just don’t get your hopes up about him, he never loved you Dajua; not as you wanted,” she said, full of concern.
“I know.” I fought back the tears. “I won’t.”
Chii nodded while I remembered how I would cry on her shoulder whenever Kenny chose other girls over me. I was young back then. So young and naïve.
On Monday, I left early with my crew to conduct an interview with the founders of the charity organization. After that, we stayed behind to take more pictures during the event. I saw Kenny enter the hall just as the chairman was about to give the opening address. He stood tall and firmly built, wearing jeans trousers with a black turtleneck sweater that clung to his body like a second skin. It made him look irresistibly handsome.
He was looking around, turning his well-sculptured face around the entire hall while I stood afar, watching, missing, and hating him altogether. He sent a text.
Hey where are you? I’m at the event. Please, let’s meet up.
I wanted to reply, ‘Stop stretching your neck, I see you’ but I remembered I wasn’t supposed to know him. He called my number several times but I ignored them, trying to gather contents for the blog post tomorrow. In the past I had always waited for him; a pitiful lovelorn lass, so I made him wait till the event ended. I walked towards him and gently tapped his back. I saw the raw excitement in his eyes, the excitement of seeing an unknown Firelighter; I saw it transform into a pleasant surprise as the bridge of his nose squeezed and his cheeks lifted at the sight of me.
“Daj! Wow, long time!” He leapt forward and gave me a quick and sincere hug. The hall was bustling.
“Kenny, what a pleasant surprise! How have you been?”
“I’m good, How’s Lemechi and your parents?”
“They are good. What brings you here?”
“I’m actually here to see someone, I got to find her now.” His eyes roamed around the hall.
“Oh, okay. It feels good to see you.” My eyes fixed on him.
“What about you?” he turned to me as he asked. “You stay in this city, right?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Gimme your number, we should catch up,” he said.
I sensed trouble. “No, gimme yours,” I shot back, almost interrupting him. He agreed, calling the digits out for me.
“I have to go Daj. I missed you,” he sighed. “I missed everyone; I really did. Call me, okay?” l nodded, he smiled, and walked away.
I watched him. His eyes searched the hall, his phone held firmly to his right ear while mine rang in my hand. A text came after the sixth ring.
K: Where are you?
D: I actually saw you Kenny, but you left too quickly.
K: What do you mean? I’m still here. Where are you?
D: Did you actually believe that? Hahaha. I’m busy Kenny. There are tons of things left to do. I can’t meet with you. I’m sorry.
I went offline.
Later that night. He texted.
Let’s talk, I’ll call.
And for a moment I couldn’t think.
Please. He texted again.
The request was simple. Every part of me wanting to oblige, I opened my purse and took out three wraps of bubble-gum. I tore them open and chewed.
“Hello Kenny,” I said to myself. I couldn’t recognize my voice. The voice trick worked.
Okay. I texted back.
I spoke with Firelighter for hours and laughed at lot during our conversation. I also got to know about her involvement with LEAD project. I was shocked to know that she wasn’t a psychotherapist but an avid volunteer. My time with her online was more of a heart to heart conversation than a Q&A session. She knew every right thing to say and she always thought of possibilities, especially with me being able to drive again. I was so intrigued about her and why she had chosen to be called Firelighter.
“Because I’m igniting that fire in you, Kenny. That lost zeal and passion for life,” she said at her end. I smiled at her response.
“Are you married?” I asked.
“No. Why do you ask?” I could sense the tension in her voice.
“You’re taken? I mean, you have someone?”
She yawned. It had to be a fake yawn.
“Let’s call it a night Kenny. I’m tired.”
“Okay, but please tell me your name. At least.”
She hung up. I sent her a text.
Whatever your name is, you’re special. I testify to that. Goodnight.
7th June 2019.
This dreaded day came. I stared at her pictures. She was so full of life then. I looked at a funny picture of her holding my head tightly when Mom sent a text.
Ikenna. I’ll be sending flowers to her grave. You should come. You can’t keep running away from everyone.
Steph, my sister, was separated from the love of her life by my parents. As if that wasn’t enough, she lost her pregnancy. She became so depressed and suicidal. So, one day, I took her on a drive downtown.
“Put your foot down Kenny,” she said to me.
“Why?” I asked.
“I love the feel of the breeze on my face.”
I obliged. In a heartbeat, she flung the car door and jumped out. Before I could react, I could only see pieces of her clothes from the side mirror and a gathering crowd.
Feelings flooded now. Guilt was paramount. I texted Firelighter.
Steph died on this date last year. It’s my fault. I helped her take her own life. I’ll be going away. I need distractions.
Will you be fine? She replied immediately.
I don’t know.
Kenny. You’ve got this. Where will you go?
Culture park by Highway.
I bumped into Dajua at the park. We sat, talked, reminisced, laughed, and cried. She held out her hands for a hug. I rushed into them and she patted my back lovingly.
“You’ve got this Kenny,” she said, and for a moment I wished she was Firelighter. I drew slightly away from the warmth of her embrace, staring into her eyes, remembering how fiercely she had loved me. I regretted turning her down, keeping her in the friend zone. I regretted cutting everyone out. Grief had turned me into an island.
“I’m sorry for losing touch with everyone, I just wanted to be alone back then.”
She smiled, tilting her head sideways.
“I loved you Daj, but I didn’t want to hurt you. Back then I was stupid and a bad boy in good boy clothes. You were just too good for me.”
“What are you now? A good boy in bad boy clothes?” She laughed.
“Why did you come Dajua? Why did you come for me?” I looked at her brown eyes; bemused, trying to find answers. I didn’t give her the chance. I drew her close and kissed her fervently.
12th June 2019.
“It’s me,” said a voice outside the door. I opened up. It was Kenny, all smiles, holding a white nylon bag in hand. I was done for. After the day we kissed. I called him with my other number and we spoke every day. He asked for my house address and I texted him. I never in the world thought he would show up without a heads up.
“Hey, can I come in? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” I stepped away and he came in. “You’ve got a nice room Daj,” he said, looking around.
“Thanks. The rooms in this neighbourhood are quite comfy,” I said while collecting the bag from him. I was trying to start a conversation, to get his eyes away from something that might remind him of Firelighter.
I got attracted to her wall planner. It had colourful postcards with words on it; each held to the wooden frame with a pushpin. I went closer to have a look.
“What do I offer you, Kenny? Hey, where are you going?” she asked, almost shouting.
I was about to respond when something struck me. Something quite familiar.
Where’s your light? When comely days turns to bloody nights…
Firelighter’s poem. I turned to Dajua. She was right behind me.
“Erm. Erm…” She was tensed and I sensed it. I looked around and saw something else on her bookshelf by the wall. I reached for it. A framed certificate of LEAD project bearing her name. Something wasn’t right.
“So, you know LEAD project?” I asked her. I saw horror in her eyes. She tried calling my name but the words trailed off.
“You know this poem. You’re a member of LEAD project… what else?” It was getting clearer now.” Aha… You were there at the convention… and…” I felt utterly stupid.
“I am Firelighter,” she said, her eyes teary.
“So, it was all a lie? Everything was a joke to you?”
“No,” she reached for my hand but I hesitated. “When you took off after Steph died, I was so worried about you. You had changed your lines and I couldn’t reach you. I didn’t know it was you till I saw Steph’s picture on your profile and I couldn’t tell you because I wanted to be close. I wanted to help. I wanted you to be fine,” she said amidst sobs.
“There’s fish barbecue in the bag… Enjoy,” I said, just before walking out.
I prepared for work the following morning. The previous night had been tearful and a busy day awaited me with so much work. I was locking my door when I heard his voice.
I didn’t know whether to smile or cry. “I’m sorry.”
He came closer. “I’m sorry too. You had to eat the fish all by yourself.” I smiled. He was two inches away from me now. “I have been wanting to ask your primary love language,” he said, grinning ear to ear.
“Physical touch,” I told him.
“Oh yeah?” He squeezed me to himself, tucking my hair behind with his middle finger. “I’m sorry about yesterday. You’ve always wanted my good Dajua. Always.” His arms were still wrapped around me. I smiled, placing my head on his chest. Work could wait. This was where I wanted to be.
“You’re sure?” she asked him.
He chuckled. “Didn’t you always talk about possibilities?” He reached for her hand.” I plan to make this day memorable, so don’t worry.” He was kissing her fingers now.
“I’m proud of you Kenny”, she said.
“Thank you Daj. Thanks for everything,” he said, staring at her. “I love you.”
She smiled sweetly.
“Let’s go?” he asked, holding out his hand.
“Let’s go.” She nodded, her hand on his. He led her out of her workplace to a new blue convertible. He opened the door and she muttered a thank you, smiling at him. Within seconds, he kicked the engine to life and the car zoomed off.
About The Author:
Venus Asoka is a poet and a short story writer from the Igbo tribe of Nigeria. She is in her late teens and is currently studying Genetics and Biotechnology at the University of Calabar.
Her works have been published in an online journal, blogs and several anthologies. She enjoys her own company by reading, writing and listening to music. She is aspiring to be a renowned prolific African writer.